Title: More Than Fairytales and Happily Ever Afters
Disclaimer: Once Upon a Time and its characters are the property of ABC. No infringement is intended.
Fandom: Once Upon a Time
Pairing: Queen Swan
Word Count: 2837
AN: Written for theonlyspl as part of the onceuponaland Secret Exchange Challenge. I hope you like it! This is an AU set in some vague distant future, after their currently unknown adventures in the Underworld in Season 5B.
It had been a while since Emma Swan had been welcomed into 108 Mifflin Street.
Emma stood on the walkway, snow gently falling around her, almost afraid of what was awaiting her behind that big white door. She may no longer be the Dark One, having been to hell and back, literally and figuratively, but it didn’t mean that many people in Storybrooke had forgotten.
There had been too much turmoil at her hands for it to be any other way really. And then their little side trip to the Underworld with her family had been a mess. The stakes had been high but Hook was well and truly gone and at least Emma took comfort that he was not suffering in the dark depths there. Robin had been an unexpected casualty as well, giving his life to save Regina from one of the many enemies out for revenge down there. Emma doubted very much that Regina would ever truly forgive herself for that one.
Emma shook her head, trying to clear the dark memories from the shadows of her mind. They were back in Storybrooke, had been for almost six months now, all of them slipping back into their old lives, almost as if nothing had ever changed.
And yet, everything had.
“Hey, you’re here!” Henry’s ever deepening voice startled her out of her reverie. He stood in the now open doorway, the warmth and light glowing from inside beckoning her. Emma nodded, taking comfort in the pleasure resonating in his voice, as she shifted from side to side, trying to stay warm. “Come on in before you freeze to death, Ma.”
“Thanks, Kid.” Emma smiled and made her way into the warm home. At least as a Dark One she never really felt the cold. Then again, she had never really felt much of anything actually, mostly fear and anger. It had been exhausting, without even sleep to help ease the burden.
Before Emma can say much more, Henry’s gentle hands were sliding her winter coat off her shoulders. Deeper inside she could hear music and laughter and it made her warm up inside as well. Henry disappeared with her jacket to the closet, and as she glanced past him a movement caught her eye.
Regina Mills appeared from the living room, dressed casually in jeans and a soft red sweater, her small niece held securely, balanced on her hip. The woman seemed relaxed and content, the happiest that Emma could remember seeing her. She could only attribute it to one thing, that motherhood definitely suited her.
Emma flashed back to Robin Hood’s sacrifice, his dying request that Regina look after his family. Regina had agreed, both knowing that she was Roland and his tiny daughter’s best chance to have a good life. Emma thought that it was the one thing that had pulled her through it all. Roland and her niece needed a family, they needed a mother, and if Regina was honest, she needed them too.
Regina set about adopting them once they were back home, the paperwork a necessary evil but it was well underway. Still it wasn’t going to be easy, Regina taking care of them all on her own. None of this would have been necessary if Emma had just left well enough alone. The least she could do was try to help out, if Regina would let her.
“Emma, glad you could make it.” Regina said as the baby girl in her arms looked around trying to see what was going on. Little Robin was just starting to make shy with strangers, but she seemed fascinated with Emma, her eyes going wide and a big smile coming across her small face. She reached out, not at all afraid.
“Well, it looks like all the Mills women have difficulty resisting your charms,” Regina chuckled and shifted the small child to Emma’s arms. Emma glanced up at the words, not quite sure how to take them, but the wiggling child didn’t give her much time to think about it.
“Hi, little apple blossom,” Emma said softly, the baby settling in her arms. “How are you?” Emma was getting better with babies, at least not afraid she was going to drop them anymore. The baby squirmed a bit, but seemed fascinated with the long blonde hair dangling so tantalizingly close. She followed Regina and Henry back into the living room, taking in the large tree to the right of the fireplace.
“EMMA!!” Roland flew into the room, a string of twinkle lights trailing along behind him. He all but launched himself at the blonde, who braced for impact but didn’t stop him.
“Rollie!” Emma smiled as the boy wrapped himself around her leg. They had become closer since returning to Storybrooke, the boy often tagging along with Henry. The girl in her arms giggled at her big brother, who reached up and tickled her.
“Careful, Roland,” Regina warned, still smiling as she said it.
“Come on, Squirt,” Henry said, grabbing the dangling twinkle light strand and pulling the boy from his other mom. “We can sneak attack Emma when she’s on the couch later.” Henry grinned and winked at Emma over his shoulder before turning Roland back to the tree decorating in progress. “Besides we don’t want to make Robin cry.”
“Ugh, not again!” Roland sighed dramatically before disappearing with his new big brother, significantly quieter than before. Emma watched them go, not sure which was sweeter, Roland’s hero worship, or Henry’s big brother protectiveness. She glanced back at Regina, who was also smiling softly at the two boys, realizing that they were all settling into comfortable family life together. Regina’s gaze turned to her, and the baby, something unreadable glittering there. Their eyes locked and Emma swallowed hard, understanding that she was becoming part of that family life too.
“I’ve got something a little different brewing in the kitchen. Would you like to try my mulled apple wine?” Regina asked, breaking the silence. Emma nodded, glancing down at the girl now tugging at her hair and smacking her lips.
“Does Mommy have a drink for you too?” Emma asked the baby who gurgled back up at her. She almost missed Regina’s hesitant footstep. She guessed Regina was still wrapping her head around being called Mommy again. Emma made her way over to the couch as the boys dragged boxes out. It had been nice to be asked over to help decorate the tree.
Christmas was never a huge deal to Emma, at least that’s what she would tell people. She would say she was a loner and liked it that way, but over the holidays it was always painfully obvious that she was not a part of whatever family she was with. While being with Snow and Charming helped, Emma still felt like she was missing something in her life. At least, until her year with Henry in New York
Emma sighed remembering how it had just been the two of them, back in their old apartment, not that long ago. The old artificial tree that tilted to the left, as the two of you laughed and drank hot chocolate, untangling the tree lights and pulling out the old ornaments as Charlie Brown Christmas played on television in the background.
Emma noticed that the tree here was leaning to the left too and the box that Henry and Roland were digging into held their old ornaments. The blending of real memories and Regina’s fake memories were once again colliding. She looked up as Regina made her way out of the kitchen, two mugs in her hand, humming a familiar Christmas carol to her self.
“Trust me, you are going to love this.” Regina handed her a steaming mug and scooped wee Robin from her arms. The drink smelled of apples and cinnamon and reminded Emma of a big piece of fresh baked pie and an ice-cold glass of milk while sitting in Granny’s Diner. She took a sip of the mulled apple wine and allowed herself to sink into the warmth surrounding her.
This was what she had been missing, home and hearth and being a part of a family.
As Regina settled Robin with a bottle, Emma moved over to the tattered box marked ‘Xmas Decorations’ and pulled out a familiar box with delicate glass balls. Gold, red, green, all of them faded with time, the silver tops precariously attached to the glass, loops of old thick sewing thread knotted over and over to keep them from coming loose. Some had indents of starbursts in silver, or stripes in gold around their middles, with only the occasional scratch in the paint from an overly thrilled cat from back in the day.
“Regina, these are gorgeous.” An old golden ball dangled from Emma’s long fingers as she held it up, the light from the crackling fire reflecting through the small glass ornament.
“I’ve collected them over the years. I wanted it to be special for Henry, when he was growing up. We had them for years on our Christmas tree. I think a few have broken in the box over the years so watch your fingers for glass shards.” Regina watched as Emma wandered over to the tree and handed one of the delicate globes to Roland and another one to Henry. Emma could feel Regina’s eyes on her as they started to place the balls evenly around.
“Oh, the garland. I almost forgot!” Henry dashed to the hall closet and pulled out some golden garland strands out of the bag of new stuff they had bought and started draping it around the tree.
“I swear I am avoiding the mall again at all costs or someone may end up shot,” Emma grinned, enjoying the warm feeling wash over her at Regina’s soft chuckle. It didn’t take long and the tree was complete, everyone meeting on the couch together with the lights out. A part of her melted a little at the look of pure joy on Regina’s face, as the lights on the tree suddenly flickered on, bathing the room in twinkling sparkles of light. Henry and Roland cheered in delight and even wee Robin seemed to wriggle in pleasure.
It was magical.
Emma turned to find Regina’s eyes, meeting her gaze over the heads of the children, her heart thundering in her chest. She smiled as the boys start to sing Jingle Bells. It jolted her for a moment, the realization that she really wanted to be part of this family. To come home at night and spend time with the kids and listen to Regina tell her about her day.
Emma shook her head at the random scary thought, and how that domestic fantasy was just that, a fantasy. But God, she could almost taste it tonight.
“Em, can you help me get s’more hot chocolate? I’m not supposed to use the kettle by myself.” Roland looked up at Emma with dark trusting eyes, his small hand sliding into hers.
“Sure, buddy,” Emma stood, letting him lead the way. The rest of the evening passed in a blur. Hot cocoa with cinnamon, more mulled apple wine, a diaper change and a jigsaw puzzle started on the floor by the tree, all of them wrapped in a cozy cocoon of laughter and music.
Soon enough though the two boys were yawning, and Henry took the lead and called it a night. Toothbrushes and pajamas and kisses good night, and then it was just the two of them again by the fire. Regina held the baby in her arms, gently humming her daughter to sleep. The fire crackled in the hearth behind her.
That’s when Emma felt it, finally at long last. It wasn’t a borrowed memory, and she didn’t feel like an interloper. Finally she felt like this was home, that this was her family, if she dared to take that step and claim it. If Emma took a chance on what could be and not question it, sharing the joys and burdens of this family of misfit toys.
“Emma?” Regina asked, her voice soft, concerned. Her hand touched Emma’s arm, the warmth welcome, and the tingle of magic, always an undercurrent between them. Never spoken of but always there, just under the surface.
Emma looked up from the flickering fire and met Regina’s gaze. She knew she could get lost there in the swirling emotions reflected in the dark depths, and for once it didn’t scare her. Instead it encouraged her. Life was too short, to not take the gifts when presented, whether they are deserved or not.
“I don’t think I have ever thanked you, for your gift? The memories of Henry’s childhood? For giving me your happily ever after, sacrificing yourself for our happiness?” Emma said into the stillness of the night, the crackle of the fire the only thing breaking the silence.
Regina blinked and smiled. What was there to say really? It was simply good to have the year of pain and separation finally spoken and acknowledged between them.
“Have I thanked you for saving me from the Dark One? For sacrificing yourself for me? I don’t even want to think about how that could have turned out for me, if you hadn’t—“ Regina’s eyes grew darker with emotion.
“I did it to save the tow—” Emma started, trying to shrug off her heroism like usual.
“Don’t.” Regina’s voice dropped an octave, having none of it. “Don’t down play what you did for me. It’s like saying I broke the curse and sent my family over the town line for the good of the town, when we both know differently. What you did was the most incredibly wonderful thing anyone, anyone, has done for me.” Regina paused, taking another sip of her mulled apple wine. “And the most stupid, but you can’t help your Charming genes.”
Emma’s bark of laughter lightened the mood. The baby shifted in Regina’s arms, squeaking and smacking softly before settling down again. They were quiet for a while, both women content to watch the flames.
“I don’t know how I’ll do it, raise a family on my own.” Regina murmured, almost to herself, staring down at the wee girl in her arms.
“You won’t be alone,” Emma’s fierce protective instincts kicked in, as she stared over at mother and child.
“True there’s Henry, “ Regina sighed, “but he will be off to college before you know it…”
Emma’s eyes finally found Regina’s. The truth was there already, one of them just had to be brave.
“That’s not what I meant.”
Regina shifted under the heavy gaze, and glanced down at the sleeping child, before raising her eyes once more. If Emma could be brave than she would be as well.
Emma nodded, knowing that this was enough for tonight. Apparently so did Robin, as she shifted and woke. Regina got her bottle and together they settled her into her crib upstairs. Emma knew this was her future, given time and space. She placed her hand on the back of the now sleeping child, feeling the gentle rise and fall. There was so much to live for, to be grateful for. Emma swallowed hard, hoping that she would get the chance, that they would have an opportunity to be a family.
“I should go,” Emma finally said, not wanting to move.
Regina touched her arm and the tingle of magic flared again. A tiny echo came from the sleeping child. Emma raised her eyebrows at the development. She glanced at Regina, who had sensed it as well, and simply smiled at Emma. It seemed there was adventure for this little one down the road too. They headed for the front door in silence.
“Tomorrow we are wrapping presents, if you would like to drop by. Maybe come for dinner first?” Regina said casually, trying to hide her nervousness. And her hope.
“I’d like that.” Emma grinned. “I’d like that a lot.”
Regina leaned forward, awkwardly at first, until Emma felt arms wrap around her in a hug. She turned toward the warmth, holding close for a moment and breathed her scent in. Regina smelled of apples and cinnamon and baby powder, a glow of magic and something that screamed home. Reluctantly, Emma moved away and headed out the door before she did something stupid and ruined the evening.
There would be other opportunities to be brave, but they weren’t ready yet.
Emma headed down the walkway, a spring in her step for the first time in a long time. Christmas was more than fairytales and happy endings. It was about hope and faith in the future, and the love of friends and family. She stared up at the clear moonlit sky and smiled, knowing that she would be back at 108 Mifflin Street again very soon. Emma stepped out into the night, lighter in heart and soul than when she had arrived.
It wasn’t cold out at all.