TW: Depictions/mentions of abuse
Emma had experienced that in small, fleeting tastes before. The day she realized her birth parents had dumped her on the side of the road, for one. Or the day she learned Regina had tried to hide the truth about Storybrooke from her.
But it had been nothing like this.
"You're kidding." Emma gaped at her mother. She opened her mouth to say more, but found that nothing coherent came out. "I...you...what?"
"Regina…" Mary Margaret stammered. "As much as we'd love that...are you sure?"
Regina nodded tightly. "I think that would be for the best."
"Mom! What the hell?!"
"Emma." Regina bent down slightly and placed her hands on Emma's shoulders, looking straight into her eyes. "You saw the mob out here earlier. They were ready to send me off to jail, or worse, for what I did. I can't let you live in the middle of that."
"Don't be so dramatic. Remember how quickly they left? I made them listen. I can do it again."
"I have a feeling they won't stop there. Jefferson, and now the curse? I will never regret casting the curse, because it brought me you. But not everyone shares the same view. As long as you're with me, you won't be safe. They'll be back, and I can't let you get hurt again."
"They listened to me, because I broke the curse. They might not listen to you, but they have to for me. Don't you see? You need me."
Regina looked at the Charmings. "Give me a minute."
They nodded and walked away, perhaps starting back to their car.
Regina waited until they were out of earshot to continue. "It's not your job to protect me. You deserve to go to school, to spend time with your friends. You shouldn't spend all of your time worrying about me."
"I. Don't. Care."
"Emma, you said so yourself. You wanted to get to know Mary Margaret and David. Think of it as the perfect chance."
"I don't want to live with them. I barely know them."
"But you'll get to. They're good people, and they're your parents."
"So? You're my mom. Don't I get a say in this?"
"My mind's made up. You're going to live with Mary Margaret and David. This isn't a discussion. This is for your own good."
"This is for your own good." Mr. Thompson said as he secured the padlock around the fridge. "Greedy little pigs like you grow up into fat girls, and no one likes a fat ass. Not that anyone will want you, anyway." He sneered before taking a large swig of beer. "Now get upstairs!"
Emma watched him stomp away, probably to finish his hockey game before passing out in front of the TV, and then looked at the locked fridge.
She'd only wanted one of the string cheeses inside. One of the big kids at school had stolen her lunch, and Mr. Thompson didn't usually feed her dinner. However, on some nights after he went to bed (or passed out drunk), Emma had managed to quietly scoot a chair up to the fridge, climb on, and grab a string cheese or maybe a little piece of turkey, if she was lucky.
She just hadn't counted on Mr. Thompson coming in for another beer.
Her stomach growled loudly. Emma looked out at the darkened living room, and listened for the telltale snores above the roar of the TV. She couldn't really hear anything.
Emma's stomach growled again. She knew Mr. Thompson didn't really like to give her breakfast either, which meant that she really needed to eat something. Maybe he was sleeping already? So she started scooting the chair again, this time to the cupboard where she knew Mr. Thompson always kept a box of Cheerios. Maybe she could just grab a little handful?
Inch by inch, Emma started moving the chair, pausing every few seconds to see if she could hear anything. Finally, the chair reached the cupboard, and she quickly climbed up. She could practically taste those Cheerios. Her hand had just closed around the cupboard door's handle when suddenly something made contact with her head, and she found herself flying backward, her shoulder exploding in pain.
"You brat!" Mr. Thompson snapped, advancing towards her. "How dare you try and steal after I explicitly told you to scram?! It's no wonder your trailer trash parents ditched you. You're worthless."
Emma squeezed her eyes tight, not wanting to see what would come next. Instead, she tried to picture the same pretty castle she always did when she felt lonely.
Emma took a wide step back; her hands started to tremble. Regina could see the uncertainty, hurt and fear appear on her face, distorting her features. Tears started to pool in her eyes. "Screw you." She hissed.
"I'm just trying to protect you." Regina argued. "I-"
"No, you're just doing what's easiest!" Emma snapped. "Getting rid of me like that. This was your plan all along, wasn't it? Get me to break the curse so you could just dump me back to where I belonged." As she spoke, she knew the words weren't true. She knew in the back of her mind that Regina loved her. She knew what Regina said made sense in it's own weird little way.
But it didn't make it hurt any less.
"Y-you think...taking me away from...the only home…" She sniffled; her face must've been a mess. "How can you do that?"
Regina wrapped her arms around Emma, hugging her close. Emma buried her face in her mother's coat. "Don't do this." Her entire body shook uncontrollably with sobs. "I'll be good, I promise."
"Please don't do this, Mrs. Baker." Emma murmured from her spot on the porch, where she'd been sent to wait for Anna. She held her blanket tightly under one arm. "I'll be good. I promise."
Mrs. Baker looked down at her sympathetically. "I'm sorry, Emma. But with the baby on the way, we just can't afford to keep you." She started rubbing her stomach in slow circles. "I know Anna will find you a wonderful home."
"But I want to stay here!" Emma exclaimed, swinging her legs. She couldn't reach the floor from the chair she sat in. "You're so nice, and you always have animal crackers. Is it 'cus I called you Mom? I won't do it again. Please don't send me away."
Yet as she spoke, she knew her words were futile. No matter how much lovely families seemed like they wanted to keep her, in the end they never could. And they never would.
"This has nothing to do with you." Regina insisted. "You did nothing wrong."
"Then why are you sending me away?" Emma wailed.
"I know this is hard." Regina started, her voice cracking slightly. "But you have to believe me, dear, I just want what's best for you. I love you so much, Emma. I need to keep you safe."
She pulled away and looked down at Emma. "Even if that means we'll be apart for a little while."
Emma said nothing. What else could she do? Like so many times before, the families she loved most could never keep her, for one reason or another. How could she have thought this time would be different?
White sweater, or gray? Jeans, or leggings? Not that it matters. Emma grabbed a fistful of shirts, followed by pants and socks, and stuffed them into her suitcase. The zipper got stuck when she tried to close the suitcase, and she sighed with frustration before yanking out a random tank top and tossing it over her shoulder.
Emma looked back at her room, at the random bits of jewelry scattered on the dresser, to her countless and well worn books on her shelf. This was her room, her home, her life. There was no way she could take it all with her.
How could she just leave?
There was a soft knock on the door, and Emma looked back to see Regina standing hesitantly at the door. "Almost ready?"
She ignored her mother, instead grabbing her backpack and reaching for her piles of textbooks and notebooks. They didn't quite fit; Emma had never tried to stick them all in before, because she hadn't needed to bring them all at once, instead usually leaving most of them at home.
Did she even have a home anymore?
"This isn't forever." Regina said as she sat down on the edge of Emma's bed, pushing aside a pile of clothes she'd rejected.
"Oh yeah, it's just until you figure out how to make everyone love you, right?" Emma snapped bitterly. "Well I guess I won't see you until we're both dead then, because that'll never happen. Your magic doesn't even work here."
"I will work on that first thing." Regina said calmly. She started folding the random bits of clothing Emma had discarded on the bed, including mismatched socks, crumpled leggings and dirty bras. She'd always told Emma to keep her clothes neat and her room presentable, but of course Emma never bothered to. Not that it mattered too much, anymore.
"We just need to wait until the chaos dies down a bit. And when that does, I swear, I'll be at the Charmings' door faster than you can blink."
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever you say, mother."
"Hey." Regina caught Emma's arm. "You need to cut it with this attitude. I know this is hard. It's no cakewalk for me either, sending you away like this. But it's not forever." She smoothed Emma's hair back. "We'll get through this, like we do everything. I know we will. I love you."
"I love you too." Emma murmured.
Regina pulled away, helping Emma fold her clothes and stuff them into her duffel. She held up one of Emma's shirts and frowned at the blue silky button down.
"Isn't this one of mine?"
"Yeah, yeah." Emma rolled her eyes and snatched it back. "It looks better on me."
"Make sure you take your winter coat."
"Mom. It's not exactly snowing outside."
"You know how chilly it gets at night." Regina said, crossing the room to Emma's closet and pulling the thick black jacket out. As Regina zipped up the duffel, she was hit with a sudden wave of deja vu. Almost exactly 12 years ago, give or take several months, she'd done this exact thing, except Emma's bag had been a child's suitcase, and her clothes much smaller and more colorful.
But the tear stained cheeks and the confusion remained the same. Not to mention the dark pit in her stomach, something no amount of alcohol would ever fill.
Would she always be destined to lose her daughter?