I don't own these characters; ABC does.
Hi, fellow lunatics. I would like to warn you guys that this story doesn't have a beta, so it will probably have a bunch of typos. It takes place immediately after 3.22 (There's No Place Like Home), but ignores the Frozen stuff and ignores season 4. It will be SwanQueen. Enjoy, please.
Warning: if you like Snow White and David, you might wanna turn around. While I think everything that happens in this story is perfectly logical, they don't come across in the best light.
Little Girl Lost
1: Hard knocks
A heavy knocking echoed through the still, late night causing Regina to growl. She wanted to be alone. Is that so hard to understand? Considering how simple all of these peasants are, I'm sure it is. She was sick and tired of everyone in this gods' forsaken town, especially if it was Miss Swan again. A frown cut her face at the thought of that infuriating name. The sound of more knocking – much more insistent than before – cut through her thoughts and annoyed her all the more.
"I'm coming!" Regina barked as she got to the door, pulling her robe tighter to her body as if it was armor. She considered barbequing the person at the door. It would certainly get the rabble back in line, but it would probably have more people at her door in the middle of the night. "What?" she snarled as she snatched the door open.
David jumped back and Regina glared at him with as much venom as she could muster, and then some… just in case. He swallowed hard and tugged his arm closer to his body, calling attention to his side. Her eyes drifted down to see an odd sight. David had a child tucked behind him. Upon closer inspection it was a little girl with long blonde curls.
"David, what is going on?" Regina demanded, eyes locked onto him with some suspicion. While their relationship had never been much, over the year in the Enchanted Forest they had been civil to each other, but he had always watched her a little more closely than one would an ally. She had done the same, in case he decided to betray her. But, nope, his daughter beat him to that.
"Can we talk about this inside?" David practically begged. She hated that his expression reminded her of the damned Sheriff and her most pathetic look.
Regina frowned, but stepped away to let him in. It was a cold night and a child did not need to suffer through the chill. Besides, she needed to hear what happened because this looked weird, even for them. So, he entered with the blond child that looked suspiciously like him with Snow's chin. She could only guess what happened. But, I don't really care what happened.
They went to the living room. David and the child sat on the couch and then he seemed to think better of it. He patted the girl on the head as he stood up. The child squirmed and moved away, scowling. It did not seem like she liked being touched.
"Just sit here with I speak with Regina for a moment," he told her.
She only nodded and sat with her head down, kicking her little feet against the sofa. Regina decided against addressing that since David slinked over next to her. He turned them away from the child.
"All right. What's going on?" Regina folded her hands across her stomach.
"That's Emma," David whispered, pointing toward the sofa.
Regina nodded. "That answers one question, but leaves so many others. Like why should I care and why are you here?"
"We were hoping you'd keep her," David implored, clasping his hands together for a moment.
"And why would I keep your now toddler daughter?" she inquired with an arched eyebrow. "She's your responsibility." And a pain in my ass. A snowball had a better chance surviving in Hell than her doing Emma any favors right now.
David sighed. "Yes, I know, but this is…" Groaning, he shook his head and ran his hand over his head.
"Your responsibility," she repeated since he was thick. Maybe I should draw him a diagram, but I don't have any crayons to put it in a way he would understand. "This has nothing to do with me."
David's eyes, which had lines under them, appeared stricken and he shook his head. "We can't keep her, Regina. She has magic and none of her memories from being an adult. She didn't know who we were or who Henry was or anybody. She thought we were just her next foster family and we had to explain to her we were her real family. Everything seemed fine for a while, but she threw a tantrum – one of many, I should add – and almost burned the apartment down, literally. All of the burners on the stove came on and lit up like bonfires. Plus, all of the outlets sparked and buzzed. The light bulbs burst right in their sockets. Regina, we have a baby to worry about. Not to mention, our grandson."
Regina scowled, feeling manipulated. "Did you take her to Rumple to see if she might change back?"
Breathing hard, David paced a couple of steps. He seemed a bit at wits' end. "We went to him yesterday morning when she woke up like this. We hoped he'd be able to change her back or get her memories back or something, but he couldn't do anything for her. He said it's probably magical residue left over from the time travel spell. Her body somehow absorbed it and it's working it's way though her system. She should be fine in a few days."
Regina was unmoved. "Then, you should take care of her."
David actually growled. "Did you miss the part where I said she threw a tantrum and almost killed us all? We have a baby in the house and when Neal started crying, she just got more upset. The power lines outside sparked high and a few burned right off the poles. We've been trying all day with her, but we can't. She blew up the sink because she didn't want to wash her hands for breakfast."
Regina frowned even deeper. She could remember being a child and having a few magical accidents. She had not known what they were at the time, but she had gotten into trouble with her mother for them and had been punished accordingly. She doubted the saintly Snow White and Prince Charming would do that to Emma. But, this did not seem to be the best solution either.
"Please, Regina. It seems like every time we pick up Neal, Emma needs us immediately and if we don't attend to her, she throws a tantrum that destroys something in the apartment. If it keeps up, someone could get hurt. I don't want Emma to go back to normal only to find she hurt Neal or Henry."
Truthfully, Regina did not care about Emma's feelings at the moment. After all, less than forty eight hours ago, Emma had ruined her life, taking Robin from her by bringing Marian back. Marian, whom she had killed apparently in the now altered timeline, who was probably reminded everyone what a monster Regina was. She could imagine how everyone must have thought she killed Marian just to steal her family. So, thanks to Emma, she could look forward to being a pariah all over again.
And before that, Emma had planned to take Henry from her, like she did not even matter, like she was not Henry's mother, like she had not done everything in her power to give Emma a good life, and like she had not helped Emma's parents come back to her. Emma had not considered her feelings, so she would no longer consider Emma's feelings.
But, there was Henry to consider, as well as his little uncle. They were in danger if Emma had her usual powers in her child body. There was no way that a child could control that kind of magic, so they were lucky she had only blown up the sink and set the kitchen on fire. She could have done some serious damage.
"And how long exactly did Rumple say she'd be like this?" Regina asked, betraying none of her emotions.
"A few days. No more than a week."
"And why would you bring her to me? What makes you think I won't smother the little terror in her sleep?" Regina allowed a cruel smirk that the Evil Queen would have proudly worn to slide onto her face.
David flinched. "Snow thought this would be a good idea."
Regina chuckled darkly. "Snow may have too much faith and trust." Of course, not too long ago in the Enchanted Forest, Snow had openly discussed the idea of Regina babysitting her new child.
He frowned. "Regina, I'm bring serious."
"As am I. Why not take her to her precious Captain? Surely he would love a chance to care for her," Regina said, rolling her eyes. She could not even imagine that bastard Hook with a little girl in his care. He would probably abandon her at the first bar he stumbled into.
David's frown deepened, but he did not say anything. Clearly, he knew how ridiculous it was to suggest Hook look after anybody. Regina wondered if he and Snow debated this point before her name somehow came up.
Before they could debate any further, Regina noticed movement from the corner. Emma eased over to them and tapped David in the side. He glared at Regina and then turned to Emma.
"Honey, I told you I need to talk to Regina," David said. He was trying to sound patient, but there was a hint of annoyance under his tone. Clearly taking care of three children in a day, one of whom had magical powers, had not been a walk in the park for Charming.
"But," Emma tried to explain. Her forehead was creased and she frowned.
"Just give me a moment, okay?" He turned back to Regina. Emma tugged on his sleeve. "Emma!" he snorted.
"I need you to wait," David said through gritted teeth.
Regina studied the little girl for a moment. She noticed a tiny trail behind the blonde. She inspected the child's pants. Sighing, Regina leaned down.
"Darling, did you have an accident?" Regina asked in a soft tone. Emma glanced at the floor and nodded. Regina sighed again. "While you were sitting on the couch?" Emma nodded once more.
"Wait, you had another accident?" David groaned. Obviously, this had happened at least once before today. Emma flinched.
Regina frowned. "It's okay, sweetheart. We'll get you cleaned up," she cooed and Emma relaxed. "Can you wait for me at the top of the stairs?" There was a nod and the blonde walked off, one pant leg leaving a dripping trail behind her.
"Regina, I am so sorry. I don't know what's wrong with her. She randomly went to the bathroom on herself while standing in the middle of the apartment today, too," David unnecessarily explained.
"Do you have a bag for her?" Regina inquired.
"A bag?" He looked like he did not know what such a thing was and she was tempted to tell him it was the thing in his head masquerading as a brain.
"Yes, with items that belong to her," she snapped. He was trying her already raw last nerve. She had been attempting to have a quiet night sulking, brooding, and possibly getting drunk to drown her murderous rage (or intense sorrow depending on the thoughts in her head) and now she had to deal with this new mess.
His eyes widened. "Oh! Um… she doesn't have anything beyond what she has on."
Regina rubbed her forehead for a second. This is Charming. Of course she doesn't have anything. This is Charming. To prevent a headache, Regina felt the best thing to do would be get him out of her house. Besides, she had a wet toddler on the stairs.
"I expect Henry back here tomorrow," Regina said, as if that was a condition of their deal. In reality, it was an order. Her son should be where his parents were.
David's brow furrowed and he frowned slightly. "Henry? Why? Didn't you hear me when I said Emma has magic and can't control it?"
"I expect Henry because he's my son and this is his home. Why shouldn't he be here? Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to deal with Emma and you have to get home," Regina replied. She waved her hand to open the door and started for the stairs, hoping David got the hint.
David stood there, gaping like the moron she was certain he was before he figured out it was time for him to leave. Once he crossed the threshold, the door closed on its own. Regina found Emma waiting for her, as ordered, at the top of the stairs, looking as miserable as a child possibly could. Regina could see the adult-Emma in the frowning face, finding it had that same stretch of adorable. As soon as the thought crossed her mind, she shook away. I'm tired and angry and this situation is weird even for us and that's why my brain has suddenly gone berserk.
"Come along. We'll get you a bath and dry clothes," Regina said calmly, but somewhat cold. They needed to get back on track.
"I'm sorry I peed myself!" Emma quickly said, straightening up some. She was tense, but her hands shook with nervous energy.
Regina stared down at the little girl, looking at how big her green eyes were, how they glistened with unshed tears. The child looked positively afflicted by everything going on. Regina tried her damnedest to keep her emotions intact, but it was hard to do with those eyes looking at her. Taking a deep breath, she let everything settle inside of her. This will definitely need kid gloves, which I fear I no longer possess. Especially in regard to Miss Swan.
"It's all right, sweetheart. Come on, let's go clean up," Regina said, her voice now as gentle as she could make it with annoyance still in her system. She surprised herself with her tone.
"I'm really sorry," Emma whimpered, her bottom lip quivering.
"I know. Like I said, it's all right. We'll clean you up, okay?" Regina put her hand out, wanting Emma to trust her.
Emma curled into herself and Regina frowned briefly. She tried her best not to think about Emma's reaction and managed to smile. She just hoped she did not look as demented as she felt right now. Emma looked down at Regina's hand and then into Regina's eyes before finally taking her hand. Regina smiled more sincerely now and led the child to the main bathroom.
"Do you want bubbles?" Regina asked as she ran warm water into the garden bathtub.
Emma remained quiet. Regina sighed and put in bubbles anyway. While the water ran, she moved to go find some of Henry's old bath toys and came up short. He had stopped taking baths a little while before he ran off to Boston. Glancing over at the child, who was very interested in her feet, Regina just conjured up a basket of toys. Emma did not notice.
"The water's ready," Regina called to Emma, who did not move. "Emma, please. I'm not going to hurt you in any way. I just need you to get into the bath."
Emma chewed on her bottom lip. Regina waited because she knew forcing Emma to do anything right now would only result in a tantrum and possibly a burnt down house. She took a step closer to Emma and kneeled down to her level.
"You want to get clean, don't you?" Regina asked and Emma nodded. "Are you scared? Do you want me to leave?" She did not actually plan to leave, but if it made Emma more comfortable, she would pretend to leave. Of course, later, she would have to find out why Emma wanted her to leave if that was the case.
"No, you can stay," Emma replied, her voice low, almost a whisper.
"All right. So, let's get you out of these wet clothes, all right?" Regina moved to unbutton the shirt and noticed it was new. It was also something Regina would have expected to see on an elderly woman. So, the Charmings had time to get Emma at least one outfit, but not others. Thinking too hard on it would hurt her head, so she let it go.
Emma stood perfectly still while Regina stripped her of the unfortunate shirt she wore and peeled off her soaked slacks. She then lifted the child into the tub. She was light and Regina wondered if her body had reverted back to exactly as it was when Emma was… whatever age she was supposed to be. Regina put a couple of toys in the tub with her and left the rest of the basket on the edge. She then went to sit on the closed toilet. Green eyes never left her.
Regina watched as Emma watched her. The little blonde had her head ducked just a little, hiding behind some bubbles, and watched Regina out of the corner of her eye. Regina wondered what the child was waiting for, but decided against asking.
"So, Emma, how old are you?" Regina asked curiously, wanting to make small talk to get the girl comfortable. Emma only frowned. "About four?" Regina guessed from the size of the child and how much she weighed. But, she really only had Henry and Roland to judge by. Boys might have been different from girls.
Emma frowned more and put her chin up. "I'm six!" She then proceeded to hold up seven fingers. Regina was confused to say the least.
"You do realize you have seven fingers up, correct?" Regina inquired with an arched eyebrow.
Emma's forehead creased and she looked at her hands. Squinting, she dropped three fingers. Regina smiled a bit and shook her head. Emma scowled at her hands and then dropped them down, splashing the water.
"Well, I'm six," Emma grumbled, glaring at a pile of bubbles.
Regina merely made a noise. That was disconcerting. Emma was rather small for a six year old. It could be magic, but she was willing to bet this was the size Emma was as a child. Not to mention, she had accidents and she flinched away from touching. Regina could already guess what Emma's childhood was like. She would definitely have to tread lightly.
"He left me, didn't he?" Emma asked, her tiny voice disrupting Regina's thoughts.
"Hmm?" Regina replied.
"The man… David… whoever, he left me." This was a statement.
"He wants me to take care of you."
Emma only scowled, looking very much like a three foot, chubby cheeked adult. Regina did not press for anything, merely watching to make sure Emma did not drown. Emma did not play with any of the toys. She sat there, eyes focused down with the occasional glance at Regina. After a while, Regina checked for signs of pruning. Emma showed her hands without any protest.
"That means it's time to get out. So, we need to wash you up," Regina said.
Emma only nodded. Regina had to wash Emma up, retrieving a washcloth from the cabinets on the wall. She stayed clear of Emma's personal area, leaving the child to clean there. Inspecting Emma's head, she did not think her hair needed to be washed yet. She then wrapped Emma in a big, fluffy towel that practically swallowed the girl.
"Now, we need to get you dressed," Regina said. Of course, she did not have any clothing for little girls, but she had the next best thing.
She went to the guest room with Emma following behind. She pretended to go through the dresser in there and pulled out a plain, red pajama set for Emma as well as underwear, all made with her magic. Emma was dried, dressed, and ready for bed in no time.
"How do you feel?" Regina asked.
Emma shrugged. "Better." The bland reaction was more than what Regina expected, so they were getting somewhere.
"Good. Have you eaten?" Regina inquired. She should have gotten that information from David, but as useless as he was, he probably did not know. It was late for a child to be up, so she would prefer to just be able to put Emma to bed than anything else.
Emma shrugged again. This was a step up from her frowning, but Regina needed more information. Kneeling down again, she put her hands on Emma's shoulders. At least Emma did not flinch away or try to shrug her off.
"Emma, I need you to talk to me." There was only another insufferable shrug. Sighing, Regina kept down her annoyance. "Emma, right now, your best move is to talk to me. Are you hungry?"
"Best move?" Emma echoed with a furrowed brow.
"Yes. Your best move. You know like when you're playing a game and you want to win?" Regina asked. Emma nodded. "Yes, when you want to win, you have to use your best moves. Talking to me is your best move. Now, are you hungry?"
Another shrug was her response. "I guess."
That was better than nothing. "Come along, then. We'll get you a sandwich." No reason to give Emma anything heavy since she would be going to bed almost immediately. Ten o'clock was much too late for a young child to be awake.
Emma followed quietly behind her. Regina slowly made her way down the stairs, not wanting Emma to feel rushed. She noted the light liquid trail from earlier and magically did away with it as they passed it. Hopefully, there won't be any more accidents.
She made Emma a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich, remembering how much Henry enjoyed them when he was around this age. With the crushes cut off and the sandwich in four triangles, Regina set Emma up at the dining room table with a cup of apple juice. She left Emma to eat for a moment to go clean her couch, which she did with magic. For a moment, she dwelled on it, wondering why Emma had had an accident. Perhaps, if I know why, I can make sure she doesn't do it again. But, she did not have the time to ponder it. She needed to get back to Emma, as small children were always full of surprises when left alone for any given time. When she returned, the sandwich was all gone.
"My, goodness, you have a very healthy appetite," Regina commented, taking Emma's empty plate. "Did David and his wife feed you?"
Emma shrugged and stared at the floor. "Some."
"Did you eat what they gave you?"
"Some." Emma rubbed her eye with her fist and yawned.
"I think someone's tired."
"Not me," Emma objected. "I can stay up real late." She yawned again.
Regina smiled. "Of course, you can. Then you can keep me company."
Emma beamed and Regina kept in a chuckle. She led Emma to the living room and they sat on the now clean couch. Emma's brow wrinkled.
"What's wrong?" Regina asked.
"You didn't make me sit in the wet spot." She sounded confused, almost troubled.
Internally, Regina frowned, but managed to keep a calm expression. "Of course not. That would've been a bad move on my part." She noticed Emma's face twitch a bit, like she understood that somehow. "Beside, there is no longer a wet spot. I cleaned it up."
"Oh." Emma practically squeaked, her little face scrunching up. "Um, sorry about the couch."
Regina waved her off. "It's quite all right. Now, I need to finish this book. Do you think you could sit with me while I do that?" She figured she could read a little to Emma and the child would surely fall asleep in no time.
Emma nodded and rubbed her eye again. "Could I… Um… watch TV?"
Regina felt that was fine. Emma was fading and probably would not make it through a show. Besides, she doubted young Emma had a chance to watch much television.
"All right. What do you want to see?" Regina asked.
"Cartoons!" Emma actually grinned.
Regina could not help smiling, even though it was a slight expression. It was nice to see the little girl happy. Stop it. This is Miss Swan. You don't care if she's happy… even if she's only a child. Shaking her thoughts away, Regina found a cartoon channel that Henry still watched on occasion and left the little girl to her show. Emma was asleep in less than ten minutes despite struggling to keep her eyes open.
Regina smiled to herself as she gathered Emma in her arms. She carried the child to the guest room and laid her in the bed. She brushed blond locks from a pale forehead.
"Hopefully, this will be over soon," Regina sighed. She was not looking forward to keeping Emma for much longer.
She was not in the mood to do anything resembling taking care of Emma, but it was not like she could throw out a small child. Worse than that, it was not like she could send her back to the Charmings. Those two idiots had already done enough damage.
"You would think they'd jump at the chance to 'raise' Emma," Regina muttered, shaking her head.
Sighing, Regina decided not to think on it. She went to bed, leaving her door open just in case. She recalled when Henry was five or six, he occasionally had nightmares and would come in her room. Sometimes, he would not wake up, but she liked to hear him and go comfort him in his sleep if necessary. Then, of course, there were the few times when he just woke up and needed something. Little Emma might need her in the night and despite the fact that she was still incredibly pissed at Emma, she would not let her suffer in child form. The suffering could wait until Emma was an adult again.
Screams in the middle of the night shocked Regina out of her sleep. Gasping, she actually vanished from her bedroom to Henry's room. For a moment, she was confused as to why his room was empty, but then she remembered he was with his grandparents and she had another child in the house. So, with another flick of her wrists, she appeared in Emma's room.
Emma thrashed in her bed and claws at the mattress. Her covers were off her body and her pillows were on the floor. Regina watched for a moment before sliding onto the bed and gathering Emma up in her arms. Emma had already sweated through her pajamas and actually torn her sleeve. Regina held her tightly as she flailed, wanting to at least make sure little Emma did not hurt herself.
"Shh," Regina cooed, patting the girl's head.
Emma bawled in her sleep, but also curled into Regina. The mayor took a beating in her time holding the child, but slowly Emma calmed down. It took almost an hour, though. Regina was actually scared to leave her when she finally settled. Surely whatever haunted little Emma would come back if no one was there.
"That's how terrors are…" Regina murmured. So, she held Emma for almost another hour before she felt confident in leaving. She slept the lightest that night since Henry was a toddler.
In the morning, Regina needed coffee before anything else. She poked her head in the guest room, checking on Emma – after coffee – to find the little girl sitting up in bed, looking as lost as ever. A lost girl. It had not made nearly as much sense in Neverland as it did now.
For Regina, the term "lost boy" had always carried a mutual sense of abandonment. Boys off looking for adventure, following Pan, and leaving home only to be forgotten by their parents eventually. The boys lost themselves just as much as their parents lost them. Little Emma, then and now, could not fit into that hole. No, this "lost girl" was a different creature.
Emma seemed utterly lost, like she was adrift at sea all on her own. Most of the time, the sea was rough and choppy, throwing her about. Sometimes, the waters might calm, but there was always water, never any land in sight. Emma had no clue how or why she had gotten into those waters, but drifted on, having no choice. It left her with many worries and scares and seemed like even in calm times, she just waited for the rough waters to return. No time to think about anything else, just the upcoming torrent.
"Would you like some breakfast?" Regina asked, doing her best to sound normal to avoid frightening the little girl.
Emma nodded. "Yes." Her voice was tiny.
Regina resisted the urge to correct the statement to "yes, please." She did not want to give little Emma any reason to shut down or shut her out.
"Come along, then." Regina gently waved her on. Emma looked away and then shook her head. Regina arched an eyebrow. "Well, you can't have breakfast unless you come downstairs. What's wrong?" Emma shook her head again. Regina sighed softly and walked over to the bed. "Sweetheart, you can tell me. What's wrong? Did something happen? Did you have another accident?"
Emma shook her head. "No. Well… not that accident."
Regina's brow wrinkled. "What sort of accident then?" Please, don't let her have completely soiled my good linen.
Emma nibbled on her lip and then held up her arm, showing off the ruined pajama top. "I teared it."
Internally, Regina breathed a sigh of relief. Regina smiled, wanting little Emma to know it was all right. "I know. You had a nightmare last night and I think you were trying to escape it. It's fine. We'll get you some better things today." She felt like the poor child needed actual clothes rather than her just using magic for everything.
Green eyes blinked owlishly. "Better?"
"Yes, but first you need to have breakfast."
A pale forehead wrinkled. "So… I'm not in trouble?"
"Not for an accident. Now, come along."
"But, I was bad."
Regina wondered how many times little Emma had been told she was bad for things out of her control. "No, it was an accident. Now, let's have breakfast."
Emma nodded and hopped out of the bed, following Regina out of the room. I think I could learn to like the miniature version of Miss Swan. She's much more compliant and easier to get along with than the full size cretin. Emma went to the dining room table while Regina went to put on some oatmeal. She poured Emma a cup of juice for her to drink while they waited. Emma played with the glass while squirming in her seat.
"Are you all right?" Regina asked.
Emma frowned, but nodded. "I hafta pee."
"Then by all means, go to the bathroom. Come, I'll show you where it is down here." Regina was glad to know Emma did not constantly have accidents. She considered last night might just be from the trauma of being dropped off into an unfamiliar environment. It would also explain the accident at the Charming home. It had to be disorienting and traumatic to wake up in a new home with no clue how she got there and with people she did not know, all probably claiming to be her family.
Once Emma was taken to the bathroom and fed (she had two serving of oatmeal in less than five minutes), Regina dressed her. Emma did not seem like a "dress" child, but Regina was a dress woman, so she put Emma in a little dress made from magic, shrinking down one of her more conservative outfits. Emma did not object, but she did look down at her clothing as if she could not figure out what it was.
It only took a moment for Regina to get ready herself. She went to the front door and stepped out, but Emma did not follow. Regina turned and saw the little girl had a furrowed brow and frown.
"Is there something wrong, Emma?" Regina inquired with a calm tone. It took all of her willpower to not arch an eyebrow, believing it would intimidate the skittish child.
"You're taking me back," Emma hissed.
"Taking you back? To David and Snow?" Regina laughed. "I promise you, that is not the case." I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, obviously.
"No, to the group home. You're giving me back. You said I wasn't bad, but you're giving me back!" Emma glared at her, eyes accusing Regina of horrible crimes.
Regina shook her head and smiled. "I'm not giving you back."
"Yeah? That's what that guy David said before he left me with you."
"Well, David's an idiot."
Emma frowned more. "Yeah, but he also said he was my dad and then he gave me to you. Just like Zac said he was my dad and then him and stupid Courtney, who wanted me to call her mom returned me, took me back to stupid group. Stupid Jake and Abby did the same thing. Mommy and Daddy did the same thing. You're returning me."
Lost girl, the term floated through Regina's mind again. "Emma, I promise, I'm not… returning you." She chewed the word "returning" out of her mouth because who returned a child? Then she recalled how she was with Henry in the beginning. For a time, she had considered "returning" him, but then felt horrified at doing such a thing. She could not see how people actually went through with that. Doesn't everyone feel that acid burn in their stomach and that squeeze of their heart when trying to take a baby back? She could not possibly be the only one.
"Everybody promises that," Emma grumbled, kicking at an imaginary rock.
"I'm sure they do, sweet child, but I'm not everybody. I'm Regina and I'm going to hold onto you for as long as you need me," Regina vowed. "That's my best move." Emma seemed to like the term, so she thought it would help sell the idea. She was wrong.
Emma shook her head. "No, I don't believe you!" She stomped her foot and folded her arms across her chest. The porch light sparked.
"Emma, sweetling," Regina cooed, stepping back to over to her. She went down on one knee, putting herself on level with Emma. "I'm not going to return you. I want to take you shopping. You need things."
Emma frowned. "I have things."
Regina's face deadpanned. "Where are these things then?"
Growling, the child looked away to the side. "I dunno…"
Regina believed this was a lie, but did not press Emma. Maybe she did have things, or thought she did at the least. Who knew what a six-year-old Emma traveled with, after all. I wonder if her "superpower" works.
"Emma, I know this is hard to believe and you're scared, but I'm not going to return you to anyone. I want to take you to get you some clothes. Just look in my eyes and if you still think I'm going to take you back, we'll go back in the house and you can stay there until you want to leave. Okay?" Regina said.
Emma nodded and turned to look Regina directly in the eyes. Regina focused on the green eyes in front of her, mapping out the differences between these big, almost innocent orbs and the hard, jaded gaze of the adult Emma. She could already see signs of who this girl would grow up to be, the suspicion and mistrust already there. I suppose we can stay inside until she changes back. And then Regina would savor kicking Emma out. Her thoughts were interrupted when Emma put her hand on Regina's shoulder. Regina knew what that meant.
"So, you're ready to go?" Regina asked. Nodding, Emma smiled. Regina took her hand and led her to the car.
"Can I sit in the front?" Emma requested with a hopeful smile.
"You're much too young for the front seat. You will sit in the back with your seatbelt on and I will let you listen to whatever music you want to on the radio," Regina replied.
Emma pouted, but she did not object. They spent the first five minutes of the ride looking for suitable songs for Emma. Fortunately, the radio station was still stuck in the 80s, so the music did not sound completely alien to the child and she did not complain about anything. She hummed along to the songs, danced in her seat, and kicked her feet. Henry used to be the same way.
Regina entertained the idea of going to a thrift shop. After all, Emma was only going to be a child for a few days, a week at most, but Regina could not bring herself to do it. She wanted to dress Emma in nice things, if only for the blonde to be weirded out by it when she returned to her rightful self and realized she had been dressed like a little doll. So, they went to the high end shopping area with tons of boutiques.
Regina shopped here for herself. She was not sure how it was since the Curse had been lifted, but she hoped some of the stores were still open. Parking, she let Emma out and Emma took her hand without prompting.
"We'll get you some very pretty things, all right?" Regina said with a smile.
Emma beamed for the first time and Regina could not help thinking she was adorable. The first few shops they passed were closed, but Regina's favorite boutique remained. Stepping inside, it even smelled the same.
The shop owner came to greet them. "Good morning, Your Majesty." She was a middle-aged woman, greying to some degree with deep brown eyes.
"Evelyn, please, continue to refer to me as Regina," she requested. Evelyn had been her dressmaker for her entire tenure as queen, seeing her at both the best of times (as few as those were) and, of course, the worse. Evelyn could always find the perfect outfit to match or improve her moods.
"I dare not!" Evelyn objected, utterly scandalized by the very idea. "I have some sense of decorum even if the rest of this heathen town has lost all sense of decency." She sniffed a bit, affronted by the town. "Now, what might I do for you?"
"I'm not sure how you are with dressing children, but I trust you and I need clothing for this little one." Regina motioned to the child currently hiding behind her skirt.
Evelyn looked down and her thin eyebrows drew in close. "You've adopted another one? She is just as adorable as your son." She smiled down at Emma.
"I suppose. Say thank you for the compliment," Regina instructed the little girl. There was a "thank you," but it was so low that it could have come from the wind.
"She looks familiar," Evelyn commented, examining Emma.
"It's the chin, I'm sure. But, this is Emma. And yes it's the Emma you're thinking of. There was an…" Regina trailed off, not wanting to use the word "accident" because she did not want Emma to be self-conscious or offended.
Evelyn shook her head. "No need to explain. I'll try to find something for her, but as you know, most of my merchandise is for adults."
"I trust you."
Regina had a seat on one of the cushioned chairs and Emma followed suit. One of the shop girls brought tea for Regina and milk for Emma while Evelyn put together an outfit. The shop girl declared Emma to be "so cute" and a tiny "thank you" came from behind the milk cup. Regina sat up a little taller. She can be taught.
"All right. I have five outfits I'd like to see her in. I'm not sure if they will suit her as I'm not completely familiar with her, but from what I can see…" Evelyn had more than likely chosen colors to complement Emma's hair and complexion as well as her shy demeanor.
"We'll go through them." Regina turned her attention to Emma, who sported an endearing milk mustache. Regina was not sure if she would be able to survive the onslaught of cuteness if every other thing Emma did made everyone want to go "aw" at the top of their lungs. "Emma, Evelyn needs you to try on some clothes."
Finishing up her sip, Emma licked her lips and smacked them together. "You'll still be here, right?"
"Of course. I'll sit right here and finish my tea. The dressing room is right over there." Regina pointed to the booths, which were hidden behind a wall.
Emma frowned. "Not closer?"
"I'll come with you," Regina said. There was no telling what Emma might do alone and afraid. She needed to make sure Evelyn's shop remained standing. After all, she would need new clothes for the spring.
Emma hopped up and waited for Regina to stand before following Evelyn. The three shop girls in Evelyn's employ hung around the corner, but looked into the corridor with the dressing rooms, waiting to see what outfits Emma would come out in. Regina had to give Emma a small pep talk about going into the dressing room with Evelyn to make sure the clothes were put on correctly, but eventually Emma went inside. She emerged minutes later. The first outfit was almost like a school uniform, but instead of a skirt, Evelyn had given Emma red plaid pants and a matching tie. Regina's mouth twitched.
"She didn't want to try on the skirt that went with it, but I had a feeling it wouldn't work," Evelyn explained.
"It's acceptable," Regina said. Evelyn smiled, knowing this was as close to a compliment as the Queen would come. "Emma, do you like it?"
Emma shrugged. "I guess."
"Emma, remember you have to talk to me and you have to be honest. You're the one who will be wearing this. Do you like it?"
The child nodded, so this was one outfit out of the way. By the second one, Regina knew she was already too invested in a simple shopping trip. The pinstripe pants and white shirt that Emma came out in next needed something more and it was Regina who found the perfect vest for it. She also wanted a chain clip for the pocket of the vest. Emma stood perfectly while this went on. By the third outfit, Regina was gone, deciding they needed shoes, boots, belts, and other accessories.
"It's not too late for a little girl, Your Majesty," Evelyn whispered as the former queen gathered some ribbons.
Regina frowned briefly. "Henry is enough," she replied in a clipped tone.
Evelyn merely smiled at her and then went back to dressing Emma, who was fading. Her eyes were droopy and there were little frown lines around her mouth and on her forehead. Regina checked the time and realized they had been trying on clothes for almost three hours. Poor little Emma was probably bored to tears and tired of trying on clothes. Henry could never make it past two hours of clothes shopping.
"This should be enough for now, Evelyn. Ring us up," Regina ordered, but her tone was polite… polite for her anyway.
"We're leaving?" Emma asked, some hope in her voice.
"Yes. We'll get some lunch and then see what else you might need," Regina answered.
Emma shrugged and took Regina's hand. Clothing paid for and bags in hand, the pair marched out. Regina put Emma in the car before putting the clothing in. Emma stared out of the window, frowning a bit. There was something wrong.
"Do you need something?" Regina asked as she put the car in motion.
Emma shook her head, but continued frowning. Regina thought it was probably just hunger, so she drove over to Granny's. She would reward the girl for being a wonderful little shopper with some less than healthy food. She just hoped a certain outlaw family was not dining there at the same time. She would not suffer their presences right now. She also hoped the sight of her taking care of their precious Savior kept people from calling her a monster to her face.
The bell chimed as they entered and Ruby saw them almost immediately. She rushed over, undoubtedly knowing Emma was the child just from the smell. Emma pushed against Regina's side, but she did not hide like she had with Evelyn. Regina guessed Emma was already familiar with Ruby.
"Hey, there, Emma. You look very cute. You're with the mayor today?" Ruby asked the obvious. The waitress looked a little confused by this, which made sense to Regina. This confused her as well, after all.
"Yes, she's with me and she's quite hungry," Regina replied, doing her best to be polite. There was no reason to teach little Emma bad habits. Those would return when she was an adult after all.
Ruby smiled, though it was a bit strained, like she understood the hidden bite in Regina's words. They sat in a booth and Ruby came to take their orders.
"Emma, you want what you had yesterday?" Ruby offered with a bright smile.
Regina figured the Charmings had come by the diner yesterday with Emma, probably before or after going to see Gold. Emma's eyes lit up for a moment and then she turned to Regina expectantly. Of course, Regina had no idea what Emma had yesterday, but if it would help lift her spirits after enduring power-shopping, it would be fine.
"She didn't have some sugary confection, did she?" Regina asked. She would not suffer through a hyperactive child. And she imagined Emma was probably quite crazy and clumsy when filled with sugar.
"Nope. Simple hamburger with the works. I was surprised a little bit like her could eat the whole thing, but she practically swallowed it," Ruby reported.
"Now, you might object to the m-i-l-k-s-h-a-k-e she had," Ruby stated. It was a bit surprising that Ruby knew to spell things out in front of little Emma.
"Yes, that might be too much. Bring her some lemonade with her hamburger. Make sure the lemonade is mostly w-a-t-e-r."
Emma looked between them, knowing something was going on, but clearly confused by it. Ruby smiled and nodded. "And you'll have your usual?"
Regina nodded and Ruby was off. When she returned, Emma plunged into her meal with huge, loud bites. Regina frowned, not surprised at all the girl ate like a savage. While the adult Emma had some control, if a person sat close enough, one could definitely hear her eating. Not to mention, she ate with great speed, like she expected her food to be taken from her at any moment. Little Emma was a million times worse. Ketchup and mayonnaise smeared around Emma's face as she dived into her burger over and over again. Before Regina could reprimand little Emma's atrocious mealtime behavior, Ruby spoke.
"So, how did you end up with her?" Ruby asked, nodding toward Emma, who was too interested in her hamburger and fries to pay them any mind.
"Her father dropped her off. You should speak to them if you want to know why she's in my custody. I'd love to hear their spin on this," Regina answered with a smirk. She knew tiny creatures had big ears, so she did not want to say anything to discourage Emma, but she wanted Ruby to know her precious, beloved Charmings had intently left Emma with her.
Ruby frowned, but she wisely did not press. She was not the only one who wanted to know why Regina had little Emma and they did not ask nicely. People just came over, demanding to know how she got the tiny blond or what she was going to do to Emma. Regina barely made it through her grilled chicken salad and was one question away from frying someone when Emma finally finished her food. Emma did not look any happier than she had when they arrived. Regina wondered what was wrong.
"Emma, if anything's bothering you, you should tell me," Regina said, leaving money on the table for their meal. "We've gone through this." She did not want to have the same conversation every two hours.
"I'm okay," Emma muttered, eyes on the floor.
Regina did not want to force the child to talk; Emma would say something when she was ready. Of course, Regina did not like having to go through this. She was used to someone talking when she told them to do. Still, she buried any of her negative emotions. Emma did not need her acting like a child as well.
Besides, maybe Emma was just a moody child. She only became more sullen as they went grocery shopping. Regina even promising to make cake did not lift her mood and she knew how much Emma loved sweets. Then, Emma let out the most adult sigh Regina had ever heard when they passed the "toy" aisle. Emma stopped and stared down the corridor full of cheap supermarket toys.
"Come along, Emma," Regina called, making her way to the register.
Pouting, Emma followed behind her until everything was paid for and in the car, including her. Emma kicked the back of the passenger seat. Regina frowned, but managed to bite back any anger. She could see why some people said the second child was easier, as she definitely would have said something to Henry at this age. Of course, those people probably did not have an emotionally damaged second child who could have flashbacks or completely shut down if reprimanded.
"Emma, one more store and then home, okay?" Regina proposed. She suspected she knew what would lift Emma's morose mood now.
Emma sank into the seat and scowled even deeper if that was at all possible. Regina pulled up to one last store and opened Emma's door. Emma was slow to get out and her shoulders slumped.
"Come along, Emma," Regina called. She doubted she had said the words "come along" so often in her life, but they worked with Emma, so she was stuck with the phrase for now.
The child dragged her feet behind her, but she followed. She paused at the window display of a toy store. A large, dancing teddy bear and an elaborate toy train displayed front and center. Big, green eyes coveted these items. Emma looked on, like a starving person, who stood before a banquet just out of reach.
"Emma," Regina said with a little snap to her tone, just wanting the girl's attention.
"Huh?" Emma said, not turning to look.
"Emma, the correct response is 'yes' not 'huh.' Is that understood?" Regina inquired.
The scowl became a little deeper. "Yes."
"Now, come along," Regina ordered, holding open a door.
Emma dragged her feet again, but somehow made it seem like she was stomping at the same time. A gasp escaped her as soon as she entered the store, having no idea it was a toy store. Regina smiled.
"Now, don't get carried away while you're in here," Regina said.
Emma seemed to understand that well enough, staring up at Regina with wide, bright eyes before she rushed off, but Regina noticed Emma kept her in her sights. Those green eyes glanced at Regina every few seconds, like she needed to make sure Regina was still there. Regina hated to think that sometime in Emma's short life she had been abandoned somewhere, beyond the group house anyway. Eventually, the glitz and glimmer of the store captured Emma and she touched everything, but did not keep a hold on a single toy. Regina strolled up behind her.
"Why don't you pick something out?" Regina whispered into her ear, causing Emma to jump.
Emma spun around and narrowed her gaze on Regina. "Really?" her voice cracked.
"Yes. No sense in coming to a store and not buy anything, correct?"
Emma seemed to think on it and then she rushed off. Regina half-expected the child to come back carrying a kitchen set considering how much she liked to eat, but instead, she returned holding an electronic dog. Emma held it up like it was the best thing she had ever held. Regina nodded and Emma hugged the toy to her chest. On the way to the counter, Regina grabbed a small plush duck, hiding it from Emma's view. It would be a nice surprise for later.
After that, they went home. Emma charged into the house, her toy in hand. Regina carried in Emma's clothing; the food could wait. She stopped Emma before the child got out of the foyer.
"Emma, shoes," Regina called.
Emma paused and looked down. "Huh?" Regina narrowed her gaze and Emma straightened a little. "I mean, yes?"
"Remove your shoes."
Emma nodded and she kicked her shoes off. She was about to run off until she saw Regina eyeing the shoes. She knew to fix them and placed them in a row, next to a couple other sets of shoes. Once Regina smiled, Emma trotted off to the living room. She can be trained. Perhaps I'll try this on the idiot adult version when she returns.
"I can open it, right?" Emma asked, holding her toy up.
"Yes, of course."
Emma grinned and opened the dog, which let out a mechanical bark as soon as it was free. Emma went to throw out the box without having to be told and then returned immediately to playing with the barking dog. It had a remote, so Emma could control where the dog walked and when it barked. She could also make it sit and wag its tail.
Regina put away the clothes and hid away the duck plush toy while Emma entertained herself with her toy. By the time Regina put everything in its place, Emma was clearly running on fumes. Regina sat down on the sofa with a book and Emma ended up leaning against her. Regina read out loud until Emma was asleep in her lap. Regina continued reading, enjoying the quiet time.
An hour passed before they were disturbed by a knock at the door. Emma perked up, her hair wild and the pattern from Regina's shirt was pressed into her face. Regina patted the child's back, getting her to move enough for Regina to go answer the door. Emma followed behind her, which Regina tried very hard not to think of cute.
Before Regina could open the door, a key let her know who it was. The door flung open and there was Henry. He grinned at her and threw himself into her arms. Regina practically sobbed as she held him, pressed him tightly to him, inhaling her beautiful, almost grown son. How she missed him.
"Mom!" Henry laughed as he lifted her up, obviously enjoying this growth spurt.
Regina laughed as well, even though it hurt a little to know soon her little boy would soon be taller than she was. Caressing his cheek, she stared into his eyes, seeing flecks of green in a sea of cocoa. She could see Emma's eyes there for the first time. Glancing down at the thought, she saw Emma had her arms folded over her tiny chest and a tight scowl in place and hatred in her gaze.
Next time: Regina deals with two kids in the house while Emma shuts down.