She was late.
Emma knew Regina was going to be pissed. She was already twenty minutes late to their magic lesson. She thought about calling, but she knew Regina wouldn't accept her sleeping in as an excuse.
No, it was better to only get yelled at once, in person. She knew Regina had a soft spot for her puppy dog eyes, though she would never dare call her on that. She didn't want to risk incineration on the spot.
She was nearly thirty minutes late by the time she finally arrived at Regina's vault. Regina's car was still there, so at least she hadn't gotten mad enough to leave yet. Emma jumped out of her car and ran towards the vault. She hadn't practiced last week's lesson at all this week either, like she had sworn she would do.
"I'm dead," she muttered to herself as she pulled the heavy door open and ran down the concrete stairs. The vault creeped her out and smelled like death, but she ignored it as she reached the bottom of the stairs and saw… nothing.
No, that wasn't exactly accurate. She saw a bunch of old books open on the table, and a few small bottles scattered about, but no Regina.
"Regina?" Emma called out. As she stepped further into the vault, she heard the crunch of broken glass on the ground under her foot. She looked down and saw a broken vile on the floor, with a few droplets of a transparent blue liquid around it.
"What the hell?" Emma muttered, as she stepped away from the spilled potion. She had no idea what the hell it was, but she was sure she didn't want to get any on her.
"Regina?!" Emma called out again, "this isn't funny! Where are you? If you're trying to scare me or some shit because I was late, please don't. Just… I don't know… reveal yourself, or whatever."
Emma was pretty sure she was talking to herself at this point, so she shut her mouth. Within moments, she heard the sound of a small whimpering breaking through the silence. It was faint, and she held her breath until she located the direction it was coming from. Following the sound, Emma turned to find what appeared to be a small, dark haired child, crouched in the corner, her little arms hugging her knees tightly to her chest, and her face buried. She was dressed in a pretty yellow dress with crinoline and white lace trim, and little black leather laced up boots.
"What the hell?" Emma whispered under her breath, as she took a couple steps closer to the child, and crouched down in front of her. "Hey, there."
The little girl's head snapped up, and Emma was met with deep, brown eyes that were all too familiar.
"No fucking way," Emma said, staring at the child, dumbfounded. She supposed she didn't need to worry about Regina's wrath at this point. Maybe just a temper tantrum. She thought about the broken vial and the spilled potion on the floor. What the hell did you do, Regina?
The little brunette buried her head again, and Emma realized the explicative much have upset her.
"Oh, hey, Sweetie, it's okay. You don't have to be scared," Emma said, trying to sound convincing, even though she, herself, was scared shitless at the moment. She wondered for a moment if this was some sort of test. Maybe Regina was doing this on purpose, to see if Emma could use magic to turn her back. She hoped to hell that wasn't the case, because she didn't even know turning yourself back into a child was possible. But who else could this kid be? She needed to know for sure.
"Regina?" Emma finally asked.
Brown eyes flashed upwards again. "How do you know me?" she asked, her voice much smaller than Emma would have expected.
Well, it's definitely her, Emma thought to herself, and she apparently doesn't remember me. Wonderful.
"Um, that's kind of a tricky one, kid," Emma replied.
"Kid?" Little Regina asked, not taking her wary eyes off of Emma.
"Yeah, sorry, it's uh… just a nickname. Like a term of endearment, or something."
"You speak like a peasant," Little Regina said, though Emma noticed there was no malice there, just a simple, childlike observation.
"Well, I'm not. I'm a princess," Emma replied, trying to sound as dignified as she could.
"Of what Kingdom?" Little Regina pressed, clearly skeptical.
"Uh… Snow White and Prince Charming?" Emma said.
Little Regina narrowed her eyes. "I have never heard of Snow White and Prince Charming."
"Oh, right, of course not… 'cause you're like five, and they…" Emma stopped herself before she finished with 'aren't born yet'. "I'm a descendant of King Leopold."
Little Regina gasped a little at that.
"You've heard of him, then, I take it?"
Little Regina nodded. "My mother speaks of him. The King and Queen Eva don't have children. Who are you?"
"Princess Emma?" Regina asked.
"No, no no… just Emma."
Little Regina pouted that that response.
Emma sighed. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"My mother wouldn't approve of me addressing an adult by only their given name," Little Regina explained.
"Yeah, well, your mother's not here, and I won't approve of you calling me anything but Emma," Emma said. She and Regina had come too far from 'Miss Swan' to go back now, regardless of her present age.
Little Regina's eyes grew wide. "Where is my mother?" she asked, her scared little voice barely above a whisper.
Shit, Emma thought to herself, how am I going to explain this one?
"Um, I'm not sure, kid," she lied, "but I think maybe we should get out of here and figure out what the hell is going on."
Little Regina scooted further away when Emma reached her hand out for her. Emma sighed. "Look, kid, I'm not going to hurt you. We need to go see a man who can help us figure out what happened here."
"I'm not supposed to go places without my mother's permission," said Regina.
"Right, ok, but like I said, your mother's not here. So either, you can come with me, or you can stay here and I'll come back after I talk to Mr. Gold. Your choice."
Regina looked around the dingy vault, and then back at Emma. "I don't like this place."
"Well, that makes two of us," Emma laughed. "So what's it gonna be, kid?"
"Who's Mr. Gold?" Regina asked.
"A… friend, I guess you could say. He knows about magic. He can help."
"I'm not supposed to do magic," Regina said.
"Well, it's a little late for that," Emma sighed, trying to maintain her patience. "So choose now, stay, or come with me. Which is it?"
Regina hesitated for a moment more, looking from Emma's eyes, around the vault, and back to Emma's eyes, before finally reaching out and taking Emma's hand.
"Good choice kid," Emma smiled, helping her up. She couldn't help but think how much she looked like a porcelain doll, with her pristine olive skin, dark curls and big brown eyes.
"Please don't call me that," Regina said, "my name is Regina."
"I… know," Emma replied, "but that's a lot of name for a little girl." Before this moment, Emma had never really thought about the fact that Regina had once actually been a little girl. If she didn't know any better, she'd have guessed Regina walked out of the womb in six inch black stilettos, full of the poise of a Queen and the sass and snark of… well, Regina. She couldn't equate that name with this timid little child holding onto her hand for dear life.
"My mother named me Regina because I'm going to be Queen," Regina replied, lifting her chin up as she spoke.
"Yeah, okay," Emma said with a smirk. If you only knew, kid.
"What about a different nickname?" Emma asked, as they headed up the stairs out of the vault. "What if I called you Reggie?"
"Absolutely not!" Regina replied, looking at Emma like she had just slapped her across the face.
I see it now, Emma thought as she smiled down at the dreadfully offended child.
"Ok, fine, Regina it is," Emma laughed, as she led Regina out of the vault, careful not to let her see the names on the coffins at the entrance. She could only assume Regina could read at five, and she didn't need her finding out both her parents were dead, on top of everything else that was happening right now.
Regina stopped short as Emma tried to lead her towards the yellow Bug. "What's that?" she asked, still squeezing tight to Emma's hand.
"It's a car," Emma said, "like a carriage, but without horses."
"A carriage without horses? That sounds like dark magic," Regina replied, her eyes wide and her voice a little shaky.
"You're afraid of magic, aren't you?" Emma asked.
Regina nodded, her bottom lip quivering a little.
"It's not magic, Regina, it's…" Emma's voice trailed off. How the hell was she going to explain this?
"What is it?" Regina pressed.
"It doesn't matter. We can just walk," Emma said, smiling. It was a long walk, but she supposed it would take her just as long to explain a car to a child who lived in the enchanted forest. Regina seemed to relax as they made their way away from the car and the vault.
"So, Regina, why are you afraid of magic?" Emma asked, trying to keep her voice light.
"People do bad things with magic," Regina replied.
"Like your mother?" Emma asked.
Regina just nodded.
"And you have magic?" Emma asked.
"Elemental magic," Regina said, "but I'm not allowed to use it."
"How do you control it?"
Regina shrugged. "I just… do."
Emma thought back to when Regina had put her on that bridge, and how angry she had gotten about her wasted potential. She knew Regina had had difficulty in the beginning learning magic, and it occurred to her that Little Regina's magic must be fairly weak, and that's how she could easily control it. Lucky her, Emma thought to herself, before it occurred to her that she was also lucky right now to not have to deal with a magical five year old, on top of everything else.
Regina told Emma all about her home in the Enchanted Forest as they walked. Emma was half listening, and half panicking, as they neared the town. Regina stopped talking when they started to approach buildings.
"What is this place?" she asked, looking at the light posts and telephone wires.
"It's called Storybrooke," Emma said, squeezing Regina's little hand. "You're a long way from home, kid. But I'm going to keep you safe, don't worry."
They finished the walk to Gold's pawnshop in silence, garnering more than a view quizzical looks and stares from the townsfolk they passed. Emma wasn't sure if people were just confused to see her with a little girl in tow, or if they recognized the child as Regina, but either way, she wasn't stopping to give any explanations. Not that she had any to give, even if she wanted to.
"Gold?" Emma called out, as she and Regina entered the pawnshop. Regina's wide eyes took in everything around her. Emma wondered if anything looked familiar to her, since so much of it had come from the Enchanted Forest.
"Miss Swan, how…" Gold's voice trailed off as he entered the front of the shop and spied the child clinging to Emma's hand. "Is that… Regina?"
Regina slid closer to Emma, staring up at Mr. Gold, studying him with her wary eyes.
"Yeah, apparently," Emma replied. "I showed up at her vault, and found her like this. There was a spilled potion on the floor."
"What potion?" Gold asked, unable to take his eyes off the child.
"I don't know, it was blue," Emma shrugged.
"It didn't occur to you to bring it with you?"
"It was spilled," Emma repeated, "on the floor. What was I supposed to do?"
"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps use magic?" Gold replied.
"Oh, yeah, I didn't think of that," Emma stammered.
"What exactly has Regina been teaching you? Nothing useful, I see," said Gold, as he waved a hand and the three of them disappeared in a cloud of red smoke, back to Regina's vault.
Little Regina let out a panicked cry, and grabbed on to Emma's leg.
"It's okay," Emma assured her, putting a hand on her head and stroking her hair. "She's afraid of magic" she explained, when she noticed Gold's expression.
"I supposed anyone would be, growing up with Cora," he remarked, as he waved a hand again, and the shards of the broken vial came back together and the bottle appeared in his hand, the remaining blue liquid inside. He held it up to the light, studying it.
Emma could feel Regina shaking against her. She was terrified. Emma wondered for a moment if she should pick her up, but she had no idea how the kid would react to that. She couldn't imagine Cora carried her around very much.
She watched as Gold ran a finger over some of the foreign looking writing in one of the open books. She couldn't tell if it was elvish or gibberish, but Gold seemed to know how to read it.
"It's definitely a rejuvenation spell," Gold said, still looking at the book, "who would have known Regina was so vain?"
"What are you talking about?" Emma asked, still stroking Little Regina's hair.
"In small doses, it's like a magical botox. In larger doses…" Gold's voice trailed off as he motioned towards Little Regina.
"In large doses it turns you back into a kid… why would she drink that much?"
"I would imagine she spilled it on herself. The effect would be the same."
"Ok, so how do we reverse it?" Emma asked.
"You don't. The effects will wear off on their own, in time."
"In time? How much time?"
"It's hard to say," Gold shrugged, clearly amused. "Just be glad you caught her at an agreeable age."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, Regina was a sweet little girl at five. But sweetness doesn't last forever. She could have only regressed back to the Evil Queen days. That would have been fun."
"Dude!" Emma exclaimed, motioning towards Little Regina, who clearly knew nothing of the Evil Queen.
"Well, I suppose if that had happened, she would be my problem. But since this happened, she's yours."
"What, I'm supposed to just babysit her then? Indefinitely?"
"Who else is going to do it?"
"Good point," Emma nodded. "So how does this work then? One day she just wakes up, back to normal?"
"Maybe. We'll see. I haven't seen anyone ever go back this far," Gold admitted. "She might just go back, or she might go back gradually. If that happens, have fun with the teenage years."
"What? I thought she was still good as a teenager?"
"All teenagers rebel, Miss Swan," Gold replied, as he waved his hand and disappeared himself in a new cloud of red smoke.
Emma turned and knelt down in front of the trembling little girl. "It's ok, Regina, I'm gonna take care of you. I promise."
"What was he talking about? The Evil Queen? And reversing a spell?" Regina asked, her voice panicked.
It occurred to Emma that maybe they shouldn't have talked about any of this in front of the child. Now she had to do damage control. "Don't worry about any of that stuff, ok? You're gonna come home with me, and I'm gonna take care of you until everything is normal again."
"Where are my parents?" Regina asked, as tears started flowing.
"They're not here right now, Sweetie, but it's ok. Nothing bad is going to happen, I promise. Now let's get out of this vault, ok?"
Regina nodded, and took Emma's hand. When they got outside, it occurred to Emma that the walk to Regina's house would be much quicker than walking across town to her parents' loft, so she decided they would head there first, and she could figure out their next move then.