Merry Christmas Everybody! I hope you have all had amazing presents and everything you wanted.
Thank you so much for sticking with me throughout these twelve days, I've loved reading all your responses and your support has been a wonderful source of motivation over the Christmas holidays. So I owe you all a present; have a chocolate on me :D
Cheers to y'all, and a Happy New Year!
Christmas morning in the Mills' household is probably the only time that Regina will allow mess.
Torn wrapping paper is left in bags under the tree whilst the kids play with their gifts and the adults share a couple of kisses under the mistletoe Robin has refused to take down. Plates have been left in the kitchen to wash later, forgotten in favour of dancing around to Christmas Music and playing enthusiastic games of charades and the new board games given as presents.
Regina and Robin had filmed the kids opening their gifts, watching with smiles as each tear of wrapping paper brought new light into their boys' eyes and widened their smiles. Even Sarah had smiled as she reached out for her new stuffed toys.
But the real present, the one Robin and Regina are anticipating the most, has had to be postponed until later.
Robin waits for the phonecall, sneaking out without the kids noticing once arrangements have been made. He texts Regina when he's back at the doorstep, and once they've placed the kids' surprise inside the box, wrapped the white ribbon around it, they head into the front room.
"Boys, come over here," Robin says, heading over towards the tree and placing the box underneath. "Your mum and I have one more present to give to you."
The kids are down by the tree in seconds, trying to steal glances behind Robin before he stands and moves to Regina's side.
She raises the video camera, ensuring both boys are in the frame before she gives them the nod to continue with an order; "be careful. It's very delicate."
Henry takes one look at the box, the circular, pink and white striped hat box and turns back to his mom with a frown. "Please tell us you didn't get one of those hats we made fun of the other day," he grimaces. "The frilly ones with glitter and ribbon."
"Well... It has a ribbon," Regina offers with a knowing smile, watching as Roland unties the bow at the top and lets the ribbon fall to the floor.
The box shifts and makes Roland jump back, Henry retracting his hands to his chest as he watches the lid slowly rise. When the pink top falls off, a small, black nose peeks over the edge, and when the boys lean forward to look inside they see golden brown fur, big eyes, floppy ears...
"Oh my god!"
The boy's faces light up, and they look to their parents in mild shock, before looking back to the box in front of them.
"Lady!" Roland cries out, scooping up the puppy and holding her to him in a gentle cuddle.
"What do you think?" Robin asks through his grin.
His son responds with a magnificent beaming smile, proclaiming; "I love her!"
"Best present ever!" Henry adds, leaning forward to stroke the squirming puppy. "Welcome to the family, little Lady."
As it turns out the boys were right; Lady is great with kids. She rivals Roland's energy as they play in the front room, bounds around Henry until the boy is dizzy from watching her, licks at Sarah's hand when it peeks out from the crib as the little princess sleeps...
Though Lady has also taken a shine to Regina; following her about the house, yowling when she leaves the room, and climbing up Regina's dress until she can curl up on her thighs and nap whenever her energy runs out.
It's where she is now; curled up in Regina's lap, enjoying the gentle strokes from her head and down her back, and the occasional scratch behind the ears. Henry's sat next to his mom, fast asleep, his head on his mother's shoulder as his hands possessively clutch at a tin of candy. And Roland is sat on his father's knee, snuggled in his embrace as they both sleep off the excess food and running around all day.
As a child, Regina hadn't found Christmas to be all that special. Yes, her father's estate would be decorated, and gifts would be received from all kinds of nobility, but it was all rather impersonal - much more of a political move to prove who was wealthier and had the most contacts than actually celebrating with family. And until she adopted her little prince, she had never really felt the excitement and magic of the holiday. But of course, her little prince has changed a lot of things, and now Christmas is one of her most favourite times of the year.
And slowly but surely, she has gained a family to spend it with; Henry, Snow, Charming, Emma, (after a fashion) the Pirate, Robin, Roland, Sarah, Lady...
Apart from her little princess, none of them are related to her by blood in any way; they have all adopted each other as time had passed. The notion that all these people would chose to call themselves her family was something Regina would never have expected a few years ago; she had been so determined to be self-sufficient, believing love was a weakness found in her opposition and only ever wanting her little prince in her life.
But now she's surrounded by people who mean the world to her, her resilient heart loving them so deeply it frequently astounds her, and at the time of year where celebrations are centred around family, Regina can't help but feel grateful that she is loved in return.
Because her mother was wrong; love isn't weakness, it's strength.
And she can carry the world on her shoulders, perform any herculean task, make the impossible possible...
Because she has a family by her side.
And their love is truly magical.