A/N: For those of you following Movie Night, that will be my next update. I need to re-read the last few chapters of that story to try and get my brain working again.
Thank you again for your patience.
Emma watched as Regina bent over a sleeping Henry and kissed his forehead. It tugged at her heart, watching how lovingly Regina stroked his head, squeezed his shoulder, wished him "dulces sueños" even though he wasn't awake to hear it.
Regina looked up, having felt Emma's eyes on her, straightening as she stepped away from her son.
"Did you want to say goodnight?" she whispered, as she neared the blonde.
"I uh- maybe already kissed him goodnight as I was carrying him up the stairs."
The trio had been chatting in the living room after sharing dinner together, Emma watching as Henry got progressively quieter before ultimately falling asleep. It was she who offered to carry him upstairs rather than waking him to walk up, wanting to hold him close after being away from him for so long and hurting him so much. Emma had snuck a kiss and a soft cuddle before placing him in bed and backing away so that Regina could wish him sweet dreams.
Regina gave her a look that Emma couldn't quite decipher before she finally ushered her out of the boy's room, softly closing the door.
"Shall we go back to the living room?"
"Sure, unless you want me to go home now that Henry's sleeping?"
"I believe we have some things to discuss, miss Swan."
Emma's heart sank when Regina used the title, rather than her name.
"Emma," Regina corrected, when she noticed the other woman's expression.
Emma gave a slight smile then and nodded.
"I think you're right."
Regina made her way to the kitchen to make some cocoa, telling Emma to have a seat in the living room while she made them a drink. Emma did, rubbing her hands between her knees as she tried not to think about how much this felt like she was sitting in the principal's office, awaiting her execution.
Regina entered the living room a few minutes later, carrying a tray with two steaming cups of cocoa and a plate of pastries. Emma's eyes lit up when she spotted the desserts, her stomach growling and reminding her that her bowl of canned Heinz Zoodles from this morning was long gone. Regina, having heard the growl, cocked an eyebrow at Emma as she set down the tray.
"Would you like something more substantial than braided Danish pastries?"
"Absolutely not," Emma said, grabbing a dessert and immediately biting into it. She moaned heavily, quickly taking another bite. "These are amazing."
Regina rolled her eyes at the practically unintelligible utterance, shaking her head at Emma's lack of manners. She grabbed her cup of cocoa and blew into it, taking a small sip before putting it back down and turning towards the other woman.
"Thank you for speaking to Henry tonight."
Emma nodded, chewing more slowly before swallowing.
"Thanks for not slamming the door in my face when you first saw me."
"You can thank Henry for that."
"Yeah, I guess I can."
A small silence fell over the room, Emma picking at her pastry and peeling off the top layer of dough before popping it into her mouth. She chewed it before continuing.
"I'm sorry for hurting him, Regina. It really wasn't my intention."
"I know. I knew it all these weeks as well. I know it wasn't your intention. He's a sensitive little boy, however, and the fact that you pushed him away hurt him deeply."
Emma's stomach turned, so she put the dessert down as she was suddenly not very hungry. She nodded slowly, thinking for a moment before speaking.
"I know. I guess I was so wrapped up in myself that… I didn't really see it. I didn't want to see it, either, I guess."
Regina waited, and when Emma offered nothing more, she spoke.
"What affected you so greatly that you felt the need to push everyone away? That you felt the need to escape?"
Emma's fingers trembled as she lowered her head, picking at her jeans. A lump formed in her throat, and so she reached for her cocoa, taking a gulp and swallowing back the tears that formed as the burning liquid scalded her throat. She sat for a moment and waited for the pain to subside before putting the mug back down and finally speaking.
"Christmas is always really hard for me. For lots of reasons. And it makes me wanna just… run away."
"It reminds me of a lot of bad times. Brings up all these old feelings from when I was a kid. I'm never really happy at Christmas. So it's better if I just get away."
"Get away from what?"
"Everyone. And… the memories. The feelings."
"What sorts of memories and feelings?"
Emma eyed Regina then, who was looking at her so patiently.
"Christmas is just another reminder that I don't belong."
Regina frowned, but she didn't say anything, waiting for Emma to continue.
"I got placed with a lot of families that already had kids," Emma started, softly, "their own kids, and even if I didn't already know I wasn't one of my foster parents' kids, they made it really clear while I was living at their house that I wasn't one of theirs. Especially when it was a special event, and Christmas was no different, except it was worse because Christmas is just… made out to be so magical and this time for family and for me, it just wasn't. It sucked.
"I didn't usually get presents and if whatever family I was with went out, I didn't usually get an invite. And if they did have to bring me for whatever reason, I had to sit on a couch or on a chair the whole night and watch people open presents or do whatever Christmas tradition they did. I was never allowed to participate. I can't tell you how many Christmases that happened to me. Some people have really good foster families but... I didn't. The ones I was in, they did because it "looked good" to help a poor orphan or, for most of them, they did it for the money. But it wasn't really much money – or so they told me – definitely not enough to buy me gifts anyway. So on Christmas morning, it was kind of… horrible really. For me. I'd get up and stare at the mountain of presents, and I hoped just one was for me. I didn't care what it was- just something. I'd find a place in a corner and watch my foster parents' kids open gifts and hope they'd read the name and one might be mine, but more often than not, there was nothing for me. In some families, my foster siblings would let me play with one of their toys, but I couldn't open the package or anything, just sort of hold it and imagine what I'd do with the toy if I could open it."
Emma sat quietly for a moment before continuing.
"But then one year, I did get something. A whole bunch of gifts actually. It was one of the worst Christmases I ever had. I never wished for anything after that one." Emma took a deep breath for courage before she opened up about one of her most hurtful memories. "One of the foster families I was placed with got together with everyone in their family that Christmas. All these cousins and aunts and uncles and stuff, they all got together and everyone opened their gifts together. And that year, I got a whole bunch of stuff. I'm talking like, the good stuff, really nice clothes and these awesome toys and colouring books. Stickers and gel pens and crafts… all these things that I had never gotten before, ever. I couldn't believe all this stuff was mine, that I had actually for once gotten not just one present, but a whole bunch of them. I would have been happy with even just one thing, like the beautiful doll with long blonde hair that they got me. I had never liked dolls before but suddenly, since she was mine, I loved her. And I was so grateful that I couldn't stop hugging my foster parents and just staring at the gifts I had gotten. Part of it felt like it was some kind of… trap, because they weren't nice to me, but they kept saying that these things were mine and I kept touching the boxes, and they were real. They weren't my imagination.
"My foster parents told all us kids not to open anything because, you know, we weren't at home and they didn't want all these boxes opened and stuff or for us to lose any pieces, so they said to leave the gifts alone and to watch tv and just play with other stuff. I kept staring at the things I got though, looking at the boxes, and I couldn't wait to get home to just… play with the stuff."
Emma got quiet then, looking down at her hands. Regina waited, bracing herself, for she knew the story didn't end well.
"When we got home, we went right to bed because it was so late. I fell asleep with all my toys and books and clothes on the bed next to me. I held the doll in the box too, held her all night long." Emma's voice sobered considerably as she spoke the next sentences. "I woke up the next day to nothing. I never even felt them take the box with the doll while I was sleeping. They returned everything they had gotten for me." Emma gave a mirthless laugh. "Well, I guess, had gotten me for show. I guess since there were gonna be all these people around, they had to make it seem like I had gifts too. Couldn't let the poor orphan kid get nothing when there were all these people watching, right?"
Emma looked away, jumping slightly when she felt a hand slip into her own. She refused to look at Regina, not wanting to see the pity in her eyes. She didn't want her pity.
"Look at me please."
Emma reluctantly turned her head, surprised to see fire in Regina's eyes rather than the pity she was so used to seeing whenever she opened up to people (like Mary Margaret, which was why she had stopped talking to her about her past).
"I'm sorry that you went through such things, Emma. No child deserves to be treated so… I don't have a word for how you were treated. No one deserves that, especially at a time, like you said, that is supposed to be magical for both children and adults alike."
Emma nodded, looking down at their joined hands.
"I was given back at Christmas. It's the real reason I hate Christmas. Why I've always hated it. My first family ruined it for me. The first family I ever had, they adopted me when I was a few weeks old. Gave me their last name. I thought they loved me. I was happy. I had this huge room, or what seemed huge to me as a little kid, with my own princess canopy bed. They were my parents. And I still remember them even though I've been told there's no way I really do. That I can't remember them because I was so young when they gave me back. But you never forget that: being given away." Emma looked away, taking her hand back. "I called them mama and daddy. And I loved them. And they gave me away when they got pregnant with their own child. They gave me back five days before Christmas. That was the first Christmas I got no gifts, because it was too close to Christmas I guess for my foster parents to go get me anything. I learnt pretty quick that Santa wasn't real and Christmas wasn't everything it was made out to be."
Regina bit hard on her lip, gathering her composure before she spoke.
"How old were you when your parents gave you away?"
"Three. Which is why everyone tells me I can't remember that couple, the Swans. But I do. Just like I remember that she loved country music and used to sing it to me all the time, especially before bed. It's why I can't stand to hear it, not for a second. It just… does something to me."
Regina filed that piece of information away for later before finally reaching out and pulling Emma into her arms. She couldn't hold back any longer.
"I am so sorry, Emma. I don't have words."
Emma stayed stiff for a moment before relaxing, hesitantly wrapping her arms around Regina's middle.
"I know what it feels like to be rejected. I always told myself I wouldn't be that person. I would never do that. And I did it to Henry."
Emma stopped speaking, tears streaming down her cheeks as she clamped down on her quivering bottom lip. She squeezed her eyes shut when Regina began stroking her head, tears continuing to fall.
"Henry was hurt and he felt rejected. However, there is one important detail to note between your foster parents and yourself: you have control over your actions. You cannot control what your foster parents did to you, nor can you change the past. But, you can change your own behaviour and ensure that Henry doesn't again feel disappointed or hurt or rejected by you. You've learnt an important lesson. You're still allowed to feel the need to be alone, to feel like you need some time for yourself. However, if you know you will need a significant amount of time, perhaps you can try communicating that to those of us that care about you. He hurt because he cares, Emma. As do I."
"I'm sorry if I hurt you too, Regina," Emma said softly.
When Regina stayed quiet, Emma looked up at her.
"Did I hurt you?"
Regina, fighting every one of her desires to lie, ultimately ended up telling the truth.
Emma looked down, nodding.
"I thought so. I'm sorry, Regina," she said, looking back up at her. "I really am. I shouldn't have pushed you away."
"No, you should not have. I forgive you, however, if you promise that next time you will try to talk to me."
"I know you tried reaching out. I just… didn't know what to say. And I needed to be alone. And then the more time passed, the more I really didn't know how to talk to you or how to explain."
Regina moved her hand to begin rubbing Emma's back.
"I understand that you have trauma in your past, Emma. And that trauma continues to affect you today, as mine affects me. We will both make mistakes, I highly doubt this will be the last time we have a conflict or accidentally hurt one another, but the one thing we can try is to work on our communication."
"How are you so wise?"
"I was born brilliant," Regina said, smiling softly.
Emma laughed, sitting up slightly to look at Regina in the eye.
"Thank you. For listening to me and for giving me a second chance."
"You're welcome, Emma."
"Will you tell me one day… about your past?"
Regina hesitated, taking a deep breath before exhaling slowly, thinking. She hadn't talked about her "big secret" in over fifteen years, and she wasn't sure if she would ever truly be ready to tell Emma. But, Emma had opened up to her in a significant way tonight, in a way Regina suspected the woman had not to anyone else, not in a very long time at any rate, and so she finally slowly nodded.
"Yes, Emma, I do believe one day I will."