Okay, here we are- the last chapter, for real. I am emotional about it, LOL! I want to seriously thank each and everyone of you. This has been, by far, my favorite story to write. I fell in love with this family in ways I cannot even express. It has been such a great journey. And I'm not ready to let them go.
After hearing from a bunch of you, I can promise that this will not be the last of this family in my writing. So, I hope that you'll subscribe.
Anyway, tomorrow morning at work I plan on replying to all the reviews from the last chapter and this one. Some of your words have touched my heart very deeply.
Sending you all the love and gratitude in the world! - Dakota
A year (or so) later:
Regina watched as the headlights of Charlotte's car shone through the living room window from the driveway—it never failed, the relief she felt at the knowledge that her daughter was home safe.
Simultaneously she felt her wife, nestled in her arms, open her eyes in response to the illumination. "Thank God," Emma muttered. "She's home."
Seconds later, they both heard the sound of the front door opening and closing, followed immediately by familiar footsteps approaching the living room.
"You're still up?" Charlotte looked at the pair of them huddled together on the couch before she glanced to the clock. It read 11:56 PM—she was happy to find she was still four minutes early.
"Of course we are, dear."
"She won't let us sleep until you're in for the night," Emma clarified with a disgruntled groan. "You need an earlier curfew or I'm going to go gray a lot sooner than I should."
"I wouldn't worry, you still look rather blonde to me," Regina lovingly patted her wife's sleepy head before turning back to her daughter. "Did you have a good night, Charlotte?"
"Yeah, definitely," she told them. As was customary, she plopped herself down in between her two mothers. Emma rested her head on Charlotte's shoulder and Regina was quick to greet her with a kiss on the cheek. "It was a fun party."
"Was there drinking, kid?"
"Are you asking me that as my mom or as a cop? Because I'm pretty sure I wasn't invited to the last party because of you being the Sheriff."
"Just mom, I promise. Although I think you just answered my question…."
"Yeah, there was drinking," she admitted. "But I was driving so I had an excuse not to."
"You don't need an excuse to not drink, dear. If you say you don't want to, that should be the end of it and…"
"I know, I know, relax," Charlotte cut off the imminent lecture before it began. "I just meant it was an easy excuse."
"Alright," Regina accepted, "I understand."
A comfortable silence engulfed the room for a few minutes—Emma fighting the desire to doze off once more, Regina quietly laughing at the failed-attempt, and Charlotte anxiously observing them.
"Are you two, by any chance, awake enough for us to talk about something else?" The teenager finally spoke. "I have something I wanted to ask you."
"Yeah, I'm good," Emma promised as she finally sat up fully—because the question was clearly directed at her. Unlike the savior, Regina was fully awake. "Go for it."
"I mean, it can definitely wait until tomorrow if you're too tired."
"Charlotte—no, let's go," Regina lovingly warned, "out with it already."
"So," the girl timidly began, "I was thinking that, um...I was thinking that I might—well, that it might be time for me to go visit Fairytale Land."
"Yeah?" The subject-matter caught Emma's full attention. "You do?"
"I just feel like I want to see it, like I should see it. I'm seventeen and I've never been to where my entire family is from. I mean half my class has been through the portal just to visit, or whatever. I feel weird that I, of all people, haven't gone yet."
"Yes, you can go," Regina said instantaneously. "We appreciate you talking to us about it, but this has always been your choice to make."
"And your grandparents will be thrilled," Emma added.
"They'll come with me, right?"
"Yeah, trust me, kid, they wouldn't miss it."
"Nor would your brother," Regina told her. "He's wanted to take you since you were about two. You should call him tomorrow morning so you can coordinate when he can get off from work."
"What about you guys?"
"What about us, sweetheart?"
"Will you come, too?"
"Oh," Emma furrowed her brow, surprised at the question. "Uh, do you want us to come?"
"I do," Charlotte answered without hesitation. "But not if you don't want to. And I totally get why you wouldn't."
"Alright—um, well, we'll have to talk about it."
But Regina knew that Emma would agree to the trip in a heartbeat—Regina knew that Emma wasn't answering now solely to protect her. And Regina knew, suddenly, what needed to be done.
"No, my love, it's fine," she said. "It's certainly been a while since either of us visited... but I want to go if you want us there, Charlotte."
"Really," Regina confirmed. "But, it's rather late… so, let's talk about it more in the morning, alright?"
"Thank you. I'm going to go call Henry."
"Kid, it's midnight."
"He's still up," Charlotte assured them. "I was texting him before I drove home."
"So, basically, he was giving you a pep talk?" Emma surmised. "About how to tell us that you wanted to go?"
"Tell him he's predictable. Also, tell him thanks for ignoring my texts."
"Oh, leave the poor boy alone," Regina playfully swatted Emma's arm. "Just tell him we said to call us in the morning. And don't talk too loud up there; you'll wake your sister."
"I know," she kissed both of her mothers before heading up the stairs. "Good-night."
When Charlotte was out of ear-shot, Emma snapped her head towards Regina, eyes filled with curiosity and concern. "Are you sure about this?"
"Oh, no," Regina admitted. "I'm not sure about it at all."
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Look, we don't have to go just because she wants us to. She'll understand if we don't."
"But if she's already decided to make this trip, I think I would rather be there than not," Regina thought out loud. "Wouldn't you?"
"Oh, yeah, of course I would. But what about Amelia? Who are we going to leave her with? There's no way my parents or Henry will stay home for Charlotte's first trip. I mean, I guess, we could ask Ruby?"
"What if we didn't leave Amelia home?" Regina countered.
"You want to bring our six-year-old to Fairytale Land?"
"Well, I certainly don't want to leave her on one side of a portal when her entire family will be on the other."
"Regina, it's safe; we're not going to get stuck there or anything."
"Yes, I know that… but I would be thinking about her the whole time, I wouldn't be able to concentrate on anything else. Plus, I'm not sure how we can take the whole family except for her. She'll be upset; she'll feel left out."
"So, um, all of us are going, then?" Emma asked, though she already knew the answer. "Like, as in, a family vacation to the enchanted forest?"
"It would appear that way, yes."
"Do you realize we haven't been on a trip with my parents since Neverland?"
"Yes," Regina said. "I do."
"So, do you think there will be less punching on this trip?"
"Perhaps," Regina smirked. "But not less flirting, I hope?"
"Well, less pirate-flirting."
"Oh, gross," Regina scrunched her nose in disgust. "I was referring to the flirting between us. And please don't remind me of the way Hook used to speak to you before I made my intentions clear."
"You mean before he walked in on me spooning you in a tent?"
"Ah, yes, that was an interesting night," Regina recalled, as she stood up and held out her hand. "Let's go to bed, dear. I wouldn't mind being spooned by you right now."
"A family vacation to Fairytale land," Emma repeated, as the idea really began to sink in. She accepted her wife's hand as she thought about just how utterly ridiculous the trip would surely be. "God help us all."
"Kid," Emma sighed at the sight of Amelia dragging a bag filled to the brim with books into the kitchen, "I already told you, you can't bring that much stuff."
With two days left to go before the trip, everyone was in packing mode. A trip to Fairytale land required more planning than the average vacation, but thankfully they had Regina to act as head organizer.
"But mommy said there's no TV or computers at her old house," the girl protested, as she set down the bag in the middle of the room.
"Yeah, that's true. But you still can't bring all of those—they're too heavy."
"I need all of these."
"Nope," Emma refused to cave, "you can pick one of them to bring."
"Only one?!" Amelia shrieked, as though she had just received the world's most devastating news. "What do you expect me to do all day long?"
Their little diva, Emma thought to herself—she was going to be a handful as she got older—the savior could already feel it.
"Oh, I don't know, hang out with your awesome family?"
"But I'll get bored."
"You'll get bored? Bored?" Emma scoffed. "Look, kid, come here, would you?"
"What is it, Mom?" Amelia approached her. "You always let me bring my books when we go on long trips."
"This trip is different."
"I know it's super hard to imagine because you've never been there, but we're going to a place that is way cooler than anything you've ever read about," Emma explained, as she bent down to meet her daughter's eye level. "You don't need books because we're about to go live a book. Isn't that exciting enough for you?"
"Henry's book, right?"
"Yup, that's the one."
"But," Amelia objected, "Charlotte says that book lies."
"Well, yes, she's right. We've talked about that before, remember? How it leaves a lot of stuff out?"
"Why should we visit, then?" The girl inquired. "If I don't tell the truth I get in trouble."
"Because, Amelia, Mommy and I were both born there—and so were your grandparents. And because, yeah, that book leaves out a lot of important stuff but it's also the reason I came to Storybrooke and it's the reason I met mommy."
"So, then, it's the reason I was born?"
"Yes—exactly, it is. So we like the book—even though we're sort of mad that it forgot to include the chapter about how awesome your other mom is."
"Right," Amelia nodded, with a thoughtful expression. "So, is there really a castle where we're going?"
"Yup—Nana and Pop are going to show you their castle and Mommy will show you hers, too."
"Okay," the girl finally concluded, "I guess I don't need my books, then."
"What if instead of a book, you brought a notebook?" Emma suggested. "And you could write all about our adventures. And, then, one day someone else can read your books. All great authors have got to start somewhere—and not many of them get to visit a place like this. You're a lucky kid, you know."
"I know, mom."
"So, how much money do you have saved from your allowance?"
"Eleven dollars and fifty cents."
"Wow, when did you get so rich? Well, you can definitely afford a notebook. I will take you this afternoon, alright?"
"Okay," her daughter bounced up and down with enthusiasm. "I'm going to write a new book that's even better than Henry's book."
"Oh, I'm sure you can write a much better one."
"It will be about you and mommy."
"That'd be awesome. What about us?"
"Your love story," Amelia said, "duh."
"Yeah, duh," Emma echoed. "I think mommy would like that very much."
Regina lingered in the hallway, holding a basket of laundry—she hadn't caught the whole conversation, but she had overheard enough—enough to make her, all these years later, have to swallow a lump in her throat and blink back tears at the thought of just how happy she was. Her emotions had been high and intense over the last few days at the thought of the trip—but this was exactly the reminder she needed: a reminder that the past, of course, mattered but it wasn't what defined her. This family defined her. Every single day.
Regina could hear her heart-beating in her ears as she watched her family run around the fields of Fairytale land in what she considered an absolutely ridiculous make believe battle.
David had Amelia on his shoulders, and the girl was flailing a wooden sword at thin-air. Emma, a few feet away, was refereeing a sword-fight between Charlotte and Henry.
"Emma," Regina called out to her wife, "Emma, please be careful."
"They're fine," Snow, the only other family member who chose to sit-out of the tom-foolery, stood next to Regina. "They know what they're doing."
"Perhaps they do, but I still can't watch this," the former-queen cringed. "That sword is bigger than Charlotte."
"She's a natural with it though."
"She can barely lift it. She won't be able to move tomorrow. I just hope I brought enough aspirin."
"Regina," Snow chuckled, "you've got to relax."
"All three of my children are running around with deadly weapons right now; please refrain from telling me to relax."
"I don't think Amelia's wooden sword is exactly deadly."
"You don't know that," Regina barked back in defense. "It could be."
"I'm so glad you two decided to come," Snow said, for what Regina was sure was the fifteenth time in the last hour. "This is really nice."
"Oh, yes, it's just lovely," she replied with biting sarcasm that she couldn't seem to control. "If only we had a tour guide to show them around. And to your left, children, is where your mother poisoned your grandmother. And coming up later we'll all get to sleep in the castle where..."
"No, stop," Snow urgently interrupted. "Come on; don't do that."
"And, why not? It's the truth."
"Regina," her mother-in-law begged. She tentatively brushed their hands closer together before finally deciding to interlace their fingers. "Please?"
"I'm sorry," Regina whimpered. The gesture, as unexpected as it was, shocked her back into the reality of the moment. "I am feeling quite on edge."
"I think that's to be expected," Snow told her, refusing to loosen her grip. "Do you need Emma? Would you like me to call her over?"
"No, that won't be necessary," Regina promised.
"Okay, tell me if you change your mind."
"I just keep expecting one of them to turn the corner and start speaking to me."
The confession was out of her mouth before she could think about it—think about the fact that this certainly wasn't a conversation she wanted to have with Snow White. But the words were out, nonetheless, and she couldn't take them back now.
And, besides, it was the truth.
Cora. Leopold. And all her other demons—she did, honestly, expect one of them to tap her on the shoulder at any moment.
"But they're not," Snow replied, without missing a beat, without giving in to what had the potential to be an incredibly awkward moment. "You're surrounded by people who love you."
"Yes," Regina knew it to be true—and was grateful to hear it. She couldn't help but to squeeze Snow's hand a bit tighter before exhaling.
"I mean, unless we take a wrong turn somewhere," the woman quipped, bringing them back to their comfort zone. "I'm pretty sure we could still find plenty of people you pissed off around here."
"Oh, shut up," Regina snarled back, "princess."
Snow broke out into genuine laughter—but before Regina could smile back at her, Charlotte came running over.
"Mommy," she demanded Regina's attention, "did you see me?"
"Did I see you wielding a giant sword? Yes, I did. Did you see me having a stroke?"
"Did I look good?" Charlotte ignored her mother's question and simply asked another. "Did I look like I knew what I was doing?"
"Yes; I think you have your mom's biceps."
"Thanks," she flexed her arms, showing off her muscles. "Come play with us?"
"I'm afraid swords have never really been my thing, dear."
"So, then, we can do something else. Come, on? Please? Henry said we can take out the horses soon."
"Alright," Regina agreed. "I think I can do that."
"Nana?" Charlotte looked to Snow. "You're coming too, right?"
"Sure, sweetheart, that sounds nice."
"Just try not to fall off," Regina bumped her shoulder against Snow's before letting go of her hand and following her daughter towards the stables that started it all. "No promises on saving your life this time."
That night, Regina found herself finally relaxing—she had enjoyed the time riding through the forest and couldn't complain about the family dinner, either. More than anything else, though, she enjoyed watching Henry, Charlotte and Amelia bonding and spending time together.
But Emma, as was her nature, watched her like a hawk—monitored her every move, her every breath—to make sure she was truly alright. And even now, alone in their temporary bedroom, the savior wouldn't stop.
"Are you sure you're good to stay here over night?" Emma asked, as she climbed into the bed. "Castles are cold and creepy."
"I'm fine as long as you're nearby," Regina swore. "You just have to stop leaving me alone with your mother."
"Oh, drop the act. I saw you guys holding hands today."
"She attacked me."
"With her hand-holding?" Emma mocked. "Damn, what a bitch."
"It would have been inappropriate to refuse her misguided gesture in front of the children."
"You know, this is starting to sound a lot like when you only liked me 'for Henry's sake.'"
"As if I was the only one using that excuse as a crutch."
"Um, whatever, you used it more than I did."
"Oh, no way, that is entirely false."
"I don't think it is," Emma smugly countered. "You know, this is a lot better than my first trip here. But it's still not as good as some of our other trips."
"It pales in comparison to the Caribbean."
"We've been on a lot of adventures, you and I."
"We certainly have."
"Do you have a favorite?"
"All of them, love."
"I think that's cheating, Regina."
"I don't think so. Every single day with you is an adventure."
"I'm not sure you're complimenting me right now."
"I am," she said, seriously. "Thank you."
"For what?" Emma wondered.
"For being here—and for all the adventures," Regina kissed her on the lips mid-sentence, "and for all the ones you undoubtedly still have up your sleeve."
"Hey," Charlotte lingered in the doorway, watching the sweet-exchange. "Can I interrupt? As usual?"
"Come in," Regina instructed. "Are you comfortable enough in your room?"
"I'm fine," she said. "I just wanted to show you something before I went to bed."
As she walked closer, Regina noticed the book in her daughter's hands. "Isn't that Amelia's journal?"
"Stealing your sister's journal already?" Emma joked. "That's impressive considering she's only had it like two days."
"I didn't steal it," the teenager promised as she sat on the end of their bed. "Amelia was reading it to me before and I thought you'd be interested to hear it."
"Alright, kid, let's hear it."
"Once upon a time," Charlotte read out loud, "there was a beautiful Queen…"
Regina listened closely to the words, which to her, were the most dazzling ones ever spoken.
She wrapped her arms tightly around Emma and, together, they listened to their daughter read them their very own love story.