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Sleepless in Storybrooke

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Daddy got sick. It just happened, just like that. There was nothing anybody could do. It isn’t fair. There’s no reason. But if we start asking why, we’ll go crazy.

Regina stares out of the window. The funeral’s over. She watches how Henry sits on the large swing his father’s made for him and she sees how he slowly sways from left to right. Alone.

“...Regina?” 

She realizes Marian has been saying something to her, and she looks up. “It’s fine. We’ll be fine,” she murmurs. She’s the mother of a small boy. The mayor of a small town. She doesn’t have the time or luxury to go to the “Loss of Spouse Support Group”, as her secretary offered. To visit a shrink, referred to her by her gardener. Or any of the other god awful suggestions random people have given her.

“Are you sure you’re alright by yourself?” Marian’s eyes are moist. Regina looks away. She’s not going to collapse in front of her friend. “I mean, I can stay for a couple of days., if you want.” 

If Regina allows it, she can never be alone anymore. She’ll curl up and cry and won’t ever stop. She can’t.

“I’m going back to work tomorrow,” she says instead. 

Marian’s eyes soften. “Are you sure you’re up for it?” 

Regina meets her eyes and holds her gaze. “Work is the only thing that will see me through this.” She needs to bury the pain until it doesn’t hurt as much anymore. 

She can’t have it hurt this much for too long, otherwise she’ll suffocate under it’s pressure.

She’s thought about moving. Picking up her son and go. But she can’t. She doesn’t want to leave all the memories behind. She doesn’t want to displace Henry and unsettle him even more. She doesn’t want to leave Storybrooke, with all its good and bad memories.

Regina turns away from Marian and resumes to stare outside again. Henry’s joined by his friend, Violet, who wraps her arms around his frame. He rests his head on her shoulder, seeking comfort. She sees how his tiny shoulders shake. 

There’s a lump in her throat and she feels how her eyes start to burn. But she breathes in through her nose and holds her breath for a few seconds, before she exhales. 

They’ll be all right. She’ll get over it.

Even if it’s the last thing she does.

~*~

Seattle, 1,5 years later

“So, when are you two getting married?”

Emma’s heard this question so often already. “Ew mom. We’re never. He’s like my brother.” She rolls with her eyes at Neal, who’s eyeing the scene, good humored. It’s not the first time in her 28 years that she’s heard these words. Nor the first time she’s ever given this reply.

“Mary Margaret, Emma was 17 when she informed us she was gay,” David, her father says, shaking his head. “Neal has a boyfriend. They’re never marrying.” 

“I know, I know! It’s a joke. Mary Margaret says. She rolls her eyes herself. “But I so wish for you to find someone to be happy with.“

Emma looks at her parents. They’ve been over the moon in love for over 30 years. Sometimes it’s almost sickening to watch the pair. “I know, mom,” she smiles, good natured, “And maybe I will. Besides, Neal’s here because he is my friend and because you invited him. But marry him, even if we both were straight? I mean, look at him.” 

“Hey!” Neal starts to protest.

“He’s a guy. With a beard. You could say he is my beard.”

Mary Margaret looks puzzled. “ Your beard?”

Meaning, he’s always my friend who makes me look straight when I need it. It comes in handy, you know, at parties sometimes. When guys start to hit on me and I don’t want to tell them they’re as interesting to me as the piece of furniture they’re sitting on. Besides, he’s allergic to everything. Do you know how annoying that is? Can’t cook him anything.” She blows him a kiss to soften her words, and now it’s Neal’s turn to roll his eyes.

“You can’t cook anyway.” Neal jabs back, and Emma grins. It’s true. If she hadn’t had a roommate who worked in a restaurant, she’d probably lived off of grilled cheese sandwiches for the rest of her life. 

Mary Margaret sighs. “I know,” she says, “I just really want you to have a nice relationship. Marriage. A grandchild or two.” 

“Mom,” Emma pleads, “I might. Someday. But stop pushing. There's more to a happy ending than marriage and kids.”

“Mary Margaret,” David interferes, whispering loudly, “I think your chicken is burning.” 

Mary Margaret yelps and hastens to the kitchen. David, Neal and Emma stay behind, laughing. Not being able to cook runs in the family.

Emma gets up, and moves to the kitchen, while she muses how familiar it is. It goes like this every year. It’s Christmas Eve, and they’re having dinner at Emma’s parents place. Neal’s been a set guest for the last ten years. Ever since Emma ran away from home as a teenager, and he found her, stealing a candybar from a store. He paid it for her, helped her figuring out who she was, and brought her home. Her parents have welcomed him into their family ever since. She didn't lie. He's practically a brother to her.

Emma shrugs.

You make a million decisions that mean nothing, and then one day, you decide you trust a stranger to help you, and he ends up at your parents’ dinner table ten years later.

Her mother has always called it destiny, that the two of them met when Emma needed it the most. Emma always retorts that destiny is something they’ve invented because nobody can stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental. People don’t like coincidences. They need to hang it up on things like fate. 

Her mom is really good at that.

“Mom, can I help? We can ruin dinner together.” 

Mary Margaret smiles, resigned. “Well, it’s still edible. I can’t believe this happens every year.”

“Maybe we should stop having the marriage conversation then,” Emma gently says. She knows her mom means well. “Maybe, break the patterns a bit.” 

Her mom sighs. “I know I’m pushing, sweetie. But I just… want for you what your father and I have.”

Emma hugs her mom. “I know. And I love you for that. But what you have is super rare, you know that, right?”

Mary Margaret eyes her dreamily. “I was in Atlantic City, with my family. Your father, he was a waiter there. He wasn’t even supposed to work that night and… suppose he hadn’t? He asked me to take a midnight walk on the pier. I’ve probably told you this story a million times already, but I just don’t care.” Emma’s mouth curves into a smile. Yes she has, but Emma never gets tired of it. “Then, he held my hand. And at one point, I looked down and I couldn’t tell which fingers were his and which were mine… and I knew.” Emma sees how her mom is miles away, lost in her memories. 

“What, mom,” she quietly says, touching her arm.

“Oh, you know, sweetheart,” Mary Margaret says, but answers anyway. “Magic. It was magic.” 

“Magic.” Emma’s tone is a little skeptical. The story keeps its magic, maybe, but Emma doesn’t really believe in it. Her mother basically revels in it. 

“I knew we’d be together forever, and that everything would be wonderful. And Emma… I wish that for you. Magic.”

“Hm hm,” Emma answers vaguely. Her mother means well. “Let’s see if we can still save a little of the chicken, shall we?” Fortunately, there’s enough left for four people this year.

~*~

After dinner, they say their goodbyes - the drive back to Seattle is still an hour or two. Emma first hugs her father, burying her face in his shoulder. “Merry Christmas, dad,” she murmurs in his shoulder and he kisses her on her head. “You too, sweetheart,” he gently replies, before releasing her.

“I really don’t want you to go already,” Mary Margaret sniffs, embracing her daughter, “we see so little of you.” 

“I promise I’ll try and come by more often,” Emma says, stepping into her embrace. Like she does every year. She intends to, really, but life just gets in the way every time. 

Resigned, Mary Margaret sighs, before letting go. “I love you, sweetheart. And remember… look for magic.” 

“Me too, mom,” she says, gently squeezing her arm. “I’m really going to try, all right? To visit.” She doesn’t address the magic part.

And with that, Neal and Emma say their goodbyes, before the door closes behind them.

“Well, that went as expected,” Neal says, good natured. He wraps his arms around her shoulders and plants a kiss on her forehead.

“Thanks, Neal. They love you. And they love having you around.” Emma smiles at him, while walking to their separate cars. 

“Anytime, kid. Drive safely, yeah?"

“Always. Say hi to August from me,” she waves, before getting into her yellow bug. And then, she’s on her way home, back to Seattle.