It was quite beautiful.
In the city, rain was something to run away from, but as Emma’s eyes followed a drip down the window she was leaning her head against, she thought it looked nice, peaceful even.
However, that was only a flitting thought as too much of her mind was focused upon where she was heading.
Even after everything she had been through, which according to the news was ‘an utterly atrocious act to commit against anyone, let alone a minor’, she was still nervous about heading towards some obscure town called Storybrooke.
It had seemed weird when August first told her that someone in a small town had decided to foster her, but the moment Emma Googled ‘Cora Mills’, it all seemed to make sense. She may only be the mayor of a small town now, but fostering a somewhat famous orphan seemed like a good political step towards higher office. She already had all of her charity work and perfect children on her side, so it couldn’t hurt to have something else to set her apart, right?
Perhaps living with so many different families over the course of her sixteen years had made her somewhat cynical, but August seemed excited so she had decided not to voice her worries.
Her eyes followed a rain drop falling down the window and ran her hand over the cast on her left arm.
She didn’t see the droplet fall all the way because of an audible throat clearing in the front seat.
“You’re not supposed to touch that, Swan,” August said, looking at her through the mirror briefly before turning his attention back to the road.
Emma sighed at her social worker and replied, “it’s itchy.”
“The doctor said no touching, so no touching,” he shot back and smirked slightly when the teen dramatically fell back against the car seat with a tiny huff. She was usually very mature, so it was nice to sometimes see glimpses of the child she actually was. Frankly it was a relief that part of her was still present.
Even if it only came out in glimpses.
His main hope was that he’d finally found a family that could bring it back completely.
“He isn’t my doctor anymore,” she tried, her hand moving dangerously close to the cast again.
“I’m sure that Doctor Whale will say the same thing when you see him later. Mrs Mills said she would take you to your appointment as soon as you got settled.”
“That won’t take long,” Emma murmured and her eyes flitted over to the duffel bag sat on the seat beside her.
“You can take your stuff out of the bag, you know?”
Emma just shrugged and said, “I’m sure the closet space will be taken up by her kids.”
“I did mention that the Mills family live in the mayoral mansion, right?” he asked, and allowed himself to glance in the mirror again so that he could see her face become blank at the news, and he added, “you’ll be getting your own room, Swan.”
A moment later, Emma actually smiled a little.
The last time she’d had her own room she had been five.
The pair fell into silence and Emma’s head lolled towards the window again to see that the trees were starting to thin out.
A sign came into view and the teen didn’t have a chance to read it before August announced:
“Welcome to Storybrooke, Emma.”
“Maybe she could have your room,” Zelena commented while pretending to be interested in the magazine in her hands, which she hadn’t turned the page on for the past twenty minutes.
Regina set her jaw and said, “we have four guest rooms, why would you say that?”
“Well, you came into my room and sat at my desk, thought it would be nice to actually say something. Maybe we could talk about the fact that you don’t want this girl to live with us?”
Regina just looked down at her lap with her arms crossed and Zelena continued:
“You don’t want to look after her at school, right?” And when Regina carried on being silent, the college student took it as permission to add, “you really need to have some compassion here, Gina.”
Regina sighed and finally looked up at her older sister, she had hoped that she would make her feel better about the thoughts she had been having since their parents had dropped the bombshell on them, but she was clearly mature enough to see the positives of the change that was about to happen in the Mills family.
“She could be…what if she’s…” Regina began, but trailed off when she realised that she had no idea how she wanted to end that sentence, though she knew exactly what she would say if she was talking to one of her friends at school.
“A dork? Loser?” Zelena suggested.
Regina winced slightly, she couldn’t help but wonder how their mother would react if she could hear this conversation.
“It’s going to be hard having a random girl following me around all the time…”
Zelena rolled her eyes. She hadn’t personally looked up what happened to ‘Emma Swan’ since she didn’t want to paint her opinion of the girl before she even met her, but her parents had briefly told her a little about what she had been through (Cora didn’t seem able to get all of the details out which wasn’t a good sign). However, neither her brother nor sister would have been told anything about Emma because the Mills parents liked to protect them from the worst the world had to offer, but Zelena had to hope that Regina wouldn’t have wanted to have this discussion if she knew what had actually happened to their new foster sister.
“You know, if you’re going to act like this, mom will just get her a different buddy. In fact, she knows you so well that she probably already has…”
Regina narrowed her eyes and leaned forward in the desk chair and asked, “are you calling me selfish?”
“That is very perceptive of you, especially for a cheerleader,” Zelena replied, which caused her sister to narrow her eyes further.
Regina was about to defend herself, but the pair heard the faint sound of their father calling each of his children’s names.
The pair shared a look, Regina was much more nervous than Zelena’s, before they each stood up and made their way towards the stairs.
It wasn’t long before they stepped down into the foyer and Zelena couldn’t help but smirk when she saw her mother messing with Henry Jr’s hair. He never used to mind letting her try to fix his mop to help her calm down, but considering that he was now thirteen, he often tried to move out of her space as soon as he possibly could, which was precisely what was happening now.
Finally, the mayor noticed that her other two children had appeared and she moved away from her youngest, much to the boy’s relief, and she announced, “she will be here any second now…”
“Calm down,” Henry Sr. said with a chuckle and stepped forward to place a hand on the small of his wife’s back, which she leaned into, “it will be okay.”
“But what if she doesn’t like lasagne? I should have asked if she likes lasagne…”
Her husband exchanged a smirk with Zelena and replied, “you have nothing to worry about, we have hours until dinner, and who doesn’t like lasagne?”
“Was she this nervous when she found out that she was pregnant?” Zelena asked and went to lean against the wall.
“There is a whole genre of books for pregnancy and raising babies,” Cora shot back, which caused her oldest child to just roll her eyes.
“There probably is at least one book,” Regina contributed, “you probably would have found one if you didn’t do it so quickly.”
August had warned them that their children would likely be resistant to having a stranger living in their house, especially at first. She figured that this could be resolved by just explaining to them what Emma had been through, after all, she had to believe that she had raised compassionate children. That plan was dashed though when she couldn’t get through all the details with Zelena.
How was she supposed to tell her younger children about the worst the world had to offer?
Neither of them seemed to have look it up yet, so she just hoped that Emma would tell them when she felt ready to do so. Or that if she was never ready, they would have the decency to not look into their foster sister’s past.
Before she could think about scolding Regina, the doorbell rang and she quickly turned back to her youngest child to try and fix his hair, but the boy was already far out of reach, so she just sighed trying to relax. She didn’t want to make a bad first impression with the girl and she certainly didn’t want her to feel like she wasn’t welcome here, which she certainly would based on the expressions on her childrens’ faces. Perhaps less so for Zelena, she was more neutral than anything.
She cleared her throat and waved her hands, hoping that they would understand what she wanted and they seemed to, as they all pushed themselves up to stand straight and appear presentable.
Cora inspected each of them and decided that this was probably the best that she was going to get and she turned to the door with a breath and walked towards the door.
Her husband followed her and they exchanged a look, before she reached forward to clasp the handle and turned it with only a slight hesitation.
As she did, two familiar faces came into view and the male of the pair returned the smile, while the teenage blonde clutched the strap of her duffel bag closer to her body and stared adamantly at the ground.
Cora’s eyes fell instantly to the cast on her left arm and she felt her stomach clench as she imagined how she must have looked before she had spent months at the hospital, she also couldn’t help but think that she still looked rather on the skinny side.
Hospital food may be technically nutritious but that didn’t mean that it always served its purpose.
Finally, Cora tore her eyes away from the proof of what had happened to Emma and said, “Mr Booth, it’s great to finally meet you,” and August accepted first her hand shake and then her husband’s before the mayor turned to the blonde, deciding against a handshake and said, “and hello to you too, Miss Swan…Emma…”
Emma just nodded without looking up and let go of the bag strap to push her glasses further up her nose, “hello Mr and Mrs Mills,” she mumbled.
“Please dear, call us Henry Sr. and Cora,” Henry said, offering her a smile that she didn’t look up to see.
Cora and Henry exchanged a look again, as the awkwardness of the moment started to become oppressive and they both looked over to August, almost pleadingly.
The social worker offered them a look that he hoped told them that this was completely normal and he nudged Emma slightly, so that she finally looked up, gave them a forced smile, and then she looked back down to the ground.
August smiled at the new foster parents again and said, “I’ll be back in a month or so to check on you, Em.”
This seemed to relax the teenager slightly. It always made him happy just how much she trusted him, but he only wished that he hadn’t been taking a leave of absence when she needed him in her last foster home. She claimed that he had every right to get married and go on his honeymoon, but he still couldn’t stop the guilt he felt, so he wished desperately that this home would work out.
If anyone else tried to hurt Emma Swan, he was pretty sure that he would actually snap at this point and hurt them back.
“Okay,” Emma mumbled and allowed the man to pull her into a quick side hug, before she tentatively stepped over the threshold as Cora and Henry moved backwards to allow her into her new home.
“Thank you, Mr Booth, please feel free to contact us at any time,” Cora said, heavily sensing that he was reluctant to leave.
August relaxed just a little, though his left hand still remained balled into a fist as he used his right to give Emma a quick wave before he turned on his heels to make his way back to his car.
Emma watched him go, wishing that he could stay for a bit longer like he usually would, but she knew that he didn’t actually have time to escort her here but had insisted that it should be him that did it. He needed to get back to New York for his next appointment and she would hate for some kid to miss the chance to have him as their social worker, just because she didn’t really want to be left alone.
The sound of the car door shutting made Emma side-step out of the way of the door to allow Henry Sr. to close it and she couldn’t stop herself from taking in a little breath as she looked around the foyer. She was pretty sure that it was bigger than most of the houses she had been in, so she couldn’t even imagine what the rest of the house must look like.
Her mind finally processed the sheer size of this single room and she allowed her eyes to roam over the three people who had yet to be introduced to her.
The three of them appeared to be standing in age order, and for reasons she didn’t really understand, her gaze moved from the red-head to the youngest boy, before she looked at the girl in the middle.
Her brain short-circuited momentarily and she continued to stare for a moment. She was so beautiful that Emma had to actually make a conscious effort to turn away and avert her gaze back to the ground.
Regina released the breath that she holding until the emerald eyes looked away from her own brown ones and she could practically feel Zelena smirking at her even though she refused to look at her older sister. She had not expected this girl to be quite so breath taking and adorable at the same time. For a moment, she forgot about her worries of having to look after the girl at school since all she could think was that it would mean she would get to spend more time with her. But then it occurred to her that she still didn’t know a single thing about her, she still might turn out to be just the kind of inconvenience she had been imagining since her parents had announced the big change to the Mills family household.
Cora frowned for a second at the silent interaction, but she quickly disregarded it as nothing to worry about and said, “Emma, please meet my children, Zelena, Regina and Henry Jr.”
Emma nodded, but furrowed her brow and looked between the two Henrys.
“You can call dad Sr.,” the younger Henry answered the question that she didn’t ask and his father just nodded in agreement. There wasn’t many situations where the name had been an issue, especially in their own home, but they had discussed it prior to Emma’s arrival since Henry Jr. was adamant that he didn’t want to be called Junior.
Emma nodded again and said, “okay.”
The foyer fell into an awkward silence and Emma began rubbing the cast on her arm, which seemed to remind the martiach of the day’s to-do list and said, “would you like to pick your room?”
“Pick?” Emma repeated as if it were the weirdest thing that she had ever heard in her life.
Cora smiled sadly at her and replied, “we have four spare rooms, you are welcome to claim whichever one you wish as your own.”
“I think that Regina should show her where they are, so you an check on the lasagne, mom,” Zelena announced, which earned her a death glare from her sister.
Emma watched the exchange and let out the tiniest of resigned sighs as she looked back down to the ground. She wasn’t shocked to discover that the mayor’s children were not excited about the prospect of having her here and she was certainly used to being sent away after a few weeks for that very reason.
Henry Sr. inspected the newcomer’s expression and then turned his attention to his two daughters, giving them a warning look and they both returned with one of apology since they had apparently realised what they had just done.
“I’ll just take whichever room would be easiest,” Emma said.
Regina silently berated herself and replied, “the biggest one is the room next to mine, it had the most closet space. I’ll show you where it is…if you want…”
Emma nodded, not bothering to mention that she didn’t have much use for closet space. She was just shocked that Regina would suggest her having the room next to hers, even though she knew it was probably just so she didn’t get in trouble with her parents.
The cheerleader motioned towards the stairs and Emma looked over to the oldest pair in the room, who seemed to be just as shocked as she felt that Regina had been the one to extend the olive branch.
She offered the Mills parents something resembling a smile and then moved to follow Regina.
The pair ascended the stairs in silence, and Emma’s eyes lingered a moment on each door that they passed. She had no idea how long it would take to get used to living in a mansion, but she did have a nagging feeling that she wouldn’t be living here long enough to find out. Then again, she had that kind of nagging feeling no matter how many homes she was introduced to.
Regina continued to lead the way in silence until they made it to the door next to her own, which she promptly opened and flicked on the light as they entered.
Emma’s mouth actually fell open as she tried to take in the sight of the massive room that she didn’t have to share. She was sure that at least four people could fit in here if this were a group home. How could all of this space possibly be for her?
In fact, if this was a spare room, how big was the master bedroom?
“You can stick stuff on the walls if you want…” Regina said and gestured awkwardly to the blank walls, wishing that she knew exactly what she should be saying right now.
Emma just reached into her bag and and walked over to the bed so that she could pull out a framed picture to place on the bedside table.
Regina watched the motion and cast a quick look at the image of the unfamiliar blond and brunette with a little smiling girl between them. A lump rose in her throat as it hit her exactly who they were and she asked, “are they your parents?”
Emma looked up at her, taking a second to figure out whether that tone of voice was supposed to be sympathy, but she gave up and replied, “yeah, Mary Margaret and David Swan…”
Regina leaned closer to inspect the image and the words fell from her mouth before she could catch them, “you were a cute kid.”
Emma tilted her head, this time trying to figure out what the hue of blush that now adorned the girl’s cheek could mean. She logically knew that it was supposed to signify attraction, but she decided that couldn’t possibly be the case here.
She was probably just embarrassed because this whole situation was incredibly awkward and it was for this reason that she just decided to change the topic and move onto the next thing that needed to be done, “August mentioned that I need to go for an appointment at the hospital?”
Regina cleared her throat and stood up straight, before she replied, “I think your appointment is in about half an hour, mom will take you…” and her eyes fell onto the cast on Emma’s arm and she instantly realised that she had no idea what had happened to the poor girl to have made her news-worthy, “the bathroom is just across the hall if you want to freshen up before you go…I’m sure someone will call you down when it’s time to go.”
“Thanks…” Emma said, placing the bag onto the bed before turning to offer the other girl a small but genuine smile.
Regina allowed her eyes to linger on that perfect smile for a moment, before she smiled back and turned on her heels to go and inform her parents that one of them would need to let Emma know when it was time to leave for the hospital.
Emma’s knee bounced of its own volition.
She was sure that after all of the times she had seen these types of clinical white walls, she would no longer feel as nervous whenever she had to go to a hospital.
However, a hospital almost always meant that something bad had happened to her and that she would soon be getting a new foster family. Granted, she was probably jumpier than the other times considering what happened to her last time had been more terrible (catastrophe terrible, really) than just bad.
She had to remind herself that this time was completely different though.
It wasn’t August sitting next to her, it was Cora Mills who seemed more intent on shooting her reassuring looks at her at regular intervals. August would have probably given her one or two but he knew her well enough to know that the unnecessary smiles made her more uncomfortable than reassured. It wasn’t Cora’s fault that she didn’t know that, though.
“It’s okay, dear,” she said after she felt the silence become too much, “Dr Whale may not have the most sensitive of exteriors, but he really is an excellent doctor…”
Emma nodded and tried to give the older woman a smile, but it came off a little forced before she looked down to her cast. It had never been doctors that she had an issue with, but she didn’t really feel like making a floundering attempt to try and explain how it was that she was feeling right now.
The mayor managed to stop herself from blowing out a breath of frustration and instead just shifted in her seat a little.
Her husband had told her over and over again that she just needed to be patient, that she shouldn’t expect their relationship to be like what they had with Zelena, Regina and Henry Jr, the three people she knew almost everything about them.
Emma Swan, on the other hand, was just a blank slate.
Other than the horrifying stories she read in the news and, then in more detail, in her file.
She just had to accept that giving her a room and taking her to the hospital didn’t mean that Emma would think of her as family. Besides, ‘family’ must mean something different to this girl who had experienced so much trauma.
Cora clasped her hands in her lap and silently wished that she knew what she could say to make sure that Emma knew that she would do anything to make her part of her family, but she supposed that actions spoke a lot older than words in these situations.
Emma must have heard adults tell her over and over again that they would do whatever they could for her, that she would be staying with their family forever.
The longest that this promise had been kept was eight months, so Cora had to assume that was the baseline for this poor girl.
In that moment, she resolved to make it her personal mission to make sure that she got to stay with the Mills family for much longer than that, for as long as she wanted to stay.
She clasped her hands more tightly as she forced herself to remain silent here.
In fact, sometimes trying to break the ice only hardened it and this was clearly one of those situations.
Thankfully, the silence was broken by another voice:
Both Emma and Cora looked over to see a nurse standing at the double doors looking around the waiting room and they each stood at the same time to follow her.
It wasn’t long until they arrived at a small examination room, with just a bed and a desk that a man in a white coat was currently sat at as he typed at the outdated computer.
At the sound of the door closing, Whale turned around and smiled at the pair and gestured over to the two chairs next to his desk.
Emma held her cast close as she went over and sat on the chair that was furthest from him and Cora offered him professional nod before she took the other chair and looked at him expectantly.
“Hello, Miss Swan, my name is Dr Victor Whale,” he announced and pulled some paperwork towards himself as he spoke, “I’ve just finished going over your blood work and x-rays the nursing staff took and everything appears to be as it should be. Your arm is healing nicely, so I would say that you can have the cast off in about two weeks if everything goes well. I would suggest a coupe sessions of physiotherapy afterwards to make sure that it is at 100%, but other than that, I wold say that you’re more than ready to go back to school as soon as madam mayor deems it to be appropriate.”
Emma flinched a little at the word ‘school’, which caught Cora’s attention, but Emma still nodded at the doctor.
Whale continued to look at her for a moment, before he turned his gaze to Cora, as if to confirm that he wouldn’t be getting a verbal response.
Cora gave him a small incline of her head as a response and he rose from his chair.
“There’s just a few more forms that we need to get filled in and you should be all set to go, I just need to go and grab them and I’ll make a note for someone to give you a call to arrange the checkup in two weeks?” Whale announced.
Cora nodded again and he moved towards the door.
The moment the door closed, Emma moved her hand over to her cast in an attempt to scratch a very persistent itch, but she was stopped by a hand being lightly placed on her arm.
“Do you not want to go to school?” Cora asked softly.
Emma glanced up to see infinite concern in the woman’s eyes and she replied, “I…no, it’s fine…:
“I hear that you have been completing your work quite successfully on your own, I see no reason why you can’t continue that arrangement while you getting settled into Storybrooke. You will need to go once your cast has been removed though…” she explained, though she wasn’t really sure if she had the authority to do this, she didn’t particularly care based on that flinch.
Emma stared at her for a second. She was so used to being told that she had to go to school almost as soon as she came to a new foster home, so she never even considered that it was a possibility that she could carry out her studies from home, at least for a little while.
She was pretty sure that not many people cared that much about her comfort, or at least didn’t have the resources to accommodate it.
“I…” Emma began, though she had no idea what she could say to show the woman just how nice the suggestion was, just how much it would improve the next two weeks for her, so she just decided to go with, “thank you.”
“I will need to have a meeting with Principal Gold to organise it all…I’n not sure whether he would still want to meet you before you officially start your classes. But I can’t really see him objecting considering your perfect GPA.”
Emma nodded almost vigorously in agreement.
The relief she felt at not having to go to school the next day was indescribable.
She had more experience than most people starting a new school, but that didn’t mean that it was something that she had actually become good at (was it be possible to be ‘good’ at such a thing?).
It would definitely be more difficult now that she had a much lower chance of remaining inconspicuous.
Cora smiled at the girl who looked to be genuinely happy about something, before a thought occurred to her and she said, “can I ask you a question?”
The teen cringed a little when she saw the slightly worried expression on the mayor’s face.
She could practically feel her heart rate spike as it did every time someone asked her if they could ask her a question. The millions of possibilities raced through her mind.
All of them were probably utterly ridiculous considering that the woman had just made such a kind offer that actually took her feelings into account, but Emma often found herself going to the worst case scenario.
In that moment, she couldn’t stop the thought that there was something bothering the mayor, which would usually meant that it was only a matter of time before she decided to start reconsidering her decision to foster a child. It wasn’t uncommon for them to rethink things after that.
Emma scratched at her cast and shifted as she replied, without looking at Cora, “yeah…”
“Do you like lasagne?”