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Welcome to Storybrooke

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Chapter one

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:

“Emma Swan?”

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?”

Chapter Text

Chapter two

“Is she weird?”

Regina closed her eyes as if it would make the question go away, but the sound of a lunch tray being placed next to her told her that wouldn’t be happening. If only.

It wasn’t as if she had really thought that Kathryn would give up on her quest for more information just because she had tried to deflect the questions during class. Maybe she should have made it her mission to hide during lunch?

It was mostly because she had no idea what she could say about Emma Swan.

After Emma had come back from the hospital, they had all experienced a rather tense dinner, since no one knew what they should say. The new addition wasn’t particularly willing to start any conversation, so with the exception of Henry Jr’s 10 minute speech about whatever comic book he was reading, the family had sat in silence and ate the lasagne. Emma seemed to like it at least.

Regina finally opened her eyes when another lunch tray was placed on her other side and Ruby slipped into the seat at the same time that Kathryn did and the head cheerleader turned to her friend and said, “what?”

“The new girl…I thought she would be at school today…”

Regina shrugged and turned her eyes back to her food which she poked at for a moment. 

The moment that Emma had crossed the threshold of the mansion, Regina couldn’t help but think that she was adorable in a very awkward, shy kind of way. If the bespectacled girl acted with more confidence, she had no doubt that she could be considered hot. However, this wasn’t really something that she could admit to her friends who had no idea that she considered women in these ways, there was currently only one person who knew and he was unfortunately unavailable at the moment. She really wished that she could dump all of the thoughts on him, but a text wouldn’t suffice for those purposes.

It was for this reason that she was pretty sure that she still needed to try and stick with her attitude of refusing to help the new girl, at least to her friends.

“My mom is letting her come to school after her arm is healed in a couple weeks,” Regina replied without looking up from her food.

Kathryn nodded and replied, “you didn’t answer my first question…is she weird?”

Regina sighed and finally looked first at Ruby and then over to Kathryn. 

Ruby didn’t seem quite as interested in the situation as Kathryn was, but she still tilted her head as the conversation continued, whereas Kathryn was actively leaning forward.

“I guess so…” Regina said and shrugged again, trying to ignore the churn in her stomach as she insulted Emma. Would it really be that hard to defend her without letting on that she could feel the roots of a crush forming? Based on her previous behaviour, she was pretty sure that any compliment would make her friends at least a little suspicious, so it was for this reason that she added, “she doesn’t really talk.”

“Would you want to talk if you had to deal with having Regina as your foster sister?” Ruby asked with a smirk. 

Regina scowled, she wouldn’t really be surprised if Ruby had been waiting to use that line day, she then replied, “you’re hilarious as ever, Rubes.”

“I try,” she said back with a rather proud chuckle, “but seriously, don’t you think that we should be giving her a break? It’s not easy to be the new kid, especially in Storybrooke.”

“You’re such a kill joy,” Kathryn sighed deeply and speared a lettuce leaf on her plate. It was loud punctuation to her petulance. 

“Maybe I’m just a nice person, unlike…” before Ruby could finish her sentence, a potato chip hit her squarely in her face and she instantly picked up something random from her plate, which just happened to be a little pot of salad cream.

Regina grabbed her arm to stop the retaliation, and to prevent Ruby from having to change her shirt before class (again), and Kathryn dropped the pot back to her tray with a huff.

“You two are such children,” Regina sighed and then the brunette looked between her two friends to make sure that their little war was over and she put her hands down.

The three of them fell into silence and just ate for a few second, before Kathryn perked up and asked around the lettuce in her mouth, “is she creepy?”

Regina looked over to Kathryn for a moment, who was leaning forward again, and just shook her head, indicating that she wouldn’t be answering the question.

Emma would face enough ridicule when she started at Storybrooke High, she didn’t need to provide any ammo.


Emma’s eyes ran over the page as music streamed out of the radio.

Her eidetic memory meant that she was literally incapable of failing a subject as long as she at least looked at the learning materials once. She knew that she had every reason to not even try when it came to school since she could just stare at the page and easily get an A. However, she found that school was the one thing that gave her some kind of consistency. Even if she hadn’t actually stayed in the same school for more than eight months, it gave her an escape from the life she had led. No matter how shitty things got, she knew that she had something that every other child got.

Even the best foster families couldn’t afford to buy her all of the books that she would need, (the Mills had ordered them before she even arrived), so she had always had to make sure that she would find a way to try and study something, even if it wasn’t strictly on the curriculum. She tended to spend most of her time in the local library, so she had to admit that it was rather nice to actually be able to sit on a ridiculously comfortable bed while she worked.

A knock at the door brought her away from the words of the AP chemistry book and she looked up to see Cora standing at the door holding a plate in one hand and a sealed parcel under the other arm.

“May I come in?” She asked with a small smile on her face as she wondered whether she would ever find any of her children happily studying if they have been given permission to not go to school.

Emma’s eyes shifted between the objects in the woman’s hands. She had already been given about ten books that morning after Cora had a meeting with Principal Gold to confirm the classes that she would be attending in a couple weeks. Most people would have been overwhelmed by the very long list of catch up that she would have to do in order to be allowed to stay in the advanced classes, but Emma was excited.

In fact, she had already hand-written two of the assignments from the list. 

Cora crossed the threshold, mentally taking a note that she would need to have the room decorated as soon as possible, but she knew that she was about to be freaked out by what she was about to give her, so she decided that could be a conversation for a later time. The girl would also need some new clothing, which would be something that either Regina or Zelena would help with if she gave them her credit card.

“I brought you some lunch,” she said and presented plate with the sandwich placed upon it.

Emma frowned and looked over to the clock to see that it was in fact twelve o’clock and she placed the book down. She hadn’t even noticed that so many hours had passed since she had picked up the first book and she also didn’t notice that her stomach was grumbling slightly, it was crying out in hunger. 

“Thank you,” she said as she stood from the bed to accept the plate. She was about to sit back down, but she frowned as she looked at the sheets that were probably more expensive than everything she had brought with her in the duffel bag.

“It’s your bed, dear, you can eat on it if you want,” the older woman said and chuckled lightly.

Emma relaxed slightly and sat back down among all of the paper and books and placed down next to her, “thanks…”

“You don’t have to thank me for everything,” Cora said as softly as possible, it wasn’t as if Zelena, Regina or Henry thanked her for every little thing that she did. Though she did like to believe that the ‘thank you’ was implied in those situations.


“And you certainly don’t need to apologise for anything,” she added with a raised hand before Emma could get the word out.

Emma opened her mouth to apologise, but she hastily closed it and just nodded instead.

“I should also mention, Principal Gold informed me that he can wait to meet you until your first day as you’ve already met your buddy…”

Emma felt her stomach twist as it hit her who this would be and she asked almost cautiously, “Regina?”

“Is that a problem, dear?” Cora asked, her face pinching a little as she wondered whether it was best to change the arrangement, would she be able to find someone more suitable at such short notice? She had hoped that living with her buddy would make things easier for Emma, but there had been some doubt in her mind, “I know that Regina can be quite…” she trailed off an searched for the right word, was it wrong to call your daughter ‘intimidating’?

Emma quickly shook her head and said, “no, honestly it’s...fine…” hoping that the woman wouldn’t be able tell that the thought of spending more time with Regina was bothering her because of how gorgeous she found her to be.

Cora tilted her head, clearly trying to figure it out, but she didn’t know her well enough to discern exactly what her expression meant. She decided to just push it aside and resolved to talk to talk to Regina later about what she expected of her as Emma’s buddy.

The pair remained silent for a moment until it hit Cora that there was a primary reason for coming into the room (though giving Emma as much food as she wanted would almost always be on the top of her priority list). The slightly heavy box under her arm probably should have been the biggest reminder of her goal, to be fair.

She stepped forward and placed the box onto the bed and motioned for the girl to grab it, which she promptly did with a curious frown.

“What is it?” Emma asked as she inspected it, though the only defining feature was the address printed on the label.

“There’s one way to find out, dear,” Cora replied, amusement clear in her tone.

Emma nodded slowly as she reached over to grab the key on the bedside table that she had been given earlier. Once she had the box firmly balanced, it wasn’t too difficult to slice through the packing tape despite having only one available arm, and she placed the key back onto its spot.

Cora looked on in anticipation as the girl gingerly ripped open the parcel and slowly pulled out the white box from within it.

Emma’s mouth fell open as she stared at the image on the top, before she pushed it onto its side so that the words ‘MacBook Pro’ printed on the side were visible.

“I wanted it to come with the rest of your school supplies, but there was apparently some delivery issue. With the volume of your work, I believe a laptop is the only logical solution. You can’t reasonably be expected to hand write all of your work and the computers in the library are unfortunately outdated...” Cora explained. 

Emma continued to stare at the image as she tried to take in that this was supposedly a no-strings-attached gift.

Was there anyway that this could help her with some future election? Although, she did have to consider that the Mills family were obviously well off. Perhaps, she didn’t quite understand that Emma would never have even dreamed of having a device like this. A lot of her foster families relied on the fostering for their primary income, so even the best ones couldn’t have brought her so much even if they wanted to.

“I...” she started, but found that there were just no words.

Cora watched the many emotions cross over her face and felt her own stomach twist in gilt. She knew that it wasn’t her fault that the blonde was so naturally suspicious of everything, but she couldn’t stop herself from feeling bad. Her eyes flicked over to the picture of the deceased Swans on the beside table and forced a smile, though she did wonder what the girl’s life would have been like if they had lived. She decided that was something that she could dwell on later, which would have the benefit of getting her husband involved in the discussion.

“Eat your lunch first dear, and then you can set up your laptop so you can start on more of your assignments. It would be best to try and do as much catch-up as you can before your first day.”

Emma nodded, her eyes never leaving the box and she began to say, “than...” before she thought better of it and clamped her mouth shut.

“You can say ‘thank you’ occasionally,” Cora said with an actual laugh this time.

Emma finally tore her eyes away from the box and actually smiled at the mayor, before she said, “thank you,” and hugged the box with her good arm.

“You’re very welcome, dear,” Cora replied and was about to turn to leave before she added, “oh, I was thinking of asking Regina to take you clothes shopping, would that be okay?”

Emma frowned and considered when the last time she went shopping for clothes was and decided it was a few years ago with the eight month foster family. 

“Er...yeah...that would be okay,” she said, even though she did feel a little lurch at the thought of spending time with Regina. Surely, the cheerleader wouldn’t be thrilled about the arrangement?

 Even if she had yet to attend Storybrooke High, she had no doubt that the girl was popular. Why wouldn’t she be?

“Are you sure?” 

Emma just nodded and placed the box down next to her as cautiously as possible.

“Okay,” the mayor replied and looked around the room, trying to figure out if there was anything that she had forgotten. After the silence stretched on, Cora decided that it was about time that she left the girl to her studies and said, “well it appears that you probably have even more work to do than I do. I’ll leave you to it, but if you need anything I’ll be downstairs in my study.”

Emma nodded again and the older woman finally turned to leave the room.

Once Emma was alone, she looked between the sandwich and the MacBook Pro.

Though she was still very much suspicious that there must be a reason behind this generosity and the apparently perfect situation in which she had found herself in, she couldn’t help but allow herself to smile with no one around to see it, at least for a few seconds before she got back to work this time chewing as she read.


Henry Jr. pitched back and forth on the balls of his socked feet and stared at the door he had been standing at for least two straight minutes now.

It’s as quite a simple thing that the thirteen-year-old wanted to ask, the worst answer that he could get would be ‘no’, but it did weirdly feel like there was a lot riding on the impending interaction.

Steeling his nerves, he decided that it would be worse to have no answer at all and he finally raised his clenched fist and tapped on the door a few times. He waited a few seconds, before a muffled ‘come in’ from inside the room sounded out and he timidly opened the door.

Henry stood a moment at the crack in the door and just examined the scene before him.

The new addition to the Mills household was sat cross-legged on the bed with the MacBook he picked out in front of her as well as three actual books open on her side and one in her lap. He briefly wondered how it was possible for someone to take in that amount of information at once, he was fairly certain that it wouldn’t be something that he would ever be able to do.

“Hey,” he said and pushed the door open a little more.

“I thought it would be your mom,” Emma admitted.

“Does she come up her a lot?” Henry asked, not al surprised that his mother was freaking out worrying about Emma’s comfort, though it was very clear that she was more than at ease in the little fortress of academia that she had created.

Emma shrugged and used her good hand to move the book in her lap over and shifted to give Henry her full attention, “only a couple times,” she replied.

“That’s not bad actually, dad said she tried to check on Zelena about six times on her first day at school.”

Emma’s mouth turned up a little, but Henry could tell that there was a certain sadness behind it, though he wasn’t aware that neither of them really understood it.

He leaned back against the door and blurted out, “I was wondering if I could ask you something...obviously you don’t have to say ‘yes’, but it would be totally awesome if you did...”

“Okay, what’s up?” Emma asked, only a little cautiously.

Henry swallowed hard and said, “mom asked me to unpack all of your school books yesterday...I couldn’t even understand a sentence in any of them,” and he emphasises his point with a gesture to the pile of tomes cluttered around the bed.

“Aren’t you thirteen?” Emma asked, hoping that it didn’t come off like she meant it as an insult.

Henry nodded and sighed as he replied, “it’s not’s just that...” he cut himself off and looked at the green eyes that looked as if they had at least some genuine concern in them, and he forced himself to continue, “I’ve been doing really bad at school, so they tested me and found out that I have dyslexia....I know it’s not really an excuse or anything. My mom had been trying to find people to help me cope with it, but nothing seems to work. I thought maybe...if you want to I could tutor me since you’re like a genius and obviously really good at school.”

Emma furrowed her brow and glanced at the amount of books around her, she had never really considered that they would make someone think that she was a genius. However, she decided that didn’t exactly make her qualified, even if it were potentially true (she had never been officially tested), and she replied, “why would I be better than professionals?”

“I don’t know how to explain it’s like since my mom didn’t hire you to help me and she wouldn’t know that I’m being tutored, there won’t be as much pressure to do would just make it easier I think.”

“Your parents wouldn’t know?” Emma asked.

Henry nodded vigorously, hoping that she would understand just how important that part was, at least for now, “I can tell that they’re worried about me even if they won’t admit it. If my grades don’t get better soon, I won’t get into college and I’m sick of being in a class with people who don’t even care. I really do try, but nothing seems to work. I understand if you don’t want to help me...” 

Emma nodded slowly and just replied, “I can try and help...but I’ve never tutored anyone before...”

Henry ignored the suggestion that she may not do well, since he had no doubt that she would be able to help him. It was probably because he felt like this was his last chance.

“Awesome!” he exclaimed excitedly, “I’m sorry that I can’t pay you anything, but I was dinner last night, you seemed a little interested in comics...are you a Marvel fan?”

Emma hadn’t really been aware that anyone was looking at her during dinner because she had spent all of it looking at her plate, so she did feel a little shocked that someone had noticed her interest in the only topic that was discussed. 

“I’ve read a few comics when the library had them, but I’ve never gotten to read an entire full story arc...:

“I have like every issue since can borrow whichever ones you want whenever you want...who’s your favourite?”

“Spider-man,” Emma replied with very little thought.

Henry smiled and said, “good choice...I can give you like 10 issues at a time at a time and if you want more, you can tell me and I’ll give you the next 10...would that be okay?”

Emma felt a little burst of excitement in her stomach as she mentally added up just how many comics the boy must have based on his description and she replied, “that would be...great...but what exactly do you need tutoring in?”

Henry’s own excitement visibly extinguished and he looked like he was starting to blush as he admitted, “everything...I’m fine with math but not doing amazing...but I’m completely failing English...” 

Emma nodded without a hint of judgement and said, “do you have a syllabus?”

Henry frowned as he mentally ran through all of the pieces of paper he had been handed throughout the year and quickly came to the conclusion that there was little chance that he would find it in the swirl of documents in his backpack and around his room.

“You can e-mail your teacher and ask for it,” Emma added when the look of concentration overtook Henry’s face for too long.

Henry click his forefinger and thumb in Emma’s direction in triumph and and announced, “I’ll do that right now! Thanks Emma, you’re the best!”

Emma just watched him go and it wasn’t until her door shut that she realised the corner of her mouth was pulling up just a little. Apparently his excitement was infectious. 

Chapter Text

Chapter three

Zelena pulled into the nearest parking space and glanced over her shoulder at the two younger girls sat in the backseat.

It has been four days since Emma had arrived in Storybrooke and Cora had decided that it was time that she left her little cocoon for something other than food or to use the bathroom. 

When the mayor told her daughters that she wanted them to take Emma to the mall, they could tell that it was going against all of her instincts to not take her, but she obviously had to weigh this against the fact Emma would benefit from interacting with people her own age.

However, she still refused to hand over her credit card until the pair agreed that they would do everything that they could to make Emma feel comfortable. 

Even if Cora had been more than thrilled to discover that Henry and Emma had seemingly bonded over comic books, she was determined that she needed to be better prepared for her first day at Storybrooke High School.

So far, their mother’s orders were proving to be far more difficult than she had made them seem at the time. 

Granted, Zelena was trying harder than her sister, since she had tried to ask her questions every so often as the car moved towards the mall, mostly about how her studies were going. It clearly wasn’t helping since Emma was only giving one word answers. 

Zelena was fairly confident that this was because of the presence of a certain brunette in the car. Regina had been basically been texting since she had walked downstairs to get to the car and judging by Emma’s glances over to Regina, it was obviously doing noting to help them achieve what their mother had asked them to do.

It was for this reason that the older Mills quickly reached over to snatch the device out of her younger sister’s hands, which earned her a look of complete and utter shock as if she had just committed an injustice. 

“What the hell, Zelena?!” Regina exclaimed and made to reach forward to grab it back, but her sister shoved it into the glove compartment.

Emma looked up from her lap to watch the scene and she couldn’t help but smirk just a little bit, which caused a triumphant grin to form on Zelena’s face.

Regina glanced over to Emma and her anger almost disappeared at the adorable little smirk. Unfortunately, her sister wasn’t the person who knew that she could possibly have a crush on a girl, so she had to try and remain as indignant as she was a moment ago.

“You can text Daniel later, Gina, mom said you have to get some school supplies for yourself anyway, so you should really be focused,” Zelena explained.

“It isn’t difficult to pick out some notebooks and pens,” Regina huffed.

Zelena tried to take in a deep and calming breath as covertly as possible. She knew exactly what she wanted to say in that moment, but she couldn’t very well announce ‘stop ignoring Emma’ as this would just make the girl withdraw further.

It was for this reason that she tried to give her the message silently, which obviously didn’t work since Regina continued to look at her with her expression of indignation. 

Zelena rolled her eyes and shot a look over to Emma to see if she was aware of what was happening. She relaxed a little when she just saw amusement playing across the teen’s face. Obviously she must be used to this kind of thing, statistically she had probably been in a home with someone as self-absorbed as Regina before now. She just couldn’t help but wish that her little sister could at least realise what she was doing wrong right now. 

“You can have we back when we get back to the car,” Zelena said resolutely and finally opened her car door.

Regina dramatically huffed while she did the same and Emma decided that she could just watch the moment for a few more seconds before she moved to do the same. She could clearly tell that Zelena was trying hard to make her feel comfortable, but she didn’t understand that constantly asking someone questions was not the best way to do so. Of course, having people who tried too hard was much better than some of the alternatives that she had experienced in her life, so she really couldn’t think of anything to complain about. Plus, in that moment, all she could actually think about was just how cute Regina looked when she was acting so childishly. She had a feeling that she wouldn’t make a habit of acting this way when she wasn’t in the presence of her family, especially not at school.

A moment passed and she used her good hand to reach over and let herself out to find Regina already standing next to her older sister, refusing to make eye contact with her as she crossed her arms, with the smallest of pouts. 

Emma looked over to Zelena who was shooting daggers at her and she wondered just how long this could go on for.

Emma shifted from foot to foot for a second, and asked, “so...which way do we go?”

Regina tilted her head and looked over to the huge structure that was the mall, which was clearly the direction that they should go and she knew for a fact that Emma was smart enough to know that. Almost on instinct, she was about to make a sarcastic comment, but she quickly realised that the girl simply asked because she didn’t want to spend her time awkwardly standing in a parking lot while she and Zelena silently argued over a phone that was so unfairly taken from her. 

It was for this reason that the cheerleader attempted a genuine smile, despite the mood that her sister had put her in and she gestured towards the mall without making any comments. 

Ten minutes of walking in silence later, the three of them stood in front of a map of the mall and Zelena asked, “do you have any preferences?”

Emma’s eyes moved over the list and decided that she definitely hadn’t heard of at least 50% of them, she’d never got to chose before. Not that she was ever ungrateful for anything that she was given. She would rather have hand-me-downs instead of nothing to wear.

“I’m…not sure,” she admitted.

Regina took in a deep breath and Zelena shot her  another dirty look before she looked back at the list and asked, “do you mind if we choose for you? I think I know what you would like...”

Emma wasn’t quite sure why, but she felt her cheeks burn at Regina’s words and she nodded, knowing that there was no way that she would be able to verbalise her consent without stuttering.

Zelena quirked an eyebrow and briefly wondered whether Regina had spent nearly enough time with Emma to know what she likes. In fact, she knew that her sister hadn’t really seen the girl at any other times than at dinner and they certainly hadn’t exchanged any words since the first day that Emma arrived.

Regina brought her bottom lip into her mouth in concentration as her eyes roamed over the list of stores and she kept glancing over at Emma at regular intervals. 

“Okay I have an idea,” she announced.

Without explaining further, she began to walk in the direction of her chosen store and Emma furrowed her brow curiously before she and Zelena moved to follow the cheerleader.

It wasn’t long until the three of them were stood in front of Hot Topic and Zelena looked over to her sister questioningly while Emma inspected the clothing articles on display in the window. When Regina noticed Zelena’s gaze, she shrugged and muttered, “she gives off a cute nerdy hipster vibe.”

Zelena tilted her head at the use of the word ‘cute’. She could logically see how it applied to Emma, but the way Regina had said it felt less like an acknowledgement of the obvious and more like she was a little in awe. 

The older Mills turned to Emma to see if she had heard it, but the girl was too absorbed in what she was looking at. She appeared to be a little shocked, probably that Regina had actually chosen to the correct store.

A moment passed as they just stood there before Regina rolled her eyes and began to walk towards the entrance, “can we just get this over with?” she asked, gesturing towards the door, hoping that if she stayed in character then her sister would forget about the ‘cute’ comment, “I have other stuff to do today.”

Emma turned and frowned, though she quickly pushed aside the feeling of disappointment. She knew that Regina was reluctant to spend time with her, but it didn’t make her feel as dejected as she had when her foster siblings didn’t want to spend time with her. She knew that it wasn’t because she was the weird orphan girl, but rather it was because she was a socially-awkward dork who barely spoke. It was strange that she couldn’t find it in herself to be insulted, but somehow having a cheerleader act such a way made her feel more normal than she could remember.

It was for this reason that she answered Regina’s question by walking into the store. 

Zelena frowned for a second, before she pulled Regina to follow Emma.

About five minutes later, Regina leaned against the wall and pretended to be interested in one of her nails and her older sister stood next to her with her arms crossed as her eyes flicked over to the blonde who was inspecting a t-shirt decorated with an image of Disney’s Evil Queen.

“How much do we have to help her get?” Regina sighed, not looking away from her mail as she droned.

“I don’t know...” Zelena replied with a shrug, “I’m pretty sure that she only has like five outfits...I’m guessing that she needs a lot, why? Do you have somewhere you need to be?”

“As a matter of fact, I’m meeting some people at the diner. You act like you want to spend your Saturday waiting for her to pick clothes...”

Zelena rolled her eyes and shook her head at the same time. She had never quite understood how Regina could find a way to be so rude all the time, while avoiding being a complete bitch. It wasn’t as if she had actually done anything horrible to their new foster sister, but at the same time, it wasn’t as if she had gone out of her way to make Emma feel welcome in their home.

“It isn’t going to take that long, she doesn’t really seem that picky,” she replied as she turned her attention to Emma looking through a rack of clothes. The girl was smiling at whatever she was looking at, but it didn’t escape her attention that Emma had yet to actually pick anything up.

“Stay here,” she muttered, before she went over to the blonde.

Regina rolled her eyes deeply at her sister’s back and continued to pretend to be interested in her nails, whilst Zelena actually went to pick stuff off the racks that she had noticed Emma looking at. She knew that it couldn’t be easy to go into a new home and have complete strangers buy you things, but she was also slightly annoyed that the blonde was taking so long. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to help the girl, it was just that she couldn’t see how her being there could possibly be at all helpful, Zelena seemed to better at that staff anyway. She had thought about going to talk to Emma over the past few days, but she stopped herself each time when she realised that she had nothing to say, it wasn’t like constantly checking on her was going to make her feel more comfortable in the mansion, after all, she knew that she would go crazy if her mother came to talk to her as often as she did with Emma. 

She ultimately decided that she could wait until she was the blonde’s buddy to try and talk to her properly, not that she wanted to think about why the idea of talking to her made her throat constrict slightly. She had known that she was attracted to her the moment she had seen Emma cross the threshold of her home, but nothing had happened to make that initial crush fade. She had noticed Emma and Henry seemed to spend a lot of time together and she couldn’t help but feel ridiculous for being jealous of her little brother. Just because he had something in common with Emma and had actually gone to talk to her about it, she was sure that she could go and have a conversation about Marvel if she really wanted to. So she decided that she would just try and maintain indifference until her crush faded, that was what usually happened when she met someone that she found attractive.


Said girl finally looked up from her nail as she was pulled out of her thought and forced herself to stop covertly trying to look at Emma, before she turned around to see who had called her name. Though she had a sinking feeling that she knew exactly who the voice belonged to and she knew that this wouldn’t bode well.

When her eyes met her fellow cheerleader’s she shook her head and sighed, “Kathryn? Why are you here?”

Kathryn shrugged with a smirk playing across her lips as she looked at a random necklace and said, “I like this store...”

“So why have I never seen you wear anything from here?” Regina asked.

“Because...” Kathryn tried, but her friend cut her off with a raised hand.

“You saw me come in here with Emma, right?” she asked with a sigh.

“You know me so well,” the other girl laughed as she came over to stand next to her friend, openly looking over to the rack where Zelena was showing Emma some jeans.

“She’s kind of cute...”

Regina looked away as she swallowed hard and gave herself a couple seconds to hide her blush. She managed to will the crimson hue to disappear and she looked back at her friend and shrugged as she replied, “I guess so...I hadn’t really noticed.”

Kathryn raised an eyebrow at her for a second as she tried to figure out why her friend seemed to be so defensive. However, she quickly dropped it when she sensed two people approaching them.

Looking up, Kathryn smiled at the two people approaching encumbered by piles of clothes each, though the blond of the pair was clearly frowning at the amount.

A smile spread across the cheerleader’s face and Regina resisted the urge to throw her head back and groan deeply.

“You must be Emma,” Kathryn practically squealed, which caused the girl’s eyes to widen as all of her muscles tenseat the same time.

Zelena looked at her sister’s friend cautiously before she turned back to Regina with narrowed eyes. For a moment, she thought that Regina must have called her here, but it occurred to her that she had taken her phone and they hadn’t known what store they were going to until after they left the car. Plus there was the fact that she was in no way surprised that Kathryn would find them just so that she could know the latest gossip. 

“Hey Kathryn,” Zelena said after a moment and with a very audible sigh.

Said girl offered the older Mills girl the smallest of nods, before she turned back to Emma with an expectant look.

Emma swallowed hard to moisten her throat.

She could practically feel anxiety seeping out of all of her pores as she mumbled, “yeah I am...”

“I’ve heard so much about you!” Kathryn exclaimed.

Emma raised her eyebrows and glanced at Regina who was shaking head in exasperation.

“Well not really,” Kathryn admitted, “Regina was pretty stingy with the details.”

Emma tilted her head and tried to figured out what Regina’s death glare was supposed to mean. However, she decided that if had trouble figuring out what a smile meant most of the time, this situation was definitely out of her emotional capabilities.

It was for this reason that she just looked down at her feet, willing the girl to stop drawing attention to her.

“What happened to your arm?” Kathryn blurted out after a moment.

Zelena and Regina both gave her a withering look, but she didn’t seem to notice.

Emma glanced at her casted arm and she opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out as her mind supplied her with images of what had actually happened. She took a couple deep breaths, as the psychiatrist at the hospital had told her to, and she looked back to her feet, hoping that the other teen would understand that she wasn’t going to answer the question, or more accurately that she probably couldn’t form words to described what happened.

Apparently, Kathryn didn’t notice her inability to form words she shot off more questions, “where did you live before Storybrooke? Do you think it’s weird that the mayor fostered you? Is it awful living with Regina?”

“Okay,” Regina said louder than necessary and she grabbed her friend’s forearm and added, “I think that’s enough questions, Kath.”

She pouted since she hadn’t a single answer to the questions that some of the other cheerleaders had told her to ask. Sure they had the numerous news articles that they could read on the topic, but who was a better source to sate their curiosity than Emma herself.

Regina rolled her eyes and looked over to her sister as if asking for permission for what she was about to do.

Zelena nodded and she pulled her friend away, leaving her sister to finish shopping with Emma.

Chapter Text

Chapter four

Henry's eyebrows were practically joined as he continued to look at the page on the bed in front of him, before he let out a frustrated groan and threw his head into his hands.

“Why do I have to write essays anyway?” he asked, which was barely audible through his fingers.

“Because we do, complaining about it won’t change that Henry,” Emma replied.

Henry’s hands fell down and he was about to argue that was stupid, but his words died on his tongue when it occurred to him that he wasn’t in a classroom. He was sure that if it had been a teacher who had said that, he would have retorted without thinking and then would have been sent out. That would inevitably lead to his mother being called and then being grounded. Of course, he knew that Cora was more lenient on him than she would have been on Regina or Zelena if they talked back to a teacher, because she understood that it was out of frustration, but that didn’t mean that she could leave his actions unpunished. At this point, he was sick of the cycle that he seemed to be going through constantly and he knew that some part of him hoped that Emma helping him would be an immediate fix, but he was quickly realising that he would still have to do all of the work.

“How do I know what to write?” he asked with a loud sigh.

“You need to make sure that you read the question properly first. You can write a great essay but fail if it doesn’t answer the question,” Emma explained.

Henry felt his stomach jump at the word ‘fail’ but he looked once again at the words on the top of sheet he had been given to make up for his bad grades so far this year. This would be the first of many and he was surprised that the teacher had even agreed to issue it to him, but the woman had been so shocked when he asked for the syllabus that she obviously decided that it was a good time for a second (or third) chance.

“How are metaphors used in To Kill a Mockingbird ?” he read aloud, and looked back up to Emma with a furrowed brow, as if he was hoping that her expression would give him all of the answers to that mess of words.

Emma tilted her head at the boy as she considered the expression on his face, she couldn’t tell if it was hope or worry. She gave up on trying to figure it out and picked up a pad of paper and handed it to him, “write down all of your ideas first...”

Henry swallowed hard as he brought his pen to hover over the paper and looked contemptuously at the novel taunting him from the sheets of the bed. His pen stayed completely still for about five minutes, but Emma made no move to say anything and just waited. She knew that he had read the novel more than a few times since his parents had made sure he had all of the help he needed with reading, that really wasn’t the issue. She had been slightly surprised when he showed her all of the programs his parents had brought for his computer that essentially read for Henry so that he could follow along on the page at any speed that suited him. Considering all of the books in his room, she could tell that reading definitely wasn’t the problem, he clearly enjoyed it once he had a way to make it easier for him. But that meant that she still needed to help find a way to make this part easier for him so that he could eventually try and not see the essay writing part as such a chore.

Eventually, Henry gave up and looked up at his foster sister with pleading eyes and she reached her hand out so that he could hand the paper back to her.

“Have you ever tried mind maps?” she asked as she set to work writing ‘metaphors in To Kill a Mockingbird’  in the centre of the page.

Henry shook his head with a furrowed brow as he peered over to see what she was writing.

“I use them all the time,” Emma’s replied, “when there’s too much information, you need to decide what to focus on and I think a mind map is a good way to see what your options are. If you write down everything you know, it’s easier to see which ones are the best ones to look at.”

With that, she handed the paper back over to him.

Henry’s pen hovered over to page again as he stared at the words, it did feel a little better seeing that it was no longer blank.

“So...I just...” he started, but trailed off and just gestured towards the page.

“Write down anything that comes to mind,” Emma replied, “even if you’re not sure about it, just write it down.”

Henry shrugged and started scribbling stuff down and it wasn’t too long until the page was full of words. He wasn’t even aware that he knew that much about the book.

“Now what?” he asked, the frustration in his voice had given way to awe at what he had managed to do.

“You need to pick the ideas you want to write about. You can pick two or three main ones and if any of the other ones are related to the main points you can highlight them as sub-points,” she replied and handed him three highlighters.

Henry stuck his tongue out a little as he began doing as he was told and Emma briefly pictured Regina doing the same thing while she concentrated. She quickly looked down at her lap, hoping that Henry wouldn’t see the blush that was creeping up her face. There was no logical explanation for it, if he glanced up now and saw it. 

A moment later, Henry looked up at his tutor and she handed him another piece of paper, “now write down all of the points you picked, draw a line off the main points to add any of the sub-points that you can see and you’ll be able to see exactly what you want to include in the essay.”

He once again did as he was told and Emma smiled at the proud grin that the boy was wearing as he gazed down at everything that he had written.

“ now what?” he asked, his smile fading a little when it occurred to him that he would still needed to write something that could actually be submitted to his teacher.

“Point, evidence, explanation,” she replied and when she received a confused look in return, Emma continued, “for each thing you’ve written down, you have to write a sentence to open your point, then put a quote to support it. Then you have to explain how the quote supports what you said.”

Henry continued to frown and Emma offered him what she hoped was a reassuring smile,  before she picked up some papers that she had had next to her.

The boy took them, though looking at them only seemed to cause him to frown more.

“I e-mailed the essay to you so you can read along on your computer. If you just read through that a few times, you should be able to see the structure of the essay. Just let me know when you’re down and I’ll show you how to plan the essay properly before you start writing it...”

Henry nodded and allowed a smile to tug at the corner of his lips, before he said, “you’re a really good teacher, you know?”

Emma just shrugged, though the compliment did force her to look down at her lap for a second. She knew that school was the one thing that she excelled at and it also helped that she actually enjoyed it (the eidetic memory didn’t hurt either to be fair). It stood to reason that she would be a good teacher, but it felt strangely good to have the confirmation of that aloud. It could only mean that what she was doing was actually helping.

"Okay," he smiled as he stood from the bed, "do you need any more comics?"

Emma looked over to the growing pile on her desk across the room (which Cora had added to her room a few days ago) and she shook her head. Henry hadn't actually been taking back the comics that he borrowed to her so far, so she replied, "I think I'm good for a while…"

The boy smiled at her and grabbed the pieces of paper, and began walking towards the door.

He quickly slipped out of the room but cringed when he heard the next room's door also open at the same time. He automatically brought his mind maps and the highlighted essay to his chest and looked guiltily over to the brunette who had her eyes glued to her phone.

Regina seemed to realise that she wasn't alone in the hallway and her eyes snapped up from the device in her hand to look at her little brother. They stared at each other for a moment before Regina asked, "what are you doing?"

Henry swallowed hard and shook his head, "I was...just…taking some comics to Emma…"

"And she gave you…notes?" the older sibling asked.

"I asked to borrow some paper," Henry shot back before he scurried away, not giving his sister any more chance to question him.

Regina opened her mouth to say something else as she watched him go, but her phone let out a little ding and she just shrugged and looked down at it as she walked towards the stairs. 

She’d long since accepted that her little brother was weird so it didn’t really bare any more thought.


August leaned against the door frame and sighed deeply as he stared at the blonde teen lay in the bed while he adjusted the messenger bag strung over his shoulder to a more comfortable position.

His honeymoon had been the most peaceful three weeks of his life and he had loved every moment of it, but now he couldn't help but wish that he hadn't gone. If the agency wasn't so understaffed, he wouldn't have had to worry about the minors in his care, but the checks that were supposed to be made weren't. He knew for certain that if he hadn't taken two months off work for all that came with getting married, then this would have never happened. He completely understood why his fiancé had suggested it since he had so many vacation days that he hadn't taken, but he was now being rather rudely reminded why he never took off more than a single week at a time and even that was quite the stretch. 

He had to return to find out that the neighbours of Emma Swan's foster parents had called the police and an ambulance when they’d finally gotten proof of their suspicions.

He couldn't imagine what it would have been like if he'd have come back and visited the week after as his schedule had dictated and no one had called for help. Emma's state was already difficult to take in and he was trying not to think about whether he would have been able to physically stomach if things had been worse.


The man blinked out of his thoughts and realised that Emma must have woken up. He quickly pushed himself off the doorframe and walked over to the bed.

"Hey," he said, trying not to allow his voice to shake at the bruising on her face, her broken nose caused a deep shade of purple to ring her unfocused eyes. He couldn't even imagine the intensity of the pain killers that she must have been on.

Emma's right hand immediately went to the cast on her left so that she could figure out what the new weight on her arm was. For a moment, she tried to remember the last thing that had happened to her, but her mind was somewhat blank.

"Where am I?" she asked hazily.

Her social worker smiled sadly at her and replied, "the hospital. You've been unconscious for about a week, you had to have a couple of surgeries…"

The girl nodded slowly, completely understanding exactly why she was here. Everything came back to her and she winced, which caused pain to ripple through her entire body despite pain killers pumping through her veins.

"What happened to the Chases?"

August furrowed his brow for a moment, wondering just why she would be worried about the people who had hurt her so much, but then the reason occurred to him and he allowed himself to smile slightly at how much of a good person Emma still managed to be. Even after this.

"Mr and Mrs Chase are currently in custody and will be going away for a very long time. Victoria and Nathan are being looked after by Mrs Chase's sister and from what I've heard, she would be more than willing to adopt both of them…"

Emma blew out a rather pained breath as she managed to relax slightly. As much pain as she was in, it helped slightly that two more children were not sent into the foster system.

"So…when do I have to go to another home?" the blonde asked somewhat timidly.

The man’s sad smile remained and reached up to push aside a golden lock of hair that he knew must have been irritating.

"Nowhere just yet…I'll start looking for a placement soon, but the doctor said that it would be quite some time before you can be discharged."

Emma frowned again and she actually took a moment to look around her surroundings more critically, "am I…in a private room?"

August nodded slowly, "as I said, you're going to be here for quite some time…what happened was on the news so Social Services wanted to make sure that your recovery was fully funded in the interest of appeasing the media…"

"It was on the news?" the blonde sighed, she was already so sick of being pitied by people when they found out that she was in the foster system, but this would only serve to make it worse.

"Sorry, Em," August replied with a sigh, "after that case a few months ago with the baby, the media were more than willing to shed their light on this."

Emma nodded and looked down at her lap. She was somewhat relieved that she would be able to spend the next few months in this room. No new family. No new school. It would be actually refreshing, but she knew eventually that she would have to return to real life and she then people would be able to just Google her to find out every horrible thing about her life.

"So what am I supposed to do here?"

August tilted his head and replied, "you need to focus on getting better."


The man quickly held up his hand to cut off her worry before he appeased her, "your GPA will be fine, Swan, the school has loaned you a laptop that you can use to finish this semester's assignments."

With that, he brought the bag off his shoulder and placed it on the bedside table.

"You just need to ask one of the nurses for the Wi-Fi password."

Emma nodded in understanding and silence passed between them before August took a deep breath and began, "Emma I'm so…"

Before he could finish, Emma shook her head and said, "it's okay August, I'm fine."

August thought to argue, but he knew that there was nothing he could do to convince her that she didn't have to pretend to be fine. After all, this shouldn’t be normal anyone.

"I'll visit as often as possible," he assured, "and if you need anything, call me, morning or night, you understand?"

Emma smiled at him and nodded, "thanks August."

Chapter Text

Chapter five 

Regina could see them bickering from across the courtyard and she sighed deeply.

She was not in the mood for this and she was pretty sure that she would never would be.

Kathryn appeared to be holding something out of Ruby’s reach whilst the other girl tried desperately to grab it and Regina had to assume that it was related to Emma.

Ever since the mall fiasco, she hadn’t really interacted much with Emma and it was beginning to bother her. She was still trying to put aside the thought that it was because she didn’t like how much time Henry was spending with their new foster sister. It wasn’t fair that he seemed to so easily build a relationship with the girl just because of comic books. 

“Stop it,” Regina heard Ruby growl as she tried to get whatever was in her friend’s hand.

“This is important!” 

Regina sighed again and and quirked an eyebrow at the scene before her, she could now see that Kathryn was holding a phone.

She cleared her throat so that they both turned to her and she asked, “what are you doing?”

Kathryn looked suddenly guilty. The rant that she received after the incident at the mall made it clear that she needed to stop being an insensitive bitch and she was sure that what she was about to do would fall under that category.

“Well…you wouldn’t tell me what happened to Emma, so I thought that I would just see what came up on Google, but Ruby won’t let me…”

“Because it is a complete invasion of privacy, how would you feel if your worst life experience was online for everyone to read about?” Ruby retorted.

“I would prepare myself for the fact that people are going to read it!”

“No, you would turn into an emotional wreck and ask how you can have something taken off Google!” Ruby shot back.

Regina rolled her eyes and finally slipped into the seat opposite the pair and decided to just continue to listen to the argument until she was forced to join in.

“I’m not that stupid,” Kathryn replied with a little pout. 

A moment later, Kathryn turned to look at Regina almost expectantly and the head cheerleader said, “I didn’t tell you anything because I don’t know anything. I would have told you literally anything to stop what happened at the mall…”

“You’re totally overreacting, it wasn’t that bad,” Kathryn replied and rolled her eyes, though Regina could tell that a part of her wasn’t too confident in her innocence here.

“You terrified her,” Regina said through gritted teeth. She was just so happy that Zelena had decided to not tell anyone about what had happened, but she still had yet to actually try and apologise to Emma and she knew that it was because she was slightly afraid to talk to her for whatever reason.

“Exactly!” Ruby took the opportunity to offer her input, “you’ve already done enough to her, the least that you can do is have the common decency to not Google her!”

“So you’re telling me that you’re not even the slightest bit curious about what happened to the girl living in your house, Regina? You don’t even know what happened to her arm?”

Regina bit the inside of her cheek and focused on the food that she had yet to actually touch. 

She had, of course, wondered on more than one occasion what happened that could have meant that her mother could hear about an injured foster child from another state. It didn’t help that the broken arm was a constant reminder that it must have been something bad.

There was a part of her that was actually afraid to find out what could have happened to such a sweet and beautiful girl and what kind of person could do those things to her.

Regina’s eyes widened a little when she realised that she had somehow drifted to thinking about how beautiful Emma was again, and she glanced between her two friends to make sure that neither of them had noticed.

The pair were just looking at her expectantly, so she figured that she wasn’t being too obvious, so she just replied, “I’m sure that it isn’t something that she wants to talk about. Besides, we’re not really close, we’ve exchanged maybe a few sentences since she got to Storybrooke. I don’t think that she would choose me to talk to about that stuff.”

Ruby frowned and considered for a moment that there was a certain amount of dejection in the other girl’s voice, but she decided that was probably just because she was sick of Kathryn constantly talking about Emma Swan when she appeared to have very little interest in the topic. 

She could never understand how Regina could seem to be so considerate in one breath and then inconsiderate in another. It was like there was always something holding her back from being fully nice and she had definitely noticed it more when it came to Emma. 

Even if she was worried about the new girl somehow affecting her social standing, Regina had basically reached the point at Storybrooke High where she had the right to decree that anyone was popular, so it had to be something else that was holding her back.

“Do you think that’s something that should change?” Ruby asked and took the opportunity of the distraction to reach across the table and snatch Kathryn’s phone out of her clutches. 

Kathryn opened her mouth to protest, but Ruby held up her hand to tell her that she wouldn’t be getting her phone back until she agreed to stop it.

Regina sighed and shrugged, “I guess that I’ll have to talk to her when she starts school.”

“And don’t you think that she would be more comfortable if you actually tried to make an effort before then?”

Regina shrugged again and pretended to be suddenly absorbed by her food as she mumbled, “I guess.”

Ruby shook her head in exasperation but quickly turned her attention to slapping Kathryn’s hand away.


“What are you doing?”

Regina physically jumped up a little in her chair and turned away from her laptop to find herself being fixed with a judgemental gaze.

“Nothing,” was her instant and unconvincing reply, which became less convincing when she turned her desk chair around to quickly shut the lid of her laptop before turning back to her sister.

Zelena quirked an eyebrow at her and walked further into the room, so that she could close the door behind her.

“Really? Because it look like you typed ‘Emma Swan’ into Google,” the older of the pair replied with narrowed eyes.

“I…” Regina began, silently cursing that she had opted to have her desk so close to the door, there was no way that she would be getting out of this, “I didn’t press enter,” she replied.

Zelena crossed her arms over her chest and tilted her head as she asked, “why not?”

“Well…I really want to know what happened to her…but don’t you think that it’s kind of an invasion of privacy? And the news isn’t going to have the whole story anyway…”

“And what brought this on?” Zelena asked, trying not to sound disappointed.

“Kathryn was trying to search for what happened to her at lunch but Ruby wouldn’t let her. She said that it would be an invasion of privacy and that it isn’t fair that her worst life experiences are just online for everyone to read….”

Zelena raised her eyebrows as her sister spoke. 

The younger Mills was clearly conflicted about the whole ordeal and Zelena couldn’t help but feel a little bit of pride for that fact. The captain of the Storybrooke High Cheerleaders tended to like people to think that she didn’t care about anything or anyone, especially if it involved hurting someone’s feelings. She was sure that if there was embarrassing information about another student online, she wouldn’t have hesitated for even a second to search for it so that she could discuss it at length with her friends. There would probably be a group dedicated to it, in fact.

“So…Kathryn and Ruby are like your consciences?”

Regina sighed but shrugged, it seemed like an apt comparison.

“Then you should know exactly who you should be listening to?”

“Well I usually would just listen to Ruby, but what if Kathryn is right? Emma might expect people already know what happened to her, which would mean that she would never want to talk about it and if she never talks about it then she’ll never deal with it and I mean…it must have been something awful.”

“Wow okay, calm down, Gina,” Zelena said and uncrossed her arms so that she could raise her hands, “it isn’t your job to be her shrink and if she never wants to say anything about what happened, then she doesn’t have to. But if she does want to talk about it, then it’s our job to make sure that she would actually want to go to one of us. Instead of obsessing, don’t you think that you should just try and make friends with her?”

Regina flopped back against her chair and let out a sigh as she glanced over to the closed laptop, before she asked, “and how am I supposed to do that?”

“Stop treating her like she’s an intrusion and maybe actually say more than one sentence to her. And when she gets her cast off and goes to school, don’t pretend that you don’t know her just because you want to look cool.”

“I’ve said more than one sentence to her,” Regina protested, though she couldn’t think of a single thing that she had said in that moment.

“About shopping, but bombshell Kathryn interrupted the bonding.”

The younger sister nodded and looked down at her lap. Zelena was making complete sense but it was easier said than done. Henry had bonded with their new foster sister almost instantly and she couldn’t help but wonder whether she had missed out. She had no idea what their common ground was, so it wasn’t particularly easy to start a random conversion that wouldn’t be incredibly awkward.

“Why are you in my room anyway?” Regina asked as the thought suddenly occurred to her and she realised exactly where they were talking.

“I needed a pen,” Zelena replied with a shrug and leaned forward to grab one from the desk.

“And you didn’t knock?”

“I couldn’t hear any music so I assumed you was up to something nefarious,” Zelena replied with a rather satisfied smirk.

Regina rolled her eyes, though she didn’t make any more arguments. Her sister’s unwillingness to knock usually worked out in her favour considering that she would usually stop her from doing something bad.

“So what am I supposed to do?” Regina asked.

She knew that there was nothing that she could do right now since Cora had taken Emma for another meeting with Mr Gold for a progress report. She was sure that it was just a formality since it was rather strange to allow students to home school themselves for two weeks and her mother had been rather worried about the fact that the girl had very little experience in Storybrooke High. Then again, Cora had been rather worried about almost everything concerning Emma since she had arrived and Regina felt a pang of guilt when she realised that she hadn’t been very helpful in her mother’s pursuit to make Emma happy.

Honestly, she hated that she just naturally acted like a bitch, even though she knew that it was just a defence mechanism. Emma was so sweet and adorably awkward and she didn’t deserve that.

As she realised that she had allowed her thoughts to drift again, the teen flushed a little and looked up at her sister for her reply.

“I can’t just tell you how to make friends with her, Gina.”

“Is that because you haven’t made friends with her yet?” Regina asked.

“I never thought that we would be best friends, we’re not exactly in the same age range like your are,” Zelena replied.

“Henry isn’t in her age range either and he’s the one she spends the most time with…”

“Because he talks to Emma and they both like comic books…you used to like comic books right? Before you went all air-head cheerleader?”

“I’m not ten anymore, I just grew out of them,” Regina replied with an exasperated sigh.

“Keep telling yourself that,” Zelena replied with a chuckle, “but if you want to find some common  ground before you talk to her, then you know exactly who the best person to ask would be…”

“You expect me to go and ask Henry for everything he knows about her?”

“It’s that or go for the awkward conversation,” the older of the two said before she starting walking towards the door, “just to warn you, you probably won’t be getting this pen back.”

With that, Zelena disappeared through the door and Regina shook her head, deciding that there was no point dwelling on how weird her sister was. If she left it till later, she would probably talk herself out of it.

Instead, she turned back to her computer and took a deep breath before she opened the lid so that she could get onto Amazon.

Henry would need some incentive to help her and she was sure that a certain web slinger would help with that.

Chapter Text

Chapter six

-Two days later-

Regina tapped her fingers against the counter-top and checked the time once again. The package was supposed to have been here the day before, but she had long since lost her faith in One-Day Delivery considering that she basically lived in the middle of nowhere. However, that didn't mean that she hadn't hoped that the Spiderman issue that Henry had been yearning for about six months wouldn't have come the day before. If it had, then she would have already gotten through the awkward conversation of trying to convince her little brother that he should tell her everything he knew about Emma.

Her phone buzzed and she rolled her eyes as she looked down at the device:

Kathryn: I thought you was going to meet us at the mall :(

The brunette shook her head and quickly typed out her reply: I told Ruby that I had to wait at home for a delivery, maybe if you didn't bicker all the time, she would have passed on the message.

Kathryn: can't someone else wait for it?

My parents are both at work and Zelena and Henry went to the library or something.

Regina placed her phone back down onto the counter and didn't even bother to look at the message when it buzzed. She knew that her friend would be asking what about Emma and the fact was that she didn't want to address the fact that she was in the mayoral mansion with her new foster sister as the only other person there. Strangely, it was the first time that this had happened since Cora had been so reluctant to go to work since Emma arrived but it wasn't as if the mayor could ignore her duties forever without the town going to shit. That meant that she had to force herself to go to work on a Saturday with Regina's assurance that she would stay in all day in the event that Emma needed something. Of course, Regina didn't want to admit that to Kathryn since she would probably want to come over for some inexplicable reason. It was honestly beginning to bug her just how much Kathryn seemed to obsess over Emma but it wasn't something that she wanted to deal with, especially not today.

As she waited for the comic book that would be her gateway to maybe having a conversation with the timid blonde, there was always the chance that she might actually need something, which freaked Regina out slightly. If Emma wanted to ask a question that she would have no problem asking Cora, would she still feel comfortable asking the girl who had done nothing but ignore her? If she actually needed something, then would she just go without it because she didn't want to talk to Regina?

More than once since she had been given this responsibility, she had considered that she should just go upstairs and ask Emma if she was okay, but the mere thought made her throat constrict and she wished that she knew why exactly. She had barely exchanged more than two sentences with Emma since she had arrived in Storybrooke, so there was no logical reason that her hands would get slightly sweaty when she thought about those beautiful emerald eyes underneath those adorably dorky hipster glasses.

Before the brunette could mentally delve further into the many reasons that she thought Emma was beautiful and adorable, she heard hesitant footsteps behind her and blush instantly crept up her face.

After a brief moment to compose herself, she spun the stool around away from her laptop (on which she had been refreshing the order page to see whether the bar had moved slightly towards being delivered).

When she was finally facing towards the doorway her eyes connected with Emma standing awkwardly. Very much the definition of a deer caught in headlights.

The pair of them remained in silence, but the promise that she had made to her mother quickly jumped into Regina's mind and she shifted in her seat as if it would help to shake of the oppressive awkwardness.

"Hey," Regina said to break the silence.

Emma's eyes widened at the sound of the cheerleader's voice and she swallowed hard to try and wet her suddenly dry throat.

"Hi," she said, just about managing to stop herself from squeaking.

Regina bit the inside of her cheek as the silence stretched on for a few moments before she asked, "did you need something?"

In the brief second before Emma replied, the brunette mentally berated herself at just how rude her choice of words sounded. She had the awkward silence to try and think of a better way to ask what she wanted but she had the distinct feeling that there was nothing that she could have said that would make this interaction any less painfully awkward.

"I just wanted to get a bottle of water…" Emma replied, with uncertainness lacing each of her words.

Regina nodded and jumped from the stool and over to the refrigerator.

Emma's eyebrows shot up as she watched the other girl open the door to pull out a chilled bottle of water before she walked over to the threshold of the kitchen and held out the beverage to her.

Emma hesitantly reached forward to accept the water with her un-casted arm, "thanks…"

Regina smiled and nodded and then the two of them remained standing uncertainly in silence for about five seconds.

The cheerleader scanned her mind to think of something that she could possibly say. This was the perfect opportunity to talk to her but the fact that she hadn't talked to Henry yet gave her pause.

Emma brought her bottom lip into her mouth and she shifted from foot-to-foot and prayed that there was some way that she could get away from this…even if Regina did smell good.

The muteness was suddenly cut through by the sounding out of the doorbell and the brunette frowned for a second before it dawned on her what she had been doing before the blonde had come seeking her water.

"I should go get that…" she announced and once Emma nodded she walked quickly (though she was trying not to appear as though she was rushing) and went towards the front door.

"I really need Henry's help," she muttered to herself before she reached forward to open the door in order to accept her ticket to a less awkward interaction.

"That sounds so awkward!" the girl on the other end of the call laughed.

Emma sank further into the pillow behind her and thanked anyone who was listening that there was no one around to see how deeply she was blushing.

"Shut up, Lily," she mumbled as she cautiously looked over to the door to make sure that no one was about to walk in. She was pretty sure that it would be hard to explain why she looked embarrassed. There was also the fact that she hadn't told anyone in the Mills household that she was still in contact with her oldest friend. When Emma had met Lily Page at the age of thirteen in her tenth foster home, she hadn't expected that they would stay in contact after the first time they had been parted.

Surprisingly though, they had met again about a year later and had been afforded the chance to actually bond further as best friends. When Emma had told August about how she had made a friend he had felt terrible about the prospect of them being parted again, but Lily had actually gone to a home with a family who was willing to adopt her. She was two states away, so Emma was sure that she would never get to see her again but then August had brought her a birthday present: a phone programmed with Lily's phone number. She finally had someone her own age who she could talk to on a regular basis and she had to admit that it was nice to talk about the girl she liked rather than pretending that nothing was wrong during her time in her last foster home. There were many times that she had wanted to talk to Lily about what was happening, but she had never quite built up to courage. Plus, there was the fact that she was rather afraid of staying on the phone too long since she didn't want her foster parents to find out that she actually had a phone. Now, however, she has the shiny new iPhone to match her new MacBook, but she was still using the old flip phone that August had brought her all those years ago.

Lily laughed on the other end of the line at her friend's obvious embarrassment and said, "why don't you just tell her that you like her?"

Emma brought her eyes away from the door in spite of her urge to roll them. She was relatively certain that Regina had left once Cora had returned home to start dinner but she couldn't help the paranoia at the thought that the brunette would find out about her crush. It was just a crush that would eventually go away, of course, living with your crush didn't exactly help. She had to spend every meal for about a week and a half sat at the same dining table across from the other teen and she had taken to looking at her whenever she thought that she wouldn't get caught. Regina was so unfairly beautiful and Emma had only Lily to rant to about it.

"You know that we could never be together. If anything ever happened then August wouldn't be allowed to let me stay here," Emma sighed, "you know that I can't date my foster sister."

"You would only have to keep the secret for two years and then the world could know about the love between Emma Swan and Regina Mills," Lily laughed and the blonde blushed deeper as she wished that it was possible to burrow further into her pillow.

"I've known her for ten days…"

"And she has let you have the room next to hers, taken you shopping, saved you from a nosey cheerleader and stayed home on a Saturday even though she probably wanted to go out with her friends…"

"What does that prove?" Emma asked while she used her free hand to push her glasses up her nose, "she only did all of those things because Cora told her to."

"If all you wanted to do was to tell me that nothing could ever happen, then why did you call me?"

"Because…I have no more assignments…"

"You have about three days before you start school, don't you think you should be relaxing instead of studying?"

"Studying is how I relax," Emma countered, "and I didn't call you so you could accuse me of being a nerd."

"So I'm not allowed to talk about Regina or school…"

Emma actually rolled her eyes this time and replied, "I called you because I needed to talk to someone about just how awkward it was and my only friend in Storybrooke is a thirteen-year-old boy. I need to have a conversation that isn't about whether the Hulk could defeat Thor."

"Obviously the Hulk would win…"

"Lily," Emma interrupted in exasperation, "can you please just say something that will get my mind off everything?"

Lily was silent as she searched for another topic.

The ugliest side of the foster system was definitely off limits, if Emma wanted to go over her traumatic experiences, she would be ready to listen but she was pretty sure that this wasn't the time. Thankfully, in her current home, the only apparent issue that she had was a hot cheerleader that she shared a mansion with so there was no urgency to talk about what happened in her previous placement.

"Alex and Mal were talking about taking a road trip for the Christmas break…" Lily began as a thought occurred to her.

Emma frowned as she wondered exactly why Lily's adoptive family going on a road trip would be an acceptable change of subject. But she didn't have to wait long for her friend to elaborate:

"I was thinking that maybe I could suggest going to Storybrooke…do you think Cora would be okay with that?"

"Christmas isn't for a couple months, Lily," Emma replied.

"I know," the other teen shot back as she tried to hold back her smile. She knew that it was usually a bad idea to assume that you would be allowed to stay in a foster home for any given amount of time but she just had a feeling that it wouldn't be an issue with this family.

The blonde frowned, "I don't think I have any right to invite guests…"

"We could stay in a hotel, it's not like we would be gate crashing her house, Em," Lily laughed.

"I guess I could ask…if Alex and Mal say yes..."

"Great," the brunette laughed, "because I'm gonna have to meet Regina and give her the big sister speech."

Chapter Text

T/W for physical abuse and homophobia

Chapter seven

Regina looks a second to inspect the decals plastered on the door in front of her.

Judging by the most prominent characters displayed, she had no doubt that she had chosen the best possible comic book to get the information that she needed.

There was still a chance that he would just tell her that she needed to figure it all out for herself and, to be fair, he would be perfectly justified in saying so. She knew that she could be one of the most charismatic people in the small town, so she should be able to find a way to talk to a girl living in her house without any help from her little brother.

Of course, this little crush that had yet to go away wasn't helping matters, in fact, it was just making her more frustrated than anything.

There was only one person in town who knew that she wasn't as straight as many would believe her to be and he was currently on vacation with his family. She'd had the urge to call him up many times since Emma had arrived, but each time she decided that it would be best to just wait until he got home in a couple of days.

She gripped the package in her left hand and steeled her nerves as she raised her right closed fist to knock against Captain America's shield. She then took a step back and waited as patiently as she possibly could.

After a couple seconds passed, she resisted the urge to sigh deeply as she moved forward to knock once more, but her movement was interrupted by the door being yanked open without any warning.

The boy raised his eyebrow at his shocked sister and he tilted his head as he asked, "did you not expect me to open the door?"

Regina stood in silence for a couple seconds, before her sense caught up with her and she shook her head before she replied, "I need to ask you something…"

Henry nodded, though the scepticism was evident upon his face. He and Regina used to spend a lot of time together, especially when she used to read comic books to him, before she suddenly decided that they didn't interest her anymore and she gave everything that she had to him. Recently, however, the only reason that the cheerleader would have knocked on his door would be that one of their parents had sent her to go and get him.

He stepped aside and gestured for her to enter his room.

Regina took the invitation and crossed the threshold and she frowned for a second as she looked around. She had expected the space to be a complete mess, but he had obviously cleaned it since the last time that she was in here a couple years ago.

"Are you okay?" he asked, sounding genuinely concerned for her wellbeing.

Regina bit the inside of her cheek. She would never normally have this kind of problem talking to her little brother, but she knew exactly why she couldn't just come out and ask him what she wanted to know. The subject of her inquiry was not something that she was about to think about without either becoming closed off or blushing deeply.

"I'm fine," she replied too quickly to be considered normal, which just caused her brother to look even more sceptical than he had a moment before. Regina rolled her eyes at him and decided that she just wanted to get this over and done with and finally handed over the package that Henry had been eyeing suspiciously since he had opened the door, "this is for you."

Henry's frown only deepened. He was fairly sure that Regina had never given him a gift for the sake of it and the fact that she was acting so strange obviously meant that this wasn't just a gift, there was something behind it and he had no doubt that he would be finding out fairly soon.

It was for this reason that he just opened it without much hesitation and his eyes widened as he pulled the book out of its protective bubble-wrap. It was the exact issue of Spider-Man he was hoping to get for his birthday since there was no way that he would be able to save enough money for it before then. He ran his fingers over the red on the cover before he looked from it to Regina and then back down to it.

Finally, the initial shock of the fact that his sister had given him an unexpected gift wore off and he remembered that she said she needed something from him.

"So you're bribing me with a comic book because…?" he asked.

"I just wanted to ask you some questions…about…"

"About Emma?" he sighed and walked over to his bed to place the comic book down as if it was the most precious thing he had ever held.

He honestly would have told her anything she wanted to know without the need for bribes but he would certainly not say no to accepting what was presented to him. He sat down onto the bed and looked over to her with a quirked eyebrow.

Regina looked as though she was about to deny his words, but it quickly occurred to her that she would never get the information she wanted if he was always on the defensive and so she allowed her shoulders to sag slightly in defeat. A moment later, she came over to sit next to him, with the comic book between them and she nodded.

"She'll have her cast off soon and mom will make her go to school…how am I supposed to make her comfortable if I can't even talk to her?"

Henry tilted his head, he had no idea that she was capable of thinking about the comfort of other people, especially after she joined the cheerleading team and became a walking cliche.

"Have you tried to talk to her?" he asked, "she won't bite, you know?"

He chose not to mention the fact that the blonde did seem to act strange sometimes, almost as if she were withdrawn from reality and it only seemed to happen when there was a break in their tutoring sessions. He was aware that there was no chance that he would ever be able to understand what happened to her, so it was for this reason that he had long since decided to never try and bring up the painful subject. It didn't help that in those moments when she was withdrawn, he was sure that there was something else on her mind, like she was trying to figure out some kind of puzzle at all times.

Regina blew out a breath as she thought back to their last few interactions. The only time they had something resembling a real conversation was the first day they had met and that didn't last particularly long. She really wished that she had prolonged the conversation rather than trying to get out of the room as quickly as humanly possible.

"She always looks like she wants to run away whenever I talk to her," she admitted and just about stopped herself from placing her head in her hands, though she did end up shooting her brother a pleading look. She did hope that he wouldn't question why she was so desperate past the desire to do what their mother wanted, as far as he knew, it had to be the only reason she was trying to help their new foster sister, at least for the time being, "mom will kill me if she thinks that I haven't made Emma comfortable on her first day at school…so I thought if I brought you the comic book…you could give me some advice and…not tell mom that I came to you?"

Henry looked at her doubtfully.

He had a feeling that she hadn't even thought about how their mother would react until she needed an excuse for asking for help. It was actually kind of funny that she would be so nervous about talking to Emma considering that there was probably not a single other person in the world that she wouldn't be able to talk to if she wanted to. Of course, he wasn't quite sure yet why Emma was the exception to that rule, as far as he was concerned, Regina was just the cheerleader dating the footballer.

"Do you have any advice or not?" she asked with a groan when she decided that the boy was taking too long to reply.

"She's really easy to talk to…I don't think that there's anything I could tell you," he replied, "all I know is that she loves school and she's a huge Marvel fan…maybe you could try a Marvel Vs DC debate?"

Regina let out a sigh.

She was pretty sure that she could was more than capable of carrying that debate for longer that all of their conversations combined, but that didn't really feel like a sustainable plan in the long-term.

"Is that what you two do? Just spend all of your time talking about comic books?" she asked, "you do spend a lot of time in her room…"

Henry bit the inside of his cheek.

He was still very reluctant to tell anyone about it since he had yet to receive any real proof that the tutoring sessions were working, but he figured that telling his sister would make it easier for her to see Emma as a normal person.

"If I tell you, you can't tell anyone else," he said slowly.

Regina sat up a little straighter and quirked an eyebrow as her mind went through what it could possibly be, but none of the options seemed plausible, so she just nodded to tell him that she wouldn't tell anyone.

Henry took in a deep breath and asked, "did you know that she has an eidetic memory?"

Regina drew her eyebrows together.

Thar definitely felt like something that she should have known about the girl living in her house. She obviously knew that the girl was smart, but she had no idea that she was actually a genius, which somehow made it much more terrifying to try and talk to her. How was she supposed to make someone so smart feel comfortable at a school that was most likely way below her level? Emma was clearly far happier studying at home than she could ever be at Storybrooke High School. However, this had nothing to do with what Henry was about to tell her, so she decided that she would dwell on this little fact later.

"Okay…so what?"

"A couple of days after she first got here, I asked her if she would tutor me in exchange for comic books..." he explained

Regina's eyes widened. She didn't think that there was anything that could make this girl anymore amazing, but somehow she had managed it.

"So…why can't I tell anyone?" she asked.

"Well…because it might not work and I don't want to disappoint everyone and make Emma look bad…and I don't want mom and dad to think I'm just using her," he admitted.

"They wouldn't think that, you're already their favourite since you're the only one who actually spends time with her," Regina assured him.

Henry nodded in agreement, though he didn't look completely convinced. He was still waiting for results from his work and he was so worried that he would fail and disappoint Emma, even if a part of him knew that there was no way that she could actually be disappointed in him. She would probably just find another way to help him.

"I guess so," he mumbled, though he was imagining what it would feel like if his mother thought he would get a better grade only for him to fail again. She would definitely try to hide her disappointment, but it was only natural at this point.

The pair sat in silence for a few more moments until Regina decided that she wasn't going to get the information that she wanted from Henry, mostly because she had no idea what kind of information she actually wanted.

This had clearly been a stalling tactic because she was desperate to postpone talking to her crush and she couldn't really figure out how to do so without mentioning that she was in fact her crush.

There was only one person who she could mention that to so she resolved to just wait until he returned so that she could have a frank conversation about all of this.

It was for this reason that she just rose from the bed and muttered something like 'enjoy the comic book, Henry' before she made her way out of the room.

Henry watched her go with his eyebrows drawn together as he tried to figure out exactly why it was that she was acting so strange, but he quickly decided that it was out of his age range and he grabbed the issue of Spider-Man with gusto and fell back against his bed with a smile before he started flipping through the pages.


Emma blew out a breath and inspected the bruise around her wrist and tried to hold back tears.

She couldn't believe that they had cared enough to find out more about her. In the last few foster homes, the parents had just allowed her to get on with her life as long as she didn't cause any problems and then they would decide that they could no longer handle having a foster kid and she would be moved on. She had found that perfectly fine and she never once complained to August about anything during those two years, he even managed to let her stay in the same state so that moving was never much of a problem.

Now she was in a home where she had a lot to complain about and August was still on vacation. The social worker covering her case probably didn't even have time to read her file past her name and she had no idea whether 'Alex Thompson' was even a man or a woman, which made her pretty sure that she was on her own.

"Are you okay, Emma?" a timid-voice asked from by the door.

Emma's eyes shot up and she quickly pulled her sleeve down to cover the offending injury and tried to smile at the six-year-old girl, who looked very confused. There was no way that she would understand what had happened to her, but Emma cringed at the thought that the Chases's could do something similar to their own children. She could report this right now and maybe protect them, but she would be rolling the dice as to which social worker they would be assigned to. They could get a lazy piece of shit, like the one she'd had before August, which would mean that their life would be ruined forever and it would be all her fault.

As far as she could tell, their parents had never laid a hand on either of them, but they weren't old enough to be 'guilty' of what she had supposedly brought into their home so only time would tell if they would be completely safe in the care of their parents.

The blonde sniffed as she tried to force the tears away from her eyes, but she wasn't sure that she had succeeded.

"I'm okay, Victoria," she replied with a forced smile, trying to banish the memory of what had happened to her just before Victoria and Nathan had returned home.

The girl nodded, though she looked unconvinced, her innocent mind was completely incapable of concocting what could have caused her such upset. Victoria timidly walked over to the bed, ready to assume the position she always did when Emma read her a bed time story, but she stopped at the sound of rushed footsteps in the corridor.

"Tori, why don't you go downstairs and help your mom set the table," Mr Chase said softly from the doorway.

Emma's throat instantly constricted at the sight of the man and at the thought that he no longer wanted his children to even be near her. She was in one of the rare foster homes where the foster siblings didn't resent the fact that she was there and now she was no longer even allowed near them.

This seemed to confuse Victoria more than anything, she had never before been asked to help her mother set the table and she didn't quite understand the anger that played on her father's expression when he looked over at Emma. She couldn't help but wonder what had happened since she and her brother had left for their swimming class. Nonetheless, she still did exactly what her father told her without looking back at Emma.

Once the girl was gone, Mr Chase's expression hardened and he looked over to the blonde.

"Get off the bed," he said lowly.

Emma opened her mouth to protest, but she felt a twinge of pain in her wrist which caused her to jump up from the duvet without even making a sound.

"You can't sleep in the same room as Victoria anymore," he announced.

Emma bit the inside of her cheek, once again trying to hold back tears. This was not the time to bring up the fact that they were required by the state to give her somewhere to sleep, but the thought of some sleepless nights made her selfishly wish that August hadn't gotten married.

"You can sleep on the couch for now," he said as he grabbed her duffel bag and began to throw her stuff inside.

Emma clenched her jaw and mumbled, "aren't you afraid the gay will get all over the couch cushions?"

Mr Chase spun around and grabbed her by the throat and pushed her against the wall, "what did you say?" he growled, his eyes filled with rage.

The teen's mouth went dry. She wasn't really sure why she had allowed those words to slip out of her mouth, she usually confined those kinds of words to her thoughts, "n-nothing…I didn't say anything."

He tightened her grip and she started desperately trying to take deep breaths, though this only served to make it more difficult.

"So you're a dyke and a liar," he sneered.

"P-please, I'm sorry," she cried.

"Daddy," came from just outside the door and Mr Chase instantly released his grip, giving her a look that said if she said anything matters would become ten times worse. It was for this reason that Emma tried to look like nothing had happened, it was difficult considering the fact she had tears staining her cheeks and she had no doubt that there was a red mark developing around her neck.

"Mommy asked me to come and get you for dinner," said a four-year-boy hugging a teddy bear with a grin. The little boy was completely oblivious to the fact that anything was going on, though he did frown at the duffel bag on the bed.

"Okay, Nathan," Mr Chase smiled, as if he wasn't just choking Emma, "I'll be right down."

Nathan nodded in return and turned on his heels to return to his mother and sister.

Mr Chase walked forward to the threshold and looked over his shoulder to see that the blonde made no attempt to follow him and he grinned.

"Looks like someone is finally learning," he sneered, "go to my study while we eat."


"Have you talked to anyone in the Mills family about what happened?" Archie asked.

Emma looked away from the clock, as though she was surprised to actually hear a sound during her therapy session. In her ten days in Storybrooke, she'd had two sessions, which had been recommended by the hospital as a condition of her discharge. When she had left (since the doctor had said there was nothing physically wrong with her other than her arm) the doctor had been adamant that she would need to continue her therapy, especially since she hadn't really made the most of it during her stay in the hospital. She hadn't said a single word to the therapist who came to her room every week so she was pretty sure that the doctor had no idea what her voice actually sounded like.

She had hoped that there was a chance that August wouldn't have told Cora about the condition, but it obviously been in the file sent over to the Mills family and the mayor must have booked all of the appointments at the same time that she had arranged for her to meet Dr Whale.

Archie seemed nice enough, but that didn't change the fact that she had no intention of talking and she had planned to just stay silent until he would eventually tell Cora that it was a waste of time. However, being asked a direct question threw her plan off since she knew that it all become all the more awkward if she pretended that she hadn't heard him as she could back when she was hopped up on a lot of pain medication.

" hasn't come up," she replied, refusing to make eye contact, "they already know anyway."

Archie nodded in understanding, "Cora and Henry are certainly aware...but what makes you so sure that their children know?"

Emma frowned, she wasn't quite sure why this was worth breaking the nice silence for, but she could hardly stop answering his questions now. After a moment of consideration, she just shrugged and said, "it's online, they've probably known since they found out my name."

"Are you sure about that?"

The blonde stopped herself from sighing, she had always been sceptical of therapy, since she had learnt long ago that it was easier just to keep feelings in rather than air them out. Plus, she wasn't really a fan of the constant questioning, especially when it seemed that there was never a correct answer.

"I don't know...I guess I can't be sure..." she replied. Now that she thought about it, she would have thought that there would be some kind of turning point when they had found out. Like when they read the gritty details of how Mr and Mrs Chase had treated her, there would either be an extra layer of sympathy towards her or some contempt depending on whether or not they agreed what Mr Chase would blame as the course of all of her pain.

"Even if they have searched you, do you really think that they truly understand what happened to you? Does the written report really represent what you went through?"

Emma swallowed hard. She could feel tears springing to the corner of her eyes and she found it somehow overwhelming. She had never intended to cry while she was in this town since she had been determined to just repress and get on with her life. What happened had happened and she didn't really think that there was any reason to dwell on the fact. Now she was sitting in this mandatory therapy session feeling as though she was about to start balling her eyes out just because he had forced her to think back to what happened.

" doesn't really matter," she mumbled, bringing her hand over to start playing with her cast, as Archie had noticed she tended to do when she was probably thinking about what happened. He knew that she didn't want to think about her time with the Chase family, but he also knew that whatever plan of repression she had come up with would never work in the long term. In fact, he imagined that she'd had at least one or two flashbacks a day whenever she wasn't busying her mind with something else. As much as an eidetic memory made her a genius, it would also make it impossible to forget what had happened to her. If she could indeed remember everything in detail, as he expected that she could, she was far more in need of help than she would ever admit.

"What makes you think that it doesn't matter?" he shot back, hoping that the sympathy didn't show in his voice. Ordinarily he would try the sympathetic angle since he wanted his patients to know that he genuinely cared about them, but he didn't feel as though it would work in this case. It was rather obvious that the girl was not particularly in touch with her emotions. He was more than aware that people with high IQs tended to have difficulty with emotions, which would only make the feelings that the girl was having even harder. Unfortunately emotions were not logical.

She shrugged again and Archie resisted the urge to sigh.

"Can I ask you a question?"

Emma just nodded, choosing not to mention that he had been asking her questions for the past ten minutes and he hadn't asked permission for any of those.

"Do you know what EQ is?"

The blonde clenched her jaw, of course she knew what it was.

"Emotional quotient," she replied without a moment of hesitation.

"And you know the connection between high IQ and low EQ?" he asked.

Emma nodded again looking down at the the couch. She understood what emotions were, they were biological responses to stimuli, they had some kind of advantage but that was something that she didn't understand. Being scared hadn't exactly helped her when Mr Chase had his hand around her throat, being sad didn't make what happened go away. And it pissed her off so much that she felt this way when she allowed her mind to drift and she would suddenly feel anxious for no apparent reason. It was for that reason she had been so eager to help Henry, as long as she was tutoring, she wasn't thinking about anything else.

"Therapists have been trying to fix me for a while, I know," she shot back.

Archie's eyebrows shot up at her reaction, he had never thought that she would so much as talk let alone raise her voice, but he was determined to crank up the intensity of these sessions if he was ever going to get a result.

"Are you angry with me?" he asked calmly.

Emma blew out a breath and closed her eyes, "no," she replied simply.

"Then how do you feel?" he asked. He knew that she wouldn't be able to answer the question and he was being somewhat unfair, but if he was going to help her she needed to start to move forward.

Emma swallowed hard and just looked down at her lap as she shrugged again, she didn't understand how she felt or why she felt that way, which only led to frustration.

"Have you told Cora or Henry that you feel this way?"

"There's nothing to tell them, I'm fine," she mumbled.

Archie opened his mouth to reply, but the sound of a knock at the door cut him short and he looked over to the clock behind his back to see that their time had ended. He knew that this was going to be a long process, especially if the blonde girl refused to admit that there was anything wrong, but at least he has actually got some words out of her during this sessions. However, he couldn't help but wonder how she had hidden this from the family that she had been living with for ten days, he would have thought that they would have noticed if she had trouble with emotions. But he also knew that the whole situation was further complicated by the fact that most people would expect her to act like this following a trauma. It was for this reason that he wrote a note down on his pad to remind himself to call August Booth, he was fairly certain that he would be the only person capable of revealing the true influences of Emma's low EQ.

"Come in," he called and the door instantly opened to reveal the mayor. Obviously the woman had expected that nothing had been said during the meeting, which was why she had knocked to let him know the session had ended. Archie made a mental note to let her know that she shouldn't do that during the next session and he could probably do with the time to come up with some other approach.

"I'll see you in a few days," he said and smiled.

Emma just nodded and stood from the couch and mumbled, "thanks," as she did at the end of every session.


"That sounds like actual torture," said Lily with a laugh on the other end of the phone.

Emma rolled her eyes, knowing that the other girl would be able to guess what she was doing even though she couldn't see her. As her best friend, Lily Page had long ago gotten used to the way that Emma acted and her opinions on emotions.

She often said how cute it was that a genius could be so confused by a smile, so she couldn't imagine that the way that Regina acted made things any clearer to the teen.

"It wasn't that bad," Enna replied, though her voice told a completely different story, "he just thinks that he can cure low EQ."

"Cure is the wrong word, Em," Lily shot back in the same stern tone that she used whenever her friend implied that she were somehow diseased, "he probably just thinks that he can help you understand your emotions and you know that it's possible. Just because no therapist has ever tried that hard…"

"I guess it helps that Cora probably pays him more than he would ever get from the state."

"Don't you think that's exactly why you should actually take advantage of this and cooperate with him?" Lily asked. As much as Lily loved her friend, it had never been an easy task trying to convince her that emotions were important when she was so adamant that they were illogical. However, that didn't mean that she was a sociopath, she still had emotions and just couldn't understand them. Lily couldn't even imagine how frustrating that must be.

"I can't suddenly become emotional, Lily," Emma grumbled as she fell harder against her pillow.

"You do realise that you're not a robot right?" Lily retorted, "a robot wouldn't call me on a flip phone when they have an iPhone 12."

"But that proves that emotions are pointless, there is no logical reason to carry on using this just because it makes me feel more comfortable," Emma replied and frowned at the device in her hand, wishing that she knew how to explain herself better. Of course, she understood that having issues explaining herself was part of having low EQ, but knowing that didn't help when she actually tried. Thankfully, Lily seemed to understand for the most part.

"You should tell them, you know?"

"Cora and Henry already know, it would have been in my file," Emma replied, though she knew full well who her friend was actually talking about.

"You should tell their kids," Lily said with a sigh of exasperation, "how are they supposed to get to know you if they don't know something so basic?"

"You sound like Archie," Emma deadpanned, "they already think I'm weird."

"You are weird Emma," Lily retorted, "but you're also a beautiful genius, you're far more interesting than you are weird. If you don't tell them anything they will never get to know that."

Emma just blew out a breath since she knew that there was just no point arguing with Lily sometimes.

"They already know that you have a photographic memory, just mention that you would qualify for Mensa and go from there," Lily added.

Emma just hummed in agreement, though she knew that there was very little chance that she would be having this conversation any time soon.

Before she could pretend to go along with it, she was interrupted by a knock at the door.

"Dinner's ready, Em," Zelena announced on the other side of the door.

"Okay," she called back.

"Everyone around the dinner table sounds like the perfect time to make an EQ-related announcement," Lily said.

"I'll call you later," Emma replied, choosing not to mention that there was no way she would even consider making such an announcement at dinner before she flipped the phone closed and stood from the bed.

Chapter Text

Chapter eight

Emma’s eyes remained glued to the final piece of the cast as it was pulled away by Dr Whale.

“As good as new,” Whale announced and placed the piece onto the tray next to him.

The girl’s eyes remained on the tray for a second before she looked down to her bare arm and a smile tugged at the corner of her lips very briefly.

It was still very much stiff, but there was no longer a scratch barrier present.

The joy was short-lived though, when it occurred to her what would be happening in a couple of days.

She had never been this nervous to start school no matter how many she had been to.

Two weeks was a long time for the gossip to brew into serious interest. She couldn’t help but imagine that it wouldn’t be long until everyone was staring at her. 

“Some stiffness is to be expected,” Whale explained, “and you may want to continue taking pain killers for the next few days.”

Emma looked up from her arm and nodded, before she glanced over to Cora who was looking at her with concern etched across her face, as she often did. Seeing fear on the girl’s face and knowing that she probably didn’t understand it only made the mayor feel more concerned.

Whale looked between the two of them, before he announced, “I’ll just get you a prescription for some moisturiser. You’ll just need to put it on your arm every night until you run out.”

Emma nodded to tell the doctor that she understood before the doctor stood to leave the room. Once the door clicked shut, Cora offered the teen a reassuring smile, or at least she tried to. 

The girl still looked as tense as ever, but she was trying to hide it behind a very tight, but still small, smile.

She longed to ask her what she was so worried about, there was a long list of things that she could think of that could cause this, including having Regina as a buddy, but she was determined to leave that to Archie as much as it was killing her.

“How does your arm feel, dear?” she asked.

Emma bent her elbow as if testing the waters and she frowned at the sensation that ran through the limb, but she quickly decided that it wasn’t pain, so she just shrugged and replied, “it’s fine.”

Cora watched as the girl glanced back over to the cast and wondered whether she was considering if it was better to have it on. After all, it would solve all of her problems if she did since she could argue that she should get to continue working from home.

The mayor really wished that she could tell her that she didn’t have to go to Storybrooke High School. After everything that the girl had been through, didn’t she deserve some concessions?

However, she could practically hear Dr Hopper’s voice in her head telling her how important the social aspect of things was for Emma in order for her to continue her development. She would have to one day live her life as a functioning adult, so Cora just had to focus on giving her all of the tools that she needed in order to get there.

Just as she was about to open her mouth to say something, the door opened to reveal Dr Whale holding a prescription in his hand.

“I would also suggesting avoiding gym until your next check-up,” he said, clearly not thinking that he had interrupted anything since the pair hadn’t been speaking.

Cora nodded and looked over to Emma.

Despite all of her worries, the girl was actually wearing a genuine smile. 

There was nothing quite like a pass from gym to ignite hope.


“There is no way that your parents would let you do that.”

“Why not?” Killian asked, with his hand over his heart as if he was actually insulted.

“Why would your parents let you go off on your own in New York?” Regina shot back with a small laugh, “and I find it very hard to believe that any girl would actually go for that.”

The young man just raised his mug to his lips with a small scoff and when he placed the beverage back onto the table, he said, “believe what you want, Mills, even if it is rude to call your best friend a liar.”

“Best friend?”

“Well considering that you haven’t even considered telling Ruby or Kathryn your little secret…”

Regina’s eyes widened as she looked around, but she quickly realised that the two adjoining booths were each vacant and she narrowed her eyes at her friend, though Killian just rolled his own. 

“Oh relax Gina, I knew that there was no one around. Besides, I still don’t think that it needs to be a secret. Your mom took that Emma Swan girl in so she obviously isn’t the homophobic tyrant that you think she is.”

“What does Emma have to do with that?” Regina asked clearly a little taken aback.

The other teen tilted his head as he inspected Regina’s expression, trying to figure out whether she was being serious.

He may have only been back in town for a few hours but he still knew quite a lot about the case of Emma Swan. It appeared a lot in the news in New York since what had happened apparently signalled the failings of the child protective services and the media had been closely following what was going on in the prosecution of the Chases, who were residence of New York City.

Considering that the girl had been living in the mansion for the last two weeks, Killian figured that Regina would be the last person that he would have to explain all of this to.

“Because her foster parents beat the shit out of her when they found out she’s gay,” he replied slowly.

Regina sat stunned for a few moments as many emotions flashed through her in quick succession. 

First, she felt a kind of intense relief (which she would later reflect was very much selfish of her). She would never have believed that her parents would have raised a hand to her when she eventually told them the truth, but she also never imagined that she would get instant acceptance, especially from Cora. However, the fact that she would take in an abused foster child and she knew the reason behind everything that had happened to her, made Regina feels as though she could actually tell her mother without any fear of repercussions.

Next, she felt her stomach drop in sympathy. She had always obviously assumed that Emma’s former foster parents had physically harmed her, but her mind had never actually pictured someone actually hurting the blonde. She couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to live in a home where she was beaten for who she was. She must have lived in constant fear and would probably never want anyone to know about her sexual orientation again. There was no way that she would be able to talk about it with her wither without giving away the fact that she now knew the very information that she promised herself she wouldn’t search for.

Then, there was the sheer shock at discovering her crush was more viable than any she’d had before. When she’d had crushes in the past, they’d always been on girls who either had a boyfriend or who were undisputedly straight. Somehow, finding out that her crush was also gay, made it all the more intense and real. 

Finally, there was an anger at Killian for revealing something that she wished she didn’t know. 

“What the hell, Killian?!” she whispered rather dramatically, though she had no idea why it was that she was whispering.

Killian tilted his head, noticing a distinctive hue of blush playing across her cheeks and he smirked.

“You have a crush on her, don’t you?” he asked.

Regina’s eyes widened and she once again checked her surroundings, even if she was well aware of the fact that there was no one within ear-shot.

“I…is it really that obvious?” she asked, sinking back into the seat with a heavy sigh, deciding that there was no point in denying his words. She had been planning for days to confide in Killian, but she had also been planning to ease into the whole crush thing. 

It didn’t help that this was the first time that she had heard it said aloud.

“I’m the only person in town who knows you’re not strictly straight, it’s probably not as obvious to other people.”

Regina blew out a relieved breath.

Considering how smart Emma was, she couldn’t imagine that it would be hard for the girl to figure out how she felt, but maybe if she didn’t know that she wasn’t straight, she wouldn’t catch on. It was honestly part of the reason that she was so afraid to speak with Emma, which was why she had missed the opportunity to build a friendly relationship with the girl away from the influences of high school.

Killian examined her expression with a frown. He had a feeling that he knew exactly what it meant, so he asked, “you haven’t spoken to her, have you?”

“I have,” Regina retorted, though her shoulders sagged quickly, “I…gave her a bottle of water…”

“Gina, she had been living with you for two weeks, how have you not had a conversation?”

“She’s always either with Henry or mom…I haven’t had much opportunity…” Regina admitted, though it didn’t sound very convincing. 

Killian was about to continue berating her for her lack of effort before a confused expression played across his face as he asked, “why is she always with Henry?” 

“Because she’s tutoring him,” Regina replied with a sigh as she stared back down into her coffee, “apparently she’s a genius with an eidetic memory.”

“Ask her to tutor you too, then,” Killian said, “you could have a study night and then one you could suggest a movie and it would turn into a date. It’s perfect.”

The cheerleader ran her hand over her face as her friend slammed his palm down onto the table a little too loudly. 

She had never been a fan of his strategies for getting girls and she always found it rather disturbing just how much thought he seemed to put into them, though she was glad that there was very little evidence that any of them actually working.

“My GPA is fine and I have a boyfriend,” she deadpanned, finally looking up from her drink and over to her friend.

“Your boyfriend has a boyfriend, Gina. Why should he get all of the gay fun out of the arrangement?”

“Why do I tell you my secrets?” Regina muttered and slid down in her seat a little. It was true that she had promised Daniel that she would keep up the image of being his girlfriend when she had caught him kissing Jefferson. At first, she had been royally pissed at him, but it would have lasted longer if it was actually a real relationship. Of course, not even her ‘boyfriend’ knew why it was that she was so willing to agree to pretend for him, he didn’t need to know that he was also helping her stay in the closet as much as she was for him.

“You know I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Killian replied with a shrug, “There would be a hashtag by now if Kathryn knew. Besides I assume that you tell me these things because you know that I give perfect advice.”

Regina just shot him an unimpressed look.

It was unfortunate, but Killian was her oldest friend, so he was the only person that she really trusted in town, apart from her family of course, so it meant that she had to suffer some teasing when she wanted advice that she couldn’t go to Zelena for. 

She just nodded and a smug smile overcame Killian’s face.

“So what exactly do you need advice for?”

“Emma is starting school on Monday and I’m supposed to be her guide…she seems really nervous about going to school and I don’t know how to make her feel comfortable…”

“You could offer her a bottle of water,” Killian suggested and scrunched up his face when a balled up napkin hit it.

“Could you at least try and help me here?”

Killian let out an overly exasperated sigh and said, “okay, you said she’s a genius, right?” he asked and continued following Regina’s nod, “so she must be pretty logical. Maybe if you go through the school’s prospectus and syllabus with her, it will make her feel better and it will give you a reason to actually talk to her.”

“I don’t think that she’s that worried about the learning part of school,” Regina argued.

“Of course she’s not, she probably loves it and the social part is not something that you can fix overnight. But you can make her more comfortable by focusing on the school part that doesn’t make her anxious. Plus, it would show her that you actually care how she feels.”

Regina propped her head up on her closed fist and said, “but that means I actually have to read the prospectus.”


“How bad can Storybrooke High be?” Lily asked, “it’s a small town, right?”

Emma shrugged even know she knew that her friend couldn’t see her and replied, “that doesn’t mean that the kids are any nicer. They’re going know what happened to me from the news.”

A silence passed between the friends for a moment.

Lily adamantly refused to look into what the Chases had done to her friend. 

She, of course, had a vague idea of what happened and why it was that the assholes had done it, but she was pretty sure that if she knew exactly what happened, she would actually be sick. That, or she’d try to hunt them down.Though, if Emma wanted to talk about any of it, she would be quite happy to put that aside and listen intently. She somehow doubted that would ever actually be happening.

“They’ve probably got more information about me than they’ve ever had about the new girl,” Emma finally continued.

“What kind of asshat would use emotional trauma as ammo?” Lily asked, already mentally planning what she would do to anyone who so much looked at her friend funny (assuming that she could convince Mal to take her to Storybrooke as planned).

“It’s high school, Lil, there’s always at least one…or a group of ones…”

“Em,” Lily said, sensing the raising panic, even through the phone, “you’ve got two days, you have to try to relax.”

Lily listened as her friend took a few deep breaths, counting in her head to make sure that she was breathing in and then out for long enough. 

She knew that socialising was not Emma’s thing, which was only confirmed by the fact that she had only made one friend in her sixteen years of life. Honestly, the situation that she had found herself in would probably have been perfect if she didn’t have to go to school. 

At this rate, Lily wouldn’t be surprised if the girl was heading towards an actual panic attack.

She just hoped that the session with Archie later would help with the panic she could hear. 

“You know, if you can’t handle it, I’m sure that Cora will let you take more time off…or you could just graduate and go to college early.”

Emma smiled at the thought, though very briefly.

It was true that she had already completed a lot of twelfth grade work in her own time, but she somehow doubted that August or the Mills would let her skip grades. So that was why the smile didn’t last long.

Just because she brought her stupidly expensive Apple products, that didn’t mean that Cora would pay for college, nor would she ever expect her to. 

A timid knock at the door interrupted Emma’s attempt to reply.

She furrowed her brow at the wooden construct.

It wasn’t dinner time, Henry was at his friend’s house and Cora had tried to stop randomly asking her if she wanted anything after she promised that she would let her know if she did. 

“I’ll call you back,” Emma said and flipped the phone closed as soon as she got an ‘okay’ from Lily. She placed her phone onto the bed side table before she cautiously walked over to the door.

She had no idea who she was expecting to be on the other side, but she definitely didn’t think that she would find Regina holding a couple booklets under her arm and a slightly worried expression on her face.

“Regina?” Emma asked and her eyes fell back down to the papers under arm. She had no idea what they could possibly be, if it was something important, it would have been Cora or Henry Sr. knocking at the door.

The cheerleader shifted uncomfortably. 

This still seemed like a good idea in theory, especially when Killian had suggested it, but facing Emma actually made her throat close and go dry at the same time.

Emma raised a questioning eyebrow at the silent teen, but Regina snapped out of it and reminded herself that she had a plan.

She had rehearsed this.

“Mom mentioned that you haven’t chosen your electives yet…I thought maybe I could help…”

Emma frowned.

It was true that she had yet to choose any electives since she had kind of hoped that she wouldn’t need any with all of the AP classes she had signed up for.

Having free periods would mean that she could go and hide in the library for at least an hour a day.

However, with Regina stood at her door looking almost hopeful, she couldn’t help but want to give up the possibility of a free period.

“Okay…thank you,” she said with a smile as she pushed the door wider to invite the other girl in so that she could share the information that she had clearly spent time researching.


Chapter Text

T/W graphic physical abuse / homophobia

Chapter nine

“So Emma, can you tell me what it is that you are most concerned about?” Archie asked.

Emma ran her hand over her arm and frowned when it didn’t come up against any resistance and she glanced down to see that the cast was no longer there. That was the root of the problem, wasn’t it?

If it was still there, she wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Archie watched her stare at her arm, he couldn’t tell whether she was struggling to verbalise her feelings or if she was wishing that her arm was still broken.

He decided to go for the question that she would definitely know the answer to.

“Do you find your classes challenging?”

“No,” Emma replied, finally looking up from her arm.

“Is school not about the classes?” he asked.

“I…it should be,” Emma replied with a shrug.

“Are you suggesting that it isn’t?”

Emma shrugged again with a small huff and Archie tried another question, “have you chosen all of your classes?”

Emma smiled as she thought back to the previous day. Regina had spent a good hour going through all of the options with her. Even if she could only assume the cheerleader was doing it to impress her parents, she didn’t seem to be in any rush to leave. 

“Should I assume that smile means you have chosen?” Archie asked. There was obviously something else behind that smile, but today was about school, whatever it meant could be delved into.

“I chose music,” she replied.

“Music isn’t a very logical subject,” Archie observed.

Emma wondered whether she should mention that Regina took music, that she had sold it by saying that it was her only class that Kathryn wasn’t in. 

Instead, she said, “music theory is logical.”

Again, Archie sensed that there was something else to it, but she was allowed to have her own thoughts, so he replied, “I suppose you’re right, so we know it isn’t the contents of the classes worrying you, then what do you think makes you wish that you could continue homeschooling?”

“I just…” Emma began, searching for the right words, “it’s going to be worse this time because…well they’ll all know…” Emma trailed off, but Archie continued to wait for her to pinpoint the words and she eventually added, “they’ll all know that I’m gay.”

Archie tried very hard not to swallow hard at the look of shame on her face. Would that have been there before she met the Chases?

“And that would be a bad thing?” Archie asked.

Emma closed her eyes with a shaky breath, instead of focusing on the images flashing through her mind, she tried to think I’m not there, I’m not there…

Finally, she opened her eyes and said, “it can be…for some people…”

“Unfortunately you are right, there are people who will have an issue throughout your life, but it will be there issue and they will be wrong. What those people did to you, it was incredibly…horrific and you have these sessions to try to navigate that, but I’m sure you know that it is statistically unlikely that you will ever be in a situation of that severity again. In Storybrooke, you have a support system, myself, Cora, Henry Sr., Principal Gold, and from my discussions with August, I believe he will drive back to town at the first sign that there is anything wrong. In this town, at least, I can promise you that you will always be free to be who you are,” Archie replied.

Emma stared at her lap.

In spite of the list of people he had listed who didn’t have a problem with her sexual orientation, she didn’t know if Regina knew.

Would she have spent an hour in her room if she did? More pressingly, how would she feel if she was aware of her crush on her? Would Cora be as supportive if she knew that she thought about kissing her daughter?

She still nodded in response though.

Archie looked over to the clock to see that the session was a few minutes from being over and it was clear that his patient had closed off for the session. He was glad that he had got his message across before that happened though.

At least he hoped he did. If nothing else, he was confident that he had given her something to think over that she wouldn’t have come up with on her own. 

It was for this reason that he just remained silent and allowed her to keep thinking with the remaining minutes.

Emma let out a small hiss when she ran her finger across the bruising underneath her eyes. She swallowed hard and forced herself to look into the mirror.

"Fuck," she muttered as she inspected the noticeable bend on her nose where Mr Chase's fist had collided with it. The blonde flinched when she instinctively took in a sharp breath through her nose and she instantly knew that was a mistake as pain began to radiate through her sinuses.

It was obviously stupid to think that there was any world where it would be okay to read a story to Victoria, but the girl had pouted profusely and it wasn't her fault that she didn't understand that her foster sister was no longer being treated as part of the family. Though, Emma was sure the the fact that she had to sleep in Mr Chase's study (the furthest possible room from Nathan and Victoria's bedrooms) should have tipped her off.

Since she had started spending all of her time in there Mr Chase had began to methodically move things out of the room since he seemed to think that she was infectious. Which meant that it was profound bad luck that he happened to walk in at the very moment that Victoria had cuddled closer to her on the couch considering that he had basically pretended that she didn't exist for the last twenty-four hours.

Silence had fallen over the room when the door handle began to turn. Emma had known that Victoria would be sent out of the room and that he would attack without hesitation, but she didn't expect him to just launch forward and punch her square in the nose the moment that Victoria left. He then walked out without another word, probably planning what he was going to explain to Victoria why she shouldn't spend with Emma.

The blonde had remained coiled over in pain for a moment as she clutched her nose and prayed that it wasn't broken. A broken nose would mean no school, she had been allowed to go for the past couple of days on the condition that she wore clothes that covered any bruises and that she found some excuse to get out of gym but she wasn't sure that she would be able to handle this much longer if she couldn't at least get out of the house for eight hours every week-day.

She had finally built up the courage and dragged herself over to the mirror to discover that her suspicions had been correct.

An hour later (during which she was sure her foster family had left to have dinner without her) the bleeding seemed to have stopped but the bruising was now undeniable. There was no way that she would be able to leave this house now.

The blonde blew out a small breath (which caused her to flinch again) and she went back over to slump down onto the couch that had become her bed.

She resolved that she could just try and sleep since she wouldn't be able to feel the constant jolts of pain pulsing through her face if she did; however, any attempt to try and do so were thwarted by the sound of buzzing inside her shirt. She always made sure that the phone was somewhere where it couldn't be found by the Chases since they would only think that she was planning to report them and would take it from her. To be fair, that was kind of exactly what she was planning to do, but she just had to hold onto the device until August was back in town.

She bit her lip as she sat up and pulled the flip phone out. For a moment, she imagined what she would do if it was August calling to check up on her. She could tell him everything then and there, but that would mean that the man would have to come home from his honeymoon two weeks early and that just didn't seem fair. Before he had left, she had told him to not worry, the Chases were a nice family (or so she had thought at the time). The one bright side of this was that she was sure that every foster family she had after this would be able to read about her little 'secret' in her file, so she wouldn't have any nasty, homophobic surprises later on. This was of course assuming that she even made it until August got back.

The teen shook her head and looked down at the caller-id on the front screen and she blew out a little sigh of relief when she saw 'Lily'. Though she had been texting the brunette every chance she got, she wasn't going to tell the girl what was going on yet. That would be just as good as reporting the Chases and she couldn't run the risk of Victoria and Nathan being assigned to the type of social worker who they would only meet once.

"Hey," she answered on the last ring and swallowed hard when she heard some anguish in her own voice.

There was a silence on the other side of the line, before Lily asked rather seriously, "are you okay?"

Emma closed her eyes in frustration, she had been able to act like everything was okay when she went to school, but there was no one there who she would actually call her friend. Sure, there were a few people who she felt comfortable enough talking to (usually about school-related topics) but there just hadn't been anyone who she was close enough to for them to know that there was something going with her. Lily, on the other hand, had basically known her forever at this point and it apparently only took one word for the other teen to realise that there was something seriously wrong happening to her best friend.

"I just have a cold," she lied when she realised that her voice must sound different,.

There was another silence as the teen considered whether she believed the girl. She could tell that there was definitely something more than that, but her mind didn't go straight to thinking that she'd had her nose broken because her foster parents had found out that she was gay, because why would it? This was obviously something that she would regret later when she saw a news article about her friend who had stopped answering calls and texts.

"You have a cold?" Lily repeated sceptically as her mind began to work through the possibilities of why her friend was lying to her. The hoarseness in Emma's voice sounded like far more than a simple cold.

"It might be the flu," the blonde corrected after a moment of thought. She hated lying to one of the only two people who had been there for her during her life, but she knew that Lily would understand when she found out the truth. She just hoped that the other teen wouldn't blame herself for not noticing should anything particularly bad happen. After all, the brunette was states away right now, it would be unfair to expect her to carry that kind of weight for not noticing based on a single phone call.

"Emma…" Lily began.

In that moment, the blonde almost gave up and told her. Why should she have to live in constant fear just so that she could make sure that some kids didn't end up having the same shitty life that she had? But nothing came out of her mouth when she opened it to let everything spill out. Her mind just wouldn't allow her to do something so selfish, even if she really wanted to.

The attempt was cut short anyway when she heard the distinct sound of the front door opening.

The blonde took in a sharp breath and muttered, "I should really go to sleep anyway, talk to you later," before she flipped the phone shut and shoved it back inside her shirt and she flopped back against the couch with her eyes closed.

She tried not to move when she heard the door to the study open. A second passed before she heard the door close again and she opened her eyes just to make sure that she was alone, she had learnt that they wouldn't hurt her if she was 'sleeping'.

She sighed and turned on her side so that she was facing the back of the couch, right now, sleeping did seem like theH best option.

She just hoped that she hadn't ruined everything by acting so suspiciously to the girl who was currently sat in her bedroom frowning at her phone.


"Are you still in your room?" Killian asked.

Regina glared down at the phone sat on her dressing table, she knew that she had been the one to call the other teen and then put him on loud speaker as she began her make-up process, but she was beginning to regret that since he had spent the last half-an-hour judging her for not going to ask how she was feeling this morning.

"I'm still getting ready," she replied as she ran a blending brush across her right cheek (as she had been doing for about ten minutes now).

"How is that even possible?" Killian asked, sounding genuinely shocked.

Regina just rolled her eyes again and placed the brush back down to the tabletop.

"We can't all just roll out of bed and throw on whatever clothes are nearest," she replied with exasperation seeping through each word, though she knew that she would be far more nervous right not if she didn't call Killian to ask for help. His irritating nature made for a good distraction from everything that she was worried about.

"I'll have you know that this perfection doesn't happen that fast," Killian replied and Regina imagined that he was currently waving his hand over his body. There was a silence and Killian imagined that Regina was currently going for the world record in eye rolling, so he decided that a swift change of topic was in order, "my point is that you should at least say 'good morning' to her before you leave the house."

"Regina, it's time for breakfast," Henry Senior called after a knock on the door before he walked away. The man had told her almost every morning but she was fairly certain that they no longer expected her to actually join the family at the table. Her parents were just happy when they got her to take some toast to-go under protest.

"You heard your father, Gina, it's time for breakfast," Killian laughed.

Regina sighed and considered this. It was true that she had actually been ready for quite some time since she had woken up a lot earlier than she usually would this morning. She supposed that actually eating 'the most important meal of the day' at the table couldn't hurt.

"Fine," she sighed again and picked up her phone. She swiftly turned off loud speaker and pulled the device up to her ear, "but how am I supposed to…"

"Be nice to her?" he supplied.

"Make her comfortable at school," Regina shot back and began walking towards her door and then into the hallway.

"I think that keeping her away from Kathryn would be a good first step…maybe get Ruby to run interference for the first few days?"

"That actually wouldn't be a bad idea…" Regina replied as she started walking down the stairs, she certainly didn't want a repeat of what happened at the mall.

"So…did you help her pick out something to wear on her first day?" Killian asked.

Regina cringed as she made it down the final step, "was I supposed to?"

"It would have been nice, you know what that word means, right?" the male teen teased on the other end of the line.

She was about to make some scathing reply, but she clamped her mouth shut when she realised that she was now close enough to the dining room to be heard by her family. There was no doubt that Emma would currently be sitting at the table since there was no way that Cora would allow the nervous blonde to go without food on her first day of school.

With a deep breath, Regina took a step forward so that she could make her presence known. For a moment, she stood rooted in her place as her eyes fell onto her 'buddy'. She had noticed over the last two weeks that the girl tended to wear loose (and no doubt comfortable) sports-like wear in the house. Regina couldn't really blame her since she couldn't imagine dressing up in her own home, but that meant that she had no idea what to expect the blonde to wear to school, especially since she had no clue what the girl had actually brought from the mall after she had dragged Kathryn away from her.

It was for this reason that she paused for a moment at the insanely tight black skinny jeans with rips at the knees, with purple hi-top Converse that matched the t-shirt she was wearing underneath a black bomber jacket. Somehow, the outfit itself was helping the girl inch away from nerdy adorable to nerdy hot and Regina was sure that if the bespectacled teen wasn't currently frowning down at her plate as she pushed scrambled egg around it, she would just be plain hot. But she knew that the blonde was quite far away from having that kind of confidence, though she found herself wishing that she wasn't too far away.

Regina swallowed hard when she realised that she was a second away from looking weird and she prayed that she wasn't blushing as hard as she felt she was in that moment.

"Regina?" Killian asked and the girl wondered whether she had missed something that he had said. It may have felt like minutes had passed when she had looked at Emma, but she sincerely hoped that it was only a second or two at the most.

"Regina?" Cora seemed to repeat and the other four sat at the table looked up at her with curious expressions.

"I'll talk to you at school," she muttered into the phone and hung up before Killian could protest.

Once she locked her phone, she smiled at her confused parents and took the only vacant seat at the table (which just so happened to be next to Emma).

"Good morning," Regina smiled, before she asked, "could you pass the toast please?"

Emma's eyes widened as she considered whether she had ever been this close to Regina Mills. The brunette had sat at her desk while she was on the bed when they had gone through the electives and even that had almost too much for her to handle.

After a very noticeable pause, the blonde reached forward and grabbed the toast rack before she placed it next to the cheerleader.

"Morning," the blonde replied in a barely audible voice.

"Thank you," Regina said with a genuine smile as she plucked a piece of toast from the rack and placed it on her plate.

Emma returned the smile as she picked up her fork again and slowly began to place the pieces of egg into her mouth.

Cora exchanged a frown with her husband. Maybe Regina wouldn't make as terrible a buddy as everyone seemed to think she would?


Chapter Text

T/W Panic attack / homophobia

Chapter ten

Emma twirled her pen as the teacher droned on about Jane Eyre, she really was listening even though the pen had yet to actually touch the page of her notebook.

Every other person in the AP English class was furiously writing notes about every single thing the man said about the Bildungsroman.

Emma had learned early in her life that she didn't need to make notes. She had gotten in trouble for this on more than one occasion, but she could only assume that the teachers were aware of her special circumstances since he had yet to actually look up to her as she listened.

There was also the fact that she had already studied Jane Eyre at another school and even though it hadn't been in an AP class, she had done a lot of research in her own time, so she was pretty confident on the topic.

Home room with Regina had been as awkward as she had expected it to be.

Their home room teacher had introduced her to the class and sent her to sit next to Regina. As he moved onto other news, she was sure that she had heard a few people whispering about her, though anyone had yet to actually come over to her and say anything to her face.

It was only first period, so the day was young.

Luckily, being taken to a twelfth grade AP class meant that she was currently surrounded by students working their assess off to get into Ivy Leagues, so none of them gave a shit about who the new girl was.

She had a feeling that circumstances would change when she went to her first tenth grade class, or worse yet, study hall.

She had yet to decide whether it would be a good thing that she would have Regina with her during these classes.

"Now each of you please find a partner to discuss the task I placed on your desks," the teacher announced, which brought Emma out of her small reminiscence of earlier that day, "and do please try to work with someone new," he added, hoping the new addition to the class wouldn't know that it was for her benefit.

Emma just fell backwards as people began dutifully milling around the room, with a few muttering about how they hated working with new people.

She resisted the strong urge to sigh at the fact that this lesson wouldn't simply be a lecture as she had hoped and pulled the work sheet towards herself so that she could prepare herself to do it alone.

That plan was put to an end when someone slipped into the seat next to her.

Emma frowned and looked over to the blonde newcomer, she opened her mouth to say something but was cut off by the welcoming smile.

"Hey," the older girl said as she began to rifle through her notebook to find the right page.

Emma instantly looked back down to the blank page of her own book, hoping that she wasn't visibly lushing at the distinct British accent that had come out in that single word, before she looked back to her and said, "hey," in reply.

The room filled with the buzz of conversation as everyone found their own pairs and started on the task.

"It's Emma Swan, right?" the girl finally asked.

"Yeah I am," Emma replied, and bit the inside of her cheek, how many articles had she read about her?

"Alice Kingsley," the older girl replied to the unasked question, "it's nice to meet you."

The younger of the pair actually felt a small smile tug at the corner of her lips as she allowed her eyes to move over Alice. She was wearing a hoodie bearing an image of the Triforce which was coupled with tight black jeans and hi-top black Vans.

Alice seemed to notice Emma's eyes looking down her chest and she smirked for a moment before she asked as she pointed at the image, "do you know what this is?"

"Yeah, it's the Triforce," Emma replied, though she could feel the blush grow deeper at the fact that the older girl had caught her staring at her chest.

"Finally, everyone else in this town thinks that Link's name is Zelda!"

Emma allowed herself to let out a little laughter as she felt her shoulders relax, she was pretty sure that the last time she had felt this comfortable around someone she had just met was with Lily, and she didn't think that lightening could ever strike twice.

However, she hadn't been a little attracted to Lily, which could only be a complication.

"I only played the first game," Emma admitted.

"So no Ocarina of Time?" Alice asked with a raised eyebrow and a shocked expression that suggested she was genuinely hurt by that fact.

"None of my foster families have ever had an N64," she replied, which caused her to look back down to the table. She never tended to mention that she was a foster child since it inevitably led to a number of questions.

However, Alice just replied, "that's just tragic."

Emma smiled, and was about to try and make a reply, however, she was interrupted by the sound of the teacher clearing his throat to get the class's attention.

"Your homework for Thursday is to complete the task with your partners and the please prepare a presentation based upon your findings," he called out just as the bell rang out.

Alice smirked at the shocked expression on Emma's face as people began gathering their things so that they could shuffle towards the exit. The older girl nudged her to tell her that she should start moving as well.

As Emma gathered her things, Alice glanced at the blank page and she tilted her head.

She had indeed read a few articles about the new girl back when the case was unfolding and she remembered something about her having an unusually high IQ. The blank page only seemed to confirm it for her, she definitely didn't seem like the type not to try in class.

"I guess that we actually need to start the task," Alice announced as the pair walked towards the door.

"I guess so," Emma replied.

Alice was about to suggest that they arrange a time to meet, but she was interrupted by the infamous captain of the cheerleading squad walking towards them and she had to stop herself from rolling her eyes at the girl. She had heard a few people talk about how Regina Mills was the new girl's buddy, but she had never found it within herself to care since it didn't affect her life at that point.

That was no longer the case.

Regina frowned at the girl who Emma appeared to be talking to and she couldn't stop herself from narrowing her eyes.

Alice looked back with raised eyebrows, though another bell rang out to remind her that this was hardly the time to pry into what the cheerleader's expression meant.

"Hey," Regina said, turning to look back at Emma, "are you ready to go?"

Emma nodded and she was about to tell Alice something, but she was cut short when the older girl grabbed her hand and scribbled something upon her palm.

"Text me and we can set up a time to meet," Alice said and Emma nodded as she released her hand and began walking away.

Regina scowled over her shoulder until she was sure that the older girl was gone and she turned back to Emma with a questioning frown.

Emma furrowed her brow at the expression on Regina's face.

From what she'd read, that expression meant jealousy, but she had to be reading it wrong right? It had to be wistful thinking.

"We're doing the paired homework task together," she explained, though she wasn't too sure why she had to explain this to her buddy.

Regina bit the inside of her cheek by way of stopping her internal screaming from becoming external.

"Oh, that's...good," she said, hoping that her words didn't sound too strained.

"You better get going to class, ladies," a random teacher called and Regina blew out a little breath of relief as she was reminded that there was a way out of this awkward situation.


The rest of the day went rather quickly for Emma. None of her classes were especially challenging, but they weren't mind-numbing so she was actually able to listen to the teacher between worrying about the next time that she would see Regina.

After Alegbra (a class which unfortunately did not have Alice in it) she was set to meet her buddy at her locker so that they could have lunch together and something about the thought of that had Emma's stomach in knots. Somehow, having lunch with the brunette felt a lot more pressured than sitting together in her room for a couple hours talking about school.

The bell rang and brought the blonde out of the thoughts that had been consuming her since the beginning of this class and she quickly looked around to see if anyone had noticed that she hadn't been listening. If the reassuring smile that the teacher shot her was any indication, he had either not noticed or he was putting on the same 'supportive' face that she was fairly certain that the entire faculty had been instructed to adopt when they were in her presence.

Emma swallowed hard and made quick work of gathering all of her things and throwing them into her bag so that she could join the rest of the class shuffling their way out into the hallway.

The moment that she crossed over the threshold, she froze as ten people rushed past her in about ten seconds, obviously all very eager to get to the cafeteria. The blonde stood frozen in place for a few more seconds before she felt someone push past behind her and she realised that she hadn't been the last person trying to leave the classroom. She looked down to the ground just in time to miss the dirty look that she was sure the people trying to pass her were shooting her way and she began to shuffle towards her destination.

She imagined for a moment that she could just go to the library and avoid the whole ordeal of the cafeteria (like she would have done in almost every other school that she had attended) but she quickly decided against it when it occurred to her that Regina would probably get in to trouble if she didn't perform her buddy duties perfectly. There was also the fact that Emma wasn't exactly in any position to pass up an opportunity to spend time with the girl who she was so infatuated with that made her continue her slow walk along the path that she had spent time memorising in the days before she started at Storybrooke High.

As she walked, the thought of just how much she wanted to spend time with Regina caused a blush to begin to creep up her neck and she instinctively pulled the straps of her backpack closer to her body as if it would protect her from the stares of the people who were currently glaring at her from their lockers. Even if she logically knew that there was no way that any of them could know what she was thinking, this did nothing to subside the tightening knot in her stomach and she desperately tried to focus on the end of the hallway. All she had to do was make it to the end and turn the corner and she should find Regina waiting for her, but it seemed as though her destination was getting further and further away the more she took steps forward.

The sound in the hallway seemed to amplify and Emma's eyes quickly looked from side to side. They were all looking at her and whispering about her, she was sure about it. Many of them were clutching their phones as if they were waiting for her to do something weird that they could post online. All they had to do was bring up the name of 'Emma Swan' again and the media would jump right back onto the story. She would be the number one trending topic in no time: 'Social Services continues to fail Emma Swan: abuse victim has panic attack at school'.

She tried to push this thought aside and focus on her breathing (as she had been told to do by Archie many times), but someone pushed past her again and she realised that she must have been standing stock still and she had no idea when her feet had stopped working. The fact that she was standing blankly in the hallway probably didn't help with looking normal and she was definitely receiving curious glances from a few people, along with some smirks and increased whispering.

The blonde caught the eye of a couple of people who were definitely staring at her and her breaths now began to come out short and strained as her throat constricted.

Racing heart. Feeling dizzy and faint. Sense of terror. Loss of control. Breathing difficulties. Emma listed in her mind, she knew instantly that she was in the midst of a panic attack. But for some reason she found that her eidetic memory was completely blank of all of the techniques that she had purposefully memorised after the last time this had happened.

With what was left of her logical mind, she attempted to move forward and she quickly felt herself stumble into the locker next to her with a little thud.

If people hadn't been looking at her before, then they certainly were now and a girl who she had never seen before came over to her with a familiar look in her eyes. Behind her, stood a very familiar blonde with wide eyes as she looked on at the scene. Seeing Kathryn only reminded Emma of the mall and all of the questions that the entire student body probably wanted answers to.

"Hey, are you okay?" the lanky brunette asked, placing her hand onto Emma's arm and bringing her attention away from Kathryn.

At the sudden contact a male voice boomed in Emma's mind: 'so you're a liar and a dyke.'

Emma's eyes widened as Ruby's grip on her arm brought back memories of the last person who had physically touched her and she recoiled away from the blonde and brunette who were obviously trying to shield her from the other people in the hallway but were only succeeding in making her feel penned in.

She tried to open her mouth to say something in reply but she closed it when it occurred to her that there were tears falling down her face without permission. The completely silent hallway told her that people were now definitely staring at her with all of their attention. The thought that she was supposed to be meeting Regina at her locker offered the perfect means of escape, all she had to do was turn the corner and she would escape the stares of sympathy and intrigue.

It was for this reason that she dashed away from Ruby and Kathryn as quickly as she possibly could and practically stumbled around the corner.

She was vaguely aware that Ruby was following behind her (probably to make sure that she was okay) but she couldn't find it within herself to focus on anything else in that moment other than getting away.

She swallowed hard against her heavy breaths as she turned the corner but she stumbled when a new sight came into her slightly blurred vision.

This hallway was just as packed as the other one and people here was slowly beginning to look at her as well. Emma breathed deeply as she looked around to see the exact locker that she was supposed to be looking for, but her heart dropped when she did not see the brunette she had been hoping for.

The teenage boy leant against his best friend's locker quickly unhitched himself and his expression changed from one of exasperation to one of concern when he noticed the blonde he had been asked to meet.

Killian crossed he hallway in as few steps as possible until he was standing in front of Emma, though not quite as close as Kathryn and Ruby had been just moments ago.

The blonde looked to be in complete panic mode and he looked over her shoulder to see Ruby and Kathryn. He instantly knew that the presence of the blonde couldn't possibly be helpful after the stunt that she had pulled at the mall and she shook his head to tell them to leave this to him.

When he was sure that they were retreating, he looked around the hallway for the options at his disposal. He noticed that the blonde's breathing was only getting heavier the more that she looked at all of the people who were staring right back at her and he knew exactly what he needed to do.

He grabbed her arm as gently as possible and led her towards the nearest vacant classroom.

Once he had led her over to a seat, he rushed back over to close the door and pull the shade down over the little window.

When Killian was satisfied that no one would be looking in to see what was going on, he went back over to Emma, once again ensuring that he didn't get too close to her.

"Breathe, Swan," he whispered softly and smiled when he noticed that she was already beginning to calm down even if she was gripping the edge of the desk for dear life.

He reached into his pocket to pull out his phone so that he could tell Regina to get here right now.

Chapter Text

Chapter eleven

The vein was popping.

It didn’t happen often, even though most people in town thought that Cora Mills was probably some kind of  dragon lady, but it was surprisingly infrequent that she and her siblings were truly in trouble.

Regina was currently truly in trouble.

She could tell that she had fucked up.

“Where were you Regina?” Cora asked through gritted teeth, clearly trying not to allow real rage to show in Gold’s office.

Regina swallowed thickly in her seat in front of the principal’s desk and her eyes quickly flicked over to the office door. Somehow, the thought that Emma was sat outside with Killian made her feel better.

“I was...talking to Daniel,” she replied, deciding that now would not be a good time to tell her mother that Daniel had grabbed her to kiss her because someone on the football team had implied that he did something ‘really gay’ or something like that. Regina wasn’t really listening to his explanation after Killian had sent her a text to let her know that he was with Emma.

Cora opened her mouth, with a frustrated sound of disbelief escaping, but the principal cut her off with a raised hand.

“Miss Mills,” he began calmly, giving Cora a warning look that said he didn’t want a shouting match in his office, “you do understand that as Emma’s buddy, you should have been there when she had a…”

"Had a panic attack," Cora supplied, trying to emphasise the gravity of what happened.

The younger brunette just nodded and looked intently down to her hands. Everything within her was saying that she should be fighting back and making the point that she never wanted to be Emma's buddy, but she couldn't. The fact was that she felt indescribably guilty for what happened, even if she didn't know if her being there would have made any difference, she still felt like a complete bitch for not being there for her vulnerable buddy.

"I'm sorry," Regina mumbled and her mother rolled her eyes.

Cora then pinched the bridge of her nose and Gold shifted uncomfortably in his seat, this was not something that he was expecting to do today.

"Well," he said, gaining both of their attention after a couple beats of painful silence, "I think that is clear that Miss Swan will need to be re-assigned a new buddy."

"No," Regina shot back, "that isn't fair."

"Regina," Cora said lowly and the warning was obviously registered as the younger brunette shrank back in her seat.

"Shouldn't it be Emma's choice?" Regina asked, managing to keep her tone more respectful this time.

The mayor frowned and tilted her head at the younger woman. She had been sure that she was only complaining because she didn't want to get in trouble with her, but it appeared as if she actually cared about Emma.

Gold looked over to Cora questioningly, clearly not wanting to overrule her decision in front of her daughter.

The mayor simply shrugged and replied, "that is a matter that we can address later, right now, I need to take Emma back home.”

Regina sunk further into the chair and looked adamantly at her lap. She was desperate to talk to Emma herself and apologise for not being where she had promised to be, but it wasn't as if she could ditch the rest of her classes just to talk to the girl who lived in her house.

"We will be talking about this more at home, Regina," Cora said sternly, though she wavered slightly. It was occurring to her that she wasn't sure if she should punish Regina for this or not, its not like grounding the cheerleader would help her build up a true friendship with Emma and she did look awfully guilty in that moment, even if the mayor was mostly sure that it was an act to get out of being trouble.

The older brunette tore her eyes away from the cheerleader and looked over to the principal, "I assume that it would be okay for Emma to have some more time off?"

Gold nodded instantly, "she can take as much time as she needs."

"Thank you," Cora sighed, "I will speak to Archie about the manager and let you know what he recommends."

The principal just nodded again and Cora made her way to the door with no further ceremony, all she could think of was that she had no idea what could possibly say to Emma.

Emma's head leaned on her hand and she stared blankly at the door in front of her.

The blonde felt oddly numb after the events of earlier that day, if anything, she felt like a complete moron. There was no reason that she needed to get herself so worked up over there being so many people around her, even if it had been the most people she had seen so tightly packed in one place since she had last attended school over seven months ago.

There was absolutely no reason why her body should allow one single moment of panic to turn into heart palpitations, blurred vision and sweating, but it did it anyway and that was absolutely frustrating.

Now she would no longer just be the news case that everyone was interested in, she would be the weird foster kid who had a panic attack in the middle of the the hallway and there was nothing that she could to dispel that image now.

She sighed and pushed her head off her hand and pulled her phone out of her pocket. Even if it wasn't the flip phone that brought her so much comfort, it was still a way that she would be able to message Lily.

Lily Page would know exactly what to say to make her feel better, which would be something along the lines of 'why would a robot like you care about what everyone thinks?'. Emma smiled as her fingers hovered over the screen of a blank message, but she faltered when she realised that she didn't know what she should say. She typed out 'I need to talk to you' but quickly deleted it deciding that would only give Lily anxiety of her own and then tried: 'so…I had a panic attack on my first day of school' but she deleted that well.

The blonde blew out a breath and leaned against the back of the chair. This was not something that she could text about, she decided, and she didn't exactly have time to call the other girl whilst she waited for Cora to come out from talking to Archie.

It was for this reason that she instead shot off a text to one of the newer numbers in her contact list: 'Hey, thanks for today'.

After a solid thirty seconds of hesitation, she finally pressed send when it occurred to her that she desperately wanted to talk to someone who was not an adult.

About ten seconds passed and she began to wonder if the number had been given to her out of pity rather than genuine concern, but that worry fell away when her phone dinged and she got a reply from Killian.

'No problem, Swan :), I would say anytime but we don't want that happening again :’)’.

Emma smiled at her phone and she was about to type out a reply but the door opened in front of her to reveal the mayor of Storybrooke.

Cora smiled at her reassuringly, but the blonde couldn't help but feel a certain amount of guilt for dragging her out of work just because she couldn't walk down a hallway without melting down.

"Archie wants to talk to you and then I'll take you home, okay?"

Emma nodded and dutifully stood to walk into the therapist's office. The door shut behind her after Cora gave her another comforting smile before she sat on the couch she had been on many times now she could swear it got less comfortable each time.

Archie watched the blonde walk in and tilted his head at her with the same kind of smile she had gotten from many adults today. They sat in silence for a few moments before he asked. "do you want to talk about what happened or wait until our session?"

"Wait," Emma replied instantly.

Archie nodded, of course she wanted to put off talking about feelings normally he would insist, but she needed some time to process.

"Okay," he replied, "Cora wanted me to ask if you would like a new buddy at school."

The blonde frowned, "it wasn't Regina's fault," she replied.

"Regina was supposed to meet you and she wasn't there," Archie said, "you are within your right to ask for a more…attentive buddy."

"No, I would prefer to stay with Regina," Emma said, hoping that she wasn't blushing. Honestly, why would she want to give up the chance to spend time with her? "Unless she doesn't want to anymore?"

Archie furrowed his brow, she was indeed blushing. He supposed that it made sense that she would fall for Regina, but he decided that it was nothing to worry about for now, if it became an issue he could just mention it to Cora and she could decide what she wanted to do .

"I'll let Cora know that you want to stay with Regina for now, would you like anymore time off school?"

Emma opened her mouth to say 'yes' but the word didn't come out. It occurred to her that if she took more time of school now she would just go back to being the girl that everyone talked about, they would think that she couldn't handle herself. Plus she still needed to do that paired project with Alice.

"No I'll be fine," she replied.

Archie inspected her for a moment, trying to figure out whether he should just say that she could come back to school next week, but everything that he knew about her told him that she would have taken the offer, so maybe her first day wasn't all bad?

"Okay…there is one more thing before you go home," the therapist said and reached over to grab a small leather bound book before he handed it to the blonde, "I want you to start journalling your feelings."

"I don't have feelings," she deadpanned.

"You know that isn't true, Emma," Archie replied just about resisting the urge to sigh, "there is a difference between having feelings and not understanding them. I thought that if you wrote them down then we could study them together."

Emma stared at the book, she wanted to argue that she couldn't understand her emotions so there was no way that she would describe them in writing. But all she wanted to do was go home and talk to Lily and she knew that Archie would just tell her that she needed to do it anyway, so she could just prove how pointless the exercise was by doing it for a while.

"Okay," she shrugged. "can I go home now?"

Archie just sighed and nodded.


Today I felt…

Emma frowned and put a cross through the writing, she knew this was pointless.

At school today I had a panic attack…

The blonde sighed and crossed that out as well, honestly why was this so difficult?

She stared at the blank page for a moment, before an idea sparked and she began writing furiously:

Whilst walking down the hallway at school today, I suffered from the Spotlight Effect as I overestimated how many people were looking at me. This caused my heart rate to increase as a result of the fight or flight response, my breathing quickened to accommodate the increased need for oxygen. These physiological responses to the psychological stimulus caused further panic, resulting in hyperventilation which was only worsened as people were now actually looking at me while I was visibly having a panic attack.

She finished writing and re-read it to check for mistakes. She knew that this was not what Archie wanted from her journal, but if he really wanted to know how she experienced emotion then he would get it. Maybe then he would stop trying to ask her to express her feelings?

A light knock on her door caused her to tear her attention away from the book and she frowned when it occurred to her that there was a tear on her cheek from when she was writing.

She shook her head and quickly wiped it away before she snapped the book shut and called "come in."

The door opened and Emma tensed when she saw it was the youngest female Mills rather than the oldest.

"Hey Regina," she said, hoping that she didn't look too flustered.

Regina smiled at the blonde who she had been thinking about all day. Somehow she felt better seeing that she was in one piece, at least physically. She closed the door behind her and walked further into the room.

"I just wanted to apologise…" she said, standing in the middle of the room while trying to resist the urge to ring her hands together out of anxiety.

Emma frowned at the usually confident teen and she shifted so that she was looking at her more fully, "for what?" she asked.

"For…for not being there…" the brunette replied, looking firmly down at the ground as she spoke.

"I'm fine…" Emma said quickly, though she wasn't quite sure how she was supposed to respond to this. She couldn't say that she probably would have felt better if she was walking down the hallway with Regina because that would probably freak the girl out and she was probably only apologising because her mother told her to. "It wasn't your fault…"

"I wanted to ask you if you thought…maybe if you think it would be better if someone like Alice was your buddy?" Regina replied, still refusing to look up.

Emma furrowed her brow, did Regina look upset and jealous? 

"I would prefer you to be my buddy," Emma said simply and looked down at her lap as she felt blush burn across her cheeks. Honestly, why did she have to be so awkward?

Regina finally looked up at the blonde and frowned, before she replied, "if you're sure…I promise I'll be where I say I'll be tomorrow."

Emma nodded, she couldn't look up encase the cheerleader saw her blushing. She wasn't entirely sure if Regina knew why she had ended up in her position, but she knew that she didn't want her to think that she liked her and freak out. She particularly didn't want Cora to know that she had a crush on her daughter. She might have taken her in, but she couldn't easily throw her out if she found out that she wanted Regina.

Emma nodded again and Regina was about to turn to leave. Emma's eyes fell onto the journal and she remembered what Archie said to her a while ago. She could tell that Regina was frustrated and she figured that it made sense for her to understand what she was supposed to be helping with.

She swallowed hard and called, "Regina?"

The brunette instantly turned around, looking almost relieved, and looked at the other teen expectantly.

Emma took a deep breath and shifted uncomfortably, she hadn't told anyone this since Lily.

"Do you know what Emotional Quotient is?" she asked, only just loud enough to be heard.

The cheerleader just shook her head.

"It's like…emotional intelligence, like understanding feelings and stuff like that…" Emma said, not looking up, she was increasingly sure that this was a bad idea, "there is a link between high IQ and low EQ…I don't really understand emotions the way that I'm supposed to…"

"Oh," Regina replied simply, she wasn't too surprised to learn that the blonde had high IQ, but she had never really considered before that emotional intelligence was a thing, like didn't people just know what feelings were naturally?

"Dr. Hopper has been trying to help me with it but…" Emma trailed off and just shrugged, now certain that there was absolutely no reason for telling the brunette this other than apparently making her uncomfortable. "I just thought that if you're going to be my buddy then you should know…"

For a few moments, Regina did nothing. Her brain was running a mile a minute as it took in all of the implications. She knew that some people were more closed off than others, but she always assumed that they still understood how they were feeling and just didn't want to talk about it.

She couldn't imagine what it must have been like to go through the trauma that the blonde had been through and not be able to understand how she felt about it.

"Thank you for telling me," Regina said, and almost cursed herself for not thinking of a way to show that she genuinely cared.

Emma just nodded once again and she was about to move back onto her bed fully, she figured that now was probably a good time to try and call Lily. However, the brunette didn't make any move to leave the room.

"Would you mind if…if I asked you some questions about it?" Regina asked reluctantly, she was sure there was a better way to phrase that question, "so you know…I can be a better buddy…"

The other teen's first instinct was to say 'no', she barely even let Archie ask her questions, but it made logical sense that she would need to understand more about her if she was going to help her.

"Sure," she replied.

Regina hesitated for a moment as she looked between the bed and the desk that she had sat at the last time they had spent an extended amount of time together. A few seconds passed before she realised that it would make sense for her to sit closer if they were going to have a serious conversation.

Emma felt the blush intensify as the cheerleader came over and sat on her bed, even if she was as far as way as she possibly could be.

A beat passed before Emma asked, "okay…what did you want to ask?"

Chapter Text

Major T/W for graphic depiction of abuse and homophobia 

Chapter twelve

Six days.

It had been six days since Emma had been outside of the Chase house and it was finally getting to her. She found herself twitching whenever she heard a door open and close and she only left the study when it was absolutely necessary.

Victoria and Nathan had finally stopped trying to spend time with her against their parents will and she had to wonder what they could have said to her. Did they tell them what gay meant? The children surely wouldn't understand, which would mean that they would start to agree with their parents without even understanding what it was they were so vehemently against.

The blonde took in a shaky breath at the thought that she may have been helping to create two homophobes by not reporting what was happening, but she put that thought aside every time she saw the worsening condition of her nose whenever she built up the courage to look into the mirror when the pain was at its worst. August would be back in exactly eight days and then she would be able to call him and end this living hell. The risk that Nathan and Victoria would start to believe whatever their parents had told them was far outweighed by the risk of the pair of them getting placed into an equally as abusive home, but August would be able to fix everything, he wouldn't allow two children to get lost in the system and she knew that there was no one that she trusted more to protect them.

However, the thoughts of protecting them were currently not at the forefront of her mind as her stomach grumbled. She had been ordered to not leave this room because Mr and Mrs Chase were holding a get-together with their neighbours. From all of the cheering, she guessed that there was some kind of game on. This wouldn't be a problem if she hadn't gotten the chance to eat the day before either. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that she could take whatever she wanted out of the cupboards so long as she didn't do so when there was anyone else around to witness it and that she didn't take too much (which meant that stocking up for the weekend hadn't really been an option). Since this whole arrangement of her sleeping in the study had started, she had noticed that she had began to significantly lose weight, but at least she had enough to keep herself alive. In that moment though, she didn't feel as though she was going to last long enough to call August when he finally got back to New York.

Emma took another shaky breath as she placed her hand over her stomach which seemed to instantly rumble at the contact. She was fairly certain that she was beginning to understand what people meant when they said that people who believed they were starving after a few hours without food were being hyperbolic. She had certainly been hungry before, but this was seriously starting to become painful, especially when she could tell from the odours drifting through the air that there was probably some kind of buffet set out for the Chase's guests.

The teen swallowed hard and allowed her eyes to drift over to the door as she considered whether this would be a good idea. After a moment, she decided that there was no way that this would ever be anything but completely moronic, but that she had to at least try. If they were in fact watching a football game, then they would probably be close enough to the end of the game by now that no one would be willing to peel themselves away from the action.

She could easily make it to the kitchen and just grab something to eat and some water without anyone in the living room seeing her. She was fairly certain that the Chases must have told their friends that she was out somewhere with friends or something since there must have been at least some suspicion as to why no one had seen her in the last week. She was used to saying 'hello' to the neighbours as she walked towards school so there was no doubt that her foster parents would have got one or two enquiries as to her wellbeing. Since it had only been a week, it was probably believable enough to just say that she had the flu or something, but seeing her would break any illusions of that being true.

After another moment of consideration, she decided that she didn't really have a choice at this point. She needed food and this would be the best time since she would make too much noise if she tried to sneak into the kitchen in the middle of the night (and she had a bruise on her stomach to prove as much).

Slowly, as if she was waiting for something to stop her, she made her way over to the door which she slowly pushed open to confirm her suspicions that they were indeed nearing the end of the game, judging by the booming cheering that she could hear coming from the living room.

The blonde looked both ways in the corridor, before she cautiously made her way down the hallway, though she found herself cringing as she walked.

Even though she hadn't actually done anything to garner attention from Mr Chase since that night a few days ago when he had caught her in the kitchen, she found that the man had taken to just randomly coming into the study just to vent some anger. It appeared as though she was now officially his punching bag who he could wail on whenever he had a bad day or the fact that he was allowing someone so 'disgusting' to live in in his home became too much for him to handle.

Emma stopped halfway down the hallway and closed her eyes when she felt a sudden wave of dizziness. She fell against the wall as she took a moment to get herself together. When she finally opened her eyes, she swallowed hard and pulled up her shirt. Her entire body was now littered in bruises, but she was fairly certain that at one or two of her ribs had snapped when the heavy duty boot had collided with them.

Nothing on her body seemed to be healing and she was genuinely afraid that some of the wounds might never heal if she didn't get to a hospital soon. However, she decided that right now, food and water had to be her number one priority and she started making her way towards the kitchen with a distinct limp as she went and a lot of nausea. As she walked, she started to think how it was complete bullshit when people said that your body wouldn't allow you to feel too much pain, she felt like every inch of her body was in agony. Like it couldn’t decide which part hurt the most.

She held her hand against the wall as she made her way further down the hallway and she paused just outside of the open living room door. The sound that she had heard from the study was now almost deafening and it comprised of a lot shouting of 'come on'.

Emma took a couple of deep breaths; she knew that there was no way that Mr Chase would look too kindly upon his friends seeing his foster daughter hobbling across the doorway. For a brief second, the teen's stomach dropped when she realised that there was a chance that the Chase's friends thought exactly the same way as they did. What if they just started joining in? However, the blonde just put this thought aside when she realised that not everybody was like them, in fact, statistically it was very unlikely that people so willing to hurt another person would live next to each other. Though, the past couple of weeks had almost made her forget that there weren't people who would feel sick at the thought of laying their hands on another person.

Another shout of excitement brought her out of her moment of indecision and she finally walked as quickly as she could across the opening. When she made it to the other side, she doubled over and clutched her side as she took ragged breaths. She hadn't moved that quickly in a long time and she was beginning to wonder whether food could be worth this amount of pain, but she quickly decided that it would at least help to ease the cramps even if it would do nothing for the rest of the agony coursing through her veins at almost every hour of the day.

Half a minute later, she hobbled into the kitchen and she couldn't stop herself from licking her lips at the sight of what must have been prepared for the neighbours. As slowly and carefully as she possibly could, she walked over to the counter and simply marvelled at the sight before her.

There was a platter full of sandwiches and a bowl of potato chips. Emma knew for a fact that these had to be left-overs since she had witnessed the sheer amount of food that Mrs Chase had made for Nathan's birthday two months ago. Of course, back then she didn't have to sneak into the kitchen for some of the left-overs since she had been allowed to attend the party and eat as much as any other guest.

She reached forward and picked up a sandwich. She knew that she should have been grabbing what she wanted and then rushing to make her way back towards the study so that she wouldn't be caught red-handed, but she couldn't stop herself from simply staring at the ham enclosed between bread for a moment. There was a louder shout than usual from the living room and Emma instantly cringed when she heard the distinct sound of Mr Chase saying that he would go and get some paper towels. Obviously, someone must have spilt something over themselves.

The blonde looked around herself a few times for a way to escape, but she knew that even if there was some other way out of the kitchen, there was no way that she would be able to move fast enough to get away in time. Sure enough, the sound of Mr Chase's signature boots began to get louder and her injured body simply froze in place. In that moment, she was pretty sure that she didn't particularly look like a genius, more like a deer caught in headlights.

As she expected, the heavy sound of the boots that now made her flinch slightly with each step stopped abruptly as the man stalled at the threshold to the kitchen and narrowed his eyes at the blonde.

"I told you to stay in your room," he said lowly.

Emma swallowed hard and looked down to the sandwich still clutched tightly in her hand and she knew that there was no lie that would get her out of what was about to happen.

"I…I'm hungry," she replied.

"You're lucky that we've allowed you to eat any of our food. Do you really think that disobeying us is the best way to get what you want?" the man asked as his jaw clenched.

Emma bit the inside of her cheek. She knew that look on his face meant that there was nothing that was going to stop him from hurting her. The anger probably meant that he had completely forgotten that it wasn't just his family in the house at the moment. That meant that there would be nothing stopping him from reacting on his first instinct.

As much as it would have made logical sense for him to simply send her back to the study and then come and punish her later for her insubordination, Emma had come to realise that wasn't how his mind worked. If the man was logical in any way, then he would have realised that he could have just refused to foster anymore rather than having a girl in the house who he so clearly despised.

He launched forward and grabbed her by the arm, which he promptly twist around so that her back was to his front. The blonde let out a small squeal of pain when the limb bent into a position that she was certain it wasn't supposed to be in.

"Please," she whimpered as a tear escaped down her cheek, "don't…"

"You know that rules and yet you continue to break them," he growled close to her ear, "I honestly don't know how else I can make my message clearer."

Emma swallowed hard against the sudden thought that she could just say that he could just let her leave. She was pretty sure that her need to constantly speak out against things that didn't make sense was part of the reason that she had far more bruises than she would have had if she had just kept her mouth shut at all times.

When he was sure that the teen wasn't going to say anything else, he brought his hand up to her elbow and snapped back quickly.

Emma couldn't help that sharp cry of pain that ripped out of her throat as Mr Chase allowed her to fall down to the ground. She swallowed hard as her vision began to blur and she looked at her arm. She couldn't help praying that the violent bend at the joint was just her imagination. However, she felt the now familiar boot smash down on her forearm and she let out a hiss when she was fairly sure that she heard a snap. Without even giving her a chance to register the fact that he had most likely broken yet another bone in her arm, Mr Chase brought his foot up again and stamped down on her stomach.

Emma closed her eyes and actually allowed herself to scream. It was just too much pain and she couldn't do it anymore, "help me," she screamed in such a high pitch that she wasn't completely sure herself whether what she had said could be considered words.

A split second later, she heard the rushing of feet coming from the living room, accompanied by Mrs Chase hurriedly saying, "I'm sure that Victoria just had a nightmare."

The feet stopped and Emma allowed herself to open her eyes as her head lolled to its side. As she expected, the Chases had invited their neighbours to watch the game. Two men stood stock still at the sight before them as if they couldn't quite believe that they were seeing was true. Emma turned her head to look up at Mr Chase as he was opening and closing his mouth with desperation written across his face. He was clearly trying to think of a plausible explanation for what his friends were seeing, but he couldn't exactly say that the girl with a million bruises, a broken nose and now a broken arm had just fallen.

"Fucking dyke," he growled as he raised his foot to stamp down again, however, before he could make contact, he found himself pinned against the counter behind him. One of his friends was holding him by his collar whilst the other was kneeling next to Emma with a concern playing across his face.

"What the hell is wrong with you?!"

Mr Chase remained silent for a moment as he looked over to his wife for help; however, the woman remained completely still. She may not have joined in on the abuse, but it wasn't as if she had done anything to stop it either. But, she hadn't actually seen what her husband had done to the blonde who they had treated as a part of the family not one month ago. Seeing the pathetic girl struggle to keep her eyes open almost made her feel guilty that she had turned a blind eye.

When it became clear that his wife wasn't going to do anything, Mr Chase tried to lunge forward out of his friend's grip so that he could get one more hit in, but a knee promptly connected with his stomach. He doubled over before a fist smashed into his face a moment later and he fell down to the ground like a ton of bricks.

Emma watched the man who had made her life a living hell fall to the ground. Despite everything, a small grin pulled at the corner of her lips.

The last thing that she heard was one of the men saying 'call 911' before she closed her eyes and gave into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Chapter thirteen

"I told Regina that I have low EQ," Emma announced a few moments after she sat down opposite Archie.

The therapist's eyebrows shot up. It had been a few days since her panic attack and he had been assured that the remainder of the school week had seemingly gone off without a hitch. He naturally assumed that Regina had been more attentive to Emma since she was so obviously more comfortable with herself than she had been when he saw her that day. She had also never started a session with being the first one to speak, which surprised him more than anything.

"And how did she react?" he asked, trying to keep the surprise off his face, he didn't want her to take his shock for a bad reaction, in fact, he was trying to think of a way to show her just how proud he was that she had taken the step that he knew she had been afraid of. As far as he knew, her only peer who knew about her Emotional Quotient was Lily.

Emma shrugged and turned her attention to Pongo as she lightly stroked his head. Archie had long since realised that eye contact became more difficult for her when she was discussing something involving feelings, so he never pushed for it and the dog certainly loved the attention.

After a moment, she replied, "she asked me some questions."

"Could you give me an example of one of the questions?" he asked.

"She kind of asked me how I experience emotions," Emma replied, there was a smile tugging at the corner of her lips as she recalled how Regina had spent over a minute trying to phrase the question correctly. She had literally just told her that she didn't experience emotions properly and the cheerleader was still worried about hurting her feelings, it may have been one of the cutest things she had ever seen.

Archie quirked his eyebrow at the smile and wondered briefly if there was another reason why she was refusing eye contact. Despite her facade of being emotionless and everything that she had been through, Emma was still very much a teenage girl. And if his suspicions were correct, then she was a teenage girl with a rather strong crush.

He once again decided to push past the possibility that she had a crush on Regina, for now it didn't seem that it would be an issue. It also proved that Regina was more than likely trying more than Cora thought she was, if she was being horrible to her foster sister, it seemed very unlikely that she would like her, or at least he hoped that was the case.

"And how did you answer that question?" Archie asked, leaning forward slightly.

The blonde said, "I guess I just said that I understand emotions in theory, but in practice they really confuse me…"

"And did she understand?" he asked.

Emma shrugged more slowly this time as she considered the question. Regina had just nodded along, but that didn't mean that she understood and it wasn't as if they went too much in depth with everything. If they had, they would have been there for hours, but she was still pretty sure that it was the most she had ever told anyone other than Lily and she had been pretty shocked when she found that she was pretty comfortable sharing something that she had spent the majority of her life hiding from everyone.

Archie considered whether he should press for more, but she had already told him more than he had expected her to, in fact, she had told Regina more than he had expected her to so he figured that he could just give her more time to think about it.

"It's good that you could express it," he replied, "but perhaps if you continue your work with your journal you will be able to explain more specifically when you feel able to?"

"I guess so," Emma said, still playing with Pongo, though she was noticeably not as tense as she usually was during their sessions.

"Would you mind giving me the journal so that we can go through it?" the therapist asked.

Emma sighed and reached down into her bag to pull out the book that she had written in once a day. She had found the experience oddly calming, but she wasn't too convinced that there was anything groundbreaking in there. It was mostly just a physical description of every anxiety-filled moment she'd had that week, though none of them had been quite as bad as her first day of school thankfully.

"Sure," she said and handed the book over to the man who she was sure would use it to come up with some great theory about how he could help her. That thought would have bothered her when she first came to Storybrooke, but now she found the thought that he could help her rather exciting. She wanted to figure out exactly what her feelings for Regina meant since she was getting the sense that they were somehow different to every other crush she'd had. She understood the biological chemistry of attraction very well, but she wasn't sure that she understood the intensity of what she felt when the cheerleader sat down and spent time trying to understand her better.


A week passed.

Emma found school became marginally easier the longer she attended since Regina seemed far more interested in being her buddy rather than spending time with her other friends. Plus, when Regina wasn't around for whatever reason, she sent Killian to make sure that she was never in the same position that she had been on her first day.

Also, Alice was in most of her AP classes which meant that she at the very least always had someone to talk to and Lily had taken to teasing her that she was now in some kind of love triangle. Of course, Emma found it hard to believe that there was any world in which Regina Mills could like her back and even if she was definitely attracted to Alice she didn't really think that there was any chance that they would be anything more than friends. Alice didn't really give off any signs that she liked her either, and Emma tried to ignore Lily's argument that she wouldn't know what someone looked like when they liked her anyway.

Whenever the subject came up, Emma just let out an exasperated sigh and tried to move the conversation onto something else.

It was for this reason that she was determined that she didn't need to tell Lily that she was currently in Alice's bedroom. The British girl had suggested that she could help her to make sure that she was up-to-date with all of her classes even though they both knew that she was. But the moment she entered the room, it became clear that she wasn't here to study since Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was loaded up on the TV.

The blonde smiled over to the girl sat at her desk and knocked at the open door to alert her that she was here.

Alice looked away from her computer screen and smiled at the other teen who had quickly become her close friend and she stood from her chair as she gestured over to the couch in front of the TV (Emma would later learn that her dad was rather rich thanks to his trading company which explained why her room was bigger than some of the apartments that Emma had lived in).

"I guess we're not studying?" Emma asked with a raised eyebrow as she went over to the couch with no hesitation. She had found quickly that she was more than comfortable around Alice than she was around most people (other than Lily of course). She wasn't constantly wondering what she thought about her and she didn't feel the excess nervousness that she felt around Regina.

"We both know that you don't need help to study and some things are more important," Alice shrugged as she fell into the seat next to her friend and reached over to grab one of the soda cans that she must have placed one the coffee table in advance of this.

"Isn't this a single player game?" Emma shot back as a controller was also placed into her hands and she instinctively started following the prompts on the screen to start a new game.

"I've completed it at least five times, I figured that we could see if you're as smart as you seem," Alice shrugged as the blonde next to her started skipping through the Great Deku Tree's exposition.

"So this is an IQ test?" the eidetic teen asked.

"If you want to see that way I guess it is," Alice shrugged again and Emma just shook her head with a little smile. If she was being honest, she had wanted to play this game for a while and she pretty much knew exactly how to complete it from playthroughs online which allowed her to basically memorise the game, but she figured that playing and watching were entirely different matters. This was especially because this was not something that she had ever expected to be able to do. As grateful as she was to the families who had fostered her and actually been caring, she had never before been fostered in a town of more well off people like Storybrooke.

"If you can get the Ocarina of Time before you have to go, I'll buy you lunch on Saturday," Alice said after a few moments of silence.

"You're on," Emma shot back.


"Are you sure your friend won't mind?" Henry asked as he walked beside Emma towards the diner.

"I asked her and she said it's fine," Emma shrugged, there was something in the tone of Henry's voice that was suggesting there was something she wasn't getting but she decided to just ignore it since she couldn't be bothered to decipher.

Henry, on the other hand, was wondering if he was about to sit in on a date because Emma was too dense to to realise what this was. Since she had become friends with Alice, she had seemed more at ease in Storybrooke, especially when it came to school, which Cora seemed thrilled about. Her smile the other day when Emma asked if she could go and study with the British girl was massive in spite of her attempts to act casual.

Of course, he knew that it was very possible that they were just friends, but he was determined to use the opportunity of having lunch with them to discover the nature of their relationship. Him and Zelena had a bet going whether they liked each other, they tried to ask Regina about it since she would have most likely already seen them spending time together, but she adamantly refused to engage in the debate. If Henry didn't know any better, he would have thought that she was jealous.

The sound of the bell over the diner's door reminded him that he was supposed to be moving and he promptly followed his foster sister into the diner and over to one of the far booths.

"Hey," Alice said with a wide smile and Henry's gaze cut over to Emma to inspect how she would react to the British teen's welcome, but she just smiled back rather normally with a small wave as she slid into the booth opposite her. The boy then looked back over to Alice and offered his own smile before he sat down next to Emma.

"You must be Henry Mills," Alice said after a moment of silence and Henry nodded, before she added, "Emma tells me that celebrations are in order."

Henry instantly blushed as he looked over to the smirking blonde next to him. He'd originally asked if Emma wanted to go out to diner to thank her for tutoring him.

"I guess so…I got a B in my English essay…" he replied awkwardly, he would honestly be a little mad at Emma for telling Alice why she wanted to invite him if the blonde didn't look so proud of him, there was the fact that Cora had stuck the essay to the fridge.

"That's amazing," Alice said enthusiastically.

Henry smiled in appreciation at her but allowed his gaze to fall over to Emma who was staring at the menu intently, he'd come to recognise that she wasn't big on eye contact and he could guess that she wasn't used to interacting with more than one person at a time. He looked back over to the British girl and noticed that she was looking at the other blonde as well and he had to stop himself from smiling. She had a very distinctive little smirk on her face and he had to imagine that she was thinking about how cute Emma was.

A few minutes later, they had all ordered and Alice announced, "so Swan, I have another challenge for you."

"Majora's Mask?" Emma asked with no hesitation and Henry could swear that he could see a little twinkle in Alice's eyes. He was now fairly certain that he was interrupting what was supposed to be a date.

Before the Brit could reply, the sound of the diner's bell sounding out interrupted as they all looked over to see Regina walking in staring at her phone, closely followed by Daniel. The cheerleader didn't even notice her brother's presence as she made a beeline to her and her boyfriend's usual booth and Henry was sure that he saw Emma deflate slightly when it became clear that they hadn't been noticed.

Henry bit the inside of his cheek and made a snap decision as he jumped out of the booth and announced, "I just need to go and ask Regina something…"

Emma didn't even get a chance to nod before he made his way over to his sister and Daniel looked up from his own phone when he noticed someone was approaching.

"Oh hey Hen, what's up buddy?" Daniel asked.

The boy smiled easily at Daniel, he may not have thought that they made a particularly good couple but he could tell that the teen cared about his sister, so that was good enough for him to not go into 'protective brother mode' which would probably just get him laughed at anyway.

Regina looked up from her own phone and raised her eyebrows at her brother.

"I think that Emma may have accidentally invited me on a date so can you come up with some reason that I have to leave?" he asked.

The cheerleader stared at him blankly for a second before her attention shot over to Emma sat in a booth across the diner with Alice, looking as though she was excitedly discussing something. Her gaze seemed to have been detected as Emma caught her eyeline and offered her a little, very adorable, wave.

Regina returned the motion and tried to swallow hard against the bile raising in her throat as she looked back over to her brother. He couldn't know that she was jealous since he thought that she was in love with the teen sat across from her, who was most likely texting his boyfriend right now.

"I'm sure we can think of something," she managed to say, though she couldn't be completely sure that the words weren't laced with venom.

Chapter Text

T/W for panic attack

Chapter fourteen

"You're staring,"

"I'm not staring, I'm waiting," Regina deadpanned, though she instinctively pulled her phone out of her pocket as if it would convince her friend that she wasn't doing what he accused her of.

She also didn't want Emma to look over and think that she was in fact staring.

However, she quickly found herself empty-handed when her friend pulled the device away, which meant she had to turn to face him and hope that her raised eyebrow was enough to convey her annoyance.

"I'm waiting to give Emma a ride home," Regina replied, to the unasked question.

"And you have to stare to do that?" the male teen asked only to receive an eye roll from his friend when she made no attempt to say something else, he added, "are you sure it has nothing to do with trying to figure out if they're dating?"

Regina clenched her jaw and looked back over to the pair of blondes talking at Alice's locker.

After finding a reason that Henry so desperately needed to leave the diner, the cheerleader had spent the next couple days agonising over whether she had bailed her brother out of a date or a platonic get-together.

It didn't help that she had never seen Emma smile so naturally as she did when she was around Alice. Right now, envy was flaring up in her stomach at the sight of Emma laughing at whatever Alice had just said.

Why did she have to turn into an awkward mess whenever she interacted with her? Why couldn't she just make Emma smile like that?

Instead of admitting any of this, she just said, "there's not much else to do right now."

Killian rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest.

He'd personally been witness to Emma and Regina's growing friendship and it was somewhat infuriating that neither of them seemed willing to even hint at their feelings for the other.

He understood why Emma wouldn't be the first one to go for it but he'd never known Regina not to go for something that she wanted. Then again, he'd never actually known her to actually be this attracted to another female, so maybe there was also the factor of being afraid what her parents would think?

"You should invite her to Kathryn's party," he offered, deciding that now was hardly the time to go into depth about Regina's crush.

Regina frowned and finally gave her friend eye contact again. She'd been very careful to make sure that there wouldn't be a repeat of what happened at the mall. So Emma technically had yet to talk to either Ruby or Kathryn, which was made much easier by then fact that the blonde tended to have lunch with Alice now.

"That sounds like a terrible idea," Regina replied, internally cringing at the prospect that Emma could have another panic attack because of her.

Emma wasn't exactly the most social of people, but then again, Cora hadn't been the only one shocked that the blonde had made a friend at school with no adults forcing it. Cora was much happier about it than Regina was.

"I know that she probably won't go but it would be nice for her to know that you want her would want her there, right?"

Regina felt blush creep up her neck at his question.

He knew very well that Regina would never pass up an opportunity to spend time with Emma which was exactly why he was currently waiting for the blonde who had insisted that she would be fine walking back to the mansion.

Killian laughed at the lack of response and said, "you got it bad, Mills."

"Shhh," Regina hissed when she noticed that Emma was finally coming over.

Killian clamped his mouth shut rather dramatically and Regina had to stop her from rolling her eyes at him again.

Emma didn't seem to notice though as she just came over and shot Regina that adorable smile that she looked forward to everyday (though she always found herself comparing how natural it was to the one that she offered to Alice).

"Hey Swan," Killian said and she gave him a small wave rather than replying.

Killian nodded, he always got the distinct sense that something about school was exhausting to Emma (most likely the hours of interaction with people she wasn't particularly comfortable with) so he was never too worried when she didn't reply verbally,

"See you both later," he announced and made a point of nudging Regina just before he walked away.

Regina scowled at his back, but her mouth soon formed back into a smile when Emma pushed her glasses up her nose and adjusted the straps of her backpack.

It was honestly unfair how cute she was.

"Ready to go?" the brunette asked.

Emma nodded and proceeded to follow the cheerleader towards her car.

She still wasn't completely sure why Regina insisted on taking her to school and giving her a ride home.

Originally, she thought that it was a way to get out of trouble with Cora, but she had also noticed that Regina had taken an interest in her low-EQ more than she thought she would and as far as she knew the cheerleader hadn't been broadcasting her efforts to her parents.

Was there a chance that Regina actually cared about her?

The comfortable silence continued until they got to Regina's car and Emma slipped into the passenger's side with practiced ease and Regina started the car a moment later.

" was your day?" Regina asked as she did everyday. She always told herself that she would come up with a more natural way to start the conversation, but the same words slipped out everyday.

Emma never seemed to mind the predictability though and she just replied, "it was okay."

That was also the standard response from Emma.

There was no point asking her what she learned because it was pretty much guaranteed that she already knew everything that the teachers attempted to teach the eidetic girl.

However, school and low-EQ were usually the only things that they ever talked about and Regina was desperate to move passed that.

She'd considered trying comic books but ultimately decided that she was way too behind and she didn't want Emma to be reminded of her little brother during their first true conversation.

Thanks to Killian, that left one thing that she could think to say, but she didn't want to freak the girl out.

"So…" Regina began, tapping the wheel as she drove, "Kathryn's having a party on Friday and I was wondering if you wanted to come?"

Emma's eyes widened slightly, that was definitely not part of their typical conversation.

" Kathryn the one from the mall?" Emma asked, instantly clenching her hands around the bag in her lap.

Regina had to resist the urge to sigh, she knew this was a bad idea.

"Yeah she is...but she's actually more relaxed. She loses interest in things quickly," she said, and nearly cringed when she realised that she had just referenced everything that Emma had been through as 'things'.

However, she relaxed when Emma actually let out a little laugh. After all, why wouldn't she be happy that people were no longer interested in her? Especially when it occurred to her that Regina must have at least put some effort into making sure it didn't happen again to the point where Kathryn had stopped caring.

" want me to come to the party?" Emma asked.

"I mean...only if you want to," Regina replied and pulled into the driveway of the mansion, though she continued to grip the steering wheel in anticipation of Emma's answer.

Emma was silent for a few moments as her brain ran through everything that could possibly happen. All of them were awful.

Regina bit the inside of her cheek at the sight of how uncomfortable the blonde looked, an idea popped into her head and she reluctantly added, "you can invite Alice if you want to…"

Emma nodded, she'd never been invited to a party before and she couldn't imagine it would go well, but most of that was because of the thought that she wouldn't be able to talk to anyone, but that was alleviated by the thought that Alice would be there.

However, she still replied, "can I think about it?"

Regina nodded, she was clearly considering going which was better than her agreeing and then coming up with some excuse closer to the party.

"Sure," Regina replied and reluctantly opened her car door.

She always hated when the car ride was over because she could hardly think of a reason to talk to the blonde outside of dinner time. Unfortunately it couldn’t be prolonged.


"She invited you to a party?!"

Emma rolled her eyes at Lily's over-excitement though she wasn't sure what she was expecting when she decided to ask her friend for advice.

"I said I would think about it," Emma replied, "but I don't know…"

"You get to spend time with Regina outside of school, what's the problem?"

Emma drew her lip into her mouth and flopped down as she tried to figure out what exactly she was worried about.

With the scenarios running through her head, she couldn’t pinpoint which one she was most afraid of.

Finally, she said, "if I have a panic attack again…"

"Then you know there will be someone there who can help. Killian will probably go to the party, right?"

"Well yeah but he probably won't want to deal with that when they're trying to have fun," Emma reasoned.

"Regina wouldn't have invited you if she didn't want you to go, the way I see it she wants to be your friend so she obviously doesn't see you as any kind of burden. You just need to figure out if you think you would even enjoy going to a party," Lily replied, "if not then it makes sense not to go but if you do then you can just talk to Alice if you don't like it."

Emma nodded slowly, it was a very rational argument, which Lily obviously knew would appeal to her friend.

"I guess that makes sense, but do you think she would be mad if I don't want to go?" Emma asked in close to a whisper.

Lily was silent for a moment before she replied, "honestly Emma, if she thinks that you would go to a party, I don't think she knows you very well."

Emma pushed herself up with her eyebrows scrunched together.

She wanted to argue that wasn't true, but she realised that it was very true that she had never so much as gone to Homecoming let alone a party, so Lily was very likely right.

After all, she couldn't think of anyone less likely to willingly go to a room filled with people they didn't know.

However, on the off chance that Regina was actually interested in being more than friends with her at some point in the future, then surely she would want someone who could deal with sustained human interaction without becoming a pile of nerves.

"You know, you wouldn't need to worry about any of this if you just asked Alice out on an actual date?" Lily asked, interrupting Emma's spiral of imagining what a relationship between her and Regina would be like. She honestly wasn't even sure if she understood enough about emotions to actually have a girlfriend for long.

"Alice?" Emma repeated, since their initial meeting when she'd found the British girl's accent attractive, she hadn't even considered the possibility that they could be anything more than friends, especially since she told her that she had a crush on Will Scarlett in their class, "we're just friends."

"Are you sure about that, Swan? You don't have a good track record with stuff like this."

Emma rolled her eyes and said, "I'm sure, she told me that she likes a guy named Will…"

"That's great!" Lily announced.

"It is?" Emma asked with a sceptical lilt to her voice.

"That means that you can focus on Regina but you can still make her jealous if she thinks that you're with Alice and no one has to get hurt," the brunette explained.

The blonde pinched her brows together as she tried to figure out if that made any sense. She was pretty sure that there was a flaw in the plan somewhere but she figured that if she attempted to point it out then she would only end up stuck in this conversation for longer.

She honestly wasn't quite sure why her friend was so set on her ending up with Regina considering that she had never met the other girl.

As if she had read her mind, after a moment of silence, Lily seemed to think of an important change of subject, "oh yeah I forgot to tell you yesterday, I officially got permission to come to Storybrooke for winter break, Mal said that it looks 'very relaxing' in Maine, and there's a B&B right in town."

A smile tugged at the corner of Emma's lips at the thought of actually seeing her friend again after so long. It felt like an eternity since they had actually been in the same place and she knew that Cora or Henry Sr would have no issues with her spending time with her friend over the break.

"That's great," the blonde replied.

"And if you go to this party, then we might both be invited to one during the break," Lily added.

Emma sighed heavily and she finally said, "fine I'll go to the party."



Emma paced back and forth in her room.

It had been a couple hours since her and Regina had gotten home from school and she knew that the cheerleader was currently finishing up getting ready for Kathryn's party.

The teen had been fine all day, trying not to think about what was going to happen, but it was now all hitting her.

The buzzing of her phone brought her out of her panic and she walked over to the bed to pick up the device. However, when she read the message, she felt her throat constrict further.

'From Alice- Really sorry to cancel last minute Em, but can't make it tonight. My aunt can't find a babysitter and my parents are making me do it...promise I'll make it up to you'

The blonde reread the message a few times. It wasn't that she was mad at Alice or anything, this was a perfectly good reason for cancelling and she knew that they would probably do something together that she would much prefer, but she felt her breathing pick up.

The thought of being in Kathryn's house without Alice as a safety net was terrifying,

It wasn't like Regina would want to stick with her all night long and it wasn't fair that Killian would need to be on panic attack patrol.

She would probably end up sitting by herself waiting for Regina to want to go home and she could already imagine people staring at the weird orphan girl who didn't belong.


The blonde recoiled when she felt someone place a hand on her arm and she forced herself to focus to see Regina holding up her hands in surrender, as if she was promising not to touch again.

The blonde would later learn that the cheerleader had knocked to tell her that it was time to go and upon entering she'd discovered her foster sister having the panic attack she’d been scared of having since the invitation. 

In that moment, however, she was just trying to focus on getting her breathing in check while her vision became blurred with a few stray tears.

Regina felt panic raise in her stomach as it dawned on her that this was her fault. Emma was having a panic attack because she pushed too far just because she wanted to spend time with her at a party that she didn't even really want to go to.

She desperately tried to remember what Killian had told her about how he calmed Emma down at school and she said softly, "breath, Emma, it's okay."

The blonde's hyperventilation started to slow down significantly and Regina asked, "do you want to sit down?"

Emma nodded and allowed herself to be led to the bed, though Regina didn't actually touch her as they each sat down.

"I'm sorry…" Emma managed to say, though her voice cracked.

Regina drew her eyebrows together and asked, "what are you sorry for?"

"I…" Emma trailed off as a billion reasons why she should say sorry came to mind, but she wasn't sure which one she should say.

Sorry for being a burden? I'm sorry you're stuck with me? I'm sorry for ruining your night with a pointless panic attack when you probably only invited me to me nice?

I'm sorry I'm not normal?

The blonde finally just said, "I'm sorry but I don't think I can go should just go without me…"

Regina was instantly shaking her head and she said, "I've probably been to a hundred of these parties, I probably won't miss much if I stay here."

"Why would you stay here?" Emma asked.

Regina quirked an eyebrow, she was hurt for a split second, but it quickly occurred to her that the blonde probably didn't realise why that could come across as insulting.

"Because we could just stay here and watch a movie...if you want to…" Regina replied, deciding not to voice the fact that there was really no way that she could leave now that she had seen the panicked look on her face. She didn't actually see the last panic attack, but she was now feeling much more guilty that she hadn't been there for her then.

"Wouldn't you rather spend the night with your friends?" Emma asked with that adorable pinch of her eyebrows when she was confused about some social thing. Regina wasn't quite sure why, but it was really cute when the genius teen was actually confused about something.

"Yeah I would...which is why I invited you to the party…"

"Oh…" Emma simply replied and Regina could see that she would probably need some time to process what that meant.

She looked around and realised that there wasn't actually a TV in here since Emma probably watched it mostly on her laptop and the thought of sitting close enough to share a laptop made butterflies erupt uncomfortably in the cheerleader's stomach. It was for this reason that she instead asked, "do you want to come into my room and watch…Spider-Man?"

"Which one?" the blonde asked with a little sniff as she wiped at her face

"Ermm…I haven’t seen the third one?" Regina tried but she was met with a grimace, she to cast her mind back to her knowledge of superhero movies but she hadn't been keeping up recently, so she just added, "or you can pick.."

Emma actually smiled at this and Regina felt her a tug in her heart when she noticed that it looked better than what she had dubbed the 'Alice smile'.

Chapter Text


Chapter fifteen

"Do we have any popcorn?"

Cora frowned and looked up from her laptop and over to her daughter entering the kitchen. She was sure that the cheerleader had spent at least a couple hours looking for an outfit for the party, so she wasn't quite sure why she would be in her sweatpants and a slouchy t-shirt asking for popcorn.

"I think there may be some in the cupboard," the mayor replied.

Regina nodded and said, "thanks mom," before she went over to search through the snack cupboard and she also quickly grabbed two sodas from the refrigerator.

"Didn't you mention that you and Emma would be spending your night at Kathryn's house?" Cora asked before the younger brunette could slip out of the kitchen.

Regina's footsteps faltered and she considered what she should say. She knew that her mother would freak out if she discovered that Emma had just had a panic attack and she could guess that the blonde probably didn't want Cora Mills coming up to check on her right now.

"I didn't feel like going so I'm just going to watch a movie with Emma," Regina replied and jiggled the popcorn for emphasis.

Cora narrowed her eyes at the middle child. She knew that she was holding something back, but all evidence pointed to the fact that Regina was doing everything she could to make Emma feel safe and at home in Storybrooke so the mayor was sure that if there was something serious going on, then she would tell her. Plus, what was the worst thing that could happen while watching a movie? She had been much more worried about Emma going to a party anyway so it was kind of a relief.

"Okay," she finally replied, "enjoy" she added before she turned back to her laptop, trying to hide her smile. She'd been waiting to see if Emma and Regina would actually become friends and she didn't really want to make a big deal about it.

Regina in fact did see the smile but decided against commenting on it. Instead, she slipped out of the kitchen and upstairs as quickly as she possibly could.

She opened her door slowly and had to hope that the blush she could feel on her cheeks wasn't obvious when the sight of Emma sat on her bed came into view.

This was the first time that the blonde had been in this room and it was adorably clear that she didn't really know what to do with herself. The young genius had been looking around all of the pictures and decorations around the room that Regina had to assume she had never gotten the opportunity to have in any of her foster homes.

Just as every other time Regina thought about the teen's past, she felt a twist in her stomach. She mainly felt it because she was so against her parents fostering Emma in the first place, if she had managed to complain enough to get her way, then who knows where the blonde would have ended up? It could have been her fault that she never met her and she would have lost the chance to have a fixed place to stay for as long as she wanted since she couldn't really see Cora sending her away the moment that she turned 18.

"You got a notification while you were gone," Emma announced and gestured at the desk she had thrown her phone onto after texting Kathryn to say that she wasn't feeling well.

Regina forced herself to unroot her feet and walked into the room. A part of her would have been willing to stand and stare at the blonde much longer than she had, but she couldn't exactly justify remaining there for much longer.

"Thanks," she said with a smile and placed the snacks down on the desk as she grabbed the device.

She expected a text back from Kathryn, but she had to stop herself from rolling her eyes when she saw that it was from Killian:

'Kathryn said that you're 'sick', so does this mean that you're finally having a date with Emma?'

She threw the phone down to the desk, hoping that the reaction didn't look too suspicious.

It did cross her mind that watching a movie could be interpreted as a date, but she adamantly refused to consider this further. Emma had just had a panic attack and she didn't need her creepy foster sister who had a crush on her to exploit the vulnerability.

She grabbed the popcorn and the sodas and slipped on top of the covers, making sure to leave a significant amount of space between herself and Emma.

She handed her one of the soda and placed the popcorn between them before she picked up the remote.

"Did you pick a movie?" she asked with a smile.

Emma frowned at the phone, tempted to point out the fact that the cheerleader hadn't replied to whatever the message was, but she decided that would be rude. She turned her attention back to Regina, hoping it was impossible for someone to tell that she felt a flutter in her stomach. She had expected Regina to help her calm down and then offer her an out for the party. But she certainly hadn't expected the brunette to forgo the party for herself in favour of watching a movie that she probably wasn't really interested in.

"Well...we could watch Far From Home but I haven't watched any of the other MCU movies…I’m not sure if it would make sense,” Emma replied, about to suggest that Regina could pick another movie that she would enjoy more. After all, she had probably only suggested Spider-Man because Henry told her that she liked the comics and she thought that it would help to calm her down.

However, before she could say that, Regina said, "oh, we can start with Iron Man if you want?"

Emma drew her eyebrows together and asked, "aren't there 23 films?"

"I mean I wouldn't object to skipping the Incredible Hulk, but if you want to watch them all, I've only watched the first few so I wouldn't mind catching up with them…” Regina replied with a shrug.

"But it would take 49 hours to watch them all and that doesn't include Endgame…"

"Of course you know that," Regina replied with a laugh, "we could watch two or three a week until we catch up?”

Emma nodded at this without much hesitation before her mind could think of some possible ulterior motive for why Regina would suggest such a commitment. It wasn't as if her parents didn't already think that she was making an effort, so suggesting spending at least an extra four hours a week together could only mean that the cheerleader actually liked her company.

It also seemed like a massive bonus that her wanting to spend time with her wouldn't involve a large amount of people making her anxious.

Regina thought for a moment that she could also suggest watching the TV shows, but she forced herself to hold onto that for when they finished the movies. It would take at least 16 weeks to get through them all at the rate she had suggested and she kind of hoped by then that she and Emma's relationship would feel much easier by then. Though she wasn't quite sure whether she was also hoping that she would be her girlfriend by then, even if she would very much like to call every one of these MCU nights a date.

Instead of saying anything, she just opened the Amazon app on which she knew that Cora had probably paid for every superhero property available for Henry and she made short work of finding the first Iron Man movie.


-The next day-

Emma sat cross-legged on Alice's couch and continued to read the book in her lap as she waited for the British girl to return from the kitchen.

Usually, she found reading to be the easiest thing in the world, it was something she could do whereby no one expected anything from her. She didn't have to spend time figuring out facial expressions or body language, especially when she went with non-fiction as she so often did.

However, on this occasion, she was having some trouble focusing on the words on the page.

Usually, not being able to get through a sentence meant that she was anxious about something, this time, though, she was thinking about something entirely different.

The night before, she and Regina had watched both Iron Man and Iron Man 2, which meant that she had gotten to spend over four hours with the brunette and that she would next week and the week after that if the cheerleader kept her promise.

A few weeks ago, Emma would have assumed that Regina would have only suggested this to get on her parents' good side and that she would have gone back on it as soon as she possibly could. Now, though, she had the distinct feeling that she somehow actually enjoyed spending time with the socially awkward girl who her parents had decided to take in.

Even if watching two movies didn't exactly give them much time to talk, it still felt like they were much closer than they had been before and she got the feeling that the longer they spent together, the less awkward it would start to feel.

It was strange to think about, but she could actually see herself being as comfortable around Regina one day as she was around Lily.

She was brought out of her thoughts by the sound of plastic rustling as Alice placed some snacks on the coffee table.

"Consider this my way of apologising for last night," the Brit said as she slipped onto the couch next to her friend, "I would have come if it wouldn't have meant leaving a seven year old alone…"

Emma just smiled brightly at her friend as she reached over to grab one of the sodas and she replied, "it's really okay, I didn't even go to the party anyway…"

Alice frowned. She had been surprised when Emma had asked her to come to the party, mostly because she had been surprised that the girl would want to go in the first place. It quickly made sense when she said that she had been invited by Regina, which was why she had felt so bad when she realised that she couldn't go.

This seemed like a good chance for her to see whether the cheerleader possibly liked Emma as much as the blonde clearly liked her. Even if Alice had never been told directly how she felt, the way that Emma seemed to take every opportunity to bring up the brunette made it pretty obvious how she felt.

It was for this reason that Alice was determined to check what the chances were that Emma's foster sister could break her heart so that she could try and threaten her if she was somehow leading her friend on.

However, from her experience of her own crush on a certain Will Scarlet, she knew that she would never pass up the opportunity to spend time with him, so she would have thought that Emma would be a least a little annoyed that she had missed the chance to spend a whole evening with Regina outside of school. Even if it meant going to a party.

"You could have still gone without me," Alice replied.

Emma nodded and said, "I know, but…" she trailed off and considered bringing up the panic attack. Alice certainly knew that she got them, but the very thought of thinking about them made her anxious and she didn't want to get too far into that right now since she was sure it wouldn't be long until she would be talking about what happened with Archie. Plus, she hardly thought that the panic attack was too essential to the story of what happened since it wasn't exactly implausible that she didn't want to go to a party. "When I told Regina that you couldn't come, she asked if I would prefer to stay home and watch movies with her…"

Alice's eyebrows shot up and she tried not to audibly say 'aww'. Usually, with cheerleaders, she would assume that there was some kind of ulterior motive for that, but it seemed like if Regina wanted to somehow humiliate Emma, it would make more sense to bring her to a place with all of the very people who she wanted to see said humiliation, so this was probably a sweet gesture, right?

"Okay well I feel a lot less guilty now," Alice laughed and reached over to also grab some snacks, "you should thank me for an evening with your crush."

"I don't…"

Emma clamped her mouth shut when Alice just looked at her with an unimpressed expression. It was a knee jerk reaction to say that she didn't have a crush on another girl, especially after the last time someone found out that was something that she often experienced. However, now pretty much everyone knew about her sexual orientation and that meant that she had no reason to deny it.

To be fair, it strangely made logical sense to her that she would be so attracted to Regina, even if her feelings still baffled her to such a high degree.

"Okay...yes I should thank you," Emma replied and looked intently at her can that now seemed to be unfairly difficult to open.

Alice took a moment to inspect her. It was painfully obvious that she was uncomfortable with talking about her feelings. If it was anyone else, she probably would have teased her about the crush some more, but Emma had long since told her about the whole low-EQ situation and it just felt like it would be mean to do so.

"Okay, Mario or Twilight Princess?" she asked instead of pushing the subject.

Emma looked up from her lap and smiled in appreciation at the abrupt change of subject and replied, "we never finished Super Mario World."

Alice nodded and jumped up to set up the console, "okay, but you're Lugi this time."

“That’s fine, he jumps higher,” Emma replied.

Alice scoffed and was about to point out that Mario had more traction as she kneeled down to turn on the console, but a dinging had her pulling her phone out of her jacket. 

She made short work of checking the notification and drew her eyebrows together when she saw that it was an email on her school account from Killian Jones with the subject 'Operation SwanQueen'.