It had been just over a week since we brought Grace home from the hospital. Now we were back, however this time it was for a less terrifying reason. I rubbed my rounded belly as we waited for Dr. Whale. He was going to check Grace’s leg and make sure there was no infection. Then it was my turn. Today we were doing an ultrasound to see if Robin and I were having a baby girl or a baby boy. I couldn’t hide my excitement, as it practically radiated off my body. I had a giant smile plastered to my face and I was surrounded by the people I loved, my family. This is a moment I never thought possible, and yet her I was right in the middle of it.
Finally the Dr. walked through the door with a small smug smile.
“Hello Grace. Are you ready to see how your leg is healing?” Grace nodded and watched as he gently unwrapped her leg. He nodded approvingly, and redressed the bites.
“Well Grace it looks like you took good care of it this week. Your bites have healed nicely and they should be completely healed in a few weeks. Just keep them clean and you should be good to go.” He gave a reassuring smile to Grace before turning his attention to me.
“Now Regina and Robin, are you ready to see your baby?” I laughed and nodded. I received a hug from Henry and Roland and a kiss from Robin before I traded places with Grace. I leaned back into the ‘chair’ and pulled my shirt up. The cold gel sent a shiver down my spine, but I hardly noticed since my eyes were glued to the monitor that demanded all my attention. Dr. Whale moved it around and pointed a few things out, mostly for me and Robin. One thing he showed us was that the baby was sucking its thumb. That made Roland giggle and I smiled. Finally he looked at us.
“Are you ready?”
“YES” we all answered in unison and Robin took my hand in his. After all this was truly our moment.
“It’s a girl, congratulations.” Dr. Whale smiled and watched as each one of us reacted. I beamed up at Robin who looked down at me with the same expression. He leaned down and captured me in a kiss before whispering, “We now have two princes and two princesses.” I smiled and kissed him again, just before Roland climbed in my lap and planted a sloppy kiss on my cheek.
“I can’t wait to meet my baby sister!” His little voice chirped with joy. I wrapped him up in my arms.
“I can’t wait either buddy.” I stood up with Roland in my arms and reached for Henry who was waiting patiently to hug me. He buried his face in my shoulder and I squeezed him to me. He looked up with adoration covering his face.
“You finally found your happy ending mom.” He gestured to the room filled with people who truly loved me, and smiled because he was right.
“It seems that I have.” I smiled back at him.
“I love you mom.” I hugged him tighter.
“I love you too Henry.” I wanted this moment to last forever but it was broken when Roland squirmed out of my arms and ran into Grace’s. I watched her scoop him up with a smile.
“Grace aren’t you excited about the baby?” Grace’s face contorted with a smile and she nodded in response. Roland beamed up at her before resting his head on her shoulder. Grace looked at me with eyes that spoke volumes. I let go of Henry and reached out for my daughter. She set Roland down, who protested loudly, and walked straight into my arms. She pressed herself close to me and buried her face in my shoulder. I rubbed her back and closed my eyes. For the first moment since I met Grace I wished with all my heart that she could speak. I wanted to hear her voice, a voice I knew would be filled with joy. I kissed her head before I whispered “I love you sweet girl.” I smiled even more when I felt her hand slip between us and rest on my stomach. She looked up at me with tears in her eye and kissed my cheek. Again I wanted this moment to last forever, but of course it didn’t.
“Mom why don’t we go to Granny’s to celebrate?” I looked at Henry with a smile.
“I think that is a lovely idea.” Soon we were all walking out of the hospital, sporting giant smiles, and heading towards the diner.
The bell above the door at Granny’s rang as my family stepped through the door. It was as if it were cheering for us, or joining in our excitement. We settled in a booth and soon Ruby was taking our order. I took a moment to watch each of the people I loved. Their faces were covered with joy and excitement. I could hardly believe that this was my family, but I was so proud to claim each and every one of them. After relishing this joy I noticed Ruby was still standing next to our table.
“Is something wrong Ruby?” I looked at her and realized that she was looking at Grace. I turned to my daughter who was desperately signing with her hands in frustration.
“Henry what is she saying?” I watched as Henry captured Grace’s hands with his own and spoke calmly to her.
“Grace calm down. Ruby wants to know what you want to eat.” He pointed at the menu and Grace followed his motion with her eyes. She gave a confused look and shrugged.
“Why don’t I choose for you? Is that okay?” Grace nodded eager to be out of this awkward situation. While Henry pondered what to get Grace I noticed that Ruby was looking at me.
“Yes?” I raised my eyebrow.
“Regina, who is that? And why can’t she speak?” I had forgotten that besides our family Will and Dr. Whale were the only people who knew about Grace. I smiled with pride and turned back to my daughter.
“Ruby this is my daughter Grace. Grace this is Ruby.” I smiled and watched as Grace waved and gave a small, but genuine smile. Ruby returned the gesture before returning her gaze to me.
“And to answer your other question, Grace can’t speak because she sold her voice.” It was so much more complicated than that, but that is where I left it. I wasn’t ready to relive everything Grace had gone through for me.
“Oh.” It was an unusual sight to see Ruby at a loss for words. I relished the moment with a smirk. Henry told Ruby what he thought Grace would like and after a polite goodbye she disappeared into the kitchen.
We were almost finished with our meal when a glass shattered on the diner floor. I snapped my head in the direction of the sound, and found a frozen Snow standing a few feet from us. Her mouth hung open and her gaze was fixed on one person, Grace. I watched my daughter as she looked at Snow. She didn’t seem overly excited about seeing her, but I figured that she was simply tired from all the excitement of the day. I could see clearly that they knew each other.
“Gr-ace is…is it really you?” Snow could barley speak, which was something you didn’t see often from the princess. Grace nodded and gave a soft smile as Snow stumbled to our table.
“You found her.” Snow turned to me.
“She found you.” Her expression was full of amazement.
“Yes she did. May I ask how you know my daughter?” I wasn’t ready to share another important person with her.
“We met in the forest, running from the black knights.” She gave a sympathetic look to me, before turning back to Grace.
“How did you escape? I hated leaving you by yourself. I even considered coming back for you, but I…didn’t.” Snow looked down in shame, and a dark blush crept into her cheeks. Grace crawled out of the booth and slipped an arm around Snow. In an instant Snow wrapped Grace in her arms and apologized for leaving her. I watched as tears fell down my step-daughters face and genuine concern graced her features. I sighed as I watched her and my daughter interact. I could see they also had a past together, one that Grace had not mentioned to me. Snow pulled back and looked Grace over. Grace smiled softly and then pulled a chair over for her to sit in. After Snow was settled Grace knelt next to me on the floor and tugged on my hand. I smiled and offered it to her.
“Like I told you before I made you leave, I had dealt with the black knights before and escaped. I could handle it. You didn’t deserve to be caught for helping me.” I spoke for Grace and when I looked up I was confronted with a confused expression.
“Why can’t she speak? And Grace did they catch you?” I let Grace answer Snow’s questions, as I was quickly becoming tired of explaining why my daughter no longer possessed her voice. It was uncomfortable and I felt guilt wash over me each time someone else asked.
“I can’t speak because I sold my voice in exchange for my mother’s memories. That was the price and I was willing to pay it. As for the knights, you know very well that they caught me. I couldn’t have escaped, not that time.” Pain captured my heart as I thought of my knights hurting my daughter. Yes they had hurt so many people, but knowing that they hurt someone I love made it real. What did she mean by ‘that time’? How many times had I involuntarily hurt my daughter? Pain and fear gripped my heart tighter.
“Did they…did they hurt you…again?” Grace was shaking her head wildly as Snow spoke, tears spilling down her face. She was begging with her eyes for Snow to stop, and I realized she was hiding something from me, something she wanted desperately to keep from me. Snow looked at her confused.
“You told her didn’t you? About us and the black knights right?” Grace didn’t move.
“Right Grace?” Grace’s eyes flashed with anger as she wrote furiously in my hand.
“I have every right to not tell my mother about that! She doesn’t need to know! My past has caused her enough pain. Please can’t you just leave it at that? I want to be happy. I am tired of dwelling on what has happened. I found her, and what happened before I did doesn’t matter now. Please just leave me alone.” Grace was sobbing as she finished and her head rested in my lap. I stroked her hair and rubbed what I could reach of her back.
“Grace it’s alright sweetheart. No one is going to hurt you, just calm down baby girl.” Grace looked up at me with a broken expression and I could tell that whatever Snow was referring to, it had brought up memories, and most likely pain, that Grace had tried desperately to forget.She shook her head.
“It’s not alright mom. I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t want anyone to know.” She was sobbing again and I looked at Snow.
“What happened to her? What do you know?” Snow was looking at her hands, but shook her head at my questions.
“I…I can’t. I should have kept my mouth shut. I’m sorry Grace.” She looked up with her last words at my broken daughter. Grace turned her head to look at Snow and let out a slow breath.
“I can’t tell her Snow, I can’t bring myself to do that. But…but you may tell her what happened. Explain how we know one another.” I watched as Grace’s body sagged against the booth and I pulled her up into my lap, even though she was really too big. I didn’t care, because she needed me, and besides, in that moment, she seemed so small and so frightened.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to speak for you if you aren’t ready.”
“I can’t Snow. I’m too tired. I have relived a painful past, and though it was completely worth it, I can’t handle more. Not now.” Snow nodded.
“I promise I will only say what I must. Stop me if I go too far okay? I don’t want to hurt you Grace, but this is important for Regina to know. Well actually for your whole family to know.” Snow looked at everyone who occupied the diner booth. Everyone wore a concerned look on their face, all directed at the trembling girl in my arms.
“I will.” Grace pressed her face into me as Snow stared to recount their story, and soon I saw why Grace had hidden this from me, or at least I thought I did.
“Well…I met Grace not too long after I helped you Regina. I was being chased by some black knights when Grace stepped in and saved me, at her own cost. Just like you she was cut by a dirty blade, but in her case the cut was much more critical. It was closer to her heart and much deeper than yours. She saved me so in return I took her to a safe place in the woods and cared for her. She fought a fever for close to five days before it broke, and after that she was very weak. She couldn’t hold any food down. I stayed with her for one more day before several black knights spotted me. I fled back to camp and tried to convince her to come with me, but she didn’t have the strength to move, forget running. I hated leaving her, and after the stories she told me of the black knights it was the last thing I wanted to do, but Grace forced me to leave.
“They will let me go, eventually. But if they catch you there will be no escaping your fate.” She was adamant that I leave and I did. That is the truth of it.” Snow stopped and looked to me, then to Grace. Millions of questions bubbled in my brain. Why did Grace know what the knights would do? Had she met them before? How many times? What had they done to her? Had they hurt her? Of course they had, that was their purpose. I let out a sob.
“Snow what did she tell you about the knights? How did she know that they would let her go? I…I don’t understand.” I trailed off. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure I wanted an answer, because after all I knew it would only hurt me, they were my knights and from what I could tell they had harmed my daughter. Snow looked helplessly at Grace, who gave a small nod.
“I…She had…dreams, no actually nightmares, when she was under the fevers control. She would wake up screaming for them to stop…stop hurting her.”
“No!” my heart burst into flames and melted to ash. I could only imagine what they had done to her. I felt Grace sob into my chest and I hugged her tighter.
“No.” I whispered again. Snow let out a sob before continuing.
“One night I finally asked her who they were. What she told me Regina…I…they played cat and mouse with her. They would catch her, play around with her and then just before they pushed her too far they would leave her until they decided to play again. They were cruel to her! She was terrified when I said they had found us. She begged me to leave so that I would not be subject to their torture. Regina, I didn’t want to leave her…you have to understand I never willed that pain on her. She was only a child. She didn’t deserve to be hurt like that. I…I…” but her words failed her. Besides I had heard enough. I couldn’t take anymore. Grace was sobbing into my chest, her body shaking violently. Robin reached over and tried to rub her back, but she panicked and flinched away from him. She turned a guilty face towards Robin and gave a silent apology with her eyes. She reached for him and he took her instantly into his arms. I watched her cling to him in desperation. Then I turned back to the sobbing Snow. I reached out my hand and touched her shoulder.
“Snow…thank you…for taking care of my Grace. I know first hand that she had the best care you could give.” Snow looked up at me with a mixture of fear and surprise. I know my comment had thrown her, but I meant it. Grace had endured more pain than she deserved, so anyone who had helped her deserved my thanks.
“I’m sorry Regina.” She meant what she said. Regret was written all over her face: etched into ever one of her features.
“She doesn’t deserve to be so broken.” I nodded in agreement.
“No she doesn’t, but you can’t blame yourself for what those men did. You couldn’t control that. You helped Grace as much as you could. That is more than most people would have done for a stranger.” Snow nodded slowly, then stood and gave a quick goodbye, and apologized for upsetting our lunch. I watched her leave before turning my attention back to my family. I noticed that Henry was holding a sobbing Roland, and even he was wiping at his tear stained face. Then I looked to Grace who was wrapped in Robin’s arms, still sobbing and shaking.
“Robin I think we need to go home now.” He nodded. I slid out of the booth and waited for my family to follow. I took Roland from Henry, and held his trembling body close. He wrapped his little arms around my neck and I could feel his tears on my skin. I reached out my free arm to Henry and pulled him to me. He came willingly.
“She didn’t deserve that mom.” His voice broke into sobs.
“I know Henry, I know.” I looked to Robin who had made it out of the booth and still held Grace in his arms. Together we exited the diner and slowly made our way home. It was going to take time for our family to heal from the reality of what Grace had endured in the enchanted forest. But we would do it together. No one was alone, not this time.