It started with a car.
More to the point, a car that was barreling towards him at a good, say, thirty-five miles per hour. Nothing too crazy. The driver, a kindly man with concerned eyes and deep-set laugh lines, wasn't speeding. He was obeying the rules of the road. Properly focused. Cell phone silenced. Radio a low hum. Hands on the ten and two o'clock positions atop the steering wheel.
No, the near accident wasn't his fault.
It was Henry's.
Henry was running, see. He sprinted straight into the street without so much as a cursory glance to his surroundings. To be fair, he was being chased by an angry Italian man with hard eyes and thick, flailing fists. And to be fair to the angry Italian man Henry had just robbed his corner store deli but, well, his relevance to the story was just about over anyhow so how much did his motivations for chasing a young boy into the road really matter?
The point was, the chase happened and Henry almost died.
But then he didn't.
Henry didn't die because as soon as he stepped onto the road and caught sight of the car that was seconds from running him down, he was gripped by the collar and dragged right out of the street.
It all happened very fast.
Like, boom--street--car--yank--sidewalk--scary angry lady.
Very, very fast.
Henry stood, a little dazed and disoriented as the woman's stern gaze raked over him. She wore a fancy hat with a low brim and wide sunglasses and patted him down with firm, sure hands, hunting for injury.
"What the hell were you thinking?" she barked in a pretty no nonsense sort of tone.
He just titled his head at her, eyes squinted in confusion, struggling to get his brain back up to speed after his near death experience.
"You okay, kid?"
Henry startled a bit at another woman who popped up behind the first. Her eyes were wide with concern and she seemed a fair bit more approachable than the lady who was currently smoothing down the hood on his ratty old coat.
Before Henry could even bring himself to take a breath and summon a response, the deli owner caught up. His face was red and he was puffing great gulps of air behind pudgy cheeks. Henry tensed in the woman's grip, ready to flee, but one look at her and the man seemed to freeze.
Only for a moment.
And then he stood straight and smoothed his damp hair and plastered on the widest smile Henry had ever seen in the whole of his young life. Granted, people didn't smile too much around Henry, but still .
Neither woman seemed particularly impressed, and the second warded off the man’s attention while the woman with the grip on his jacket stared down at Henry through her dark glasses.
"Where are your parents?"
In Henry's experience that question never led to anything good. So while the deli owner was distracted he took the chance to twist about and slip right out of his jacket before taking off down the sidewalk as fast as his legs would carry him.
The pre-wrapped sandwich he had nicked from the deli fridge was in the pocket of his forfeited coat but, well, better surrender a snack than have a run in with the cops.
Henry returned to his current home empty handed and without a winter jacket. He still didn’t know Mr. Gold too well after the few short weeks he’d lived there, so he didn’t risk asking for a replacement. Having to explain just how he’d lost it probably wouldn’t win Henry any points with his new caretaker.
So for the next few days Henry just toughed it out and doubled up on his thickest sweaters. At least it was almost their midwinter break. He could hide out indoors for nearly a week without having to brave the cold for school.
A couple days passed. The usual. The kids went to school while Gold spent most of the day at his dusty shop a couple blocks over.
Things were usually fine until the few hours after school before Gold got back. The older boys, Pete and Felix, shoved the younger ones around and dictated the chores their guardian had left behind without lifting so much as a finger to help.
Mostly, while Henry and August swept floors and folded laundry, the older boys would watch bad daytime television and steal little sips of scotch from Gold's stash.
They were both mere months from aging out of the system and didn't have much to worry about anymore. Not like Henry who had just under eight years to go and knew that as small and dingy as Gold’s place was, things could be much, much worse.
Best to keep your head down and do your chores and stay out of sight as often as possible, that was his motto.
It was on a Saturday the week before winter break that she showed up. The second woman. Tall and lean with long blonde hair, and Henry's whole body locked up in horror as Gold lead her into the room he shared with August.
The deli man had told. That's all Henry could think as his insides turned to ice.
He'd told and this lady was a secret cop and now he was going to sandwich jail for the rest of his life and they were probably going to give him the death penalty.
That's what Felix said happened to orphans who got caught stealing. He said they got the death penalty because it was easier for the cops to just get rid of them quietly since they had no family to go back to when they got out of jail.
"That's why," he'd said, eyes gleaming, "you never see any adult orphans, do you?" He'd shaken his head with a deranged sort of giggle. "If you don't get adopted in time you age out of the system, are forced to turn to a life of crime, and then-" he'd made a hissing sort of sound and ran his finger across his neck.
Henry clenched his fists and squeezed his eyes shut. Why oh why did he have to throw his life away for that sandwich? It hadn't even looked that good. He'd just seen it in the window and-
"Henry," Gold said in his smooth, slimy tone. August had once called it condescending. He liked big words like that. "Miss Swan here has come to speak with you."
"Hey." She flashed him a sheepish, nervous sort of smile which felt a little odd considering she was a secret cop there to take him to his death. "Remember me?" Her smile faded a bit as her eyes flickered about the room.
Mr. Gold glared down at Henry from over her shoulder shooting very say-the-wrong-thing-and-pay sort of looks at him. He didn’t have to know Gold well to decipher it.
"I didn't even take the sandwich," Henry blurted out. "It fell into my pocket."
Miss Swan raised her eyebrows and had this sort of lightness about her for a second like she might laugh at him, but then she caught Mr. Gold's sour face and cleared her throat instead.
"Right," she agreed. "Obviously." He noticed then that his coat was in her hand and she held it toward him. "Miss Mills wanted to return this to you."
No death penalty.
Relief rushed over Henry like a wave, even as confusion took root. He wrinkled his nose at her. "Who?"
Her brow furrowed. "You don't-" she floundered, looking lost, "Regina Mills?" Henry's stare remained blank. "Uh, the woman who saved you." She awkwardly jostled the coat in front of him until he took it.
"Oh." He finally accepted the jacket and folded it neatly because Gold liked it when they showed good manners in front of company.
"She would like to meet with you."
Gold let out an excited little titter which thoroughly startled Henry, but Miss Swan pointedly ignored.
Henry recovered and tilted his head a bit. "Then why didn't she come?"
"Uh," Miss Swan shifted, blinked while a dark scowl spread across Gold's lips. Whoops. "Miss Mills is very busy."
"Then how is she going to meet with me?" Henry pressed.
Miss Swan seemed to get herself onto more solid footing and even chuckled a little bit. "Well, I've come to ask if you'd like to join her for lunch." At his clear dismay she smiled and added, "Her treat."
His heart leapt at the idea. Some time away from the apartment, a big meal with no chores attached - at least, he hoped not. Henry chanced a peek at Gold and Miss Swan seemed to catch his hesitation.
"We've already discussed it, and Mr. Gold is happy for you to spend the afternoon with us."
"Supervised, of course," Gold added hastily, beady eyes gleaming. "I take the safety of my boys very seriously, after all."
"Right." Miss Swan's returning smile was strained and Henry felt he quite liked her already. "Of course, you have final say though, Henry. What do you think, huh?"
Gold hovered just behind her shoulder, nodding eagerly, which immediately turned Henry off to the idea, but then-
Well, he was hardly one to turn his nose up at a free meal, no strings attached.
"I guess so," he relented.
Both Swan and Gold beamed.
At Gold's urging, Henry had a few minutes to himself to put on something "proper". Which basically meant that Gold was going to dig into the back of his closet to throw on one of his musty old suits while Henry pulled on the decent looking button down from the last clothes drive that he and August shared.
It wasn't all that fancy, but when Henry looked in the mirror he thought he didn't look too bad. Hopefully it would be good enough for a rich person lunch.
Miss Swan had a big, fancy car that she didn't even have to drive herself. There was a man up front named Lance who did that for her. He had a wide, welcoming smile and even gave Henry a fist bump when he introduced himself, which instantly won Henry's trust.
Mean people don’t usually give fist bumps.
Henry crawled into the car beside Miss Swan and Mr Gold followed after, barking orders to Pete and Felix that they were in charge until he got back. Henry grimaced at that, sorry he couldn't take August with them.
After calling an address up to Lance, Miss Swan settled back in her seat and fixed Henry with a curious stare. "So, you really don't know who Regina Mills is then?"
Henry shrugged. Her name did spark something distant in him, but in a vague, hazy sort of way.
"I guess you probably don't see a lot of movies," Miss Swan assented, and her gaze flickered to Gold, who busied himself with staring resolutely out the window.
Henry just shook his head.
"Well, that's okay. It's not like we're gonna give you a test or anything. Just try to relax and have a good time, okay kid?"
It was stiff, but Henry managed a nod.
At ten years old Henry supposed he should know better than to think no strings attached actually meant no strings attached.
Well, he certainly knew better the moment they pulled up to the fancy restaurant and stepped out of the car, blinding flashes searing his vision as strangers hovered around him, calling his name and snapping pictures in rapid succession.
"Jesus," Miss Swan muttered under her breath, "how did they even-?"
Henry winced and shielded his eyes and half thought about diving back into the car until he felt Miss Swan's arm firm around his shoulders. Warm and reassuring.
"Just keep your head down, kid," she murmured. "Just a few steps. We're practically inside already."
He leaned into her steady guidance and let her direct him into the building, shying away from the flashing cameras. Beside him, Gold sauntered in, head held high, chin in the air.
As soon as the door closed behind them, silence descended like magic. Save for the soft instrumental track playing over the restaurant's speakers, the entire place was quiet. Nearly empty.
Nothing but deserted tables as far as the eye could see, only two people were waiting to greet them. They wore matching wide, plastic-looking smiles. As though they'd been rehearsing the expression before Henry had arrived.
One was a tall, skinny man. Pale skin flushed with excitement as he dramatically thrust his hand in Henry's direction. "A pleasure to meet you, young sir."
Miss Swan had to nudge him in the back before Henry reluctantly accepted the stranger's greeting and shook.
It was then that the older woman behind him swooped down. She wasn't all that tall, but there was something about her that was larger than life. She wore a pressed suit and moved with a careful rigidity that betrayed she was acutely aware of her every action. Her gaze was sharp and piercing and Henry found himself cowering back into Miss Swan a little.
"Henry," the woman cooed, sickly sweet with a gleam in her eye that had him feeling like some unlucky mouse cornered by a stray cat, "I'm so happy to finally meet you." She too took his hand, smooth and quick before he could even think of hesitating. "My name is Cora Mills, though I'm sure you're already well aware of that."
She sounded so confident that Henry didn't dare do anything but nod. He didn't want to seem stupid in front of one of the people about to give him a free lunch.
Gold pushed forward to steal a handshake of his own. He swept Cora's grip up into his own dramatically and shook a little too enthusiastically to be natural. "I'm Rupert Gold, Henry's current guardian. And I just wanted to say that it's an honor, Ms Mills. A true privilege."
Her smile tightened a bit at the contact, but overall Cora looked pleased with their responses. "I'm sure," is all she said and then turned to usher their group towards a large square table in the back. Miss Swan caught Henry's gaze and raised her eyebrows knowingly, but was good enough not to rat him out for his blatant lie.
The more time he spent with her, the more he was beginning to like Miss Swan.
He sat dutifully at the fancy, straight-backed chair Cora gestured to and was relieved when Miss Swan slipped into the seat beside him. However Cora seemed to have different feelings on the subject.
"Oh," she let out, eyes hard on the other woman, mouth a thin, disapproving line. It reminded Henry of Gold, whenever a social worker unexpectedly stopped by to check in on things.
"Just until Miss Mills arrives," Miss Swan brushed off her unspoken question without taking her attention off Henry, voice tight. Something told him she didn't like Cora very much.
"And where should I sit?" Gold beamed as he sidled up in front of Cora, eyes bright and hopeful.
The faintest wrinkle formed between her brow as she looked him up and down, and then she pasted the big, wide smile on her face once more. "I think just over here would be best." She guided him towards a seat a few tables away.
Henry worked hard to hide his smile at Gold's pouting.
"Hey, kid," Miss Swan leaned in close as soon as they were alone, "I'm sorry about before." She threw a thumb over her shoulder, jabbing at the window behind them. The blinds were drawn, but Henry could still see the faint shadow of the crowd waiting for another glimpse of them. "It got a little overwhelming, huh?"
He shrugged. It definitely had, but Henry didn't want to sound like he was complaining after Miss Swan had spent all afternoon being so nice to him. Especially not before he had a chance to order his lunch. What if she thought he was a whiner and kicked him out before he even got to eat?
"I'm sorry I didn't warn you," Miss Swan continued. "I didn't know it was going to be like that. As far as I knew the plan was supposed to be a handful of quiet photos at most, just to get a decent shot, but somebody must have let something leak somewhere down the line." She leaned back in her chair and sighed heavily. "Regina's not gonna be a fan of that."
It struck Henry then how tired Miss Swan seemed. Faint bags dipped low under her eyes and her whole body seemed to sag into her chair. Shoulders drooping and head heavy. Henry felt a little sorry for her.
"It's okay, Miss Swan," Henry offered in an attempt to ease the frown forming on her lips. Even if just a little. "I don't mind, really."
She smiled a bit, gaze soft and warm. "You can call me Emma, you know. I'm not really big on titles and all that junk." She waved her hand through the air dismissively. "I only do it when I have to to keep up appearances."
"Okay." He returned her smile. "Then I guess you can call me Henry."
"What the hell is going on out there? Mother, I don't appreciate having to slink around the back alleys like a- a-"
Henry turned to find the woman who saved him standing at the back of the restaurant, completely still. And he wouldn't have cared all that much about it if their eyes didn't meet and her face didn't instantly turn sour. Her features all pinched up tight and went red and he would be lying if he said he wasn't scared of her.
Just a little.
"Oh god," Emma sighed out, low and exhausted, "that doesn't seem like the face of somebody in the know."
"What is the meaning of this?" Regina breathed, fists clenched at her sides and words trembling.
Okay, maybe Henry was a lot scared.
"Regina, darling!" Cora rushed her daughter, arms open wide in greeting and in a clear effort to usher her off to the side.
"Oh shit," Emma hissed, pushing to her feet. "Wait here, kid."
"I'm sorry," Henry felt compelled to offer through his confusion because he might not know exactly what happened, but Regina's face hadn't gotten twisted up like that until she'd laid eyes on him. So it must be his fault, right? "I didn't mean-"
"You didn't do anything wrong, Henry, I promise. Just sit tight okay?"
And then Emma joined the fray as Cora and Regina went head to head.
Henry couldn't really make out what they were saying because even though they looked like they were screaming, all that was coming out were really sharp hisses and whispers. Henry did his best to be polite and not eavesdrop. So he kept his eyes down on the table and his hands neatly folded and patiently waited like he didn't know anything was wrong.
After a few minutes there was a loud, "I can't even look at you right now," and he glanced over to see Regina marching out the back of the restaurant.
Cora let out a dramatic sigh as soon as she was out of sight, hands on her hips. "She just refuses to listen to us."
Henry watched Emma's shoulders tense. "Us? You told me she wanted to do this."
"She does," Cora waved off her scoff, "she just doesn't know it yet."
The sound that escaped Emma was unintelligible and she threw her hands up before storming back over to Henry's table.
"Lunch is cancelled," she growled.
"Okay," Henry mumbled, doing his best to look as small and sorry as possible.
Emma instantly softened. "I'm sorry, it's not your fault, kid. We just got some, uh, scheduling messed up. That's all. It has nothing to do with you, I promise."
Henry could tell she was lying, but at least she didn't seem like she was mad at him anymore.
"Look," Emma slumped back onto her chair next to him, "despite how that went, I don't want you to think she doesn't like you or something. Regina would never go out of her way to make you feel bad, I promise. She was just kind of, you know, blindsided and upset. And I'm sure when she has a minute to take a breath she'll want to make today up to you, okay?"
"Okay." Henry didn't particularly care about all that. Both times he met her Regina seemed pretty grumpy so he didn't really mind if she was sitting with them or not. Emma seemed pretty cool so she was good enough.
Besides, there was only one thing that mattered.
"Do I still get to eat?"
Emma blinked down at him for a moment and then laughed, loud and deep. "Yeah, kid, you still get to eat."
So they ate.
Cora left, and eventually all the people outside did too. But Emma stayed with him. She invited Lance in and they sat at a table together with him and Gold and shared a big fancy flatbread appetizer.
Everything on the menu had long names Henry couldn't pronounce but Emma helped him out and showed him the stuff that was all just fancy words for different kinds of chicken.
She and Lance got sandwiches, and she even let Henry try some of her sides, but Gold insisted on ordering off the dinner menu and got the most expensive thing he could find. It was a huge steak that filled up the whole plate.
As soon as it was gone he ordered another, then ate just a bite of it before asking for it to be wrapped up to go.
Judging by the looks on both Emma and Lance's faces, that was against the rules, so Henry decided to just stick with the chicken he got. He was full by the end anyways.
Even after all the drama, Henry didn't want lunch to ever end. The restaurant was bright and warm and Lance kept telling funny stories about the people he’d worked for that made Emma snort water up her nose when she was drinking. That made Henry laugh so hard he couldn't breathe.
Lunch did end though, like all things. But at the very least Emma winked at him and ordered a huge piece of chocolate mousse cake to take home. So that was good. She even gave him a big smile after Lance drove them all back to Gold's and said, "Maybe I'll see you again some time, Henry."
And he smiled back and said, "Maybe," even though he knew she was probably just trying to be nice. Lance gave him another fist bump and then Gold took him inside.
And then it was over.
When Henry woke up in the morning Gold was in a sour mood and August was crying because he'd had a bad dream and Felix and Peter had snuck into the fridge and eaten all of his cake.
Well, at least he'd gotten his winter coat back.
Regina sat behind the desk in her home office and did her best to maintain her scowl as Emma grovelled in front of her, eyes wide and desperate and pleading. It was more than a little satisfying.
"I know rule number one is never trust Cora, but I also know you've been trying so hard to get along lately I thought this was another olive branch thing. And I fucked up and I'm so sorry and I'm an idiot and an ass and whatever else you want to call me."
Damn, the earnest sincerity was taking away from the fun a little. Not to mention Emma looked pretty upset.
Regina wasn't mad at her. Not really. She knew how Mother was and how she manipulated all too well. Emma had just been trying to be unobtrusive and helpful like usual. It wasn't her fault she fell for Mother's ploy. And it wasn't as though Regina was in any position to judge. She'd fallen prey to Cora's schemes more than a few times throughout her life.
It was a lesson she was still learning to this day.
"Enough." She shut down the newest round of apologies before they could start. "Let's just move past it, Emma."
Emma instantly perked up. "I can do that. That sounds like an awesome plan."
Regina rolled her eyes at the enthusiasm but as quickly at her smile threatened to come, it faded. "Although," she cleared her throat, "the boy..."
"Henry?" Emma prompted.
"Yes. Henry. Well," she fought to appear casual. Neutral. "I know you spent some time with him and I was wondering if you knew, well, you see-"
"He was cool, Regina," Emma saved her from her verbal dance with a soft smile. "A little uncomfortable, but he wasn't upset with you. At least, not that he let on. Maybe a little intimidated, but," she grinned, "we already know you have that effect on people."
"Or so I'm told." Regina sniffed. "I think, if he was willing, I'd like the opportunity to make it up to him."
Emma's smile only grew. "I thought you might."
"On my own terms this time," Regina quickly cut in. "Something private, without any publicity attached, so he knows I'm being genuine."
"I'll get in touch with his social worker and see what I can do."
Gold wasn't happy about 'the harpy going over his head', whatever that meant, but that didn't matter much to Henry because for whatever reason Mr. Hopper was taking him to the very tippy top of one of the fanciest apartment buildings in the whole city. Like, super duper fancy.
Apparently Miss Mills wanted to apologize to him about everything that happened at the restaurant the first time they were supposed to meet. So now Henry got to spend as much of his midwinter break as he wanted to without having to worry about Felix or Peter or Gold.
It was already his favorite school vacation ever and he hadn't even gone inside yet.
"Now remember," Mr. Hopper said as he and Henry rode up the elevator that was so fancy it had a man inside whose whole job was to stand there all day and push buttons for people, "just because I already checked everything out and said it was okay, doesn't mean you have to stay. If at any point you feel scared or uncomfortable all you have to do is call me and I'll be here to come bring you back to Gold’s, okay?"
Henry hugged his little overnight bag close to his chest. Though he’d been invited for the whole of his school break, Mr. Hopper said it was best to have a little trial period to make sure everybody was comfortable and having fun.
Today had been a half day at school so, it being just after noon on a Friday, that meant that even if things went absolutely terrible and she wanted to get rid of him, Henry would still have tonight, an entire Saturday, and most of a Sunday. That was a whole weekend!
And Miss Mills promised that nobody was going to even try and take his picture this time.
"No," he said quickly, "I want to stay please."
"Okay, but if-"
"I want to."
Mr. Hopper smiled down at him. A soft, sad sort of smile. "Okay, Henry, just keep it in mind."
And then the elevator opened and there was a short hall leading to a single door. Henry took a deep breath.
"Are you nervous?"
Henry shook his head and braved the few steps until he was right at the door and knocked twice. Cool and confident and very grown up, if he said so himself. Mr. Hopper stood behind him.
A great woosh of relief escaped Henry when a smiling Emma opened the door. He suddenly wasn’t so sure he was ready to see Miss Mills again all by himself.
"Hey, kid." She stuck out her hand for Mr. Hopper to shake. "Good to see you again, Archie."
"Emma," Mr. Hopper greeted with a nod and nudged Henry's back a little to urge him inside.
The place was massive. Like, bigger than Henry would have thought could fit inside the building. It opened right up into the living room and his eyes darted about all over the place, desperate to take it all in at once.
The couches looked soft and plush and there was a huge bookcase that nearly took up a whole wall and the ceiling was way higher than anything at Gold's place.
Regina stood in a doorway at the far side of the room. She looked smaller than he remembered. Kinda tiny, really. And she held her arms around herself as she waited for him to answer like maybe she was a little nervous too.
He flashed her a shy smile. "Hi."
Her returning smile was just as shy.
"Miss Mills, if I could just have another word?"
"Of course." She stepped back and gestured Mr. Hopper into the other room.
As soon as they were out of sight Emma's hand was on his shoulder. "Why don't we head over here and we can set your stuff down." She lead him down a short hall, past the kitchen, and a bathroom, and a couple of closed doors, and then into a guest room.
"You can throw your bag anywhere."
Henry blinked up at her. "This is where I sleep?" The bed was bigger than any he had slept on in the whole of his life.
Emma smiled at him like maybe she knew it. "Yeah. Why don't you take a minute to get settled and then you can come hang out with me in the living room when you're ready, okay?"
He nodded, not really feeling up to speaking. Emma gave his shoulder a squeeze and then she was gone. Henry closed the door behind her and set his bag on the floor before taking a running start and launching himself onto the mattress.
He giggled as he bounced and then flopped onto his back. Splayed out like a star, he stared up at the high ceiling.
"I think I'm gonna like it here."
When Henry finally came out of his room, Emma, Regina, and Mr. Hopper were all sitting around the couches in the living room talking. They stopped as soon as he came in, and Mr. Hopper stood up right away. He pulled Henry aside out of Regina and Emma's earshot so they could speak in private.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"I'm fine," Henry said, because honestly he was a little overwhelmed and didn't really know what else to say.
"I've spent quite a bit of time with both of them the past week but If you'd like me to stay with you for the first few hours or so-"
Panic seized him. "No, I know I want to stay, thank you."
"Okay. You still have the card with my number, right?"
"And you remember the emergency number? Just in case."
Henry wrinkled his nose. "I'm ten."
Mr. Hopper smiled. "And you're-"
"I'm sure. Please."
"Okay. Well I'll call you before bed tonight and again in the morning. If you want to leave at any point all you have to do is ask." His features were soft and sincere. "I hope you have a fantastic weekend Henry."
Henry pressed himself against the wall and listened to the hushed argument seeping out from what he figured must be Regina's home office. Not minutes after Mr. Hopper left, the phone had rung, and ever since they'd been in there, doing their best not to let Henry know they were fighting.
He wished he could tell them he didn't mind. It was nice to just be in a room by himself, he didn't care if they hung out with him or not. The only thing that worried him was if Regina was upset again and it was his fault. If only he could figure out what he kept doing wrong, then he could stop.
He wished Emma would tell him.
"Just keep him busy," Regina's voice drifted out from under the door.
"How exactly? In case you haven't noticed, this place isn't exactly child friendly."
Henry couldn't help but agree. Everything was stale and crisp and pristine and in neat little lines. The whole place had an air about it like one sneeze could send everything toppling to the ground.
"There are some books in the sitting room. I'm sure you'll find something to occupy him."
Emma released a strangled whimper that almost had Henry blowing his cover with a giggle. He slapped a hand over his mouth to stifle the sound.
"It will be an hour at most," Regina insisted.
Emma snorted in response. "Sure." Her tone was bitter. "See you in five."
Sensing Emma's defeat, Henry quickly scampered back to the couch and threw himself on it. Arranging himself neatly in as casual a position he could manage lest he got caught eavesdropping. Emma looked tired and frustrated when she emerged, and so Henry didn't put up much of a fuss when she led him over to the tall bookshelves lining the far wall.
"She needs a bit, so we're gonna hang out here for awhile. You like to read, right?"
The shelves were overburdened. Stuffed to capacity with thick novels. Some pristine, others creased in their bindings. Well used and well loved. Nothing looked particularly childish though.
"Uh," Emma shifted on her feet, scratched at her nose, "this one here is about, uh," she winced at the title of the book she’d pulled out, " law." She quickly squeezed it back onto the shelf and moved to wrestle out another. "Here we go, this is about horses, I think." She squinted at the cover. "Well, horseback riding but, uh, that could be fun, right?" Her gaze turned pleading. "Kids like horses."
Henry shrugged and accepted the book if only to put her out of her clear misery.
Emma clucked her tongue. "Cool. I've got some work to do so we can just..." She gestured to the couch. "You know, until she's ready."
It only took Henry a handful of pages to find that although he thought horses themselves were pretty interesting, he couldn't say the same for reading about dressage. Ten minutes in he found his legs bouncing and his mind wandering.
Beside him, Emma was staring down at her phone, brow furrowed as she tapped away. In all honesty she looked like she was having as little fun as he was.
"What exactly are you?" Henry asked.
Emma barely looked up at him. "A human?"
"No," Henry rolled his eyes, "your job." He shifted up to take a peek at her screen and find out what was so interesting. But all it looked like was a long, boring email. "What do you do besides babysit?"
That got her attention. She raised her brow, looking a little offended before she said, "hold on," and turned back to her phone. She typed something out with sure, quick fingers before tossing it onto the coffee table with a clatter.
"So, see, we got a lot going on here. Besides things like filming and meet ups and day to day things, we've got charities and fundraisers and book launches and the clothing line and lua-"
"You're her secretary," Henry simplified, rather unimpressed.
Emma pouted a bit. "I have to juggle all of that and make sure everything runs smoothly. We gotta get everywhere we need to go on time and make sure there are no contradictions. It's not always easy. Plus," a scowl pulled at her lips, "Cora's on this whole 'image-kick'." She rolled her eyes. "She's up our as- uh, butts about stepping out of entertainment and dipping our toes in light politics."
Henry squinted up at her. "Like Arnold Schwarzenegger?"
A soft, surprised sort of chuckle bubbled out of Emma. "Exactly like Arnold Schwarzenegger, yeah," she said through her laughter. "Just, more low key and, you know," she sobered up and pulled a face, "hopefully with less scandal."
He wrinkled his nose in disgust. "You mean like sex stuff?"
"Uh, n-no," Emma stammered, cheeks pink. "Not- not like-" She shifted on the couch and coughed lightly into a closed fist. "Have you been out on the terrace yet? Come on." She quickly ushered him up, leaving no room for further questions.
And that was how Henry found himself bundled up in his jacket and corralled out onto Regina's expansive balcony.
There was a high railing, nearly over Henry's head, though he still had a pretty great view since it was made of glass. He pressed his hands against it, hot breath murking up the barrier as he peered down at the city streets far below.
Emma stood beside him, elbows resting on the railing and eyes out towards the horizon. She looked really pretty, he thought, with the way the sun hit her hair.
"So," Emma smiled down at him, "you don't know Regina Mills but you do know Arnold Schwarzenegger?"
Henry shrugged. The night after their lunch Henry had snuck onto Gold's ancient laptop after he was asleep and looked up Regina and summaries of her work. Besides all the lame clothes stuff, there were quite a few films. Nothing much struck him as geared towards families or children though. "Her movies seem kind of boring."
For whatever reason Emma seemed to find that hilarious. Henry didn't care to ask why, not when there were other, more pressing matters on his mind.
"Have you ever spit?"
Emma startled a bit, then tilt her head in question. "What?"
He gestured to the edge of the roof. "Over the side. Have you ever spit?"
For a minute disgust flitted across her features and then she barked out a sharp laugh. "No. I've never spit over the side."
"Oh." He frowned. Pushed up on his tiptoes so he could get his chin on the cool railing. "You should try it. You're tall enough."
"Uh," Emma drawled, "no thanks."
Henry pouted. "Boring," he accused.
"No, I just think it's a little rude to spit on people when they're walking under you, even if it's from high enough up that it doesn't reach them."
"Oh," Henry said again. He blinked. That hadn't occurred to him. He'd thought it would just be cool to watch it fall from up so high.
Emma studied him for a moment, eyebrows raised, and then she flashed him a little smirk. "Do you want to have some actual fun?"
Two and a half hours later--which, yes, Emma, fine , the phone call ran longer than expected--Regina stood in the doorway of her office and stared at the absolute disaster zone that was her sitting room. The couches were completely torn apart, cushions stacked about with sheets and quilts draped over the furniture. The floor lamp had been moved to the center of the room. A tall pillar that all of the blankets had been tethered to with rubber bands and hair elastics to make up the patchwork tent.
Fort , she could already hear Emma correcting her with a smirk.
Sighing, Regina lowered herself to drop to her knees and poke her head into the entrance flap. All was quiet within, but there was an abandoned game of chess and a half eaten bowl of popcorn. She shook her head and stood, following the trail of destruction towards the kitchen.
Another bowl rested on the counter there, containing the sticky remnants of brownie batter that she couldn't seem to find the finished product of. A foul odor hung in the air though, so she suspected she had an idea.
The mess continued on through the hall and out onto the terrace.
That was where she found the culprits. Henry, cheeks pink and eyes bright, waved his hands and giggled wildly as he attempted to scale her assistant, who was holding what looked to be a schoolyard type dodgeball over her head.
"Emma," the boy whined through his laughter, jumping futilely and clawing at her arms, "It's supposed to be soccer. You have to use your feet. Those are the rules."
"That's exactly what somebody who is too short to play would say.”
They had rearranged the furniture here too. Her patio chairs pulled out and stationed at either end of the terrace to serve as goal posts.
"From half court," Emma announced. She took a shot and threw the ball through Henry's goal.
"That's basketball," Henry scolded breathlessly as he sprinted after it.
Emma ignored him. She threw her hands skyward and fell to her knees in celebration. "Home run," she cheered. "And the crowd goes wild."
"That's baseball ."
Henry scooped up the ball and chucked it at her. It bounced harmlessly off her nose but she let out a pained yowl and clutched at her face. "Foul ball," she cried. "Penalty. Ref deducts five touchdowns for poor sportsmanship."
"You're so weird," Henry shouted, exasperated, but his grin only seemed to grow the more Emma writhed about and played up her injury.
"So Henry didn't care for any of the books, I take it?"
Emma went rigid at the sound of her voice and Regina relished in the way she scrambled to her feet, face flushed with embarrassment. Served her right for destroying Regina's home.
"We made brownies," Henry announced.
"So I saw," she agreed as she took in the ring of chocolate around his lips. "Though it would seem the batter didn't quite make it into the oven."
"It did," Emma insisted, though she had trouble meeting Regina's gaze. "Most of it."
"We burned them," Henry cheerfully informed her.
"Well, that accounts for the smell then." She wrinkled her nose at their sheepish expressions. "I assume you've spoiled your appetites, I was going to suggest a late lunch but-"
"Lunch?" Henry perked up.
Emma seemed just as interested. "I can do lunch."
Regina did her best to swallow her smile. "At least wash the chocolate off your faces first."
She trailed Emma as they headed back inside and poked at the ball she held to her chest. "Where did you even find that?"
"Junk closet at the end of the hall." Emma nudged her shoulder. "Told you we gotta clean that thing out."
It was late enough in the afternoon Emma managed to convince her to order take out, and Henry's bright, bright eyes were what sold her on Chinese.
"Be careful you don't make yourself sick, Henry." She'd meant it to be an absent, concerned sort of comment as she watched the boy drown his plate in piles and piles of Lo Mein.
But apparently when it came to Henry, she couldn't do anything right.
His eyes darted up to lock with hers, gaze wide and fearful as though he'd been caught stealing. Hand frozen, fork halfway to his lips.
"Aw, let him binge," Emma said from the other side of the table, chin in palm. "He's ten, he's supposed to have poor self control."
"What's your excuse?" Regina challenged, unable to help herself.
Emma wrinkled her nose.
"I'm sorry." Henry's small voice quickly brought down all of the levity in the room. "I didn't mean to take too much."
Regina's heart all but constricted in her chest. "No, I didn't mean-" She swallowed, forced a gentle smile. "You can take as much as you like, Henry, I only meant I know you've had quite a few snacks already today," she pinned Emma with a glare until the woman ducked her head, cheeks pink, "and I would hate to see you come down with a stomachache because of it. Please though," she assured him quickly and gestured to his abandoned plate, "eat."
He nodded, but it was stiff and he seemed uncertain as he picked up his fork once more. His movements were slow and measured and all of his previous enthusiasm seemed lost.
God, why was she so bad at this?
Emma shot her a sympathetic grimace across the table, and that only made it a whole hell of a lot worse.
"He's asking to go back."
"He's not asking to go back."
Regina sat on the edge of the couch cushion, leaning forward, neck craned to get a better look at the empty hall Henry had disappeared down. As promised, Mr. Hopper had called and they'd sent Henry to the spare room so they could speak in private and the boy would be comfortable confessing any problems or concerns he had.
"You don't know that."
Emma heaved a heavy sigh and slumped back against the couch. "I have an inkling." She crossed her arms, socked feet up on the coffee table despite Regina's sounds of protest. "You didn't see much of him but his caretaker Gold seemed like a piece of work. It was tight there too. Crowded. He's probably just happy to have some space to himself to breathe."
It was the tightness of Emma's features that pulled Regina out of her self pity. The hard lines on her face that betrayed the past.
"He's scared of me," Regina murmured.
Instead of anything reassuring, Emma raised her eyebrows. "Stop being so scary then."
Regina bit back her scowl just in time for Henry's return. He stood in the hall for a moment, hesitating before shuffling over to return Regina's phone. She accepted it with a smile that he tentatively returned before dropping to the couch between them.
"So," he shifted along the cushions, legs bouncing, "now what do we do?"
The look Regina shot Emma was desperate enough to have the other woman rolling her eyes.
"I think I want to play a game," Emma announced and pushed to her feet.
And before Regina could remind her that there wasn't much of interest to children in her home, Henry was up and ready to go.
Henry fought back his laughter as he watched the bickering that played out in front of him.
"Look, see, that's the leg and there are the arms and-"
"How on earth was I supposed to see that as an arm?"
"Because it is. Look. Shoulder, elbow, hand, fingers."
"I still maintain the hand looks like a spider."
"Well I still maintain that you're an awful guesser."
Regina glowered at a beaming Emma.
"Don't worry, you have many other redeeming qualities," Emma said sweetly, batting her eyelashes.
A giggle at last broke free and both women turned on him.
"What say you, Judge Henry?" Emma prompted, eyebrows raised.
Henry hummed and hahed for a time, really soaking Emma's scribbles in. He felt a loyalty towards her--they were brownie batter buddies after all--but Regina did have a point.
"The hand looks like a spider."
"What?" Emma squawked while Regina let out a triumphant laugh, chin raised.
"There, you see? At least one of us has some sense." Regina winked at Henry and he grinned, cheeks warm.
Emma rolled her eyes and shoved the pencil and paper across the table toward him. "Fine, you be the picturist if you're such a Picasso."
"At least we'll actually have a chance of someone guessing correctly," Regina murmured. Emma stuck her tongue out in return.
Henry got his pencil ready while Emma reset the timer, but before he could draw a card from the stack, the phone rang.
It was pretty weird. Emma and Regina instantly looked at each other, eyes locked. It was like they were having a conversation with one another without saying anything. Or maybe an argument, based on the way Emma looked a little like she might be kinda mad.
If it was an argument, Emma clearly lost because Regina got up and excused herself to go answer the phone in the other room while Emma groaned, dropping back against the chair in defeat.
"Sorry, bud," she said, dragging the Pictionary box over as though she was about to start packing up. "Guess the game's over."
"Oh, are you forfeiting because you're losing so horribly?"
They both looked up to find Regina standing by the table, eyebrows raised. And it was weird because even though Regina was making fun of her, Emma looked just about happier than Henry had ever seen her.
Henry didn't really get it, but Regina seemed like she could be pretty funny sometimes when she wanted to be.
Maybe that was it.
The phone calls happened a lot while they were hanging out together. Regina must be pretty important to have so much money and such a big apartment and stuff, so Henry guessed it made sense. It was kind of annoying, and Regina always got really antsy whenever it happened. Shifting around in her seat like all she wanted to do was run out of the room and answer it.
Emma would smile at her though, and sometimes even put a hand on Regina's, and Regina would calm down and refocus on whatever they were doing.
And it seemed like the more Regina ignored the phone, the easier it got for her to do it.
For dinner Regina sat down with Henry and told him he could get whatever he wanted from any place in the whole city. No limitations.
Henry asked for a cheese pizza from wherever was closest and a Snickers bar for dessert.
Emma laughed and high fived him and then asked Regina for a Snickers of her own.
Regina rolled her eyes.
"So you know where the bathroom is. Down there is my room. If you need anything don't hesitate to knock, okay?"
Henry nodded obediently as he followed Regina down the long hall to the guest room. The one that would be his for two whole nights. Maybe even more.
She turned on the light and lead him inside. "Do you think you have enough blankets?"
"Yes, thank you."
Regina stayed until Henry clamored up onto the mattress and snuggled under the comforter, his teeth already brushed and his ratty old nightshirt on. He watched her move to the bedside table and leave a small flashlight there.
"When I was a little girl I always liked to have one close by after the lights went out. Just a bit of extra security. Plus it made sneaking books under the covers much easier."
Henry laughed and Regina flashed him a gentle smile that he tentatively returned.
Emma leaned against the open door frame, hands deep in her pockets, brow pulled together in concern. "You sure you don't want me to hang out on the couch?"
"I think I can handle one small boy, Miss Swan." Regina sniffed, chin high.
Emma actually had the gall to laugh at her. "If you're sure, Miss Mills ." She shook her head and straightened. "Call me if anything comes up. I'll be ready to go, I've gotten pretty fond of the kid."
Despite Emma, a smile tugged at Regina's lips. "He's sweet."
"Yeah. He's got your mean competitive streak though. Between the two of you I didn't think I was going to survive Pictionary to tell the tale."
"I think it's healthy."
Emma rolled her eyes. "You would." She turned and headed for the elevator. "See ya tomorrow, boss."
Henry waited until everything outside his room went completely silent and then he counted to one hundred before slipping out of bed. He picked up the flashlight Regina left him, slung his backpack over his shoulder, then stuck his head out into the hall. Henry looked left, then right, then left again just to be sure Regina really was in her room.
The cost was clear, so he crept out of his room, headed for the kitchen.
Regina had a huge walk-in pantry stacked high with food, all of the shelves overflowing with boxes and cans and pots and everything else he could think of. Henry shined his flashlight around to take it all in, pretty sure it was more food than he had ever seen in someone's house before. Ever.
Unzipping his bag, Henry quickly set to work. He stayed low and did his best to take stuff from the back row of shelves. Things Regina wouldn't notice until after he'd already been sent back to Gold's.
Canned vegetables and soup and a bag of unsalted pretzels and a couple granola bars and some packets of microwave popcorn. There wasn't too much he could fit under his clothes without making the bag look too bulky or suspicious, but it was more than he had yesterday.
As quietly as he could manage, Henry lugged his haul back to the guest room. He set everything back where it belonged and then snuggled into bed.
He wasn't proud of what he'd done, but it wasn't just for him. He would share with August as soon as he got back to Gold's. That made it better. And besides, it wasn't like Regina and Emma needed all that food anyhow. They could just buy more whenever they wanted. He barely did anything wrong at all, right?
Henry sighed and pulled the comforter way up over his head.
Regina slammed open the door of his room. She looked madder than he'd ever seen her and she had Henry's backpack in a tight fist.
"What do you think you were doing with all of this?" She shook it in front of his face, all the cans rattling about inside.
Emma was there too then. She didn't say anything though. She just looked real sad.
"I'm sorry," Henry said. "I promise I’ll share with August."
But Regina was gone and it was just him and Emma standing in front of Mr. Hopper.
"Sorry, kid," Emma said. "Maybe next time."
And Henry tried to reach out for her but Mr. Hopper already had him in a car, driving towards Gold. Except Mr. Hopper wasn't Mr. Hopper anymore. He was Mrs. Kearney, Henry's third grade teacher.
"Maybe we'll try you at a lower level to start," she said, eyes full of pity watching him in the rear view mirror. "I can tell you're having so much trouble just trying to keep up."
Henry woke up breathing heavy, blankets tangled around his legs. It wasn't a nightmare, not really, but it still hadn't made him feel too great.
He dragged a hand across his face and sat up, wriggling out of bed until his feet touched the soft carpet of the floor. There was the faintest sliver of light coming in from the crack under the door and he wandered over to investigate.
Pulling the door open, Henry peered out to find the light trailing down the hall from the living room. He tiptoed out, cautious as he rounded the corner to to find Regina on one of her massive couches.
She was in a robe, her legs tucked up under her and glasses perched on the end of her nose. She looked down at a thick book in her lap, her hair falling loose around her shoulders.
She looked soft.
But her eyes were distant and sad. A little red around the edges like maybe, she might have been crying not too long ago.
And Henry felt like, maybe, he wanted to hug her.
Just a little.
Regina glanced up to find Henry in the doorway, clutching at his oversized pajama shirt. It was a ratty thing, frayed at the edges with holes dotted about the thin fabric. She hesitated at his sad, wide eyes. His voice was small, containing a tremor of fear, and she wished desperately she'd been big enough to ask Emma to stay.
Comforting a child would not be her forte, she was sure.
Still, she wasn't about to ignore the poor thing. She patted the space beside her on the couch and Henry quickly scurried over. He plopped on his knees and tucked his legs beneath him.
"You can call me Regina when it's just the two of us." She paused for a moment, hummed, then added, "And Emma."
He nodded, lips pursed as though he wanted to say something but wouldn't allow himself.
"Is everything all right?" she prompted, abandoning her book.
Henry was so small. So precious. So uncertain. Her heart ached for him.
You know-" she faltered, shifted, "I often have trouble sleeping at night."
Stress. Dissatisfaction. Dread. Bitterness. Regret.
Nothing she was willing to say to a ten-year-old out loud.
Henry saved her from answering. "Do you have bad dreams?"
Regina flashed him a tired smile. "Sometimes, yes."
"Even now?" He studied her, eyes wide and hopeful.
"Even now," she agreed. "Did you have a nightmare?"
Henry shrugged. He scooted forward on the couch and fingered the edge of her book. "Is this good?"
"Not particularly, but it's something to pass the time until I'm tired enough to go back to bed. I find the more boring a novel is the easier it puts me to sleep."
Henry picked it up, flipped through the pages at random. "And this one is boring?"
He flipped from the front to the back to the front again. "Here." He handed it to Regina. "You read."
Her chest was tight as he curled up against the armrest on the opposite end of the couch, watching her expectantly. It took a moment to find her voice. "Do you- Would you like me to start over from the beginning?"
Henry shook his head, nuzzling sleepily into the couch, already halfway back to sleep. "Just go from wherever."
"All right then," Regina said with far more confidence than she felt and opened the book to her marker, "let's see." And then she began to read.
In minutes, Henry’s eyes were closed as he snuffled softly.
And though she stopped reading, Regina stayed where she was throughout the night out of fear of waking him. Long after her leg fell asleep and her neck went sore. Not willing to shatter this precious, perfect moment until she absolutely had to.
Emma pulled out her key ring to let herself into Regina's place. Usually she'd knock first for appearances sake, but it was early yet and she figured stealthy was the way to go. If Regina had managed to fall asleep for once in her life, Emma wasn't about to be the one to wake her.
She headed into the living room and dumped her heavy bag on the couch. It'd be easy enough to quietly get everything set up and situated before Henry woke up.
Emma was halfway through unzipping her bag before she heard the soft chatter in the kitchen. Talking, then laughter, and Emma didn't bother pushing down the warmth in her chest as she made her way over to poke her head under the archway.
Henry was perched on the island counter, crossed legged, flour smeared across his cheek and a giant bowl in his lap.
"Easy," Regina soothed with a gentle hand on his arm when he started stirring a little too enthusiastically and batter slopped over the sides.
"Sorry." Henry's smile was sheepish, but it pulled into a bright grin when he caught sight of Emma over Regina’s shoulder. "Emma! We're making pancakes. We're even putting blueberries in them."
"Very cool," Emma said, returning Regina's soft smile before stealing a stool near Henry.
"You want some? I'm mixing a lot."
Emma laughed and, even though she'd quickly shoveled down some scrambled eggs that morning, said, "Yeah, I could definitely handle a couple pancakes."
Henry watched in awe as Emma lugged the sizable T.V. out from Regina's bedroom all by herself. She had her sleeves rolled up her arms and Henry could make out some pretty big muscles that he thought were pretty awesome. Regina must have also thought so because she watched too.
It only took a couple minutes for Emma to get everything all hooked up in the living room and then, for the first time ever in his whole life, Henry was playing the Nintendo Wii.
"I know it's not the hot new toy," Emma offered with an apologetic shrug, "but it does alright for me."
Henry could only shake his head, eyes glued to the screen.
"So you just had this in your apartment?" Regina had her arms crossed, eyebrows raised. "You, the adult woman."
Emma plopped down on the couch next to Henry, slumped against his shoulder, one leg hanging over the armrest. "Look lady, what I do on my time off is my business." She used her own remote to start up the game. "You only own me for part of the day."
Henry didn't know much about Harry Potter. His old group home had a copy of Prisoner of Azkaban, but one of the younger kids had scribbled all over the back pages with crayon so he wasn't really sure how that one ended. The Lego game was fun though, and pretty easy to follow even with his spotty knowledge.
What was better than the game though was how mad Emma kept getting. Henry was player one, and Regina and Emma were switching off as player two every level. At least, they were supposed to be. But Regina was actually a huge controller hog, which was pretty funny because Emma kept huffing and puffing about it the whole time, acting like it was the end of the world.
They were bickering so much Henry made them play a level together themselves, just to see what would happen.
"Oh my god, only you could make cute little pantomiming Lego cartoons not fun. Congratulations, Regina Mills, you've officially done the impossible."
"Don't be such a sore loser."
"This isn't a win or lose game. We're on the same team. Literally the whole point is to work together. I can't lose to you."
"Huh, that's funny, then why do I have so many more studs than you do?"
"That's it, I'm done."
And Regina stuck out her tongue while Emma shoved her remote into the hands of a giggling Henry.
Regina said Henry could have anything he wanted for lunch so he asked if they could go to McDonald's. He wasn't sure why that made Emma laugh so hard, but Regina said it was okay so it didn't bother him too much.
Henry had had McDonald's a long time ago, way before Gold, and he remembered it was pretty good. Plus, he even got a little plastic Pikachu toy he'd been allowed to take home that he didn't have to share with the other kids. He still had it under his bed back at Gold's. Maybe he'd get something else he could bring back for August. August didn't have too many of his own things.
It was kind of a long drive from Regina's place until they got to the restaurant, but at least Lance was driving them again and Emma got him to blast some rock songs that made the car rumble. He even came in with them to eat when Regina asked.
She didn't order any food and sat very straight backed in their little booth, hands in her lap as though afraid to touch anything. Emma and Lance got Happy Meals with him though, and they both gave him their Transformers toys. Now he had three things to bring back.
Afterwards Regina asked if Henry wanted to go shopping. He didn't really know what to say. It was bad manners to say no if that's what Regina wanted to do, especially when she was being so nice to him, but it wasn't as though Henry had any money of his own, which would be kind of embarrassing. Maybe he could get away with just following them around and not getting anything himself if they were distracted by their own stuff.
Except when they got to the store it became very clear that Henry was the sole focus of this shopping trip. Regina had him in the dressing room trying on shirts and trousers and sneakers and jackets.
And when she was tugging on the sleeves of the nice button down he was wearing, straightening it out and telling him how well it fit, Henry cleared his throat and said, "This is really nice of you, but I don't need so much, really. I'm probably only going to be here for one more day and I brought a backpack."
"Henry," Regina said, gentle fingers lightly brushing his cheek for just a second, like she was scared of him pulling away, "these are for you to take with you."
He blinked at her.
They went to at least a half dozen stores, and in one of the fancier ones Emma tried her best to convince Regina to buy him a tiny top hat, but they both vetoed her.
A lot of people looked at Regina while they shopped.
Sometimes they would look at Henry too, like they were wondering where he came from. Most did a double take when they walked by, and some even took out their cellphones to try and sneakily snap a picture.
Regina pretended not to notice, but Emma would scowl anytime she caught someone staring and once she even covered Henry's eyes so she could flip off a camera. He knew because there was a crack between her fingers he peeked through. Regina got pretty mad at that.
By the end of the trip Henry had bags and bags of his very own clothes to take home. He wondered if Gold would make sure he got to keep everything, or if the big kids would just swipe it when he wasn't looking.
Probably the second thing.
Oh well, It was still kind of fun getting it all. And at least he was guaranteed to be able to keep the sneakers. They were definitely too small for anybody but him and August.
After saying goodbye to Lance, they hauled all of their bags upstairs to Regina's place. There was a new button pusher man in the elevator. His name tag said Steve and Emma lit up when she saw him.
"How's the elevator business, bud?"
Steve grinned at her, eyes bright. "It has its ups and downs."
They both laughed so hard that Henry couldn't help but want to join in. He didn't though because Regina groaned and rolled her eyes and she seemed super smart, so he thought he would probably want to be on her side in most cases.
Henry felt light as they said goodbye to Steve and he trailed the women into the apartment. Light and happy.
It was a good day. And he thought maybe Emma and Regina thought so too.
"How about we put these bags down and then-" Regina trailed off as they filed into the sitting room to find the lady from their lunch a few days ago, Cora Mills, standing in the center.
Her face was pale and pinched and her lips were pressed together so tight they were a thin white line. Henry moved behind Regina a bit just to get out of her eye line.
"And where have you all been?" Cora’s voice was cold, but it shook a little at the edges. Trembled like the fists she held tight at her sides.
"Emma," Regina murmured without looking away from Cora.
"All right," Emma replied and dropped everything to get a hand on Henry's shoulder and start steering him toward the balcony. "Come on, buddy."
"You think you can just drop everything and go gallivanting off with your PA whenever you want to? You have responsibilities that-"
And that was about all Henry heard before Emma ushered him outside.
They kicked the ball around for awhile, but it was too windy to really hit it straight and even though the sliding glass doors muffled their words, Henry could still tell Regina and Cora were yelling. So that was kind of awkward to have in the background the whole time, especially since Emma kept getting distracted and craning her neck to not-so-casually peek inside.
By the third time Henry kicked the ball and it knocked her in the back of the head, he gave up. They sat around the patio furniture instead, sullen and grouchy, the high of their afternoon quickly fading away.
"I don't like Cora," Henry grumbled.
Emma winced. "You shouldn't really say that kind of stuff out loud to people, kid. You're gonna get yourself in trouble."
"But it's just you."
Emma softened. "I mean, yeah, you can tell me and Regina anything. Just, I guess when it's stuff like that make sure we're definitely alone, okay? We don't need anymore drama than we're already dealing with on the daily, you know?"
Henry frowned and scuffed the ground with the toe of his sneaker. "I guess."
It was close to a half hour before Regina came and got them. She told them Cora was gone, flashed Henry a strained smile, and avoided Emma's gaze before disappearing into her office.
After getting him set back up with the Wii, Emma followed her inside. That time he made a point not to eavesdrop.
"I'm fine," Regina said again as she refused to look away from her computer.
Emma snorted. "Sure."
"I am." Regina forced herself to meet Emma's gaze, if only to prove her point. But when she did, she found a softness in her eyes that set Regina's stomach in knots. That pained affection and blatant longing she'd been rebuffing for so long now.
Sometimes, when they were alone and Emma looked at her like that, Regina wondered if she was thinking about the New Year's party. Or that one night after the gala. Or when they'd gotten home from Cora's latest 'charity' function.
Always both a little tipsy. Always both so willing to indulge in stupid decisions.
An obvious mistake Regina couldn't seem to stop making.
She swallowed. "I just need some time to clear my head."
"Right," Emma nodded, "by working. Sure." She ran a hand through her hair. "Why don't you come out here and hang out with us instead? Just forget everything."
"That's what got me here in the first place, isn't it?" It came out too sharp. Too defensive. A little of Mother's cruelty bleeding through.
Emma shook her head as she backed out of the room, hands up in defeat. "Whatever, Regina."
She didn't let herself cry until the door was fully shut.
Regina eventually came out of her office a few hours later. She looked tired and annoyed even when she tried to smile for Henry. "I think I'm going to make something tonight, if that's all right?"
She disappeared into the kitchen as soon as he nodded.
"You're really lucky kid," Emma said as she watched after her with sad eyes, "she's an awesome cook."
Emma set up a little puzzle game for Henry to play on her personal phone while she worked on the one she used for business with Regina. Just a few minutes later, Regina stuck her head in from the kitchen.
"Emma, could you come in and give me a hand for a minute?"
"Uh," Emma blinked up at her from where she was sprawled out across the couch, "you remember what my cooking skills are like, right?"
"Just get in here," Regina snapped before disappearing once more.
Emma pulled a face at Henry and shrugged. "Guess I'm gonna go cook. Hold down the fort for a few minutes, will ya?"
Regina stood in front of her open pantry all but wringing her hands while she waited for Emma to join her.
"You know, usually people say 'please' when they're asking for help with somethi-"
"The pretzels are gone," Regina cut her off in a sharp whisper. She glanced over to make sure Henry hadn't followed them in. "A couple of the soup cans too."
Emma blinked down at her, nose scrunched up. "What the hell kind of dinner were you cooking with pretzels and canned soup?"
Something close to growl slipped out of Regina. Emma could be such an idiot when she wanted to. "I just noticed the bag was gone and then looked around and found some more things missing." She worried her lip. "I don't want to accuse Henry, certainly he can help himself to anything he wants, but-"
"Oh, it was definitely him," Emma said with a shrug, hands in her pockets, "but this is the kind of stuff that happens."
"I don't understand," Regina sighed out, "do you think we're not feeding him enough? He seemed satisfied."
"You're doing just fine," Emma soothed. "He's probably stashing it away to bring back home with him, that's all. Maybe to share with the other kids too, who knows?"
"Are they not feeding him enough?"
"Well he was stealing food when he bumped into us. I didn't love the look of the place or his caretaker, but Hopper seems a decent sort. And Henry's skinny, but he's not malnourished. Could be he came out of a bad home before this and that kind of stuff is ingrained. When you live for awhile never knowing where your next meal is coming from you can't shake that off too easily. I've been out for years and sometimes I still have to remind myself to take a breath while I'm eating. You know, when you haven't already done it for me."
Emma chuckled, but there was a hesitation in her eyes. "You're not, uh- it's not a big deal, right? You're not gonna get mad at him or anything? I swear it's not a malicious thing, it's just-"
"Don't be ridiculous," Regina waved her off, "of course I'm not mad. I just hate that he's still too nervous around me to ask."
"It's been an emotional couple of days, but it's still only been days. I don't think it's you, he didn't ask me for anything either. We're still little more than strangers to each other and maybe this is a little embarrassing for him. It's not easy to ask for stuff like this."
"He doesn't-" Regina swallowed, shook her head. "He doesn't feel like a stranger. He should but-"
"I know." Emma's smile was soft and full of understanding. "It's kind of crazy, huh?"
Regina gave him an extra big portion of lasagna and even though Henry wasn't totally sure why, he wasn't about to complain. He just scarfed it all down and asked for another plateful. Regina seemed only too happy to oblige and he wondered, just for a moment, what other things she might make him. If she'd always look so pleased to be keeping his plate full.
After dinner Emma helped Regina clean up while Henry knelt on one of the stools at the counter and watched. He'd tried to wash some dishes but Regina said guests don't clean.
"You're rich," Henry said as he watched her stretch up on her tiptoes to put away plates on the top shelf of the cabinet, "don't you have, like, servants and stuff?"
Regina turned to study him, head tilt. "When I'm home there usually isn't anything I can't handle on my own. Though I do hire a housekeeper when I'm away. Just for simple upkeep and to look after the plants."
"Oh." Henry frowned. If he was rich he'd hire a million servants to take care of everything. He'd even have them go to work for him, and then he could play Emma's Wii all day. "Are you gone a lot?"
"Sometimes for months at a time if I'm working."
"That's when I break in to throw all my crazy parties," Emma chimed in from the sink where she was just finishing up.
Regina smacked her with a dishtowel.
Emma stayed with Henry to play games, but Regina went back into her office after dinner and that seemed to annoy her a lot. She kept huffing and puffing and glared at the door so much that Ron kept lagging behind on screen. It got to the point that Henry put his remote down and said, "Maybe we should do something else," as politely as he could manage.
"Great," Emma said way too quickly to be natural. "How bout we watch a movie instead? You should go ask Regina if she wants to."
Henry wrinkled his nose. He could tell he was being manipulated, but he didn't really get why. "Me?"
"Yeah." Emma urged him up off the couch. "Go ask. You don't even have to knock. She won't be mad."
This felt like a trap. "You go ask if you're so sure."
Emma heaved an over dramatic sigh. "I'll give it to you straight, kid. I go in there, she ain't coming out. With your precocious charm though?" She let out a low whistle. "Done deal."
Henry squirmed, avoiding Emma's hopeful gaze. "I can't make her mad at me. She might want me to leave if she's mad."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Emma's shoulders sag. "Kid, I promise she won't be mad at you. I don't even think that's possible." At Henry's dubious look she made a small 'x' over her chest with the tip of her finger. "Cross my heart."
Henry shifted between his feet, still unsure. But Emma's smile was genuine and she'd always been nice to him so far. It wasn’t like she'd try to get him in trouble on purpose, right?
Henry slowly made his way over to Regina's office and, despite Emma's assurances, knocked because Regina seemed like someone who appreciated manners. He only opened the door once he heard her tired, "Come in," from the other side.
Regina's office wasn't as fancy as he expected it to be. There was a small desk drowning in all sorts of papers and a chair in the corner covered with clothes and a shelf overflowing with binders and books. Actually, it was pretty messy. Compared to the rest of the house, at least. And Henry kind of liked it. It actually felt like she spent time in there, unlike some other rooms in the place. He wondered if her bedroom was like that too.
"Henry." Regina sat up a little straighter behind her desk, clearly surprised to see him. "Is something wrong? Do you need something?"
He shook his head. "Emma and I are gonna watch a movie."
Regina's brow furrowed. "That's nice," she said. "I hope you enjoy it."
"Do you-" Henry huffed and bounced up on his toes, cheeks warm. "Can you watch it with us?"
"Oh." That same look of surprise. Regina considered him for a moment until her gaze drifted to the computer on the desk. Henry couldn't see what was on the screen from that angle, but whatever it was made her tense up. "Well, I really should-"
A loud, obnoxious cough sounded from the living room.
Regina waited for it to subside before trying again, "You see-"
The coughing came back even louder this time. A rough hacking that made Henry's own throat hurt just from having to listen to it.
"All right," Regina snapped, glare focused on the empty doorway over Henry's head. "I get your point."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," came Emma's smooth reply.
While Regina headed to the kitchen to make some popcorn for them, Emma crouched down next to Henry and held up a hand. "You know how long it's been since she's actually sat down and watched a movie just for the fun of it? You must be some kind of genius, kid."
He didn't feel very genius considering it was all her idea in the first place, but Henry accepted the high-five anyways.
"I brought a bunch because I don't really know what you're into." Emma pulled a half dozen DVDs from her bag and fanned them out so he could read the titles. "Your pick."
Henry had heard of most of them just from being around other kids at school and seeing commercials on TV but- His fingers twitched at his sides. "I don't care."
Emma seemed to pick up on what he didn't say. She did that a lot. He liked that about her. "Well this one is one of my favorites. You'll love it." She said it with such certainty he was inclined to believe her.
"Do you regularly watch cartoons alone at home or-?" Regina was back with the popcorn. She handed the bowl to Henry and then settled down beside him on the couch.
"Uh, yeah," Emma drawled as she set everything up, "got a problem?"
Regina hummed her amusement while Emma plopped down on Henry's other side, arm around the back of the couch and feet crossed on the coffee table in front of them.
"Now get ready to have your minds blown," Emma announced and hit play on the menu screen. "Oh, maybe I should grab some tissues. You'll probably need them." She gave Regina a none too subtle sideways glance.
"I'm sure I'll be just fine," Regina said, chin raised. "It's a cartoon."
A little under an hour and a half later later she sat beside Henry, brow furrowed and doing her best to mask her sniffling. Henry couldn't really blame her, his own eyes burning like they were.
"Come on, guys," Emma said, clearly fighting back a smug grin, "it was happy in the end. The Giant will be back soon."
"Where the government will be waiting," Regina snapped while Henry squeaked out an indignant, "But what about Mansley!"
The laughter that burst out of Emma was loud and mocking and Regina and Henry watched her with twin scowls.
Emma left with the promise of bringing Henry more games tomorrow. In his pajamas and teeth brushed, Henry snuggled into his new bed, sinking happily into the soft pillows.
"Do you have everything you need?" Regina hesitated in the doorway, hand on the light switch.
"Yup." Henry grabbed the flashlight she'd left out on his nightstand and flicked it on as soon as his room was dark.
Regina stood there for a moment, the light from the hall behind her leaving her little more than a silhouette.
Henry held the flashlight up to his chin like he was about to tell a scary story and pulled an ugly face. "Everything," he said in his spookiest voice.
She laughed. "You know where to find me if you need anything else."
Hand on the knob, door halfway shut, Regina paused.
Henry clicked the flashlight off, not wanting her to be able to make out his face too well. "Are you having fun?"
The shadow of her head tilted to the side. "Generally?"
Henry swallowed. "With me," he braved.
She took a half-step forward but stopped herself. Hands low at her sides, fingers twitching. "Of course. I-" she hesitated. "I hope you're having fun too."
"Yeah." Henry nodded quickly, heart beating faster in his chest. He had to be really careful he didn't mess this up. "Mr. Hopper said this weekend was a trial run but if everyone was having fun then you said I could stay the whole week."
"I did say that." The smile was clear in her voice and Henry sat up a bit, confidence boosted.
"I'm having fun," he clarified again, just in case she wasn't sure.
Regina's laugh was light and pretty. "Well I guess we'll have to call Mr. Hopper in the morning to let him know then."
Mr. Hopper didn't seem annoyed at all that Henry was staying for the rest of his school vacation, which was a big relief. He did say he was going to call every night to make sure Henry didn't want to be picked up, but Henry didn't mind that so much. It was actually kind of nice to be checked up on. Dumb though, because Regina made him waffles with chocolate chips in them for breakfast and for that alone he was pretty sure he'd stay forever if he could.
Emma showed up after breakfast with more games like she promised. Mario Kart for the Wii and some board games she'd found in her closet at home. Henry was allowed to hang out in his pajamas and play with her until lunch and he used the time to explain to her that he was allowed to stay all the way until next Sunday morning if he wanted to.
"That's awesome, kid," Emma said enthusiastically.
"I want to make sure you understand what I was saying before though, Henry," Regina reminded him. "It will be a bit different. I'll have more work to do so I won't be around as often. It's okay if Emma takes some time off for the week so she'll be able to stay with you, but most of the time I'll be in and out."
"I know," Henry assured her. "I won't be mad."
She smiled softly at him and ran her fingers through his hair on the way to her office. He kind of liked it, even though it got all messed up.
"Oh shoot." At first Henry thought Emma was annoyed he'd hit her little Yoshi avatar with yet another red shell, but then she dropped her remote and twisted around on the couch to shout to Regina. "We totally forgot about that dumb party on Friday."
A heavy sigh from the office and Henry paused the game to watch Regina where she leaned against the door frame, frowning. "Well that's easily the whole night gone."
"I know," Emma winced. "Sorry to ditch you." She reached for her work phone on the coffee table. "I should tell them I don't need a plate anymore. There's still plenty of time, it shouldn't be much of a hassle."
Henry's stomach twisted as he did his best to follow their conversation. Emma wasn't going to go because of him? Was she upset? That wasn't good. Regina clearly had final say but they were close so if he made Emma upset then Regina might be upset and then he'd have to go back to Gold's tonight after all.
"We can go to the party," he blurted out before Emma could use her phone to cancel. "I don't mind. I wanna go."
Bother Regina and Emma stared at him, clearly bemused.
"Uh," Emma drawled, "this isn't really the kind of parties kids go to. It's more of an adult thing."
"Oh." Henry sunk low in his seat, cheeks burning. How was he supposed to know about all the fancy stuff they did all the time? He just didn't want to be a bother. Besides, it sounded kind of cool. It would probably be the only time in his whole life that he got a chance to go to one like this.
Regina took in his sullen expression and tilt her head. "Was it something you really wanted to do?"
He shrugged, embarrassment keeping his tone low. "I dunno." He kicked out his legs, bouncing on the couch a bit. "We usually have cupcakes at school when it's someone's birthday. But I don't think I've ever really been to a real one."
"Henry," Regina started very carefully, "I certainly wouldn't mind having you, but you should know that people there might be...interested in you." The stare she fixed him with was solemn. Serious. "They might ask you questions. There would be people outside who might even try and take your picture."
"But one of you guys would be with me the whole time right?"
"Then that's okay." He shifted in his seat, the flush in his cheeks returning. "I just don't want to be alone."
When he peeked up, Regina and Emma were sharing a look. Emma had her eyebrows raised and Regina's brow was furrowed and once again it was like they were having a whole conversation without opening their mouths.
At last, Regina straightened a bit and said, "Maybe I'll make a few calls," before disappearing into her office for good.
Emma was laughing as she got resettled on the couch and traded her phone for her remote. "I can't believe you just ruined my get out of jail free card. Now I'm gonna have to spend a whole night in heels."
Henry wrinkled his nose in confusion and she gave him a playful nudge with the point of her elbow.
"Unpause it. I wanna go back to kicking your butt."
"Emma, you're in twelfth place."
"Not for long."
She finished in twelfth.
Henry thought he didn't really care that much, but there was a definite bubbling of excitement low in his belly as he watched Emma drag the couch against the wall to clear out some space for their impromptu fancy-party-attending lessons. It was pretty cool that they were going to let him do stuff that was supposed to only be for adults. He watched Emma carefully, determined to get it right and not do anything that might embarrass Regina or make her regret letting him go.
"Okay, so, mostly you and I are just gonna eat food and watch all the old dudes around us drink wine and talk about how much money they have."
"Emma," Regina's warning voice seeped out of her open office, though it sounded like she might be laughing. Just a little.
Emma looked pretty pleased with herself. "Pretty much the only other thing going on will be the dancing."
"Dancing?" Henry squeaked in alarm. "I don't know how to dance."
Emma glanced up at him from where she was dragging the coffee table into the far corner of the room. "Uh, yeah," she poked her tongue out at him teasingly, "that's what the lessons are for."
Henry shifted between his feet. The dancing thing wasn't a huge deal right? Like how many people would be looking at him? What if he tripped and fell down? Would they all laugh?
"Now let's just get some good tunes going." Emma messed around on her phone for a moment before it started playing music. She put up the volume as far as it would go.
Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin
I came to win, battle me that's a sin
Henry wrinkled his nose.
I won't ever slack up, punk you better back up
Try and play the role and yo the whole crew'll ac-
But that was as much as he heard because Regina came out and turned it off. "Emma knows full well that won't be the kind of music they play at the party."
"Hey, you don't know," Emma whined, snatching her phone back. "Maybe this will finally be the first good one we go to."
Regina rolled her eyes, but she didn't look all that mad as she left them alone once more.
"Killjoy," Emma shouted after her. A long suffering sigh, and then Emma put on a softer, slower song that Henry had never heard before. "All right," She tossed her phone onto the couch and refocused on Henry, "half the battle is in the footwork, but you don't really have to worry about that until you work your way up to the fancier stuff. For now," she took Henry's hands and rested them on her hips before draping her arms over his shoulders, "we play by eighth grade dinner dance rules."
It was kinda awkward. They mostly just swayed, turning in a slow circle. Henry was stiff, and it wasn’t until Emma suddenly spun him around in a goofy dip that he was able to relax and go with the flow a bit more.
"See?" she said. "Not so scary."
Henry bobbed his head and did his best not to step on her toes. When the song came to an end she pulled away from him to grab her phone again.
"Okay, so now that we've got the boring stuff out of the way, we can get down to the really important business." Emma gave him a serious look and Henry straightened, ready to give this new challenge his all.
If it hadn't been for Cotton-Eye Joe
I'd been married a long time ago
Where did you come from, where did you go?
Where did you come from, Cotton-Eye Joe?
A loud groan sounded from Regina's office. "Emma, really now, you know they're not going to-"
"Preparation is the key to success!" Emma cut her off before enthusiastically whipping out the goofiest moves Henry had ever seen.
Despite Regina's scoff, he decided he liked this dance much more than the last one.
"Next up," Emma announced as soon as they finished, "the Hoedown Throwdown."
"Oh my god," Regina cried.
"You're right," Emma shouted back, "the Macarena first. We have to respect the classics."
And so Henry learned La Macarena and the Hoedown Throwdown and the slides, both Cha Cha and Electric. By bedtime he was sweaty and breathless and he'd laughed a lot more than he had in a long, long time.
Mr. Hopper called again to make sure that Henry still didn't want to be picked up in the morning and Henry informed him very seriously that he had to stay because he had a very important party to attend on Friday. For some reason he seemed to think that was funny.
Changed into the new pajama set Regina had gotten him during their shopping trip, he headed for the bathroom to brush his teeth. Soft music stopped him though, curling in from the living room. Henry crept quietly down the dark hall and peeked into the shadowed room.
When they'd said goodnight to him Emma and Regina had said they were going to stay up to put all the furniture back and clean up, but instead they now stood together in the center of room. They were dancing, kind of. Swaying only slightly like Emma and his first dance, but pressed more closely together. It felt different than what they'd done earlier. More intimate.
The music didn't have any lyrics. It was slow and quiet, but they didn't really seem to be paying much attention to it anyhow. They had their foreheads pressed together, their eyes closed.
Henry didn't like to feel like he was spying, and he definitely didn't want to get caught, so he made to head back down the hall, but they moved slightly then. He wasn't sure who did it, Regina or Emma or both. But they shifted, lips just barely brushing in a chaste kiss. Once, twice, and then Regina pulled back.
"I know." Emma took a deep breath. "I know." They still stood pressed together, holding each other, but they'd stopped moving. "Stay. Just for a little while. I'll be good. I promise."
A breathy laugh slipped out of Regina, but she dropped her forehead against Emma's once more, leaning into her fully. "You always say that."
"You always stay."
"You don't have to be so smug about it."
They started moving again.
"Let me have this now," Emma murmured. "I'm gonna have to suffer through Robin rubbing his hairy paws all over you on Friday." She smirked at Regina's sound of protest.
"Leave Robin alone. He's been so lonely since Marian passed, but he's been a good friend to me."
"I know he's just your friend. I don't think he knows, but that's not my business."
Regina hummed. "Jealousy isn't an attractive trait." The words were warning, but there was clear amusement bleeding through her voice.
"Good thing it's also none of my business what you find attractive."
"Emma," Regina sighed out, "you promised to behave."
Shoulders sagging, Emma curled farther around Regina. "I know," she whispered, keeping Regina wrapped up in her tight embrace even as they lost the flow of the music. "I'm sorry."
They were quiet for a long time and then, very soft, and very sad, Regina said, "Me too."
Henry crept back towards the bathroom. He had a lot to think about while he brushed his teeth.
Monday morning was very exciting because after breakfast Regina showed him how to use the big fancy shower in the guest bath. The spray was so powerful it felt like getting a back massage and Henry probably spent a bit more time washing up than was strictly necessary. When he eventually forced himself out to dry off and change, he headed into the living room to find Emma already there and Regina already gone.
It was disappointing that she had to leave so early, but Regina had warned him that she would be working a lot more during the week.
Emma had Lance come pick them up and they went out to see the latest superhero movie dominating the box office. Emma said she wasn't much of a fan but that she didn't mind if Henry was interested. They invited Lance along too but he said he was on the clock so he'd have to leave if Regina called for him.
The movie was bright and loud and even though he had a bit of trouble following all the characters he didn't really know that well, Henry had a good time watching the fight scenes while wrestling with Emma for control of the popcorn box. Lance drove them to the park after that, and Henry tired himself out on the monkey bars before they headed back to Regina's place for lunch. Grilled Cheese a la Swan.
It just tasted like normal grilled cheese to Henry but Emma looked so proud of herself he didn't want to hurt her feelings by telling her. The Mario Kart tournament they held afterwards got pretty competitive, but even as badly as she lost, Emma was in pretty high spirits all day.
And then Regina called and said she wasn't going to make it back for dinner like she'd planned. She apologized to Henry over the phone and asked him about his day and if he was having fun, and even though she wasn't there in person it still made him feel warm.
Emma had to do some work in the office that Regina asked her about, and Henry could hear her grumbling in there the whole time he played his Lego game. Eventually it got bad enough he paused and wandered in to see what she was up to. Whatever was on screen looked super boring, so Henry amused himself by draping across the back of her rolly chair instead.
"Are you guys girlfriends?" Henry expected to fluster her with the question, but instead she just looked even more grumpy than she already was.
"Nope. Regina has to focus on her career," Emma mocked in a cartoonish, simpering voice that made him giggle. "She doesn't have time for distractions or whatever."
Henry frowned at that. "It doesn't seem like she likes her job too much though."
"Yeah," Emma rolled her eyes as she typed the- well, whatever it was she was typing, "funny that, huh?" She sighed and then playfully swiveled her chair to shake Henry off it before standing. "Come on, I'm bored. You ever eat a hot pocket?"
"Regina said not to let you spoil my dinner."
"We'll split it."
Regina was having dinner with some rich assholes and the literal spawn of Satan herself, Cora.
At least according to Emma.
Since she was occupied for the foreseeable future they were able to invite Lance upstairs to enjoy some Italian take out with them. They had mozzarella sticks and pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe and stuffed mushrooms. Henry ate so much his stomach hurt by the end of it and he spent the rest of the night slouched on the couch, blearily watching Lance and Emma's borderline violent game of Mancala.
"Come on Swan, you gotta be hiding marbles up your sleeves."
"No need for cheating when I've got this much raw skill, ya sore loser."
Luckily the argument was interrupted by Emma's phone before it could even really start. She left the room to have some privacy answering the call and Henry frowned as he watched her go.
Overall it had been a pretty awesome day, but it seemed even Emma was busier during the week. She'd gotten her own fair share of phone calls throughout the day and had to take plenty of breaks to check her messages. Henry didn't mind so much, he knew adults had to work, but he felt bad she just seemed so tense and annoyed doing it.
Even now she returned with stiff shoulders, slumping back into the seat across from Lance with an exhausted little huff. She didn't even notice that Lance had swiped some of the marbles in her base when she was gone.
The game continued, but with much less energy to it, and Henry couldn't help himself.
"Hey, Emma," she glanced over at him curiously as he echoed their conversation from earlier, "you don't seem like you like your job too much either, you know."
Her lips twisted into a wry grin. "Some parts are better than others." She shrugged. "But I guess the parts I love make up for the parts that I don't."
Lance let out a loud snort and Emma scowled.
"Did anyone ask for your input?"
He raised his hands in surrender. "Hey, lady, I just drive the car."
She threw a bead that bounced off his head.
Regina didn't make it back in time to say goodnight, so for the first time since his arrival Henry turned the light out and tucked himself into bed. He could hear Emma out in the living room moving around sometimes, waiting to be relieved of her duty as babysitter, and he frowned. Regina was really busy, and it wasn't like it was her job to put him to bed or anything, but still-
Feeling restless, Henry picked up the flashlight she'd given him and pointed it up at the ceiling. Twisting his fingers, he made shadows dance above him. A spider and a rabbit and a dog and a giant hand that loomed overhead as though it was waiting to snatch him.
It was a long time until sleep came for him.
Archie smiled at the shuffling over the line. As though Henry was so excited he could hardly focus on the phone pressed against his ear. "So you're all set for today then?"
"Yeah, I want to stay." Henry sounded a little breathless. "Emma's putting Pop Rocks in a big bottle of Coke on the terrace." A pause. "Don't tell Regina though."
He couldn't help the laughter that bubbled out of him. "Your secret is safe with me. I'll call back tomorrow morning to check in again if I don't hear from you before then."
But he doubted Henry really registered his words in his rush to say goodbye because, for once in all the time they'd known one another, he was getting to focus on just being a kid. Archie smiled as he ended the call and hoped that all the rushed string pulling he'd done to set this up would be worth it.
Hoped his instincts would be right.
Regina was busy all morning but she promised she'd be back for lunch, and afterwards, she was going to show Henry some of where she worked! It had taken some convincing from Emma, of course.
"Let him see a little of what you do," she'd argued at breakfast. "We barely saw you at all yesterday. I can help out a more there than I have been too. I've been going a little stir crazy and feeling guilty hanging out here all day while you're running around."
Eventually, Regina agreed, but she seemed reluctant enough that Henry wanted to show her that he appreciated how much she kept having to change things around for him.
So, when Emma asked what he wanted them to order in for lunch, Henry announced, "I want to make her something." After all, Regina gave him food a lot, and she was letting him use her house and all her stuff and he didn't have anything to give her in return. Besides, If Regina came back tired and frustrated from working all morning, she'd probably appreciate it.
Emma blinked down at him. "Do you know how to cook?"
Henry bristled. "It's not that hard, Emma. It's food. You just make it. I made the pancakes didn't I?"
"Yeah," she drawled, dubious. "All right. Um, how can I help you out then?"
"I want to do it by myself. It's a present."
She frowned. "I don't think I'm supposed to just let you use the stove and stuff."
"You can sit in there and watch to make sure nothing is on fire," he said, pointing through the open archway to the living room where one end of the couch was clearly visible. He was more than a little offended by her lack of faith in him. Everyone had liked the pancakes didn't they? Sure, it was Regina's recipe, but Henry had been the one to mix everything up and stuff. "No talking though."
"Okay." Emma didn't look too happy about the arrangement. She backed towards the living room at a snail's pace. "I'll just, uh, watch from afar then. Please don't burn down the building, or yourself, or, you know, me."
Henry rolled his eyes. Adults could be so dramatic sometimes.
Since he didn't know what kind of food was Regina's favorite, Henry opened the fridge and decided to take out everything that he thought tasted best. If he got all of his favorite tastes and cooked them all together, that would probably lead to the best taste ever, right?
So, what were the best tasting things in the fridge?
Well, he liked eggs a lot, and he loved chocolate syrup, and the leftover mushrooms from last night were delicious, and that strawberry jam Regina had was probably one of his new favorite things and-
"Oh good," Emma squeaked from the living room, "that sure is mustard in your hand after you were just holding peanut butter."
"I said no talking, Emma."
Though she had expected Emma to be pleased she kept her promise to make it home for lunch, Regina certainly hadn't expected to be accosted as soon as she stepped through the door. And definitely not by an Emma who looked so...deranged.
"So guess who made us lunch?" Emma prompted in a high voice, eyes wide with undisguised fear. "Henry!"
"Oh," Regina cooed, softening instantly at the idea.
"No 'oh'," Emma hissed under her breath. "No 'oh'."
Regina's brow furrowed as the most unusual smell wafted out of her home. Not outwardly awful, but not something she could place either. Henry popped out of the kitchen behind Emma. He wore an oversized apron that was covered with all sorts of colorful stains and his cheeks were dusted with a healthy amount of flour.
"You guys don't have any allergies, do you?"
She and Emma shared a look before Emma squeaked out, "Unfortunately, no. No we do not."
Henry's face lit up in a dazzling smile. "Oh good," he chirped before toddling back to the kitchen.
On that smile alone Regina resolved to fully devouring whatever monstrosity the boy put in front of her.
It was...brown. Everything crammed together into one bowl. Definitely brown. And there were...eggs? Scrambled eggs...Ziti? Jam, for sure. Something dark too...chocolate? Mushrooms and cheese and a liberal amount of breadcrumbs. Spices coating everything. Cinnamon...Paprika?...Salt and pepper and sugar. Crushed up croutons sprinkled over the top. A sprig of parsley on the side to serve as garnish.
"This looks...delicious, Henry. Thank you so much."
Regina sat next to Emma at the table, Henry staring up at them proudly from the other side as they warily eyed their bowls.
"You're not having any, kid?" Emma seemed to be sweating rather profusely at the prospect of their meal.
"Nope. I snacked a lot while I was cooking so I'm pretty full."
Emma hummed. "Well, seeing as how this is your gift for Regina, I think it would be rude of me to take the first bite."
Regina glared at her, but Emma only smiled, innocently fluttering her eyelashes.
"Yeah," Henry agreed, and his excitement instantly dissolved her anger at Emma's betrayal, "Regina goes first."
"All right." Regina swallowed. She picked up her spoon and hesitantly dug into the gelatinous blob before her. The resounding squelch sent a shudder through her, and Emma made a choked sound at her side. "Here I go..."
Regina and Emma sat in the back of the car, arms wrapped around their stomachs and doing their best not to groan every time Lance made a turn. Henry sat between them, bright eyed and bouncing in his seat at the prospect of exploring somewhere new. It made Regina feel a bit guilty for not taking him out more places, until Lance made another left turn and the nausea took over once more.
"So this isn't the movie job stuff," Henry said. He craned his next, trying to get a good look at the buildings that passed by the window. "It's the clothes job stuff, right?"
All Regina could do was hum, her stomach still churning.
"Are you all right, Miss Mills?" The perky blonde woman in front of them tilted her head, a frown on her face as she took them all in. "You look a little unwell."
"I'm fine," Regina waved off her concern. "Now what's this big mess everyone keeps calling me about?"
The building was bright and immaculate. Henry and Emma trailed the two women down long, winding halls and Henry tuned out their conversation as he took in Regina's stiff shoulders and her tough voice and the click-clack-click-clack of her way high heels.
She didn't seem mean or anything, but it reminded him of when they were first supposed to meet at that restaurant for lunch. Henry thought it might be cool to see a little bit of what Regina did all day, but seeing her now, he kinda just wished they could all go back home.
Though she stayed with him, Emma was working on her phone most of time, so it ended up being pretty boring. They were in a huge room now with dozens of people running all over the place. There were files and folders and drawings and fabrics and magazines and all sorts of things that made him a little dizzy to look at.
Henry was grateful to have a chair against the wall so he could stay out of the thick of it all. Regina wasn't as lucky. She was right in the center of everything. People kept running up to her and sticking papers in front of her face and hanging on her every word. Henry nearly had a headache just watching it.
"This seems like a lot of work. How can Regina have two jobs like this? There's not enough time."
Emma glanced up from her phone where she sat beside him. "Well she doesn't really do this a whole lot. She has a bunch of other people she pays to take care of all the day to day stuff for her. They get everything all set up and planned out and then she likes to come in and give them final say on what direction they're all supposed to work towards."
Henry bobbed his head along. "So she's like the big boss, but not the normal boss?"
Emma laughed. "Sure. See, she might not actually make the stuff herself, but she has to trust all these other people," Emma made a sweeping gesture across the room, "to put her money and name to good use."
"Yeah, like," Emma's features twisted up in thought, "so people go see her at the movies and they like her, right? They might think she looks cool or nice or whatever and then when they look her up, they see her name on all these products. They know she likes them and uses them, and then they might want to use them too. So Regina has to make sure she really does like everything they make using her as promotion, and that it all remains good quality, right?"
"Otherwise it wouldn't make any sense for her to have her name on it."
"That makes sense I guess." Henry watched them all running around with their drawings and folders for a little while longer before he released a heavy sigh. "Still seems really boring though."
Emma apparently thought that was hilarious. "Maybe for you," she said through her laughter, "but a lot of people here are passionate about this kind of stuff. I'm not really into it myself, but these guys studied and trained hard to get here and they're proud of the work they do."
"Regina's passionate?" Henry asked, watching the woman across the room flooded with questions and demands.
Emma sighed heavily. "She definitely works hard at least."
"And you must be Regina's new friend we've been hearing about." Henry looked up to see the blonde girl from before standing in front of him, another with darker hair at her back. "My name's Ella," she held out her hand, "it's very nice to meet you, Henry."
Henry awkwardly shook, just to be polite.
"I'm Lacey," the other girl said, taking his hand next.
They greeted Emma warmly too, but quickly refocused on him.
"Have you been having fun hanging out with Regina and Emma so far?"
Henry nodded, cheeks warm under the attention. For some reason that made them giggle. His face only got hotter.
"What kind of things have you been doing?"
He shrugged, shifting in his seat. "Uh, playing games and stuff. Emma and I went to the movies too." It didn’t sound like much when he said it out loud like that. Didn’t sound at all like what it’s been. What it's meant. So Henry quickly threw in, "On Friday we're going to a party."
"Ooh," Lacey cooed, "that’s exciting."
Ella looked to Emma for clarification. Emma rolled her eyes. "You know, that big shindig everyone's been obsessed with."
"Ah," Ella's eyes lit up, "does Henry already know what he's wearing?"
Emma frowned. "I'd have to check in with Regina but I don't think-"
"Excellent," Ella squealed and suddenly Henry found himself being tugged out of his chair by the two women. "We'll take care of everything."
Poor Henry looked miserable as he was poked and prodded for measurement, but at least the kid was taking it like a champ. He stood, solemn and silent as the girls looked him over, chattering excitedly about their ideas all the while.
It wasn't long before they drew even more attention and others joined in. Aurora came over to pick a playful fight with Ella about whether or not a bowtie was the way to go, while Jefferson arrived to work through with Lacey whether they should go for a classic three piece or if something more adventurous was the way to go.
"What exactly is going on here?"
Emma did her best to stifle her grin when Regina appeared beside her. "Oh you know, Henry just getting his measurements taken for his fancy party suit." She raised her eyebrows at Regina's bemused expression.
"Can they really pull that off?" Emma pressed. She didn't know much about this sort of thing but she assumed making an outfit from scratch would take some time. "It's pretty short notice."
"We can if we all work together and our beautiful boss allows us to make it a priority." Ella batted her eyelashes prettily while the others crowded around her, their best puppy dog expressions on display.
"Oh all right," Regina grumbled, instantly weak but determined not to show it, "but I don't want to hear anything about people complaining about deadlines later."
A rousing chorus of cheers rose up and Emma couldn't help but laugh at poor Henry who looked very small and alarmed in the middle of it all.
"Does this mean he's finally gonna get that top hat?"
Henry couldn't help but smile as he snuggled under his comforter that night. Regina once again stood in his doorway and asked if he needed anything before turning out the light.
See, that was how it was supposed to be.
Except when she lifted her hand to flick the switch Henry found he wasn't ready to say goodnight just yet. They'd spent some time together, sure, but he'd still barely talked to her all day.
"Regina," he asked in a small voice, making her pause, "are you gonna read out there tonight?"
"Well, I-" she trailed off, hesitated. "Would you want me to?"
He shrugged, feeling a bit warm. "I dunno. If you were, I might listen or something. For a little while."
For a moment, Henry was worried he might have upset her. An expression he didn't quite understand flickered across her features, but as soon as it came it left, replaced by a gentle smile.
"I could do that." She bit her lip, shifted between her feet. "I don't think my book would be very interesting for you though, remember? Why don't you use my phone and you can pick out an ebook of something you like?"
Henry shook his head. He didn't want her to feel like she had to buy him all this stuff all the time. "I'm tired so I think I'm gonna fall asleep really fast anyways. Yours is fine." He punctuated his point with an exaggerated yawn so she wouldn't argue.
It worked, and Henry sleepily smiled to himself as she left to go grab her book.
Regina walked into her living room aimlessly, a little dazed. Emma glanced at her from where she packed up her bag, ready to head home for the night.
"You okay?" she asked, brow furrowed in concern.
"Henry wants me to read to him." Saying it out loud was enough to get Regina to refocus on her task. She headed to the bookshelf, but didn't miss the way Emma softened at the news.
"He's missed you these past two days, you know. He wants to spend more time with you."
Regina shook her head with a scoff. Emma was the fun one who made jokes and played games and supplied endless amounts of junk food. She couldn't imagine why-
But still, it did feel like-
"Play hooky with us tomorrow." Emma's sudden demand snapped her out of her thoughts. "Let's go somewhere. Just the three of us."
Even as Regina's heart picked up at the suggestion, she took a step back, withdrew. "Emma, I really can't-"
"You can," Emma interrupted with that damned smug smile of hers. "You shouldn't, but you can."
"I-" Regina floundered. She hated it sometimes, how Emma always seemed to see straight to the heart of her. She hated it, even as it was the most comforting feeling in the world to be known so thoroughly.
"Let's go to the zoo or something," Emma pressed. "You know he'd love that."
God, he would. He'd be so happy there with them--with her. It would be...perfect. She knew it would. But then would come the aftermath. Mother. And all that had been ignored.
"I don't think-"
"Sleep on it," Emma said as she slung her bag over her shoulder and backed towards the door. "Either way I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?"
Regina nodded stiffly, and Emma said her goodbyes with that same god awful smirk, like she knew she'd won before Regina even conceded defeat.
With a heavy sigh, Regina collected her book and returned to Henry. She entered the room cautiously, worried he might have fallen asleep while waiting for her to return. He was still upright and awake though, and smiled at the sight of her, a little dopey in his clear exhaustion. She wanted so badly to-
She tightened her hold on the book and hovered awkwardly over his bed. "I should have brought in a chair to-"
But Henry was already scooching over on the mattress. He patted the empty space beside him. After a moment's hesitation, she settled down, back stiff against his headboard, book resting open on her legs. She fumbled through the pages to find her last marker and opened her mouth to continue when she felt Henry's head fall heavily against her arm.
Her heart clenched in her chest and she instantly forgot all the reasons why it was a bad idea to open her mouth and say, "How would you like to take a trip to the zoo tomorrow, Henry?"
He went still against her. "Me and Emma?"
She swallowed, her mind desperately trying to beat back her heart to no avail. "And me, if you like."
His head snapped up and with one look, the rest of Regina's world melted away.
Henry balanced precariously on his knees atop the stool in the kitchen, chattering excitedly into the phone between mouthfuls of the french toast Regina had made him. It didn't seem like the particularly safest way for him to enjoy his breakfast, but he looked so happy Regina didn't have the heart to talk him down. Instead she sat on the stool beside him, arm ready behind his back should his enthusiasm send him toppling over.
"They even have tigers there," Henry explained. She couldn't make out the exact words, but Regina could hear Archie's soft, encouraging voice through the phone. "Yeah, it's probably gonna be a little chilly but Regina bought me a new scarf the other day so I'll be all right. And they have lots of animals there that like the cold." A pause. "Yup. We're gonna ask her as soon as she gets here."
The creaking of the door in the front hall announced Emma's arrival.
"I gotta go, Mr. Hopper, she's here." Henry hung up without ceremony and clumsily slid off the stool onto one leg in what had to be a purposeful effort to send Regina to an early grave.
"Easy, Henry," she chided. But the words were lost on him as he scampered out to greet Emma.
"We're all going to the zoo today!" He exclaimed from the other room.
"We are?" Emma gasped. "Wow, good thing I just happened to pack a backpack full of snacks and downloaded the map on my phone this morning. What a coincidence."
"Yeah," Henry agreed happily.
Emma laughed and poked her head into the kitchen. "Hey, Regina." Her smile stretched wide from cheek to cheek and her eyes crinkled at the corners, alight with mischief. "Did you hear we're all going to the zoo today?"
Regina rolled her eyes.
Always so smug.
They had a little bit of a rough start. The car ride was long and full of traffic. And once they finally got to the zoo, Regina seemed kind of nervous the whole morning. She was wearing clothes that seemed like they didn't belong to her. Jeans and a hoodie with sleeves that slipped past her fingers. Her hair was pulled back in a tiny ponytail, her eyes hidden behind wide sunglasses, and she wore a baseball hat low over her head.
It made Henry feel guilty, how she couldn't relax. How she kept looking over her shoulder as though worried someone was following them. It was like she couldn't focus on the massive polar bear in front of them at all.
He frowned and reached out to take her hand. Regina jumped a bit at the touch, but relaxed when she realized it was just him.
"Look." Henry pointed out to where the bear flopped happily about its enclosure, swatting a bright blue ball with its giant paws. "I guess they like toys just like cats and dogs do, huh?"
"I guess they do," Regina murmured softly, and Henry enjoyed the feel of her warm hand gently squeezing his own.
Emma oohed and ahhed over the tigers even though they were mostly just sleeping, and they had to go inside a special house to see the giraffes because they don't like the cold weather. The gorillas were put safely away for the winter, which was kind of a bummer, but they got to see a snow leopard and a grizzly bear and go into a dark building called the rodent house.
Henry liked the birds building the best. It felt like they were walking through a rainforest, and everything was so bright and beautiful. He kept a firm hold of Regina the whole time and made sure to point out everything he saw to her, just to be sure she didn't miss anything.
Emma brought them plenty of snacks to munch on while they wandered around, but they stopped at one of the zoo's stands for an early dinner. Regina and Emma split a sandwich while Henry enjoyed some chicken tenders. While they ate Henry ranked all the animals they'd seen so far in order of his personal preference. Both Regina and Emma seemed to like that because they kept shooting each other grins over his head when they didn't think he would notice.
"You wanna try out the carousel, kid?" Emma asked as she gathered up their trash.
"It might be a bit cold for that," Regina said, frowning.
"They got glass around the sides," Emma assured her. "It's all good." She refocused on Henry. "You wanna?"
"Yeah," Henry squeaked, hoping his nerves didn't bleed through his voice too much. He wanted to, sure, but he'd never been on one before. He hoped spinning in so many circles didn't make him sick.
After cleaning up, they headed over to the carousel. It was a bit of a walk and Henry lagged behind a on his shorter legs and he watched with amusement as Regina and Emma bickered over the proper way to read their map.
When they finally settled on a direction and started walking, Regina moved closer to Emma. Their arms swung in time together and she let their knuckles brush once, then twice, and on the third time Emma looked at her, brow furrowed.
Behind her glasses, Regina stared back, dancing her fingers lightly along the backs of Emma's until Emma gave in and took proper hold of her hand. They shared a tentative smile, and Henry couldn't help the one that spread along his own lips.
All that was soon forgotten though when the carousel at last came into view and Henry let out a gasp of delight. "All the horses are bugs!" he exclaimed.
Emma laughed and Regina handed him a bundled up couple of dollars.
Henry blinked down at the crisp bills. "You really don't mind?" It was easier to accept what she gave him when he didn't know the price attached. Being handed money flat out though, he couldn't help the rush of guilt that warmed him over.
He thought of his backpack back at her place, stuffed full with all the food he'd stolen.
Regina didn't know about that though, didn't know he was a sneak, and she smiled at him. "Of course not. Go on." She urged him towards the line with a gentle hand on his back.
The zoo was fairly empty in its down season, so the line was quite short. Henry made it on in the next boarding cycle and clamored up onto the back of an impressive looking praying mantis. The attendant made his rounds to make sure everyone was strapped in safely and then Henry craned his neck to try and spot Regina and Emma through the glass. He found them quickly, sitting together on a bench just a few yards away. He waved at them and they smiled and waved back.
The music started up and Henry held on tight to the pole in front of him as the ride began moving. It was a little disorienting at first, moving forward and around and up and down all at the same time, even if it was slow. But he got used to it pretty fast and was happy to discover he didn't feel sick at all.
He risked taking one hand off the pole to wave to Emma and Regina when he came around again and they both laughed as they indulged him. It was pretty freeing going around and around. He wondered what it would be like to go to an amusement park and try out some faster rides. He'd always wanted to when he saw promotions for different parks on TV. Maybe Emma and Regina would want to-
No. Henry pushed the idea out of his mind. He only had three and a half more days with them after all. And Regina had to work. Emma too. There wouldn't be enough time.
This was good enough.
He looked for them again as he passed by, happy to see them sitting pressed together, hands still clasped and talking amongst themselves. Emma said they couldn't be because of Regina's job, but Henry thought that was a pretty dumb reason for them not to be girlfriends. They definitely still spent enough time together, and that was all that really mattered, right? Maybe today they would figure that out.
Except the next time he caught sight of them, he realized the conversation didn't look like much of a happy one. Emma was talking, her brow pulled tight together, and Regina sat, staring down at the ground.
The next time he came around they weren't holding hands anymore.
And on the next they sat farther apart, looking at anything but each other.
Henry wobbled a bit as he headed off the ride. It took a second to get used to being on solid ground again. Regina and Emma were waiting right by the exit when he got out.
Regina cleared her throat. "Did you have fun?"
He nodded, eyes darting between them. "Thank you."
"Penguins next, right?" Emma announced in a rush, too high and too fast.
"Alrighty then." Emma pulled up the map on her phone and pointed down one of the branching paths. "That-a way."
Henry fell into step between them, looking up at the two women. Emma's stiff shoulders and Regina's slight frown. He reached first for Regina's hand, then for Emma's, and gave them both a comforting squeeze.
They each squeezed back.
"You know," Emma said, "apparently a lotta kinds of penguins actually live in places with warm weather."
Henry perked up a pit. "Cool."
Because of the chill that hung in the air, everyone was ready to call it a day before the sun started going down. Henry lagged behind the women a bit, dead on his feet as Emma guided them towards the lot. Regina had called for Lance to pick them up, and Henry was eager to crawl into the warm car and rest his eyes. After so much excitement he felt like he could sleep for a hundred years.
They had to wait around for a few minutes once they got there, but eventually Lance pulled up to collect them and they were on their long journey home. Henry settled down between Emma and Regina in the back, giving a loud yawn.
"Long day, huh kid?" Emma seemed just as tired as him. Smile faint and eyes dim.
He nodded, head lolling with the motions of the car for a time before he finally gave up and sagged against Regina fully. She hesitated for a moment, stiff. And then her arm came up around his back, hand resting lightly. He smiled to himself as she started rubbing slow, soothing circles there. It felt nice. Comforting. And it wasn't long until his eyes fluttered shut.
Henry was nearly asleep when Emma spoke again.
"I want to give my notice."
Regina didn't respond, but Henry felt her tense against him.
"I'm sorry." Emma's words were so soft Henry could barely make them out. He got the distinct impression this wasn't a conversation he was meant to overhear. "I really tried, but, I hate feeling like me being here is pressure for you. And I definitely hate how putting myself in this situation over and over again makes me feel." Her words quivered at the end. Was she crying? Henry couldn't picture Emma crying. "This isn't healthy. It hasn't been for a long time-" she took a deep, shuddering breath, "and I've known that. I've known it for years. And I think I need to stop pretending there's any way this can end well for me."
The car was silent for a long time. Henry clamped his eyes tight and did his best to keep his breathing steady so they wouldn't suspect he'd heard a thing. Regina shifted against him. Cars zoomed passed the windows outside.
"If that's what you want."
Emma's hushed laughed was sharp and watery and horribly, horribly bitter.
Henry didn't remember falling asleep, but when he was jostled awake later that night, it was because Regina had him on his bed and was gently tugging off his sneakers. He blinked blearily at her, trying to get his bearings in the still somewhat unfamiliar surroundings. He yawned loudly.
"Almost time for bed, sleepy boy," she murmured. "You have to change first."
Though his limbs felt like jelly and he was basically useless to her, Regina still managed to wrangle him into his pajamas.
"Can you brush your teeth for me?"
Henry mumbled out an unintelligible reply and sagged against her. Regina laughed, and he smiled at the pleasant vibration.
"Maybe just extra long in the morning, then," she suggested.
Henry meant to nod, but he wasn't sure if he actually managed the feat. There was a rustling as Regina pulled back the covers and Henry hummed in satisfaction as she gently lowered him down onto the bed. He forced his eyes open just a crack to look up at her when she smoothed his hair.
Even in the dim light of the room, he could make out the exhaustion in her eyes. The ache deep within them. How her lips trembled at the corners and her shoulders drooped low. She looked so sad, so soft, he wanted to-
Henry clutched the comforter to himself instead. "Thank you for taking me today."
Regina's smile was strained. "You're welcome."
"I had a lot of fun-" he nearly lost the last word in his yawn.
"Me too," she whispered, then straightened and stepped away from his bed. "Goodnight, Henry."
Emma, Regina said, was working from home. They ate their omelettes together in silence, and Henry didn't bring her up again until Regina was washing their empty plates.
"So she'll come over when she's done?" he pressed.
"I don't think so," Regina said without looking at him. "I'm sorry, I know Emma is more fun to be around than just me."
Henry pouted. Regina was fun. It was just...a different kind of fun. He slid off his stool and moved beside her at the sink.
"If you want-" Her voice was soft. "Well, when Mr. Hopper calls it's okay if you want-"
Henry's insides seized as he caught up to her train of thought. "Do you have to go out and work a lot today?" he blurted out in his panic, desperate to distract her from finishing the sentence. He still had a couple days left. She couldn't get rid of him now . "I could go with you. I'll be really good."
Regina blinked down at him. "Well, I do have some things I ignored yesterday, but I'll do my best to stay here as much as possible. There's nothing so pressing it can't be put off for at least a few days."
Henry hadn't felt at all as though he wouldn't want to spend time alone with Regina, but now that Emma was gone, there seemed to be a certain tension around them. When Regina talked to him, it was like she was scared to speak. Scared to say anything at all. Scared of him .
And she looked so tired all day as she did her best to keep him entertained and answer her phone and do all the whatever-it-was she did in her office. Her eyes rimmed red and her whole body slumped.
All Henry wanted to do was figure out the right words to fix it, but he was just a kid. He didn't understand hardly anything about anything . He wasn't like Emma. Emma always knew why Regina was upset and she could fix it in a second.
They needed to get Emma back.
Regina made him a chicken salad wrap for lunch. Henry didn't focus too much on eating it though. Instead he waited for her to settle down beside him and presented her with the same question he had Emma.
"Are you and Emma girlfriends?"
Regina nearly choked on her sandwich and Henry tried his best not to laugh. She had to drink some water before she could respond and when she looked at him, Henry was surprised to find she seemed a little irritated. "Emma didn't tell you to ask me that, did she?"
"No." Henry titled his head, relieved that his response had her instantly relaxed. The last thing he wanted to do was get Regina mad at him too. "I asked her as she said no. But it always seems like you guys are."
"We're not." Regina's discomfort was clear in her voice.
"Because of your work?" Henry pressed, still trying to understand. "Is it because you're both girls? Would other people be mad?"
A nervous laugh slipped out of Regina. "Is this really what you want to talk about?" There was something pleading in her gaze.
Henry shrugged, a little guilty, but still watched her expectantly.
Regina gave a resigned sigh. "I don't mind that we're both girls. And I don't care if other people do."
For a long time Regina didn't say anything else. She stared down at her plate, fingers absently tearing at the lettuce that poked out of the sides of her wrap. Henry did his best to stay patient, but eventually got restless enough he gently nudged her elbow with his own. She jolted a bit like she'd forgotten he was there. When she looked at him again though, she was smiling. Just barely, but smiling.
"I've only ever really had one true relationship," she said softly. "And the one didn't-" she hesitated. "It didn't end well. It didn't end well for anyone involved."
He could tell he wasn't getting the full story. That Regina was holding all the details back because he was a kid and she thought he couldn't take it. He was afraid to complain though. Afraid if he did she might close back up altogether and he'd never learn anything more about her at all.
"It's a lot nicer to have someone around as a friend than not have them around at all." She seemed ready to end the conversation there, straightening on her stool to take a bite of her lunch, but Henry definitely wasn't.
"But you can just have both."
Regina shifted in her seat, looking torn. "Not always," she said after a moment.
"But if Emma likes you and you like Emma that's all that matters, right?"
"Henry," Regina said his name like a sigh and stood even though her food was only half finished. "It's complicated. Things for adults to worry about."
He pouted at her, outright offended then. "It doesn't seem like it's complicated to me."
For a second Regina looked like she might get mad, but then she took a deep breath. She leaned on her elbows on the counter in front of him and took one of his hands in her own. "I don't have many people I'm truly close to, Henry. Not many I really trust. So the ones I do have, I'm very careful about making sure I don't do anything to put those relationships at risk. Do you understand?"
Henry reluctantly nodded. And he couldn't help his small smile when she tenderly ran her thumb against the back of his knuckles.
"I don't feel comfortable discussing this any further with you, so let's leave it at that, okay?"
"Okay," he said glumly, smile fading. "I get what you mean, I just- Well, I think Emma might be leaving anyways."
"Yes." Regina heaved a heavy breath. "I think this time she really is."
It always seemed to be that just when Regina believed herself to be at her absolute highest high or her absolute lowest low, Mother would show up. She was like a bloodhound in that way. As though she had an internal radar for when her daughter was feeling too content with her life on one day, too lonely on the next. Either way, it was truly inevitable she'd come sniffing around to pull at the loose threads Regina tried so desperately to hide.
Regina didn't know why she'd been naive enough to think today would be any different.
"After having so much trouble getting in contact with you yesterday I'm sure you can understand why I'd feel the need to come make sure you were safe," Cora said as Regina reluctantly allowed her into the apartment.
She didn't have the energy to be passive aggressive today. She just wanted-
Regina sighed. She didn't know what she wanted. Not anymore.
"Ah," Cora's eyes lit up when they fell upon Henry where the poor boy sat, just trying to enjoy one of the games Emma left him with. "I see our young friend is still with us."
Something stirred in Regina at the apprehensive look Henry flashed her mother. On instinct she moved quickly to stand behind the couch, a gentle hand on his shoulder. He leaned into the touch, somehow still able to find comfort in her presence despite all he had seen of her.
She latched onto the faith with both hands, determined not to let him down.
"You seem to be-" Cora's gaze flickered over the paused game on screen and her mouth twitched briefly into a disapproving frown, "-enjoying yourself," she settled on.
"Yes, Ma'am," Henry said in a quiet voice.
The smile that took over Cora's face was wide and predatory and despite her best efforts, Regina felt her hackles raise at the sight.
It's just one audition, darling. Just for the fun of it - and - You wouldn't want to throw away such a good opportunity, would you? - and - Growing up means sacrifice - and - It's only good sense to expand. You're so talented, darling. Why let yourself stagnate? - and - There are people in this world who have nothing and you'd be so arrogant to refuse all you're being given?
"I heard you went to the zoo yesterday," Cora prompted as she took a seat beside Henry, voice dripping with sugary sweetness.
It was all Regina could do to keep from choking out a laugh. Emma always joked that Cora must have implanted some kind of GPS in her at birth.
God, she wished Emma was there. Emma always had such a way of incensing Cora with her mere presence alone there was hardly any attention left for subtle manipulations.
"I'm sure that was fun."
He nodded again, then seemed to plucked up the courage to say, "I liked all the birds best."
"They can be very beautiful," Cora agreed.
Regina tried to relax. Despite their struggles, her mother wasn't evil. Rather demanding and often misguided, sure, but not maliciously evil. She was merely showing kindness to Henry. The conversation wasn't something to fear.
"Do you have any other plans for the rest of week?"
And sweet Henry, who never needed to know better--who shouldn't have to--said, "We're going to some kind of fancy party on Friday. I dunno about anything else though."
Cora's head snapped up to look at her daughter, gaze bright. "Is that so?" Her voice held something close to pride.
Regina pushed away the needy little girl still trapped inside of her that perked up at the sound of it. Instead she focused on the boy who for some reason seemed to trust her so implicitly.
"Quietly." She kept her eyes locked with her mother's, her voice low and serious to impart that any of Cora's usual machinations would not be tolerated. "Henry was interested, so we quietly got permission to bring him. It's all going to be very under the radar."
"Of course." She didn't like the unusual lightness of Cora's tone. "I'd just assumed you were taking some initiative."
Regina grit her teeth, but when Henry glanced up at her with a questioning gaze, she softened and flashed him a reassuring smile. This whole party business had made her nervous from the start. But if Henry wanted to go, she wasn't about to deny him. Even if she didn't have Emma to help her anymore, she would make it happen. And she would do whatever it took to keep him happy and safe while they were there. Especially when it meant putting her mother in her place.
"No," she said, forcing cheer into her tone, "we're just looking for a good time, right Henry?"
His shy grin warmed her heart.
Henry didn't particularly want to be alone that night, and Regina didn't seem keen to be either. So after getting into his pajamas and brushing his teeth, Henry invited her to sit on the couch with him and read. Even after all that time he didn't know one bit of what was going on in her novel, but he liked the way it felt to lay against her warmth. How comforting it was to fall asleep to her low, smooth voice.
Except that time, Henry wasn't going to fall asleep. That time, no matter how much his eyes watered and how much his nose started to run, he was going to dutifully keep pinching himself awake until Regina finally dozed off herself.
Henry slipped off the couch as quietly as possible and watched her for a moment. Her deep, even breathing. How her features were totally relaxed for the first time all day. He dragged the throw off the back of the couch and carefully draped it over her shoulders.
Then he snuck into her bag and stole her cell phone.
Henry waited until he was on his bed, door closed, before making the call. Emma didn't pick up until the end of the third ring.
"R'gina?" Her voice sounded slurred with sleep. Henry glanced at the time on the phone screen. He hadn't realized it was quite so late. "What's going on? What's wrong?"
"You're still coming to the party tomorrow, right?"
A long pause and then, a little more awake, "Henry?"
"You're supposed to dance with me. I can't go to a dancing party with nobody to dance with. I'll look dumb."
A long, low sigh. "Jesus, kid. You gave me a heart attack."
"Emma," he whined.
"Look," she said through a tired groan, "I don't exactly get invited to those things on my own, you know? The only reason I go is because I'm with Regina. I don't even really like it, but I always went because she asked me to, okay? So if she doesn't want me there, I'm out."
"Of course she wants you there." Henry pouted. "You're still her secretary, right?"
"I'm not a secretary," Emma grumbled.
"You didn't say quit. You said notice."
"You were awake?"
Henry ignored the embarrassment in her tone. "Notice isn't quitting." He didn't know what exactly notice was, but he knew the words were different and that was enough. It had to be.
"It's pre-quitting, kid. It's close enough."
"I don't think so," Henry insisted. "And Regina doesn't either. So come," he wrinkled his nose, "unless you're too chicken."
Emma let out a squawk of protest. "Being chicken doesn't have anything to do with it." She scoffed. "I'm guessing Regina has no idea you're talking to me right now, right?"
Henry didn't answer.
"Look, maybe tomorrow I'll- I'll call her and I'll see, okay?" Emma sounded vaguely sickened by the notion but that didn't stop the triumphant smirk that bloomed across his face.
“Cross your heart?” he needled.
“Cross my heart.” And it sounded like she might be smiling, just a little. "Just don't get your hopes up. I really doubt she's going to want me to-"
"She will," Henry interrupted.
"She really won't."
"Oh my god. Go to bed, you little brat."
Henry giggled as she hung up on him. He fell back against his pillows and grinned up at the ceiling. Little kid or not, maybe he really could fix this.
The adults sure weren't very good at it.
It was kind of surprising waking up Friday morning. If you asked Henry before, he definitely would have said he wasn't all that nervous about the party. But for some reason the moment he opened his eyes, his tummy was full of butterflies all fluttering about.
The more it came up, it seemed like it had been kind of a big deal for Regina to agree to take him. No matter what, he had to make sure nothing went wrong. She wouldn't regret bringing him, Henry would make sure of it. Now the only thing left was for Emma to do her part.
All through Breakfast Henry knocked his hash browns around his plate and waited for her to call. The phone rang once, and Henry leaped off his stool and scrambled to answer it, but it was just Mr. Hopper doing his usual check in.
After breakfast Regina took Henry back to work with her. This time though, Henry was very much the center of attention for the entire trip. He stood, face flushed while Regina and her workers fawned over him in his new suit.
"Very dapper," Ella announced.
Lacey tugged on the jacket. "Might have to work on the sleeves though."
"I don't know," Aurora mused, "I kind of like how his hands are a little lost in it. It's cute."
"And put my name out there on subpar work?" Jefferson gasped.
Henry smiled politely and suffered through all the poking and prodding until everyone was satisfied. It was a welcome relief when they all backed off to let Regina kneel in front of him. She gently did up the bowtie they'd picked out for him with practiced fingers.
"My father always preferred these," she murmured, running her fingers along it once she'd finished. Henry liked it. It made him feel pretty grown up. Regina smiled at him, her thumb stroking the curve of his cheek. "You look very handsome, Henry."
Blushing, he ducked his head.
They'd been back at the apartment for all of five minutes when Regina's personal cell phone rang. She stared down at the name, eyes wide with what looked like borderline panic. Her gaze jumped from Henry to the phone and back to Henry again.
"I'm just going to go...take this..."
Henry grinned as he watched her hurry into her office and close the door.
He knew Emma wouldn't let them down.
It felt like a million years before Regina came out in her long red dress, ready to go to the party. She laughed when he told her so.
"Just wait until the times they force me to get professionally done up for something, that can take..." She trailed off, frowning. "Well, I won't have to do anything like that this week so I suppose you won't have to worry about it."
Her brow furrowed, so Henry gently patted her arm and said, "You look really pretty."
She smiled down at him and he liked the way her shiny earrings caught the light. "Thank you, Henry."
Her eyes were so soft when she looked at him, that time when his fingers twitched at his sides Henry didn't stop himself. He stepped up to Regina and threw his arms around her waist in a tight hug.
She was stiff for a moment in her surprise, but it was only a matter of seconds before she melted around him. Wrapped him up completely and held him close. Warm and soft and...safe.
Henry felt safer than he ever remembered feeling before.
He never wanted to let go. "I know I'm supposed to stay mostly to the side with Emma tonight," he mumbled into her abdomen, "but do you think I could dance with you too? Just for a little while."
When he pulled back a little to look up at her, her eyes were glistening.
"I'd love to."
Lance was ready to pick them up downstairs and when they got in the car, Emma was already waiting. Emma's dress was a little more plain than Regina's, almost like she was trying not to draw too much attention to herself. He still thought she looked very nice though.
"Wow," Emma drawled as Henry crawled into the car, "someone looks smart."
"I do?" Henry peered down at his suit, wondering if the bowtie really did make him look more intelligent.
"Good evening, Emma," Regina greeted politely as she took her seat next to Henry.
Emma flashed her a strained smile. "Hey."
For a second, Henry thought that everything might be okay. That it might all go back to normal like it was supposed to be. But then Emma looked out one window and Regina looked out the other and the rest of the ride was a tense, awkward mess.
Henry sat in the middle of it all, pretending he didn't notice the way Emma's hands fidgeted in her lap or how Regina would glance at her every so often like she was waiting for Emma to answer a question Henry never heard her ask.
Nobody spoke again until they were nearly at the party.
"All right, kid," Emma said, "here's the deal. This is one of those lame gatherings with publicity attached. You're gonna stick with me because, apparently, I'm not a photo worthy persona for some reason. I can't imagine why."
Regina let out a soft scoff at that. Henry smiled.
"Anyways, we're gonna send Regina right down the center so everyone can fawn all over her. Ooh look over here," Emma mocked, "what a fabulous dress, etc. etc. Meanwhile, you and I are going to sneak around the outskirts secret agent style and make a healthy dent in the appetizers before the rest of these fools even get through the front door. Sound good?"
Regina rolled her eyes while Emma's sparkled with mischief and for one brief second, it was like nothing had changed at all.
There were a whole bunch of people when they pulled up outside the building. Everyone dressed up in fancy, flashy outfits like Regina's, all talking over each other while cameras flashed in the background.
"Wow," Henry whispered, watching it all from the safety of the car.
"Believe it or not this is pretty small time, bud," Emma said.
Henry found himself rather glad the party he picked to go to was a 'small time' one. Regina told him she'd see them inside and then stepped out of the car. Henry heard her name shouted as Lance drove them around the block.
Boy, he was glad Emma was there to take him through the side entrance secret agent style.
"This party is terrible," Henry groused. "They're not playing any of the songs we practiced at all!"
Emma seemed to think that was the funniest thing she ever heard in her life.
It had been barely over an hour and Henry was already ready to head back for the night. The music was boring and the people were even boringer and he'd barely gotten to see Regina since they all made it inside.
She’d let him walk around with her for awhile as she greeted people. They were mostly nice, and some Henry even felt like he faintly recognized, but it wasn't long before he started flagging. Regina had nudged him back to Emma as soon as she noticed his attention span waning.
So this was how Henry was probably going to spend the rest of the party. Sitting next to Emma, eating snacks, and people watching.
Henry sighed heavily, chin resting on his palm. "You guys didn't say this was going to be the boringest ever."
"You seemed excited," Emma said through a chuckle, "who were we to crush your dreams?"
Henry sighed again and poked halfheartedly at the single shrimp resting on the tiny plate in front of him. Emma swore it was good, but he didn't trust anything that looked like it hadn't been cooked yet. He let his eyes wander around the huge room. Some people were dancing, but mostly everyone else stood around stiffly with glasses of wine in different clusters.
Regina was in one of those clusters way on the other side of the room. She was talking to two women and Robin, who kept laughing and touching her on the arm. He was really nice when Regina introduced him to Henry, but Henry decided not to like him anyways out of solidarity with Emma.
He turned to her, deciding now was a good time to work on stuff. "Are you gonna come back to hang out with us tomorrow?"
Emma sagged against the back of her chair. She had her wineglass on the table, and she spun the stem slowly between her fingers. "I'm sorry, Hen. I didn't mean to cause drama during your visit." She snorted. "I just know myself, and I know how I make excuses. Sometimes you gotta just cut the cord, you know?"
Henry nodded as if he did. "So you're really gonna quit?"
"I should have moved on a long time ago." Emma waved a hand idly in the air, gesturing to everything around them. "This isn't really my scene. Back when I started, I just needed some money. My friend was making pocket cash as an extra and got me a quick gig running coffee for the suits. Regina was there and-" Emma shrugged. "I dunno." She took a big gulp of her wine.
Henry wasn't following super well, but Emma stared down at her glass like she was talking to herself more than him anyhow, so he just let her keep going.
"Cora hated me right from the start of course." Emma chuckled. "She'd kick herself if she knew that trying so hard to get rid of me was the only reason I stuck around in the beginning. After awhile Regina and I got to know each other better though, and that-" She cut herself off with a shake of her head. "But friendship isn't a reason to stick with a job that makes you miserable."
Henry wrinkled his nose at the term. "I'm ten, Emma. I know what kissing is."
Emma choked on a laugh. "Yeah. Kissing- Uh, kissing isn't a good reason either." She tilted her head back and finished off the wine.
"Can't you get another job and still hang out with us?"
Emma smiled sadly. "I'm hanging out with you now."
"Yeah," Henry floundered, "but it's...weird."
She sighed. "It is a little weird, isn't it?"
Across the room Regina talked to her friends, but her eyes trailed over Henry often. Over Emma. She looked like she might think this was the boringest party ever too. Henry wondered if it would be bad to go over there and ask her to take him home.
"Oh boy," Emma muttered.
Henry followed her eyeline to find Regina's mom striding up to them with purpose.
"I'm gonna need a refill." Emma abandoned her empty glass on the table and stood, a wide smile plastered across her face.
She looked a little crazy in Henry's opinion.
"Hello, Henry," Cora greeted him when she arrived, "I was hoping to come sit and chat with you awhile tonight. I'm so glad you're here. But first-" she turned to Emma, "Emily, darling," Cora cooed, "I heard my daughter is going to be looking into finding a replacement for you and I just wanted to let you know how sad I am to see you go." Her smiled bared all of her teeth and Henry’s gut twisted in discomfort. "Though I must say I always knew the position was never suited for someone of your..." she dragged her eyes down Emma's body with clear disdain, "...talents."
"Golly, Ms Mills," Emma's voice was dripping with sarcasm, "you really know how to make the transition easy."
Cora raised her eyebrows in apparent surprise. The way the pair studied one another, the intensity of their eye contact, it was kind of scary. Henry shifted away from them in his chair a bit.
"Well," Cora's words were sharp, clipped, "I just wanted to wish you all the best in your future endeavors."
"Same to you," Emma returned with a poorly concealed eye roll.
Cora's lips formed a thin line of displeasure. "I hope you attempt to tackle your next career with a bit more professionalism."
Emma blinked at her for a moment, and then a sharp bark of laughter burst out of her. "Wow, you know what? Thank you. And I hope you stop leeching off your daughter's success and figure out something to do with your own life."
Henry gasped and Cora's eyes seemed ready to pop out of her head.
"I beg your pardon?"
Emma laughed as she backed away from the table, shrugging. "What are you gonna do, blacklist me? Get me fired?" She laughed again and disappeared into the crowd, headed towards the exit.
Cora stared after her, mouth open, but only for a moment. She recovered quickly, long before Henry, and smiled tightly at the boy. "Well, I'm sure you'll agree both you and Regina are far better off without an influence like that hanging about." She waved Emma's outburst off as though swatting a bothersome fly. "Now that we've gotten that unpleasantness out of the way, Henry, I have a few friends I'd like you to meet."
"Um," he stared longingly off in the direction Emma had fled, "oh-ok. I guess."
Cora's friends were two men in even fancier suits than Henry was wearing. They all crowded around him at the table, and put a phone down in front of him before talking. Every question they asked made Henry squirm in his seat. He did his best to answer them but-
"You must be having a lot of fun with Miss Mills this week. What kinds of things have you been doing with her?"
"Weren't you stealing food when you met her? Miss Mills probably helped you turn that kind of behavior around, huh?"
Henry shifted and stretched, searching for Emma or Regina in the crowd but he couldn't see either of them.
"How long have you been in the system?"
"What would you say is the worst place you've lived?"
"Do you know what happened to your birth parents?"
"I have to go to the bathroom," Henry blurted out, and slipped out of the chair. His face was hot and his breathing shallow.
"Excuse me," he mumbled and he rushed through the crowds, bumping into legs and stepping on dresses.
"Henry," he heard Cora call after him, but he didn't stop.
He had to keeping going. Had to get away. His eyes stung as he looked up to find a sea of nameless strangers. He tripped over the train of someone's skirt and stumbled into a man's legs. "Sorry," he squeaked, pushing off them only to tumble backwards into a woman.
"Easy," she soothed as she helped steady him, staring down at him with blatant curiosity.
"Do you know where Emma went?"
"Em-" She blinked, brow furrowed, "Who?"
Henry wriggled out of her grasp and pushed blindly on. It was so hot down there stuffed between them all. The lights were too dim and they were all moving so much. Talking and laughing while the music blared on around them.
"Emma?" Henry called, squeezing between two sets of legs. But she wasn't anywhere and his face grew warmer, thick tears building in his eyes. "Regina?"
"Are you all right?"
"Where did you come from?"
"Watch it, kid."
"You need some help, little guy?"
Henry pushed past them all, spinning around, looking desperately for anything familiar. His breath came even faster then. In short shallow gasps that seemed beyond his control. He just needed someone-
Steady arms wrapped around him and Henry was lifted up of the ground. On instinct he curled around the warm body that held him, clinging to it with all his might. He squeezed his eyes tight and buried his face into her neck and greedily breathed her in.
He was safe.
Regina stormed outside into the cool night air. She ignored the wobble of her heels and the ache in her arms and the dozens of curious eyes that tracked her every move as she cradled Henry close and carried him away. It felt like a fire had ignited inside her at the sight of him, lost and alone with tears in his eyes. And her rage only grew stronger as his quiet tears trailed along her neck.
"Shhh," she soothed, daring to press a kiss to the side of his head. Her heart sang as he shifted into the contact instead of recoiling.
As she walked she scanned the lots around them, hurrying her pace. Henry’s weight was already starting to take its toll on her slight frame, and she’d be in trouble if she wasn’t able to set him down soon. Luckily, she'd told Lance that because of Henry's bedtime, they'd be leaving much earlier than usual and to stay nearby. He should be-
Regina spotted him down the street, casually sitting with Emma on the hood of the car, enjoying a leisurely chat. Regina's eyes narrowed at the sight, and she picked up her pace. As soon as they registered her approach, both Emma and Lance scrambled off the car, eyes wide.
"Woah, what happened?" Emma spluttered taking them in. "Is everything alright?"
"You would know if you hadn't run out here to sulk like a child," Regina snapped. Emma's eyes widened in surprise at her tone but Regina couldn't bring herself to care. "Get in. We're going home."
Lance hurried to get the door for her and Regina ducked inside the car, careful to mind Henry's head. She settled down in her seat, not bothering to release Henry from her protective hold.
Emma followed a few seconds later looking absolutely miserable.
"Henry," she said softly while Lance started the car up front, "what happened, bud?" She rubbed a soothing hand along his back.
Henry just sniffed and shrugged against Regina. Probably too exhausted to put words to his feelings for the time being. Regina's stomach churned with guilt.
She shifted, letting Henry drape himself more comfortably around her. "Everything's fine now, Henry," she murmured. "Just relax. Everything's fine."
She hummed and stroked his back until she eventually felt him go slack against her. Regina waited until she was positive he was asleep before rounding on Emma.
"I trusted you look after him," she hissed in a harsh whisper. "How could you just leave him?"
"Woah, what?" Emma had a little more trouble controlling her volume but one glare from Regina set that straight. "I would never leave him alone. Your mom said she wanted to spend time with him. She knew he was going to be there. I figured you must have all talked about it. I was gonna head back in and see how they were doing in a few minutes. I never meant to-" Emma floundered. "Did something happen? Did Cora do something? She seems to genuinely like Henry in her own way. I would never think she'd purposely do this to the kid."
Regina sagged against her seat, all the fight leaving her about as quickly as it had come. Much as she'd like to pin it all on Emma, she knew who she was most angry with here. From the getgo she'd known this--the party, the suit, the zoo, Henry--all of this was a mistake.
"I don't know what happened," she admitted, eyes fluttering shut. "I was distracted. I meant to keep watch but I lost sight of him."
Emma shifted uncomfortably. "Do you really think Cora-?"
"I don't know," she said again. "It doesn't matter. The whole thing was a mistake to begin with. I never should have brought him here. It's my fault."
"Of course it's not." Regina turned her head away so she didn't have to look at the damned understanding that always bled through Emma's gaze. "He wanted to go with you. You were doing something to make him happy."
"Well I should have known better," she snapped. Henry shifted against her and she lowered her voice. "Im- I'm the adult. I never should have brought him into any of this. All week long I've made him uncomfortable, anxious, panicked-"
"That's not true-"
"-I've thrown him into the center of all this attention he never once asked for, and for what? To soothe my own conscience?" Regina scoffed. "You were right. This- none of this is healthy. And Henry never deserved to be dragged into any of it."
Emma stared at her, mouth open like she wanted to refute the claims but didn’t know how.
Regina turned away from her once more. "I did this to him."
Henry woke up very disoriented. It took him a few minutes to register he was in his bed at Regina's. His face was sticky from crying and even though his jacket and bow tie were gone, he was still in his slacks and fancy button up shirt from last night. Henry cringed thinking about the way he'd cried all over Regina. Hopefully she wasn't too annoyed with him.
He sighed as he slipped out of bed, wondering if it would be okay for him to take his shower before breakfast today. Henry rubbed at his eyes and wandered out into the hall, only to stop short when he found Regina wasn't alone in the living room.
Mr. Hopper sat beside her.
Everything went cold. Henry was sure his heart wasn't beating.
No. He was fixing it. Last night hadn't gone the way he hoped but he was gonna help Regina get Emma back and she was gonna be so happy and then-
"You're mad?" he whispered, eyes only for Regina.
Both Regina's and Mr. Hopper's heads snapped up in surprise. Regina stared at him, mouth open slightly.
"Of course I'm not mad."
"Henry," Mr. Hopper said gently, "we've been talking about what happened last night and we're both so sorry you were put in that position. That must have been very scary for you."
Henry barely looked at him. "I don't mind," he told Regina quickly, shaking his head. "I really don't. I don't mind at all."
"Henry," Regina sighed out, "things have been getting out of hand with some of the attention you've been getting lately and I don't want to keep putting you through this. You were so upset last night-"
"I wasn't upset-" he all but begged.
"-I should have been more careful but I wasn't and I'm so sorry you had to suffer the consequences of that. I just want you to be able to have a sense of normalcy again. This clearly hasn't been good for you, and that's my fault."
Henry took a step back. She wasn't going to listen, he could see it in her eyes. She was so sad. So determined. She wasn't going to-
"Where's Emma?" He blurted out. Because Emma would help him. She'd make a dumb joke and Regina would laugh and then they could all just forget this and watch a movie and-
"Emma's probably at her own apartment," Regina said gently.
"Regina was kind enough to make us all breakfast," Mr. Hopper said, fiddling with his glasses. "So why don't we have something good to eat and chat for awhile and then we can worry about packing up late-"
"I'll be better," Henry burst. "You said I could stay my whole break if I was good. I can be better."
"Oh Henry," Regina's eyes were watery, "this has nothing to do with your behavior at all." She stood and took a half-step toward him, hand outstretched before she seemed to think better of it. "You've been perfect."
"So let me stay then," he argued. "Please. Just like we planned. I promise I'll be really good."
He surged forward and threw his arms around her middle. He felt her breath hitch as he held on tight. "Please," he begged against her stomach. "I promise. Please. I really promise."
"Henry." There was a hand on his shoulder, but it didn't belong to Regina. He looked up to find Mr. Hopper's sad smile. "This isn't Regina's decision."
Betrayal flushed through Henry. Hot and stabbing. Mr. Hopper was supposed to be good. He was supposed to be nice.
"There are even more people than me that are charged with keeping you safe. And we all agree that this is our best way to protect you, do you understand?"
Henry ate the blueberry pancakes Regina put in front of him, but he didn't seem to taste a single bite, and he dragged his heels on the way back to his bedroom to change and pack his things.
The guest bedroom.
"I know it seems harsh now," Archie said, "but it would have been a difficult goodbye either way." He smiled. "Henry seems to have gotten rather attached to you both. More than any of us anticipated. It hurts me that it has to be this way, but it's nice to see you understand we're only looking out for his best interests. I believe you when you say the information gathered last night won't get out, but we really can't be lax about taking further risks."
"I'm sorry," Regina rasped, struggling to control herself until she was alone. "I never meant for any of this to hurt him. It was meant to be a good thing. I-" Her voice broke and she closed her eyes to fend off the tears.
"Henry hasn't always had the best luck in the system. I was very clear with him from the start what this arrangement was, and he seemed to understand, but I think he might have let himself forget for a little while."
Regina clenched her fists tight, nails digging into her palms. "I should never have done any of this. It wasn't fair to him."
"Don't say that." Archie placed a gentle hand on her arm. "It will hurt for a little while, but my hope for Henry is that he will look back on the good memories he made with you here fondly. That's the reason I pushed to allow any of this to happen." He gave her arm a reassuring squeeze. "We're all just doing our best, Miss Mills. Sometimes we make mistakes, but it's all any of us can hope to do."
Henry stood in Regina's entryway for the last time, his backpack slung over his shoulder, a couple shopping bags full of the clothes Regina had gotten for him twisted around the fingers of one hand. Mr. Hopper held the rest.
Regina stood in front of him, looking like she wanted to touch him, but not sure if she was allowed. In the end, she settled on awkwardly sticking out her hand.
"Well," her voice trembled a little, "it was very nice getting to know you, Henry."
A part of him wanted to shout at her. He wanted to throw her gifts at her and run out the door and never think about her again for the rest of his life.
But she leaned down just a little and he looked into her eyes. Kind and sad and scared he might do just what he'd been thinking. So instead of either of those things, Henry pushed her hand away and caught her in another embrace.
She reacted this time. Fell down to her knees to get on his level and held him properly. He shook against her and hated how he could feel the tears he'd thought he'd beaten trying to make a comeback.
"You'll be all right," she whispered into his hair. "It's going to be all right."
When they left, despite her better sense, Regina wandered into Henry's--the guest--room. The bed was neatly made and atop the pillow rested a bag of pretzels, a few cans of soup, and some other odds and ends.
It was there that Regina lay down and finally let herself properly cry.
Henry made it all the way until Sunday night before he caved and snuck out of his room to swipe Gold's clunky, old laptop again. He just wanted one little peek online. Just to see.
There really were pictures of him on there. Shopping with Emma and Regina. One through the window at McDonald's. Another at the parking lot in the zoo. People asking questions. Speculating.
They thought he was Emma's kid at first. His heart clenched at the idea. They claimed he was meeting the girlfriend at long last. Others swore he was Emma's nephew. Her kid brother.
And then the party happened. A clickbait article he didn't bother to read, and a shot of Regina all done up, eyes hard and Henry clutched to her chest, moving quickly through the dark street.
Mama Bear Mode <3 , a comment read.
Henry stared at the picture late into the night while his whole body ached and ached and ached.
Time passed. Henry returned to school and struggled to care. Peter had his final birthday in the system and moved out the next day. In just a few months Felix was set to follow.
"He's really nice," August excitedly told Henry about Marco, the man who'd visited three times in the week Henry had been gone. He hugged his new stuffed tuxedo cat doll to his chest, eyes bright. "He said he wants to take me to an amusement park."
Henry tried his best to feel happy for him. He really did.
Emma hesitated before knocking on the door. Boy, was she sure not looking forward to this.
"You have a key," came Regina's shout. It should have been snarky, sarcastic, but there was no energy behind it.
A deep breath, and Emma let herself in. "Hey." She offered Regina a hesitant smile.
Regina sat on the couch in the living room looking utterly...not Regina.
Emma had a feeling things weren't great. She'd been waiting nearly three weeks now for Regina to give her someone to train, and it had gotten to the point that she had to call Regina and say she couldn't wait around any longer. She was done, and taking a new job elsewhere. All that was left was to return her key and collect the few odds and ends left at the apartment after her three years of service.
The fact that quitting felt eerily close to a break up let Emma know she'd made the right decision.
Still, Emma didn't want to grab her shit and leave Regina sitting there looking like-
Well, honestly she looked like Emma on a day off. Sweats and messy hair and not a trace of makeup to be found. The problem was, day-off-Emma was worlds apart from day-off-Regina. Not to mention it definitely wasn't Regina's day off.
Her 'agent' must be pitching a fit. As much as Emma loved the idea of Cora being ignored by Regina though, this wasn't okay. Regina was sprawled out on the couch, scrolling through her personal phone with one hand, working steadily through the open bag of pretzels on her stomach with the other.
"How you doing?" Emma went for casual as she slipped Regina's key off her ring and placed it on the coffee table between them.
"Great," Regina drawled, not looking up.
Emma headed over to the TV and started unplugging the connections to her Wii. A part of her still wanted to tear Regina a new one for not giving her the chance to say a proper goodbye to the kid--all they'd had was a sullen five minute call from Archie's phone on the way back to Gold's--but seeing her this torn up about everything-
Well, Emma couldn't quite muster up any anger at that moment. Instead of yelling, she tried her hand at small talk again.
"Have you decided if you're going to do that movie yet? What was it, that political drama thing?" Emma knew Cora had been up Regina's ass about it. So desperate for people to see her daughter in that light. To start making that slow shift towards even more power.
Regina shrugged, eyes still glued to her phone. "Probably," she said.
Okay, enough was enough.
"You know, for someone who made every problem she has right now, you sure are acting like a big baby about it."
That was all it took. Regina shot up on the couch. "Excuse me?"
Emma fought a smile. Even at her lowest point, the real Regina was always just an inch under the surface, waiting to be set loose. "You're being an asshole, Regina. We're all where we are are right now because of your decisions. Henry is gone because you decided to let him go."
Regina's glare was murderous and she stood, teeth grit. "I had to-"
"You really didn't," Emma shot back, letting years of frustration fuel her. She had no right to get upset on her own behalf, she could respect Regina's choice. But like hell was she going to let the woman's issues take anything away from Henry. "I know it scares you. Feeling the way you do, it's scary. I get it. I really do." Her heart hurt at the memory of henry’s tiny, devastated voice on the other side of that phone call. "But you have to push past it because he needs you. He loved you."
Regina visibly recoiled from the word.
"He loves you." Emma abandoned the pretense of collecting her things and stepped closer. "And I know you love him or you wouldn't have tried to ship him away at the first opportunity."
Regina wouldn't look at her. She stared at the far wall, jaw set, stock still. She didn't even flinch when Emma moved closer. Fully invading her personal space.
"I never left," she whispered. "I understood and I stayed even after-" She faltered, sighed. "It was stupid, but I did. I stayed because I wasn't ready to give you up. To let go of whatever scraps I was allowed to cling to. I made that choice." She reached up, traced her fingers gently along the soft curve of Regina's face. "Henry doesn't have that luxury."
She leaned forward, pressed their foreheads together. Regina let out a great, shuddering sigh, her eyes falling shut.
"This one is all on you," Emma said. "Don't assume what he wants or how he feels. Give him a choice, for once in his life. Let him prove to you how he feels. Let him show you by picking you right back."
Tears at last spilled over, splashing onto Emma's fingers. Regina's shaky hands came around her back, clutching tight. "I'll mess it up."
"I'll ruin him."
"You love him. And he loves you. We both do. We always have."
Regina curled tighter around her and Emma pressed a kiss to her temple, swaying them gently side to side.
"Do you know how much I would have killed for someone like you when I was a kid? Someone good and kind who saw me? Don't take that away from him because Cora might get pissy or some suit might be disappointed. Don't take that away from yourself."
"It's selfish," Regina argued weakly. "Irresponsible. With my schedule I'd hardly have the time to- I don't want to be the kind of parent mine were to me."
Emma stiffened, hesitated, and then went all in. She could do this.
Henry was worth it.
"I hate this, Regina. You hate this. You're miserable and uncomfortable and stressed out. And I've shut up about it for all this time because it was never my place to say anything. But now I have to because I've worked for you for over three years, Regina, and I've never seen any of this fucking bullshit circus act make you a fraction of as happy as you were sitting down with that kid playing video games in your pajamas.
"Yes, if this was your passion or your goal or your lifelong dream then fine, let Henry go. That's a sacrifice you have to make to walk your path. But you're miserable here, Regina. You're dying. For so long now I've felt like I was watching you slip further and further away. You were becoming this- this angry shell I barely recognized and then- and then Henry came to us."
Emma swallowed as her words grew thick. "Then we got Henry, Regina. And I know that means something. It has to because this is right. I can feel it in a way I've never felt anything before. You are right for each other, I know it. Please don't throw that away."
Regina shifted towards her and Emma leaned down, letting their lips brush one final time as she said goodbye. "I just wanted you to be happy, Regina. It's all I ever wanted right from the start."
Their names were Sarah and Kevin. They took Henry out for ice cream a few blocks away from Gold's. Mr. Hopper lingered nearby, always watching. It was stiff and a little awkward. But they were nice enough at the start.
Henry got two scoops of strawberry on a soft cone, and he was only about halfway through it before it all went wrong.
"Obviously, we've heard about your friends," Sarah said, barely sipping from her milkshake at all. "And we want you to know we would never try to take that relationship away from you."
"That's right." Kevin flashed him a wide smile of brilliantly white teeth. "You clearly formed a deep, special bond with Regina and we'd always encourage that. She could contact you as much as she liked, and you could visit her whenever you wanted, and if say, she ever wanted to take you somewhere, then we could all go together."
Henry's face heated up. He was ten, but that didn't mean he was stupid. Standing, Henry looked Kevin dead in the eye. "I'm never going to see Regina again," he told him and watched the pleasant smiles fade from both of their faces.
"Don't say that, kiddo, I'm sure she'd want to-"
Henry threw out his ice cream and headed over to Mr. Hopper. "I'd like to go back to Mr. Gold's now," he said.
The walk felt longer on the way back. Henry thought he understood then, what Mr. Hopper meant when he'd taken him away from Regina. Maybe it wasn't so good after all, people seeing so much of him online.
At least he got some ice cream out of it.
Life moved on.
Felix followed Peter. August moved in with his new foster father. Marco wanted to do a test run, he said, to make sure August thought he was a good fit. Gold started poking around for replacements of his lost paychecks. And Henry stayed alone on his tiny bed as the world moved on around him, snatching Gold's laptop whenever he had the chance, desperate to get even the slightest glimpse of the life he'd so briefly been a part of.
The internet wondered where he gone for awhile. But then they noticed Emma left, and they wondered even more about her. There was never anything new about Regina. All the interviews were about old projects and the few pictures that there were were from sites that didn't seem very nice. Ones with crazy titles just to make you click on things, and that said bad stuff just to make people mad.
Those few pictures weren't very good. Far away shots of Regina walking across the street. On her way to get coffee or getting into a car. Clearly unaware there was a camera around at all.
Still, Henry studied them carefully.
Did she think about him sometimes? Did Emma? Were they still talking to each other? Did they ever talk about him?
There was never anything new online about Regina.
There wasn't until the day there was.
Gold was grumpy and Henry was tired of stressing over his impossible math homework that made no sense, so he crawled into bed on his tummy, blanket pulled up over his head like a hood. He opened up the laptop just wanting to look at one picture. Just for a little while. But when he typed her name into the search engine, a dozen new hits popped up.
Regina Mills, they all said, had announced the film premiering that Fall would be her last. She'd backed out of a sure thing with another studio and had nothing lined up for the foreseeable future.
Was there some kind of scandal on the horizon, some of the nastier sites wondered. Was she trying to make herself scare before the backlash?
It was foolish to retire so young, another site said. To throw away a career that had been on the track for such growth.
She was sick, speculated yet another. There would likely be an announcement soon of whatever terminal disease she'd acquired.
Henry had to shut the computer down before he got through it all. It made him feel sick reading through all the mindless chatter from people who didn't even know her. And he spent the night staring up at the ceiling, gut twisting and turning as he fretted over her fate.
Did she have some kind of scandal he didn't know about? Was she happy about all this? Or was she sad? Were all these people talking about her hurting her feelings? Was she sick?
Is that why she-?
Henry tried his best to clear his mind and focus on sleep. Obsessing all night wouldn't change the fact that Henry wouldn't know anything about Regina until the internet did. He'd lost that privilege.
So Henry closed his eyes and tried his best to let sleep take him.
It didn't go very well.
It felt like the second he'd managed to finally fall asleep, Henry was being woken up for school. Tired as he was, the day felt unending. Bus pickup took an eternity and as soon as Henry got back to Mr. Gold's place he ignored his homework and crawled right back into bed for a long nap.
Gold though, it seemed, had other plans for him. He jabbed the side of Henry's mattress with the point of his cane.
"Get up. You've got visitors," Mr. Gold grumbled, face pinched up like he'd tasted something sour. "Got more than me these days." He limped out of the room and Henry quickly got dressed.
Hopefully it wasn't another couple looking to get free vacations out of him.
Yawning, Henry wandered out of his room to find Mr. Hopper standing there just like he had expected.
And beside him, stood Regina.
She had her hands clasped in front of her, holding tight to her handbag. She looked tired and pale and nervous and Henry's heart dropped into his stomach like a lead weight.
"You're sick," he blurted out, horrified. She was dying and she'd come to tell him and he was never going to see her again.
Regina and Mr. Hopper shared a look, clearly not expecting that reaction. Surprisingly, Gold let out a tiny chuckle.
"Henry has been spending a little too much time online of late."
Henry froze, eyes wide. Gold knew about that? Oh man, he was going to be in so much trouble.
Gold didn't really look all that irritated though.
"I'm not sick," Regina assured him.
"Oh." Henry's breathing evened out some. "Well, uh," he shifted between his feet, "why are you here?"
Regina's gaze darted to Mr. Hopper, and when the man offered a reassuring smile, bounced back to him. She licked her lips. "Well, I was wondering if maybe you like to take a walk with me. Just for a little while."
Henry eyed her suspiciously. "You're really not sick?"
Her mouth twitched at the corner. "I'm really not."
He brightened, exhaustion long forgotten. "Cool."
They headed down the near empty sidewalk aimlessly, walking side by side.
"If you're not sick," Henry prompted, "then are you going to have a scandal?"
Regina's step faltered, her brow furrowed. "I suppose you've been hearing a bit about me after all, hmm?"
Henry bobbed his head, a little sheepish at being caught spying.
Regina didn't seem angry though. "My mother would probably say what I’ve been up to is scandal enough, but I don't think I have anything else in the works, no. At least, I hope not."
"So nothing like Arnold Schwarzenegger?"
She blinked for a moment, clearly thrown off, and then a sharp laugh burst out of her. "I don't believe so. Though he does seem to be doing all right for himself these days, doesn't he?"
Henry shrugged, a smile on his face. It was good to hear her laugh again. To just get to talk to her. He felt like he had so much to say. About school being frustrating. About the sneaky couple who had tried to use him. How it was so weird that the older boys were gone, but how he didn't miss them at all. How Gold's had been too crowded before but felt so lonely now. How he was scared he might not be a good friend because every time he thought about August something green and ugly twisted around in his guts.
There was just so much, Henry didn't know where to start. Didn't know if Regina even wanted to hear it.
They'd reached the end of the street and she stopped to open her purse. "I don't think it would be a good idea for me to go in, but would you like to go buy us a couple of ice creams?"
Henry hardly even noticed they'd wound up at the same place he'd been with Sarah and Kevin just a few weeks earlier. The memory made him hesitate, but he didn't want to say no to anything Regina offered. Not that day, when he had no idea why she'd come or when she would leave.
"What do you want?" he asked, taking the twenty she offered him.
"Just get two of whatever you want."
There was a small park a little farther down the street that Regina led him to. She seemed restless, like she was desperate to keep moving, so Henry dutifully followed as she guided him in a slow circle around the pond in the middle of it.
Regina was oddly quiet, and Henry had to warn her twice that the ice cream she apparently kept forgetting about had started to drip down the side of her cone. They did a whole rotation around the water before she managed to ask him anything more than how he had been doing. Henry didn't mind. He was just enjoying her company and his strawberry ice cream.
It tasted better this time, somehow.
They just started their third lap when Regina seemed to find her voice. "I did come today because I just wanted to see you, Henry, but I also have something I want to ask you too."
He eyed her warily over his cone. "Okay."
She took a deep breath. "I was wondering if you would like to come stay with me again."
His heart leapt up into his throat at the very idea. "For another week?"
"Longer." She swallowed. "It's completely your choice but-"
Henry stopped walking. "Like you want to foster me?"
Regina stopped too. She stared down at him, frowning slightly. "If that's what you would prefer then certainly, I would love to. I might have to do some research. There could be different qualifications. I imagine they'd be much the same but-"
"But that's not what what you meant," Henry breathed, scarcely daring to imagine-
The world around him didn't feel real. Everything was muted and distant. The ducks quacking happily on the pond and the kids laughing at the other end of the park and the sticky trail of ice cream running down his fingers. It was all so far away. The only thing that existed before him was Regina.
Regina and what she couldn't possibly mean.
"Well, no." Regina looked distinctly uncomfortable. "I was wondering if- and again, it's completely your choice- but if perhaps you wouldn't mind me...adopting you."
"You want to adopt me." It wasn't a question. Henry repeated the words back to her flatly.
Regina looked ready to be sick during the pause that followed. After a few moments she asked a tentative, "Is that okay?"
A great laugh rushed out of Henry and he didn't know what to do so he just...sat. Sat right in the middle of the dirt trail in the park.
"Henry," Regina exclaimed, clearly alarmed. She knelt down in front of him, concern etched into her features. "Are you okay? I'm sorry."
"For real?" Henry asked, studying her carefully. Because last time felt like-
Last time felt like for real.
And he knew it wasn't. They told him right from the start it wasn't. But it still felt like it and then she had sent him back anyways and-
Regina's whole being seemed to soften. "For real," she promised.
And Henry wrapped his arms around her, both of their ice cream cones forgotten in the dirt.
It took awhile to get all of the dumb paperwork and rule stuff sorted out and approved. Mr. Hopper said it would be faster than normal since Regina was already investigated quite a bit when she took him in for the week, but it still took way too much time for Henry's tastes.
A horribly frustrating month and a half before he could go back permanently.
Regina called him every day though, much to Gold's irritation, and visited as much as she could. She asked him about his favorite things. Foods and colors and cartoons, and when he was finally allowed to walk back through her front door, she lead him to the guest room to show him all the work she had done.
Henry flopped down on his Pikachu bedspread and took in the bright blue walls around him. The desk with the drawing pad that still had all its pages and the shelves with the books that had never been read and the chest with the toys that had never been played with.
They were going to leave the city eventually, she told Henry over dinner. As long as he was okay with it. She wanted to go somewhere quieter. But for the next six months Mr. Hopper was going to periodically be sent to check up on them. To make sure Henry was happy and healthy and adjusting well. Regina thought it would go more smoothly if they stayed put until that time period was up.
Henry didn't care one bit. As long as she kept him, he'd go anywhere Regina wanted him to.
That night, for the first time in his life, Henry got ready for bed in a room that was totally and completely his forever. Or, for however long they lived there, at least.
Regina wished him sweet dreams and turned out the light and Henry laid in the dark, staring up at the ceiling. His ceiling. The one in his room. In his home where he lived with his- Regina.
He laid like that for a long while. And then he flopped onto his left side. And then he flopped onto his right. And then he huffed and rolled onto his tummy.
Nothing worked. He didn't feel like sleeping. Didn't feel like sitting alone in the dark. He wanted-
Henry quietly slipped out of bed and padded cautiously down the hall. He stared at Regina's closed door. The only room in the whole place that he'd never really gone into before. It had felt wrong during his first visit. Like he would be invading her space. But now-
Henry gently turned the knob and peeked his head inside. The room was silent, darkness blanketing everything. As his eyes adjusted though, he was able to make out the shape of her in bed. A tiny lump under the covers.
And that was when it hit him. Really hit him for the first time in a way it never had before.
This was Henry's now, really and truly. Not a fancy home with new toys and all the food he could ever hope to eat. But Regina. Regina waiting for him at the end of the hall when he couldn't get to sleep.
For the rest of his whole life.
And that was when he started crying.
Henry didn't have any control over it. The tears just started coming and there was nothing he could do to stop them. Regina woke up in seconds from the sound and she jolted upright in bed.
He couldn't speak. Didn't know what he could possibly say.
"Henry, what's wrong?" She reached out and he hurried over at the invitation. Clamored up onto her mattress and collapsed into her arms. He clung on so tight it must have hurt, but she didn't say a word about it. She just molded herself around him as though she was always meant to, hand soothing on his back as he sobbed against her shoulder. "Please tell me what's wrong. Did you have a bad dream?"
He shook his head against her, but couldn't manage to clarify through his hiccuping sobs.
"Okay," she sighed, fingers coming up to comb through his hair. "Okay. It's going to be okay, baby. It's going to be all right."
And he cried as she rocked him against her and felt her heart beating, beating, beating, in her chest. Steady and strong and his forever.
For the rest of his whole life.
Regina was very delicate with him all throughout breakfast. She spoke in a soft voice and moved slowly as though anything might set him off again at any moment. It made his cheeks a bit warm that she might think he was a cry baby, but he didn't complain about the treatment. It was nice, her caring about his feelings so much.
They ate their omelettes and despite her protests, Henry helped her wash up. Guests didn’t clean up. Henry wasn’t a guest. Not anymore.
When they were through, she smiled down at him and asked what he wanted to do on his first official full day home.
He wrinkled his nose in thought. "Well, maybe we could watch a movie or something? Or play a game." He shrugged. "I don't really want to do anything special. Just stay home."
She nodded. "That sounds good to me."
"But first we should work on our plan to get Emma back."
Regina's startled laugh came out as a strangled sort of sound, but though she looked a bit ill at the notion, just as Henry thought, she didn't try to argue.
"Don't worry," Henry assured her. "It will be easy."
Henry wanted to go with the direct approach, but Regina didn't seem so sure.
"All we have to do is tell her to come back and she'll come." Henry honestly didn't see what the big problem was. "You have to know where she lives, right?"
Regina glanced at the clock on the microwave. "Emma would be at work by now."
Henry perked up at that. "You know where she works now?"
Cheeks a rosy pink, Regina reluctantly nodded. "Well, I heard some things around. You know how it is."
Henry stared at her, bemused. "I barely know how anything is, I'm ten." He hopped off his stool. "I'll go with you to help, but no fighting, okay?" Even though he said it in his sternest voice with his hands on his hips, for some reason the warning only seemed to help Regina to relax.
"Yes, sir," she agreed, and Henry accepted it even if he was suspicious of how she looked like she was trying not to laugh.
Henry was a little thrown at how ordinary the diner Regina took him to looked. After spending so much time with Regina, Henry had just kind of assumed Emma would live the same kind of life. But this seemed like the sort of place any average person might go. Not that he minded. All he cared about was finding Emma and bringing her home.
Regina was dragging her heels a bit, so Henry took her by the hand and tugged her towards the hostess whether she liked it or not. The girl behind the podium didn't look up when they approached. She was busy filing her nails while popping gum. Henry was actually pretty impressed by the size of her bubbles.
"Hi," he said. "Is Emma Swan working here right now?"
"Yeah," the girl drawled without so much as a glance. "Section three." She threw a thumb over her shoulder.
It was right between breakfast and lunch, so the place was nearly empty. That was good, not too many people would bother them then.
"Can we sit there?" Henry asked.
She popped another bubble. "Doubt it's full."
Henry looked up at Regina. "Can we sit in the booth by the window?" He knew some people preferred tables. He hoped Regina wasn't one of them.
Regina looked a bit too nauseous to care about booths or tables at the moment though. "Whatever you like is fine, Henry."
The hostess' head snapped up at her voice and she said, "Holy shit."
Henry gave a squeak of surprise at the curse but Regina just sighed and ushered him towards the booth he’d pointed out. They barely got settled in their seats before Emma appeared at their table.
"Hi, welcome to...to...uh..." Emma stared at them, her mandated greeting lost in her surprise.
"Hi, Emma," Henry greeted her cheerily, hoping to help her out a little.
"Hi?" Her gaze flickered between him and Regina. "Uh, what?"
Regina just sort of stared blankly at Emma, her cheeks darkening. Oh boy.
"We're gonna order food," he said, trying to save the whole mess before it got any worse. It would be nice if Regina helped him out a little though.
"As one does in a diner." Emma's brow pulled together. "I guess I'll leave you with the menus then." She awkwardly placed them both in front of Henry. "Then I'll just, uh, go grab you some water." She hurried back to the kitchen area.
Henry passed Regina her menu and stage whispered, "You should try to tell her she looks nice or something."
"Maybe not," Regina rasped.
Hopefully Emma brought back that water soon.
While they waited Henry looked over the menu. It was mostly pictures of different breakfast platters and even though he wasn't all that hungry from his own breakfast, he was still pretty enticed by the picture of the pancake with the whipped cream hair and bacon smiley face.
Emma came back with two waters, and seemed much more calm now that her shock had worn off.
She was doing better than Regina at any rate.
"So, this is weird." She gestured between the two of them.
"Regina adopted me," Henry helpfully supplied. He sat a bit taller at Emma's smile. He had a feeling he was going to like telling people that from now on.
"I heard." Emma reached out to give his arm a gentle squeeze. "I'm really happy for you Henry." Her gaze shifted to Regina. "I'm happy for both of you."
Regina's shoulders seemed to relax a little.
"So," Emma brightened a bit, "celebratory pancakes then?"
Henry was ready to give a resounding yes, but remembered to look to Regina for permission first, because Regina adopted him so she made the rules.
Because she adopted him.
"The smallest order you have," Regina said. "We had breakfast just over an hour ago."
Emma blinked down at her. "Right. And then you came to a diner. To eat. Again."
Regina floundered a bit, but when she finally opened her mouth to respond she was interrupted by a shutter sound. Emma whirled about to glare daggers at where her fellow workers were crowded around, trying to sneakily snap pictures with their phones.
"Really guys?" She chased them off. "Grow up." She heaved a sigh when she returned. "Sorry. They're all terrible."
"We're gonna move away from the city soon so stuff like that won't happen as much anymore," Henry offered.
Emma raised her eyebrows. "Oh really?"
"Yeah, we're thinking about, uh, Colorado or Maine, I think." He looked to Regina. "Right?"
She smiled. "Right."
"Very cool." Emma turned to Regina. "That reminds me, you're not going to stiff me on the check, right Miss Mills? I hear you're unemployed now."
Regina sniffed. "I have plenty of prospects still, thank you."
"Uh-huh." Emma looked rather bemused now. She tilted her head. "Hey, Regina, why are you in my diner after eating breakfast an hour ago?"
Regina shifted in her seat, fists clenched on the table. "Emma, don't make me-"
"Oh no," Emma said through a laugh, her eyes bright as she plopped down in the booth beside Henry, "I'm gonna."
Regina averted her gaze. "I don't know what you want me to say."
"Something embarrassingly romantic and overdramatic."
Regina pulled a face.
"Tell me you've found you can't live without me-"
"-I'm sure I could manage-"
"-and ask me to run away with you to a log cabin in the wilds of Maine."
"We haven't actually settled on Maine just yet."
Emma pinned her with a sharp gaze. "Regina-"
Regina stared at Emma, undisguised fear in her eyes. It was enough that Emma’s smug smirk lost its teasing edge. Softened into a genuine smile reassuring enough to coax the words out of Regina.
"I want you to run away with us to a log cabin in Maine."
There was silence for a moment as the women stared one another down. Henry's head snapped between them and he held his breath, praying neither of them would mess this up for them all.
Emma clucked her tongue and looked down at her watch. "You could at least let me finish my shift first, geez. Clingy." She stood, collected their menus, then stooped to kiss a very bewildered looking Regina square on the mouth.
Henry giggled at first, giddy at the development, but quickly slapped a hand over his face when Regina closed her eyes and gave an appreciative hum.
Nearly as soon as it had started though, it was over. Emma pulled away and said, "I'll go put your fake order in."
Regina stared after her and Henry couldn't help but laugh again at how affronted she looked. From the other side of the diner came cries of, "Did you just kiss her?" and, "I knew I recognized you, Emma, you fucking liar."
"Emma," Henry shouted after her. "There were smiley pancakes on the menu. Can ours look like that?"
"Sure thing, kid."
"Honestly," Regina grumbled, arms crossed and slouching down in the booth.
Henry just beamed at her. "See?" he said. "Easy."
And, despite her mood, Regina couldn't seem to help but smile back.
It wasn't a log cabin, but it was a modest home in a tiny town where people were so worried about what books were finally coming to the library, and the prices at the new bakery opening on Main Street, and what sandwiches were on the specials board of Granny's Diner that week, that nobody even looked twice at Regina Mills and her family moving in next door.
And that was how it ended, with a home.