Why couldn’t it have been a serial killer, or a jilted lover?
Why’d it have to be fairies.
Emma promised to get Cora her dinner date and got fairies in return.
“They’re at war?”
“I’ve no idea who they’re fighting—only that they are planning to fight them, and preparing Storybrooke for the battle.”
“And the dead fairies? Merryweather was supposedly stopping this—whatever.”
Cora’d shrugged, “Then maybe whoever murdered her wants war.”
Which ruled the fun loving peaceful can’t kill without it showing on their skin fairies out. She hoped.
“Now, I’ve told you what I know.”
“You’ll make the arrangements for me to visit my daughter?”
Cora’s forced pleasant smile faltered. Her eyes were beady and focused. “We made a deal.”
“Sure did, and if I feel like upholding it I’ll put that dinner together for ya.”
“This—deals are made and kept Emma Swan. You don’t get to ignore it just because you feel like it.”
“No,” she rounded on the woman, “I get to ignore it because you want to be alone with my son and Regina.”
“I said you could stay.”
“And I say you’re a poisonous and vindictive woman stuck in a cage—right where she belongs. I’m not going to let you out for a day just so you can play mind games with my family.”
“I don’t care about your family. I care about mine.”
“Kinda sucks then doesn’t it? Because they’re my family too. You stay in the cage.” She turned and pounded on the door to be let out. She paused after the nurse opened the door. “And thanks for the tip.”
“You’re just like the rest of your kind,” Cora called. One last jab—a final push for some kind of victory.
“Your mother. You don’t just look like that hypocritical little princess. You act like her too.”
She didn’t really look like Mary Margaret.
She paused to stare at her reflection in the rearview. Sure, similar cheeks and noses, and maybe their eyes were a little alike, but Mary Margaret was a brunette at home in frumpy mom clothes with a little mod flare. Emma wore leather and jeans. Mary Margaret would cry over a dead bird. Emma would put more gravy on it and save room for pie for desert.
They were different.
Her phone rang and with a glance at the ID she answered, “Tell me I’m not my mother.”
Regina was amused, “Have you been frolicking with woodland creatures lately?”
“Fallen in love with a prince at first sight?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“Are you living with dwarves?”
“Does Henry count?”
“Congratulations then: you are not Snow White.”
“Or Mary Margaret?”
Regina actually laughed. Something throaty and new. “Definitely not.”
Emma sighed. “Thanks.”
“Why the sudden identity crisis?”
“Interviewing sources. One of them got under my skin.”
“Clearly. If you’re telling me I mean.”
Emma drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. Regina’s heels clicked a steady rhythm on the pavement.
A beat in between footsteps—just long enough to tell Emma Regina missed a step. Maybe stumbled. Or just stopped for a second. “I did.”
“There is exactly one way in and out of the barrier, and Gold hasn’t let it out of his sight.”
“Which means the killer isn’t from Storybrooke.”
Shit. “And you’re sure?”
“Gold’s sure, which makes me sure.”
“Unless he’s part of it.”
“No. We struck a deal for the information. He wouldn’t lie. It’d void that deal.”
Part of Emma skipped a beat that time. “What kind of deal?”
“A lousy one.”
“It’s fine. Really.”
“It’s not like a first born child kind of deal?”
“No. That’s my mother’s prerogative. Trust me. It shouldn’t affect you or Henry or anyone else in town for that matter.”
“What about you?”
“If it was a bad deal I wouldn’t have taken it. Now what did you learn?”
“That this stupid war might be real.”
Regina made that really irritating ‘mm hmm’ noise know it alls always made when they wanted to say they knew it all along but didn’t actually want to say it out loud.
“I’m gonna have to have another chat with the Mother Superior.”
“Do you need—I mean should I come? I’m very good at playing a ‘bad’ cop.”
She sounded kind of excited at the prospect. Eager enough that Emma smiled. “No. I think I’ve got both sides of the trope covered. But if you want to pick Henry up from school that would help things on this end? Keep me from rushing.”
“Done.” Her feet stopped clacking on the pavement and she sighed loudly into the phone. “I should go get my car down then.”
“Someone misplaced it.” It sounded like she was gritting her teeth.
“My enemies apparently either want to turn me into trees or stick my car in a tree. I’ll explain later.”
She’s had that car twenty-nine years and if it was harmed in any way she was going to find the idiot pranksters and flay them alive.
She closed her eyes.
A wet nose pressed against her palm as Pongo demanded a greeting even if Regina wasn't in the mood to give it. She turned slowly and found Pongo's master tilting his head and watching her curiously.
"Why are you staring up at that tree?"
Her smile was so tight she thought something was going to split. "Because, if you'll direct your attention to the branches you will notice that my car is in the tree."
He pushed his glasses further up his nose and his eyes widened in surprise when they focused on the beautiful black Mercedes creaking in the branches. "It is!"
Oh god. She sighed. Steeled herself for the incoming stupidity hinted at in his helpful and concerned tone.
Archie tried to look very serious over the rims of his glasses. "Why did you put your car in a tree?"
Absolutely not. “No."
"No?" He tilted his head again.
"No, I'm not going to talk to you because you're clearly trying to psychoanalyze me."
He threw his hands up in defense and Pongo used the opportunity to pull closer and sniff Regina's crotch.
"I would never—not without your permission."
"Well, you don't have it. So hop along."
Her tone didn't brook argument and Archie shuffled away, periodically pausing to glance back with a frown or tug on Pongo's leash as he whined loudly over the injustice of being pulled away from his favorite town resident.
It figured. The only long term resident of the town to love her unconditionally was a dog.
“Regina love, your car is stuck in a tree."
She closed her eyes again, just so she wouldn't have to watch Killian hitch up his pants and wander around underneath the tree and stare up at the undercarriage of her car.
She heard him take a swig of something.
"How is it in the tree? I thought cars were heavy."
"They are," she said without moving her jaw.
"Some strong man lob it up there?"
"The crocodile do it as a lark?"
He gave her a pitiable look, "You and the missus have a row and she fling it up there?”
The missus—"You're drunk."
He raised his wine bottle, "I am."
"And," she noticed something sticking out of his pants, “is that a wand!?"
He looked down at his crotch, "Well that's one way of putting it. I prefer to call it my sword—hey!"
She yanked the actual wand out of his pants by the handle and waved it in his face, "Where did you find a fairy wand!"
"Where there are…trees?"
"So help me Killian if you don't start—wait a minute." She pointed the end of it at him and jammed him in the chest with the tip, "Did you stick my car in a tree?"
He grinned, suddenly malicious, "Great work eh?"
Henry was one of the last children out of the school so Regina had to suffer through all the children and their parents glaring, and then the parents trying to shield their children from the Evil Queen.
She grinned at any of them that made eye contact and delighted watching them scurry away—even if she could hear Emma scolding her in her head.
“Kid’s never gonna move back in with you if all the other kids are too scared to spend the night.”
The particularly brazen ones she tried a genuine smile on—but that seemed to be much, much worse.
The groaning in her back seat, with the pair of boots pressed against the window, probably didn’t help.
One woman stopped when she heard the groan and Regina tried a little half-hearted wave. Her passenger groaned again and the woman bolted.
“He’s not dead,” she called after her.
It didn’t help much.
“Really,” she said to the flock of children that rushed by. When they were far enough away they all screamed in unholy terror and kept running.
She rolled her eyes. “Children.”
Henry was all alone, standing in the doorway to the school. His uniform sweater was getting too small in the shoulders and stretched awkwardly across his frame, and even though she’d seen him the day before it still seemed like he needed a haircut.
“Solving crimes. I thought I’d pick you up.” She stood up straight and wrapped her arms around herself and tried the genuine smile again.
He crossed the road to the car warily. His backpack thumping noisily against his hip. “I could have made it home by myself.”
“I know you could have dear, but with everything going on Emma and I just wanted to be careful.”
“But they’re not trying to blow me up.”
She frowned at his surly tone. “No, they aren’t.” She tilted her head in question, “What’s wrong?”
“Why were you out here? Waiting?” It sounded like an accusation and she struggled not to bristle in response.
“We’ve been over this.”
“You made all those first graders scream.”
“That’s because they’re in first grade. It had nothing to do with me.”
He didn’t believe it, and her case didn’t improve when he threw his bag in the back seat without looking and was met with another loud groan.
"Mom, why is Captain Hook unconscious in the back of your car?”
“It’s a long story, but he deserved it.”
Henry scowled again and the drive back to Emma’s apartment was long. Quiet. Awkward.
“How’re the nuns doing,” was what Emma actually asked.
“Tell me about this war you refuse to tell me about right now damn it” was what she really wanted to ask.
She was hanging around Regina for too much, because for half a second just wading into the thick of it and demanding answers seemed like a good idea.
“We’re grieving,” Blue said with a tight smile. “How’s the girl? Aurora? I know she was close to Merryweather.” It was something about the nun’s eyes. She was in on exactly what this meeting was about, but wasn’t prepared to say anything.
So Emma settled back to have a good old fashioned “we won’t say what we’re really thinking because you’re an obfuscating asshole and I don’t want to get turned into a bug” interview.
“It has her focused,” she said cooly. “She’s actually following a lead as we speak.”
The lead being Whale. After Emma’s conversation with him at the hospital she’d given Aurora the go ahead to up surveillance on him. He was pinging her bad guy radar far too often to be left to his own devices.
“I was gonna ask you that.”
The Mother Superior feigned surprise. “Me?”
“The murderer, he asked Regina about a war. And it isn’t the first time I’ve heard mention of it?”
“A war? Between Regina and the town?”
For whatever reason the Mother Superior wanted to be coy and beat around the bush. Emma obliged her, saying simply, “No.”
The nun rolled her wand between her thumbs and forefingers. “If I’d heard anything you’d be the first to know. The town’s safety is my utmost concern.”
It was a lie. A big bald lie. The fairy nun sat across from her blinking placidly and looking sincere and she’d just lied through her teeth.
And they both knew it.
“Just how important is the town to you?”
Blue frowned. It made her features much more severe. “The people of the Enchanted Forest are everything to me Sheriff. My mission in life is to keep them safe.”
“Including your nuns?”
“And the monks too then. Right?”
There it was. The tiny falter. The darkened eyes. The swell of magic Emma figured was her showing off her stuff.
“To be a nun you must experience a calling. The Divine I’m now obliged to believe in must speak to you. The memories may be made by magic, but God did speak to me Sheriff. And my calling is this convent. And that monastery. And this town. It is the same for every other nun and monk in Storybrooke.”
“I got a calling too, remember?”
That seemed a better way to phrase it. It didn’t ache quite as much to say. “Destiny” felt all dry and bitter on her tongue. “Calling” was more rational—even if Blue had just said God spoke to her. Real people could have callings. Being a bail bonds person had been a calling.
Saving a town full of people that unconditionally loved her could be a calling too.
And it meant the two of them were kind of the same, around the edges. Stuck saving the town whether they wanted to or not. Henry’s book even gave them both names.
“I know you do. I was there the day you received it.”
“Then you know I can’t stop until I find out what’s happening and I end it.”
“The difference between your calling and mine, Sheriff, is you may abandon yours without repercussion.”
She would have just walked away, but Henry at a turnover.
“That’s not gonna happen.”
She sat up straighter, “I told you all I can Emma. You need to trust me now.”
“I have to know someone to trust them, and no offense, but I don’t know you.”
“Your mother will vouch for me.”
“Too bad I don’t really know her either.”
“That’s too bad.” She tilted her head and gazed at Emma. “You’re very much alike.”
“I don’t see why I’m the one that has to go wandering around the whole bloody town with you.” Killian was complaining again. It had been going on off and on since she’d dragged him out into the woods after dinner.
She shined the beam of her flashlight into his eyes and he squinted and jerked away and tried to block it with his hook. “Because you were the one that found the wand.”
“I was also pissed. Can’t you just use a spell?”
They’d been following a magically lit path through town for over two hours— She peered at him, “What do you think I’ve been doing? This spell is tracing your steps.”
“So that’s why we went to the Jolly Roger?”
“And why we went the Rabbit Hole, the diner and my bedroom window.” She raised an eyebrow and tried to keep the anger from coloring her voice.
Killian still hadn’t explained that visit.
He ignored her and nodded sagely. “This trip is starting to make more sense.”
“Just imagine how much sense it will make when you’re sober.”
“Things never make sense sober,” Killian insisted.
She conjured a bottle of water and tossed it to him. “If you want Aurora to try and stage an intervention keep talking like that.”
He accepted and took a hardy swig. “You don’t make sense sober.”
“That a fact?”
He wagged his hook in her face, “You’re in love with the woman that took your revenge from you,” he wagged it again, like he was ticking items off his long lost fingers, “you’re trying to forgive the woman that murdered your lover, and…”
“The whole town hates you but you’re trying to save their lives. So you, Regina Mills, make no sense.”
“I’m doing it for Henry.”
“That’s it then? The cure for revenge is adopting a whelp?”
“It’s better than alcohol.”
“We work with what we have love. And all I’ve got is bottles and bottles of rum.”
He raised the bottle of water in toast and took another long swig.
The perpetual stubble on his chin had turned into a beard at some point, and she couldn’t even see his Adam’s apple as he drank.
“Oh, look,” he motioned with the bottle, “the trail’s gone all glowy.”
She looked up the path and saw that it had, indeed, “gone all glowy.”
“That’s not the technical term.”
“And I’m not a witch so I don’t care.” He waved his flashlight around the surrounding area, craning his neck to look up into the trees. A light fog had moved into town and left everything just damp enough to be irritating. Big fat drops of water collected on the branches overhead and noisily splashed onto the forest floor.
“Come to think of it, this does look familiar,” he mused.
They trudged through the brush and both wrinkled their noses at what they found beside the glowing trail.
“And the rotting corpse,” Regina asked. “He familiar too?”
Emma clutched her coat collar tightly around her neck and tried not to frown. “Do I want to ask why the two of you were wandering around the woods in the middle of the night?”
“Killian got drunk and stuck my car in a tree this afternoon with a wand he found. We were tracing it to its source.” Regina waggled the wand between two fingers as illustration and Hook nodded as enthusiastically as a slowly sobering man could.
“Okay, so, pretty relevant question: why were you wandering around in the woods Hook?”
“I was drunk.”
“He was drunk.”
“And you just…wander when you’re drunk?”
She raised her hand to rub the bridge of her nose but stopped when she saw the little bemused smirk on Regina’s face. She wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction, not when her butt was getting dragged out of the warm loft to come out to the middle of the woods.
“And you found the wand while drunk, but not the dead fairy monk.”
“To be fair,” Regina interjected, “the monk was covered in leaves.”
He was only partially covered in leaves now. They’d been brushed away from his protruding belly and a face that would have been gregarious when alive. Some of the leaves were still caught in his big white beard—
“Why does the dead fairy monk look like Santa Claus?”
Regina shared a look with Hook.
“Regina…” she half whined.
Emma moaned, “Don’t—”
“—Technically his name is Sinterklaas.”
She looked back down at the dead man. He looked more like drunken mall Claus then the guy that was supposed to bring gifts and almost never did. “So Santa Claus is dead.”
“Sinterklaas love. Note how he’s real.” Hook snorted, “And not very jolly. Are you,” he shouted down at the dead man.
“He’s got a pot belly and a big white beard and his last name is Claus. What the hell am I supposed to tell the town—the kids?!”
“That he’s dead.”
“You’re not helping Hook.”
“Well, with Storybrooke at least, most of the children won’t be very upset,” Regina said. “Sinterklaas was actually rather nasty. He and his best friend Krampus ran around enslaving children.”
Hook gave the dead body a swift kick, “He was a right racist bugger too if I remember correctly.”
“And now he’s dead. And a fairy apparently.”
“Jolly old man enslaves children or gives them presents? He’s either a fairy or a god.”
“Gods are real?”
Regina and Hook were both suddenly afflicted with a disturbingly bleak thousand yard stare. The kind that sent a chill straight up Emma’s spine. Regina snapped out of it first and gave a tight little nod. “Very.”
“Santa Claus and gods.” Did that mean Jesus existed? Like out in some other land? Was it blasphemous to think that? What if he was out there? Shit, what if he was cursed into the town? Like that stoner who wore flip flops all the time and talked about peace. “Hey Regina, is—“
She shook her head.
That was just…it was ridiculous.
“You all right love?”
She wasn’t all right. Santa Claus was rotting at her feet and she had just had the most inane thought ever.
Hook waved his hand in front of her face and Regina slapped it down. “Would you stop!”
“I think her mind just jumped ship.”
“No,” she croaked. “No, I’m fine. I just…I what if its gods?”
They both blinked.
“Gods are real right? And magic? The killer can move through the barrier, which they shouldn’t be able to do—“
“Unless they weren’t cursed—that includes an entire world Emma. It has nothing to do with gods.”
“So how do they know about Storybrooke? Why would they come here? What reason would a regular person have to kill a fairy and leave the body. None. But gods at war would.”
Regina was definitely unconvinced, but just wore a reluctant expression on her face.
Hook full on laughed, “That’s a bit far fetched love.”
“Gods don’t just start wars Emma,” she finally said, “They’re gods. They start a war and they finish it. Quickly. They wouldn’t wander around Storybrooke picking off fairies and turning dogs into cars.”
“Look, I’m just trying to work in the wheelhouse you guys shoved me in. That creepy blind witch said it was a war between magic and its creators. So either the fairies made magic murderers, or they’re being offed by their creators.”
“That—“ Regina blustered.
“You have a better idea? Either of you.”
“Changelings figured out fairies made it to this land and are trying to kill them,” Regina said succinctly.
Hook nodded like he somehow understood and agreed.
“Changelings are sent to every land, one must have made it here. That’s he they can get through the barrier and that’s why he's exclusively attacking fairies—specifically ones popular to children's films in this world.”
Santa Claus. Merryweather. Crysta had sort of looked like the one from FernGully. It made sense. A lot of sense. But—“there’s not a lot of evidence to support it.”
“Oh you mean beyond the dead fairies and a cryptic asshole who tried to blow me up? No, there isn’t, but it’s that or your god theory.”
“I vote for the one that doesn’t involve us facing off with gods again.”
“No one asked you Hook.”
He held his hands up in surrender.
"Fine," Emma sighed, "Sure. Changeling it is. You two are free to go then if you want then. I'll wait by myself for the EMTs and Mulan.”
Hook shouted to the heavens in joy and immediately tromped off into the woods. Leaving Emma alone with Regina, who was staring again.
"You didn't put up much of a fight."
"It's magic. You know better."
"It's murder. I was under the impression that was your forte?"
"It was. But now I'm standing over the corpse of Santa Claus, got people talking about flipping changelings and gods and everyone and their mom is telling me how I remind them so much of my mom."
Regina nodded, "You had a rough day didn't you?"
"That's twice you've mentioned Snow."
God. She hadn't even talked to her at dinner that night. Henry had been surly and not talking about it and it had set a mood—making everyone snappish. Between that and Cora and the Mother Superior Emma was worn out.
"You are like her."
And it got worse.
But then Regina's eyes just sort of glowed. Not with magic, but with gooey sentimentality that looked really weird on her. Then she blinked and normal snarky Regina was back in front of Emma. "But I've only tried to kill you once in this timeline, so you're clearly different."
She was grateful. She just didn’t know what for.
The next day, after dropping a still sullen Henry off at school Emma got the distinct pleasure of going to the convent again and informing Blue of a death again—though this time she had the grace to seem genuinely stricken—and dealing with her information blackout again and then sitting in on an autopsy with David again.
Then she got to spend an hour in the woods with Aurora talking to birds and trying to get them to watch the town border for the murderer.
She was running out of ideas. They had a name for the guy, Peter Tamlin, but the address was a joke and the only other Peter Tamlins she’d found all lived far away and all seemed very happy according to Facebook. So if he was a changeling then he’d changed his name before starting his murder spree and the only hope of finding him was catching him before he took another fairy out.
Which meant Aurora’s bird network.
"I don't know how, but I think we're violating the Patriot Act with this thing.”
"Saving lives is patriotic," Aurora countered.
"Yeah, but invading peoples' privacy to do it is distinctly un-American."
"What the people of Storybrooke don't know can't hurt them."
"Thank you Cheney.”
“And are they technically American?” An accent popped up when she said America. Like how most people would say Tatooine.
“I have no idea, but we’re in America, so I’m going with it.”
“Who did the autopsy today?”
Aurora stopped short, “Know All?”
“No. Knowles. Who’s Know All?”
“No one. You didn’t have Whale do it?”
“I’ve got you watching the guy because we think he’s involved. Why would I have him do the autopsy?”
She shrugged, “He doesn’t seem very suspicious so far. Work and home. I kind of wish he’d vivisect someone already.”
"He could have."
"Not anyone we've found.”
“True,” They were still missing the body of the first monk, murdered with his own wand. “So…is the Whale hunt not enough?”
Aurora didn’t commit to a yes or no.
“Because if it isn’t—and you can handle it and the bird thing, then maybe you could take on something else too.”
“What are you asking for?”
She took a deep breath. It was now or never. “I need someone who already has an in with the fairies to poke around.”
She’d been thinking about it a while, but had resisted saying anything. Aurora was the goddaughter of a victim and making her that involved with the case was dangerous, but of everyone she had working with her that she trusted she was the only one who actually knew the fairies.
“I’ve already asked my mother and my godmothers. They don’t know anything.”
“Would they lie?”
“Not to me.” Aurora was positive. “Not after what happened to Merryweather.” There was steel in her voice. Fervent commitment too.
“The prevailing theory is there’s a war and the fairies are fighting it and clamming up about it.”
“Which is possible, but my family wouldn’t be involved. They’re not popular with the others. Fairy marrying a human remember?”
“That’s not true. Your godmother was murdered because she was involved.”
“That’s what you heard from a cannibalistic witch.”
“That Regina trusts with the truth.”
“And Regina? What does she think of you using me to get information out of the fairies?”
“She doesn’t know. And it doesn’t matter. Changeling or not the fairies know more than they’re letting on, and we need to find out what.”
She jutted her chin out, “I just said I wouldn’t didn’t I?”
“Uh, yeah. Thanks.”
They went back to talking to the birds, and not talking to one another. Aurora was quiet and her face was all screwed up in thought. She kept pausing and staring off—all the cylinders in her brain firing.
Emma was going to ask her if she was really okay with asking—what with clearly being troubled and thoughtful about it, but her phone rang.
It was a local number she didn’t know and she brought it up to her ear half expecting the killer to have called and cackled.
But it wasn’t the killer.
“This is Francis Grahame, the principal at Henry’s school?”
Changelings, fairies, gods and moms. None of them inundated her whole person with dread quite like those words.
"Is Henry okay?"
For a time, before Emma had come to town, Regina got a call from Henry's school weekly. Always apologetic, always concerned, and always telling her her son had disappeared.
She'd find him up in the woods on the bluff looking out over the town sometimes, but usually he'd be out at that death trap "castle" on the beach, feet dangling over the side and hazel eyes fixated on the listless gray sea.
The bizarre malaise in a child, the quietness, the way he got angry when it was just the two of them, and would glare and sulk and flinch at her touch. That's when he started seeing Archie. That's when Mary Margaret decided he would be her project student.
That was when it all started to fall apart.
Calls from the school, without fail, caused her to panic. Not the big kind of panic where she'd cry and rush around and destroy anything that got too close.
But a still sort of panic that hummed inside of her and wouldn't ease until she'd seen her son.
"What's happened," Emma asked.
The principal coughed. He was a heavy set guy with no hair on top of his head, a couple of chins, and a fondness for tweed suits. "We really should wait for his mother."
Wow. Principal Grahame must have been the only guy in town who didn't consider Emma Henry's mom.
"She's on all the forms," he said. He must have noticed her surprise. "We're part of the Maine school system now and I'd like to keep things tidy in case they visit. Unless, he was removed from her custody?”
That was a big word and it rankled Emma, "No," she said evenly, "he wasn't. And if you're being official why am I here?"
"You're the sheriff."
Henry was sitting in the chair beside her, apparently unharmed besides a small scrape on his chin. He ducked his head. His cheeks turned bright red.
"Kid, what did you do?"
The principal coughed again. His voice was hoarse, like the cough was kind of permanent. "We really should wait. Ms. Mills is…particular."
He didn't need to tell Emma that.
She lurched into the room breathlessly.
She'd driven when teleporting would have been faster. She wasn't completely sure why.
It was like she wanted to be there to see what Henry had done and wanted to avoid the news as long as possible.
Which meant she was sure why. She'd been procrastinating.
Emma Swan was rubbing off on her.
And she was waiting in the principal's office with their son and the toady old man himself.
She and Henry both had identical expressions of contrition when they looked over their shoulders to see who'd burst in.
"What did they do," she asked.
Grahame shivered in his chair. "They—uh—nothing?"
"Really," Henry asked hopefully.
"He means me kid, you definitely did something," Emma said. "Not sure what though." She stared the principal down while Regina took a seat in the chair on the other side of Henry.
Regina gave her son a quick once over and her stomached lurched at the sight of his knuckles. "Henry! What on earth—" She snatched his hand up before he could pull away. "What happened to your hand!"
Emma craned for a look. "Jesus kid. Did you punch a wall?" The knuckles were all red and swollen.
"He punched Ava Zimmer,” the principal said matter of factly.
"You punched Ava Zimmer," Emma yelped.
"She's a girl," Regina cried.
"She's bigger than me!"
"Kid, that's still—you don't—punching is wrong!”
"You two punched each other,” he countered petulantly.
Regina flashed a warning look at Emma who looked as shocked as Regina felt. “I didn’t—who told you!”
His eyes bugged, “You guys punched each other!?” As if he wouldn’t believe whatever Emma said he turned to Regina. “Really?”
“We’re off topic,” she said cooly, “Why did you punch that street urchin?”
Emma groaned. “You made her a street urchin.”
“No, she made herself a street urchin, and why did you punch her Henry?”
He glowered and tucked his bruised hand under his armpit.
Beside him Emma sighed. “Come on kid. I’m sheriff. I’m gonna find out sooner than later.”
“Did she try to hurt you,” Regina prodded.
Emma thumped him on top of the head. “Don’t be sexist.”
“Henry. Please. Tell us.”
After a long moment of silence Grahame sighed. “Henry would you excuse your mo—would you excuse us? Just right outside is fine.”
He opened his mouth to protest, and then took in all three adults’ looks and thought better of it. He proceeded to stomp out with all the attitude of someone a good four years older.
When Grahame was sure he was out of earshot he took a deep breath and scooted his chair, almost imperceptibly, closer to Emma. “Ms. Zimmer said something Henry didn’t agree with. That’s why he punched her.”
“My son doesn’t just go punching people because of disagreements Mr. Grahame. I raised him better.”
He didn’t verbally agree, or disagree, but the tight smile on his wide lips said he had his doubts. “This is why I asked Sheriff Swan here.”
“He punched her because she said something about me?”
He shook his head and motioned to Regina. “Because of her actually.”
That explained why he was acting all nervous and fidgeting and coughing. The principal had to deliver unpleasant news to the big bad Evil Queen and he was terrified.
“You asked me here to make sure she wouldn’t do anything,” Emma realized.
He looked back over at Regina.
For her part she seemed thunderstruck by the implications of what he was saying, and she’d gotten a little pasty because of it.
“You think,” she laughed, “you think what? You say something I disagree with and I’ll turn you into a toad?”
Grahame turned green. “It’s just,” he coughed, “you have a reputation ma’am.”
Ma’am. In Emma’s experience that meant he wasn’t from the Enchanted Forest. Those Curse victims called her “your majesty.” Every time.
Regina crossed her arms. She was slipping into the role of antagonist and she wore it comfortably, leaning back in her chair and raising one eyebrow. “Is that so,” she drawled. “Do enlighten Mr. Grahame.”
“We’re getting off track again. You asked us here to talk about Henry and why he punched Ava Zimmer. So what did she say?”
“She said Ms. Mills imprisoned her father and abandoned her and her brother in the woods.”
Which meant she definitely did do that.
“So he punched her?”
“It’s not the first incident. Paige Grace told people about her father being abandoned in Wonderland? She and Henry got into a shouting matching that Ms. Blanchard had to break up. She and Henry didn’t mention it?”
Not even a peep.
“That’s all? Two little girls tell some old stories and Henry protects my reputation? Why is this a problem?”
“Because there’s the fact he rather forcefully insists everyone be polite to you. Forgive you even.”
“And you must know ma’am. That simply isn’t possible. These children all have opinions and Henry must learn to deal with them.”
“People are attacking me through my son. He will not ‘deal with it’ Mr. Grahame. And neither will I. And if you don’t agree with that we can always find a new principal.”
“Woah, hey,” Emma scooted forward on the seat of her chair, leaning on the desk and putting her hand out between Regina and the principal. “He’s just doing his job Regina.”
“He said my son is being bullied and should accept it.”
“That’s not what he said. He said kids are upset—“
“And taking it out on Henry! If they’re so mad they can come to me. Not Henry.” She was fervent on that point—channeling all the righteous rage of hers in a fundamentally different way than Emma was used to.
Before Regina would fight for Henry and it seemed like she was battling over a toy. There was passion but it was always kind of…distant.
The Regina sitting in the office opposite her was a mom. A protective, kind of overbearing, super powerful and bitchy…mom.
Emma wanted to reach out and tell her it was gonna be okay. But she stopped herself at the last second. Whatever she and Regina were they weren’t the kind of people who got emotional and earnest. Especially in public.
She took a deep breath. “Mr. Grahame if you don’t mind I think Regina and I will deal with Henry ourselves.”
Regina started to protest and Emma hurried to finish. “And I expect you to have a talk with your teachers—and the students if necessary. Whatever crimes Regina committed are her crimes, and if they want to be mad at her they can, but they will not be taking out their anger and frustration on our son. Can we agree on that?“
He nodded. “Of course. But…”
“Well, go on,” Regina said, “spit it out.”
“I still have to suspend Henry for the rest of the week.”
“Excuse me?” Regina’s voice was like ice water and Emma felt something awful and cold in her locket.
“He punched a girl.”
“He had provocation.”
“We don’t punch Ms. Mills.”
“Maybe you don’t—“
Emma blindly reached for Regina’s forearm, forcing her own—calm or whatever—into Regina. “We get it. He’s suspended. No more punching.”
Regina was furious and only half pretended to hide it. They came out of the principal’s office and she vibrated with anger. It didn’t help matters when they talked about taking Henry home and Henry interpreted that as the apartment. Again.
She insisted on driving Henry there herself. “You have a murder to investigate Ms. Swan. We’ll manage just fine.”
It was like Emma was in the dog house. Which—she wasn’t the one punching kids or threatening guys with magic! She was the rational one in this situation.
If anything Regina and Henry should have been the apologetic ones. They were the ones with nasty tempers. Proving that some traits of a person weren’t bred, but learned.
She took a deep breath before turning the key in the ignition. She was feeling the urge to bust heads, or at least not feel so contrite when she was the innocent party.
Emma got in her police cruiser and drove off with her foot too heavy on the gas.
And Regina and Henry sat.
She tapped the steering wheel. Tried to school the myriad of thoughts roaming around in her head like a herd of centaurs.
“What,” she asked cooly.
“Are you mad?”
He was timid, for a change. And that timidity settled the monsters writhing in her head. “Yes,” she said, “but not at you.”