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catching on (a little bit of summer)

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FEBRUARY

When he gets the phone call, Marco Falegname is so stunned that he merely stutters out “Of course” and “Certainly, right away,” before he hangs up the phone and looks over at the faded photograph of Mariana for help. 

(And yes, he knows there is no Mariana, there never was, but the girl in the photo is kind-eyed and her smile is more of a smirk, and in his mind he’s kissed that smirk a thousand times, so—so—)

As usual, Mariana just watches him, and in the back of his mind he hears her chiding him: “Hop to it, old man, time to get paid.”

So he drives over to Mifflin Street with his toolbox and a few assorted pieces of wood in the bed of his pickup, after leaving a message on Archie’s answering machine telling him exactly what time it is and where he’s going.  Because maybe she’s not evil anymore, but relapses happen, and if Marco knows anything it’s that a leopard can’t change its spots.  Just look at his son.  Liar from the day he came to life, no matter how much love—

He shakes it off and rings the doorbell, doffs his cap and waits with his toolbox at his feet.  When the queen opens the door, he forgets and almost trips over it, because she looks—well.  She looks happy.

“Mr. Falegname,” she says lightly, breath clouding in the cold air.  “Come in, please.”

He follows her into the house and up the stairs without a word, partially because he’s bewildered and partially because he’s studying the joint work for the tinsel-wrapped bannister in envy.  Magic can make things flawless, everyone knows that, and yet there are still slight imperfections where the wood changes direction, things he would take a sanding block to and refine just because it could be perfect.  Still, the work is impeccable, elegant, and—

“Mr. Falegname.  Marco.”

The queen is paused in the doorway at the end of the hall, and Marco straightens up with a sheepish smile, draws closer.  “My apologies.  The woodwork—“

She smiles kindly and he stops talking.  “I understand.  I have a call in ten minutes so I wanted to get you situated quickly, but feel free to examine away after.”

He nods, clears his throat and steps into the room, just as quickly wants to step out.  It’s clearly her bedroom—jewelry on the dresser, photo of Henry on the wall, really large bed overloaded with linens slanting into the floor—

Wait.

“I think I see the problem,” he starts, and she laughs.  Quietly, briefly, but actually laughs.

“I tried to look with a flashlight and I think both the corner leg and the middle support collapsed.”

Marco is already on his knees with a flashlight aimed under the bed.  She’s right; the corner leg snapped, probably after the middle support leg cracked in half.  “Ah—yes.”  He reaches forward, strains and manages to get his fingertips to brush against one portion of the cracked support, scrabbles for it and finally gets it in his grasp.  “Broke right in two, your maj—" and he stops, looks at her face which has darkened slightly.  “Madam Mayor,” he amends, and smiles at her.

And just when she starts to smile back, his mouth operates on its own again, and asks, “How did this happen?”

The queen blushes.

Marco feels his neck and face get hot, and turns back to the bed quickly, walks around to the collapsed end and examines the snapped-off leg, nods after a moment.  “I’ll reattach this one and reinforce the center, maybe a few more supports to take the load off the corners.  Yes?”

“Yes,” she says, and lifts her eyes from the floor.  “Thank you.”

It’s the work of an hour, maybe a little more, and he gets to it quickly, raising the bed with his mini-jack and gluing and clamping the leg before sliding underneath the frame with a few broad pegs to figure out where to support.  It’s a standard slat-frame bottom with a wooden rail down the middle, and he thinks he can put in a few blocks along that middle rail to shore the whole thing up.  Because he’d really rather never get this particular call again.

He turns the flashlight towards the head of the bed to assess where to put the blocks when a glint of gold off to the side startles him.  The entire room is spotless, everything in place, so the idea that the queen left anything under the bed or lost anything is just… nonsensical.  But as soon as he turns the light back onto the gold, he understands that no, no, he was right, the queen would never leave anything under the bed.

The sheriff, on the other hand, has never really regarded her badge with as much concern as she shows for her gun, her jacket or her phone.

Sighing, Marco looks up towards the ceiling and instead of God gets the bed frame, and he closes his eyes tightly, tries to think.  He can either hand the queen the badge and possibly get killed, or he can leave it and possibly get killed when she finds it, or he can put it on the nightstand or the dresser and pray for the best.

Option three it is.

“Mr. Falegname, would you like any sort of refreshment?”

He’s just about wiggled clear of the edge of the bed when the queen speaks from the doorway, and he starts hard enough to hit his head against the edge of the frame.  “Merda!” he hisses, and brings his hand to his head, except it’s the hand without the flashlight which means it’s the hand with the Sheriff’s badge.

Merda,” he says again, and looks up at the queen, whose face is a mix of concern and—not anger.  No, not anger.  Fear.

But she clears her throat, kneels next to him and gently touches his forehead.  “Are you all right?” she asks, and he just stares at her.  “Do you—do you think your vision is affected?  Would you like me to call someone?”

He wants to tell her that he used to hit his head at least twice a week doing some small repair job or the other, and Mariana would always just laugh at him and hand him a bag of frozen peas—there was one in particular that she wrote Marco’s Brains on—except Mariana wasn’t real and neither was the bag of peas.

“I’m fine, my lady,” he mumbles, and hands her the badge.  “This was under the bed.  I think I can put in four supports.”

She looks between the badge and his forehead, and the only thing he sees now is concern.  “Perhaps you should rest a moment—do you need ice or a drink of water or—“

“I’m all right, bambina, I can take a few knocks.”

Her sudden and brilliant smile reminds him of Mariana and how they’d talked about children with her smile and his eyes.  “Bambina?  I think I’m a little too old for that.”

“I’m twice your age, child, you could be sixty and still be bambina to me.”

She’s still smiling when a cloud of purple smoke envelops her hand, and then she’s holding out one of those gel ice packs like actual nurses use.  “Just from the freezer downstairs,” she says quietly, and her smile—Marco aches for Mariana in a way he thought he’d forgotten.  “My family is accident prone.”

He takes the ice pack, and smiles back. 

 


DECEMBER

“Do you want backup?  I could sit in with you.”

Sherri Sanders chews at her lip and looks over towards the door of her classroom, where the parents of six students are lined up waiting to speak with her.  “I think you’d make it worse,” she says quietly, and crosses her arms over her stomach.  “God, they both look like they’ll—“

“Hey, hey,” Rob interrupts her, tries to sound soothing.  “Don’t work yourself up.  They’re just parents.  Just like all the other parents.”

“Did you know that she made his second grade teacher cry?  Veteran teacher.  Probably could’ve stared down an army but not her.”

“Rumors,” Rob tries, weakly, but they both know that story’s true.

“And both of them? At the same time?”

In tandem, they both turn to look plainly at the two women at the front of the line.  Mills is typing away on her phone and clearly blocking out everything around her, if the way she’s grinding her jaw is any indication.  Swan’s leaning against the wall with one foot up to brace herself, whistling and idly flicking at something on her hip—“Is she playing with the safety on her gun?”

“Shit,” Rob says.

Sherri closes her eyes, kisses the little silver cross her grandmother gave her when she told her she’d have Henry Mills in her literature class this year.  “Sweet Jesus,” she sighs, and lifts her chin.

Mills and Swan follow her into her classroom with only the bare minimum of greetings and sit in the adjacent desks without looking at each other, and Sherri curses to herself because why, why did she have to get the warring magic moms?  Weren’t they supposed to coordinate who showed up for these things?

“So, ladies,” Sherri starts, and Mills raises her eyes from her phone with absolute murder in her eyes.  “Er—I mean, your majest—“

Swan clears her throat.  “Emma’s fine.”

“Ms. Mills will suffice.”

Swan rolls her eyes but says nothing.  Sherri looks down at the papers in Henry’s folder and shuffles a few of them, touches the cross at her neck.  “As you both know, Henry is a gifted boy.  He’s very astute, lightyears ahead of other students in terms of comprehension.”

Mills puts down her phone and powers off the screen.  Swan leans back in her chair and stretches out her legs before prompting, “But?”

Sherri’s seen that exact move from Aunt Rachel at holiday dinners, right before she goes off.  Keeping her left hand at her throat, wrapped around the cross, seems like a good pre-emptive move; never works for her grandmother, but maybe she’ll be lucky.  “He isn’t willing to put in the work a good seventy percent of the time.”

My son is not lazy,” Mills snarls, and Sherri can’t help her flinch, or the way she shivers again when Swan reaches out.

Except then Swan puts her hand on Mills’s knee—her bare knee—and it doesn’t result in immediate bloodshed.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean that when he cares,” and she passes the latest assignment across the desks to them, “he produces things like this.  But he only cares about once every three weeks.  So far.”

Mills looks between Sherri and Henry’s paper at least three times before she glances over at Swan out of the corner of her eye.  And that’s the part that baffles Sherri, because then Mills does something with her mouth like she’s trying to restrain herself and leans in towards the middle to read.

And then Henry’s batshit crazy moms are reading his short story together with their shoulders pressed together like there’s nothing remotely odd about it at all.  And Swan’s hand is still on Mills’s—thigh.  Higher than knee.  That is thigh contact.

What in the…

Swan goes to flip the page and Mills reaches out to stop her wrist, holds on while she finishes the page, then moves Swan’s wrist with her own hand to get to page two and instead of saying something, Swan just smiles.

And then she pulls her hand back from Mills’s leg, and Sherri exhales, because—okay.  Weird fluke moment.  So, maybe they don’t want to kill each other anymore, which means that the likelihood that Sherri will get caught in the “my son” crossfire is the lowest it could possibly get.  And that’s a—

Swan’s gone and put her arm around Mills.  Casually, like she’s just supporting her lean-in and her arm just happened to brace on Mills’s chair and curve around her torso like it’s the most natural thing in the world.  And then she nudges Mills with her shoulder, grinning like she isn’t risking death, and juts her chin towards the page, murmurs something that produces what Sherri can only assume is a genuine laugh from Mills, because it goes with the brightest smile she’s ever seen.

And then Mills glances up towards Sherri and her whole posture stiffens, and Swan’s shoulders drop slightly as she shifts back a few inches without looking up.  “He’s funny,” is all Mills says, though, and softly.  Like she’s almost surprised.

“Very,” Sherri agrees, and does her best to pretend like she isn’t damn sure she’s in the Twilight Zone.  “And gifted with language.  His vocabulary just in those four pages puts most of his peers to shame.  But it never comes across as—“

“Elitist,” Swan fills in, and Mills gives her another sideways glance, then looks back down at the paper.  “Never feels like he’s showing off or talking down.”

This time, Sherri and Mills both stare at her, and openly, until Swan finally glances up at Mills and shrugs.  “So—he’ll write things like this, but inconsistently?” Mills asks, and drags her gaze away from Swan.

Sherri nods, and brings forward the other folder she’s been holding onto.  Just as she opens it up to reveal the brochure for the Middlebury retreat, Mills darts her hand across the aisle to grab Swan’s, still resting on top of the page.

When she sees their fingers intertwine, Sherri lets go of her cross.

 


OCTOBER

Vincent Melora is redoing the candy apple kit display himself--because Lord knows none of the teenage delinquents he's hired can set up a display that actually sells things--when his former Queen and mayor slowly makes her way up the aisle and stops in front of the cake decor inset. In the 28 years of the curse, she never bought box mix once, and as expected the hand basket at her side has the raw ingredients for a cake. 

But, may God strike him down if he's lying, Regina Mills also has a box of Funfetti mix in her basket, and is looking between two packs of candles with nothing short of confusion on her face. "Mr. Melora," she says clearly—but not louder than necessary—and he quietly drops the last three kits on the floor and goes to her side. "These candles," she says, and hands him the blue pack, "say 'Trick' on them."

"Yes, madam."

"What do they do that is so tricky?"

He manages not to smile. "They reignite after being blown out, within about a second."

The look on her face is frighteningly reminiscent of the last time he saw her throwing fireballs. "So sh—one would have to keep blowing them out until...?"

"Extinguish them in water, madam. It's the only way. Otherwise they will keep reigniting."

She buys the trick pack, not the regular, and also a single candle with a star wick.  Vincent wants to ask who she's planning to subject to those trick candles, because her boy's birthday is in April, but he holds his tongue.

Two days later, Snow White comes rushing in and almost topples the candy apple kits. "Where's your cake mix?" she demands breathlessly, holding her fingers over the microphone of her cell phone. 

He guides her to the mixes and pauses when she starts talking into the phone again. "Do you think you can keep her out of the apartment while I bake? God, I don't even—what kind of cake does she even like? She said she has dinner plans? But it’s her—”

"Funfetti, I believe," Vincent supplies helpfully when Snow takes a breath, "but—for the sheriff, yes? I think cake might not be your best bet. Have you thought about a fruit tart?"

 


AUGUST

Annie Park takes one look at the Sheriff, bursting into her dry cleaning storefront with arms full of fall jackets two days before the school year starts, and rolls her eyes. "Rush job, Sheriff?"

Sheriff Swan grins sheepishly. "If you wouldn't mind?"

Annie waves her away and starts separating the coats on her counter. "I'll charge you double."

"Someday, I bet you will."

Smartass.  Annie just hands her the ticket stub with a flat glare and gestures towards the door.  “Triple for sass and loitering."

There's three more pieces than usual. Two are clearly the boy’s—a new flannel-lined denim jacket that looks like a miniature version of his grandfather's (still hanging on the second spinner, matter of fact) and a Storybrooke High School varsity jacket with "Mills" printed on the back and crossed oars on the front—but the third is a feminine olive-grey trench coat, designer, silk-lined.

Annie doesn't think much of it until she marks down a gouge on the collar of the red motorcycle jacket and a darker red stain on the inside of the collar. If it's blood—she's said repeatedly she will charge triple for blood.  Except it's not blood.  It's lipstick.  Who the hell gets lipstick on her own collar? It’s not like the sheriff even wears—

Oh.

Annie picks up the trench coat again, examines the cut and the lining. 

Well then.  Maybe only a thirty percent surcharge.

(She turns over the Sheriff’s uniform to find actual blood and decides on sixty percent.)

 


JUNE

Paige Grace is going to run the Boston Marathon in four years.

Everyone who knows—which isn’t that many people, because even though Jefferson will tell anyone he talks to, he really only talks to three people, and Barbara and Jeff just don’t understand why their little princess needs to be a track star so they never talk about it at all—tells her that she’s too young to train for a marathon and besides, what kind of goal is that for a young girl?

A good one, she always thinks.

Strong and stronger, that’s the goal—Marathon is just a code word and nobody has the cypher.

Paige Grace is going to run the Boston Marathon when she turns twenty, so she’s running four miles a day this quarter.  Five once school starts.  Six in the winter.

Four miles a day from Jefferson’s house takes her as far as the north end of the marina and back, and four miles a day from Barbara and Jeff’s gets her halfway up the boardwalk and back.  Today she’s running from Barbara and Jeff’s, so she starts early—early enough to miss all the other casual joggers, late enough to miss the morning fishing launch.

She’s just adjusted her gait to the gray and weathered wood, slowing down a little and letting her stride shorten, when she sees two shapes huddled together by her stretching post.  Well—the railing in front of the chips shack, really, but it’s her stretching post.  Her halfway mark.

Paige huffs, irked twice-over at having first her routine and then her breathing disrupted, but continues to jog closer.

The two shapes are two people and they’re not huddled, they’re cuddled, they’re slobbering all over each other, how rude.

She’s maybe forty yards away when she stops short, feeling like all the air’s been smacked straight out of her lungs, because holy shit.

That is definitely the Sheriff making out with the Mayor.  Henry’s moms.  Making out.  With each other.

Paige wrinkles her nose, because the idea of anyone’s parents making out is still and forever gross, and looks away.  Or, she tries to.  She really does.  Because ew, making out.

(“No, Jeff, I don’t have time for boys.  I have to train.”  Code for “I’ve got a few too many parents and one of them’s insane so no one would look twice at me if I paid them.”  No one has the cypher.)

Except she can’t not look, because Emma and Regina.  And when she looks, she sees—

—Things that just click into place.  That’s what she sees.  Curves against curves and click.  Fingers pressing into an ass, digging into the back of a neck and click.  Something bright and giddy at the corners of their mouths and click.

When they break apart abruptly, she realizes it’s because she kept walking and totally has no stealth skills and anyone can hear her steps on the boardwalk, dull and measured thkthkthk like a denser version of summer sandals’ thwap.  She ducks her head and looks down at her phone like she’s messing with her music and then decides that she can totally stretch at a different section of railing.  Because her usual section probably has gross make-out cooties now.

Unless, when it’s two women, there aren’t gross make-out cooties.

(Curves against curves and click.)

She’s going to have to think about that later.  After the Marathon.

She starts with gradual hamstring stretches, alternating between a pointed-toe squat and a pike until she can touch her toes without feeling any strain, and when she comes up, the Sheriff’s leaning against the railing next to her, taking a bite out of an apple.  “Morning, Paige,” she says cheerfully, and Paige drops one headphone but doesn’t stop her routine.  Bad enough that she had to move so the Sheriff could—whatever the term for it is.  She certainly won’t pause.

“Good morning, Sheriff,” she replies coolly.  

The Sheriff doesn’t seem to pick up on her irritation.  “Didn’t know you ran this early.”  

Paige switches to quad stretches, puts one finger on the railing for balance.  It’s cheating but the boards are old and warped and the Sheriff is extremely distracting now that she’s made out with the Mayor.  “Gotta train.”

There’s a sharp scent of salt and ozone lingering in the air, giving at least a small hint as to where the Mayor went.  “Where’s the rest of the team?”

Paige scoffs, juts her chin up towards the end of the walk, where the road to the center of town is.  “Asleep.”

“Huh.”  The Sheriff takes two more bites of the apple and doesn’t look away from Paige’s face.  “What’re you training for that they’re not?”

Scowling, Paige pulls her arm across her chest and holds it there, extended.  “Boston Marathon.”

That, at least, gives the Sheriff pause.  But then she grins, like Paige just offered her pancakes and bacon, and asks something no one else has.  “Cool.  And after Boston?”

“Huh?”

The Sheriff chews quickly.  “After Boston.  What then?  New York?  I hear AC’s got one through the casinos.  That could be cool.  Play the nickel slots every two miles.”

Huh.  “Yeah, New York,” Paige says slowly, because—after Boston.  “Maybe Chicago, too.”

“Nice.”  And there’s that stupid pancakes-and-bacon grin again.  “Let us know when you’re gonna do it.  We’ll come cheer for you at the finish line, or something.”

After Boston.  “We?” she repeats, and waits.

Except the Sheriff doesn’t blush; she just smiles.  Happy-dopey-stupid.  “Yeah.”

Click.  She’s going to have to think about that before Boston.