“I hate you,” Regina hisses. “I never want to see you again. I’m leaving right now, and you can’t stop me.” Henry opens his mouth to say something soothing and ineffectual, but she cuts him off. “What do you care?” she spits. “You’re not even my real father.”
He jerks back as though he’s been slapped. Oh, he knew this was coming but it hurts in a way he’d never expected. And underneath it all is that sickening guilt surging in his stomach.
He finally knows how his mother felt.
True to his word, Regina leaves. She claims she’s going to pack her things and walk out of the house right this instant and you can’t stop me, but she’s done this before and he knows that she’ll get as far as her bookcase and get distracted. He’ll find her an hour later, absorbed in a book, all thoughts of running away forgotten.
He just sits on the sofa, trying not to cry because he isn’t a kid anymore. He’s still there when Stephen finds him.
“Hey,” he says softly.
“Hey,” Henry replies miserably.
“Gina told me that you guys fought. Want to talk about it?”
“She said I’m not really her father,” he says hollowly, and there’s nothing he can do because it’s the truth. He must have said that last bit out loud, because Stephen pulls him close, and he can smell the cologne lingering on his husband’s sweater and he just takes a second to enjoy that, to feel safe in a way he hasn’t since…
“You are her father. We both are. Emotionally, legally….in every way that matters. We’re family.” He tips Henry’s chin up, presses a light kiss on his lips. “You must have said shit like that to your mom. I mean, social services warned us, they said it’s normal for kids to lash out that way. It’s in one of the books.”
Henry wants to tell him that books aren’t always right, but there are some things he’s kept from Stephen for the better part of a decade, some things he’s too ashamed to confess.
“I was a dick to my mom,” he says frankly. “I don’t know how she put up with it.”
“At least we’re doing this ourselves,” Stephen says gently. “I mean, it can’t have been easy when…”
“It wasn’t,” he said curtly. Emma came to their wedding, standing awkwardly at the back and crying a bit, but she left before the reception and he doesn’t think she even said hi to Mom. As far as he knows they haven’t spoken in fifteen years, not since Emma did a midnight flit, leaving him with a tear-stained note and an empty feeling inside. It took a while before he realised that was grief, not for the mother he lost but for the one he pushed away. And whilst he was a model son after that, he isn’t sure Regina the First has ever really forgiven him. The Christmas cards, birthday presents and occasional emotional (and, he suspects, drunk) phone call were all he had left of his birth mother. And mostly, he was OK with that.
All that, Stephen knows. Their daughter will too, as soon as she’s old enough to understand. But the other stuff, the things that make his cheeks burn to even remember - that, he’ll never tell. Their friends all think that he doesn’t let Regina watch Disney movies because they portray women as passive victims and he wants her to have better role models than that (“it’s because his mom’s a politician”, they say. “Before she got elected to Congress, she was Mayor of Nowheresville when he was growing up. He wants Gina to be just like her”). Anyway, he can write better fairy tales than that. He makes a pretty good living out of it, in fact. A fancy award too, until Gina found out the hard way that the Tiptree wasn’t a toy. Now it’s more like half an award and some bits, but he’s still pretty proud of it.
And it’s way easier than saying “so when I was a kid, I thought everyone in my town was a character from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Including my Mom, who doesn’t hate me anywhere near as much as I thought.”
It’s pretty dumb when you say it out loud, which is why Henry doesn’t as a rule. There was that awkward moment a few years back when David Nolan’s dismembered body washed up on the banks of the river and it turned out that rather than being Snow White, Miss Blanchard was just a regular psychopath, but generally he changed the subject every time the Storybrook Slasher came up. There’s a grad student in Stephen’s department claiming that Henry’s work is influenced by the fact that he was taught by a serial killer, but he’s turned down every one of her requests for an interview and, honestly, no one thinks the kid is going to make it past her viva.
The grandfather clock in the hall chimes the hour, and Stephen stretches.
“We’d better get our little runaway ready to go if we’re going to make it in time for dinner.”
“You get her,” Henry says, because sulking is a really hard habit to break, even when you’re thirty five and married and a dad. “I’ll wait in the car.”
He finds himself whistling an old, half-remembered tune that he can’t quite place as he waits for them, one of the old mining songs Leroy taught him.
Regina comes out of the house, skipping along in her little red macintosh, swinging the bag with the apple pie they made together. He smiles as he watches Stephen pull her away from the flower beds, where she’s trying to pick a bouquet, and manages to push the squirming six year old into the back seat.
“Buckle up, sweetheart,” Henry says, flashing her an all-is-forgiven grin in the rear-view mirror.
He eases out of the drive as his daughter babbles excitedly about all the things she has to tell her grandmother, and Stephen calls her his princess and he realises that even if fairy tales aren’t real, maybe happy endings are.