“I want you to listen to me, Mrs. Willows, and listen well. If you or any of your children try to come near Jana again I will make sure that you’re arrested and sent out of Storybrooke. Your children will be the ones going into foster care then, and will have to learn what it is to be at the mercy of strangers. Is that what you want?” He keeps his voice pitched low, not wanting his voice to carry. Whatever he thinks of the son, the daughters are only guilty of silence and there’s no reason to frighten them. He knows, more than most, what it’s like to try and stand up to a parent, and not be able to find your voice.
“Do you understand?” he presses again, after a minute of silence. His hand is wrapped so tightly around the handle of his umbrella that the knuckles are white and his palm hurts. If he were a violent man he might use more than words to direct the rage he feels inside, but he’s never hit anyone, and won’t start now. He’s all too aware of the little girl sitting in the passenger seat of his car.
“I’m glad to be rid of her. Why would I bother with her, now that she’s off my hands?” The woman’s voice is cold, filled with venom, and Archie has to remind himself that his umbrella is not a weapon for smacking people, even if he can make it look accidental. She’s talking of a ten year old girl, one she’s raised from infancy, but there’s nothing but disgust in her voice.
“I’m sure Sheriff Swan will be by to visit you soon. Until then have a nice day, Mrs. Willows.” There’s no sincerity in his tone as he turns to leave. There is, however, a hard grin when he sees his prophecy turned fact. The Sheriff’s car is pulling up right behind his.
“Archie.” She nods at him, barely sparing the woman still standing in her open doorway a glance. “Mary Margaret called me.”
“I just came to pick up a few things for her. It’s not much.” His own backpack is slung over his shoulder, stuffed with clothes and not much else. His stomach tightens when he thinks of the spartan room with no toys and only a single book hidden in a drawer. The other bedrooms he’d passed were filled with toys and bright colors.
“Her cousin?” She’s obviously gotten most of the story from Mary Margaret. He’s glad; the sooner she’s caught up the sooner he can leave.
“He’s fifteen, and probably weighs as much as I do. She has bruises, some black and some yellow. I’m sure there’s more that we haven’t seen.” They’d have to go to the hospital, to have her examined and photographed, for her own safety. He wasn’t about to let the people who were supposedly her family touch her again.
“I’ll call social services when I’m finished up here. Are you okay with her for a couple of hours? If not I’m sure Mary Margaret…”
“No.” He shakes his head, lips pinched together. “I know the people on the foster family list. None of them are prepared to take care of Jana’s needs. She’s staying with me.”
“I’m approved for emergency care. And you know, Emma. You know what it’s like.” He wasn’t using it against her, he told himself. It wasn’t a weapon, but a tool. He needed her to understand.
“She trusts exactly two people right now, and I’m pretty sure you and your roommate don’t have space for a third person. I need you to trust me. Please.” He’s reminded of the time he stood up to Regina, except Emma’s not the enemy. He’s never thought of himself as a strong person, but he can be strong for Jana just as he was strong for Henry.
“It has to be legal. You’ll call Social Services?” Maybe she’s thinking of Henry too, or maybe of a different child, shuffled from home to home for eighteen years. Either way she’s almost smiling, or at least not looking at him like he’s crazy.
“Of course. This has to be by the book. You and I both have the same goal here.” He’d never thought of having an ally before, but that’s what she was. They were, it seemed, building up a list of common foes. “I’m going to take her to the hospital, then home. Anything on your end can be done tomorrow, can’t it?”
“Paperwork can wait. She’s what’s important.” Emma nods at the girl, sitting in the car, her eyes following Archie everywhere he sent. “I’ll call you tonight and check in, alright?”
“Thank you.” He breathes easier, once she’s walking up the steps to speak with Jana’s aunt. He doesn’t wait to see her reach the door, but slides into his car and reaches across the seat to gently touch a small white hand.
“You’re safe now, sweetheart. I promise.” She doesn’t say a word, but as he starts to move his hand away to start the car she grasps his hand, and squeezes.