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Who Needs Shelter

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The worst part is that she’s almost sure this isn’t the first time.  They have a routine, worn in after a year: when Henry gets home from school, he goes straight up to his room and showers.  He’s taken to biking home because getting picked up by a mother is the height of uncool.  And of course Emma sided with him, not with Regina.

Normally, when Henry tramps through the foyer with his suddenly-large feet, Regina stays in her study.  Henry is an angel in the mornings—where he got that from, no one knows—but a hellion between three and five in the afternoon, when his slowly-stretching body demands sleep but his schedule demands activity.  After three weeks of near constant arguing last September, she realized the best thing to do is leave him alone until about 5:15, when he inevitably comes down and asks “What’s for dinner?” after hugging her tightly.

Two years later and she’ll still gladly trade an hour of silence for a good hug.

Today, though, she managed to spill her afternoon chamomile all over her blouse, so when the front door slams shut, she’s just starting down the stairs in a fresh shirt and is face to face with Henry as he sprints up them.  “Hey, Mom,” he says quickly, voice hoarse, and tries to duck to her left.

She reaches out and blocks his path with her arm, waits while his shoulders slump.  “Henry,” she starts, gently, and turns his face to her, “what happened?”

He tries to smile and his swollen lip spreads to reveal three cuts on the left side of his mouth.  “Nothing, fell from my bike, no big deal.”

She looks at his shirt, his hands, his jeans.  There are no other signs of a fall.  “Henry.”

He looks her straight in eye—comes up to her nose, now, almost a foot taller than he’d been when everything fell apart and somehow it makes a difference, makes them different—and says, “I fell.  From my bike.”  He holds her gaze and his eyes—his lovely hazel eyes—are begging her to believe him.

She sighs, removes her hand from his cheek but grasps his wrist instead.  “Your lip is split.  If you fell, you probably have gravel and dirt in it.  Come.”

He stays gratefully quiet while she dabs at the cuts with an alcohol wipe, pinching his eyes shut at the sting.  While she digs up the vitamin E oil, he tells her the relevant parts of his day, the things that he’d normally say over dinner: essay on The Odyssey due next week, history teacher gave another pop quiz, he really hates biology because there aren’t any consistent rules and they won’t get to dissect anything until AP senior year so there’s no point.

“What subject actually has consistent rules?” she challenges, and holds off his response by dabbing the oil on his lip.  “Certainly not English.”

“Math.”

“Wait until you’re dealing with imaginary numbers.”  He smiles, eyes bright, and the cuts turn red again.  “Hold a cotton round to it until it stops bleeding, then reapply the oil, all right?”

It’s a luxury to kiss his forehead, smooth his hair back and not have to worry about being pushed away.  “Thanks, Mom,” he murmurs, and hugs her again.

She leaves him to his shower and heads back into her study, stares at the phone for two full minutes before picking it up and making the call.

                                                                                                    


 

Henry is slightly surprised to see Emma standing at the island when he comes down, but shrugs and bumps her shoulder with his before getting a glass, stumbles past her to the fridge.  “Hey, Ma.  Staying for dinner?  What’s for dinner?”

“She is,” Regina answers, “and pork chops.”

“Baked or fried?”

She rolls her eyes.  “Fried.”  Emma and Henry both pump a fist in victory, mirror images of each other.  “But they’re lean chops, anyway.  And you’re having salad, not rice.”

“Aww, Mom, come on.”

“Why am I being punished?  I’m the guest!”

“Bad influence,” Regina retorts, and Henry snickers.

Emma scowls at him, returns to slicing the few vegetables she consistently agrees to eat: carrots, cucumbers, red bell peppers.  “Keep laughing, kid, I’m not the one with high cholesterol.”

“It was slightly high.  The doctor said slightly high,” he repeats, putting the orange juice back in the fridge.

“That paper said just plain high.  And now we’re all suffering because you went on a Twinkie binge.”

They don’t make them anymore, it was a honor binge of mourning.”

“You are entirely too upset about the demise of junk food capable of surviving nuclear war,” Regina observes mildly, putting the now-washed bowl of arugula down on the counter.   His glass of juice is just a few inches past her hand, so she reaches out and grabs it, steals a sip.  

“You never even had one,” and he swipes his juice back, “you can’t judge.”

“Of course I didn’t, you ate every one in the state of Maine.  And a single binge wouldn’t give you high cholesterol, your eating habits in general were unhealthy.  Get the green Pyrex from the fridge?”

Henry turns to the fridge and Emma meets her gaze, nods slightly.  Regina feels her stomach twist up, tilts her head in Henry’s direction and then smiles for him when he hands her the glass container with the marinated chops and onions, turns away and lets the two of them chatter about the touch football game on Saturday morning, whether Leroy’s ankle is healed enough for him to play again.

She’s just gotten the oil hot and the first two chops in when Emma, quite casually, drawls, “So, the hell happened to your face?”

Leave it to Emma to approach with tact.

Regina puts the mesh screen over the top of the frying pan and turns to look at Henry, who’s gone very still.  “That’s why you’re here?” he asks, and then looks at Regina.  “You called her?”

A look from Emma reminds her that they’re okay, that she can be strong about this.  So she merely crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow at him.  “Your mother asked you a question, Henry.”

“I fell,” he repeats, voice lower and harder.  “From my bike.”

She presses her lips together because she wants to say bullshit and she shouldn’t.  She shouldn’t, because Emma does.  “Bullshit, kid.  Try again.”

“I fell—“

“No marks on your bike, no new scuffs on your shoes, your mom says your clothes looked fine.  Your hands look fine, too.  What, you didn’t try to brace your fall, just took it to the face like a man?”

Regina can’t help the sharp inhale and glare she shoots at Emma, because they’re working on not using crap concepts like like a man.  Not with their boy.

“Sorry,” Emma grumbles, “like a fucking idiot.  Better?”

Regina pinches the bridge of her nose, but Henry laughs, and that’s worth it.  So she turns back to the stove, lifts the mesh and flips the chops.  “Henry, we just… want you to tell us the truth.  We won’t do anything—“

“Like hell we won’t,” Emma interrupts.

“—embarrassing, if that’s your concern,” and Regina glares at Emma briefly.  “But if you’re in trouble, we need to know.”

It’s easier for him to admit that he needs help when no one’s looking at him, which is why Regina asked Emma to wait until she was cooking, why Emma’s still facing the cutting board and not their child.  Because they need him to tell them he needs them, and Henry hasn’t been able to ask them for anything since they day they dragged him, unconscious, through the sugar-sweet water of Mermaid’s Lagoon and out to the Jolly Roger.

“I fell,” he repeats, and his voice is steady.

Emma doesn’t make a sound, but Regina knows that she’s holding in a sigh, too.  “Okay,” Emma says, and Regina hates when she sounds so sad.  “But… if you fall, again.  You’ll tell us you fell?”

It’s quiet for a moment, the only sound the snapping oil and fat from the pan.  It isn’t loud enough to cover the scritch in Henry’s throat, the way his voice is ready to crack from emotion and not puberty.  “I’ll tell you,” he agrees.

It’s something, even if it’s awful.  “Set the table, please, sweetheart,” Regina manages to get out while switching the chops out for the next two.  “Extra napkins for your slob of a mother.”

Hey!

 


 

Emma’s dozing on the couch in the living room by the time Regina comes in the with Tupperware of leftovers and a mug of coffee.  “I’m sorry my call woke you,” she murmurs, puts the coffee directly in Emma’s hand and leaves the Tupperware on the end table.  “I thought he’d tell you the truth, at least—“

“No, no, it was the right call, I’m glad you called,” Emma says quickly, sitting up to take a sip.  “God—this is—you’re sure you don’t want to run a coffee shop?”

Regina cocks an eyebrow, settles into the armchair by the doorway.  “Serving the peasantry en masse?  Miss Swan.”

Emma grins, winks at her.  “How bout just for the Sheriff’s station?”

“Serving the peasantry in close quarters?  Miss Swan.”  But she smiles back, tucks her feet under her and savors the moment of not needing to put on a show.  “If you’d moved with your parents, you could have stopped here before work regularly.”

“Weren’t you the one who pointed out that being over thirty and living with my fairytale parents was possibly the worst option when it came to establishing my independence?”

She chuckles, tugs her sweater’s sleeves down from her elbows and wraps her fingers in the cuffs.  “I said nothing about your independence.  I was concerned about Henry’s.”

“Mmm, no, the only thing you said about Henry was if Snow White gets to interfere with my parenting on a regular basis, I will destroy—“

Silence, Miss Swan,” Regina interrupts, because Emma’s impression of her is terrible.  She never sounds so shrill.

Emma just laughs, leans back and sits the mug against her collarbones, closes her eyes to inhale the aroma and steam.  “So,” she says after a few moments.  “I was thinking I’d take the patrol car around when school lets out, do a drive by for a couple of days, see what’s what.”

Regina frowns, picks at a piece of fuzz on her thigh.  “Starting when?  You’re on nights until next rotation.”

“Starting tomorrow,” Emma says slowly, as if it should be obvious.

“School lets out in the middle of the afternoon.”

“Yes, it does.”

“You’re sleeping.”

“I can wake up.”

Regina closes her eyes, can’t help but smile a little.  “It would be one thing if you were actually on duty, Emma, but Henry knows your schedule.  You show up in the squad car any time before Tuesday and he’ll know you’re watching him.”

“So he knows.”

“Emma.”

Emma’s nostrils flare with frustration, but she just rolls her eyes and looks away, sulks for a moment.  “Okay.  You’re not cool with that idea.  What do you suggest?”

“I think the idea of the patrol car is a good one, but you shouldn’t be the one to do it, is all,” Regina says softly, waits for Emma to give that reluctant, pacified shrug.  “Who’s on days?”

“Mulan.”  Of course Mulan isn’t the only one, but they both know that of the five deputies, Mulan’s the only relevant name.

“I’d trust her to observe.  And to indulge us.  Wouldn’t you?”

And she’s got Emma there, because Emma would trust Mulan with Henry’s life if push came to shove.  Mere observation is a no brainer, and Mulan is perhaps the one person who understands how small acts of protection make a huge difference.

“To be honest,” Emma starts slowly, “I thought you’d want to be more hands-on.  You know, watch in your magic mirror, hex the little shits into next Sunday, the basics.”

Anyone but Emma saying that—anyone but Emma drawling casually about magic—Regina smiles and can only smile because it’s Emma. “Mmm.  I haven’t whipped up any poisoned apples in a while, maybe you’re on to something.”

Emma snickers into the mug, shakes her head.  “Cursed apples.  Keep talking about poison and I’ll have to actually be a sheriff.”

“Heaven forbid,” she teases, glances at the grandfather clock on the north wall when it marks the half-hour.  “So you’ll ask her?”

“Yeah.  I’ll ask her.”  Emma leans her head back on the couch, sighs.  “I know you’re right.  I do.  It’s better if it’s not us, but—he’s our kid, Regina.  It should be us.”

Two years on and it doesn’t sting as much, but talking to Emma about trusting other people with Henry still smarts, still makes her stomach churn.  “We’ve had to rely on other people before.  At least this time it’s someone… honorable.”

Emma closes her eyes again, and if it wasn’t for the slight movement of her nostrils, Regina would think she was showing grief.  She doesn’t think she could stomach Emma grieving over Hook.  “At least there’s that,” Emma finally agrees, and drains the last of the coffee.  “I should get to work.  Thanks for dinner, and for my breakfast,” she adds, picking up the Tupperware.

“Save that for tomorrow night.”

“I have food at home.”

“Peanut butter and jelly is not food, Miss Swan.”  Emma’s sheepish grin says everything.  Regina sighs heavily, shakes her head.  “I’m serious.  You do need to eat better.”

“Says the woman who dips everything in grease and butter.”

“Keep complaining and you’ll never get leftovers again.”

Emma opens her mouth to protest and shuts it again.  It doesn’t last long, though; she has to stop at the door to try to get the last word. “I’m not a slob, you know.”

“Two hours and one tablecloth later.”

“I’m not!  I just get… things get messy when I’m eating your—”

Regina actually turns around to look Emma dead in the face, because there’s no way she thought about that before she said it.  Sure enough, she’s blushing furiously and making that pinched-mouth face like she’s praying Regina didn’t hear it.

“Food!  The end of that sentence was food!

Regina smirks.

“Oh, shut up,” Emma grumbles, and stomps out of the house.