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Breaking In

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Robin is piss drunk.

So sloshed that the world is wobbling, spinning backward on its axis, making everything tip and twirl like he's just stepped off the teacups at the amusement park with Roland.

Roland who is three today, and whose birthday party Robin has missed for no good reason whatsoever. For a truly horrible reason in fact: spite.

Bloody, selfish, sodding, stupid spite.

It's his own fault, he supposes. He'd cocked up his whole relationship only weeks before his boy, his whole light, his everything, had his birthday, and so the party he and Marian had spent the first part of January dreaming up—the one with the cupcakes and the balloons and the clown (he hates clowns, but she loves them and Roland laughs and laughs at every sight of them)—had gone off without so much as a word to him that it was actually happening.

It wasn't for lack of trying—he's been calling Marian twice daily for weeks asking that she please speak to him. That she let him explain. That he'd done it for them, what she'd seen, what she'd found. He'd done it so they could afford things like rented clowns and Cookie Monster cupcakes. (And eggs, and bread, and Christmas presents.)

And it's not as though that stodgy old couple would even suffer for the things he'd nicked and fenced—the stinking rich are well insured, and they were just baubles; he was careful not to take anything that looked sentimental or irreplaceable. (He skips the part about how the wife was a royal bitch and deserved to be taken down a peg or two—that wouldn’t likely have helped his cause, now would it?)

But Marian will have none of it, won't even speak to him except to tell him he's lucky she's not calling the police to report him and have him arrested. Robin thanks his lucky stars he's so close to his boy because he knows—he is certain—that the only reason she hasn't turned him in for his crimes is the damage it would do Roland to grow up with a convict for a father. A thief. A common, petty, vile thief. That's what she'd called him, right before she’d told him to pack a bag and get out.

And so he is drunk tonight. Absolutely pissed. So bloody hammered that the bartender took his keys to ensure he didn't stumble into his car and attempt to drive home (despite his promises he would do no such thing). He is drunk and the world is spinning, and he's been walking for what seems like hours but cannot be more than a quarter of an hour. Despite the fact he's stopped for a piss twice on the way, saying a silent apology to whomever's jaunty garden gnome he’d showered a few blocks back.

But now he's here, on this street, where he's been staying with John these past few weeks. It's lined with row houses, each identical to the other, quaint red brick all crammed up together in pairs and bloody confusing in his current state, to be honest. But he makes his way down the block on stumbling feet, carrying himself along until he reaches the right house. It's not until he turns the knob and feels it give not an inch that he remembers John is out of town for the weekend and he's left his bloody keys at the sodding bar, a five-years walk back from where he is now.

He's half a mind to sleep right there on the stoop like a vagrant, but he's better than that, and frankly it's a bit cold out (he's not feeling it much, whiskey-soaked as he is, but he can tell it's chilly). And he's not a common, petty, vile thief for nothing. A locked door is no match for Robin Locksley, even drunk as a skunk. There's a side window, one that's never locked, so he makes his way there, nearly coming to blows with the rubbish bin in the alleyway en route. Sure enough, the window’s unlocked; he lifts the sill and hoists himself up, climbs through rather gracelessly.

But then he's faced with the stairs that lead up to the bedrooms, and that's... That's just too much for his inebriated knees to handle.

He opts for the sofa instead, stumbling there and planting facedown. It's rather more stiff than he remembers it being and he has to push aside a children's chapter book he doesn't remember them owning. Something far beyond Roland's nonexistent reading level – all the colorful covers in the world won't help Narnia make a lick of sense to a toddler, and Robin thinks he'll tell John so just as soon as the man gets back to town.

It's the last thing he thinks before he sinks under into oblivion.

.::.

"Mom."

It's a phantom address, something she hears, but doesn't. Something that could easily be a dream.

"Mom!"

Regina grunts and burrows down further into her pillow.

"Mom!"

That one was more forceful, more insistent, her little boy's voice clearing out the sleepy cobwebs of her mind. Regina cracks an eye open and looks at the clock. Twenty past seven. She's an early riser by nature, but she’d lain awake staring at her ceiling until half past two last night, so she’d really been hoping to sleep in this morning.

No such luck, apparently.

"Mom, there's someone downstairs," Henry insists urgently, and Regina reaches out for him, waving him closer when her outstretched fingers can't quite grasp his golden snitch pajamas.

"There's nobody downstairs," she rasps, trying to be reassuring despite the sleepy scratch of her voice. Henry has a vivid imagination, one that runs wild from time to time, so every now and then this happens. He’ll wake convinced something in a dream is real and need her to talk him down.

"No, Mom, listen!" he hisses, particularly frantic this time. Fearful.

Regina sighs, half awake now, telling herself to stop being selfish and allay his concerns. So she listens—even goes so far as to squint and tilt her head, and make a point to look like she's listening. And that's when she hears a great, heaving snore. She bolts upright in bed, heart in her throat, reaching for Henry and tugging him close.

There is someone downstairs.

There is a man in her house, in their house—or a woman who snores like a drunken trucker.

She hears her mother in her head, warning her not to let the charm of this neighborhood blind her to its “obvious shortcomings.” That she could do better, that she and Henry would be safer if only she'd let Cora and Henry Sr. help her, for God's sake. She'd told her mother she was being paranoid, that this was a perfectly safe part of Baltimore, an easy commute downtown for her, and that moving here was the smart, practical thing to do even if the neighborhood had still been on its way from sketchy to trendy.

But now it is half past seven on a Sunday morning and there is someone in her home. Regina's heart is hammering so hard she can practically hear it, her mouth bone dry.

"Henry, stay here," she whispers firmly, sliding from the bed and reaching for the Louisville Slugger she keeps tucked behind the nightstand (it's a safe neighborhood, sure, but one can never be too prepared). It had belonged to her fiancé—who had used it for sensible things like hitting baseballs—and she’d always considered it more of a protective talisman than a weapon she might ever have to wield. But here they are, and needs must, so she grips it tightly in sweaty palms as she takes cautious steps closer and closer to the stairwell. The old hardwoods creak under her feet, chilly beneath her bare toes.

She half expects to find her intruder sawing logs in the foyer, sacked out on the rug just inside the door beside their discarded shoes, but a peek down the stairs tells her he made it as far as the living room.

How did he even get in here? she wonders.

Regina takes the stairs one by one, careful to step over the one that always creaks loudly (he’s caught her by surprise this morning and she’d like to return the favor). As she reaches the bottom, she sees the side window open wide, curtains billowing in the breeze, letting in gusts of chilly air. She'd opened it yesterday when she was cleaning, intent on airing out some of the stuffiness pent up by the last dregs of winter. She must have forgotten to lock the latch when she closed it—how stupid could she be?

It’s a mistake she won't be making again, that's for sure.

With a heavy swallow she rounds the wall into the living room, expecting to find one of the hobos who takes up a bench overnight at the park a few blocks down. Some huge, smelly oaf leaving the stench of body odor and cheap hooch on her dove gray sofa.

What she does find is a step up from that, at least. On said sofa is sprawled a man about her age, who would not be unattractive in other circumstances—circumstances where he was not slack-jawed and drooling, his jacket slipping off his shoulders and essentially straightjacketing him (a plus for her if it turns out he's crazy and she has to use the bat), rumpled t-shirt rucked up to reveal a few inches of toned belly. He snorts another snore—he's drunk and loose, smells like a distillery—smacks his lips sleepily and huffs out a breath.

Okay. Well. Might as well get this over with.

Regina keeps her distance, keeps her hold on the bat, and barks sharply, "Wake up!"

He doesn't even stir.

Great.

She extends the tip of the bat and gives him a light jab in the ribs. "Hey!"

He frowns deeply at that, shifting away from the contact.

Regina scowls, pulls the bat back a few inches and, well, punches him with it. Square in the side of his ribs.

That gets the job done.

.::.

Robin wakes with a start, wheezing, his ribs throbbing, his head pounding, light streaming in and stabbing him straight in the brainstem even through his now-scrunched-closed eyelids. He curls in on himself, away from the pain, tries to sink back under into sleep and gets another jab in the ribs for his trouble.

"What the hell are you doing in my house?" a voice asks him.

The voice is definitely not John.

In fact, it is entirely unfamiliar, and as he slings an arm over his face to block the devilish light that assaults him, his fingers brush the back of the couch. He realizes with a plummeting, sinking feeling in his gut that it is upholstered, and John's is leather, and this is not John's sofa which means this is not John's house, and that's just bloody great. Now Marian can add home invasion to his list of vices (at least the couple he’d robbed had been away on holiday).

Robin drops the leaden weight of his arm back to the sofa, squinting against the sunlight and trying to make out the vision of the woman standing over him. If she could just move a few feet to the left, she'd be blocking the better part of the window, and he wouldn't feel like someone was burying an ice pick in his skull with every traitorous beat of his heart. He fights to focus, and there she is.

She's slight, and looks even more so in her thin silk pajama set. It's chilly in here (his fault, he imagines), the winter air making her nipples hard beneath the fabric. It feels a bit rude to even notice—a feeling that doesn’t improve as he takes in her state of undress. (One of her buttons has slipped, her hair’s all sleep-mussed, her feet are bare). He feels like a complete and utter prat, doubly so as he imagines the sure terror of a woman living alone—and she must be, or her husband or boyfriend would certainly have been the one rousing him now—waking to discover a strange man in her house.

To her credit, she doesn’t look terrified. She's staring him down unblinking, dark eyes protective and steady. The bat that had so rudely awakened him is gripped tightly in both hands, its end aimed right at Robin (he's lucky he woke to a jab instead of a pummel). He suspects she might be able to soundly kick his arse if she really wanted to.

But right now, she wants answers, if the way her brows bounce up expectantly is any indication.

Right. He swallows thickly, then says dumbly, "This isn't John's house."

Her frown deepens, her mouth drawing into a tighter scowl (he can’t help thinking how lovely her mouth is—she's altogether quite lovely, in fact, even glaring skeptically at him), and then she relaxes and lets the bat fall to her side, gripped loosely in one hand.

"No, that's next door, you drunken idiot," she sighs bitterly, tossing the bat to the floor with a clatter that reverberates in his head like cannonfire. She crosses her arms tightly over her chest, tilts her chin up just a little so she's looking down on him even more, regal as a queen despite her pajamas, and tangled hair, and the little peek of her belly revealed by that slipped bottom button. "You're the friend who's been staying with him."

"I am," Robin confirms, before finally attempting to sit. It’s a careful process, one he undertakes gingerly, his stomach pitching and rolling with every inch he moves. Christ. "But I'm not drunk anymore," he murmurs, his mouth filling rapidly with saliva, spit pulled from somewhere inside his horribly dehydrated body, though he's no idea how.

He's going to vomit. Lovely.

He drops his head into his hands, inhales and exhales slowly in an attempt to quell the rising tide and breathes, "Wish I was still drunk."

"Because that's just what you need," she huffs, and then, "Don't you dare throw up in my living room."

He nods slightly, regrets it immediately, both because of the stabbing pain in his head and the fresh surge of nausea the action evokes. He pulls one hand from where he'd had them pressed against his eyeballs and fists it, bringing it to his lips and telling himself to rein it in. To tamp it down. Useless things that will not help in the slightest.

"Oh, for God's sake," she grouses, and then he's being jerked and yanked by surprisingly strong hands (she definitely could have kicked his arse). She pulls him to his feet and oh, God, that's not helpful, that's not good, this is not good, he's going to—

.::.

Regina shoves her drunken stranger into the main floor powder room just in time. He hits his knees in front of the toilet bowl, going down hard enough that she nearly winces in sympathy, but then he's retching. Loudly. Forcefully. Letting forth a wet, sloshing torrent into the toilet. She finds herself feeling suddenly much less sympathetic.

At least he held it in until the bathroom, she tells herself. It could have been worse.

She leaves him there and heads for the kitchen, starting a pot of coffee and brewing it extra strong as she tries to remember his name. Rodney? Robert?

She's not what one would call good friends with John but she knows him. He has a dog, Tuck, that Henry adores, and both John and the dog are (much to her chagrin, in the dog’s case) partial to her peanut butter cookies. John still gets the Sunday paper, and the delivery person for their block somehow manages to toss it on Regina’s stoop at least once a month, so they talk from time to time, and Regina knows he has an extended houseguest. A friend down on his luck, something about a relationship gone sour; she remembers John telling her he's "a good guy." Whatever that means.

He doesn’t look particularly impressive today.

Regina has seen him once or twice, coming and going—she might have recognized him if he hadn't been passed out in her home and she hadn't been scared out of her wits. It's possible (though she wouldn't admit it now) that she may have thought he was attractive (very attractive, incredibly so; she has a secret preference for men with a bit of stubble, for eyes that blue, for that tortured, gloomy look he has about him). She may have even, for a moment, entertained the thought that if the temporary-good-guy-houseguest turned into a permanent-good-guy-roommate, she might attempt to get to know him. Now, though...

Now, that “good guy” is still vomiting up a night of bad decisions in her powder room as she climbs the stairs to reassure her son that they haven't been the victims of a vicious home invasion, and she finds herself infinitely less attracted to him than she had been before.

Tortured and gloomy is one thing; hot mess is another entirely.

.::.

Robin throws up an entire bottle of Jameson, and then his stomach lining, his actual stomach, small intestine, and, he’s fairly certain, part of his spleen. He vomits until his throat burns and his eyes are wet, his nose running.

God, he's a mess. No wonder Marian wants nothing to do with him anymore.

He doesn't deserve Roland, not right now, not like this. What the bloody hell was he thinking, robbing that house. Sure, he's been laid off for months now, and the absolutely shit job market (and his absolute lack of marketable skills or clear sense of what he’d actually like to do with his life) has kept him that way. And he's a day shy of the food shelf, of just tossing it all in and applying to flip burgers for a living if that's what it takes. He should have done—at least it would have been honest work.

Thievery probably hadn’t been the best plan, all considered.

But he’d kept telling himself things would turn round, and had been too proud to dedicate his days to asking if you’d like fries with that through a drive-thru intercom.

He’d been too proud, and then he’d been too foolishly generous with the emergency savings, and then he’d been flat broke with no way to remedy it. But he'd spent his teenage years running with the wrong crowd, nicking things from shops without getting caught, and then nicking things from unlocked cars and shoddily protected homes until a narrow escape one night he him realizing it was bloody stupid to throw his life away for cheap thrills.

Stupid—but an easy way to make a few bucks. And skint as he’d been before the holidays, a little teenage regression hadn’t seemed such a bad idea. Before he’d lost his job, he’d done a bit of work for Henry Mills, and he knew the house would be empty. Knew they were off on holiday in Europe for most of December, and that their security system was easily overridden.

He hasn't stolen a thing since he was seventeen, not until this Christmas, and now he knows why. Everyone’s luck is bound to run out eventually, and he’d pushed his to the limit. However noble his reasons, he'd lowered himself, dragged himself down in the dirt out of pride, given in to temptation and told himself it was justified—stealing from the rich to line his poor pockets. And look where it's gotten him: puking his guts up in a stranger's home, in a tiny powder room that smells of rose and spice (and now whiskey and sick), saved only by the fact that the woman who lives here seems to have at least enough knowledge of John to not call the police immediately.

Or maybe she has. Maybe he's going to walk out of that bathroom to find some shiny silver bracelets waiting for him, the price for absconding with several ruby and emerald ones from a rich, overbearing lady and hoping nobody would be the wiser until it was too late to catch him.

He supposes he ought to face the music and get the hell out of her home, so he flushes his sick down the toilet and drags himself to his feet, gripping the edges of the little pedestal sink and staring at his face in the small mirror above it.

Christ, he hardly recognizes himself. Eyes blood-shot, face sallow, stubble an overgrown mess. He blows his nose, palms a bit of water into his mouth to rinse the taste of bile away (it does little good, his mouth is a swamp), splashes another cool palmful onto his face and pats it with her delicate hand towel, then heads toward the door she'd thankfully closed on him.

He takes slow, gentle steps, his stomach still a shaky, unsteady wreck; when he opens the door, the strong scent of coffee is both a blessing and a curse. Coffee will right him, he thinks, or at least it will be a start, and it smells heavenly and strong. But the idea of anything, even a drop, hitting his belly makes it roll and lurch perilously again.

He turns toward the soft sound of her voice, takes three steps and is in the kitchen. The kitchen where the lovely woman who by all rights should have clobbered him with a bat not half an hour ago is now wrapped in a cozy grey robe, pouring milk over cereal for a young boy.

As if Robin could not feel any worse.

"Bloody hell, you have a child."

The boy's older than Roland by several years, but still young, not yet a teenager. Nine, perhaps eleven. She’s a young single mother, then, and thanks to him she's been tasked with somehow explaining the stinking drunk in their home to a child.

She arches a brow at him, a silent admonishment for his language, his existence, his everything, Robin is certain. And then she answers simply, "I do," and heads for the counter and the coffee. There's a steaming mug of it already sitting on the table—large, round, and scarlet, nearly a bowl—the coffee inside pale with milk. Next to it is a bit of toast with peanut butter smeared across it, a single, dainty bite taken out of a corner.

"I'm Henry," the boy tells him, distracting Robin from his dull perusal of her breakfast.

"I'm Robin," he answers in kind. "And I'm very sorry to be in your home uninvited. That was wrong of me."

The boy's mother snorts her disbelief, her back still to him. But the boy himself just shrugs, and says, "You live with John, right?"

"I do."

"Can I come over and play with Tuck?"

So the boy knows the dog, then. He's an old shaggy mutt, a wonderful dog—one who at this very moment is probably prowling the door with hunger, annoyed at being forgotten for the night. (He can add starving the dog to his list of sins.)

"I used to walk him and feed him when John wasn't home," Henry explains before Robin can answer. "But now you're there, so I haven't seen him in a while. I have a bone for him; Mom let me get it from the store last week."

"That was very kind of you," Robin tells the boy, and God, his head is splitting. Is he swaying? He feels as if he's swaying on his feet, but can't tell if it's real or just the lingering effects of his stupor. "I've no problem with you coming by, but only if it's alright with your mum."

"It's not," the mother says coolly (and to his complete lack of surprise), heading back his way now, a beat up old travel mug in hand. It's one of those cheap plastic ones you'd get at a Starbucks, and it's gotten wet inside, the paper decorated with fall leaves and something about pumpkin spice gone rumpled and smeared with condensation. Probably took a run through the dishwasher—he'd done the same to one of Marian's once, and she'd huffed and griped and said something about double-walled insulation and hand-wash only, and he'd felt like a heel for simply trying to help.

This woman—whose name he's yet to catch despite his intimate acquaintance with her toilet bowl and his night spent in the unintentional hospitality of her home—pushes the mug into his hands, and tells him, "Coffee. Black. Don't ask for milk or sugar; I'm not a coffeehouse, and you're not a guest." She nods down toward the mug and says, "And I want that back."

"Of course," he murmurs, shifting it in his grip. His stomach rolls again at the thought of drinking anything, even this, but he is grateful for the gesture—the wholly unnecessary, kind gesture. She ought to have booted him out on his ass and let him chunder on the curb before stumbling next door to John's. So he tells her, "Thank you. And I'm very sorry."

"Good," she tells him, crossing her arms over her chest again, and by God, she really is a picture up close. Those dark eyes are brown, almost black, like bitter dark chocolate, and they're lovely even when she's frowning at him. She’s neatened her hair with a brush or a quick run of her fingers; it’s falling just above her shoulders, smooth and tamed. She ought to look more hateful, he thinks, more disgusted, and she does look both of those things, but he thinks there's a bit of pity underneath. Maybe even a speck of sympathy that makes him feel even lower, because he is entirely undeserving of that. And then those lovely eyes harden, hone sharp like flint, and she tells him, "Now get out."

"Right, of course," he murmurs, and then he nods a goodbye at the boy and turns for the door.

.::.

"Well," Regina tells Henry as she takes her seat at the table, listens for the sound of the door closing behind their intruder. "That was eventful."

He's spooning up cereal, carefully selecting only marshmallow stars and rainbows and horseshoes, then slurping milk off his spoon and earning a look of disapproval. She’s second-guessing the Lucky Charms. They’re a complete sugar bomb, and she doesn't allow them often, but he’d managed to slip a box into her cart at the store last week—so stealthily she hadn’t noticed until they were unloading onto the checkout belt—and she couldn’t bring herself to deny him in front of the cashier. Still, she’d tucked them on the high shelf and told herself they’d stay there until St. Patrick’s Day when she could justify they were at least being festive. But he’d asked for them this morning, and she’d figured the trauma of the break-in called for some kind of treat.

Of course, Henry doesn’t seem traumatized at all. He's entirely too fond of that mutt next door, so as soon as she'd told him the man on the sofa was a friend of John’s, that he was there by mistake and thought he’d been letting himself into the neighbor’s house in the middle of the night, Henry had been entirely unafraid. She should be grateful, she thinks—if they’re lucky, she’ll be the only one who startles at every bump in the night for a while.

Still. Lucky Charms it is, this morning.

But she does make a point to request, “Could you try to eat some cereal with those marshmallows, young man? If you end up with a sugar high, I’ll make you work it off cleaning your room.”

”My room is clean!” Henry protests, but he definitely scoops up a few more cereal pieces on his next foray into the bowl.

”Fine,” Regina smirks (because she’s pretty sure he’s right about that), lifting her toast for another bite and teasing, “My room, then.”

Henry smirks back and points out that’s even cleaner, so she’s forced to resort to: “The closet under the stairs, then.”

Henry makes a face at that one—he’d had an unfortunate run-in with a spider landing on his nose in said closet when he was five and has been none too fond of it ever since. (She can’t say she blames him.) His next spoonful has a much better ratio of cereal-to-marshmallow.

"Why can't I go play with Tuck?" he asks after his next bite. "Robin seems okay."

"Robin is a drunk," Regina tells him. "Or at least, a man who drinks enough he can't even find his way home properly. You can play with Tuck when John is home—and only when John is home, do you understand me, young man? I don't want to see you over there with Robin. I don't know him; I don't trust him."

Henry sulks, but nods, swirling his spoon through his cereal as Regina nibbles again at toast that has gone cold. Tack that onto the man's sins: lingering long enough to make her breakfast sub-par.

She's lying to Henry, though. Or, fibbing, anyway. She doesn't trust Robin, but she has a gut feeling that he's not a danger. That letting Henry over for some fetch with the mutt wouldn't do any harm. Still, she's a mother, and it's her job to protect him—which means choosing her head over her gut and keeping him far, far away from the man who broke into their home in a drunken stupor.

.::.

The morning is cold, colder than he was anticipating; Robin tugs his collar up against his neck for even the short walk next door to John's, lifting that travel mug for a sip of hot coffee after all. It's dark and strong, delicious. It doesn't exactly settle his stomach, but it doesn't make it worse either, so he sips again. The woman makes good coffee.

He climbs the stoop on weary legs, even those few steps enough to make him feel tired. He needs to drink a bit of this coffee, swallow a few aspirin, then have another lie-down and sleep off this bloody hangover.

But when he reaches for the knob he remembers just why he'd ended up at the neighbor’s in the first place: his lack of keys, the long walk between home and the bar. Christ, it still sounds like miles. Ages. Plus, there’s no way the place is open now. The idea of scaling six feet of wall to climb in that side window is significantly more daunting than it had been when he was sloshed last night, so Robin prays for a false rock, for something, anything, even kicks up the corner of the doormat even though he doubts John is that predictable.

Predictably, he comes up empty.

He can see his breath, his fingers chilly as he fishes out his phone to call John, hoping there's a neighbor with a spare key he can wake at this ungodly hour and beg forgiveness and entrance into John's place.

Tuck woofs from the other side of the door as the phone rings, and rings, and rings—and then John picks up, his voice a low, gravelly thing when he mutters, "This better be good if you're waking me before eight."

"I'm locked out," Robin sighs, "And hungover. I feel like shit, I cannot climb in that window."

"Thank God," John mutters, "The neighbors would probably think the place was being robbed."

Robin thinks of the ease with which he crept into the neighbor’s house last night, and doubts very much that the neighbors would even notice. Granted, last night it was dark and everyone was asleep. Mrs. Lucas across the street was not eyeing him from the other side of her open curtains the way she is now.

"Does one of those neighbors, by chance, have a spare key? Or is there one hidden somewhere you've not told me about, or…?"

"Regina Mills," John tells him, sending Robin's heart lurching into his throat. He's heard that name before. Regina. Had heard it from the lips of both Cora and Henry Mills while he installed their new sound system, and then again when he'd offered to teach the older man the ins and out of their new security system—the one he'd so egregiously taken advantage of in order to pilfer several thousand dollars worth of jewelry a short while later.

There’s a terrible irony in the realization that their daughter is the one he has to go to in order to beg for entry to his own (temporary) home. Robin isn’t sure whether to laugh or throw up again, so he does neither.

And then John tells him, "She's two doors down—5802. Her kid walks Tuck sometimes when I'm gone. She's usually up early, she's probably awake by now."

If Robin’s heart was in his throat before, it is clear down into his shoes now.

Her name is Regina.

The woman whose home he has just left, the woman in 5802 with the dark eyes and the strong coffee, whose sofa he spent the night on, and whose toilet he upended his guts into this morning. And whose parents he apparently robbed. She is Regina Mills, and he has to return to her and ask for keys.

He wants to say this day couldn't get any worse, but he knows better than to tempt fate like that—it could always get worse than personal humiliation and cruel irony. Still, he thinks he might need a little bit of fortitude before he knocks on that particular door again. So he says goodbye to John, and then gingerly lowers himself to the top porch step and sips his coffee for a few minutes, praying Tuck will forgive the delay.

And while he sips, he marvels at his spectacularly bad luck.

Of all the bloody neighbors in all of bloody Baltimore, he somehow ended up fleeing to the same block as the family he’d wronged to get himself into this mess in the first place. Sometimes, he thinks, the universe really is having a laugh at his expense.

Even the weather seems to be mocking him—bitterly cold and yet cheerfully sunny. Bright enough to make his head ache but just breezy enough that he gleans no warmth in exchange. He squints across the street and finds Granny Lucas still frowning in his direction, so he gives her what he hopes is a friendly wave. Even from yards away, he thinks he can see her suspicious and disapproving humph. When he’s drained half the mug and the chilly air has turned his fingers icy and his neck red, Robin hauls himself carefully to his feet and trudges back the way he came, stomach twisting for a whole different reason than it had been when he left.

He knocks, and then waits. After a few minutes the door opens, and there she is again: Regina Mills, still scowling (scowling again, he's sure, but it's all she's done at him all morning, so he cannot imagine her smiling).

"What?" she asks him, the door open only several inches, enough to show her face and a column of her body, but little more. Enough to make it clear she's not going to be welcoming him back inside. It’s understandable under the circumstances, but he can’t help wondering if she gets that charming sense of hospitality from her mother.

"I'm locked out," he admits sheepishly. "John says you've his spare keys."

She sizes him up, looks down, up, down again. "Locked out."

"Yes. The bartender took my keys last night, round about the same time he cut me off."

"Well, thank heavens for that," she mutters, looking him up and down warily. "You probably would've killed someone. Or yourself." She squints a little, and then notes, “You’ve been gone for ten minutes; it took you that long to realize you didn’t have keys?”

He can’t very well tell her it took him that long to pluck up the courage to face her under the circumstances, so he shrugs, and lies, “Well, I spent a bit of time eyeing that unlocked side window, but I thought if the climb didn’t kill me Granny Lucas and her shotgun might. Figured my chances were better with you—survived the bat once already, after all.”

The corner of her mouth tips up for the briefest of seconds as she nearly huffs out a chuckle—she reins it back in as quickly as it had slipped out, but Robin feels a brief flash of triumph at amusing her nonetheless. Even if it was at the idea of him falling flat on his arse, or getting shot at by the neighbors, or pummeled by her own hand.

“You’re probably right,” she tells him as she steps back and opens the door wider. She holds a hand out to gesture for him to enter, although it's a move that speaks more clearly of annoyance than invitation.

Then she heads for the kitchen again, throwing him a glance over her shoulder as she goes. Wary, this time. And he supposes she ought to be. It's one thing to find a man in your home and kick him out, it's another entirely to let him back in.

She stops suddenly, halfway through the living room, and turns. "That's why you broke in," she realizes. "You didn't have your key."

"I'm afraid so."

"Well, that explains that," she mutters, and then she's walking again, heading for the kitchen (it's clean now, dishes cleared off the table and her son nowhere to be found, although Robin hears footsteps upstairs, the boy must be up in his room).

"I truly am sorry," he tells her, lingering near the table as she heads for the phone, lifts it and punches the buttons. Robin runs his thumb along the back of one of the kitchen chairs, smooth wood beneath his skin.

"You've already said that," she mutters, lifting the phone to her ear, waiting.

Robin feels a twist of anxious guilt in his gut, both for disturbing her peace again and for what he'd done to her parents, what he's taken from her family. Petty crime is so much easier to live with when you never have to look those you’ve cheated in the eye. He lifts the coffee again and takes a long pull, trying to swallow down the guilt with the bitter brew.

He can see the moment the line picks up, the shift in her expression as she says, "John, it's Regina. Did you send Robin here for the spare keys?" She looks at him then, a smirk tugging at her lips, something wicked and dark about it before she says, "Oh, it's fine. I was already awake." He expects her to continue, to tell John exactly why and how she was rudely awakened this morning, but she doesn't. She simply, "Mmhmm"s and says, "Of course," and then, "Enjoy the rest of your trip," and "Goodbye."

As she hangs up, Robin sighs softly, and murmurs, "Thank you. I'll tell him what happened, but… thank you, regardless."

She's rummaging in one of the kitchen drawers, pulling out a simple keychain with two shiny gold keys attached and holding them out for him.

"Goodbye, Robin," she tells him, as he lifts his hand to take the keys from her.

Right. She's been more than hospitable and it's time for him to get out.

Still, he can't help saying to her, "If you need anything, I'm just down the street."

"Excellent," she smiles, a vicious little baring of teeth. "If I need someone to get drunk, break into my home, frighten my son and throw up in my bathroom, I know just who to call."

"Right," he mutters, his stomach burning with shame, because she's right, she's absolutely right, what she must think of him (has every right to think of it). He lifts the half-full mug still gripped in his other hand and murmurs, "I'll get this back to you shortly. The coffee is excellent, by the way. Thank you."

"I know," she tells him primly, staring him down from her place at the counter, unmoving, unbending. “Go feed your dog.”

“Right,” Robin mutters, and then heads for the door.

Tuck is fairly prowling the entry when he gets home, greeting him with a mixture of relief and barking admonishment (the first doing nothing for his guilt, the latter even less for his headache). It’s getting worse, that pulsing, throbbing stab from his temple halfway through his bloody brain, not helped in the slightest by the fact that the dog had darted out the door the moment he’d opened it to go take a piss in the yard. Robin prays he doesn’t make a mad dash up the block, he’s not sure he has it in him this morning to chase after him.

Instead, he leaves the door wide open, taking the few minutes’ reprieve to haphazardly pour kibble into Tuck’s dish, and slosh some fresh water into his bowl. The pup must be famished because Robin doesn’t even have to call for him; he’s already trotting back inside and heading for his breakfast.

Satisfied he hasn’t managed to starve or lose the dog, Robin shuts and bolts the front door (and that side window for good measure), then trudges up the stairs and sleeps the rest of the day away.