He is piss drunk.
So sloshed that the world is wobbling, spinning backward on its axis, making everything tip and spin like he's riding the tilt-a-whirl at the amusement park with Roland.
Roland who is three today, and whose birthday party he missed for no good reason whatsoever. For a truly horrible reason in fact, and that reason is spite.
Bloody, selfish, sodding, stupid spite.
It's his own fault, he supposes. He'd cocked up his whole relationship six weeks before his boy, his whole light, his everything, had his birthday, and so the party he and Marian had talked of just a month ago, 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.
But she'll 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. Have him thrown in jail and locked away and 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.
And so he is drunk tonight. Piss drunk. So drunk 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 likes 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 camellias he 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, and 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 keys at the sodding bar, a five-years walk back from where he now stands.
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, and he makes his way there, nearly comes to blows with the rubbish bin in the alleyway en route. Sure enough, it's unlocked and he lifts the sill and hoists himself up, climbs through rather gracelessly (it's a good thing he'd been sober when he'd robbed that estate, now isn't it? He'd never have gotten away with it if he'd been this sloppy).
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 he gets back to town next week.
It's the last thing he thinks before he sinks under into oblivion.
It's a phantom address, something she hears, but doesn't. Something that could easily be a dream.
Regina grunts, burrows down further into her pillow.
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. Ten to six. She's an early riser, but it's another twenty minutes before her usual wake up time.
"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, and every now and then this will happen. He will 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, and tells herself to stop being selfish and allay his concerns. So she listens, makes a point to look like she's listening. And that's when she hears it - a great, heaving snore - and she bolts upright in bed, heart in her throat, reaching for Henry and tugging him close.
There is someone downstairs.
There is someone in her house, in their house, someone male - or a woman who snores like a drunken trucker.
She hears her mother in her head, warning her that this wasn't the best of neighborhoods despite its charm. That she could do better, that she and Henry could 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 neighborhood, that the schools were good and it was an easy commute downtown for her, and that moving here was the smart, practical thing to do even if the neighborhood was still on its way from dodgy to trendy.
But now it is six AM on a Sunday and there is someone in her home and Regina's heart is hammering hard, so hard she can practically hear it, her mouth gone 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). 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.
He's in the living room, she realizes as she takes the stairs one by one, drawing nearer to the sound of their intruder sawing logs. But then, where else would he be? Beneath the kitchen table? Sacked out on the rug just inside door beside their discarded shoes?
How did he even get in here? she wonders, but as she reaches the bottom of the stairs she sees the side window open wide, curtains billowing in the breeze, letting in gusts of chilly air. She'd opened it the other day when she was cleaning, had wanted to let out some of the stuffy, stale air pent up by the last dregs of winter and let in something fresh and crisp. She must have forgotten to lock the latch when she closed it - how stupid could she be?
She won't be making that mistake 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 after all), 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.
She keeps her distance, keeps her hold on the bat, and barks sharply, "Wake up!"
He doesn't even stir.
Regina extends the tip of the bat, gives him a light jab in the ribs. "Hey!"
He frowns deeply then, shifts 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 does it.
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, and it is definitely not John. 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.
He 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, looks even more so in her thin silk pajama set (it's chilly in here, and her nipples are hard beneath the fabric, and he feels like a heel for even noticing, he feels even more of a jerk at her state of undress, at the sure terror 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). But she's staring him down unblinkingly, gripping a bat in both hands, it's end aimed right at Robin (he's lucky he woke to a jab instead of a pummel, he thinks).
He swallows thickly, and says dumbly, "This isn't John's house."
Her frown deepens, her mouth drawing into a tighter scowl (and a lovely mouth it is – she's altogether quite lovely in fact, with dark hair that doesn't quite reach her shoulders, presently tousled from sleep, equally dark eyes that are 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 now, 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. "You're the friend who's been staying with him."
"I am," Robin confirms, and then finally attempts to sit, gingerly, his stomach pitching and rolling. 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, breathes 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, brings it to his lips, tells himself to reign 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, pulled 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, goes 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 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. 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, and she remembers John telling her he's "a good guy." Whatever that means.
She's seen him once or twice, coming and going - might even have recognized him more quickly if he hadn't been passed out in her home and she hadn't been scared out of her wits. It's possible she may even 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). So she remembers that John had spoken well of him, had for a moment entertained the thought that if the temporary good guy houseguest turned into a permanent good guy roommate, maybe she'd even 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.
Robin throws up an entire bottle of Jameson, and then his stomach lining, his actual stomach, small intestine and part of his spleen he's certain. 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 has kept him that way, and he's a day shy of the food shelf, of food stamps, of just tossing it all in and applying to flip burgers for a living if that's what it takes. He should have applied to flip burgers, but he has a bit of pride, too much pride perhaps, and he did a bit of work for Henry Mills, and he knew the house would be empty. Knew they were off on holiday in Europe for several weeks, and that their security system was easily overridden. He'd spent his teenage years running with the wrong crowd, nicking things from shops without getting caught, nicking things from homes until it got to be a bit too close one night, and he'd realized it was bloody stupid to throw his life away for cheap thrills.
He hasn't stolen a thing since he was seventeen, not until a month ago, and now he knows why. However noble his reasons, he's 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 vomit), saved only by the fact that she seems to have at least some knowledge of John, enough that she didn't 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, ought to get the hell out of her home, and 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.
Good 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, and 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.
"Christ, you have a child."
As if Robin could not feel any worse. The boy's older than Roland by a good several years, but still young, not yet a teenager. Nine, perhaps eleven. A young single mother, then, she probably is, and she's somehow tasked with 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, for the coffee. There's a steaming mug of it already sitting on the table, a large, round scarlet ceramic thing, 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 him 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."
"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.
"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 the 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, 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 - this woman 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 puke on the curb and then stumble 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 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 they harden, hone sharp like flint, and she tells him, "Now get out."
"Yes, of course," he murmurs, and he nods a goodbye at the boy, then 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 Apple Jacks (they're a bit too sugary for her approval, she doesn't allow them often, but he's had a fairly traumatizing morning - or at least he should have, she imagines, but he's entirely too trusting of John, and as soon as she'd told him the man on the sofa was a friend of his, that he was there by mistake and thought their place was John's, he'd been entirely unafraid. Still. Apple Jacks it is, this morning), slurping milk off his spoon and earning a look of disapproval.
"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, he's a man who drinks enough he can't even find his way home properly. I don't trust him, I don't know him. You can play with Tuck when John is home - and only when John his home, do you understand me, young man? I don't want to see you over there with Robin."
Henry sulks, but nods, and and swirls his spoon through his cereal, as Regina nibbles at toast that has long gone cold. Tack that onto the man's sins - lingering long enough to make her breakfast sub-par.
She's lying to Henry, though. 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 pup 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, and 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, then have another lie-down. Sleep off this bloody hangover.
But when he reaches for the knob he remembers just why he'd ended up at the neighbors in the first place - his lack of keys, the long walk between home and the bar. Christ, it still sounds like miles. Ages. And 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. He hopes for a false rock, for something, even kicks up the corner of the doormat even though he doubts John is that predictable.
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 seven."
"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 neighbors house last night, and doubts very much that the neighbors would even notice - granted, last night it was dark, 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 and Robin's heart lurches into his throat. Regina Mills. 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 of jewelry not so long ago. Just his luck that's where he has to go bed for entry to his own home). "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 his heart was in his throat before, it is clear down into his shoes now.
Her name was 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. 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. So he says goodbye to John and trudges back the way he came.
He knocks, and then waits, and after a few minutes the door opens, and there she is again, still scowling (scowling again, he's sure, but it's all she's done at him all morning, so he cannot imagine the calmer look he hopes she held once he was out of her hair).
"What?" she asks him, the door open only several inches, enough to show her face and a column of her body, and little more. Enough to make it clear she's not going to be welcoming him back inside.
"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, stepping back and opening the door wider. "You probably would've killed someone. Or yourself." 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. He 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. He lifts the coffee again and takes a long pull, trying to swallow the guilt down with the bitter brew.
"You've already said that," she mutters, lifting the phone to her ear, waiting. Robin runs his thumb along the back of one of the kitchen chairs, smooth wood beneath his skin. "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.
Robin heads for the door, heads for John's, and sleeps the rest of the day away.