Author's Note: As some of you may be aware, several OQ authors (myself included) were recently targeted by someone who felt the need to send links to some of our stories to a group on FFnet that has taken it upon themselves to ensure that FFnet's guidelines are enforced. In particular, this person passed along links to stories with an M rating that by FFnet standards should be rated MA (Mature Adult aka stories that include adult themes, graphic descriptions of sex, etc.) - a rating that FFnet doesn't allow. While the person from this this group that we've had our links sent to has been kind enough to allow time for us to edit/remove the stories that are in violation of the guidelines, if we continue to post content that violates the guidelines, we run the risk of our links being sent to the group as a whole and reported to FFnet. At that point, FFnet could remove our work without warning.
Sooooo, in light of that, from this point on, I'm going to have to be more selective about the content I post here on FFnet. Thankfully, the site where I cross-post all my content, Archive of Our Own (aka Ao3), allows all ratings, so all of my work will be available there, in full (same username there as here - SomewhereApart). Here on FFnet, I'm going to have to post redacted/abridged versions of any chapters that contain adult content. Like, for example, this chapter of Breaking In. In those instances, you'll be able to read most of the chapter here on FFnet, only the scenes with adult content will be cut and you'll have to go to Ao3 to read them in full. I will put an author's note at the top of any chapter that's been redacted, so you'll know before you get settled in if you can continue here on FFnet or if you'll want to go to Ao3 to read.
Ordinarily, I'll be posting to both sites at the same so there will be no delay in the full content, but since it's been so long since I updated, and since I needed y'all to see this Author's Note, and since the chapter works just fine without the little interlude at the end, I am posting the redacted version here today, and the full version on Ao3 sometime this weekend, once I've finished said interlude.
As for my other stories, any one-shots that contain adult content will only be posted to Ao3, as will any verses (like any further updates to the Oblivion-verse) where every chapter contains adult content. So, if you want to be sure not to miss any of my work, be sure to bookmark me over on Ao3, or subscribe to my content there.
You may also want to follow me on twitter (username, as always, SomewhereApart) where I post links to all my updates, and can keep you informed of any changes that may happen with the situation here on FFnet.
I apologize for this long-winded Author's Note but sometimes needs must. Without further ado, please enjoy the (slightly redacted) 42nd chapter of Breaking In.
She'd slept well last night. Well, and long. They'd had that ice cream, and then she'd retreated upstairs, thrown a bath bomb in the tub, slathered her face in a hydrating mask, lit a couple of aromatherapy candles, and soaked until her fingers started to shrivel up like prunes. A quick rinse in the shower to wash her hair and send the colorful remnants of that bath bomb down the drain and she'd emerged feeling relaxed and refreshed.
She'd considered popping a Sonata and just going straight to sleep, but she'd told the boys she'd be back down in a while, so she'd pulled on soft cotton sleep pants and a camisole instead and padded down to the living room.
They'd been hunkered down on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn between them, Henry bringing piece after piece to his mouth like a zombie, eyes riveted to the screen as Frodo was stabbed by one of the Nazgûl. How he could still have been hungry had been beyond her – he'd had a second slim piece of lasagna, and a big bowl of ice cream, and then popcorn. But he'd worked hard all day (the toilet had been gleaming, the bathroom counters spotless, the floors swept if not scrubbed), and he's a growing boy; she wasn't going to fuss at him over one night of binging.
Robin had looked up when she'd walked in, giving her this soft smile that made her insides melt at all the affection it held, and then he'd nodded toward the empty stretch of sofa beside him in invitation.
He'd left space for her, she'd realized – parked himself in the middle of the cushions instead of on the opposite side of Henry. Regina had curled up in the empty space, pulling a throw from the back of the sofa over her tucked knees, her feet pressed to Robin's thigh. When his hand had snuck beneath the blanket, she'd had a truly insane half-second of concern that he was going to try to get fresh with her while Henry was in the room, but he'd just found one of her feet and started to rub deep circles into her arches as best he could manage.
It had been deliciously lulling, had had her eyelids drooping in short order, her head bobbing slightly where it had been propped against her fist. But her back had been twisted funny, her neck at an odder and odder angle the more relaxed she'd become, and she'd found herself squirming, shifting, trying to get more comfortable.
"You alright?" he'd rasped, fingers squeezing against her foot.
Regina had nodded and uttered something about a kink in her neck, so Robin had given Henry a nudge with his elbow and insisted he, "Move to the floor; let your mum stretch out."
Henry had gone without protest (taking the popcorn with him), leaving Robin room to scoot over to the far side of the sofa. Regina had moved to sink down lower into the cushions, but he'd stopped her, urging her to turn and lay her head on his lap instead.
She'd widened her eyes at him, looking pointedly at the back of Henry's head with an expression that she'd hoped conveyed how utterly insane that suggestion was. If he'd thought her willingness to feel this out translated to a willingness to cuddle up on his lap in front of her son, boy, did she have news for him.
But Robin had just rolled his eyes and told her, "I'll work on that kink in your neck for a bit."
And that had sounded reasonable, innocent enough, so she'd nodded and shifted and settled down again with her head very near his knee. He'd rubbed his thumbs firmly along her neck, combed his fingers lightly through her damp waves, and Regina had been out cold before the fellowship left Rivendell.
She'd woken up in her own bed at quarter to ten this morning, disoriented, but very well rested.
For the first time in a while, she feels like herself. Her brain isn't pulsing with exhaustion or buzzing with anxiety, and aside from the prospect of seeing her father tomorrow when he comes to pick up Henry, she doesn't have anything to dread for two whole days. And that isn't even dread, so much as a lingering anxiety over their last conversation – something she's determined to put behind her as soon as she can manage.
She's desperate for normalcy, for some kind of steady ground under her feet after a week spent with her foundation lurching to and fro. Thursday had helped, and last night had helped, and now that all the chores appear to be done, she can turn this weekend into one focused on that dedicated self-care Dr. Hopper wants her so badly to pick back up.
She starts with a run – she's been too bone-tired for a proper one lately, but she spends this morning working up a good sweat, imagining all her stress, all her worries, pounding out through her sneakers every time they hit the belt. Out, and back, and off as it spins and spins beneath her feet. Shooting away from her and then dissolving into nothing.
It helps, it feels good. Her muscles feel looser, less itchy from too long without use. Her blood feels warm, pumping through her veins. She even revels in the sweat today, doesn't quit until she's beaded with it, feels it dripping down her spine, between her breasts, curling the hair at her temples.
Doesn't stop until she feels alive, and awake, and free.
And then she doesn't even bother with a shower. Just peels off her sweaty workout clothes and trades them for worn jean shorts and a threadbare tank top, throws on Daniel's old Red Sox cap to cover her hair and heads out to do some work in her poorly neglected garden.
She's three steps out the door when her good morning comes to a screeching halt.
He hadn't seen it earlier.
He'd gone out the back door to his car, had come in the same way after picking up Roland, so Robin hadn't seen the front of her house until after noon, when they'd finished their snack and Roland had asked if please pretty please could he go next door and tell Regina and Henry about the pet goldfishes they'd gotten at daycare that week.
Not seeing any reason why not (and not at all because he's become quite addicted to spending time with her in recent days), Robin had told him that was fine, and had walked behind him out the front door, amused at his son's excitement.
He'd taken the steps at a walk while Roland had trotted his way down and torn off across the stretch of yard between his door and Regina's.
She'd been standing out front, in a pair of criminally sexy cut-off shorts and a tank top, gardening gloves on her hands and a ball cap on her head (who knew she even owned one of those?), and he'd been so distracted by taking her in that he'd barely paid attention to what was wrong.
Not until Roland had skidded to a stop at her side, and she'd tipped her head down to frown at him.
Even then, he'd noticed her first – the slump of her shoulders, the way she wasn't actually weeding, but simply standing. The way the smile she'd given his boy didn't in any way reach her eyes before she'd crouched next to him and forced it wider.
It was the bending that finally had him realizing – her lemon queens. The sunny yellow blooms he'd had to gingerly pick his way across her garden to reach a week ago are all bent and broken – as are all their fellows.
Her garden has been positively beat to shit.
Bent stalks and trampled blooms, all her well-tended charges cut down before their prime, and as he takes a few steps closer, finally closes the distance between them, his blood rushes cold and then pumps hot.
Someone has spray painted BITCH across the brickwork of her porch in bold black, and how fucking dare they.
She's murmuring something to Roland as Robin steps up behind her and asks lowly, "Who did this?"
Because if it's that useless, feckless wanker she works with, Robin is done being polite about it.
But Regina straightens and shakes her head, says, "It's just… kids who need more to do. It's been happening in the neighborhood all summer. Granny Lucas right before Henry's birthday, the Hatters around the fourth of July, and a half dozen others on neighboring blocks, too, I think." Her arms cross tightly over her chest, her gaze straying up, back, to the painted slur on her porch. "But I'm pretty sure that's new."
"Who would hurt the flowers?" Roland asks, his voice wet and wobbly, and Robin curses these so-called bored kids for casting such a blow to his boy's tender heart.
Regina's holding one of Roland's hands in hers, Robin realizes, watching as her thumb rubs the back of Roland's little paw. "Someone very naughty," she sighs, and Roland agrees.
"Very, very naughty," he scolds their long-gone aggressors, "They should sit on the time-out chair."
It makes her smile, has her crouching down again and telling him, "They definitely should," before she asks, "Do you want to help me clean up some of the hurt flowers?" Her glance flicks up to Robin, and then, "If it's okay with your Daddy."
"It's okay," Roland insists without a care as to whether Robin might agree. He does, though, nodding at Regina with a little smile and then looking immediately to all that ugly black paint when she turns her attention back to the plastic bin bag near her feet.
He wants it gone.
He knows she's right about the others, remembers the way Granny had griped when it had happened to her, but still, there's something unsettling about the spray paint. It seems… pointed. Personal. Vicious.
Nobody else had been branded a bitch.
The fact that Regina has makes his hands clench into useless fists. It's probably wrong to want to beat a bunch of asshole kids' heads in, but it's how he feels at the moment. Was this how people felt when he was sixteen and busting car windows to nick stereo systems, and decorating the sides of buildings with spray paint?
Probably, he realizes, and well, isn't that an unfortunate turn of the tables.
Still, he'd had to learn his lessons, and these little punks ought to, as well.
Not that he can do anything about it without having a bloody clue who they are.
His own uselessness eats at him, and Robin crosses his arms tightly, blunt nails digging into his palms as he tells himself to let it go, it's done. Nobody got hurt except some well-tended flowers (and his son's tender heart, and Regina's already beleaguered emotions, no doubt, and doesn't he get to be angry about both of those?).
He doesn't realize how lost he's gotten in his own bubbling temper until he hears Regina's muttered, "I don't suppose you know how to get spray paint off brick?"
She's staring at it now, too, her jaw tense, lips pursed as she squints over the top of where Roland is gently plucking a battered bloom to place in the trash.
"A power washer would do it," he tells her, and she scoffs, snorting and rolling her eyes.
"I'll just go grab mine from the garage," she drawls sarcastically, tugging the hat off her head and dragging her hand through messy waves.
"I know a guy," Robin assures her. "I'll make a call, see if I can get it taken care of this weekend."
"Thank you." She plunks that cap back onto her head, an errant, spiraling lock poking out next to her ear. He focuses on that instead of the anger coursing through him, traces the corkscrewing shape of it right up until she says, "If there's any way we can get it off by lunchtime tomorrow, that would be ideal. My dad is coming to pick Henry up for his riding lesson. I don't want him to see it – he'll tell Mother, and it'll end up one more thing she tries to use to convince me I should move."
"I'll see if I can get it today," he assures her. "I'll go get my phone right now, and call."
Regina nods, and takes a deep breath, her hand rising to tuck her hair back behind her ear before she realizes that there's no need with the cap on. It falls uselessly back to her side, then rises again to cross over her chest with the other as she murmurs another thank-you, and then tells him, "Let me know what I owe you—or whoever I owe."
Robin frowns at that, and assures her, "Don't worry about it; I've got it."
"No, I can—" she starts, but he'll have none of it. If he can't beat the snot out of some kids, he's at least going to have the satisfaction of blasting the word into oblivion. That's payment enough.
"Regina, please," he interrupts. "Let me fix this. I doubt he'll charge me to borrow it, but even if he does…" He traces the dark, dripping letters again with his gaze and mutters quietly, "I'm not taking your money to take that off your porch."
"If you're sure..."
He tells her he is, and she sighs heavily, her voice weary when she says, "This isn't how I planned on spending my day – picking through what's left of my flowers, and… I don't know if I should bother to go get more and replant, or just admit defeat for the rest of the summer—"
Robin's head swings sharply to the side to find Roland giving him a look that's startlingly reminiscent of Marian's when she scolds. His chin even squares up just like his mother's before he gives Robin a stern, "That's a naughty word."
Regina lifts her brows, Robin clears his throat.
"Um… Sorry, Roland," he mutters, wincing a little in Regina's direction, and watching her try to tamp down a smirk at him being busted by his preschooler. "You're absolutely right; I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were listening."
"You can skip the naughty chair because you don't have one," Roland declares, "But you better not say it again."
"I'll try very hard not to, I promise," Robin tells his son seriously; Regina's shoulders shake with a laugh she can't quite hold back.
Roland turns back to gingerly picking bruised flowers from the dirt, so Robin turns back to Regina, telling her, "What I meant to say was that I've never known you to be the type to back down when someone pushes you around."
All her levity falls away at that, and she looks away from him, scowling, one brow rising and falling before she mutters, "I'm not so sure about that."
"I am," he tells her plainly. She's struggling right now and he knows that, but if she's having a hard time finding faith in her strength, he'll simply have to have faith enough for both of them. And she won't get knocked down without standing right back up, so he asks her, "Are there plants that'll thrive this time of year? Make it through for a few weeks until it gets cold?"
"Yes, of course."
"Then maybe we'll take a little field trip to the greenhouse or wherever," Robin suggests. "Roland will love it. He's never been."
"I have!" Roland insists, looking up from his task. "Sadie's house is green; I've been to a green house."
Regina laughs softly at that, and Robin thanks heaven for the innocent confusion of preschoolers.
It has her bending again, crouching in front of Roland to explain, "No, baby, not a green house, a greenhouse. It's what you call a place that grows plants, so you can take them home for your own garden and plant them."
Robin watches as Roland's brow furrows, his gaze straying to what's left of the garden. "They're not from seeds?" he wonders.
"Well, some of them are," Regina tells him. "Or from bulbs. But some of them, you can buy already grown out of little pots, and then you replant them here, so they can grow for a while at your own house."
"Oh," Roland says, understanding smoothing his brow, lessening his pout. "So we could get new flowers that aren't hurt?"
"We could," she confirms with a little nod. "Would you like to go with me to pick some out?"
Roland nods eagerly for a moment, then seems to catch himself, and stops to ask, "Will Henry go, too?"
Regina's shoulders lift and fall. "Maybe. I know right now he's inside working on another level of Mickey, so he might want to stay home. But we can ask him."
Roland's eyes had widened excitedly at the mention of Epic Mickey, and Robin isn't terribly surprised when he bounces a little and asks, "Can I go watch him play Mickey?"
Regina smirks, and nods, straightening back up and telling Roland, "Of course you can." He's off like a shot, bounding toward the steps before Regina can finish telling him to, "Leave your shoes by the door, though – they're dirty!"
Roland calls back, "Uh huh!" and then he's opening the front door and letting it shut behind him with a bang, leaving Robin and Regina alone with her ruined garden and vandalized brickwork.
"What do you think the odds are that I'm going to walk inside to a trail of dirty sneaker prints?" Regina muses, but she's smiling, just a little, and doesn't sound all that put-out.
"I think he knows better than to disobey you," Robin answers, reaching out and weaving his fingers with hers – he needs to touch her, but he doesn't know how far she's willing to let him go out here in the open. He gives her a little squeeze and teases, "Now if I had told him to take his shoes off, that might have been another story."
Regina chuckles, rubs her thumb over Robin's and tells him, "I'm not sure I want to be the person who strikes fear into children." She jerks her head toward the porch and mutters, "Case in point."
He gives her a little tug, and she steps in closer, lets him draw her right up against him until he can wrap his arms loosely around her the way he wants to. Her arms wind around his waist and hold there, her nose pressing against his shoulder, and Robin feels her chest fill and empty with a deep, heavy breath.
"Not fear," he assures, rubbing a hand up and down her spine, while his other arm stays firmly spanning her shoulder blades. "Just respect. He knows you mean business."
Her shoulders jerk a little, a silent laugh, and she mutters against his t-shirt, "And you're a pushover?"
"Mmhmm," Robin admits, unable to resist the urge to press his cheek to her temple, damning that ball cap that keeps him from being able to easily steal a kiss. "But I'm working on it."
Her shoulders shift again, another soft chuckle, and then she's sighing again, her nose pressing more firmly against him, her arms winding tighter around his middle. Robin reaches up and steals that ball cap, tucking it into his back pocket and then weaving his fingers through her hair, mussing up the sweaty locks and then scratching at her nape.
He's learned by now what it looks like, feels like, when she needs to hug it out for a bit, and this definitely seems to be one of those moments. And he wants to be able to play with her hair the way she likes (the way he likes too), or tip her head up and be able to look her properly in the eyes without risking getting whacked in the face by the bill of the cap.
Regina doesn't seem to mind.
She turns her face toward him, her cheek against his shoulder now, her breath tickling along his neck before she murmurs, "I'm really trying not to be too upset about this. They're only flowers, it's…" Another rush of breath against his neck, and then her voice begins to waver as she tells him, "It's not worth crying over. But I am this close."
Robin's lips find her hair, her brow, one of his palms making soothing passes up and down her back.
She keeps talking, and he lets her get it all out, lets her go on uninterrupted, her voice winding tighter as she says, "I was finally having a good morning, you know? And then I came out here to work in my garden, and… And I know it's just a garden, it doesn't matter, it's not…" She shakes her head, and sniffles softly, and Robin wants to punch something (someone). "It doesn't matter; I'm being stupid."
She stiffens after she says it, presses a little harder against him and he hears a telltale snap! from somewhere near his hips.
The rubber band, he realizes, and the impulse to press a kiss to her brow is automatic and impossible to restrain. But he keeps his promise and doesn't say a word about it.
Instead he soothes, "It matters to you," the hand in her hair urging her head back enough to meet his gaze. Her lashes are damp; his heart aches. His fingers comb through her hair again, scratching again at her nape as he says, "You've put time into it, and love, and care. And maybe they're only flowers, but they're yours, and the graffiti is cruel and hurtful." Her chin wobbles, and she nods as he assures, "You get to shed a tear over it."
And then her gaze drops down near his chin, her voice a wet whisper that hits him right in the gut as she says, defeated, "I just wanted a good day."
"It's not too late for one," he promises, desperate now to save her day. To make it a good one, a great one. To make certain she doesn't spend another bloody day in misery after so many already. "We'll go to the greenhouse, we'll get you some new flowers to plant. Make your garden lovely again. And then we'll all have dinner together – I'll cook. Burgers or something."
"You made dinner last night," she protests, as if that matters in the slightest.
"I am capable of making two meals in a row, believe it or not," he teases her, giving the back of her head a little waggle in an attempt to draw out a smirk at the very least. It almost works, one corner of her mouth lifting ever so slightly and then falling again before he urges, "Regina, let me help. I'm shit at a lot of things, but I can cook a few burgers. Let yourself relax for a weekend."
She chews her lip, and sighs, her fingertips pressing gently against his back for a moment. And then she seems to relent a little, or at least admit, "It has been a long week. I may have been… gently chided by my therapist once or twice for not taking proper care of my mental health – but it was one thing after another, and who has the time for self-care?"
"Well, you have time now," he reminds. "What are you supposed to be doing?"
"Things that make me happy – that make me feel good," she answers, "And allowing help when I need it. I just… hate needing it. I'm not a person who needs help. I do for myself, and my son, and I'm capable and strong and—"
"You're still all of those things," he interrupts, "even if you're struggling, and even if you let someone help you." She scowls a little at that, but Robin keeps going. "I didn't need you to hire me to teach Henry. I had the bar, I was making a paycheck. I'd have gotten square with Marian eventually — and I didn't need the guitar you bought me, or the free meals. But they helped, a lot. I was struggling, I felt like shit about myself, and my life, and there you were, offering help, being a friend, giving me something to do that made me feel worth something. And I didn't always like accepting it, it didn't always make me feel like a capable, successful adult in the moment – but those things made me feel more like myself. They made me feel…"
He tries to think of the right words, but can't quite manage to pluck the one that feels the way he'd felt back then. The way it feels now, in retrospect.
Eventually, he settles on, "I felt like a failure, and you made me feel like a man again. Not a perfect one, not always a great one, I don't think, but enough of one. And that only happened because I felt like shit, and let someone help me anyway." Her eyes are damp again, her lips pressed tightly together; he doesn't miss the way she swallows thickly. "I don't know what it's like to live with the kind of anxiety you're struggling through, but I know what it's like to feel upended. And I know I only got through it because I let you help me."
His hand shifts from her hair down to cradle her jaw, his thumb rubbing back and forth across her cheek, and he tells her, "So, please, love, lean on me. It will not make you weak, or incapable, or silly, or any other thing you think it will. Whatever you need to get through this, I will give it gladly. That's the whole point of our new arrangement, yeah?"
"Yes," she admits quietly, brushing at a tear that's managed to slip out. "But I don't…" She heaves a sigh, and tells him "I don't want to be coddled. I want to feel normal; I want to feel like myself again. I want to take care of myself, and my son, and my home – and I woke up today, and I thought finally I was going to do that. To have a normal Saturday, and now this—"
She throws a hand out in the direction of the garden, her temper spiking again, a little flash of frustrated fire in her eyes.
"I feel like I can't win, Robin," she tells him, anger settling in to dry her tears. He lets his hold on her loosen just a little, shifts his hand to her hip and lets her have room to vent. "We finally get to a place that seems workable, I come home to you guys having done everything you did, we have a good, relaxing night. And I get up the next day, and it's like, 'Oh, I'm sorry, did you think you were going to get a break, Regina? Did you think you could have a day where it didn't feel like the world was throwing mud at you just for spite? Did you think you could go one day without feeling like someone out there thinks you're their punching bag? We can't have that. So here, let's just destroy something that brings you happiness, and call you a bitch while we're at it.' And I'm just so pissed off about it; it's unfair, I don't know what the hell I did to deserve any of this."
She doesn't, and he should tell her that, but he's too distracted by the sudden shift in her mood.
She's tense beside him, every word bitten off and spat between them, and Robin is thrilled to bits. Maybe he shouldn't be, but this—her anger—he'll take it any day over the desolate sadness and desperation she's been swimming in all week. Let her be angry – she ought to be. Let it burn away all the muck that's weighing her down and help her find a little of that clarity she's so desperately seeking.
In fact, "Keep going."
Regina frowns, and says, "What?"
She'd lost steam for a second, had heaved a frustrated sigh and raked a hand through her hair, and petered out. And they can't have that.
So he asks, "What else are you mad about?" and urges, "Tell me. All of it. It helped the other night, yeah? Just letting me have it, being honest about how you were feeling?"
"It did…" she admits, brow still furrowed.
"So. Let's have it," Robin shrugs, backing up a step and opening his arms in invitation. "You're pissed, you're frustrated, you've talked to your therapist about it, you've stressed over it, you've cried over it. Now bitch to me about it. Just vent it all. Keep going. Let it all out. Tell me everything that's driving you mad right now."
For a second she just looks at him – and then she unloads.
"I worked really hard on that garden; I tended it, it's something beautiful that makes me happy, and now it's ruined, and I am furious. And I know I can replant it, and we will, but unless I rip everything up from the root, it's still going to look like crap. And I don't want to rip everything up, some of these are annuals. So no matter what I do, every time I look at the front of my house until everything dies for the winter, I'm going to be reminded that someone did this, and that pisses me off."
"Good," Robin nods. "What else?"
"Sidney's being an ass," she growls, and Robin settles a hand back on her hip and gives it a squeeze – he doesn't want to interrupt, wants to let her vent as she sees fit, but he really, really fucking hates that man and it's all he can do to keep his mouth shut about it as she tells him, "I should never have gone out with him, I know that, but you know what? I gave him the chance he's wanted for years, and he blew it."
And thank God for that, as far as Robin is concerned. Thank God for it, because if things had gone another way, he wouldn't be able to stand here with her like this, rubbing his thumb back and forth along her hip as she continues to vent her frustration.
"I was bored, we had no chemistry, and kissing him was like kissing every overeager frat boy I wasted time with in college," she bites, and Robin decides to hate those wankers too for good measure. "It's not my fault that we don't work, and I am pissed that he's being such a petulant manchild about it, and I am even more pissed that a month of polite rejections got me nowhere, and I had to be so blunt about it. Because now he's being a jerk – forgetting to invite me to meetings, and taking credit for ideas we came up with together, and somehow miraculously leaving with the last cup of coffee in the pot every time I show up to refill – and of course he knows when I take my coffee breaks because he is obsessed with me. And I am absolutely certain that he's talked to Leo about all of this, because he's also been cold this week—and that pisses me off, too!"
Robin is torn between the urge to hunt Sidney down and give him a good walloping for putting her through this and the urge to grin at her. Because clearly she needs this, it's tumbling out of her now like water over a cliff, word after rushing word, building and building with each new thing she finds to be irritated about. He wonders just what else she's been pressing down over the last few weeks, and has a feeling he's about to find out.
He's not surprised that she continues with, "I have known Leo Blanchard for decades, and I can't believe—I cannot believe—that with how long he's known me, known my family, that I would go to him for help and he'd just tell me to deal with it myself. That he would tell me I brought it on myself – which I know I did, but that is not the point. We've never been close, but I can't believe he's suddenly such an asshole that when an employee—a daughter of a friend and business associate—comes to him because she's being sexually harassed in his workplace—and that's what it is, by the way. It's harassment. I've asked him to stop, to leave me alone, to let it go, and he won't. And I shouldn't have to put up with that just to do my job – some guy who can't take no for an answer all of a sudden."
"No, you shouldn't," Robin agrees in the moment she pauses for air.
Her cheeks have gone pink and flushed, her breath quickening, and Robin has to bite at the inside of his lip to hide how pleased he is with it. She's vibrant, energized, focused. She doesn't look like she's crawling out of her own skin, or trapped in her own head. She's wearing her skin like it belongs there, filling it up with all her righteous fury, and it's such a comfort to see her with all that spit and fire again that he can't even muster up the energy to be angry on her behalf just yet (but he will, oh he will, because how dare she just be left out to dry like this when she legitimately needs help – no wonder she's so bloody resistant to ask for it when this is the result).
Instead, he basks in the way she vents, "But I do! I do have to put up with it. That was his advice — deal with it. And not just deal with it, but find some way to deal with it that doesn't affect our working relationship, but how the hell was I supposed to do that when Sidney couldn't hear no the first fifteen times I tried to say it?"
Her hands fly up into her hair, fisting in her curls as she lets out this noise of frustration that actually does make him grin – that, and the smudge of dirt that ends up on her temple, a reminder of what's gotten her to this breaking point in the first place. Thankfully, he manages to squash the smile down to something less obvious, clamping his bottom lip in his teeth while she's still gathering up some more ire to fling about.
Her chest rises and falls, her arms dropping with it, and she swings her gaze back to his face, and pauses. Her eyes narrow and she asks him, "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Robin releases his lip and asks, "Like what?"
"Like you want to take a bite out of me," she says, and he can't tell if her irritation is lingering from the talk of her workplace woes or in reaction to the expression he apparently hadn't quite managed to shove away. "I'm sweaty, and angry, and I probably have terrible hat hair and you're biting your lip that way you do and giving me bedroom eyes."
"Oh," Robin admits, caught. It might be smarter to lie, but he'd promised her he wouldn't, hadn't he? So he shrugs, and admits, "You're very attractive when you're angry at people who aren't me."
Her glare sharpens, her head tilting slightly, and she asks him slowly, "You think my anger is sexy?"
"I think your everything is sexy," he tells her, stepping carefully around each word. "But it's your word this time, not mine. I said 'attractive.' I am… attracted to you… in this moment…" His hand is still at her hip, and he settles the other there now as well, gives her a little squeeze as he chooses his words with the utmost care. "...where you are unabashedly yourself. Honest. Passionate."
One brow arches slowly. "Nice save."
He tries very hard not to smirk at her, and fails quite spectacularly, pressing his luck by adding, "And flushed, and a bit sweaty, and tousled." Regina rolls her eyes, but she's trying to scowl down a smile now too. "But you were unloading, and I think you need it right now, so please continue."
Regina nods, settling her hands on his arms; he keeps his anchored to her hips, squeezing absently as she works herself up into a good vent again: "I know that dating Sidney was a mistake, I know that was my bad decision, but not being able to end it without just flat-out telling him he never had a chance wasn't on me. I tried to be polite about it, I tried to let him down gently, but the only thing that worked was finally telling him I never wanted to date him, that I never would, no matter how many gifts he—Will you stop flirting with me? You wanted me to vent, and I'm venting, and it's helping. But I don't need you standing there looking at me like I'm being cute; I'm trying to talk to you."
She'd caught that grin, clearly. The one that came at the thought of her being bluntly honest with that wanker about just how beneath her he actually is.
"Sorry," he grimaces through his smile. "I'm not flirting; I promise. And I am listening. It's just that the thought of you letting him have it tickles me. I would pay good money to have been a fly on that wall while you ripped that wanker to shreds and told him about all the things he could never have with you."
"Don't be smug," Regina tells him tartly. "It's not attractive."
Robin scoffs slightly, amused at her little turn of the tables there, and tells her, "I'm not being smug, babe. I just hate him."
"Yeah, y'know what?" She huffs, seeming to accept his words as truth. "Me too. And I didn't before. I used to feel bad for him. I used to like him, enough. He was a work friend, he was kind. I knew he had feelings for me, and yes, okay, he did occasionally make me… uncomfortable. But I didn't dislike him. Now, I hope he chokes."
Robin laughs. He can't help it, not with her biting off something that bloody brilliant, her teeth flashing white, her nose scrunching in irritation. God, she's delightful.
And she cracks a smile then, too – apparently that one he was allowed to laugh at.
Regina shakes her head a little, crossing her arms over her chest, that smile lingering as she says, "I do. He's undermining me at work, I know he is. And I have worked too hard at this job to have some asshole try to ruin it because I wouldn't date him. I hate him."
"Can I punch him in the face for you?" Robin asks, doubting she'll say yes, but hoping very much that she'll surprise him. "I know you've said no before, but I'd really like to. Very much."
It makes her laugh, at least, has her shaking her head again, and smiling, and telling him, "Thank you, but my answer to that is still no. Things are already bad enough at the office right now. Leo's unhappy, and Kathryn is leaving – and I'm pissed about that, too. I know we've both been wrapped up in our own thing the last few months, but we've been friends for years, and now she's leaving. And I know D.C. isn't at all far away, but it's enough that you have to make a point to see each other, and we work in the same office and have barely done that in weeks. And Sidney's being Sidney, and Leo is disappointed in me, and half the people in that office I can't stand or just don't care about. So now it's just, what? Me and Mal? I go into work every day with one person who isn't getting on my nerves? I don't want that."
She frowns, and he worries that she's about to lose her fire again, but then her mouth quirks up a little on one side, and she concedes, "But if I'm stuck with only one person I'm friendly with, at least it's the one who keeps a flask in her desk."
Robin snorts, and says, "Silver linings. I'd imagine that makes everyone else a bit more tolerable."
"A bit," she agrees with a smirk, and Robin prompts her again, asks who else she's mad at. She scowls, her arms tucking tighter across her chest, shoulders hunching a little as she admits, "My dad. He should have left Mother. He should have taken me and left her. I would have defended him if she'd tried to ruin him; he should have defended me. I'm his daughter, he should have fought tooth and nail for me, and he didn't. He never has. He's a coward.
"And I'm mad at myself, because I'm mad at him. Because being mad at him makes me feel guilty — like I don't have a right to that kind of anger when he stayed with her because he was afraid I'd get stuck with her and she'd destroy me. He thought he was doing the right thing, I know that. He thought he was protecting me, but all he did was let her hurt me, for years, and then apologize like that made it all better. It didn't make it better. He should have been better, they both should have been.
"And he should have told me sooner about what she did. I should have known. I'm angry that I spent so long thinking I was such a terrible burden on their marriage, that my illness was what destroyed our home, even if it was her fault I was sick. I felt like I destroyed everything I touched, like I had poisoned everything beyond repair, like maybe they could have been happy if I was just stronger or… not there. But it wasn't me. It was her. I should have known that, I should have gotten to know that. I should have known how she used me, and I should have been able to decide if I wanted her in my life based on that.
"And you know what else I'm mad about?"
"I'm mad—I am so angry—that I'm going to let her back in anyway. Not now, not any time soon, not… I don't want to. I don't ever want to see her again, but I always break eventually. And this is worse than anything she's ever done, so maybe this time it'll stick, but… I don't know how that works—being close to my dad, but never seeing her. He should just leave. I'm mad that he won't just leave, that he hasn't just left. That he puts up with her. Fuck her, he deserves better. He should divorce her. I'm mad he didn't do it twenty years ago, and I'm mad he's not doing it now. I mean, God, if he'd divorced her twenty years ago, maybe he'd have met someone else, and I could at least have a stepmother that wasn't a monster."
"I'm mad about how many times I've cried this week. I hate that. I'm mad that I feel like everything is out of control, I'm mad that I'm back in weekly therapy, I'm mad that my anxiety is the worst it's been since my fiancé died. I'm really mad about that, Robin, because why? I look at all these things in my life and I feel like none of them are insurmountable, but they all still feel like they are."
"It's a lot all at once. I think it's the pile-on that's causing you so much grief."
"Yes. And I know that, I do, but I still hate it. I can handle each of these things, so why does it feel like I can't handle all of them?"
"You can," he tells her simply. "You are."
"Not without help."
"Nobody goes through life without help, Regina. And even without the help, I know you. You'd be pushing through. You'd be even more miserable, maybe, but you'd be doing it. You'd find a way."
"I suppose so..."
"Any more mad left in there?"
She takes a deep breath, plants her hands on her hips, and takes stock. He watches her face, the slight squint of her eyes, the purse of her lips as she determines whether or not she has anything else to add to her purge.
In the end, she says, "There's not enough time in the world for everything about my mother that makes me angry. And I'm—wait. No. Yes. I do have something."
Robin smirks, nods.
"I'm mad that Daniel's brother is coming to take my son for the weekend. I was going to say I'm mad that Daniel is dead, and I am. I've gone through all the stages of grief, I've accepted it, but I'm still mad. And I'm mad that Liam asked for this, because I know it's the right thing to do, I know it'll be good for Henry, but it makes me nervous, sending him away for a night. Especially since it's something it doesn't seem like Henry wants to do – I hate forcing him. It makes me feel like… Mother."
"You're nothing like your mother," he assures her, his hands finding their way into her hair, combing over her temples and then weaving at the back of her head and cupping her in close so he can kiss her brow. "I promise you, babe, you are nothing like her."
"Do you know how many forced social functions I went to as a child? Most of them at that stupid country club. Having to play nice with a bunch of boring, snobby rich people, and never living up to what Mother expected of me, I…" She takes a deep breath, sighs, and then says, "I don't want him to feel like he's letting me down if he doesn't have a good time. Or like I don't care about his feelings, or what he wants."
"Henry knows you love him, no matter what," Robin assures her, hands sliding down to loop around her waist now, holding her against him and feeling the heat of her sun-warmed skin seep through the front of his t-shirt.
"I know he knows I love him, but loving someone and respecting what they want are two different things," she argues. "He doesn't want to go, I think that much is clear."
"Maybe not, but I bet he doesn't always want to go to school in the morning, or to… the dentist, or… wherever," Robin points out, wishing he'd had better examples at the front of his brain. "You make him do those things because they're necessary. You want him to have this bonding time with his uncle, it's important to you, yeah?"
"It would have been important to Daniel," she sighs, her fingers fisting and loosening in his shirt lazily.
"Same thing," Robin reasons. "It's important, so he'll do it. This isn't some stuffy social function, it's family – family who must genuinely care about him, or I know you wouldn't be allowing it."
"He does care about Henry," she says wearily, and Robin laments the loss of that fire she'd gotten good and stoked. "I know he does. And I'm hoping that if they spend a little more time together, something substantial, maybe it can… be a foundation for… something?"
She chews her lip, shakes her head, and Robin can see how conflicted she is about all of it. But whatever it is, her wanting Henry to spend time with his family certainly isn't cruel torture, so he reassures her, telling her, "Then this is one of those times where you get to play the Mom card, and he just has to deal with it. You're not wrong here."
Regina scoffs bitterly and mutters, "Tell that to my son and his smart mouth." Her frown deepens as she tells him, "That's another thing I'm mad about—what Henry said last night about Daniel—and frankly, I'm mad that you handled it and not me. It should have been me, I'm his mother; I should be the one to parent him."
"But I wasn't. I just... sat there. Stunned. While the guy I'm kind-of seeing lectured my son, and… I'm grateful for how you handled it—honestly I think he'd probably take it better coming from you than me, anyway – he looks up to you, so much. But I'm angry that I couldn't do it myself. I'm angry that I didn't insist on it, and I'm really angry that I didn't insist on it because I was so hungry to have someone finally defend me when someone was thoughtlessly hurtful. But my Mommy and Daddy issues aren't your problem; you shouldn't have had to handle it, I sh—"
"You shouldn't have had to, either," Robin interrupts.
"Yes, I should have," Regina insists, to his utter lack of surprise. "He's my son. Whatever else I'm going through, he is my son and I am his mother, and if I can't parent him, then what the hell am I good for? Not much."
He reaches back behind him then – shouldn't, but does – drawing her arm back around front and holding it up between them, the rubber band on her wrist plainly visible. And then he just tells her, "Snap it."
Her eyes flash, her jaw clenches, and he pushes, tells her, "You're a good mother, a wonderful mother – but you are also so much more than that, Regina. You are good for so much more. Don't beat yourself up for one moment where you were human, and needed a second to recover from your son throwing his dead father in your face."
"You promised not to make a big deal about the rubber band," she mutters quietly, darkly, and yes, okay, this may have been a misstep.
Robin rubs his thumb up and down her wrist once, and gentles his voice to tell her, "I know I did, but I can't bear you thinking that all you're good for is how you raise him, and that you're failing at it. It's not true, and it's not fair to you, and didn't you say that this is for when you beat yourself up like you're doing now?"
Regina twists her wrist out of his grasp, pressing forward against him again, banding her arms around his middle. A hug isn't quite the reaction he was expecting for his ill-advised overstepping, but he closes her in his arms anyway, giving her a little squeeze – and then he hears the snap, feels her press her nose into his collarbone, and he realizes she's hiding. Embarrassed. He's embarrassed her, and fuck. Fuck.
"I'm sorry, love," he murmurs, lifting a hand to comb his fingers through her hair. "I didn't mean to… upset you. But I hate the idea of anyone putting you down – even you."
"You were right," she mutters into his skin after a moment. "It was self-critical. I just... can't believe he said that the way he did. And you were right last night – he knew it would hurt when he said it. He knows how much I love his father."
"He was being a petulant little jerk," Robin soothes, fingers weaving along her scalp again.
"I want to say I don't know where he learned to cut at my soft parts, but I do. My fucking mother," she bites. "He's been watching her do it his whole life."
"He's also an eleven year old boy," Robin reminds, rubbing his hand up and down her spine again. "He's starting to test his boundaries, figuring out what he can get away with. I was a right git when I was a teenager, as hard as that may be to believe."
He'd meant it to be teasing, and it works. She snorts a laugh into his neck and mutters, "Shocking," and then, "And don't use the word 'teenager' in the same conversation as my son. He's growing up too fast – as far as I'm concerned he'll be eleven forever."
"Duly noted," Robin grins, getting back to his point and telling her, "My father didn't know how to handle my eleven-forever years—" He feels her laugh into his neck again and it thrills him. "—and there wasn't anybody else around to step in and tell me when I was being a little shit. Nobody ever stopped me, so I didn't get any better. I skived off school, and fell in with a not-so-great crowd, and learned many valuable life skills, like lockpicking, and window-breaking, and how to sneak spliffs and matches into school without getting caught. But Henry has you, and when you're overwhelmed, he has me. He'll learn where the lines are soon enough, and I'm sure by the time you're ready for him to stop being eleven again, he'll still be a great kid."
"Mm, and if he's not, at least I can still have hope that one day he'll grow up to be a sensitive-but-troubled man who seduces lonely neighbors and sweet talks his way out of the consequences of petty larceny," she teases, lifting her head and grinning at him.
Robin scoffs, his hands sliding down to squeeze at her hips. "I seem to recall I was the seducee, not the seducer, and there were plenty of consequences."
Regina shrugs a little, smirking at him so enticingly that he can't help lean in to steal a proper kiss from those tempting lips. He's a breath away when she suddenly seems to realize that they're all wrapped around each other in view of the whole neighborhood, and she steps back, leaving him hanging as she lets go of him and says, "We shouldn't be all over each other like this in the front lawn. Someone might—Henry might see, and I don't know how I'd explain that."
Robin points to the mess of foliage beside them and says, "Your garden got beat to shit. I don't think you need to do much more explaining than that for why Mom might need a good, long hug."
"A hug, maybe, but I'm pretty sure hugging doesn't involve lips," she tells him pointedly.
She's still smiling just a little, though, so Robin takes his chances and wiggles his brows a little, teasing her, "It does the way I do it."
Regina laughs, shaking her head and tucking her hands into her back pockets as she tells him, "I just don't want him to get his hopes up about this."
"You don't want him to think we might start kissing each other, and sleeping together, and—?"
"Okay, alright," she concedes, because it's a bit silly to act like Henry has the wrong idea about them, at this point, isn't it?
"I don't want…" Regina takes a deep breath, and tries again: "Whatever happens between us, it's ours. I don't want him in the middle of it yet. I want to keep it to myself for a while, especially while we're still figuring it all out."
Robin can't begrudge her that, he supposes, so he nods, reaching back to retrieve her cap from his pocket and pass it back to her.
"Got it," he tells her. "No snogging in front of the children."
Regina rolls her eyes, raking her hair back with one hand before fitting the cap back in place with the other.
"But maybe we could find some time alone later?" he suggests cheekily, because hell, it's worth a shot, isn't it? "You know, in the interest of relaxation, and doing things that feel good."
Those dark eyes narrow slightly, her lips pursing in a sad attempt to hide a smirk. And then she breaks into a smile, and ducks her head slightly, telling him, "Maybe. We'll see how the night goes. But for now…" Regina takes a deep breath and looks to her ransacked garden. "I'm going to finish cleaning this up, and then see if I can wrangle either of our boys to help me pick out replacements."
"You do that," Robin tells her, "and I'll go make that call for you."
Her lips curve again, softly, and she reaches out a hand for his, giving it a squeeze.
"Thank you," she tells him. "Loath as I am to admit I need help… I have lately. And you've been there, always. So thank you."
"Anytime, babe," Robin assures her, squeezing her fingers in turn even though he'd very much rather press a kiss to her cheek. Or her lips.
But she's asked him not to, here, out in the open, so he doesn't give in to his baser urges.
Instead, he leaves her there with her bent flowers and heads home to scrounge up a power washer.
Regina finishes clearing the casualties from her gutted garden, then finally heads inside for that shower. It's sorely needed now; she smells like sweat and dirt, and what on earth was she thinking wrapping herself up around Robin in this state?
She reminds herself that he hadn't minded, and spends a few minutes under the hot spray, letting it wash away the evidence of her morning.
She's tired, again.
The energizing calm of this morning had been sapped completely by the sight of her ruined garden. She'd looked up and down the street like an idiot after she'd noticed it, half-expecting to see… someone. Expecting the person who did it (she's trying not to make an assumption, the M.O. doesn't fit, it doesn't, she's just being paranoid) to still be standing there waiting for a reaction to their handiwork. But the street had been tranquil as always, nothing else amiss, so she'd shaken off the unease and reminded herself that she wasn't the first victim of this petty vandalization, and likely wouldn't be the last.
Still, it's unsettling. She'd attempted to keep her gaze from the dripping black paint slurred across her porch, but try as she might, it had slid back again and again while she'd plucked half-bent and fully bruised flowers from the dirt. Every time she'd caught sight of it, her stomach had swooped and twisted sharply.
Robin's appearance had been a welcome distraction. She'd needed to vent to someone, to really unload – he'd been right about that. And it had been… nice. Having someone there to wrap her up in a hug and rub her back, and… to have that be okay. Acceptable. Not an illicit indulgence, just… part of what they have now. Something she no longer has to feel guilty about.
She'd indulged a little longer than she should have, maybe, but she's determined to make today a day of actual self-care, or at least one she doesn't spend twisting herself up in knots.
So she's not going to feel bad about it, she's just going to use her deep conditioner, and crank the shower head to the massage setting, letting it beat at her shoulders while her conditioner does its thing.
She emerges quite a while later, fresh as a daisy now, and with her hair blown out, a light coat of makeup on her face. She'd dressed herself in stretchy, comfortable denim, pulled on a snug red tank top that she likes, one that's flattering and makes her cleavage look great in this bra. Not that she should be worrying about that for a day spent with Robin and the boys, but, well, it's Robin and the boys, and why shouldn't she flirt a little? She's allowed.
They're… lovers, she supposes, for lack of a better word for them at the moment. And she feels good dressed like this, feels sexy and desirable, and very much not like the woman who'd headed upstairs flecked with dirt and coated in sweat, with unruly corkscrews sticking out from squashed waves when she took her cap off. What Robin had found attractive about that is beyond her.
When she pads barefoot into the den to see what the boys have gotten themselves up to, she discovers that Robin has joined them, and for just a second his mouth drops open in a way that makes her feel incredibly smug.
Looks like he likes the red tank top, too.
"You boys having fun?" she asks Roland and Henry, but her gaze never falters from Robin, so she gets to see the way he sucks in a deep breath and mouths Beautiful, her mouth turning up at the corners helplessly while Henry answers an absent, focused Yeah and Roland rattles on about how Henry beat another whole part of Mickey, and it was So amazing, Regina!
"I bet it was," she tells him, finally moving to perch on the arm of the sofa beside him, letting her fingers rake through his curls.
She's drawing a breath to ask if he's decided if he wants to go with her to the greenhouse or stay here with Henry when Robin finally finds his tongue, telling her, "I've got the washer for the night, no problem – figured I'd head out to get it when you leave for your errand?"
"Sounds good," Regina nods, feeling an utterly stupid rush of affection for him – it's just a power washer. (It's not – it's the dark, protective fury she'd seen him suppressing when he assured her he wouldn't take a cent to restore her dignity.)
She gives Roland's hair another muss with her fingers and asks, "You going to come with me to get the new flowers, or are you too caught up with Mickey over here?"
"I'm going with Daddy!" he insists, and Regina's brows rise as Robin sits a little straighter and clears his throat. "We're going to see uncle Alan!"
"I'm sorry," Robin grimaces. "I told him I was dropping by Alan's to pick something up and he hasn't seen him in ages. He begged to come along – Alan has kittens. Well, cats now, but Roland remembers them as—"
"Don't worry about it," Regina assures, putting him out of his misery. "Whatever he wants to do is fine by me. In fact… Henry, do you want to go with?"
She turns her attention to her son, pleased that he manages to tear himself away from his game long enough to answer her. Of course, his answer is, "Huh?"
"Robin's going to get something to get all that paint off the porch – do you want to go with him and Roland, or to the greenhouse with me?"
Henry loves the greenhouse – loves picking out plants, and seeds, and seeing all the different colorful, growing things. But it doesn't surprise her at all when he asks, "Can I go with Robin?"
She nods, tells him, "Of course, sweetheart," and when Robin asks if she's sure, if she's alright going alone, she says, "Honestly, yes. I think it'll be nice to have a little time to myself – and I have no doubt it'll be faster."
Robin smirks, and says, "Probably true," and that's that.
Within thirty minutes, they're all out the door, Robin and the boys piled into his car, Regina alone in hers. She takes the opportunity to crank her music up loud, something uptempo and steady in an attempt to lift her mood. It helps, some, and so does wandering the aisles of the greenhouse and carefully selecting a new array of blooms to hold her over until the first frost.
She likes planning a garden – it's methodical, but creative, and it's nice to take some time every now and then to just appreciate beautiful things. To smell sweetness and the earthy green-ness, to appreciate the way colors shift and blend on a petal, the way different combinations of flowers play off each other.
For all her talk of it being faster to do this without children underfoot, she ends up taking her sweet time meandering amongst the blooms. There's no rush – they're not planting them today, having realized that high-velocity water flooding at her garden wasn't probably the best start for all the new plants.
She'll do it tomorrow, while Henry is with her dad.
So tonight, she has time to stop and smell the roses, as it were, and she takes advantage. It's an hour before she's back in the car, her trunk lined with a tarp and toting its precious cargo.
And then she goes grocery shopping. All that time meandering the greenhouse had given her plenty of time to think about dinner, and she'd shot Robin a text with a request not to feed the boys or start cooking. She wants to handle it herself, wants to get back to something that feels normal – and what's more normal than Regina making a home-cooked meal for all of them?
And sure, she has a full fridge, they'd seen to that yesterday, but there's one thing she's missing for what she has planned: cheese. Lots of it.
She picks up a round of Brie and some fig jam, some pepper jack, and cheddar, and a package of goat cheese to be on the safe side. She grabs a rotisserie chicken, because as much as she wants to prepare a good meal, she doesn't want to delay dinner by cooking up chicken breasts when she could just shred this. And she has turkey bacon, but she grabs a package of proper bacon, because she has a point to prove, and she'll be damned if anyone complains about turkey bacon while she's making it.
She's going to show Robin how grilled cheese is really done.
They spend a little while with Alan and the cats before they head home, and it's exciting enough that Roland knocks out in his car seat after about five minutes.
And then, it's just… quiet.
The radio is playing, but for a good several minutes, that's the only sound in the car. Robin glances over at Henry, and finds him staring out the window, frowning; somehow it's only then that he realizes the boy has been a little on the sullen side all day long.
Earlier, he'd chalked it up to Henry being engrossed in his game, and then the assumption that as exciting as a trio of mischievous cats are to a preschooler, they're perhaps less so to a boy of eleven.
But now, as he steals glances at Henry's vacant stare out the window, Robin thinks maybe it's something else. That maybe he's as unnerved by dripping black spray paint as Robin had been, as Regina had been.
And he should probably talk to him about it, he supposes. For all Regina had said this afternoon about how she wants to be the one to parent Henry, she's had a hard week, and if Robin can take another potentially heavy conversation off her hands, he'll do it gladly.
He gives Henry until the end of "The Middle" by Jimmy Eat World, and then he says something.
"So… You're awfully quiet."
Henry Hmm?s, and Robin gives him another nudge: "Something on your mind?"
His shoulders lift, and then fall, and Robin glances over in time to see him scowling down at his hands, picking at the edge of one of his fingernails.
Robin waits him out, letting him stew for another minute before Henry finally asks, "Why would someone do that to our house?"
"Because they're bored, and stupid, and it makes them feel powerful and like they're able to get away with things that others can't," Robin answers. "Or at least that's what it was like when I was doing it."
That gets Henry's attention, his him sitting a little straighter and turning his his seat to ask, "You wrote on people's houses and stuff?"
"I did," Robin tells him, because why not? Maybe he can impart some grown-up wisdom on the boy, even as little of it as he has. "When I was young, I was… not a very good kid. And I had some friends who weren't very good kids either, and we used to do some… not very good stuff. Like spray graffiti on old buildings, and bust people's windows, and… other things."
He decides to leave out the breaking and entering, and the thievery. Henry doesn't need to know everything.
"What kinds of other things?"
"Nothing you need to worry about."
Henry squints a little at him – deciding whether to press or not, no doubt. In the end, he just asks, "Why? Just because you were bored?"
"Because I was young, and dumb," Robin shrugs. "And then I grew up, and realized how stupid it was, and I stopped."
That's not exactly why, but maybe Henry doesn't need to know the truth of that either.
"They called Mom a b-i-t-c-h," Henry says sullenly; Robin feels a surge of possessive ire and has to release the little bubble of anger in his chest on a heavy exhale.
"Yeah, they did," Robin says. "And that was rude of them."
"I think it really hurt her feelings."
"It did," Robin agrees, thinking how much Regina would not want him to be thinking of it in those terms. "Which is why we're going out of our way to get it off the brick tonight – so she doesn't have to see it anymore and be hurt about it."
"Why would they call her that, though? Like, who are they? What did she ever do to them?"
"Probably nothing," Robin assures him. "It's been happening all summer, yeah? It wasn't about your mum or anything she did. She just had the unfortunate bad luck to be their next target."
They pull up to a red light, and for a second Henry is quiet again. And then he grumbles, "I'm really mad at them. They're jerks, and I hope they get in trouble. Even if we can't catch them, I hope they do some other dumb thing and get in trouble for it."
"They probably will," Robin tells him, adding, "Thankfully, chances are, it won't be to us. Or, to your mum, rather. I guess she's not really an 'us', is she?"
It's only that he's gotten so used to thinking of her as his, even when he shouldn't have. Of Henry and Roland as theirs, in a way, even though they're not. Not really.
But she wants to keep their relationship away from Henry for a while, so he'll play ball, he'll amend the words that come so naturally to him.
He needn't bother, it turns out. Henry looks back at him with a funny sort of expression on his face, and says, "Yeah, she is. You're family even if you're not with my mom. Even if she doesn't say so, I do."
Robin grins, his heart feeling rather more warm and fuzzy than he'd like to admit, and says, "I'm glad to hear it."
By the time Regina starts making dinner, she's ready to concede that Robin was right — despite its rough beginning, her Saturday was salvageable. She'd been convinced it wasn't, that all her effort towards a good day would end up being for naught (because that's par for the course lately, isn't it?), but the day is coming to a close and she's ready to admit that things feel right. Normal, even.
It doesn't feel like the world is pressing down on her here, in the kitchen, slicing cheese and buttering bread while the boys are out front stripping the graffiti from her porch and giving the whole front of the house a little refresh while they're at it. She doesn't envy them – the day has gotten muggy. Even now as she preps dinner, it's warmer than it was this morning, and the air is sticky and hot. She'd taken pity on her men and brought them Cokes about half an hour ago, emerging onto the porch to find them all standing shirtless in the lingering daylight of early evening.
The boys had been adorable, flanking Robin and looking like they were up to some serious business, Roland pointing out, "Daddy, there's still black stuff there; better get it."
Robin had been gripping the washer, his biceps flexing slightly as he'd shifted it, sweat slicking his skin from weather and effort. It had made Regina feel things. Had made her itch to run her palms over his arms and feel the warmth of his skin slide beneath her touch. Had made her wish he was sweaty for other, more pleasant reasons; had made her want to work up a sweat with him.
They weren't at all appropriate feelings to be having in front of his son, or hers, so she'd made some joke about wilting in the heat and retreated back inside to her kitchen.
And here she is, laying out ingredients to prove some kind of point to him about who makes the better grilled cheese.
The thought makes her smile – and the fact that it does is a realization that brings her some measure of joy in itself. That she can be amused at something that has to do with him and not just feel conflicted and guilty. That she can laugh at a challenge that stems from a night she spent hiding at his place, struggling to breathe and then stoned and then pantsless.
She still feels that little lick of shame when she thinks of how utterly unable she'd been to handle herself, but it's easier to push it down, easier to call up Dr. Hopper's words of dismissal, easier to lean into the idea that everything really is going to be okay. That it all was okay in the first place.
It's hard to believe it had been only a week ago – less than, even. She feels like she's aged a year in a scant six days.
But that's ridiculous – she's being overdramatic. It was just a hard week, that's all. Just a near-breakdown or two, that's all – but no, she shouldn't think of it like that. Not breakdowns, breakthroughs. She'd had a week of breakthroughs, and those don't come easily. And that's okay. She's allowed to struggle. Struggle brings growth, and growth eventually brings peace. Hopefully. In some cases. Or whatever Dr. Hopper likes to tell her.
In this case, at least, it seems to be easing her in that direction. The guilt is fading, the self-loathing is ebbing away.
And now it's the weekend, and it's over, and she can get back to life as usual.
She can fry up bacon in a pan, and set it aside, can shred some of that rotisserie chicken and throw it in a pan with chopped bell peppers and spices and set that aside too. Can let that pleasant anticipatory smugness build in her chest as she preps the first round of grilled cheeses, layering cheddar with apple slices and that bacon, and another layer of cheddar, because fuck the calories, and fuck her too-tight jeans, and fuck everything but gooey cheesy goodness tonight. (And she's not going to eat that one, anyway – she's saving herself for the last of her concoctions.)
She works in cycles, making one of each flavor so no particular type goes cold waiting for the others to finish, and then she does it all again. She follows the cheddar-bacon-apple with her chicken fajita grilled cheese, layering the spicy chicken and peppers with pepper jack, and then makes her piece de resistance: a melty brie with fig jam. She'd even swung by the bakery case to grab a loaf of the hearty walnut bread she prefers for this particular sandwich – the other two will do just fine on her usual seven grain, but the brie and fig is for her and Robin, and she's damn well not going to scrimp on proving her point.
When the last brie and fig is melting in the pan, she pokes her head out the front door and announces, "Food's ready; time to call it a night – and hurry up, you'll want your dinner while it's hot."
"What're we having?" Henry asks her, making her smile with his, "Ooh!" when she answers that she's made fancy grilled cheese.
She's trying very hard not to look at Robin's bare chest and shoulders gleaming in the slowly shifting light of dusk, but she does manage to catch the way he chuckles softly and grins.
"Why are they fancy?" Roland asks Henry as Regina ducks back inside. She leaves the door open a crack since they'll be heading in momentarily anyway, so she hears the beginnings of Henry's explanation – that she puts all sorts of extra stuff on them, not just cheese, so they're extra tasty.
Damn right they are, she thinks with an amount of self-satisfaction that she might be ashamed of if she wasn't so determined to feel good about herself today.
And besides, it's true – or at least, it must be, because even though nine grilled cheese sandwiches are by far enough (too many, in fact) for two adults and two children, they all end up being gobbled down by the time dinner is finished. She'd halved all the sandwiches and piled them into a plate in the middle of the table, so everyone could pick and choose as they wanted, and to her entire lack of surprise, Henry reaches for the chicken fajita first (it's always been a favorite of his). In fact, he reaches for it before he's even parked his butt in his chair, and, more importantly, before he's cleaned up.
Regina clears her throat pointedly and orders, "Wash up first, please," to him and Roland. "You've both been playing in the dirt."
"Nuh uh, we haven't," Roland tells her, holding up his hands and saying, "See, I'm clean."
And okay, maybe they haven't been in the dirt exactly, but they're still about to eat with their hands so, "Wash up anyway, please." She points to the powder room, and says, "Before you eat."
Henry sighs dramatically, and so Roland does the same, and they trudge off toward the little bathroom with equally put-upon stompy steps.
Robin passes them on his way in and smirks, giving her a questioning look as he closes the distance between them. He's pulled his shirt back on, a wise decision she can't help but be just a teensy bit disappointed by.
"Have they been sent away with no supper?" he teases, and Regina shakes her head, says, No, just told to wash their hands. And then he's even closer, leaning in with a joking, "Well, heaven forfend," before he steals a smooch from her.
It's so quick that Regina barely has time to react, over before she can even pull back in protest – which she does, even though he's already stepping away and taking the smell of sweat and sunscreen and faded cologne with him. She glances toward the powder room and hisses a scolding, "Don't do that! Not with the boys around."
He matches her low tone, thankfully, when he whispers back, "They're in the loo. I can hear the water running. Roland will have to get through the whole handwashing song before he'll be satisfied; I had time."
"Be that as it may…" It's no excuse. So, "Don't do it again. Not while they could walk back in; I mean it. Please."
He must be able to see that she means business, because he pauses just before turning on the tap at the sink and gives her a genuine, "Alright; I'm sorry. You just look good enough to eat in that bloody tank top. I'm half convinced you wore it to tempt me."
She hears the water cut off in the powder room just as Robin turns it on in the kitchen, reaching for the soap as she smirks, and taunts him, "I did."
The corner of his mouth curves up, and he rakes his gaze over her, all the way down to her bare toes and back up again, but there's nothing he can say – they have an audience again, the boys clamoring for their seats and sandwiches.
Regina helps them both pour seltzers as she points out, "You'll notice that Robin washed his hands without being asked and without complaining." She gives Roland a wink, Henry a pointed glance and adds, "Something the two of you should try in the future."
Henry just sighs and reaches for that chicken fajita grilled cheese again. Roland does the same, letting out a satisfied, "Mmmmmm," around his first cheesy mouthful.
"You've gone all out," Robin murmurs to her as he pulls out a chair, a knowing sort of low tone to his voice that shouldn't be sexy but somehow it is. Because she knows he knows just why she made grilled cheese – and no doubt he's thinking of last weekend, too. Of her stoned and silly, of her half-naked, of… everything.
She swallows thickly and answers quietly, "I had a point to prove."
He's smirking at her again, and asking, "Where should I start, then?"
"This one"—she points to the brie and fig—"is my favorite. You can probably guess which is Henry's. And this"—she points to the cheddar apple bacon—"is chock full of cheese and bacon. So pick your poison, I guess."
Much to her pleasure, Robin reaches for the brie and fig. She does the same, then watches as he takes the first bite, the fluttery nerves in her belly making her feel silly and childish. It's just a grilled cheese, she needs to get a grip.
But then he grins and tells her, "This is really good. You win."
"Win what?" Henry asks, just as Roland insists around a full mouthful, You should try the chicken, Daddy!"
"I will after this one," Robin assures him, before answering Henry, "Just a bet I had with your mum about who could make a better cheese toastie."
Henry's face twists into a disbelieving scowl, and he looks at Robin like he has two heads as he questions, "You bet you could make something better than Mom?"
"Yeah, pretty silly of me, huh?"
"Pretty dumb," Henry tells him with a grin, and Regina scoffs and gives him a scolding Henry! Roland just giggles around another mouthful.
"He's not wrong," Robin points out, taking another big bite of his sandwich, and then handing it to Roland when he asks if he can try it too.
"Maybe not, but he could be more polite in his saying so," Regina tells Robin and Henry.
"It's just Robin," Henry shrugs.
Regina tells him that's no excuse for rudeness, and then Roland decides, "This cheese tastes funny."
She smirks, and urges him to, "Try the bacon one next; you'll like it more. The brie tastes better when you're a grown up."
Roland nods, and shoves a ridiculously large bite of his current grilled cheese into his mouth, prompting a warning from Robin not to choke, and one from Regina to chew carefully, and then Henry is asking Robin, "What'd you lose in the bet?" and Regina pauses in her chewing.
It wasn't really a bet, per se, and they hadn't established terms, and—
"I owe your mum a proper back rub," Robin supplies, not missing a beat, and then he gives a defeated sigh and says, "If I'd won, she was going to clean my bathroom to her standard. Now I'll have to clean it all myself."
Henry wrinkles his nose and looks to Regina. "You knew you were gonna win, huh?"
She's not a huge fan of lying to her son, tries not to if she can help it, but she figures this little ruse isn't hurting anyone. So Regina winks and says, "I wouldn't have offered to clean his bathroom if I hadn't."
The rest of dinner continues much the same. It's easy, and comfortable. Relaxed. There are no awkward mentions of her dead fiancé, no clamoring feelings of anxiety in her chest, or failure pressing down on her. She even manages to forget entirely about the graffiti on her porch, until Robin leans back in his chair and says, "You know, when I had that last sandwich, I forgot I hadn't quite finished blasting the front of the house. I wanted to be done before we lost all the daylight."
Regina squints toward the kitchen window and tells him, "I think you're a little late."
"Mm," he confirms. "I suppose I can finish tomorrow. I'd offer to do the side of the house, too, so it all matches, but I'd need a ladder taller than what I have."
"It's alright," Regina assures. "You've done enough."
"I could talk Alan into coming over – he's got one," Robin offers.
"You've done enough," Regina repeats. "If you did any more work, I'd insist on paying, and you wouldn't want to let me—"
"If we did the whole house, I'd let you," Robin shrugs, sitting up and reaching for his drink again, pausing before he takes a sip to add, "Well, I'd let you pay Alan, anyway."
"I'd pay you both," Regina insists. "Or I would if we were going to do it, but we're not. It's your weekend, it's your time with Roland. Maybe during the week, if he's not busy and you wouldn't have to cancel any plans. And besides, my dad is coming over tomorrow to pick up Henry for his riding lesson, so…"
She says it casually enough that she hopes the boys won't take issue with it, but she can see by the way Robin stiffens that he knows what she meant – it would be very, very bad for him to accidentally cross paths with her father.
Henry, of course, has no idea of that, so naturally he disagrees, perking up and saying, "Hey, maybe Robin can meet Grandpa tomorrow! I bet they'd like each other."
Robin takes another deep swing of seltzer, not looking anywhere near Henry as Regina says, "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Why not?" Henry pouts. "We could show him something on the guitar – something we could play together! Please, Mom, pleeeeease?"
"Henry, I— No." It doesn't take her long to grasp for an reason for her refusal – and thankfully, she doesn't even have to resort to excuses. When she tells him, "I don't want your grandpa hanging around tomorrow. He's going to pick you up, and go, and drop you back when you're done," it's the truth.
Henry's pout morphs into a confused, curious frown, and he asks, "Are you mad at him?"
"No," she answers, although that's not quite so truthful. "Not really. I just… I need a little break from your grandparents, that's all."
"I thought you were just mad at Grandma," he says, and for a second her heart drops into her belly, a panicked How did he find out? scampering through her brain before she remembers her mother's behavior at his birthday brunch a week ago. He must be thinking of that, not the other things, when he asks, "What'd Grandpa do?"
"Nothing," she tells him. "He didn't do anything. I just…" Regina sighs, not really wanting to go into all this with him, and certainly not with an audience. So she's says, "It's complicated. And between me and him. Or me and your grandma, really, but… I need you to trust me on this one. I don't want to spend time with my parents right now. Okay?"
Henry looks at her, confused but still too knowing, before he nods and relents with a quiet, "Okay."
For a moment, it's quiet, and Regina regrets bringing her father up at all. She could have waited, could have reminded Robin privately. Could have avoided the slow sinking feeling in her chest brought on by having to be so vulnerable in front of Henry. Robin's knee finds hers under the table, pressing against it and staying there. Regina presses back, shifts slightly until her calf is flush to his, their ankles touching.
It's not much, but it's something. Enough.
And then Roland pulls a smile from her, breaking the silence with an all-too-innocent and perfectly pleasant, "I don't have a grandma; she's in heaven with the angels."
He says it like he's sharing a very fun fact, like his grandma just lives very far away, in a pleasant heavenly retirement home.
"I have a 'buela though; she's nice. She always gives me candy." He whispers that last part, too loudly and with mischievous eyes, like he can somehow share it with Regina and hide it from his daddy at the same time.
She chuckles, and tells the little boy, "I bet she does."
"Does Henry have a 'buela too?" He asks, turning his head toward the older boy; Henry just shrugs.
"Nope. My dad died before I was born," he tells Roland, "And his mom and dad died before that."
"Oh," Roland says, and then he perks up to ask, "Are they in heaven with Grandma?"
"They are," Regina tells him with a nod, smiling softly at the idea. Daniel and his parents hanging out with Robin's mother in some heavenly diner or whatever things are like in the afterlife.
Roland seems charmed by the idea too, nodding his satisfaction and then turning a curious gaze to his father. "Granddad's not in heaven, right, Daddy?" he asks, and Regina's brows creep up slightly.
"No," Robin tells him. "Just England."
Roland frowns a little at that, then sighs almost dejectedly and wonders, "When can I go to England?"
"When you're older, I suppose," is the reply he gets from Robin before Henry scowls and asks the same question that had crossed Regina's mind:
"He's never gone before?"
Robin lifts his drink to his lips for another sip, and answers a succinct, "Nope."
Something in the tone of it tells Regina everything she needs to know about why – their previous conversations about his father are still fresh in her mind, after all.
Henry, of course, has no idea that Robin's relationship with his father is so strained, so he just scowls deeper and asks, "Why not? Doesn't your dad want to meet him?"
Before he can think, Robin's making a sour face, and biting out, "My dad's a b—" She's fairly certain that was about to be "bastard", but thankfully for them all, he catches himself in time to correct it to, "...busy man."
Henry's not fooled, though. Regina watches as his eyes narrow a little, his head tilting curiously as he asks, "Too busy for you guys to go visit?"
Regina watches the exchange carefully, unsure if she should step in and put an end to it. But just as she's about to, Robin clears his throat slightly and says carefully, "My dad's a lot like your grandma; they'd get along very well. And I don't suppose you'd like to spend a whole vacation with her, would you?" Henry's eyes widen a little, and he shakes his head; Regina's heart pinches and aches. "Only unlike your grandma, my dad lives an ocean away, not an hour away, so I don't have to put up with his… less than enjoyable personality traits very often. Which I find makes me rather less tolerable of them. Your mum puts up with a lot from your grandma so she can see your grandpa, yeah?" Henry nods. "Well, my mum passed away when I was about your age, so I don't have much of a reason to go home."
"So he's never met Roland?" Henry wonders. (Roland answers, "Nope, never," with an ease and innocence oblivious to the mood around him.)
"Not yet," Robin says, "And to be honest, my dad's not great with kids, so it's probably for the best. We'll go visit him when Roland's older, maybe."
Regina very much doubts that. And she very much doubts Robin still wants to be having this conversation, judging by the way he's focusing more on fiddling with his glass than he is Henry. Usually Henry gets his full attention when they're talking.
So Regina gives him an out, asking the boys, "Are we all ready to clear our plates? We're probably creeping up on bedtime for certain little boys."
Roland eyes go wide and then he melts into a dismayed near-wail of, "Nooooooo. I don't wanna go to bed, I wanna stay here."
"It's getting late," Regina tells him regretfully, something that feels silly to say when it is only barely dark outside, but it's late for a toddler.
Roland doesn't buy it, sulking in his chair and grousing, "Nuh uh," he pouts, and then, "Why can't we sleep here?"
Robin draws a breath to answer, but Henry beats him to it, popping up straighter with an excited, "You could! Mom, can we have a sleepover?"
Roland lights up immediately, doing his best impression of an overworked bobblehead as he nearly shouts, "Yeah! Yeah, we could! Daddy, pleeeeeeeeeeease?"
He holds the word so long that Regina worries he might run out of breath, long enough that she and Robin are sharing amused glances and stifled giggles. Robin's grinning by the time Roland finally gives up the word, and it makes something flutter in Regina's chest to see him happy, laughing. To see his darkening mood pop back up so quickly.
And then he looks at her, his gaze locking with hers and holding there, nothing out of the ordinary in the way he says, "As long as Regina's alright with it. If she has plans, or things to get done, I wouldn't want to bother her."
But he doesn't look away for a word of it, not for a second, and there's something meaningful about the eye contact. Something in the way he's looking at her that makes her think of his sweaty shoulders in the late daylight, of that way he bites his lip, of that way he nibbles hers. Of his hips cradled in her thighs and his hands on her breasts, his kisses against her neck as he muffled quiet grunts there, and it's entirely inappropriate to be thinking of these things in front of the children, so she looks away from him, clearing her throat softly and saying, "I suppose you can stay the night."
The boys both cheer, and she glances back to Robin, finds him smirking knowingly at her, the bastard, and then he wiggles his brows slightly and she's just glad the boys are too distracted and too young to notice her being seduced on the other side of the dinner table.
She rolls her eyes slightly at him, wishing she could suppress the little smile on her lips, and then turns her attention to their sons and asks, "Do you boys want to sleep in Henry's room or make forts down here?"
"Forts!" Roland shouts, popping up in his chair so eagerly he nearly topples it.
"Easy, Roland," Robin chuckles, reaching out a hand to tug his son's chair in a little closer to the table, as Henry agrees, Definitely forts.
He adds, "That way Robin can have somewhere to sleep too."
Regina is tempted to give herself a dunk in cold water when her immediate thought is That won't be a problem.
Thankfully, she has the good sense not to speak said thought aloud, finding her voice for a much less desperate, "Robin can always sleep in the guest room if the forts are short on space."
"He won't need to," Henry insists. "We can get all the clean sheets out and turn the whole den into one big fort. We can get the flashlights from the emergency drawer, and bring down the pillows and blankets from the guest room, too, and maybe my sleeping bag if we need it. Do we still have my Nemo one from when I was little? I bet it would fit Roland."
Regina smiles at the memory – her little boy all cocooned in his Finding Nemo sleeping bag. He'd been obsessed with it, had insisted on taking it every time they went to her parents, had slept zipped up into it on the living room floor while she camped out beside him in an old red-checkered Coleman that had once been Daniel's, whispering and giggling to each other in the dark while his old turtle nightlight painted a kaleidoscope of stars across the ceiling. She'd even borrowed a tent from Kathryn and David, and pitched it in their front lawn, all so that Henry could camp properly in his Nemo bag.
It had reminded her so painfully much of Daniel, of all those times he'd leave her for the weekend to go trekking into the woods with Liam, sleeping bag rolled up and strapped into his hiking backpack. He'd have loved the sight of his son zipped up tight and ready to sleep under the night sky.
The day she'd brought the sleeping bag to Goodwill, she'd sat in the parking lot for a solid ten minutes, fingers fisted in the downy material, tears on her cheeks. It was just a thing, she'd told herself. Just a thing he'd outgrown – he'd gotten too tall, her baby boy, too grown up (he was growing too fast, and that's all the tears were for, really – it's not like the memories of sticky marshmallow fingers and soft cheeks smeared with melty chocolate were going to disappear with the bag itself). The Nemo sleeping bag had been languishing in a corner of the closet for too long, so she'd thrown it in the trunk along with a bag of too-short pants, and too-skinny shirts.
It had needed to go.
It had been time.
"It's in the back of my closet," she assures Henry with a wistful little grin, "And I bet it would fit Roland perfectly."
As it turns out, she's never been very good at letting go of the things that have overstayed their welcome once they get a grip on her heart. Mother would call her a pack rat, a sentimental fool who doesn't know how to let go.
But Regina looks at Robin, perfectly comfortable and not the slightest bit out of place as he leans back in one of her kitchen chairs and tells their sons, "That's settled, then; we'll get started on building the fortress of Helm's Den in there just as soon as Roland's had a bath," and she can't help the rising swell of gratitude in her chest for her own weak will.
If she'd been stronger, been better at letting go of the things she no longer needs, she'd have really cut Robin loose when she'd meant to all those weeks ago, and then she wouldn't have this. Family meals, and blanket forts, and subtle flirtation that flies right over young heads.
Maybe a little sentimentality is a good thing.
Roland's slight reluctance to leave them all for a bath had been easily conquered by Regina telling him there was a little robot man in a bin under the sink that would turn his bath blue and fizzy.
"He may have taken a tumble and lost his head," she'd winced, looking to Robin and telling him, "but he's in the basket of bath bombs. Please use him up for me; he was a gift with purchase."
Roland had practically dragged his daddy toward the stairs, anxious to meet Roboto, as he was apparently now named, leaving Regina and Henry to clean up dinner. She's not usually a messy cook, so there hadn't been too terribly much to do – just rinsing dishes and loading the dishwasher, wiping down the table and the countertops. They'd tag-teamed it – Henry clearing plates for her to rinse and stack in the dishwasher, then doing the wiping while she'd scrubbed the couple of pans she'd used.
And then she'd sent him out to drag the power washer from the front of the house back to the garage – if it wasn't going to be used again before tomorrow, she didn't want to risk it disappearing overnight.
Besides, it gave her time to fix herself a drink.
She'd wanted wine – had thought the idea of a nice, full glass of merlot sounded wonderfully relaxing. But she hadn't wanted to open a fresh bottle just for herself, and while she knows Robin will drink wine, he usually goes for a beer or a cider first, so…
She settles for whiskey, pulling the bottle out and pouring a measure into a tall glass – then adding another little splash, because she deserves it after the week she's had. She fills the rest with ice, and ginger ale, then caps the bottle and nearly puts it back in the cabinet before she thinks better of it. Instead, she moves it to the very back of the countertop and settles a lowball next to it for Robin.
And then she takes a minute to just sit at her clean kitchen table, in the quiet, and sip her drink. She takes in the steady hum of the dishwasher running behind her, smiles a little at an echo of laughter from upstairs (they must not have bothered to close the bathroom door), and then Henry's coming in from the back with a creak of springs and a soft slam of the storm door.
He washes his hands (without being asked, which has a little proud smile spreading onto her face), then plunks down into the seat next to her.
"Yep," he tells her. "It kinda close to the car though."
"I'm sure Robin will take it before I have anywhere to go tomorrow, so that's fine," she assures, taking another sip of her drink.
As soon as Henry notices it, he asks if he can have a sip, he's thirsty from dragging the washer, and she has to admit, "This one has whiskey in it, so no. But you can pour yourself some soda if you want."
Henry helps himself, returning to the table a few minutes later with a cup of his own – a large plastic one with a bit more of the sugary stuff than she'd have poured for him, but, hell, it's the last weekend before school starts, and it's a sleepover night. She'll let him have this one.
He takes a big gulp, and then another, a third, and then sets the cup down with a satisfied Ahh, and a smack of his lips that makes her chuckle.
"I love you," she tells him warmly. "I hope you know how much, sweetheart."
"I do," he tells her simply with a little smile, and Regina grins back at him.
God, she is so lucky. Even when things feel awful like they have lately, she has to remember how lucky she is. She has a wonderful son, and a wonderful man in her life, and this house, and her health. Life is alright. Good, even, if she's able to step back and look at it semi-objectively.
She may have had a laundry list of things to bitch about this morning, but she also has this. And those things, she'll get through. They will pass.
She spends long enough in her thoughts that the silence stretches long between them, until Henry finally breaks it with a question that makes her breath catch a little:
"Should I be mad at Grandpa?"
Her heart clenches, and she reaches over, squeezing his hand and assuring him, "No, sweetheart. No, you should be nice to Grandpa." She runs her thumb over his hand and says, "It's hard when things are strained with your kids; it hurts your heart. And he doesn't deserve that."
"If he doesn't deserve it, why are you avoiding him?" Henry asks, getting right to the point as usual.
Regina exhales slowly and sits back, reaching for her drink just to give her hands something to do as she tells him carefully, "We can't always help how we feel, even when we know it's not fair."
"Is that why you're drinking whiskey?" he asks, and she laughs ruefully, thinking that it's probably not a good sign if your kid thinks you're drinking your feelings away.
"No, that's not why," she assures him. "It just sounded good. It's been a long week; I wanted to treat myself."
Henry nods a little, and then he's scowling slightly into his cup, taking a deep breath and telling her, "I'm really sorry about what I said last night. About my dad."
"I know you are, sweetheart," she smiles, sitting forward a little and taking the opportunity to handle the situation the way she wishes she had the night before. "And I know you're nervous, and I wish I could make that go away for you. I know what it's like to be stuck doing things you don't want to; Grandma did that to me all the time when I was young. And I hated it. I don't ever want you to feel the way she made me feel – like I had no say in anything, or like how I felt didn't matter to her. Your feelings matter to me, always, and I will always listen to you. But sometimes, I have to do what's right even if it's not what you want. And this is one of those times." He gives her another sulky nod and gulps his ginger ale again. "But you are going to have a good time, I promise. And if you don't…"
"You'll come get me," he finishes.
Regina reaches for him again, giving his arm a squeeze and making sure to meet his gaze when she tells him, "I promise."
"Okay," he says, and she thinks he actually means it this time. That maybe he's just a little bit more 'okay' with the whole situation than he had been; and at least she doesn't feel like a useless crybaby over it, so that's something.
The thought gives her pause, she hears her own words echoing back at her, and she glances at the rubber band around her wrist, her heart starting to pound.
No thunder, she thinks. Nobody will know.
Still, she hesitates, twining the little band around her finger absently, like she's just casually playing with it, shifting it from finger to finger for a moment before she lets it slip and snap back against her skin.
It looked like an accident, she thinks, hopes, and just for good measure she grimaces comically and tells Henry, "Oops."
He snickers a little (that nervous anxiety in her chest unspools; he bought it), then tilts his head at her, and says, "You're not anything like Grandma, you know. Sometimes I think you were adopted."
Regina laughs at that—and thank God, because that first sentence had squeezed at her throat, and spread the hot prickle of impending tears behind her eyes.
She doesn't know what compels her to say it, maybe it's the whiskey (it's not, she's barely finished half her glass), but she finds herself telling him, "I used to wish I was, sometimes. Or that I wasn't hers, anyway. I had this fantasy that someday Grandpa would tell me that she wasn't my real mom, that my mom had been someone else who had died tragically when I was very young, and he'd wanted me to have a mother, so he married Grandma, but now he realized how wrong he'd been and we were going to move away to Florida with my uncles and live there instead, and I wouldn't have to see her anymore." Her brows lift, a look of regret crossing her face. "But I'm afraid I am very much your grandmother's daughter."
"You still turned out pretty good," he tells her with a smirk, and Regina scoffs a quiet laugh. She's not so sure, but Henry is, and that's what matters. And then he asks her, "What was your fantasy mom like? Did you imagine her?"
Regina takes another sip of her drink and nods, answering, "Of course. She was… kind. And loving. And she would bake cookies and let me eat as many as I wanted without saying they were going to rot my teeth or make me fat, or…" Other things Regina doesn't feel any need to repeat to her son. "She'd tell me I was beautiful, and smart, and that she loved me. And she'd be proud of everything that I did, as long I tried my best. Even if I wasn't the best, or even very good, she'd have loved me anyway. She'd just be glad that I was hers, y'know? And we'd do things together – me, and her, and my dad. We'd have gone to the beach, or museums, or Disney World." She laughs softly at herself, at her silly childish fantasies, and shrugs. "And she was Cuban, like Daddy and me; his family would have loved her, and we'd get to be close to them."
"They don't like Grandma, do they?" he asks, like she's just given him the prized piece to an old puzzle. "That's why we don't know them very well?"
"They don't," Regina confirms, although maybe she shouldn't. She's always tried to protect him from these things, grown-up things, but… maybe he's old enough now to know the truth. Some truths. Maybe Dr. Hopper is right, and she needs to start accepting that he's able to understand more than she'd like. So she clears her throat a little, and continues, "Or rather, she doesn't like most of them very much, and so she made it very hard for them to like her. So they don't want her around – they didn't like the way she acted toward them, or your grandpa, or me, when I was little. So we stopped spending time with them – Grandpa still keeps in touch with them, but not Grandma or me."
Just another thing her mother has cost her, she thinks, chasing the bitter taste of the confession with the sweet taste of her whiskey ginger. A whole side of her family, a whole part of her lineage she could have had access to, but no, Mother had to go be a royal bitch to everyone, and so here she is.
"You know what's funny?" Henry interrupts her thoughts (probably for the best; the last thing she needs is for her evening to devolve into another spiral about her mother's sins).
When he says, "You're just like her," Regina's heart knocks hard, then drops straight down into her gut.
She tries to hide it, forcing a smile and shaking her head at him, saying, "I thought you just said I wasn't…"
"No, not Grandma," he says like she's being silly (and maybe she is). "The mom you wanted to have. You're just like how you said she would be."
And just like that, her heart springs right back up, lodging in her throat and choking her, pushing a little well of tears up to shine across her lashes. She manages to say, "Oh," and "Thank you," wiping at the tears that spill down both her cheeks when she blinks.
Henry's brow pinches, concern blooming on his face as he says to her, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you cry."
Regina shakes her head, scooting her chair a little closer to his and wrapping her arm around him, giving him a squeeze.
"It's okay, they're good tears," she swears, dropping her brow to his for a moment and then pulling back with a sniffle and a steadying breath. She doesn't scoot her chair back, though, just looks at her son and tells him, "Henry, you are the most important thing in my life; I worry so much about you, about you being happy, and healthy, and about doing what's right for you, about not being a bad mom to you. Being enough, all on my own, without your dad to help. I was so worried before you were born that I didn't know how to be a good mom, because mine was…" She laughs wetly, and mutters, "not great. But your dad was so sure that I would be a great mom; he used to tell me all the time, every time I worried, that I had nothing to worry about. And then he died, and… I was so worried when you were young that I would fail you. And him. That I wouldn't turn out to be the mom you needed."
Henry gives her a lopsided little smile and says, "But he was right. You're never a bad mom. You're the best mom."
Those tears well up again even as she her lips curve, gratitude expanding in her chest like a balloon, pressing against her ribcage, filling it up. She tells him, "Thank you," and confesses, "I really needed that this week. It's been a tough one for me, and I didn't feel like I was doing a very good job with you. I was worried you were feeling neglected, or like your mom was… not able to take care of you, or… being weird, or… I don't know."
Saying these things makes her palms itch; sitting here, brushing away tears makes her feel vulnerable and very un-Mom-like, but it's supposed to be good, right? Being honest with the people in her life about what she's going through, trusting that Henry can handle Mom being knocked off her pedestal a bit? Nerves jump in her belly, but she started it, and she's going to see it through – and besides, he doesn't seem upset now that he's been assured he hasn't made her sad.
He's just… listening. And talking, telling her, "I didn't feel neglected. But I know something is wrong, and it made me kinda scared. You looked sick, and you were crabby, and you just weren't Mom."
"Oh, sweetheart." Something twists hard in her chest; he shouldn't have to feel that way, he shouldn't have to be afraid for her. (She should have worked harder to hide it all from him, somehow.) "You don't have anything to be scared of. Everything's fine."
"You're lying," he says to her, his mouth drawing into a scowly, betrayed pout. "Things aren't fine."
"I'm not—" But she is, a bit, isn't she? So she sighs, and amends, "I'm okay."
Henry's still eyeing her doubtfully, still looking at her like he doesn't quite believe her, so Regina swallows thickly, and speaks slowly, choosing her words carefully as she tells him, "Your grandfather told me about something. Something that happened years ago, when I was young. He and your grandma kept it from me all this time, and probably always would have, but I asked him something, and in trying to answer that he felt like he needed to tell me this other thing. He thought I was old enough to know."
His pout shifts into something more curious, and she decides to cut that one off at the knees immediately: "I'm never going to tell you what it is, it doesn't affect you in any way, so please don't ask me. But it hurt me a lot—being told, and that he never told me before, that I didn't know about it when I was younger. He didn't do anything wrong, and I know why he kept it from me, but it's really been weighing on me. I've had a hard time dealing with it the last few days." Regina takes a breath and admits, "I haven't been sleeping well, and I've been very sad." Her voice breaks a little, but she swallows, blinks back the tears before they can even really form and pushes them down, down, telling him, "But I'll be okay; I'm starting to feel better now. You and Robin helped so much, taking care of everything yesterday so I could relax this weekend, and cleaning everything up today. You've been so helpful, Henry; thank you."
"I wanted you to stop being sad," he says to her, and she has to sit a little straighter and look away to quell that rush of tears.
She reaches for her drink again, swallows to push down the knot of raw emotion in her throat, and then tells him, "I am. I will. I'm getting there."
He seems satisfied at that, or maybe he's just absorbing. Thinking. It's probably that, she decides, as she watches Henry push his cup across the table with his fingertip, poking it this way and that. Regina waits for it to tip or wobble, but he's low enough that it doesn't.
Finally, he asks her, "Grandpa told you at my lesson, didn't he? You were weird on the way home."
"Yeah, he did. I was really upset on Sunday – so upset." She looks at him for a moment and then says, "Do you remember when you were little, and you were so nervous about school? And you used to get those horrible bellyaches?"
"Well, I'm sorry to say, I think you got that from me," she confesses with a loving little frown. "Except instead of just bellyaches, I also get this feeling sometimes like… there's an elephant on my chest. Or like someone's wrapped a belt around it and buckled it too tight. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it can be scary. And it happened that night, once you were in bed and I didn't have to worry about being Mom anymore. I didn't have anything to distract me from all the feelings I had been trying not to feel all day – your grandma being awful to me at brunch, and then what your grandpa told me, and… it was bad. So bad that I left you here all alone, sleeping—which I felt terrible about—and went over to Robin's. I needed to talk to someone about all of it."
"You could've talked to me," he says with such sweet innocence that her heart melts like warm chocolate, going all sweet and puddly in an instant. How she ended up with such an amazing kid is beyond her.
But amazing or not, "No, sweetheart, I couldn't have. You're my son, not my therapist. You do so much to make me happy – especially when I'm sad, sometimes just being with you makes me feel better about everything. A lot of times, just being with you helps. But my problems aren't yours to worry about – that's why I have Dr. Hopper, and friends like Robin, or Kathryn, or even Mary Margaret. Or Grandpa. Grown-up problems need a grown-up to help with them. Does that make sense?"
He nods, and says, "Yeah, I guess. Did Robin make the elephant feeling go away?"
"He made me grilled cheese," she tells him with a smile, adding, "And he burned it."
She leaves out the pot and orgasms – being this honest with Henry may be turning out to be surprisingly refreshing, cathartic even (her palms don't itch anymore, and her eyes are dry now), but he doesn't need to know Mom is a sex-starved occasional-pothead on top of an anxiety-ridden basket case.
They share a little giggle about Robin's burned cheese toasties, though – that's perfectly innocent – and she continues, telling him, "But yes, he made me feel a little better. And he's kept checking on me all week, making sure I'm doing alright. So you don't have to worry about me – Robin's got that covered. Your mom's had a bad week, but I'm going to be just fine."
"He loves you, you know."
Regina sighs heavily; she should have seen that one coming from a mile away. "Henry…"
"He does. You should know that, especially if you're sad."
"I—" Regina lets out a breath and says another thing she probably shouldn't: "I know he does, Henry. He's a very good friend to me."
Henry gives her a look – a look she is absolutely certain he picked up from her, all raised brows, his chin tipped down, her I'm-not-buying-for-a-minute-that-you-actually-put-those-clothes-in-the-hamper-and-not-under-your-bed look.
And then he says, "He doesn't friend love you, Mom."
"Henry," she tells him pointedly. "Not right now. Not this week. I don't want to do this right now, okay?"
Much to her relief, he backs off immediately, nodding and telling her, "Okay." And then he adds, "Not this week," and she thinks she's surely not heard the last of his prodding her toward Robin. He's just giving her a break because she's having a hard time, and Regina's honestly not sure if that makes her feel better or worse about the whole thing.
She doesn't have much time to dwell on it, though, because Robin and Roland are returning, Roland dressed in one of Henry's shirts (which is way too big on him) and, she's pretty sure, nothing else.
"How was bath time?" she asks, turning her attention from her son to the man she— the man she doesn't love. Just… cares very deeply for.
"Yummy!" Roland pipes up, giving his own arm a sniff and then holding it out for her as Robin carries him closer. When they're within range she leans in and gives him a sniff; he smells like a lavender bouquet. "I smell like the garden!"
"That you do," Regina chuckles as Robin settles him down on the floor; Roland wastes no time climbing into Regina's lap.
Robin's voice is low, like he's trying to keep it between them, although there's no possible way Henry can't hear him as he asks, "Everything alright?"
Regina frowns up at him, but it takes her own soft sniffle for her to realize she's probably red-eyed and obviously recently emotional. He glances between her and Henry, trying to read the room, no doubt, but Regina offers up a smile, a little tightly, maybe, but not without warmth, and says, "We're fine. We were just talking about some things."
Then she drops her gaze to Roland and says, "Mister, I'm pretty sure you're not wearing any pants," and earns herself a preschooler's giggle.
"Yeah, I didn't think of pajamas when I tossed him in the bath," Robin says, seemingly appeased that there's nothing he needs to worry about with her and Henry. "I'm going to run next door and grab something for him, and shower myself. I'm a bit... grimy."
"Take your time; we'll be here."
"With no pants!" Roland announces, clearly pleased as punch that he gets to run around with no bottoms for a while.
Regina laughs. Boys.
"Just you," she teases, giving him a little poke in the belly. "Why don't you and Henry go pick out a movie, and I'll make us some popcorn?"
Roland nods and scoots down from her lap again, urging, "Come on, Henry, let's go pick!" as he skips his way toward the den.
Henry stands and starts to follow, but after a second he turns back, taking a step toward Regina and then surprising her with a tight hug. "I love you, Mom," he murmurs, and her arms band around him, her heart melting all over again as she tells him that she loves him too.
"So, so much," she adds, pressing a kiss to the side of his head.
And then he's off, leaving her and her drippy emotions alone in the kitchen with Robin.
"You sure you're alright?" he asks again, and she nods.
"Yeah, I'm good," she assures, smiling up at him. "We just had a good talk, that's all."
Robin tilts his head slightly, brows lifting. "A good talk?"
"A long talk," she amends. "About… stuff. About me. How I've been this week."
"I see," Robin says, all knowing sympathy, as he reaches over and wraps his fingers around the back of her chair; they're warm where they press against her bare shoulder and the contact makes her yearn and press a little closer. "I bet that was… heavy."
"A bit, but I think it was necessary – for both of us. He doesn't feel so in the dark anymore, I think, and I feel lighter – but a bit raw." She turns a bit more in her chair, facing him more fully, and asking, "I don't suppose I could get a hug from you, too?"
Those warm fingers shift and turn, skating across her shoulder, chasing shivers toward her neck as he answers without hesitation, "Of course, babe. Come here."
She pushes herself to her feet and is immediately folded up into Robin's arms. He rocks her gently as she sighs and absorbs him, breathing in the smell of him, a mixture of sweat and lavender bath bomb and a barely-there undercurrent of pine. His voice is quiet, soothing, when he murmurs, "So I've decided…"
"After the boys go to bed, I'm going sneak into your bedroom and make good on our fake bet." His beard tickles her brow as he turns his head slightly, and they notch together even more snugly. "Give you a good rub down, get you all relaxed and boneless before bed."
"Mmm, perfect," Regina hums, taking a deep breath and then tipping her head up to whisper, "We're lucky the boys wanted a sleepover."
When he tells her, "Not as much as I do, I promise you," she laughs softly, bumping her nose against his and whispering, Me too.
She licks her lips, squeezes him a little more tightly, one ear on the muted sound of the boys a safe distance away. And then she teases, "I could use a… nightcap. But not until they're out cold, okay?"
"I promise," he tells her again. One of his hands strokes down her spine in a way that makes her shiver, settling warmly at the base of it and pressing there as he murmurs, "They'll never know."
She should really put some space between them. A bit of breathing room, some room for the Lord, something, anything to make this look at all 'friendly' and not like the foreplay it so clearly is. There's no way Henry would be at all fooled if he walked in and caught them like this.
And she will, she'll do that. In a minute.
But first, she presses a little closer, and tells him, "Thank you – this has been a really good day after all, and I don't think it would have been without all of you here."
The corner of his mouth turns up, one of those dimples winking at her as his fingertips press against her back and he murmurs, "Music to my ears."
He leans in close then, nearly kisses her – and she nearly lets him, too, but in the end, sense wins out. She pulls back just before their lips touch, giving him a playful warning look and telling him, "Still no," before she disentangles completely and urges, "Go. Get your son some pants. I'll save you a spot on the couch."
Robin groans, and mutters something about her being a tease, but he listens, and leaves.
(SCENE REDACTED. The aforementioned massage will be available in the Ao3 update of this chapter, which should be up by Sunday evening.)