A/N: Thanks to icequeen1955, Stephanie and Sam for their help. Yes, another story. Also seems that I'm working better when I have more than two stories going on. It helps me to not get bored with the story. Graphic violence and every day life with a person recovering from a traumatic brain injury. Every cliche in the books, but we all love some good ol' fashion hurt/comfort.
Emma gets the phone she was dreading one stormy day of August.
Kid's driving her nuts with his music, some loud new rock shit, to the point she's thinking to call Neal and send him to his place for the weekend, but she knows it's not fair to him. Neal's out all week, trying to make a living and be a good father to a son that seems desperate to drive all of his parents away.
Okay, that's not true. She feels ashamed just by thinking about it and hates herself for even thinking that for her son. He's been through a lot the last five years. He has seen more than he should and has firsthand experience to how fucked up life can be. He thought that the Evil Queen was bad, well, nothing's bitchier than life.
"Henry, turn the damn music down!" she yells from downstairs when she hears the phone ringing and her tone sounds so much like his other mom that she has to stop for a second. She always was the fun mom, the cool one, the one that didn't ground him and let him eat ice cream before dinner.
She wants to be that mom so much it hurts, but now she's the mom that yells at him to do his homework, quit skipping class and stop hiding behind his anger. Her boy is angry and there's nothing she can do but watch him dye his hair and nails black and steal smokes from her pack.
She can't really talk now, can she? She's the one that run away from home (and if she wants to be honest, it was one of the good one's) to be on her own because she was angry with everything and everyone; with her parents that didn't want her, her foster parents that were jerks, and her asshole boyfriend that cheated her with her best friend.
As angry as Henry is, he's still here, with her, and if she has to put up with his music then that's a price she's willing to pray.
There are worst things that black nails and pierced ears for an angry teenager and she has done it all. Getting pregnant and in jail before her eighteenth birthday must be a hard record to break even if you are the son of the Evil Queen.
"Yeah?" She answers the phone and lets a curse when the music gets louder. "Can you hold for a moment?"
She doesn't wait for an answer; she drops the phone to the table and runs the stairs up two at the time. "Lower the damn music!" She hits the door with the 'DO NOT ENTER' sight, first with her palm and then, when it doesn't work, with her foot and only then the volume goes down and she can think again.
Her peace is temporary; the door opens and she takes a step back or else she's going to fall and make an ass of herself, and that's the last she needs right now. Henry, already taller than her, he's looking at her with hateful eyes and, Jesus, is that pot she can smell?
"Happy?" He asks and he looks so much like his mom, so much like Regina, back when Emma was a stranger in this town and Regina was trying to protect her curse that Emma can only stare at him. "What?"
How can she tell a boy who believes that his mother left them because of him that when he's angry he looks exactly like her?
"Keep the volume down or – "
"Or what?" His face changes into an angry grin and she has to fight the urge to smack it from him.
"Or I'm charging you for drugs. Don't think I can't smell it."
"You wouldn't do that," he's challenging her now and they both know it; arms crossed in front of him, cocky as hell, and damn him, but he's right; she won't do it. She takes him in and she has lost him forever.
But she knows a thing or two about bluffing. "You don't know what I'm capable of." And that seems to shut him up, unnerves him a little before he rolls his eyes and with a "Whatever" he closes the door to her face.
The music stops though and she smiles with the small victory before she remembers that she has someone on the phone waiting. Running down the stairs, she almost falls to the last one, she grabs the phone and says a breathless, "Hello?"
The other line is silent for a moment and Emma can hear noises at the background but can't make much of it. "Hello?" She says again and there's a woman on the other side, asking her to speak with Emma Swan. "Yeah, this is she, but whatever you're selling I'm not interesting."
The lines goes silent for enough time for Emma to think that the other woman hang up on her and she's ready to do the same, when another voice, this time a man, asks her a few information before telling her the news that are going to change her life once again. When he finishes and she hangs up the phone all she can do is stand on the same spot and shake. So much that even Henry seems worried five minutes later when he comes down for a snack.
"Emma?" He asks from the third step and this is her son again, the little boy who had so much hope and worry to his eyes, she's staring at her son again and she's not sure if she can say the news to him alone.
Shit, she's still trying to accept what the man told her. Henry…he won't be able to handle the news and, fuck, this is going to break them. This is going to break him and he already been through a lot. Evil Queens and sleeping curses, pirates and mad men with guns and magic beans, and little boys that realized with the worst possible way that words hurt more than the deadliest weapon.
He takes the last few steps in a blur. "What's wrong? Is it Neal?"
She shakes her head and watches him sit down because he knows. He knows before she can have a chance to tell him. "Mom. It's mom." He sounds so small when he whispers that word and Emma doesn't realize that she's hugging him until she feels hot tears to her skin.
"I have to go to Portland," she says, her voice cracking. "That was from the hospital. I have to go to Portland."
"No," he jerks away from her hug and wipes his tears with the back of his palm. "I'm coming with you. If you're going I'm going."
"I'm not asking." He pushes her harder and she takes a step back, his face a grimace of anger and pain. "I'm telling."
She licks her lips and tries to be the adult here. "I'm going to ask Snow to come over-"
"I'm coming. Read my lips, Emma," he says her name as if it burns him. "I am coming with you. You can call grandma, grandpa, the whole damn town, that doesn't change the fact that I'm coming with you. If she's…If my mom is…I want to see her. If she's…"
He stops, turns his back on her, and her heart tights in her chest when she sees the tears rock his body. She opens her mouth to say something when he's hugging her once more, tight, as if he's afraid that she'll disappear like Regina did a year ago, whispering over and over again that it's his fault, and all Emma can do is rock him like he's three only she never had the chance to do that when he was a baby.
But perhaps she can do something more, something better.
"She's not dead, kid." He raises his head to look at her and for the first time in a year his eyes doesn't shine with anger or pain, but with hope. Emma wipes a tear that tries to escape from his eye with her thump and smiles. "Henry, your mom's not dead."
One Year Ago
"Okay, I have to ask." Emma takes a fry from her plate, looks first at her son and then at her partner, takes a bite and without waiting to swallow she says, "Santa is real, right?"
Henry grins like an idiot, but it's the sound of Regina's laughter that has her mesmerized; the Evil Queen has an evil laugh. Granny looks at them, not sure if she has to reach for her bow or call for an exorcist when Emma, laughing, makes a signal that's everything's fine. Regina might have an evil laugh, but her evil ways are behind her.
"He is, isn't he? I knew it!"
"I can't confirm nor deny that," Regina, always the politician, says.
"He's not." Henry, the little shit, steals one of her fries and Emma looks at Regina for support.
Regina shrugs her shoulders. "He's a growing boy and you should learn to eat something a little healthier for breakfast."
"What's wrong with my burger and fries? It's a full breakfast."
"In which country?" Henry grins at her and steals another fry.
Okay, perhaps they are right, mother and son, and maybe she needs to change her eating habits, but she had a burger and fries for breakfast for years and she's fine, isn't she? She goes for run three times a week and she even tried that power Pilates Regina likes so much. It's not as if Ms. Pancakes-with-extra-syrup-but-I'm-having-a-salad-f or-lunch is any better.
Emma is about to comment that when Regina wipes her lips and says, "And you, Henry, are wrong. "
"Wait," Emma looks first at Regina, then at Henry and back to Regina. "Santa is real? Are you kidding me?"
"No, I am not, but not the version you have in mind."
"Santa is real?" Emma repeats again and even Henry laughs, probably with the way she looks. "Shut up, kid. Santa is real."
"St. Nicholas was a Bishop who was secretly leaving gifts in the shoes of the people that waited for him." Regina explains and now both Henry and she are listening silently. "Santa Claus is a modern version of Sinterklaas, which, in turn is based on the life of St. Nickolas."
"Wow." Emma says before taking a fry and chewing slowly. Sometimes it unnerves her to be with Regina. The other woman prefers books to TV and even though Emma is street smart and far from an idiot, she never did good at school and, sometimes, she wishes she would have paid more attention during class.
Luckily for her, Henry seems to pick up this habit from Regina, practically inhaling one or two books every week. They were glad that Belle agreed to let him work part time at the library or else they would bankrupt by now. Or not, she's not sure. After Neverland Regina decided to stay home with Henry and while Belle did a wonderful job as the mayor, she loved her job as a librarian more and gave up the title soon after they were back.
Almost three years later and Regina was still without a job and didn't seem to be in need for one. Emma paid half the bills and with Neal in town Henry's expenses were down to a third, but still most months she had to count to the last penny. Regina didn't seem to have this problem; Henry had a new wardrobe every few months and even though Emma knew that the kid was growing, Regina could go with less expensive clothes.
"I didn't know you were religious," she swallows the last of her bite with coffee. "I mean, yeah, the Blue Fairy is a nun or was, I think, but I never paged you for the religious type."
"And you were right. I'm not."
Okay, that she expected. Regina's not from this world (technically nor is she) and she's not sure if in a land of magic a God is needed. Regina (and to an extent Emma herself) can create everything they need with magic and in Emma's books that makes them Gods. Or demi-Gods.
"But you celebrate Christmas."
"I like the lights."
"And I the gifts!" Says Henry and he doesn't seem the bit sad that Santa is not real.
"Right. Okay. I guess." She starts to chew through her fries without much enthusiasm.
She's trying to understand how a kid full with hope like Henry, doesn't believe…Oh, yeah. He believed in her. He believed in the curse (and he was right) and had faith that the Savior was going to come and break the curse, and she doesn't know why Henry not believing in God makes her feel sad. It's not as if she's the biggest believer out there. You lose faith pretty fast when you go from one foster house to another.
Emma wasn't raised Catholic, but few of the families she stayed with went to church every Sunday and she remembers that she used to feel…nice? Safe? No, safer. She was safer inside the church than outside and maybe that's the reason behind her sudden sadness. Henry though, he doesn't need the church to feel safe; he knows that he's safe. Knew it in Neverland, he knew that they were coming for him.
"Tell me, dear, the long face is because I told you that Santa is not real? Aren't you a little old for that?"
"I just…" She's not sure why it bothers her so much; everyone needs to believe in something, right? "Do you pray? When you're in a bad situation, do you pray?"
Regina looks at Henry and then shakes her head. "No."
"Never? Not when you were little? Not even in your world? With fairies and…" She stops because her next words can cause a reaction from the other woman. "Never ever?"
"Why is it so important for you to know if I was praying?"
Because your eyes have such sadness in them right now and I can't stand it. "I don't know. Just one more piece of the puzzle I guess."
She watches as Regina lowers her gaze until she's staring at the empty plate in front of her lost in thoughts.
"What's the point in praying when there's no one to help you?"
Emma opens her mouth to say something, but what can she say? Regina's world is a place where fairy Godmothers are real yet not everyone had one. How was it decided who was going to have one and who was deciding no one knows. Some people had help and some didn't and she is going to bring that up to Snow next time she sees her.
"Maybe no one helped you because you were evil," she hears Henry say from the other side of the table and her eyes go wide.
"What?" He asks all innocent, but there's this glow in his eyes, a tell tale sight that he's joking and he should know by now that she can take the teasing, but Regina can't.
And of course Regina's face fall and Emma can practically hear the gears working overdrive (and in the wrong way) in her head. "Is that so?"
"Well duh!" Henry continues laughing and she gives him a death glare in an attempt to make him finally stop when Regina disappears in a cloud of purple smoke.
"Nice one, kid!"
"It was a joke!" Henry almost screams and his voice rings in her ears the wrong way; not a child anymore, but not an adult yet.
"It was just a joke. I didn't mean it." He takes his cell phone out, speed dialing Regina's number and he looks close to tears. "She's not picking up."
Emma makes sure that no one is coming from the other direction when she turns into their street. Of course she's not picking it up, why would she pick it up and make Emma's life a little bit easier?
"It was only a joke." Henry says again, voice cracking a little at the end.
Emma says nothing.
"Where are you?" It's the first she asks when Regina picks up her phone two hours later.
"I wanted to drive."
"He's just a kid, Regina. He's our son, but he can be a douche bag. He didn't think."
"He rarely does."
Emma bites her lip, watching Henry sulking in the living room; the kid hasn't move from his spot since they came home. "He's upset."
"Well, dear, that makes two of us."
"Three." She runs a hand through her hair, needing to do something for the tension. "Where are you?"
"Okay, listen, since you're this close to Portland, how about you go pick the new radio equipment for the station and I and the kid will cook dinner for you? Something with eggplants." Henry hates eggplants – not that she's thrilled about eating them-but he feels guilty enough to eat them tonight without a second word.
She's glad to hear Regina laugh from the other side of the line. "And I'm the evil one."
"Where is she?" Henry asks from the millionth time.
Emma looks at her clock, concern since the last time she spoke with Regina it was early morning, but for Henry's shake tries not to show it. "Told you, Portland. Probably stuck in traffic."
"Yeah," he looks outside the window and frowns. "It's getting dark outside."
Where are you? We are going to have dinner without you. Um…call me, okay? I-I'm getting worried.
Hey, um, where are you?
Hey, mom. It's Henry. You're not still angry with me, are you? Because I didn't mean it! It was a joke, that's all. A bad joke. A really bad joke! And I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! Please come home.
Why you're not picking your phone? Pick it up, damn it!
Snow's voice is thick with sleep and for a moment Emma thinks of hanging up. "Mom? I need you."