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Onward, Ever Striving Onward

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It has been a warm summer day, and like most days recently, Regina leaves the doors and windows of their small house near the Cackle's campus open in hopes to encourage a breeze.  A small bit of fresh air does manage to filter into the kitchen from time to time, carrying the sounds and smells of her wife working in the back garden with it - her off-pitch whistling, freshly cut greens, charcoal from the grill being lit before it's joined by the sound and scent of cooking meet.  It's a pleasant accompaniment for a day she spends mostly inside, finally getting a chance to take care of woefully neglected housework now summer term has finished.  Regina adores her job (usually) and loves her students (most of the time), but first day after the girls have gone home - when there's no yelling students or grading to be done or exams to monitor - is always very welcome.

 

Even without the sound of the door flying open, the pounding footsteps as her son runs into the house are hard to miss.

 

Regina smirks over the potato salad she's making as he gets closer.  She hears him stop in the living room, call out for them, and then the steps start up again.  She looks up just in time to see him peek into the kitchen.

 

"Mom!"  His face is flush from running in the summer heat and he takes a moment to gulp down a breath.  "Where's Ma?"

 

"She's grilling in the garden," Regina says.  She turns back to adding spices to her bowl of potatoes.  Henry dashes across the kitchen.  "What's with all the running?"

 

But he's out the back door before he says anything.  She can hear his excitement as he asks Emma to come in so he can share his news with them.  There's a beat and then, "Bu Maaaa!"

 

She tries to hide her smile as he walks back in, sulking now, and slumps into his seat at the table.

 

"You could tell me first," she offers as she sits down across from him.  She can't help the way she reaches out to brush his bangs off his forehead.  She regrets it a moment later when her hand comes away slick with sweat and she makes a face.  "Or you could shower."

 

He makes the same face, as if the thought of a shower were the same level of disgusting as touching sweaty bangs.  "I'm gonna meet up with Tiana and Jacinda after dinner.  Showering now would be silly and a waste of water."  It is very sound twelve year old boy logic.  And she isn't going to argue with it when he seems to be in such high spirits.

 

The girls live down the hill and have been Henry's best friends since their little family moved next to Miss Cackle's five years ago when Regina took over the potions position.  Both a year older than him, Regina had been worried that their starting at the academy would put a wedge in their relationship, but they have continued to find time to spend with each other throughout the year and there seems to be very little change in their dynamic.  Emma was kind enough not to say 'I told you so' after she'd spent last summer telling Regina she was fretting over nothing.  It makes her glad to see that their friendship is holding strong even with Henry leaving soon for whichever school he decides on.

 

"Wash up at least, and tell me your big news."

 

"I have to tell you both together," he says as if she must be a fool for not realizing something so obvious.

 

"It's exciting then?"

 

"So exciting!"  Henry is grinning again, and jumps from his seat to join her at the sink.  

 

It must be a school letter, she thinks, because what else could it be.  Her blood races, with excitement for him, but also anxiety.  Over him leaving home.  This will be the first time in over eight years that he's been without them, and they without him.  She can't possibly imagine what this house is going to be like without him in it every day.  But she grins through her worries.  Her beautiful little prince is going to magic school!

 

"Well I'm sure your mother won't be long."  She flicks water at him, sending him shrieking back to the table.  Following after him with a laugh, Regina nudges his shoulder and sets the bowl of potatoes and a wooden spoon down in front of him.  "Why don't you stir this while we wait for her."

 

He sighs dramatically, but picks up the spoon and brings the bowl closer.  "She said she didn't want to burn anything."

 

"I doubt you want burnt burgers either."

 

It's not long before Emma enters the house with a plate stacked with patties.  And promptly stumbles over a blur of black running out the door.  The plate slips through Emma's fingers and she and Henry gasp at the same moment.

 

They watch as their dinner seems to fall to the floor in slow motion.

 

Thankfully, Regina's there with quick reflexes.  A snap of her fingers and their dinner freezes mid-air, giving Emma plenty of time to right herself and grab the plate before gravity starts up again.  Henry lets out a cheer when she stands back up, not a single patty out of place.

 

"That was some quick thinking, Mom," Henry says.

 

Emma places the plate in the middle of the table Henry had just finished setting and ruffles his hair.

 

"After fifteen years of living with a clumsy fool like me, she's probably one of the fastest witches alive today," Emma says.  Most people would have found the statement to be self-deprecating, but the look she sends Regina is full of pride.

 

"You're not that bad."  Regina rolls her eyes as she brings a tray of condiments and toasted buns to the table.  She smirks at Emma before sitting across from her.  "Cackle has been known to make some dubious hiring choices, but you're a damn good PE teacher.  And no one could manage the speeds you do on a broom if you really were a clumsy fool.  You'd be fine if you could manage to not step on the cat."

 

"It's not my fault he's constantly underfoot," Emma says.  She's putting a ghastly mixture of condiments on her bun.  No one comments.  "He's out to get me.  I've been saying so for years."

 

"Rocinante would only intentionally cause harm to my enemies, and you've never been one of those, darling."

 

The smile Emma gives her is sickeningly sweet.

 

"Just the everyday hazards of living with a cat then," Emma continues as if Regina's words weren't making her all warm and fuzzy inside.  She grins.  "One more reason owls are the superior familiar."

 

The sound of Henry's chair creaking as he bounces in it draws their attention.

 

After eight years of listening to his mothers bicker, he hardly bats an eyelash at it, but talk of their old school rivalry seems to have him even more excited for his news.  His grin is stretched across his face by the time they look away from each other.

 

"Oh right, your news!"

 

"I got into Pentangle's!" Henry shouts, not being able to hold back another moment.  He almost bounces right off his chair.

 

"Sweetheart, that's wonderful!"

 

"Yeah!  We knew you could do it, kid!" Emma says, giving her son a high five over the table.  Regina gets up to give him an awkwardly angled hug from next to his chair.

 

"What kind of owl do you think I'll get?"  

 

"We were all given barn owls," Emma answers between bites of dinner.

 

"Only barn owls?" Henry whines, wholly unimpressed.

 

"Everyone at Cackle's gets black cats," Regina offers.  She hides her smile by pressing her face against Henry's head, but her eyes are twinkling with mirth when they meet Emma's.

 

"Yeah but black cats are cool, Mom."

 

Satisfied that she hasn't lost her son completely to owls just yet, Regina's smile is smug when she sits back down and tucks into her burger.  She feels only a slight pang of sympathy when Emma turns wounded eyes on her.

 

"Barn owls are so cool!"  Emma is actually pouting.  She looks seconds away from sulking off into their bedroom and shutting herself away for the night and Regina can't help the way her lips twitch up.  Completely against her will.

 

"Tawny owls are cool.  Bug is the coolest."  Regina wonders when Henry became so well versed in the 'coolness' of owls, but referencing the beautiful owl Phyllis Pentangle gave Emma after she graduated from university is sure to lift her spirits.  "Barn owls are so... normal."

 

Which is, of course, the absolute worst thing a magical creature could ever be.  Regina hides her mouth behind a hand to keep from laughing.

 

"You're hurting me here, kid," Emma says, playing at being stabbed in the gut.  "You get to raise an owl from a tiny little chick and train it to do all sorts of things!  How is that not the coolest thing?"

 

"It's an owlette, I think?"

 

The look Emma gives Regina is priceless.  And thankfully translates into words perfectly in Regina's head, because if Emma were ever to say 'our son is such a pretentious little asshole and it's all your fault,' out loud, she would probably get her shins kicked under the table.

 

"Are you sure that's not what they call an omelette made from owl's eggs?"

 

Henry scrunches up his nose.  "Ma, that's so weird."

 

"Okay, true," Emma laughs.  She stabs a potato with her fork and points it at him.  "But it's gonna be the coolest thing.  I promise."

 

"It's gonna be awesome!" Henry agrees at last, his grin beaming.

 

Pentangle's continues as the only topic of conversation through the rest of dinner.  They need to  remind Henry to actually eat his food at several points.

 

"When will I get a laptop?"

 

"Will I get a roommate?  Will there be bunk beds?"

 

"Is there really going to be broom racing?"

 

At that last question, Regina wants to answer, ' no, not until you're at least eighteen!  Not if I have anything to do with it!'  But Emma catches her eye with a knowing look and a reassuring smile, her hand reaching across the table to give Regina's a comforting squeeze.  She knows that none of Pentangle's intramural sports look anything like the competitions Emma has participated in since Regina met her, knows that Emma wouldn't let their son take part in anything dangerous.

 

She keeps her mouth shut in a tight-lipped smile until she's agreeing with Emma that they'll get him his own broom if he decides to try out and makes a team.  As long as he passes his flying proficiency exams.

 

*****

 

It's after their plates have been cleaned of food and they're clearing the table that Henry becomes quiet.  He watches them as they move about the kitchen and Regina can't tell if it's with curiosity or apprehension.  A glance at Emma tells her that her wife has no more insight than she does on what might be going through Henry's head.

 

"Moms," he says, finally, after far too long moping at the kitchen sink.  His voice is small and soft, and after a dinner filled with unrestrained excitement, it makes Regina's heart ache.  "Did you really believe I'd get in?"

 

"Of course we did, kid!"  The way the worry in Emma's eyes turns so quickly into fierce pride and love for their son causes a lump to form in Regina's throat.  "We've never had any doubt that you could get into anywhere you wanted to go."

 

Henry seems unconvinced.

 

Pulling out the stool Henry has been sitting on for years while watching her cook and brew potions, Regina maneuvers him onto it.  She cups her hand under his chin, tilting his face up so they can see each other clearly.  She needs to make sure he takes this in.  She needs desperately for him to believe in their faith in him.  To trust in it.

 

"You excel at learning, both in your non-magic education and at home.  The last couple of years, you've kept up incredibly well with the girls from the Academy, which we never expected."  Regina smiles softly at him, caresses her thumb over his chin and he smiles back weakly.  "And if that's not enough, your entrance exams prove that you deserve to go to Pentangle's.  She doesn't simply take in students with families who've gone there for generations."

 

"Unlike some other schools," Emma mutters darkly behind her.

 

Henry's smile gets a little brighter when Regina rolls her eyes.  It dims again soon after and Regina can only hope he believes her.

 

"But we don't even know if I'm from a magical family," he says finally, voice small.  His gaze drops and Regina lowers her hand, placing it on his knee as she turns to Emma with a pleading look.

 

Emma snorts.  "You're a Swan-Mills!" she says like it's not even a question.  It's not.

 

"But not like -" Henry pauses, huffs out a breath - "biologically.  It's not like I inherited your magic."

 

Emma jaw goes slack.  Regina feels ready to murder someone.

 

"Who told you that, Henry?"  Because there's no way he could have picked ideas like that up at home.  Biology doesn't create family.  It doesn't create magic.  And they have always done their best to make sure he knows that he is no different from them or any of his friends.

 

He shrugs.  "Just some of the students."

 


"What it the Gullet girls?  Their mother is always spouting the worst kind of bullshit," Regina plows through, not even noticing the way Henry's eyes widen at her swearing openly in front of him.  "I told Hardbroom that letting that family back into the school wouldn't do us any favors."

 

A comforting hand soothes over her shoulder and then another covers her hand on Henry's knee.  It's easier to take a deep breath and calm her anger when Emma is standing beside her, and she feels it all rush out of her when Emma's lips meet the corner of her jaw in a gentle kiss.  Her hands don't leave Regina when she speaks to their son.

 

"Listen kid, no matter what some brat girl says, you're ours.  You are completely, one hundred percent part of this family."

 

"But not in a way that means I should have magic," Henry says.  And Regina hates that he can't seem to get passed that idea.

 

He sounds so sure that whatever these students told him must be true.  It makes Regina's blood race with anger again, and she thinks that might be the only thing keeping her together.  How long has he felt this way without them noticing?  How many of the girls at the Academy still believe this?  The teachers?

 

And if magical heritage is still something seen as important, then what other ideas are still being passed around?  What are girls like Tiana and Jacinda going through right under her nose?

 

Regina remembers vividly the way Mother would make sure Daddy never taught her any of his 'weird' magic.  'It's for your own good, Regina.  You don't want anyone thinking you're different,' Mother would say.  'You don't want all this nonsense cluttering your pretty head and making it difficult to learn proper magic.'  She still remember the way Mother would smile at her after and run cold, gripping fingers through her straightened hair.

 

"There's no 'should' about this," Regina tells him, doing her best to keep the tremble from her voice.  "When we came to get you from that foster home when you were four, it was because you were already showing magical abilities in a non-magical home.  Auntie Hecate knew you needed a family like us to give you your best chance.  No one can deny you have magic."

 

"What's your favorite spell?" Emma asks suddenly.

 

"Huh?"

 

"I know you're not in magic school yet, but you learn stuff here and with your friends all the time.  What's a spell you're really good at?"

 

Understanding brightens Henry's eyes and he smiles at his mothers.  Emma's abrupt change in strategy had caught Regina off guard for a moment, but she smiles at her too.  Words probably won't help their son as much as a tangible reminder of what he can do.

 

"Are you gonna show us?" Emma asks, and just like that, he looks panicked again.

 

Giving Emma a disapproving look, Regina rubs Henry's arm to comfort him.  He has been through enough of an emotional rollercoaster in the past hour.

 

"We're not going to test you Henry, we know you can do whatever this spell might be."

 

"It's not that."  Henry blushes and wriggles in his seat.  "It's just... embarrassing.  But I'd like to show you."

 

Emma blushes a bit too, clearly wondering what kind of spell might make Henry embarrassed to share with his mothers, but he looks determined to do it now.

 

Moving back to the table, he moves the vase of flowers from the middle of the table so they're directly in front of him.  The vase is full of wildflowers Emma picked that morning from the meadow on the other side of the castle.  With everything lined up the way he wants it, he sits and closes his eyes, taking some time to concentrate, visualizing whatever he's planning.  Then he raises his hands towards the flowers.

 

Emma throws Regina a confused glance, but all she can do is shrug.

 

"Queens of England, 

Maidens fair,

Make a sweet crown

For my hair."

 

At his words, the flowers lift out of the vase, spread out horizontally into a circle, and begin to weave themselves together.  It's beautiful to watch as it happens, even if it's a bit of a silly thing to use magic to accomplish.  Hardbroom would certainly call it improper if she saw it being done in a class.  Then she would keep the crown in her rooms for years and cherish it secretly.

 

Moments later, crown complete, it drops into Henry's waiting hands.  When he presents it to them, he looks at it like he's not entirely satisfied.

 

"It'd be less drippy if I'd used fresh flowers," he explains.

 

"It's beautiful," Regina says to him, then smiles at Emma.  "You chose a very pretty color scheme today."

 

They both blush.

 

"it's uh, Jacinda's favorite," Henry whispers, unable to look his mothers in the eye.

 

"Learning magic to impress girls."  Emma grins and winks at him.  "Yeah, you're definitely my son."

 

At Regina's request, Henry offers her the crown so she can get a better look.  She turns it around in her hands, looking closely at the stems intricately braided together.  Not a petal has broken off, or even appears slightly damaged.  It's a work of art and Regina glows with pride for her son.

 

"This is wonderful, Henry," she says as she hands it back with care.  He shrugs as if it's no big deal, still blushing furiously.  "Not everyone has the patience to do something so delicate after years of magical study, let alone someone your age."

 

"She means me," Emma says, grinning as she bends down to get a better look.  Regina rolls her eyes.  "There's no way I could do something like that without it looking sloppy."

 

"I don't know Ma, I've seen you use magic to make some really beautiful things for Mom."

 

A goofy, adoring smile spreads across Emma's face as she looks between Henry and Regina.  "Wow, we've raised quite the charmer, can you believe it?"  Of course Regina can believe it, since Emma is the most charming person she's ever met.  That much charm was bound to find its way into any of their children.  But she says nothing while she watches Emma kiss the top of Henry's head and then gently place the flower crown there. 

 

He is handsome and charming, her little prince, and far too soon he'll be moving much too far away.  Regina sighs and reaches out to adjust the crown slightly. "Your friends are probably wondering where you are." 

 

"I can still go play?"

 

"Of course."  Regina leans down to give him her own kiss before he has the chance to rush out.  "Just be home before dark.  I'll find something to whip up for a celebratory dessert."

 

"Yeah, go give your girlfriend your pretty flower crown," Emma gets out as he's running from the kitchen and another whining "Maaaaa!" trails him out of the house.  As soon as it's clear he's left, Emma bursts out laughing.  Regina punches her lightly in the shoulder.  "What, he was blushing so much."

 

"I think you'll find, darling, that you were blushing almost as much as he was."

 

"And I give you full permission to laugh at me whenever fancying you turns me into a complete dork," Emma says, laughing again.

 

Regina purses her lips, but then her eyes follow the path Henry took out of the kitchen.  She looks through the door wistfully and sighs.  She barely had to bend down to kiss the top of his head.  Her son really is growing up and she's not sure how she feels about it.  Emma's arms wrapping around her from behind offer some comfort, as do the lips that press into her shoulder.

 

"It's so much more real, now he's gotten the letter," Regina says, her voice thick.  "Until today, I could happily pretend we had years left."

 

"We could always write back, tell them we changed our minds.  He'd be fine going to a non-magic school with us teaching him at home like we've been doing for years," Emma says. 

 

Regina isn't sure if she's trying to mock her, but she grimaces at the way the words she'd been thinking all afternoon sound out loud.  She turns in Emma's arms and narrows her eyes.  "I love you, but you're not supposed to support me when I'm being ridiculous."

 

Emma grins.  She tugs at Regina's hand until she gives in and lets Emma pull her into another hug.

 

"So you admit you're being ridiculous then?"

 

"I'm witch enough to admit when I'm thinking with my heart and not my head," she says, her lips brushing against Emma's neck.

 

Emma kisses the side of her head.

 

"Nah, I love the way you think with your heart."  She lifts up Regina's head so she can kiss her cheek.  "You have a big, beautiful heart and it isn't horrible to let it make decisions sometimes."  She kisses her nose before looking into her eyes for a long moment.  "And being worried about your son being away from home and how much you're going to miss him is a totally reasonable thing, okay?"

 

Regina nods and Emma kisses her forehead.

 

"But you two are going to be writing each other all the time," she continues, kissing Regina's other cheek.  "And we can go visit him on weekends every now and then.  It won't be so horrible, you'll see."

 

"You're right," Regina says with a smile, finally maybe sort of feeling better.  She's the one who finally leans in, her lips meeting Emma's.  Her arms tighten around Emma as long, nimble fingers find their way into her dark curls and she sighs into the kiss. 

 

"Wow," Emma says, breaking away from the kiss.  "Is it awful that I'm kind of looking forward to nights with just the two of us?"

 

"Yes, you're absolutely awful," Regina says, pushing her away playfully.

 

"Well, as long as I'm awful, can I please, pretty please be the one to tell your Mother than Henry isn't going to her precious Camelot College?"