"All I'm saying is don't fold the maps." Cricket hops out of the van to follow after August, brandishing a handful of maps at the other man's back.
"I didn't fold the map."
Cricket holds up the map again as August turns to face him. "Yeah, well, Kansas is a mess. There's a big crease right through Wichita. Roll the maps."
Before he can say any more, Cricket is interrupted by an approaching truck. It's red and looks both brand new and expensive. Then it all clicks into place as the driver steps out to Grumpy's excited, "The Extreme! It's the Extreme!"
"Don't start that shit," Robin says as he shakes Grumpy's hand.
"How you doing, man?" Grumpy asks, barely restraining himself from hugging Robin.
"I'm doing great," Robin replies, chuckling at Grumpy's Oh man!
He gestures to the woman getting out of the truck and walking to his side. "I'd like you to meet Marian. This is Grumpy. Grumpster's been chasing with us since we started." He glances around as Marian politely shakes Grumpy's hand. "Listen… Where's Regina?"
Grumpy points behind him to a van at the back of the grouping of vehicles. "She's by the Doppler. Broke down again. Running out of grant money."
Robin grimaces, then smiles at Marian. "Why don't you hang out here for a little while? I'll be right back. Grumpy, why don't you explain to Marian--"
"Why you're the way you are?" The shit-eating grin is firmly on Grumpy's face, and Robin realizes how bad an idea this is, but he needs to talk to Regina alone first. "Come on. Man, Regina's going to wig when she sees he's back."
"I'm not back!" Robin calls, a little exasperated, as he heads back to the van in the distance, eyes on Regina and the Doppler.
"The prodigal son returns," Little John says with a smile and a nod.
"She's a… a therapist," Robin finally admits.
"Oh…" Regina says with a grin. She knows better, knows she shouldn't do it. He's not hers to tease like this anymore, but she can't help herself. "Yours?"
"Christ, you couldn't resist, could you?" Robin says, affording her a quick glance before his eyes go back to the road. Oh, he has that guilty look in his eyes again.
"What?" she asks, fighting a satisfied smirk that she got under his skin again. Then they're talking over each other, just like they always have. Even fighting like this, it feels like old times, like she was right to never remove that silver band on her left hand.
"I'm not saying you need therapy."
"Wait, wait wait, I need therapy?"
"I didn't say that. I didn't say that."
He's angry now, hurt even. She can feel it. She's torn between pride and self-loathing at goading him like this. She wants to apologize, but he doesn't give her the chance. "What could I possibly need a therapist for? Huh? You're the doctor, tell me!"
Before she can even consider phrasing it differently, the words are already out of her mouth. "I don't know… inability to finish things?" It's a low blow, and she knows it, but she can't help herself.
He spares her another glance. "Inability to finish things?"
Regina shrugs, unable to keep a heavy dose of the truth thrumming under her snark. "Maybe rushing into things you can't quite commit to."
Now her eyes grow round in surprise at his reaction. "You asked!"
They continue on in this manner for a few more minutes, bickering over what commitment is, what happiness is, who should be driving the truck. It feels more like home than she cares to admit, but it's also a stark reminder of why they had to split up in the first place. Two opposing and equally stubborn people who want the same thing, but for different reasons. But if he's getting married, maybe they don't want the same thing anymore. She fights the urge to play with the wedding band burning her finger.
"Hey, as long as you're happy…"
"I am. I am happy," he says, voice raising in that tone that absolutely indicates she's struck a nerve. "I'm a happy person. I'm happy with my life. I'm happy with the way things are going in my life. I'm happy with… with…"
Once again, her mouth reacts before her brain. "Marian?"
He glares at her this time. "I know her name! Yes! I'm happy… with… Marian."
The way he hesitates sets her traitorous heart beating faster. Could this all be a lie or is he telling the truth?
The gang of them descends on her like a ravening pack of hyenas as Robin comforts his fiancée by his truck. At first, they all chatter about the tornado and what just happened, and she's so riled up, she joins them, feeding off their energy. It feels so damned good!
And then it happens.
"You know, we're close to Wakita." Of course, it's Cricket that starts it. It's always him or Grumpy.
August chimes in with, "Aunt Eugenia wouldn't mind a pit stop."
She knows they're right, and she's feeling rather hungry herself, but… "No!"
"Red meat," Grumpy says. "We crave sustenance."
"No, guys," she says, still working with Dorothy's straps. "We are not invading my aunt."
In the space between one breath and the next, they turn into sharks scenting blood in the water. It starts with Grumpy.
Then Cricket joins in. Those two are worse than two peas in a pod when it comes to food. She smirks at her unintended pun.
Killian and the others instantly take up the chant, Grumpy and August doing another of their strange little hand gestures. "Food. Fooooooooooood!"
That makes her laugh, but this is too much of an imposition on her aunt. She just cannot justify the intrusion without warning Eugenia first. "Hey! We are absolutely not going."
Regina sighs as she works to get the gravy into the bowl for the ravening horde. Aunt Eugenia is clearly in her element with this boisterous family Regina and Robin built once upon a time, but it's still an imposition. She glances back to watch them through the open doorway for a moment.
Cricket pauses in his practical inhaling of steak and eggs to say, "God, Eugenia, you've got a lot of beef. Where did you get all this beef?"
Regina can practically see the heart eyes from where she stands. The minute Eugenia takes a breath and stands a bit straighter, Regina knows she's got something up her sleeve and braces herself for the slaughter about to come.
"Did you see my cows out front?"
"No." There's a slight frown on Cricket's face.
Regina doesn't even have to look to know that absolutely shit-eating grin currently residing on her aunt's face. The whole table erupts into loud peals of laughter, teasing Cricket in the process. She chuckles softly and brings in the gravy. It's not like she can avoid Robin forever.
"You slaughter your own cows, Eugenia," Grumpy says, obvious approval in his voice. "Nice."
Regina loses herself in the banter around the table, letting it surround her in a sense of normalcy, of safety. Then she glances up at the TV when she hears an unfortunately familiar voice. "How can you watch this garbage?"
"Pardon me," Robin says, leaning over to turn up the volume on the TV. "You must see this."
They all groan and backtalk the interview with Keith, and rightfully so. He's a pompous blowhard bully who craves attention in ways she'll never understand.
"God, he sucks," Grumpy says, and she can't find fault in his words. Keith does suck.
"Shut up!" Cricket adds, and she's surprised he and Mulan aren't throwing things at the TV. "Turn him off!"
"What a wiener!" Robin growls, turning off the TV.
Regina finds herself staring at Robin, forces her eyes to the now black screen of the TV. "He really is in love with himself. I thought it was just a summer thing."
Then, to stop herself from staring at the one thing she wants most in the world, but can't have, Regina returns to the kitchen to eat. It's not like there's room at the table for her anyway, not with Marian there.
Robin can see that Marian feels completely out of her element here. He really shouldn't have let her be sandwiched between Grumpy and Killian. That's just a disaster waiting to happen, and he knows it. But being in this house again, with Eugenia and the whole lot of them, it's brought up a lot of memories and feelings that he can't just easily write off as team nostalgia. At least with Regina heading upstairs to take her turn at the shower, he won't be as easily distracted for a little while. And then memories of the two of them showering together in the past begin to bubble up, and he knows he's absolutely fucked.
Maybe that's why he doesn't realize where the conversation is headed until he hears Marian ask, "Why do you call Robin 'The Extreme'?"
"Because Robin is 'The Extreme'."
He wants to stop Grumpy before this gets out of hand, but John jumps in with, "Robin is the most outta control son of a bitch in the game!"
Some best friend he is… "No, I think I came in second."
Grumpy laughs and leans a little closer to Marian. "So we get this one near Daleton, right?"
"Oh god!" Cricket says with a laugh, making Robin groan. He knows where this is going.
"You guys have got to get some new stories," Regina replies with a roll of her eyes. Robin can see she is pointedly not meeting his gaze at this point. "I'm gonna go wash up."
Grumpy just waves her off and continues his story as if no one else has spoken, a maniacally gleeful gleam in his dark eyes. "And we are way too close. And Regina's got the vid on it right, she's filming it. And all of the sudden outta nowhere, this shitty lookin' green Valiant comes pulling up right in the way."
Killian points at Robin, ignoring the dirty look being thrown his way. "And this loser stumbles out of the car, he's got like a bottle of Jack Daniel's in his hand--"
"He is butt naked!"
And fuck Cricket, too!
Fuck all of these assholes. Robin remembers now why he likes working on his own. "Not naked! I was not naked!"
Killian leans in to stage whisper in Marian's ear, "He was without apparel."
"Half naked," Robin finally concedes.
Grumpy rolls his eyes. "Naked. Okay, so Regina's yelling at him to get out of the way, right?" He stops to laugh along with everyone around the table, except Marian. Even Eugenia laughs as she meets Robin's eyes with a sympathetic shrug. "And he just strolls ups to the twister, says Have a drink, and he chucks the bottle into the twister, and it never hits the ground."
Little John jumps in with his calm, steady voice. "The twister caught it, and sucked it right up!"
The more he thinks about it, the more Robin remembers why he was so drunk that day. And he doesn't feel like reliving that hell right now, so best to do as much damage control as he can. He offers Marian his best schmoozing smile and says, "Honey, this is a tissue of lies. See, there was another Robin, an evil Robin." He pauses long enough to glance around the table for effect. "And I killed him."
The entire table erupts into raucous laughter. He half-wonders if Regina can hear them upstairs in the shower. Then he remembers that is a place his mind is not allowed to go anymore, so he focuses on his fiancée instead. Marian still looks a little stunned by all of this boisterous energy, and he feels bad for her, but realizes that she can either sink or swim with this gang. It's only going to be this one time and long enough to get Regina to sign the damned divorce papers finally. He lets out a soft sigh and goes back to eating as the conversation shifts to the various tornados they've encountered together.
"No," Little John says, "that was a good size twister. What was it, an F3?"
Robin knows better. "Solid F2."
Finally, Marian seems to find her voice again. "See, now you've lost me again."
Swearing he's told her this before, Robin begins to explain anyway, hoping it'll turn the gang away from embarrassing stories about him and Regina for a while. "It's the Fujita scale. It measures a tornado's intensity by how much it eats."
"Destroys," he clarifies for her.
"That one we encountered back there," Will pipes up, "was a strong F2, possibly an F3."
Killian, ever the suicidal optimist, says, "Maybe we'll see some fours."
"That would be sweet!" Mulan says, and Robin remembers just how well she, Killian, and Will get along. Literal peas in a damned pod.
Again, for Marian's sake, Robin adds, "Four is good. Four will relocate your house very efficiently."
And then she has to ask it. "Is there an F5?" Her question kills all conversation around the table. "What would that be like?"
"The Finger of God," is all John says in a hushed, reverent tone.
Marian looks around the table. "None of you has seen an F5?"
No one says anything, but Robin knows what they're thinking. "Just one of us," he finally says, eyes lifting toward the ceiling and the bathroom where Regina still resides currently.
Regina knows she's dawdling. If asked, she'll tell everyone she does it ensure the hot water heater catches up for the next shower. But she's pretty sure Aunt Eugenia knows, and probably the rest of them, too. She's all fucked up inside at Robin being back. She hates how he thinks he's always right (and isn't she the same fucking way?), but there's no one else she'd want next to her when chasing those damned twisters. Even if he protests being here, he's easily slipping back into his old role again, and that's just bringing up feelings she can't afford to deal with right now.
"Forget it." She literally flinches at the sound of her aunt's voice. "Doesn't matter what you do, you'll still be beautiful."
She turns to face Eugenia, a half-assed smile on her face as she slips her necklace on again, hiding the engagement ring that she's never been able to let go of, even if it no longer nestles next to her wedding band. She can't let on how much this is all confusing her, not even to her aunt. "You're biased."
"Yes, I am," Eugenia says as she steps into the room and closes the door behind her. Her penetrating gaze sweeps over Regina's body, clearly taking in the armor she hoped would be more invisible to others, then tilts her head toward the lower level of the house as another round of laughter softly wafts up into the room. "Sounds like old times."
Regina bites back a sigh, knowing what her aunt is doing. "Yes, it does."
Eugenia's eyes soften, that maternal look that Regina both needs more than anything and can't accept right now, for fear of completely breaking down. "He didn't keep his part of the bargain, did he?"
"Which part?" she asks, busying herself with her clothes for something to occupy her hands.
"To spend his life pining for you, and die miserable and alone."
Fuck! Suck it up, Regina. You can do this.
"Is that so much to ask?" The words come out far steadier than she feels inside, but she knows that her aunt isn't stupid. When Eugenia steps closer to pull her into a hug, Regina takes the solace she craves.
They're in his truck again, chasing another twister. He's not even sure how Regina managed to be the one driving when it's his truck, but he's not even surprised. This is starting to feel all too familiar and comfortable, that old excitement of the hunt coursing through his veins. "Okay, Cricket, what do you got?"
"Okay, Robin, turn left here toward that farm."
He knows that Cricket has a preternatural affinity with his maps, just like Robin has with the weather itself, but he feels unsure as he looks at the terrain around them. Sharing an uneasy look with Regina, he asks, "You sure about that?"
"Uh…" The hesitance in Cricket's voice makes the blood in his veins go icy, but the younger man bounces back quickly with all the braggadocio Robin's come to expect from him. "Yeah. Trust me. Cricket is good. Cricket is wise."
And just like that, the tension breaks as he and Regina react instantly, her Mother of God overlapping with his own muttering of "Jesus Christ." Same old Cricket. And so Regina turns as directed.
The next day or so goes by more quickly than he expected it to, and yet, he feels exhilarated by being back with these people, doing this work. Yes, being a meteorologist on network television is steady work and steady income, but he misses this, misses them. No, he misses her. But he can't do this anymore. This isn't… He was just supposed to get the signed divorce papers from Regina so he and Marian can get married. But all he wants to do is keep chasing tornados and get Dorothy up in the air before Keith's team gets their rip-off pack up. The first pack up gets the best data first and all the good grants. Television career aside, Robin will be damned if he lets Keith Nottingham steal his and Regina's thunder and grant money with his smarmy bullshit.
Then Grumpy tells them about the F5 heading straight for Wakita and Aunt Eugenia. He knows he needs to do right by his fiancée, but this is Eugenia and that damned lovable mutt of hers, Ruby. They're family. Not just Regina's, but his. He looks at Marian and feels like a total git for doing this, but he has to.
"Honey, it's Eugenia. I gotta go."
Marian motions back over her shoulder. "I'm going back."
That makes him smile, eases some of the tight bands of tension around his heart. She'll be taken care of there. "Good, good, you'll be safe at the motel. I'll see you in the morning."
Marian shakes her head with a sad smile and a hint of glassiness in her eyes. "I won't be there."
Robin frowns, confused by this. Where would she be if not at the motel? "What? Why? What are you saying?"
"I'm saying goodbye."
And then, like a bolt of lightning, it hits him. His conversation with Regina yesterday replays in his mind.
"Regina. Things go wrong. You can't explain it, you can't predict it. Killing yourself won't bring your dad back. I'm sorry that he died, but that was a long time ago. You gotta move on. Stop living in the past, and look at what you got right in front of you."
He means it, every word of it. He's heard all the stories about Henry from Regina and Eugenia both. And he knows that he needs to move on, too. He's engaged to Marian, he's getting too old to be traipsing after tornados and storms like this.
"What are you talking about?" There are tears in her voice, her emotions bubbling to the surface in ways that remind him just what a vulnerable girl she still is deep down.
And then he sees it. She still loves him, even if she can't admit it. Even if he's honest with himself…
In a flash, it all comes back and he realizes the radio was still keyed on. Marian heard every single word that passed between him and Regina, every emotion, every tear. She heard it and she knows what he's been trying to deny since the day he left and filed for divorce.
"You know what?" she asks, pulling his from his thoughts, and gestures around them. "I can't compete with this. I don't even know where to start."
"Wait, don't do this now, please." He needs to save Eugenia and Ruby, needs to get Dorothy flying, needs to figure out what the fuck is going on in his head and his heart. He can't do this right now. There's too much at stake.
"Sooner or later it would have ended, we both know that," she says in that voice he always thinks is her therapist voice, the one that makes her so good at her job. She shrugs and offers him a wry, sad smile. "The funny thing is… I'm not that upset. What does that mean?"
He feels like a complete asshole right now. He knows what it was about Marian that attracted him, including her sense of self, her professionalism, her levelheadedness. Things that were so similar to Regina's, but less chaotic, more dependable. And how shitty is it that he feels relieved that he's more upset at wasting her time than actually breaking up? "I never meant for any of this to happen."
"Oh, Robin, I know," she says, touching his arm in that gentle way that always used to make him feel less stressed. Now it just feels like pity. "It's okay. You go ahead. She needs you." He's not sure if she means Eugenia or Regina. "I hope that Eugenia's okay."
"What about you?" He can't help but feel the need to make sure she's all right, too.
"Oh, don't worry about me." Her smile is a clear indicator that she's already begun to pull away and put him in the past. "I know my way home."
And he knows she does. Just as he knows his way home. He just hopes he's not too late.
The tornado dissipated or moved on, Regina's not sure at the moment and, for once, she doesn't care. Her aunt's house is destroyed, as is most of Wakita. Ruby's safe and curled up on the ground behind the ambulance, as close as she can get to Aunt Eugenia without being underfoot. Regina knows she wants to be on that gurney with her owner. In that, Regina completely understands. She pets the silky fur before climbing up into the ambulance to sit with her aunt.
"What're you doing?"
"I want to see how you are. How is she?" The paramedics mutter something in the affirmative, but she doesn't wait for the details as she turns back to her aunt. "I was worried about you."
The paramedics are still talking amongst themselves, and she hears snatches of conversation from her team. Suddenly she's torn between staying with her aunt and chasing after that damned tornado.
Eugenia sighs and raises her hand. "He says I have a bump on the head and maybe a broken wrist."
Without thought, she reaches for it, "Let me see that."
"There's nothing to see," Eugenia replies, pulling back her arm. "It doesn't hurt."
She fights the tears of frustration and self-loathing at the thought that another one of those damned tornados could have taken her last remaining relative. "I'm sorry I wasn't there."
Her aunt clearly isn't having it. "Stop blaming yourself. You got me out of the house." She pauses and her voice softens when she continues, "Regina, it's got to stop. I didn't have any warning. The sirens went off a few seconds before it hit. I didn't get downstairs."
Regina's not sure whether she's going to say anything more, but their attention is pulled away by Grumpy's tentative arrival. "Regina, I'm sorry." He looks like he'd rather be anywhere but here right now. "Uh, I was listening to the radio and… I mean, I don't even know if you wanna know, but it's happening. N.S.S.L's predicting an F5."
Before Regina can fully process what he's saying, Eugenia is pushing at her arm. "Regina, it's going to happen to someone else. You… You go stop it."
"I don't know how." It feels like her heart shatters when she utters those words, but they're the absolute truth and she feels like a fucking fraud, like that little girl who watched her parents get taken by that damned tornado.
"I think you do." Aunt Eugenia's voice is strong, full of love and approval. "You've been chasing these things since you were a little kid. It's what you do. Go. Do it."
And then Grumpy's pulling her out of the ambulance, as if he and Eugenia had planned it all.
He knows he should remember more of what's happened since they left the drive-in to try to save Eugenia, but it's all a damned blur, including losing his new truck to ensure Dorothy IV would fly. She was their last chance, their last hope. If she failed, they failed. He already talked to Little John and Will about just how little grant money was left. His truck could be replaced, Dorothy couldn't.
Thank god for that well house! He and Regina had found shelter among the disturbingly large collection of sharp implements. He didn't give a single thought to his own safety, all that matter in those tense minutes was keeping Regina safe and alive. This has been her life's work, and she couldn't possibly die before seeing the glory of Dorothy's flight and all that data.
Then, in the space between one heartbeat and the next, that Finger of God is just… gone. Regina is clinging to him as if her life depends on it. And maybe it does. All he knows at this point is that he can't imagine a life without her in it, even if it means putting his own on line constantly to stay one step ahead of the damned weather.
It's raining. No, wait! That's the pipes leaking around them. Then they hear the sounds of Grumpy's music and the diesel engines of the caravan coming closer as they bicker over who'll run the lab and write the grant proposals versus who'll analyze the data that Dorothy's putting out currently. It feels exactly like old times and, for once, he doesn't hate it. He craves it every bit as much as he needs her presence in his life. He leans in for the kiss he's been wanting ever since he laid eyes on her again, ignoring the team's excited chatter.
August breaks the moment as he says, "Hey, Regina and Robin, check out that sky!"
Before he can even consider tearing his eyes away from Regina's ecstatic face to look upward, she says, "You know what? I think we've seen enough."
And as she cups his cheek and leans in for that kiss, nothing else matters for Robin but this moment with his partner, his wife, his everything. He and Regina faced this F5 head on and have come out of it, not unscathed, but stronger than ever, and he'll be damned if he ever lets this slip from his fingers again.