“Did you and mom use to date?”
In all honesty, he has no idea where the question came from, why he’s asking it now without any preamble. But it’s out and he peels his eyes away from his ice cream to check Mayor Mills’ reaction. Which is wide-eyes and shellshock and hands tightening around the purse in her lap. And damn, if he isn’t curious now. Okay – so maybe he has started to wonder about where exactly he comes from around the age of ten. So far, he’s always attributed that nagging feeling that sometimes keeps him up at night to his absent father. Henry never met him, and Mom never talks about him and after a while he stopped obsessing over the fact that he was more a mirror of Mom instead of two sides of the same coin. He is dark in everything where Mom is light. Their hair, their eyes – hell, even the fact that Henry tans until he looks like a Latino and Mom turns into a lobster. He kind of forgot about all of that. For a while at least because he discovered that girls maybe aren’t totally gross and comic books are cool and – well. In Storybrooke all those feelings and thoughts resurfaced like water bursting from a well. Especially since he first laid eyes on Mayor Mills in the diner on their first day here. She feels familiar in the strangest way. Like Mom’s soothing hand in his hair when he has a nightmare and learning how to read with Dr. Seuss and Where the Wild Things Are despite his lisp, and dancing on Mom’s feet in the living room to Sandi Thom. Or was it Whitney Houston? Whatever. It’s weird.
He peeks another glance at the woman next to him, who still hasn’t answered his question. Her expression is guarded as much as her words are careful but if he squints there’s a hint of curiosity in her dark eyes, too. “What makes you say that?”
He shrugs as if he hasn’t thought about it since the day he met her and she’d looked at Mom and him like she saw a ghost. As if they were fantastic beasts that escaped one of her dreams. Or a nightmare. Either or, that was the moment his curiosity first flared. The second followed instantly when Mom bolted from their booth to follow Mayor Mills into the back of the diner. Afterwards these tiny moments of wonder just kept happening and he could throw all his evidence at the mayor’s feet now – the lasting looks, the tentative hesitancy, the way Mom introduced the mayor to him as if she is someone important. Like it matters that he likes her, and Mom didn’t even look that teetering on edge when she introduced him to Walsh. Her answer is not a flat-out denial either, so that counts as something. It’s not what he wants to hear – not what he hoped to hear but he’s careful not to push for more. Mayor Mills might regard Mom with regret and longing, but she looks at Henry likes it’s heartbreak. Just when she thinks no one is paying attention of course and he thinks it’ll work in his favor if he pretends that he hasn’t caught her staring a hundred times already. The mayor seems like the kind of woman who values her privacy and who knows what she’ll do if he calls her out. So, he pretends and endures her gazes that make him only slightly uncomfortable in their intensity.
He licks around his ice cream and swallows his proof of their past relationship – what else could it be – down with a side of chocolate almond. “She’s different around you. Not like with her other friends here.” Friends. If that is what they really are, he thinks and bites down in a frustrated huff that leaves his teeth freezing all the way up to his brain.
“Your mother said we were friends?” Her voice is wavering between a mocking scoff and dumbfounded disbelief, and it only settles his suspicions further into place. So maybe there weren’t friends because Mom never looks at her friends with such large eyes and confessions at the tip of her tongue she never dares to voice. She looks at David and Mary Margaret with simmering resentment that’s cushioned in joy of reunion and at that method acting pirate mostly in squirming exasperation. Only around the mayor and only when she thinks no one is watching does her face go soft and her gaze warm. Sometimes they are so obvious in their staring, he can’t believe that no one else has noticed yet. Least of all the two of them.
It’s like he discovered something secret in a town full of secrets but whereas the others frustrate him, this one feels more like a treasure. The longer he stares at the mayor’s perplexed expression the more he thinks that maybe he’s the first to discover it. “Not really,” he eventually answers her question, “But she cares about you.” That much became obvious when during their drive from New York, Mayor Mills was all that Mom wanted to talk about up to the point where Killian cranked up the radio so loud that no more conversation was possible.
“Care about me?” Mayor Mills lets out a little self-deprecating laugh and shakes her head. The lines in her face grow deeper, a shadow flickers through her dark eyes and he’s momentarily overwhelmed by the wave of sadness she emits. As if the notion of someone caring about her is as foreign as it’s ridiculous and he feels for her. Deeply. “I don’t know, Henry,” she sighs eventually and it’s unsure and small and he feels the need to comfort her like he had that day Mom set with red-rimmed eyes at their kitchen table over a letter that said Eviction. “Your mother and I have a very complicated history.”
“Like a bad break-up?” He’s nothing if not persistent when it’s about something important. And this? Damn – it’s not only important it’s momentous.
She rolls her eyes towards the sky, blinks, and somehow, he knows intuitively it’s a silent reproach that speaks of fondness, nonetheless. “It’s not really my place to talk about that with you,” though her voice is firm, her nose wrinkles as if she’s a bit miffed about it, too.
“So, you’re just going to lie to me like everyone else?” her frustration echoes in him and he throws the rest of his cone into a nearby trash can. Everyone in this strange town is lying to him, even Mom and he’s growing tired of it. He balls his hands on top of his thighs when he sits back down and refuses to meet her eyes.
“I will not lie to you. I know… Your mother told me that you take not kindly to that.” And she does sound like Mom when she’s apologizing for keeping something from him, though, her next words carry steel where Mom’s would have been soft imploration, “But you must understand that some secrets are only meant to protect you and that the time to reveal them hasn’t come yet.”
He sucks on his bottom lip and wrings his hands together, mulling over that at least she’s up front about it and not like Mary Margaret who’s covering up one lie with another and is really bad at it or like Mom who’s been telling him half-truths at best. And then he sneaks a glance at her and his eyes are glued to her hands in her lap, wrought into each other, clasping and unclasping. Again and again. Just like his own. It’s a tic he’s developed when he’s nervous and that he never saw Mom do and he’d always wondered where he might have picked it up from. His next breath is sharp and his hands still and he suddenly sees himself everywhere in Mayor Mills. From the roots of her dark hair to the earthy hue of her throat and down to still fluttering hands. He stares and stares and begins to wonder if maybe she is keeping the biggest secret of them all. And he’s determined to find out the truth.
Mom always tells him that he’s a smart boy, so he’s being smart about this, too. This is Operation Bounty Mayor in his head, the whole thing filling him with a strange melancholy but also newfound purpose. He’s not happy with the name, bothered by the fact that it’s missing a cool and secretive ring to it like Operation Cobra or Mongoose, and he has no idea where those names come from. In the end he can’t decide and sticks with what he has for obvious reasons. It’s more secretive than calling it Operation Parent Trap or Operation Make-Mom-Realize-She’s-An-Idiot. So, that’s that.
He’s been herded off from one of Mom’s friends to another and apart from spending time with Mayor Mills he feels like he’s just wasting it. Now, he has something to do of his own and he switches his phone for a notebook from one of the local stores and gets to work. He’s neat about it and draws out tables and different sections for notes and assumptions and hard facts. He doesn’t pause to question why this feels so natural because something is clearly going on between Mom and the mayor and that’s what’s important here. Also – maybe – that it’s because of him and the way how the mayor’s eyebrow arches in exactly the same curve as his own when they’re silently judging someone. Or the fact that he and Mayor Mills are silently judging at all whereas Mom usually plows ahead like a bulldog with any kind of judgement, opinion, or insult.
Before he can confront them, whether about muddy lineages or secretive past relationships, he needs proof that Mom can’t deny. And because he’s smart, he starts with the easiest target.
He’s alone with Mary Margaret in the flat today, the others supposedly working on this case that Henry is utterly convinced by now is not a case at all. Another thing they all keep lying about. He sighs and pushes another screw into the pile of aluminum that’s going to be a stroller at some point. He told himself to start small, ask the easy questions first and see where that is going, so he blurts out, “Do you know if my mom ever had a girlfriend?”
With some people it’s best to go like a bull at a gate and Mary Margaret is definitely one of them. The fabric cover she just attempted to pull over another part of the stroller flies out of her hands in a snap and her pale cheeks turn the color of rose petals, “A… wh… what?”
Oh God, he hopes she’s not a homophobe. “A girlfriend.”
“Not that I know of,” Mary Margaret attempts nonchalance and fails miserably, her voice high and trembling and she’s the worst liar he’s ever seen, “Why?”
Henry continues with the screw, excelling at the nonchalance, “Oh, you know, she’s giving off these vibes.”
“Vibes?” Her voice is climbing higher and higher while the cogs are visibly turning in her head.
“Around the mayor,” he adds because he senses that with Mary Margaret one must be extra specific, regarding those things. According to what Mom told him, Mary Margaret is her oldest friend and if someone knows then surely her. Although Mom never brought one home, even Henry noticed over the years how she looked at certain women in a certain way, whether that was at PTA meetings or in the supermarket. He’s young but not dumb, thank you very much. And what does it matter anyway that she never brought a woman home. Until Walsh she never brought a guy either and everyone knows how that ended. He levels a calm gaze at Mom’s friend and waits.
“Emma is not behaving like a lesbian around Regina!” Mary Margaret suddenly exclaims, looking as if his insinuation personally affronted her and she bangs her flat hands against the coffee table loud enough to make them both jump. So much for she must know. Maybe she really is a homophobe. Even a blind man could see the sparks flying between Mom and Mayor Mills and the way the mayor’s lips quirk when Mom says something funny, and the way Mom stops talking mid-sentence whenever Mayor Mills enters a room and if someone doesn’t see that it has to be a conscious act of ignorance. “Oh God… Henry. I’m so sorry… I didn’t mean to,” Mary Margaret stammers the next moment.
He puts down the screwdriver slowly and says very seriously and as calm and patient as possible, “Mary Margaret, are you a homophobe?” She launches into a passionate speech about acceptance and experimenting in her youth with who he thinks is the waitress at the diner and he accepts that the weakest link doesn’t always turn out to be the most helpful. He already plots his next step for Operation Bounty Mayor while she goes on about times having changed since she was young. Maybe he should check out the competition next.
His dad is dead, and his operation momentarily forgotten. Mom tells him with red-rimmed eyes in the park where he ate ice-cream with Mayor Mills on a misty grey Wednesday. He feels strangely disconnected from her pain. Mourning the loss of a man who was too much of a coward to own his mistakes, which sent Mom to prison and irreversibly broke something in her. Henry never forgave him for that on her behalf. Mom might have made a defeated peace with it over the years, but he holds the grudge – has always held grudges way longer than Mom – and tries to not look too thunderous when she tells him that in his death his dad was some kind of a hero. Suddenly, that’s all everyone is telling him as if it somehow outweighs the fact that he hurt Mom so severely in the past. It renders him unable to offer her the shoulder to cry on she so desperately needs and that she rejects from Mary Margaret the same way as from Killian.
There’s a knock on the door of their room above the diner later that evening that Mom answers on wobbly legs and her whole body rigid from tension. She is even more on edge now than when they first arrived. Jumpy and paranoid and she’d told him at least fifty times to be careful and not leave the diner by himself over the course of the evening alone. He figures that her behavior is normal for someone who just found an ex-boyfriend dead in the woods. What he doesn’t get is why they have to stay here in the first place if it’s really this dangerous. When he asks Mom about it, she offers him not more than one of her half-truths again. Something about having to do this and it’s for your dad and Henry only keeps his mouth shut because he’s on a mission, too.
He just turned off the light on the bedside table, only pretending to be asleep and through the mirror next to his bed he has a perfect view of the crack in the door and Mayor Mills in it, illuminated by the soft orange light from the hall. He evens his breaths and perks his ears. “I’m sorry,” Mayor Mills says, and she sounds so sincere, her eyes brimming with understanding that only comes from having shared the experience. Her care and compassion for Mom is visible even in the indigo twilight of the room. Mom doesn’t say anything, only her shoulders tremble slightly and it’s the most emotion he’s seen her express whenever someone brings up his dad’s death. Mayor Mills doesn’t offer her a hug or anymore words that couldn’t sooth Mom’s loss anyway but reaches one of her hands out to hold Mom’s. They remain like that for a long, long time and after the mayor eventually leaves without another word, Mom closes the door, leans against it, and finally cries.
Two days later at the funeral, he still feels like an outcast among all the grief. Whatever mourning overcomes him as they gather around the shiny casket is secondhand at best. He’s glum because Mom is. Because Mom is hurting, and he doesn’t know how to make it better. That’s what’s scary and overwhelming and has him reticent and brooding all morning. Not the death of his father. As if he’d care about this… this… stranger who just abandoned them. His hands curl in his coat pockets and when someone called Mother Superior holds the eulogy, he lets his eyes wander in favor of listening. Quite a couple of people have come to say goodbye to someone who’s nothing but an elusive story to him. Most of them he’s seen by now at least in passing. Ruby with her arm around the sniffling owner of the pawn shop, mom’s friends and the pirate and – a bit apart from their group – Mayor Mills.
While everyone steps forward to shovel a handful of dirt on the simple casket, Henry takes her in. She appears as downcast and shaken as the others, though, her glance more often than not darts to Mom and that’s when real pain and compassion flicker in her dark eyes that remind Henry so much of his own. When it’s her turn to step forward he notices for the first time the man who stands behind her. He doesn’t really fit into the crowd with his outdoor clothes and weird green scarf and from the way his eyes follow the mayor Henry gathers that he’s not here to pay respect to his dad. The mayor returns and he tries to place a comforting hand on her arm that she shrugs off and they fall into a hushed argument. “Henry,” his shoulder is suddenly held in a vice grip, “We should go.”
Mom’s voice is hard, though not from sadness, and he only understands when he cranes his neck and sees her staring at the still bickering mayor. Mom looks somewhat hurt and somewhat angry, her brows drawn together and her mouth a twitching downward line. He’s already raising his hand to wave the mayor over – Mom always brightens when the mayor is around – and he’d do anything to wipe that look from Mom’s face, but she tightens her hold and steers him away, muttering, “Come on.”
Everyone gathers at the diner afterwards, the atmosphere tense and depressing and it makes him antsy and not even the hot chocolate that comes sprinkled with cinnamon he didn’t have to ask for changes that. Mary Margaret drinks hers just the same while Mom and David favor stronger drinks, though it’s not yet noon. The smell makes his eyes water a little. They’re sitting in one of the booths to the left, Mom and him with their backs to the entry and Mary Margaret and David across from them. The former gently but insistingly attempting to comfort both of them but Henry is not listening. He’s not sad, he’s angry and frustrated and comfort is not what he needs right now. He wants – needs – answers. So many of them, which none of the adults is willing or capable to give him. It sucks. Plain and simple.
Mom isn’t paying much attention either, merely grunts into her drink at the appropriate times and ignores anyone coming to their table, offering condolences. Henry’s watching her as she’s watching Mayor Mills at the bar. She’s introducing the guy from the funeral to a petite blonde and Mom’s glass looks ready to shatter any moment. If looks could kill Boy Scout – that’s what he christened the guy in his head – would drop dead this second and Henry grapples with figuring why that is. He’s never seen Mom like this. It’s unsettling and the way her jaw works, and her eyes flash a bit scary too if he’s honest. “Mom?” He places a hand on her arm when she doesn’t react and then she jerks hard enough to spill whisky on her fingers.
“Sorry, kid,” she mumbles, dabbing at the mess with a napkin, “What’s up?”
“Do you have a picture of my dad?”
Mom freezes in her ministrations and can’t meet his eyes. He's only asked once before when he was ten and he had so desperately wanted to understand where he came from and who his father was. Mom had promised to search for a picture with a tight expression only to cry in her room that evening when she thought he’d already gone to bed. He waited three days and when the picture never came, he decided to not bring it up again. But now the burning desire to know resurfaced and consumes his every thought whenever he looks at the mayor and then at himself and imagines that his hair would curl like hers if he’d let it grow.
Maybe it was a good idea to make Mom focus on him lest she’d do something she might regret. Like throw her glass across the diner at Boy Scout’s head. He thinks Mayor Mills wouldn’t appreciate that no matter how pinched her expression is while she talks to him. Mom only stares at her hand, though, that same tight, guarding expression as three years ago and doesn’t say a word. Henry fiddles his thumbs. Bad idea apparently to go fishing for clues about his mysterious origins while Mom is falling apart. In his defense, though, he probably also kept Mom from having a huge fight with the mayor – clearly the last thing she needs right now – for throttling Boy Scout, so in fact she should thank him. He locks gazes with her and juts his chin out, daring her to say something. Anything.
“I might have a picture of your dad on my phone,” Mary Margaret jumps in.
Henry kind of resents her for her constant eagerness in that moment because it gives Mom and out that he would have refused her. He deserves answers from her. Really, he does. It’s not fair that Mom keeps so much from him about his dad, about Mayor Mills, about this whole town and it’s starting to truly bother him. The last remnants of excitement and adventure about being on a trip with Mom and out of school can’t gloss over anymore that something’s seriously foul in the city of Storybrooke. If it wasn’t for Operation Bounty Mayor, he would have wanted to return home days ago and with the growing irritation about being kept out of the biggest loop in the history of loops that desire grows, too. He manages a hopeful smile nonetheless, “Really? Can you show me?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he notices how Mom flags down the pretty waitress for another drink, right back to burning holes in the back of Boy Scout’s head. “Oh, shoot,” Mary Margaret fusses left and right of her, “I must have forgotten my bag in your room upstairs. Henry, do you mind getting it for me?”
It sounds a lot like a pretense to get him out of the room but it’s not like he can afford to not see that picture. If his dad’s appearance is anywhere near as dark as his own, he can stop searching for any kind of resemblance in the mayor and admit that he’d barked up the wrong tree. And convince Mom that it’s time to go home. “Sure, no problem,” he scoots out of the booth, “Any idea where it might be?”
Mary Margaret tells him and when he passes the bar the mayor is still talking in a hushed agitated voice to the blonde all the while sneaking glances at Mom and Boy Scout. If Henry knew any reason why so, he’d say she looks almost guilty. When he returns not ten minutes later with Mary Margaret’s bag in his right hand something must have obviously happened. One indicator are the ashen faces all around, blanched by some more imminent shock than the death of Storybrooke’s latest hero three days ago. The other – maybe even more obvious – sign is how everyone clustered around Mayor Mills at the bar. Mary Margaret and David with concerned serious expression and right up front, Mom, a hand resting on the mayor’s elbow that isn’t shrugged off or swatted away. For a moment, he hangs back in the doorway to make the best out of this rare moment when none of the adults notices him.
They mayor’s shoulders are tense, a bend crooked line growing sharper and sharper under Mary Margaret’s well-meant probing. Mom doesn’t talk until the others are done and even then, her eyes don’t speak of pushing but compassion and support. The tension ceases slightly in the mayor’s back, though, not enough to keep her from shaking her head several times and storming out the diner. David grabs Mom by the shoulder before she can follow. Henry steals sidelong glances at Mom who’s upset and restless and crackling eyes while he slides up next to Mary Margaret, “Here’s your bag.”
She actually jumps a little as if they’d all collectively forgotten that he existed, “Henry, oh!” They are so caught up with this case, this Zelena, that it does feel occasionally as if he’s just a weight tying Mom down. A hindrance. He shakes his head. “What happened?”
She guides him back to their booth while silently communicating with David. He shrugs helplessly because he couldn’t keep Mom from storming after the mayor a second time then he moves to the bar to talk to the blonde. “The woman who murdered your father was here. She made some threats.” Mary Margaret doesn’t meet his eyes.
“She was here?” his voice is too high, shrieking a little because he doesn’t understand this town. “And you just let her go?”
“Do you still want to see that picture?” she asks instead of answering him and the brisk unsubtle change of topic totally floors him. He does and doesn’t at the same time want to see that picture, vainly waiting for her – for someone – to just talk to him. But Mary Margaret won’t be the one to tell him where the mayor and Mom disappeared to, or why everyone just lets a murderer run through town unhindered, so he takes a deep breath and, “Fine. Yes, please.”
Mary Margaret slides her phone towards him and there, right next to Killian in front of a sailing ship, is his dad. Henry waits for the world to suddenly make sense. To look at this man and feel at peace with himself because That’s my dad. He waits and waits, and the buildup is running like lightning through his veins and then… nothing. There’s no click, no revelation and Henry’s gaze bores into the screen hard enough to set the phone on fire. It’s disappointingly anti-climatic, really. The guy is too fair – just like Mom – his smile broad and easy unlike Henry’s, whose smiles are always a bit hard to come by. Mom taught him caution with people and Henry’s affection and openness is not carelessly given away. It must be earned. After a while he slides the phone back without another word and goes upstairs to sulk. Nothing makes sense. Whenever he thinks he finally got an answer it only leads him to more questions and all of them inevitably leading to Mom and Mayor Mills and he’s brooding until his head hurts and Mom stands in the middle of the room with a bag of sandwiches in hand.
“I thought we could go down to the docks for lunch,” she says and scuffs her boots against the wooden floor to hide that she’s trying to apologize for running off earlier. It’s a bit late for lunch but he doesn’t have the heart to deny the olive branch she’s offering. He’s seen too little of her the past days to do that and he fears that if he puts one more burden on her shoulders, she’ll collapse. The drive to the docks passes in silence and so does most of their meal. He uses the quiet to enjoy that it’s just the two of them. The fact that they’re not talking can’t dampen his joy because of that. She barely has time for him since they came here, and he misses her. That and the feeling of being somewhat deeply betrayed by her are not mutually exclusive in him and he struggles to not let the annoyance and – yes – hurt get the upper hand again. Mom is trying, too, he can see that. But it’s not enough because she is picking her sandwich apart into a sticky mess without eating and is far, far away.
“Mary Margaret showed me that picture,” he says eventually after wrapping up the rest of his sandwich and placing it on the bench next to him, his appetite never really having been there in the first place. The moment is as good as any to bring up his thoughts about Mom and Mayor Mills and his – supposed – dad. At least here, she can’t run away from his questions or send him to his room or anything like that and he’s too fed up with everything to wait any longer. Those questions need to be asked and Mom is the only one who can answer them. Well, apart from the mayor but she made it clear what exactly she’s sharing with him and what not. Mom raises her gaze to him, bottom lip worried between her teeth, “I’m sorry that I never showed you before.”
“It’s okay,” he mumbles, “It’s just…” His fingers weave together clasping and unclasping. Just like the mayor. “I don’t look much like him.” His voice is small, made quiet and uncertain because as much as he needs to know, the thought that Mayor Mills… his birth mother… it’s really, really scary.
“Henry…” His brows furrow together stubbornly. His hands turn into fists. “I can see so much of him in you.”
“Well, I don’t!” he snaps. Mom’s eyes widen in shock, and he can’t bring himself to apologize or back down. It’s his right to know. Isn’t it? “Why do I look so much like Mayor Mills?” And then the question is out just like that. It’s scary. Terrifying even. Because there would be an avalanche of more questions descending on him if he’s right. None any less terrifying than the question of whether Mayor Mills is his birth mother.
“Wh… what?” Mom splutters, the shock momentarily outweighing the anger.
“I look exactly like her!” he insists. This is the click he’s been waiting for, the grand revelation. It would explain so much. “Why is that? Why are you both lying to me about who she is?”
“Henry…” Mom starts again, this time with a sharpness around her words that he never heard before they came here. She’s about to say more when her eyes flicker to something behind him. He follows her gaze. And of course, Mayor Mills steps out of her black Mercedes that’s parked at the curb right next to the Bug, long black hair tousled by the wind. She doesn’t come closer, and he grabs Mom’s arm before she can leave him again.
He’s desperate. And he doesn’t care. If Mom kept this from him, he has no idea how he’s supposed to ever look at her the same again. She doesn’t sit back down, and her face is uncharacteristically hard when she speaks again, “I don’t know who you’ve been talking to but the man in that picture… he is your father and Regina… Mayor Mills is not who you think she is.”
His fingers on her arm turn white.
“Then tell me who she is,” he tightens his grip and her face twitches as she takes a step away from the bench, “Please!”
She yanks her arm free and stalks off towards the parked cars. He stares after her with fiery eyes and the certainty that he’s on the right track and willing himself not to cry. He turns back towards the ocean as soon as the wind carries the first bits of their conversation towards him, knees drawn to his chest and feet on the bench.
There’s gravel crunching and then Mom’s voice, cautious and without a trace of the harshness she just used on him, “Hey”
“Hey.” The mayor sounds tired, defeated, her voice small.
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
A seagull shrieks above his head, drowning out Mayor Mills’ answer and it makes the conversation harder to follow. Henry bites his lip. Hard. And then harder. He’s confused and lost and the person who’s supposed to guide him home is the one who’s determined to throw him off track and leave him in a ditch. It’s not fair. And he knows that Mom is lying. She’s not the only one with a build in lie detector. Back in New York, she never lied to him, and he hates and doesn’t understand why she must start with it now. She’s like a stranger. Sometimes he looks at Mom now and doesn’t even know who she is anymore. In those moments he finds himself longing to curl up on a hauntingly familiar couch that he has never seen, in a big white house that feels like home that he has never stepped foot in while soft tanned hands with perfectly manicured nails stroke his hair, and someone hums a forgotten melody. Everything of it feels as real as a memory that he can’t remember. A memory from someone else. From another life perhaps. It’s so confusing that he heaves a sob after all and presses his face further against his drawn-up knees.
“So, she said the truth?” Mom’s voice reaches him again immediately followed by a pause.
Maybe the mayor nods because she continues with, “And Gold thinks she’s stronger than me.”
“What do you want to do?”
More silence. Henry strains his ears as best as he can. “You can’t be seriously considering to… to meet her later?” Who are they talking about? Who is Gold? Who is her? Considering that Mom’s words are a bit shaken like that time he took a soccer ball straight to the face at the park and blacked out for a second, he guesses it must be this Zelena. The one who murdered his dad. He didn’t know him, even less liked him, and still he wishes that Zelena would have stayed far away from him. If only to spare Mom the pain of having to deal with his death. Mayor Mills he does like – a lot – and just from imagining that she willingly meets with a murderer his heart races with fear. There’s gravel crunching behind him, the sound of someone pacing.
“I’m done running away, Emma. I’m going to face her.”
“Regina… think about this. We don’t know what she’s capable of. For all we know she…” Mom’s voice drops into a pleading whisper suddenly and he pushes his fist into his mouth, biting the first knuckle to keep from howling from frustration. The wind freshens up a moment later, the words a faint waft in his ear again and he releases his hand.
“-thing I can do?”
“I’d say it’s best if you do not draw any attention to yourself. She doesn’t seem to be very interested in you and for He- for his sake we should keep it like that.”
“Well, don’t expect me to just sit back and watch her hurt you!”
The following silence is so long that Henry wonders if they’re still there. Right when he’s about to turn around Mayor Mills’ voice drifts towards him, “There is one thing you can do.”
“Anything,” Mom answers and he believes without a doubt that she’d move mountains and hang the moon for Mayor Mills. She’d do anything for the mayor and the mayor accepts it all with crinkling soft eyes and even softer smiles and that trace of disbelief as if no one ever cared for her the way Mom does. A sudden horrified shriek startles him to the point where he almost topples off the bench. What. The. Hell? Who cares if they notice that he’s eavesdropping? He turns around in a flash, disappointed and irritated because he can’t see anything due to how they’re standing. Mom has his back to him, arms flailing wildly and hair blowing in all directions. It’s hard to make out the mayor’s expression from so far. If he squints, he can just so see her hand on Mom’s elbow and the furrow of her brows.
“Are you crazy? Put that back!” Mom’s voice remains shrill, an echo of the seagulls circling over the docks. She sounds like she’s having a heart attack. Henry is this close to marching over and shout at them, demanding answers without any intention to stop until they give them to him.
“It’s too dangerous to bring tonight. I must hide it somewhere.”
Henry keeps on openly staring at them, by now they must have surely noticed him if they hadn’t before anyway. He can’t see what Mayor Mills is trying to give Mom and he doesn’t dare to crane his neck too far. Could it be a weapon? No. He knows Mom can handle weapons. His brows crinkle while he goes through a list of things that could make sense. It’s very short.
“Shouldn’t you be giving this to him then?” Mom sounds different now. Her tone caught somewhere between whiny and cranky. Much like Henry’s when the girl he likes from school chooses someone else to be her lab partner. He’s pretty sure that Mom is talking about Boy Scout from the funeral and the bar, and he shares her dislike for him without question. The mayor is too good for him. In his opinion at least, whatever it’s worth.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Emma, I don’t know that man.”
“I don’t care what he is. I’m giving it to you,” Mayor Mills says sharply.
“But why? What if something happens to it?” Mom is fretting and Henry tries to will them with his mind alone to turn around, so he can catch a glimpse of whatever it is they’re passing back and forth between each other. The curiosity is killing him.
“I believe in you,” Mayor Mills insists, gentle but firm.
“Why? How do you… how can you be sure?” He rolls his eyes. Mom who always is the first to believe and support him in anything he does, has the hardest time accepting the same from others.
“Because I already trusted you with my heart once. And now I trust you with this.”
“It’s safe with you. I know it.”
“I…,” Mom heaves a very long sigh, “Alright. I’ll try not to break it.”
“Much appreciated, Ms Swan,” behind the sarcasm Mayor Mills sounds almost as if she’s smiling. “I should head back now to prepare, and you should go back to Henry before he comes over here.” Now, he can see her smirk.
Mom whirls around on the sole of her boot. At first her eyes go wide then narrow while she’s shaking her head. He gives her an innocent little wave in return. “Okay. I see you later?” A pause. “Be careful.”
“You know who you’re talking to, right?”
“That’s exactly what I’m worried about. I’m not the one who almost got herself killed in the mines and wandered all alone through a jungle full of juvenile delinquents.”
Henry doesn’t understand a word of what Mom is saying and when she’s finally trudging back to him after squeezing the mayor’s hand for way longer than is socially acceptable his scowl is firmly pinned into place. “What’s that?” he asks, eyes settled on the little black pouch in Mom’s right hand.
“Something I’m taking care of for Mayor Mills.”
It’s the only answer he gets because afterwards Mom is lost in her own head, staring at the pouch in her hands as if it holds the answer to all the questions in the universe. He finishes his sandwich in large angry bites. Then he steals hers without her noticing. Or caring. She does bring up the fact again that Henry doubts that she’s his biological mother only once when they are ready to leave. “I know that a lot of things are confusing right now. And we will talk about them when all of this is over.” Henry bites the inside of his cheek not to scowl. “But for now – Henry – you must get that idea about Regina out of your head. It’s not real.” He doesn’t say that Mayor Mills is the only thing in Storybrooke that feels real, opting for a baleful silent treatment instead. She lets the topic rest after that, returning her attention to the pouch and Henry lets it rest, too, begrudgingly and disappointedly accepting that he can’t count on Mom to tell him the truth. At all. He’ll find out by himself then.
In his head he’s forming a plan about how he can follow Mom and the mayor tonight to whatever kind of rendezvous they have with Zelena. And get a damn look at that pouch. Mom regards it with half trepidation and half befuddled awe and carries it like it’s made of glass. Like something very, very precious and he doesn’t believe anymore that it could be a weapon or anything like that. Mom treats it like a gift and he’s dying to take a peek. For some reason, though, he is utterly exhausted right after dinner and it’s barely past nine when he slips into sleep. He dreams of Mayor Mills facing off against his dad’s murderer below his window on Main Street in some kind of western standoff. High Noon. The whole town watches while they trade insults. Instead of pistols they use magic, and the mayor is sent flying into the clocktower. The rest of the night he sees the pouch Mom is safeguarding and hears a steady thump-thump-thump. Like a heartbeat.
Henry doesn’t mention his dream the next morning while they’re on their way to meet Killian at the docks. He’s supposed to take him on a fishing trip and Henry thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to pick up Operation Bounty Mayor again. Someone must make the guy understand that Mom only has eyes for someone else. They’re in the car, driving down Main Street, yesterday’s conversation hanging heavily between them, and the only sounds are the hum of the motor and the radio. There’s one station here, so far out in the middle of nowhere and it’s mostly playing 80’s songs that Henry doesn’t know but finds surprisingly nice. Currently Beat It by Michael Jackson is playing and his face splits into a grin unbiddenly. “Hey, remember how we used to dance to this in the living room?”
He can see them in front of his inner eye, Mom making air guitar solos and Henry doing high-kicks and twirls on the couch, his shoulder length hair flying in all directions. Mom’s eyebrows furrow as she casts him a sidelong glance, “We did?”
His face falls, “Yeah… We tried the choreography from the video for weeks. I kicked one of our lamps from a side table. Don’t you remember?”
“Oh… right…,” she answers lamely.
He tilts his head, the memory frizzling in his mind. He realizes that they never owned a lamp like the one from the memory in any of their apartments let alone a side table. A sharp pain jolts through his stomach. “Mom?” he asks hesitantly, unsure of what any of that is supposed to mean, the memory feeling real and tangible and simultaneously impossible.
Mom doesn’t answer. She slams the brakes of the car hard enough to throw him into the seatbelt and curses, “Shit.”
He throws her a scandalized glance. Mom never curses in front of him. But then his eyes are drawn ahead to where she’s staring, suddenly pale as a ghost. There’s a man standing in the middle of the road clad in an expensive black suit with no intention to get out of their way. Henry hasn’t seen him in town before and he peers through the windshield to get a better look at him, “Mom… who’s that?”
“Someone very dangerous,” she says through gritted teeth and trembling hands, “Stay in the car. No matter what happens.” She throws the car door open, just like that leaving him alone again. For once, he heeds her command and doesn’t feel treated like a child by it. The man on the street is creepy. Not like their landlord in New York whose eyes always linger in inappropriate places when he talks to Mom, which is bad enough. No – this guy is creepy in a fantasy-supervillain kind of way that makes Henry’s skin crawl. And his curiosity shoot through the roof.
Mom stomps over to him, hiding her fear behind a puffed chest and raised chin and Henry rolls down the window to listen in on them. “What do you want, Gold?” Mom uses her no-nonsense tone, hard as steel and unwavering unlike her hands. So, that’s the guy Mayor Mills was talking about the other day.
He tilts his head to the side and smiles patronizingly at Mom as if she’s an idiot. “Isn’t that obvious, dearie? I came to steal a heart.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she shoots back. Henry knows it’s a lie before she slowly shifts in front of the Bug. His breath gets caught in his throat, eyes darting frantically around the inside of the car. A heart? Is that what Mayor Mills gave Mom? He rolls his eyes at himself. Yeah – as if. With slight unease he remembers his dream. The feint red glow in the dark. The rhythmic thump-thump-thump. He shakes his head. That’d be insane. Gold’s cold and mocking voice pulls him out of his stupor and has him listening with bated breath.
“Don’t insult me, Ms Swan. Who else would Regina give it to but the one person she’s so besotted with?”
Henry can’t help but snort. If even the bad guy calls them out like that, Henry has no doubt that he’d been right all along about Mom and the mayor and if they don’t have a wild, past relationship that ended in total tragedy then there’s at least something there now. Something that sparks. That could set the world on fire. Maybe Mom finally realized that, too, because she doesn’t rush out a denial that’s half-hearted at best.
“I’m not giving it to you.” Mom squares her shoulders.
“You know I can’t return without it. If you’re not giving it to me, I must take it.” Gold says with a casualness that matches his sense of superiority. He has no doubt that he’ll get what he has come for whether Mom caves or not.
Out of nowhere, Mom draws her gun. Henry stops breathing all together, leaning so far forward that his nose almost touches the windshield. She has told him time and time again how much she hates her gun and using it even more. That it’s a tool only to be wielded in the direst of circumstances when no other option is left. That she draws it now is adding to Henry’s nervousness and the atmosphere grows tense enough to be palpable. “Don’t make me do this, Gold,” Mom says more calmly, gun pointed straight at him.
“You forget that my hands are rather tied in this matter. Give the heart to me and you and the boy will remain unharmed,” Gold shrugs, utterly unfazed by the weapon. Henry wonders what the guy thinks he can do to them. He’s unarmed and doesn’t seem like the type to know some secret martial arts technique to overpower Mom. And yet. His confidence is enough to take his threat seriously. Apparently, Mom thinks the same.
“Don’t bring Henry into this.”
“I’m not, Ms Swan. You are.”
Gold takes slow deliberate steps closer. Mom squares her shoulders, raises the gun higher.
“Stay where you are, or I swear I’ll pull the trigger.”
Gold tuts as if she threatened him with a slap on his fingers. He’s arrogant and delusional and keeps coming closer. The shot is louder than anything Henry ever heard before. His ears ring from it and he jerks in the seat, bumping his knees against the glove compartment and hissing in pain. He can’t believe that Mom really pulled the trigger on an unarmed old man. Over a heart. Whatever that is a code word for. It doesn’t justify the threats and the violence on both sides. Not in his opinion. And – Oh my God – Mom shot someone.
When Henry uncurls from his doubled-over hunch he expects Gold to lie in a puddle of his own blood on the pavement. Except that he isn’t. The bullet stopped three inches in front of his outstretched palm. Hovering in the air as if held there by an invisible string. Henry’s jaw goes slack. And he wants to scream and shout and do something. Anything than remaining frozen in the seat and staring mouth agape at magic. This must be a dream. Or Mom drove them into a ditch, and he hit his head too hard. There’s no way this is real.
It’s almost as unsettling as the fact that Mom isn’t freaked out by Gold’s Matrix-move at all.
“I don’t want to do this but – as you know – I have no choice. So, either you give me the heart now or I’ll lodge this bullet between Henry’s brows,” Gold says in that same cold bored voice as before. Henry’s heart stutters whereas his brain is about to explode.
“I won’t betray Regina like this,” Mom counters.
“Then you leave me no other choice I’m afraid.” The bullet slowly turns around mid-air. Henry quakes in his seat.
“Wait… Gold…,” Mom’s shoulders sag and with it she lowers the gun, “There must be another way. You can fight this!”
“I really can’t. It’s the law of the dagger, as you know. Last chance, Ms Swan. And maybe consider this before you make your decision,” he makes a little flourish with his wrist, “What would Regina rather forgive you? That you lost her heart or that you got your son killed?”
“If you break her heart, I will hunt you down forever,” Mom bristles.
“Oh, I have no intention of breaking Regina’s heart. I am not the one in charge here. For once. Now, if you please.” He reaches out his right hand, palm up and lips curved into the arrogant smile of someone who knows that he’s won. Henry can’t see Mom’s face because she has her back to him but the rise and fall of her shoulders, the way she rucks a hand through her hair and eventually puts her gun back into the holster tells him all he needs to know. The expression she carries as she walks back towards the Bug is one of shame and defeat and a big load of self-hate.
“Mom, what is going on here? Who is that guy? And why isn’t he dead? How did he do that?” Henry bursts out as soon as Mom rips open the driver door.
“Not now, Henry,” she grunts and begins to jiggle the crank of the window, “Please.”
He’s too weirded out by the whole situation to offer any protest and snaps his mouth shut. Only to open it again when Mom removes the plastic fairing to reveal the hidden compartment that he’s not supposed to know about, and the small black pouch Mayor Mills gave her the other day. “You’re just giving it to him?” he mutters accusingly.
“You don’t understand, Henry,” Mom sighs, eyes round and pleading and full of self-loathing, “He’s right that Regina might forgive me this,” her gaze skitters to the pouch, “but if he hurts you…” Mom’s voice cracks.
“Because she’s my birth mom?” Henry holds his breath.
Mom’s eyes grow dark and pained, “Something like that.”
The admittance is a whisper that rings louder in the silence of the car than the gun shot from before. His heart skips a beat. And another. Before he can say anything Mom ducks out of the car and returns to Gold.
“I’ll get this back,” she rumbles dangerously low when she holds the pouch out to him.
“I have no doubt about that, Ms Swan.” He’s about to close his fingers around the pouch when Mom pulls it back slightly last minute.
“One more thing.”
Gold lets out an exasperated noise, “What?”
Mom casts a troubled look over her shoulder, “Henry… His memories… This is too much for him.”
Henry feels himself grow rigid. This is not too much. This is what has been kept from him for weeks. What he, of all people, deserves to know.
“Mhm,” Mr Gold hums, “See it as a sign of my good will.”
He stretches his free hand out towards Henry, makes a wiping motion and Henry’s head feels fuzzy and heavy all of a sudden, his vision crinkling black at the sides. The last thing he hears is Gold’s voice, “If I were you, I’d tell Regina as soon as possible and – perhaps – try to get your hands on my dagger for real this time.”
Then there’s a swoosh between his ears, a sense of falling and then he blinks. Michael Jackson is blasting from radio; they’re driving down Main Street and his head is filled with cotton. He blinks again, tries to shake off the strangest sense of déjà-vu and notices the song.
“Hey, remember how we used to dance to this in the living room?”
Mom gives him a faint smile that doesn’t reach her eyes, “Yeah… you smashed one of our lamps because you thought you could match MJ’s dance skills.”
Something is off about her. Her grip on the steering wheel is white-knuckled, her face sallow and the tip of her nose a bit green as if she has to throw up any moment. He furrows his brows in concern, “Is everything okay, Mom?”
“Yeah…,” her smile is fake and wobbly, “No… I’m sorry, kid.”
Henry struggles through his headache but doesn’t get to say anything because Mom’s phone goes off and it makes them both jump. She parks the Bug at the side of the street before she takes the call with shaking hands, “Regina?” She didn’t even look at the caller ID. “Yes. Yes, Henry is fine.” Her shoulders slump, her whole posture a sign of defeat. Mom squeezes her eyes shut, guilt written all over her features, “It’s true. Gold came and I had to. I’m so sorry, Regina. He threatened Henry and I couldn’t…,” she chokes down a sob, “I’m so sorry… You trusted me and I lost it and I feel like such an idiot.”
Henry stares at her perplexed. What the hell is she talking about? Mom listens for a couple of moments, her sobs subsiding slightly, though, her breathing remains strangled, “I know… I know… okay.” She wipes her sleeve over her wet eyes, “Yeah… I’ll be there.” After a pause a real, tiny smile graces her face, “You, too.”
She ends the call, stares blankly ahead for a moment or two and slides the phone back into the pocket of her jacket.
Then she slams her fist against the steering wheel again and again.
Henry doesn’t see much of Mom the rest of the day. As promised, she drops him off at the docks for that fishing trip and that’s about it. What happened in the car sticks with him in the form of a dull headache and more questions than ever and he massages his temples while listening to Mom stifling any kind of conversation with Killian beyond the details of what Henry is allowed to do and when she’ll pick him up again. She drops a kiss into his hair before she leaves, mumbling, “I’m sorry that you had to see me like that earlier.”
“I don’t mind seeing you like that. I mind that you keep treating me like a child and not telling me what’s going on,” he grumbles, his cheek pressed into her chest.
“Soon… I promise,” she presses another kiss against his temple and leaves.
Henry’s inherited – or is it really inherited – lie detector pings only a little as he stares after her. Out of the corner of his eyes he catches Killian staring after Mom, too, the pout and begging eyes giving him the appearance of a kicked puppy. He sighs. “We need to talk.”
As it quickly turns out, Killian is an even bigger idiot than Henry anticipated. He attempts three times to make him see what everybody else sees namely that Mom is head over heels for Mayor Mills and most certainly not into unwashed pretentious man in dirty leather and with too much eyeliner. He isn’t sure about the leather part because the other day Mayor Mills had walked into the diner wearing a tightly strapped leather jacket and Mom choked on her coffee, turning pink up to her ears. And that is something he definitely doesn’t want to think about, so he concentrates again on the laughing method actor in front of him who calls him blind and Mom playing hard to get. He admits defeat when Killian puts a hand on his shoulder, a lecherous grin tugging at his lips and, “You’ll understand this when you’re a man, young Henry.” He shudders from disgust, sincerely hoping that he’ll never understand whatever Killian insinuated.
Since his plan for Operation Bounty Mayor failed due to the bullheadedness of a certain someone, Henry uses what time they have left to learn more about his father. Again. If that is really the man everyone claims him to be. Maybe his father was an anonymous donator in a sperm bank. That sounds more plausible than the man from Mary Margaret’s phone having been in a relationship with Mayor Mills that lead to his birth. And anyway. Everyone pretends as if Mom was the one in the relationship with him, Mom included – and why does this all have to be so confusing and muddled?
Henry tilts the shiny instrument in his hands that Killian wants to use to teach him how to read the stars like a sailor. He’d rather be gardening with Mayor Mills right now or cooking or anything else really than being stuck here with a man who treats him like a stepstone to get into Mom’s pants. Mayor Mills doesn’t see him like that even if she has looked at Mom like she wants to get into her pants too, once, or twice. She listens to everything he says attentively like she is actually interested in what he has to say, her eyes warm and her smile proud and he could talk to her for hours. Being with Killian annoys him. On a good day. Today is not a good day.
“What am I doing here? And what is this?” he dangles the instrument from his hand. He’s surprised to see a flash of hurt on Killian’s face as he takes the instrument carefully from Henry’s hands.
“This is what I used to teach your father how to be a proper sailor when he was a lad not much older than you.”
Henry crosses his arms in front of his chest, “Really?”
On the picture, his dad didn’t look much younger than Killian and he taps his fingers against his elbow while he tries to figure out whether he’s being made fun of or if Killian is taking it a bit too far with his acting again. He must have noticed Henry’s disbelieving expression because he cradles the instrument in his good hand and sighs, “Look, I know things aren’t easy for you here. There’s a lot of confusing stuff going on, but I swear that I knew your dad. Better than most I must say.”
Henry isn’t convinced that Killian didn’t just accidentally let more on than he was supposed to. Then again, it’s not like he has anywhere else to be for the next hours, so he smiles thinly at Killian and tells him to go on and quietly longs for Mayor Mills.
Later, at the end of the day, his wish is surprisingly fulfilled. Mom looked ready to fall asleep while standing when she came to pick to him up, scarily sallow in the bright sunlight, the circles under her eyes almost purple and Henry isn’t surprised when she dozes off twice during their early dinner. Afterwards, she collapses face first onto the couch in their room at the bed and breakfast, getting only so far as kicking her boots off. Henry drapes a blanket over her and settles on his bed to update his notebook on Operation Bounty Mayor. He’s about to finish his very un-objective notes on Killian when there’s a light knock on the door. He checks the time on the old-fashioned alarm clock on the nightstand. Just past ten. On a Monday evening.
He slips out of bed, moving past Mom on tiptoes. He’s pretty sure that Zelena wouldn’t first knock politely if she had shown up to possibly kill either of them, so he doesn’t see any harm in opening the door. His heart expands with warmth the second he realizes who’s standing on the other side, “Hey, Mayor Mills.”
“Henry, how lovely to see you,” her whole expression shifts when she looks at him. The hardness around her jaw and her eyes melts into love and a quiet joy and a little bit of sadness.
“Are you looking for Mom?”
The mayor peers across his shoulder into the dark room, her smile turning into a frown when she doesn’t find whom she’s looking for, “Yes, I hoped to have a talk with her, but I see she’s not here.” That she’s slowly beginning to scowl, presumably because she’s upset with Mom’s parenting skills, is somewhat touching. And even though, he’s kind of pissed at Mom currently for, like, so many reasons, he jumps to her defense.
“Oh no, she’s here. She’s just sleeping.”
Mayor Mills’ anger visibly deflates and she purses her lips, “I see.”
They stand there for a moment in awkward silence until Henry asks, “So, what did you want to talk with her about?”
A blush rises in the mayor’s cheeks that makes her look really, really pretty. She tucks a strand of dark hair behind her ear and doesn’t meet his eyes, “I really think I should talk with Emma first.”
In that moment, Mom lets out an undignified snore. Mayor Mills’ eyes snap up and her mouth curls into a lovesick smile and Henry grins knowingly. “Should I wake her?” he offers casually.
To his surprise she shakes her head slightly and, “How about a milkshake?”
“It’s after ten,” he exclaims as loud as he dares without waking Mom. Henry never would have guessed that the mayor would condone eating so late in the day, let alone that she was into milkshakes. He always pegged her more as the chicken salad and kale smoothie type. Especially because she shoots daggers at his and Mom’s choice of breakfast whenever they accidentally are in the diner at the same time in the morning. Which happens suspiciously often now that he thinks about it.
“No one has to know,” she shrugs, the hint of a smirk playing around her plump painted lips.
He throws a torn look over his shoulder, “What about Mom?”
“Your mother had an exhausting day. Let her rest for a while.” The circles under the mayor’s eyes that are a shade darker than her tanned skin suggest that she had a just as exhausting day and yet she’s here, wanting to spend time with Henry and he’s so desperate for her company that he shoves his curiosity and conflicted loyalty deep, deep down in favor of having secret milkshakes and maybe the chance to ask the mayor a very important question. He beams at her, “Okay.”
They are the last two people in the diner apart from Ruby, who looks like she’s about to lock up any moment and Mayor Mills moves directly to the bar instead of a booth. “I was wondering if we could still order something,” she asks and places her folded hands on top of the wiped down bar.
Ruby glances at the clock above the entry door and raises an eyebrow, “At this hour?”
“I am aware how late it is,” the mayor answers, a lilt of annoyance on her tongue.
Ruby didn’t say no per se, so Henry clambers on a bar stool and gifts her with his most charming smile. “Two chocolate milkshakes and a serving of fries, please,” he says without thinking. Mayor Mills and Ruby pass a look between them, and his cheeks grow warm, “You like fries with chocolate milkshakes, too, right?”
The mayor lets out a little laugh even though her eyes have taken on this sad longing shine again how so often around him, “Yes, in fact I do. It’s a little indulgence now and then.”
Ruby groans across from then, “Okay. Two chocolate milkshakes and one plate of fries.” Mayor Mills’ face lights up and Henry’s heart bubbles with pride because he helped putting it there. “But that’s it,” Ruby points a finger at them. They nod feverishly. “Good. And you will lock up behind Madam Mayor when she leaves later, okay, Hen?” He salutes with a dimpled grin.
They remain seated at the bar while Ruby clutters around in the kitchen. The mayor asks him about his day, and they make mindless chatter for a while. Henry doesn’t care at first. He needs to build up some courage until he feels ready to ask his question. But when they take their order to an empty booth by the window after bidding Ruby goodnight and Mayor Mills gracefully puts the first fry in her mouth just like that and dips the second into her milkshake in a perfect mirror motion of him, his heart starts pounding in his throat. He stares at her in deep contemplation as they eat their fries in silence for a while. Her dark hair falls just beyond her shoulders tonight in straight glossy tresses and yet he knows – for some crazy unbelievable reason – how it looks when she lets it curl naturally and how it looks several centimeters shorter and coifed into a perfect bob. He also notices how she first licks her index finger clean of salt before she catches herself and wipes her other fingers on a napkin. Henry never cares for a napkin, but he always starts with his index, too.
“What’s on your mind, Henry?” her gentle voice pulls him out of his staring.
“How do you know there’s something on my mind?” he asks challengingly.
She arches one perfect eyebrow, the motion so eerily familiar that he suddenly wants to cry. “You get that little crease between your eyebrows,” she says softly and reaches her finger out to touch the spot on his forehead, “Right there.”
“Mom,” he says eventually after Mayor Mills retreated her hand, the spot where she pressed her fingertip tingling. He adds after a little pause, “And you. And why everyone keeps telling me these things about my dad that make him sound like some kind of superhero when I only want something… something...”
“Real?” she offers.
“They do make him sound like some kind of Captain America when in reality he was more of a Tony Stark, wasn’t he?” Mayor Mills muses and dibs another fry into her milkshake.
“How do you know any of that?” Henry stares at her incredulously. He never even got Mom to understand why Tony Stark was the way cooler character than Steve Rogers. Mayor Mills was definitely the last person he expected to know anything about the intricacies of the Marvel universe.
“I did saw you reading a comic book the other day and… well… the most interesting characters are always the ones with the most flaws I would say,” she responds without answering his question at all.
“Yeah… maybe,” Henry scoffs, “Guess my dad had a lot of flaws.” He angrily stabs a fry too far into the milkshake and can’t be bothered to fish it out again.
“I can’t say that I knew your father very well, but I do know this: he loved you very, very much.” It’s the first time that he believes something anyone says about his father, and he drops the fry in his hand back onto the plate, his stomach suddenly a ball of nerves.
“If that’s true then why did he leave? Why did he hurt Mom so much?”
“Sometimes, when all we try to do is protecting someone who we love we end up hurting them in the process,” Mayor Mills says, quiet and serious and he feels the weight of her words settling on his shoulders.
“Like you’re hurting me?” He doesn’t mean for the flash of pain to dart across Mayor Mills’ face and he knows she doesn’t mean to hurt him. It’s not on purpose. But however noble her intentions might be, this uncertainty, this constant wondering and questioning and balancing on the edge of the most important revelation of his life – it does hurt him.
“Oh, Henry…,” her breath hitches and her hands reach out for his across the table, “Hurting you is the last thing I want to do.”
“Then tell me the truth,” he pleads and squeezes her fingers that are sticky with salt.
“And what truth would that be?”
“About you and Mom and who you really are.”
It’s now or never. He takes a deep breath.
“Are you my birth mom?”
Mayor Mills inhales sharply. Her fingers go rigid against his palms. “Henry…” she chokes out, her eyes wide and watery. “Oh, Henry…” Through it all there’s that small hesitant smile again tugging at her lips that’s equally full of love and full of sadness and it breaks his heart. Henry stares at her. And waits. Mayor Mills looks at him as if her whole world starts and ends with him, and he thinks – he knows – he can see the truth shimmering in her dark amber eyes.
“Say something,” he squeezes her hands again and lets out a wobbly stutter, “M… mom?”
She sobs. The tears are not spilling down her cheeks yet, but her eyes are shining and red-rimmed. They both look up when there’s loud cluttering coming from the stairs. The next moment Mom comes flying into the diner, pale and hair still sticking up from sleep, frantically searching around in the milky light of the last light Ruby left on. She only slows down when she notices them in their booth. “Henry… Regina…,” she heaves down a couple of breaths, “Everything alright?”
Henry wants to scream. He was so close. So close. And now his chance is chattered because Mayor Mills has retreated her hands and blinks to mask how close she’s been to crying.
“Fries?” Henry pushes the plate towards Mom with a crooked smile. He swears the next time he catches Mayor Mills alone he’ll corner her and won’t allow her to leave until she tells him everything. Not with Mom here, though. She’d just shut him down again while being incredibly hurt and he doesn’t have enough energy left in him today for that particular fight. Mom plops down unceremoniously next to Mayor Mills and he bites his cheek to not groan when the mayor blushes because their shoulders bump. God – what would they do without his help?
“What are you doing here?” Mom asks and steals a fry from their plate without dipping it in the milkshake first. She was horrified the first time she got wind of his little preference and never even tried it herself.
“I wanted to see Henry,” the mayor says defensively, “something wrong with that?” Henry very much would like to throw a fry at her head for cowardly lying like that.
Mom cocks her head, “And you decided to go on a little sugar and fat trip in the middle of the night?”
“In my defense,” Mayor Mills defiantly pops another fry into her mouth and doesn’t continue until she’s done chewing, “I didn’t think you’d find out.”
Mom looks like she has a thing or two to say about that but in the end, she casts Mayor Mills an unreadable glare and Henry one that says Can you believe her?
Henry has no idea when it happens, but he slowly falls asleep against the cool window, lulled in by the hushed half-whispered conversation around him and his stomach full of warm food. He’s drifting in and out, losing track of what they talk about a couple of times and yet somehow, he’s conscious enough to notice the shift in conversation when it happens. From idle chatter to deep and meaningful.
“So, what are you really doing here? You came to cuss me out for losing your heart after all?”
“Would you believe me if I said I was just craving a milkshake?”
“Even without my superpower I’d notice that lie.”
There’s the rustling of clothing and, “What are you doing?”
“Shut up and listen.”
“Today after you and the others left, I had a long chat with Snow.”
“Didn’t I tell you to shut up?”
Henry’s eyelids flutter. Mayor Mills has shifted on the bench, the two so close together now that Mom’s fingers on the backrest can easily reach the mayor’s shoulder. They’re turned towards each other, faces less than a handbreadth away and utterly lost to anything but the two of them. Mom’s body is leaning forward, her left knee resting on the bench and eyes shining from something precious and fragile while Mayor Mills weaves her fingers into each other in her lap with the same crinkle between her brows that she called Henry out for earlier. “She made me realize a thing or two.”
Mayor Mills leans back against the bench, tilting her chin up towards Mom and rolls her eyes, but her words are wrapped in layer upon layer of fondness, “You just can’t help yourself, do you?”
Mom shrugs, practically hovering over the mayor, “Not when it comes to you.”
Mayor Mills hums low and raspy, eyes glinting like she knows whatever that’s supposed to mean. Mom is drifting closer slowly, her fingers now firmly curled around Mayor Mills’ shoulder. “What did she make you realize?”
“That I deserve happiness,” Mayor Mills’ voice is barely above a whisper. Not out of uncertainty or hesitancy but because of what those words mean. Even in his sleep drunken state Henry understands just how important it is for the mayor to acknowledge that about herself and it’s heartbreaking to hear. “She also made realize that I’m done waiting for it,” Mayor Mills continues in a tone that is beyond his adolescent comprehension.
He’s glad that his eyes fell shut again for what happens next because he’s pretty sure they’re kissing. There’s a wet smacking sound followed by something between a surprised yelp and a content sigh. It’s gross. He really wishes he could cover his ears. The sigh pretty quickly turns into a noise that he never needed to hear from his mother in his life – ever – and then there’s more wet slurping. And okay – he wanted this for them but not right in front of his milkshake. They are a little out of breath when Mom asks, “Can I do that again?”
“Yes,” Mayor Mills chuckles, low and raspy, “Please.”
Before they can suck face again and scar him for life, he kicks one leg out under the table, not caring which of them he hits in the shins. It’s Mom, judging from the colorful curse.
“Maybe we should take him to bed,” Mayor Mills says, and he doesn’t need to see to know that she’s smiling. He’s too tired to question how one second, he feels the cool glass of the window against his cheek and the next it’s the soft pillow of his bed. Sleep is pulling him under more firmly now and he won’t remember the next day how Mom says goodnight to Mayor Mills at the door with the words We’ll get your heart back. I promise and another way too long kiss.
Mom doesn’t mention anything about what happened the previous night during breakfast. And that’s okay. Somehow. And somehow, it’s totally not. Because it’s another thing that Mom excludes him from in Storybrooke and it’s not like she’s doing as much as a decent job to hide it. She has a dreamy smile on her face all through their morning routine and puts salt in her coffee, only realizing her mistake after the third sip. Henry doesn’t blame her. Not for that at least. Looking like a lovesick fool with so much happiness in her eyes and leaking from her smile that she’s glowing. He just blames her for keeping it a secret. And for interrupting him and Mayor Mills last night when he had almost gotten his answer.
Later, when Mary Margaret and David are waiting in their room and Mom snuck out to kiss Mayor Mills against the wall in the hall, he blames them both for springing apart and blushing like teenagers and not telling him. It’s not like he can’t see that Mayor Mills’ lipstick is smeared all over Mom’s mouth or that the mayor has a light bruise below her left ear. What do they think he is? Blind? Inwardly he’s bristling while he listens to their embarrassed stammered explanations with an innocent expression on his face.
Therefore, it really shouldn’t surprise them that much that he lashes out and shouts when Mom and the others leave him at the diner – again – to hunt down some important lead on Zelena. He has enough of being kept in the dark no matter that it’s supposed to be for his own good. He’s fed up with Mom and the mayor skirting around the topic of which one gave birth to him. As if that would change anything in the long run. Especially now that they finally figured it out. Sure – he’d be incredibly mad at them for some time but all he ultimately wants is the truth. And maybe for them to be a family. But they, and especially Mom, keep sabotaging that for him and that she keeps even the fact from him that they got past their own fears and finally kissed – for God’s sake – it’s the last straw.
So, when Mom tells him to go back to their room, he puts his food down and for the first time in literal years says no. “I’m not doing anything until you tell me where you are going,” he shouts at her outside Granny’s. The others are hovering behind Mom with matching troubled expressions, but no one dares to interfere.
“Henry, it’s too dangerous. I can’t tell you that,” Mom is trying to keep her voice leveled but he can see her nostrils flare and the tic in her jaw, and it calls forth his own anger.
“You mean like you’re not telling me about you and Mayor Mills making out? Is that dangerous, too, or what?”
“Henry!” Mom’s face flushes red while there’s a collective gasp coming from behind her. The only thing he feels guilty about is Mayor Mills’ shaky breath and the hand hovering in front of her stomach protectively. “This is no way of talking to your mother,” Mom snaps – actually snaps at him and he takes a stumbling step backwards. Mayor Mills’ eyes fly towards Mom, horrified at her outburst and a soft Emma escaping her. But Mom doesn’t react to her. Just stares at him with fiery eyes and, “Do as I say, Henry. Go to your room.”
Henry presses his lips together. His plan is made up anyway, “Okay… okay, I’ll go. But I forgot my keys upstairs. Can I have yours?”
“Yeah, of course,” she tosses them over, “I’ll see you later.”
“Okay. See you,” he mumbles and makes as if to go back inside.
Mom is rushing down the sidewalk an instant later, Mary Margaret hot on her heels, hands reaching out towards her, and he can hear her ask in a squeaky high voice, “Making out? What did he mean by that?”. Mayor Mills is the last to follow them after flashing Henry a guilt-ridden look and mouth opening to say words that never come.
He slips quietly through the door, crosses the diner as unsuspiciously as he can and then straight out the backdoor where he knows Mom parked the Bug. He’s done. Done with Storybrooke. Done with being lied to and excluded. And done with Mom. No one really cares if he’s in this God forsaken awful town or not. Mom is too busy to care and Mayor Mills too scared and he just wants to go home. Not to all the places here that feel so strangely familiar – the diner, Mary Margaret and David’s loft, the middle school – but actual home back in New York. One driving lesson with David that only ended in mild disaster was surely enough to teach him how to get there by himself. The first attempt to jam the keys into the driver side fail because his hands are shaking. The second fails because there’s suddenly someone behind him. “And where do you think you’re going, lad?”
Henry spins around, “Killian? What are you doing here?”
He keeps stealing glances around them, shoulders slightly ducked as if he expects an attack at any moment, “Looking out for you.”
“If you’re trying to talk me out of running away, good luck with that,” Henry says and juts his chin out stubbornly.
“Do you really think that after driving that metal carriage once you know enough to find your way back to New York?”
“I can try at least. And it’s not like I have another option.”
“Aye… well… maybe you don’t. But I have.”
That is how Henry ends up head over heels in the weirdest scariest situation ever less than an hour later. “What the hell is that?” he shouts with his neck craned to catch sight of the furry winged monster that’s chasing him, Killian and Smee down the docks. It must be some kind of giant bird. It has to be. Although, it looks much more like a flying monkey now that he’s gotten a closer look.
“Don’t worry, Henry. I’ll hold it off. You keep running,” Killian shouts and draws a pistol – a real friggin’ pistol – and when he shoots at the creature it dissolves in a cloud of green glitter. Henry almost stumbles over his own two feet. They are given no time to breathe because three more round the corner and Killian shoos them into a boat house. Henry understands nothing and everything all at once. Magic. That’s the only explanation. Magic is real and it’s here in Storybrooke and he’s right in the middle of it, running for his life and cowering behind a rowing boat while Killian keeps firing at their pursuers. Wood is splintering above him, and he throws himself to the floor, hands wrapped protectively around his head. His heart is hammering a mile an hour in his chest and all he wants is for Mom and Mayor Mills to find him. He’s not wondering why he thinks of them as a unit – a team – united and fierce, coming to his rescue. The thought comes naturally to him.
And the next moment they are there.
Mom running towards him with a big leatherbound book clutched under her arm, the others right behind her. David has a sword strapped to his belt and Mary Margaret a bow slung over her shoulder. He’s too shocked to keep an eye out for the monkeys anymore, his only instinct is to get to Mom. One moment a monkey swoops down towards him and the next Mayor Mills hurls a fireball at it. Magic. Real magic. He can’t believe it. He falls into Mom’s arms frightened and confused while the others take care of the rest of the monkeys, “What is going on here?”
“I should have told you, Henry, I’m so sorry… We are so sorry,” she stammers, tears glittering in her eyes that flicker to Mayor Mills every now and then. The mayor stands right in the middle of battle, hurling fireballs left and right, furious and powerful like a Greek goddess and he’s as much in awe of her as he’s terrified. “But look, we found it. It’s all going to be okay now.” Mom holds out the book towards him.
“What is that? What is any of this?”
“I need you to believe.”
“Believe? In what?”
“Remember how I asked you back home if you believe in magic?”
“Yeah… I… I said no,” he glances between the book and her, “I mean, come on, Mom. Magic isn’t real.”
He says that while Mayor Mills brings down the last monkey with a well-placed fireball behind him and she’s showered in green sparkles.
“It is, sweetie. Look around you. It’s everywhere. And it’s in this book and I need you to touch it.”
“Mom…,” he says hesitantly.
“Do you trust me?”
He doesn’t even need to think. Not even after spending the past two weeks doubting so much of what she tells him. “Of course, I trust you.”
“Then please, Henry, please, trust me with this.”
“Okay,” he hears himself say. Very carefully he lifts his hands to take the book from Mom. The moment his fingertips touch the smooth leather, it’s like a flood gate opens in his mind.
Who are you? I’m Henry… I’m your son.
No matter what happens. I do love you.
My moms will come for me. Both of them.
Something settles back in his heart and in his soul that has been missing for the past year. He feels fuller somehow, more complete and the sudden understanding of everything is overwhelming. He remembers. He raises his eyes towards her that are wide from wonder, as wide as the smile spreading on his face, “Mom…”
Then he looks behind Mom… Ma… Emma… to – well – Mom and his smile grows even wider, his heart soaring in his chest, “Mom…”
He hasn’t been that far off with his theory about Mayor Mills – Mom – after all.
“Oh, sweetheart.” Her voice cracks, her face breaking into an expression of pure love and smiling bright enough to lighten up the whole world. Her cheeks are wet and so are his and all he wants is to rush forward and hug her. He gets to take one step then an arm wraps around him and something sharp is pointed at his neck.
“Sorry to break this little family reunion but this has all gotten obnoxiously sappy.” Her British accent is thick and rich with mocking and sends chills down Henry’s spine. He knows exactly who she is even before Emma shouts, “Let go of him, Zelena!”
She cackles right into his ear, and he winces, “No can do, Savior. I’m still one magical baby short and you will not thwart my plans this close to the finish line. How about a trade? One child for another.”
“Don’t do it, guys!” he shouts, struggling against Zelena’s hold until she presses the Dark One dagger hard enough into the soft flesh of his neck to draw blood.
Mom’s face grows thunderous, “Let go of my son!”
In spite of the life-threatening danger he’s in, his heart swells and swells with pride and love for his mother who finally looks just like the hero he has come to see her as since the fail-safe. “My sweet little sister,” Zelena fake pouts behind him, “Have you still not learned your lesson?”
“I will kick your bony ass straight back to Oz where you can play Queen of the Munchkins again before I learn a lesson from you,” Mom hisses.
The two fireballs she throws straight at Zelena’s face dissolve into nothingness before Henry even feels their heat. “Oh, sis, I really pegged you to be less daft than this,” Zelena sounds like a hyena and Henry’s blood runs cold when she rolls her wrist in a flourish and sends Mom flying five feet through the air.
“Mom!” he shouts in the same moment that Emma drops to her knees and gathers Mom in her arms.
“Regina! Wake up!”
Mom doesn’t move, hair half obscuring her face and she looks small and vulnerable in Emma’s embrace. It’s terrifying.
“Let go of me!” he struggles again, helplessly trapped by the dagger and forced to watch how Emma tucks a loose strand of hair behind Mom’s ear and shakes her gently to no avail.
“Huh,” Zelena hums, “Looks like I should have listened to you and cursed someone else’s lips.” Henry doesn’t see who she’s looking at, but Hook’s expression of complete devastation speaks loud enough. Mom has noticed, too, and whips her head around, ready to murder him, “What is she talking about? Why where you here with Henry?”
“Don’t look at me like that, Swan,” Hook says contritely, “I just wanted to protect him.”
“How did you even know…,” Mom’s eyes go wide then narrow into slits, “Are you working for her?”
“No… Swan… It’s not… She threatened to hurt you.”
“And now she has my son and hurt the woman I love, you scumbag piece of shit!” Emma throws at him, and Hook hangs his head in shame.
“Uh, not that I don’t think your poor attempt of a love triangle isn’t immensely entertaining, but can we concentrate on what’s really important here again?” Zelena waves the dagger in everyone’s face, “Me!”
“Don’t you dare hurt my family one more time,” Emma threatens and tightens her hold on Mom, who still hasn’t regained consciousness.
“And what are you going to do about it, Em-ma?” Zelena cackles again, “Only light magic can harm me.”
“Yeah, I know,” Emma says grim-faced, “And since your little plan failed, I have plenty of that.”
The next moment, Emma is surrounded by a white jumping current. Little bolts crackling in her hair and around her fingertips that are curled around Mom’s shoulder. He can feel the static hum of her magic washing over his skin, eliciting goose bumps in its wake. And Zelena can feel it, too. The current is growing thicker around them, almost dense, into a blinding white light that makes him feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Not Zelena, though. She lets out a piercing scream and he can hear her skin bubbling up in blisters. The first chance he gets, he breaks free of her hold. Without looking back to see her vanish in a cloud of green smoke, he rushes forward to where Emma is still kneeling, and he comes crashing down on Mom’s other side. He wraps one of her hands in his, begging her, his voice thick from emotion, “Mom? Mom, can you hear me?” He shakes her shoulder gently at first, then more frantic, “Mom, wake up!”
“She’ll be alright, kid,” Emma’s voice trembles and he chooses to ignore how much it sounds as if she’s trying to convince herself of that as much as him.
“Mom, please,” he sobs and when he still doesn’t get an answer, he does the one thing that so far has always worked to save the day. Carefully, he leans over her and presses a wet teary kiss against her forehead. There’s no rainbow washing over them. No whoosh of golden magical light. But then Mom coughs and her eyelids flutter and, “Henry?”
He burrows against her chest instantly and lets himself be surrounded by her now again familiar scent, “I missed you so much, Mom.”
He feels another pair of arms around them both and Emma’s soft mumble of, “Don’t ever do that again. You gave me quite the scare there.”
“Believe me, darling, I have enough of being tossed around like a ragdoll by my sister.”
“Good,” Emma sniffles, kisses Mom’s temple and tightens her hold around them.
When she lets go enough eventually for him to lift his head, he says, “There’s so much I have to tell you about New York.”
“And I want to hear every little detail, my little prince,” Mom answers, her smile reaching all the way up to the crinkles around her eyes, “But first, I want to get off this dirty floor.” With little effort they hoist Mom into a standing position. She makes a brave face for them, but Henry doesn’t miss the way she leans into Emma for support.
“So, what now? I have my memories back. How do we take down Zelena?”
“One thing after another. First, we must break that damn curse,” Mom grinds her jaw, which would look more intimidating if she didn’t rest her head against Emma’s shoulder.
“Wait?” he looks from one to the other, “There’s a new curse?”
“Long story, kid,” Emma sighs.
“How about this then,” he crosses his arms and casts a patented Mills eyebrow raise at them, “I think there’s a bunch of secrets I deserve to know now.”
“S… Secrets?” Emma stutters, “What secrets?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he feigns a look of deep concentration. A finger taps against his chin, “Like, how long have you and Mom been sneaking around behind my back to suck face?”
“How do you… I thought we were so careful…” Emma blushes the same time as Mom.
“Your mother and I are not sucking face.”
When they accidentally lock gazes, they both blush even more furiously and quickly avert their eyes. Henry chooses not to comment on the fact that Emma’s arm is still around Mom’s waist. Or that Mom fiddles with the hem of Emma’s jacket. “I’m waiting, moms,” he quirks his eyebrow higher.
“I would very much like to know, too, since when you two became all… intimate with each other. And don’t you dare lie to me again,” Snow chimes in. With her eyebrows furrowed and her mouth pulled into a pout, Henry can’t say whether she is against moms’ newfound intimacy or if she’s just sulking because no one told her.
“Me, too,” Hook says from behind David and his expression is stormy alright. Henry would very much like to say I told you so. Emma beats him to it.
“Shut up. You’re not off the hook yet for whatever you did with Zelena.”
“I told you, I just did it for you,” he attempts his puppy face that Henry always thought of a tad bit manipulative and equally ridiculous on a grown man. Emma seems to have similar thoughts because she’s leveling a dangerous glare at him and Hook mutters, “Fine. I can take a hint.”
Mom scoffs, “Oh yeah? Since when?”
Hook’s expression sours but to Henry’s relieve, he ignores Mom’s jab and says, “I’ll be seeing you, Swan.” Then he stalks off towards Smee who has passed out behind a rowing boat sometime during their battle against the winged monkeys.
“So much for, I can take a hint,” Emma groans and rolls her eyes. Mom pats her chest sympathetically; an innocent gesture if not for the glint in her eyes that makes Henry feel all squirmy. “I’m sure we can find a way to make him snap out of his delusion.”
Emma’s lips quirk up on one side, “Oh yeah… How would that look like?”
Her chin drops as Mom raises hers, “I have an idea… Or two.”
“Okay, okay, enough,” Henry swats his hands at them with pink cheeks. He is their number one supporter, but he does not need to see them make bedroom eyes at each other, thank you very much. “And don’t think I’ll let you change topics so easily. Since when is this,” he waves an accusing finger between them, “Going on?”
Emma hides her face somewhere in Mom’s hair. How can she be so lame sometimes? Mom tugs her further down into an embrace, long fingers caressing blonde locks and says, “You must be a bit more specific, sweetheart. What do you mean by this?”
“The kissing,” Henry says, now arms akimbo.
“Sleeping with each other,” Snows pipes up again, looking more betrayed than ever.
“Falling in love,” David adds, the only one who doesn’t seem bothered by any of it and who’s offering Mom a gentle understanding smile. Sometimes Henry forgets that they sort of became friends shortly before his grandmother and Hook came to Storybrooke to capsize all of that.
“For the kissing you were there,” Emma’s face eventually resurfaces from its hiding spot against Mom’s neck. Her ears are still pink, and she looks like she’d like to be anywhere than here. Looking at Mom, though, her discomfort melts away and what’s left in her face is awe and wonder and love. Gross. Sweet but gross. He pulls a face, “I had to hear your first kiss? Eww.”
Mom chuckles from deep within her chest and he so does not like where this is going. “Get used to it, young man,” she smirks, “Starting right now.”
Then she grabs the lapels of Emma’s jacket and plants a long kiss right on her lips. A dreamy sigh escapes Emma as she wraps her arms around Mom’s waist. When they get a little too carried away and Mom’s hand slips down to squeeze Emma’s butt, Henry shrieks, “Stop that, moms! Gross, gross, gross!” The smile on his face betrays it all and when they finally part, they have matching grins in their faces.
“For the falling in love part,” Emma clears her throat, her smile turning sheepish, “That’s been like… three years in the making.”
“Four if you count the missing year,” Mom adds, dark eyes shining golden.
“Gross!” Henry exclaims again but he’s grinning from ear to ear. “At least Operation Bounty Mayor was a total success,” he huffs.
“Operation what now?” Emma’s eyes narrow dangerously. She’s definitely the first one to figure it out and maybe give him a little hell for it.
“I may have not had my memories but I’m not blind, you guys.”
“Where you trying to parent trap us?”
Mom tugs on Emma’s lapels again, “What does that mean? Did he try to trick us?”
“Considering the outcome, I’d say you two didn’t need him to trick you into anything,” David says, eyes fond and voice a heartfelt chuckle.
“See,” Henry gestures at him, “And I didn’t even get to do anything. So, no need to be upset.”
“We’ll see about that,” Emma glowers at him and he hopes it’s only half serious.
“Don’t be so harsh on him, darling,” Mom rumbles. Emma’s eyes glaze over. Her whole body deflates against Mom’s. God, is this how it’s going to be from now on? His mothers behaving like lovesick teenagers and he’s the responsible one? Oh, well. “But I must say, Henry,” Mom continues, “Operation Bounty Mayor? I expect better from you. What happened to your creativity? Did it dwindle away because you spent all your time in front of a screen?”
He raises his hands in mock appeasement, “Oh, I’m sorry that full-of-fake-memories-me didn’t know about that little inside joke.”
Mom gapes at him. Gramps and Grams snicker and Emma rolls her eyes, “He so gets that from you. He never spoke like that to me in the past year.”
Before Mom can start a whole nature versus nurture debate Henry grins at them so wide, so full of happiness that his cheeks dimple, “If I had to choose a new name, I’d go with something else. Like Operation Turtle Doves – since they mate for life – or Operation Bald Eagle – did you know that they co-parent their chicks – or Operation Roadrunner and Rattlesnake – they have a whole rivalry thing going on just like you, or…”
“Okay, okay,” Emma puts her free hand up, seemingly a little perturbed, “Maybe Operation Bounty Mayor wasn’t so bad after all.”
“Oh, I got it now,” Henry exclaims. He casts a glance into everyone’s expectant face, awash with feeling grounded again, at home. And yeah okay. So, Mom isn’t his birth mom after all. But she doesn’t have to be. Now, with his memories back and his moms still wrapped up in each other, looking nothing but happy in a way he hasn’t seen since they rescued him in Neverland, he wouldn’t have it any other way. This is how it was always supposed be. This is home. This is family.
He takes a deep breath and smiles and smiles and smiles, “Operation…”