The first time that Regina realises he’s going to be a problem is when her wallet goes missing.
That she’d left it at the diner is her first assumption, and she drives back after finishing work, steps inside, and leans over the counter about to ask Ruby if she had picked up a missing item, when she realises just what kind of atmosphere she’s walked in on. Before she can even open her mouth, a round of applause goes out in her name, and Regina is left startled, staring at the townspeople as though they’d gone mad.
Considering just who she is, it isn’t exactly a leap to conclusions.
“Here she is!” cries one particularly inebriated dwarf. “Three cheers for Madame Mayor!”
“Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip—”
The crowd stops at her raised hands, as though sensing danger. From the back booths, noncommittal ‘hoorays’ are drizzled back into beer mugs. Regina stares about them in silence, her brow wrinkled, until the dwarf who had started the chant practically falls into the barstool beside her, banging his empty beer mug down on the counter.
“What is this in aid of?” she asks, though can’t help but wonder if she’s looking a gift horse in the mouth.
On the other side of the counter, Ruby swoops in with a dish rag and takes Grumpy’s empty beer mug. “They’ve been cheering your name like that for the last half hour,” she grins, swiping the cloth ineffectively along the counter before moving the glass beneath a beer pump. “You’re their new hero.”
Regina’s frown deepens. She casts her gaze over the crowd, a few members of which are grinning at her, sticking up their thumbs. “And what, exactly, have I done to deserve this?”
Ruby’s about to speak, when Grumpy gets turned out of the seat beside Regina, sputtering about manners and his lost beer mug (which Ruby eventually slides back over the counter to him). Robin Hood swivels in the stool to face Regina, sporting a grin that makes her think that she is about to greatly regret ever coming into the diner for lunch earlier that day in the first place.
“Didn’t you hear, Your Majesty? All drinks are on you.” He flashes a quick wink to Ruby, who tries to hide her smirk.
Regina’s eyes narrow. “I don’t remember agreeing to that, and if you know your grandmother like I do,” she turns her gaze to Ruby, “you wouldn’t be giving free alcohol away.”
“Oh, but she’s not,” Robin cuts in, grin remaining. He’s obviously been joining in with the festivities, though Regina expects nothing better from a man that calls his followers the Merry Men.
“The drinks have already been paid for,” Ruby tells her, and conveniently disappears to the other end of the counter, where patrons await service.
Dismissed, Regina turns her glare to Robin, instead. “What’s the meaning of this?”
As though she hasn’t already guessed it, Robin fishes inside a pocket and pulls out a familiar looking wallet. Regina’s eyes track it as it’s slapped down on the counter between them, and then fill with rage as they lock on to his. “I believe this is the part where you thank me for—what would you call it?” He rolls his hand in the air, shaking his head. “Humanising you?”
Regina’s upper lip curls.
“I don’t tolerate thieves in my town, Hood. I’ll be expecting full compensation.”
Robin’s lips spread in a grin. He’s relying heavily on the counter to keep him upright, and there’s a slight slur to his voice that isn’t entirely due to the accent. “Look at them cheer for you. Makes a refreshing change, I’m sure?”
Regina snorts. “If I wanted them cheering for me, I’d bring every criminal’s head to them on a platter.” For his part, Robin withholds the barking laugh that wishes to be released. Seeing that her words are having little effect, Regina leans into him, her voice low but perfectly heard above the din of the rowdy diners. “Don’t cross me.”
So caught up in her fury, she forgets the wallet again. She’s halfway across the room, and stretching out an arm to reach for the door handle when Robin calls her back. Exasperated, she turns, and just narrowly misses dropping her wallet as it’s hurled towards her middle.
“I thank you for your patronage, milady. Next time, the drinks are on me.”
The sneer remains with her once she reaches her house again. “That bastard,” she seethes, turning her coat over to her cloak rack and stepping into the kitchen. “Thinks he can get to me…” She throws the wallet down on a counter, reaching for a mug and the coffee machine. “Idiot man.”
Only later, once the house has grown dark and she remembers, again, that there’s no ten year old boy to check on upstairs, does she return to her wallet. She’s only checking how much she has left, really, though from the look on people’s faces at the diner, she’s sure that she’s treated them all to a drink or two before having arrived.
Inside, she finds some loose change and a wad of notes. Her jaw sets, and she’s already thinking up ways to get back at that insufferable archer when she sees the slip of folded up paper caught between a wad a single dollar notes (the absolute nerve of the man).
It’s written on something flowery that she can only think to trace back to Eugenia Lucas herself, and written in handwriting that she just about manages to read is the following message:
You may reach me on the number below – it is linked to the machine in my room. I believe that is how people in this world communicate. You may regale me with the ways that you plan to seek your revenge, or if you simply wish to talk, I find myself with plenty of empty time now that Roland attends a centre of education.
It’s sighed ‘R. Hood’, along with a signature that Regina is almost tempted to copy. There are easier ways for her to be reimbursed, however, and she’d rather do so without stooping to that god awful man’s level.
With a final look to the number (it’s the same as Granny’s usual one, but with a few changed digits for that particular Forest View bedroom), she scrunches the paper up in her hand and tosses it towards her trashcan.
If that petty thief believes that he’s gotten away with this, she thinks, pouring out her coffee, he has another thing coming.
# # # #
The first time that Robin realises that she doesn’t actually despise him is when his arrows disappear.
It’s not difficult to adapt to the ways of Storybrooke – not when there’s a roof above his head, a warm bed to sleep in, and the luxuries that he’d never dreamed of having back in the Forest (running water, for a start). Roland, too, is enjoying the change in space, and while he’s cautious of some changes, he’s already taken to both the Moving Picture Machine and the Ringing Machine.
He might not know any numbers, but that doesn’t stop him from calling Ruby downstairs every night before bed. Atta boy, Roly.
One of the only habits that he’s brought into Storybrooke from the Enchanted Forest is his archery. With Roland away at what they call Kindergarten here, he likes to keep himself busy. On weekdays he helps with Archie Hopper’s younger cases, providing classes in the woods. He teaches the kids (between the ages of ten and seventeen) the basics of his lifestyle: fire-building, cooking, knife sharpening, carving blocks of wood, and archery.
Hopper had thought it best that they left out hunting from the activities, and considering the quality of the food that he is provided with by Eugenia Lucas, he has no reason to disagree.
Today, he’d wanted to get in a bit of practice before his class arrived. The forest surrounding Storybrooke is a peaceful place, and while he’s stopped hunting for animals, the trees provide enough target practice for him to work his restlessness out.
This morning, however, he realises that he’s missing a key component to his activities.
He searches the room, first, and the diner after that. Next is the little community shelter that he begins his class in, and when that turns up empty, the forest. He could have left his arrows out there in his usual spot, but Robin never leaves without them. It’s not a habit he can exactly fall out of, but he’s short of options, now, and desperate.
Obviously, the forest turns up empty.
He ends up holding the class without them for a week in total, and instead of archery, they have fire-building competitions and lessons in knot-tying that leave the kids in a relatively jovial mood up until the weekend.
At the end of the week, with Roland not due to be collected for another hour, Robin searches the small shelter and the forest again. He turns up nothing, gaining only from the search an influx in his own frustrations. He’s just about to throw in the towel (he’s sure that somewhere in this town will sell arrows, and he’s not against making his own again) when he hears the sound of an engine pulling up nearby. He’s a fair way into the forest, but his ears are so attuned to the unfamiliar rumble of the metal modes of transportation that it’s difficult for him to miss it.
When he steps out of the treeline, she’s there waiting for him, his arrows safely secured in their container and hanging, out of place, over her shoulder.
“I believe you’ve been searching for these,” Regina announces, and there’s no taming the grin that takes a hold of her lips.
Just like that, Robin feels his frustration seep away, back into the forest. He cocks his head, an eyebrow lazily lifting. “And where, might I ask, did you find those?”
“Hm?” Regina eyes the arrows in question, as though only just seeing them there over her shoulder. “Oh, things like this… they have a habit of finding their way to me.”
“Things like,” Robin’s lips twitch, “my personal belongings?”
Regina nods her head. “Funny, how that happens, isn’t it?” She takes a step forward, allowing the strap of the arrow bag to fall from her shoulder and land in the crook of her elbow, swinging pleasantly. “It can make life very inconvenient, when you find your belongings unrightfully taken by others.”
Robin nods his head, trying to hold his expression, but ultimately lets the grin slip through. “Is this punishment?”
“Punishment?” Regina hums a short laugh. “Oh, I don’t think so. If I’d have punished you, you wouldn’t have to ask to make sure.”
“No, think of this more like… reimbursement.”
“I’ve been awaiting your call; I thought I might repay you in some other way. Dinner, perhaps. But—I can still repay the bill—”
“I don’t need you to.”
Robin holds his hands away from him, backing down, but the smile never quite leaves his lips. Regina lifts her chin, and he holds out his hand for the arrows. She hesitates a second, her gaze testing the tendons in his forearm, and then holds the bag out to him by the strap.
“This makes us even, then,” Robin says, shouldering the arrows and feeling instantly better for having them there. Their weight reassures him, fills him with purpose.
“Oh, no. No, not even slightly.”
She steps in to him again, and Robin finally loses the grin, confused. He’s about to make a serious apology for the diner incident, when Regina is suddenly warm against him, her long fingers slipping behind his neck, pulling him in against her soft, soft lips—
“Now,” she says, pulling back with a slow, satisfied smile, “we’re even.”
# # # #
The first time Regina realises she’s in trouble is when her rose bush receives an unexpected trim.
Henry still doesn’t remember her, but Regina is slowly reintroducing herself to him. He knows her name, her job title, and the brief history that she has with Emma, but other than that she’s no one but ‘that nice lady who sometimes brings apple pie to their place and lingers around to talk to him about his school work’.
It’s not ideal. It’s killing her, but it’s all Regina has right now, so she’ll take it.
While she still technically has her title, most days she finds herself not behind a desk dealing with the joys of bureaucracy as Henry thinks, but in her garden. She might not have as much say in how the town is run as she once had, but her garden has never looked greener, and at least it keeps her busy.
She’s heading outside with a pair of garden shears and some thick rubber gloves when she notices it, and pauses. She has two rose bushes, both well-kept plants that lend a kind of symmetry to her garden. It takes only a quick swipe of her gaze, then, to notice that one is looking significantly larger than the other this morning.
Her first assumption is that it’s kids – teens, yobs, or the army of adults that they belong to. Someone had wanted to hurt her, she surmises, and had targeted—what, her rose bush? Her apple tree is still recovering from the chainsaw incident, and while she’s glad that it’s been left untouched, she doesn’t quite understand why it isn’t the main target of the attack.
She checks her garden, teetering around with a glare, and discovers that the rose bush is the only plant that has been touched. It’s significance? She isn’t sure, but she sure as hell isn’t happy with it. She does her best to fix the bush up, and then trims the other so that the two look like mirror images of each other again.
By the end of the day, there’s dirt beneath her nails and a new bouquet of flowers at the centre of her dining table.
It’s near the end of the day, however, that she has any real reason to suspect that whoever mutilated her rose bush has returned.
There’s the tell-tale clinking of her backyard gate closing, and then voices. Jaw setting, Regina makes a fist of her right hand, preparing to conjure a flame should she need it, as she storms out of the kitchen and into the back garden. The sight that greets her has her stopping before she leaves the garden patio, her fingers slowly uncurling to hang loosely by her side.
“What are you doing here?” she asks, but her voice is less harsh and more bewildered.
A head of curly, dark hair spins around to grin at her, and Roland lifts his hands in cheer, still holding a partially folded checkered blanket. “We’re making a picnic!”
Regina’s eyebrow arches. “You’re having a picnic in my garden?”
“Yes,” Roland nods, and turns to try and spread out the blanket, as had been his task.
Behind him, Robin is looking at her with a mixture of reserve and not-quite-apologetic apology. “We were hoping you might join us,” he says, “considering you never made it to dinner.”
Regina crosses her arms against her chest, tilting her head to the side. She scans the blanket, the picnic basket, and the man and child that seem respectably within their own worlds. “This is harassment,” she says lightly, but there’s a faint enough smile at her lips that Robin’s face fills with relief.
“Think of it as a delayed apology.”
“And an excuse to see you again.”
Regina rolls her eyes but uncrosses her arms, stepping off the patio and sinking her heels into grass and dirt. “Let me help you, sweetheart,” she tells Roland, bending around him to take the blanket. He steps back enough to allow her to spread it on the ground, and helps straighten it – his efforts just slightly counter-acted by the fact that he does this while crawling over the blanket, wrinkling it further.
They seat themselves, Roland’s place just slightly closer to Regina than his father (he’s been looking forward to this ever since the idea was pitched to him), and Robin with the picnic basket, taking out wrapped dishes and Tupperware.
Regina returns the smile that Roland shoots her way, and then observes his father. His hair looks freshly cut, and his stubble trimmed; there’s colour in his face from all those hours spent outside in the forest, the sun having leaked into his skin.
“Where did you get all of this?” she asks once she’s given the paper plates and cutlery to hand out.
“We worked for it,” Roland supplies, fighting his way into the box that holds the blueberries and grapes.
Robin hands out three cups, and fills them with lemonade from a flask. “Ruby helped.”
“I see,” Regina nods, and tries to bite back the smile when Roland ultimately hands the plastic box over to her to open. “Is this everything?”
Robin seems to have emptied the basket, and she’s waiting to begin handing out the food when Roland’s high pitched giggle pierces the air. She catches his gaze and the excitable look there as he turns to his father. Confused, Regina follows suit, just as Robin takes from behind him a precariously wrapped bouquet of roses.
“Ah, I see.”
Roland giggles again, clamping a hand over his mouth, fingers between his teeth.
“This is becoming a habit,” Regina offers.
“It seemed fitting,” Robin counters.
She’s about to say more, but then Roland is demanding they eat, already picking at the blueberries in the container that he seems to think is just for him, and whatever words she’d had on her tongue dissolve back into her mouth.
She’ll have time to overanalyse this later, she figures, but for now… well, it would be a shame to let all this good food to go waste.
# # # #
The first time that Robin realises that he’s in deeper than he thought is when his towel mysteriously disappears.
There are some habits that even the conveniences of indoor plumbing cannot break. He takes to washing and swimming in the river, leaving his clothes hung over the nearest tree branch, with a towel waiting for him by the bank. He goes at odd hours – when Roland is in school, and sometimes later in the day, when Ruby volunteers to feed the boy ice cream and sit in front of the television for a few hours with him.
He isn’t aware that anybody has seen him come and go to this bend in the river – far out enough in the forest that he’d doubted many cross this way – until he emerges from the water to find that there’s nothing there to dry himself with.
It wouldn’t normally be a problem, and not one that the burning sun could not eventually fix, but on this particularly morning (as with many mornings before), he had decided to swim in the nude.
Cupping his nether regions and wiping water from his eyes, he searches the grass, the hedges, the tree that his clothes should have been hanging over, and finds – much to his horror – nothing but his worn leather boots remaining. First, he sees the comical side to the situation; there’s only one person he can think of who would do this, and he searches around for her among the trees, but there’s no trace of a disturbance.
It’s only when he realises that he’d walked the entire way, and that he’s not quite thirty minutes away from his room at the inn, that he panics. It’s a long way to walk regardless, but doing so while wearing nothing but a pair of old boots…
Horror floods him.
She wouldn’t do this, would she? Regina likes to toy with him, occasionally tease him, but surely not this. He searches the woods desperately, dirt clinging to the soles of his feet and the water already drying over his chest and back. There’s nothing – not a scrap of clothing as far as his eyes can see.
Well, then, he’s just going to have to suck it up and make a run for it, isn’t he?
It takes a five minutes pep-talk before Robin manages to make progress in the direction back towards town. He runs the majority of the way, occasionally grasping a tree trunk to shield his naked body behind when he thinks he hears the sound of footsteps – but they never belong to human feet. He follows the river down, keeping a vigilant look out for any sign of Regina, but sees nothing.
And then the toll bridge comes into sight.
There’s a figure there that initially makes him pause, hop behind a tree and rub his eyes, scorning his own misfortune. It’s only after a second glance that he realises that the figure looks female, and not just that, but the woman in the distance seems to be… waiting for something. If the dark hair isn’t enough, the long, black trench coat is. Robin smirks to himself and shakes his head, pushing away from the tree.
She’d clearly wished to see him nude, he thinks, and so does little to cover himself as he comes into view. It’s obvious, by the time that he reaches her, that Regina hadn’t expected his bold approach.
And that she’s not entirely averted her gaze, either, if the blush that reaches the tips of her ears is anything to go by.
He stops just below the bridge, hands on his hips. “Regina.”
She’s trying to look everywhere but – there, and failing miserably. “Hood.”
His eyes drop to the bundle of clothes in her hands, and he tries not to laugh. She appears to be regretting the prank now, but his fun has just started. “I believe those are mine.”
Regina looks down to the clothes in her hands as though she’d forgotten that she’s holding them. “Yes—ah, yes. I believe so.”
A pause, and then she hurriedly steps forward, dangling the clothes down to him from the bridge. Robin takes them quickly, pulling on his trousers. “You seem flustered,” he says, feigning concern. “Everything alright?”
Regina’s expression hardens, eyebrow arching. “Oh, there’s very little reason why it shouldn’t be.”
Robin tips his head down as he laughs, fastening his shirt up. “Ouch.”
A smile reaches her lips, and Regina steps forward, taking confidence now that Robin is mostly clothed. She rests her elbows against the bridge wall, leaning against it as she looks down at him. “Do you make a habit of swimming naked?”
“Oh, don’t tell me this is your way of correcting my behaviour?” He tucks the shirt into his trousers, grinning, and finally slips on the boots that he’s been carrying up until now. “After all we’ve been through – I’m wounded.”
“Perhaps I just wanted to set you off balance.”
“And why would that be?”
Regina shrugs easily, pitching one foot behind the other as she leans further into the bridge wall. “You unbalance me.”
There’s an edge to her voice that stops Robin from lacing his waistcoat completely, and he looks up at her in silence for a moment, pushing his hair back from his forehead. It’s hard to imagine that his little displays of affection have gotten through to a woman like Regina, and he has to remind himself that she is human, still, while she might shoot fire from her fists.
“It clears my head,” he says after a moment, “the swimming. Running is almost as good, but swimming’s more efficient; you don’t have to think while you’re treading water.”
“Perhaps you should join me some time.” He’s shocked to realise that he actually means it, and Regina’s lips pull up in a smirk.
“I don’t think so.” She hums a little laugh and shakes her head. “Do let me buy you a drink, though. To warm you up again – it seems I owe you.”
Robin grins and nods his head, accepting. “On you, Your Majesty?” he trills, bounding the rest of the way towards the bridge and stepping into line beside her as she begins walking back towards town. “I do believe that’s how this whole mess started…”
“You think we’re a mess?”
“You think we’re a we?”
“Don’t push me.”
Robin barks a laugh and meets her gaze. He sees the laughter in her eyes and wonders how he ever thought her anything but enchanting. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” he vows, and though it’s said with mock righteousness, he finds that he means it, and so does she.
# # # #
The first time that Roland realises that his father and the Queen are more than friends is when she’s the one to pick him up from Kindergarten.
Robin had called ahead to announce the change in plans to Roland’s collection, and now he sits comfortably in the back of her Mercedes, admiring interior design that is slowly becoming familiar. She takes him to the park, where Emma is waiting with Henry, who looks like he thinks his having to be out here is dumb. One sharp look from Emma tells him that it’s necessary.
They exchange awkward greetings, and she asks after Henry, trying to make herself sound like she is just the mayor, and he just the sheriff’s son. It doesn’t ever get easier, seeing him look straight through her, but having Roland there helps a little.
She can’t cry in front of him.
She takes turns pushing Roland on a swing with Henry, who the five year old seems to have taken a shine to, and who he convinces to play dragons and knights as they stride around the playground. Henry forgets he’s eleven going on twelve, and crouches in the dirt, roaring and chasing down Roland, who swings from a distance at his knees with a twig.
Beside her, Emma shifts in her seat. She’s trying not to stare at her, but Regina can feel her gaze.
“How—how is everything?” she asks when Regina eventually just turns to her, an ‘out with it’ expression on her face.
“Everything is—” She pauses, thinks. How is everything? “It’s… it is.”
“Yeah.” Emma fiddles with her gloves. “I’m sure he’ll remember soon.”
Regina nods her head, though she has little hope.
Seeing this, Emma offers, “Perhaps you could… try another potion?”
The conversation ends there, and Regina speaks to her again only when saying goodbye. Henry shakes her hand again, and though he finds it strange (she’ll never lose the ability to read his expressions – never), he complies with a bemused smile. They leave, and then it’s just her and Roland, until Robin arrives.
She’s nursing her wounds when he appears, sitting beside her on the bench. They don’t speak for a while, but watch as Roland makes his way down the slide, and back up again, his knee brushing against hers.
“Well, now, this really is too far, don’t you think?” Robin asks when he deems their silence too long. Regina looks at him strangely. “Stealing my arrows is one thing,” he continues, “and my clothes quite another. But my son? Really, Your Majesty, people are going to start talking.”
For her part, she manages a faint smile. It doesn’t reach her eyes. “And what will they say?”
The mirth seems to fall from Robin’s face, and he answers, before he can stop himself, “That you’re lonely.”
Regina turns to him sharply, and he has the faint impression that he’s said exactly the wrong thing, at exactly the wrong time. She looks like she wants to disagree – wants to smack him around the head with her insults, perhaps – but all she does is turn her head sternly towards the playground. Roland is making his way down the slide again, this time on his stomach, face-first.
“I’m sorry,” Robin says after a moment. “Forgive me, I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No,” Regina agrees, and she looks to be fighting with her words. Finally, she simply sets her jaw and shakes her head.
“How was he today?”
“Distant. Bored.” She turns her head away when she feels her eyes beginning to sting, and glares, instead, at an empty park bench. “Like he can’t understand why his mother insists on bringing him to meet with me. He’ll be assuming we’re courting next.”
“Now there’s an idea…”
Robin shifts closer, just enough so that his hip is pressed to hers, his arm around the back of the bench but not quite around her shoulders. “He’ll remember.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I don’t doubt it, though. Do you?”
Regina shakes her head, but Robin isn’t entirely sure if it’s in answer, or just to dismiss his question. “It isn’t that simple. The curse on him…”
“So he still has his happy memories, then. He remembers having friends and growing up with his other mother.”
“No Evil Queen for a mother,” Regina continues, and turns to Robin once she is sure that she will not burst into tears in front of him today. “No heartless grandmother, no being given away for adoption.”
Robin bites the bullet – places his arm around her shoulders and waits for her to flinch out of his hold. When it never comes – when, instead, she simply leans further against his side – his squeezes her upper arm and holds her to him.
“Don’t tell me there were no good memories.”
“Of course there were,” Regina mutters, turning her face into him, away from the playground and the onlookers, both parent and child alike. “There were many. He was a happy child, before—” She stops herself, and Robin hurries to step in.
“And he’ll remember them.”
Regina makes a small noise between his shoulder and his throat, and, briefly, he wonders if she’s crying. “Are they worth remembering?”
“Of course they are. Regina—Regina.” He pulls back just enough to see her face. “Even beneath this new persona, Henry loves you. You’re his mother. A child doesn’t need to remember their mother to love her.”
And here, of course, he’s including Roland, too. Regina closes her eyes and settles her hand upon his knee. It does little in terms of reassurance, but if feels good – for both of them – to have it resting there.
“Of course,” she murmurs, and Robin offers her a small smile when she opens her eyes again. “I feel so useless, just sitting back and waiting for something to happen.”
Robin’s smile softens, his hand around her shoulders relaxing while still holding her in close. For a moment, she’s surrounded by the smell of tree bark and campfire smoke, and almost buries her face into his shirt. His fingers draw a messy circle against her upper arm, winding the hopelessness back again.
Faintly, she wonders how he ever learned to make her feel like everything was going to be alright.
“Sometimes,” he reminds her, and she gets the impression that they’re no longer talking about Henry, but their own perilous relationship, “that’s all that you need to do.”