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I dreaded that first Robin, so

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I dreaded that first Robin, so,
But He is mastered, now,
I‘m some accustomed to Him grown,
He hurts a little, though —

I thought If I could only live
Till that first Shout got by —
Not all Pianos in the Woods
Had power to mangle me —

-excerpt from Emily Dickinson’s “I dreaded that first Robin, so”

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At first she thinks she’s underwater, only conscious of the sensations blue and heavy and surrounded by all the garbled noise and light that accompanies the sea.

Then her body is burning, not with fire but with the cold, painful thawing she remembers from building snowmen for hours with too-thin gloves – afterwards, reentering the warmth of home, how it burned as her blood stirred itself again – only this time it’s everywhere, not just her fingers.

“Steady. Steady now. I’ve got you.”

The words enter her, and she feels a solid warmth closing in. She still can’t see, she doesn’t even know herself outside of the flickering pain, but every bared nerve reads danger and hurt into that voice trying to still her. She resists. She thinks so, at least.

“Regina, calm down. Everything’s all right –”

Her magic floods back through her on the heels of her warming blood, explodes past the boundaries of her body, and suddenly the voice is gone. She is standing, she realizes, and finally begins to see.

The sunlit branches of the forest. Her hands raised defensively in front of her, palms out. The man picking himself off the ground a good ten meters away, managing to look graceful despite his humiliation and – oh gods, it’s Robin.

“I suppose I deserved that,” he says quietly as he comes back to her, his tone falling somewhere between cheeky and wistful. “I did not expect your awakening to be quite so, mmm, violent.”

She stays silent, body rigid, wondering when she will understand what has happened. Everything is scattered. She is lost.

The crease in Robin’s brow deepens as he takes in her confusion. “My apologies if I have startled you, milady…” It rises into a question at the end, as Robin cups her shoulders in his hands, drawing her closer.

The pain travels like lightning down to her core. She hisses as she pulls away, managing to grit out, “No. It hurts,” before Robin can reach for her again.

He looks stung and uncertain, his hands still poised to entangle her.

“Why are you here?” she asks, not venomously but with all the suspicion written in her muscles.

Robin’s hand comes up again, as if to check her for a head injury, before he sees her instinctual deflection of the action and looks away ashamedly. “Do you not remember?”

“Give me a minute.”

She closes her eyes and tries, willing the pieces of her mind to rearrange themselves into something coherent again. It comes slowly: the boy, the ice, the kiss.

“Roland. The Ice Queen was going to take him, and I stepped in front.”

“You do seem to be in the habit of saving my son.” He holds this connection between them out like a peace offering, sighs when she doesn’t take it, and the story spills out of him like something hot and unwelcome. “You took the curse for him. Turned your heart to ice, then the rest of you, and you were supposed to die here in this wood, but I came back and kissed you and this –” he gestures vaguely to the space between them – “happened.”

She still feels his touch on her, the ache making itself felt, like a bruise. “Go home,” she says.

He stares hard at her, swallows twice. “No.”

“Go home to your wife.”

“No.” Firmer this time. “You can’t just send me away, Regina. I kissed you, and I broke the curse, and if that’s not True Love – ”

“It’s not.”

“What?”

She catches his hand and presses it to her chest, over her heart, so that he can feel the lack: no warmth, no life, nothing. Nothing but ice.

“Tell me again how you broke the curse, Robin. It was a pretty story.”

She’s surprised by how much this hurts him. It was a simple observation, something he should have seen for himself if he hadn’t been so blinded by his belief in things as tenuous as true love.

“I love you. That means something.” He is desperate and urgent and so, so beautiful in his grief. Once she would have enjoyed destroying him. Now it is merely a formality, the necessary end to their affiliation, such as it was.

“Not enough.”

A rustling in the undergrowth, and suddenly Henry and Emma are bursting into the clearing.

“It worked!” Henry yells as soon as he sees her and Robin standing together. “I told you!”

Emma catches on more quickly. It’s almost comical, watching her glance from stiff-backed Regina to not-quite-hiding-his-misery Robin and back again. Robin shakes his head at her, and she understands.

“C’mon, kid. Let’s go home. Your mom could use someplace warm.”

Henry is too excited to notice how wrong everything is.

They leave Robin to his forest.

Regina does not look back.

His gentleness is what would have broken her. But there is no more danger of that.

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The Charmings converge at her house. Predictable.

They layer her with blankets and ply her with tea, and she accepts their ministrations – useless though they may be – without comment. Henry stays at her side, always, unusually quiet. He keeps studying her, looking for something, but she can’t even pretend to know what he wants to see.

He doesn’t speak of True Love anymore.

Snow keeps googling “hypothermia” and making small noises of worry.

She could reassure them. She’s not dying. Robin made sure of that. But she’s not sure she’s alive either, and she senses that speaking that aloud would only upset the others more.

So she stays quiet and watches the fire, remembering the burning of her awakening and wondering if that was the last thing she will ever feel.

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It reminds her of the long years of the curse, after the novelty of getting her way wore off: interminable days and nights spent waiting for something she can’t quite fathom.

She keeps her routine. It’s something to do, even if every action is indistinguishable from the next. She sleeps the appropriate number of hours each night (always dreamless), sits in the mayoral office and signs and files the appropriate papers, makes an appropriate dinner for Henry on the nights he stays with her, and fills the rest of her grey hours with the thousand meaningless little things that people do.

In the beginning, the Charmings lingered. As if they could return things to normal by acting like nothing had changed. Snow paid her afternoon visits with Neal, insisting that Regina hold the baby. It just made him cry. Charming would show up to do odd jobs around the house and yard with the ineffective chivalry that everyone loved him for. Emma was the worst. Constantly at her elbow, with her eyes wide and wounded like she’s the one who has been damaged, but too tentative to say much at all in front of Regina.

She tried for Henry. She really did. Tried to smile and be light and be anything like the woman he used to know as his mom, but it’s so hard, and the right words and answers and reactions never come.

She doesn’t flinch when the suggestion is made that Henry spend some time away from her.

She’s the one to make the suggestion.

And so they drift away, these people who called her family, and she takes her solitude and wears it as naturally as a second skin. She still hears things around town, from the people who huddle together and whisper as she passes by – about Tinkerbell and Henry and Robin and how nobody understands how such a love could fail.

Robin. She hasn’t seen him since that day in the forest, but she feels surrounded by him, like he keeps slipping by just past the reaches of her peripheral vision, playing hide-and-seek.

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Marian comes to her one night.

“You’ve won.”

“Would you like to come in?”

“No.” Marian has no use for courtesy anymore. “Do you understand? You’ve won.”

“And what have I won, dear?”

There is only a hint of bitterness in Marian’s voice as she responds, “My husband’s heart.”

“You’re mistaken.” Regina half-closes the door before Marian’s hand thumps against it, hard.

“I’m trying to help you. Him. Both of you.”

“You have a husband and a son –”

“A husband who thought me dead, mourned me, and loved another. A son who never knew me and now calls me ‘mama’ because he’s supposed to, not because he means it. What does that leave me?” She speaks without anger, only practicality as she lays the facts at Regina’s door.

“Robin doesn’t know it, but he speaks of you in his sleep. He never used to talk in his sleep…” Marian trails off, suddenly far away among memories of a happier past. It is the only time she lets Regina see that it hurts her – not a mortal wound, but deep enough to scar.

“My husband is honorable. He will not leave me, so I must be the one to take action.” She edges her words with defiance, lifts her chin like she is the queen in the room, giving commands. “I’m doing this for my own good. I deserve more than the remnants of a love long buried.”

They part without further words. Regina stands by the window long after Marian has receded into the shadows, watching for movement, for change, for something to reveal itself.

In the morning she wakes with her alarm and goes on with her routine.

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Regina goes with them when they confront the Ice Queen at her castle. Storybrooke had been frozen solid, along with a good number of its inhabitants, and still the Charmings’ grand plan is to march in and ask nicely if the Queen could perhaps stop using her magic on everything in sight. Of course, in order to enter the castle, they need to distract the hundreds of ice creatures guarding it. That’s where Regina comes in.

Her fireballs makes quick work of the guards – she merely needs to set a rhythm for the destruction. Target. Burn. Release. The creatures don’t stop coming though, and soon she loses herself in the endless charge and discharge of her magic.

The Merry Men are there too, emptying their quivers into the air. The fire arrows plummet like shooting stars, filling the night with heat and smoke. Sometimes she sees a streak of green among them, but there are always creatures crowding her vision, and she doesn’t truly see him until he falls. His blood is startlingly bright against the snow. Like the first robin after a long winter, she thinks. His men gather around him until inch by inch his body is obscured by their shelter.

The fighting continues, for how long she is never able to say, until the creatures are simply gone. Regina supposes this means the Charmings have been successful, one way or another. Without the rhythm of the battle she feels unsettled and ends up walking circles in the snow, waiting for the heroes to come down and tell her what else she can burn.

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She finds Robin with the other wounded. Someone has already tended to him, cleaning and stitching the deep gash across his forehead and bandaging the burns on his bow arm. Because he is unconscious, and alone, and powerless to keep the snow from collecting on his face, she sits beside him and draws his head into her lap.

Roland comes soon after, taking daddy’s hand in his own and exploding with questions for Regina. He speaks so quickly that she only catches half of what he says, but her mmms and uh-huhs and nods must make satisfactory enough answers because he keeps asking. He never mentions Marian. In a different lifetime she might have found his curiosity endearing; in this one, she just wishes he would stop.

“Regina?”

The Charmings have finally found her, and, if the note of exasperation in Snow’s voice is any indication, have been trying to get her attention for some time now. If they think her choice of company is strange – the at-this-point-probably-brain-damaged archer and his incessantly babbling son – they do not comment on it. They tell her all about Elsa, but the details are too numerous and uninteresting to take in. She concentrates on Robin’s hair instead. At some point her fingers had waded into it and started making patterns, and the relief of having something so mechanical to occupy her hands and mind consumes her.

She hears mutterings of “privacy” and “afterwards” and feels more than sees the Charmings take Roland away, no doubt in search of a place less bleak than this one. She summons a fireball idly, watching the light play across the frosted ground. She wishes she knew what she was waiting for.

Robin shifts suddenly, smacking his head into her knee with a faint groan. He settles again, blinking slowly up at her.

“Regina?”

She has nothing to say to him, suddenly aware that she has no idea why she’s still here, and the urge to run rises so powerfully through her stomach that she thinks she might be sick.

But his eyes are blue, an ocean, and his currents have already lured her in and under, and she hates him so much for pulling her back to this part of her that she had almost forgotten.

The part that says, I can do this one more time.

Once more, she promises herself, and there will be an end.

“Your hands are cold,” he says, and breaks her.

She kisses him fiercely, maybe intending to hurt him, drown him, but she is melting herself and can hardly hold her body together as the rest of the world comes crashing down around them. His hand comes up to tangle in her hair, strength meeting strength, until the waves they have created recede and both are left breathless and trembling.

This is love, she thinks, as the water runs from her eyes.

He understands. “The ice has to go somewhere.” Their hands find each other in the snow. “I should have known you would insist upon rescuing yourself.”

“You helped.”

She is dimly aware that they are no longer alone – surrounded by Charmings and Merry Men and excited voices and warmth – but everything pales in the shadow of Robin, his colors brighter than all the others as spring gently unfolds in the air around them.