The penultimate chapter (!). Thanks artielu for being my cheerleader throughout this entire story as well as a phenomenal beta. Much of this story wouldn't exists without you. Regina POV.

wait for it

Regina's mother has always seemed larger than life – an imposing figure that fills up too much space, sucking out all the air, and now, seated in a chair in the center of Regina's living room, that feeling has never been more true.

She's never been here before; it was Regina's father who helped her find an apartment, who acted as a guarantor when she signed the lease, who hired the moving company to bring all of Cora's discarded furniture to Regina's new place. It's not the kind of apartment that Cora would choose for her daughter (no, she'd find something different, maybe in one of those new high rises near campus, something with skylights and not this small with low ceilings and faded tile) and she scans the room with pursed lips, Regina's not sure who she's more disappointed in, her father or her.

Oh, wait, it's definitely not Regina – after all, she's besties with a princess now.

She wasn't surprised to find her parents waiting for her at the airport. That was to be expected, with the way that Cora practically called the royal house of Eira every day prior to Regina's return across the seas. Instead of being the disappointment, Regina has suddenly replaced Zelena as the favored one (she bet her sister turned green with envy when she found out Regina had been hob-knobbing with royalty down at Moo U all along) and while there's a part of her that's rejoicing at the shine that Emma's acquaintance has given her for the foreseeable future, that's about it.

The rest of her feels like a fucking mess.

She misses Robin.

There had barely been any time to say goodbye before the storm that is was and forever will be Cora Mills had whisked her daughter into their rental car (Mercedes, natch) – just one last look over her shoulder to see Robin on the tarmac, bag slung over his shoulder, looking as lost as Regina felt.

She presses her hands to her forehead, the silence stretching between her and her mother becoming unbearable, but it's better than the mindless stream of chatter that her father started in the car, asking her about Eira and her flight home until she snapped, apologizing afterwards but not really meaning it.

She wonders what Killian and Emma are doing right now.

"You should go clean yourself up so we can get dinner," Cora says, and it occurs to Regina that Emma and Killian are probably asleep. She glances towards the large sliding glass door that looks out into the parking lot. It's dark already, but it's almost Thanksgiving and so she really shouldn't be surprised but she is, because she's home and not in Eira and her mother is in her living room and Robin is not here and Graham is still dead and Belle is a traitor and –

"Shower. Right."

The water pressure in her shower never bothered her before but it's not what she's become used to – not the same as the water in Eira, in the palace. Her shampoo smells the same, and she totally forgot that she was out of shaving cream when she left (she'll have to buy more) but everything feels unsteady, everything feels wrong.

She misses Robin.

The water goes cold before she gets out, and Regina takes the time to blow-dry her hair, applying eyeliner and mascara (it's the oldest trick in her book, using eye makeup to prevent herself from showing emotion in front of her mother) and the darkest lipstick she can find in her makeup bag. She grabs clothes from her closet – black jeans and a black sweater that hangs off her right shoulder in a way her mother probably thinks is gauche – and puts on her Docs, tying the laces extra-tight as if it will somehow stop unsteadiness in her legs, somehow ground her to this place.

She misses Robin, and Killian, and Emma, and Graham is still dead and Belle is a traitor and she is home and not in Eira and everything feels like more than she can handle but she takes a deep breath and puts on a practiced face.

She can do this.

She is Regina Mills, after all, and Regina Mills is nothing if not a bad-ass bitch.

Her parents stay for five days.

There are meetings with her department advisor and college administrators – meetings that don't need to happen but do, because Cora Mills seems to want everyone to know how amazing her daughter is after helping thwart a coup in a small land-locked European country that most people know very little about and surely that deserves an extension on that paper/that exam/that assignment, doesn't it?

As Regina sits in the chair beside her, arms cross over her chest, trying to look pleasant but missing Robin (she has not seen him since her parents arrived, only been texting with him and oh he's alone in his apartment with all of Killian's stuff but no Killian…) she can't help but notice her mother at work. It's like dark magic, the way that Cora gets every single fucking person to agree with her, to extend deadlines and to make amends for their reckless (they were so reckless, so very very reckless and Regina sees it now) flight to Eira.

It occurs to Regina, as the meeting with the Dean draws to a close, that there is no one advocating for Robin – no mother with deep pockets and a particular desire to see her child succeed - and so Regina interrupts and adds, "And we need to do something about Robin."

Cora Mills frowns, and Dean Hopper looks at Regina for the first time during the meeting. "Robin?"

"Robin Locksley – Killian's roommate," Regina says, angry flames shooting up the side of her face at the thought that there is no one to look after Robin save her and she will take care of him, she will take care of this even if it means giving away his name in front of her mother. "But he's in the College of Education – "

"I know Dean Nova well," Dean Hopper responds, "and I'm sure accommodations can be made since these are quite the extenuating circumstances."

Regina smiles and nods firmly, relieved that her concern about Robin is being noted (she refuses to look at her mother the rest of the meeting).

Her mother takes her out for lunch near campus, and Regina orders a vodka tonic, ignoring the pointed stare of her mother who changes her order to just club soda with a twist of lime. She sits up straighter in her chair at that point, taking out her phone to type a quick message to Robin when Cora says, "Put that away, dear, it's rude to text at the table."

"Those meetings certainly went well," Regina admits, sliding her phone into back into her bag (she hasn't heard from Emma or Killian in days, not since she responded to Emma's text about whether or not they made it home, and she can't help it – she misses the little princess in a way she never thought she could).

"They certainly did," Cora responds with a smile as their salads arrive. There is a pregnant pause as Regina picks at her arugula, eats only the apples, and finally Cora continues.

"Well, now that that's handled, you need to focus on graduation," her mother starts, "not boyfriends – "

Having waited on edge for the shoe to drop for days, her frustration with her mother finally deciding to boil over, Regina just decides to roll with it for a change instead of keeping it all inside, sliding out only through rebellious clothing choices and the occasional verbal sparring match.

"No, you mean that I shouldn't focus on boyfriends that don't have a recognizable family name," Regina snaps back. She pauses, collects herself, places her fork on the table beside her salad plate. "Let's get one thing clear, Mother. I appreciate what you did here for me but honestly? I am an adult, and I make my own choices. I would have dealt with the consequences of my actions instead of having them excused away by you - even if that meant having to graduate a semester late."

Now that she says it out loud instead of keeping it bottled inside her head, Regina realizes that she's right. She would have taken the incompletes for the time being, which is a far cry from who she used to be, always looking for the easy way out and falling back on her parents time and time again.

(Who would have thought it would take a failed royal coup to get Regina Mills to admit that?)

"Don't be silly, Regina – you need to graduate on time. And after graduation we'll find you a nice apartment in the city. There are any number of jobs that - – " Cora starts to say but Regina cuts in with, "I am not moving back there."

"Why not?" Cora says with a frown, and Regina merely shrugs.

"I don't want to. There's a whole wide world for me to explore, and I don't see the need to follow the life that you've decided I should live." Regina pauses, thoughts of Graham being pulled to the forefront of her mind. "Life is too short to follow a plan made when you were eighteen."

"Regina, that is ridiculous – "

"Is it, Mother?" Regina leans forward, elbows on the table. "The only plan I've had since Daniel's death was to spite you at every turn – to show you that you weren't the boss of me, and that I could make my own decisions and you know what? I have. I've done pretty well for myself – I've got a wonderful boyfriend and friends that I miss and I'm graduating with honors. I think I've done just fine without listening to you and your plans."

There is fire in her veins and it feels good – so good to say all of this to her mother, so good to get everything out in the open, to be honest for the first time in forever instead of just rolling her eyes and tuning Cora out.

"Regina, I wish you would believe that I only want what's best for you," Cora insists, and Regina nods. There is a disconnect between what her mother thinks is best for her and what really is, and she knows her mother can't see that - can't see that they're not on the same page, and they haven't been for a very long time.

"I know you do, but you don't know me and I'm not sure you ever did, or ever cared to. I'm not the person you think I am, or the person you want me to be, and I'm not going to let you make me that person." Regina folds her napkin and places it on the table. "I'll see you later, Mother."

"Regina, sit back down - you're making a scene," Cora says from between gritted teeth but Regina just shakes her head.

"I'm not doing anything wrong," she tells Cora. "Have a safe flight back to Boca."

Leaving the restaurant, Regina feels a surge of panic – was that the right move? Should she have acted so recklessly? – but it disappears as her feet carry her onwards, towards Robin's apartment nearby. It's been too long, and she needs to see him – needs to have his arms around her, needs him to ground her before she floats away.

He doesn't answer the door immediately, and it takes a text from her to make her presence known. When he does answer, she launches herself at him, arms around his neck, lips against his, kissing him like she's never kissed him before (they've never been separated for this long before, even when they were just friends, and her soul feels lighter when she feels his arms around her).

"Regina," he says, brushing her hair back from her face when their lips part, "that was some hello."

"I missed you," she tells him, grabbing his hand and following him into the apartment. "And I finally told my mother to go fuck herself."

"Really?" Robin's eyebrows shoot upwards towards his hairline.

Regina shrugs. "Not that bluntly but I pointed out that I'm doing pretty good so far without her interference."

"Speaking of interference…I just got an email from the Dean of the College of Ed to come meet with her tomorrow," Robin tells her. "Any idea why?"

"I may have advocated for your behalf in a meeting with my dean," Regina admits, kissing him lightly. "Don't be angry?"

"Please – I'm honored to have you in my corner." He brushes a kiss against the top of her head, and that is when Regina takes a moment to look around and notice the broken-down liquor boxes piled near the door.

"What's up with that?" she asks, and Robin sighs – a full body sigh that answers the question for her before he does, so she adds, "Do you want any help?"

"That would be great," he admits, leading the way down Killian's soon-to-be-former bedroom, which is half-packed.

It's weird to see it like this – Regina spent a lot of time in this apartment the last few weeks, usually with Killian and Emma, and to see his belongings being piled into boxes to be shipped overseas is just hard. She's known him from the station, and he's been Robin's roommate for almost as long as she can remember and it's just…weird, to see the drawers of his dresser so open, to see his life spilled out across his stripped-down bed like he's gone forever (and he's not, he's just in Eira with Emma but it feels like more than just an ocean away at the moment).

"I feel like I'm invading his privacy," Robin says, "even if he asked me to do this, it still feels strange." He picks a sock off the floor and tosses it into a box, and Regina sighs, reaching for it and pulling it back out.

"You can't just throw his shit in a box, Robin." She finds its twin on the floor, rolls them into a ball and places them on the bed. She knows this must be hard on him but can't even imagine how hard it must actually feel. She never had a roommate that she could tolerate for long, and she's never had a close friend other than Robin, who sees something in her that she's not even quite sure she can see, but with Killian and Emma…it felt like something was coming together, finally, in her life. It felt like she had a place, had a squad, had something going for her.

Now she just has Robin, and the memories of a few stressful days that keep her up at night (she can remember the way that Killian screamed when Gold shot his hand, the way that he fell to the floor and the blood and - )

"Shit." Robin sits down on the edge of the bed, puts his head in his hands. He takes a deep breath before looking up at her, and his eyes are wide. "We saw a man die, Regina. We saw a murder – what the hell?"

"I know right? We'll be sending therapist bills to Emma for the rest of our lives," she tells him, but there's no lie in her voice. She's jumpy and lost in a fog most days, the anxiety creeping into her veins and blocking out everything else (how is she supposed to work? How is she supposed to function? does any of this even matter?) and it's pretty bad, but Robin reaches out for her, grabs her hand and squeezes it.

"I miss them," she admits. "I really do. Even the little princess."

Robin smiles. "Even the little princess."

Regina rolls her eyes but he's right – Emma was the first girl she's known who felt like a friend, and she's sad to lose that, as sad as she is about Robin losing Killian.

She looks around the room, then at the boxes scattered throughout it. "I guess we better get to work," she says, and Robin nods, standing.

"Not looking forward to having to find a sub-letter – think I could make Killian post the ad?" Robin asks, turning toward Killian's desk and starting to slowly pile up papers and odds and ends.

Regina stops, turns slowly towards her. Her brain is moving a mile a minute but one thought keeps coming back time and time again, not for the first time.

"Why don't you move in with me?" she asks, and she feels nervous and off-kilter (this is not what she does, this is not who she is – she's never scared, she's always brave, she doesn't care what anyone else thinks, but she doesn't want him to say no – wants him to move in with her, wants his clothes in her closet and his body in her bed for more than just a night and - ).

Robin narrows his eyes. "You sure about this? You know I snore."

She huffs and rolls her eyes again. "Yeah but I need someone to keep me warm at night," she teases, but there's a small smile creeping across Robin's lips that she can't help but notice. He places the papers he's been handling back down on the desk, cups her face in his hands and presses a kiss to her forehead.

"You sure your parents would be okay with that?" he asks, and Regina exhales shakily.

"Daddy's wrapped around my finger, and Cora is…harder…to gauge, but I'm not worried. I just want to be near you." She rests her forehead against his, feels his breath against her face. "Life's too short to – "

Robin interrupts her mid-thought, kissing her with a passion that makes her toes curl, and she doesn't care. It doesn't matter, not when they're here together (his hands under her sweater, his fingers on her skin) and she can lose herself in him for a while.

"Student org meeting is next week," Sidney tells her from the doorway of the studio and Regina sighs, queueing up another song as she does. She's had to hit the ground running when she returned, and she doesn't mind it but their preliminary budget is due next week and her chief engineer, Merlin, tells her that they need to a new transmitter because the one in the Physics building is malfunctioning during thunderstorms and so she sighs again as and turns the volume back up at Fever Ray comes through the speakers in the station.

"I'll handle it," she says, but she's not really sure how – she's not operating at peak capacity these days, still bogged down in a PTSD fog (not you this time, anxiety) that Dr. DeVil says will take time to work through, and she fucking hates not being able to get shit done.

It doesn't help that the news from Eira about Killian's hand is not good: he hasn't regained a full range of motion in all of his fingers, which means that he can't play the guitar she and Robin shipped off a few weeks back, and the sadness that clings to him like a second skin is apparently wearing Emma down (or so he tells Robin in one of their daily video chats).

Regina slumps down into the rolling chair, letting it roll backwards and hit the edge of the mixing board. She runs her hands through her hair, feeling a bit frustrated with everything going on in life. Semester's ending, assignments are coming due, and there's nothing but stress ahead of her.

There's a knock on the glass window of the DJ booth, and she glances over, ready to verbally flay whatever freshman thought it funny to fuck with the glass of her station – but it's only Robin, and he's pulling a face that makes her roll her eyes.

"What is it with the mope rock?" he asks as he saunters in, throwing his bag on top of the turntables (Regina opens her mouth to protest but he silences her with a kiss before heading to the stacks).

"Your show isn't on Wednesday," Regina points out.

"So?"

"So why are you here?" she asks, Fever Ray ending and Slowdive starting as Robin returns with a stack of music.

"Because this is bullshit," he says, glancing at the soundboard to make sure the mic is off. "I cannot abide all this absolute dreck on the radio."

Regina raises a perfectly-manicured eyebrow at her boyfriend. "But my show is supposed to be mopey. I'm the Evil Fucking Queen – I don't listen to Taylor Swift."

Robin smiles as he queues up a song and then, winking, turns towards the mic. "Hello lovely WOUT listeners, this is DJ Robin Hood and I'm here today to end this grumpy pants music fest with a good ole fashioned dance party." He presses a button and Slowdive ends abruptly, and when Regina hears the next song she puts her hands on her hips.

"Seriously? You could hear this on commercial radio," she tells him but he just shakes his head and hips along with the music.

"Come on Regina - work with me, just this once." Robin extends a hand and, with a playful eye-roll, Regina lets him pull her into his arms.

"When we were young," he sings, "ohhhhh we did enough…"

There's something about the moment, the combination of Robin's smile and the music, that makes Regina feel light again.

It's just a start, but it's enough.

They have been home for over a month when she finally texts Emma.

Call it poor impulse control, call it loneliness, call it boredom but she can't help it when her fingers slide across the touch screen, typing out a message for the girl across the sea, and when she finishes and sends it, she turns her phone face down and leaves the room, trying hard not to listen for any sound that the message was received at all.

Hello Princess - we sent you guys Christmas presents so keep an eye out for the package, okay?

She doesn't get a response until morning, but it was clearly sent overnight.

YEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSS.

And then another immediately after.

You're not the only one who did a little holiday shopping.

Regina doesn't respond immediately – she doesn't do texts other than booty calls or sassy short messages to Sidney, so this is new. Strange, and new, but she'll try.

Pause, then another text.

Killian helped.

Regina has to make herself closer her mouth, she's in such shock but oh she's got to hear this story (that boy wore the same three band shirts in rotation and this has to be a good story…)

The conversation continues like that for a few messages, when it stops, then picks back up again a few days later. It progresses quickly until Regina doesn't even realize how often she's texting Emma until Robin grabs her phone from her midtext while they're watching TV in her apartment one night.

"Well this comes as a surprise," he admits, tossing it back to her after she hits him with a pillow, and Regina asks, "What?"

"You and Emma texting – though honestly, why am I surprised to begin with?" he asks, leaning back into the cushions, stretching his arms along the top of the couch. "After all, you did bond over dyeing hair in a crappy fast-food bathroom – "

Regina smacks him with the pillow again but he's right – there's something about the experience that has brought them all closer together (she knows that Killian and Robin FaceTime daily) but even as they settle back down to watch TV, it doesn't fill the hole in her heart at the thought that some of the people she's closest to in the world are nowhere near here.

Regina has spent too long not caring if people liked her, or if people even care what she does (it made it easier when she disappointed Cora time and time again to just push past it, to pretend it didn't matter even if no one liked her) that knowing there are people like Emma who care is just…it's an overwhelming concept, getting texts or FaceTime calls from a freaking princess. Emma could be friends with anyone, and choosing Regina is pretty heavy.

She reaches for her beer, takes another sip. Friends, and a boyfriend living with her – these are things she'll have to get used to, but she doesn't think it's going to be that hard in the end.