a|n: here's the thing: i grossly overestimated my ability to finish up in two chapters, maybe even three. this was only one chunk from my many chunked plan, so i think this might go on a little longer, unless anyone says they would rather it not. but you people, gosh you're all so amazing, i never imagined such a lovely response and so thank you so much, you've made this so much better.

WARNING: Smut. Unfaithfulness.

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The first month flies, the sun begins to set faster, and time goes on.

He is still at Marian's side, and he is when another week passes, and another, and as though he is in a blur, a bubble, he has moments of vibrant, clear consciousness and it hits him that he has been at his wife's side for two months now, living as a family.

Robin makes that two months of waking up beside her with memories of another, of falling asleep beside her, sometimes with her in his arms. Two months of thinking that her hair feels too thick when he tries to run his fingers through it, that she sprawls, but he remembers she always has, and that sharing his bed only increases his inability to sleep, she prefers the room stifling, and says that it's because of too many cold nights in a forest, one evening, when he collapses beside her, feeling ill.

Marian runs her had along his chest, he's sweating, his head throbbing and although he had initially felt enthusiasm for this sharing every part of him with her, hoping it would recapture the intimacy they once shared, that lovely connection that used to make his stomach flutter, now it only makes him revolt, every inch of him.

He thinks of her.

Tries every time to keep from closing his eyes, putting his face into a neck that doesn't smell of something rich and sensual and of jasmine, he thinks, and something purely Regina that he has tried and failed, many times, to describe, but he fails at that too, scrunches his eyes and makes his wife finish and feels ill.

He loves Marian. He does.

For every morning he wakes beside her he sends out a silent thanks that she is here, and alive, and she is beautiful and she has always been and maybe today is going to be the day he feels how he once felt, maybe today will be the day those feelings return, intense and maddening, and the content appreciation for her life will spark alight and he will want her, every inch of her as he did before, and she will be enough.

But it never is, not after the morning haze clears and deep brown eyes swim into focus, silken hair and that smile, that scent.

He thinks of her.

Snow White hires Marian to teach the younger students at school, and Robin can't blame her. Marian is warm, love radiates from her, she is softly spoken and kind, the kind of intelligent person young children respond to. Roland makes it into her class, too, and Robin desperately hopes that it will help them.

He may be confused, and conflicted, and guilty, but Marian deserves the bond with her son, and Roland deserves it too. He wants them to have it more than anything, and for that, he ignores the voice in the back of his head, the one telling him that as time goes on, it becomes more and more clear that it's the reason he stays.

Denial provides a sense of fierce security though, ignorance too, and Robin lets it consume him.

The diner is near empty when he swings the door open, a little after two in the afternoon.

It makes sense for him to fill the spot as sheriff David says, at least until baby Neal gets older, after he fought the witch alongside them, they can trust him and he has the best aim in the whole town. It's a good opportunity; he needs it because he has a family now, one that won't live well out in the woods as they would have in the enchanted forest. So along with the position as deputy, Granny asks for his assistance at the diner in return for their room, and it should be enough, he hopes.

That's how he finds himself here.

Emma has a taste for bear claws, and apparently becoming the deputy means that it's his job to get the necessities, but Robin thinks it might be more request than demand, something she uses as a way of establishing their boundaries. She looks at him sometimes when she thinks he doesn't notice, but he notices more often than not, and he can feel the conflict and the uncertainty roll off her in waves.

He cannot, would not blame her.

Whatever it means for him, and for Regina, he would never begrudge Roland his mother, and Marian her son.

Resting a hip against the counter after giving Ruby his order, he drums his fingers along the top as he waits, but after a moment he hears a familiar voice and turns to see Snow and her child in its carrier, and she catches his eye, giving him a slow easy smile as she approaches.

"How is she?" He asks, vaguely aware he sounds desperate, vaguely aware that his behaviour is ignorant, not even offering a hello first, but he is losing his mind and it is making him crazy, this silence from her.

"Oh Robin," Snow says, "She's a gift, the children love her," she gushes, and Robin's stomach knots, and everything goes hot and cold because of course Snow would think that, and he should be gushing over it too, Marian has settled better than he could have hoped, with good friends and a job, and she has found a strange peace here. He should be bursting, it is wonderful, but his face falls and Snow's fall in response as understanding dawns on her face. "Oh," she grimaces, "Regina?"

He nods, fighting the urge to look around and see that no one is listening. He is doing no wrong; he is allowed to feel concerned. Feel mad with her absence, however, perhaps not, but that is his burden to bear and so he asks again, "How is she?"

Snow closes her eyes, dark lashes standing out on her cheeks and she breathes, like a mother trying to summon patience toward her unruly child, and in a voice that trembles she says, "From now on, I don't want any part of you near any part of me."

Robin starts with offense, physically rears his head back and stares at her.

She catches it, his gawking expression and she offers him a small shake of her head and a watery smile, "That's what she said, the only words she's spoken to me in months, despite how far we've come." She looks stricken, oddly resembling a young girl, and it makes him wonder just how much of her heart Regina has, "I do not want any part of you, near any part of me," Snow repeats, and if they were not so cruel, the way the words left her mouth would have him thinking she was savouring each one like a prayer, tasting every single letter, but she finishes in a whisper and it sounds more like a curse than any blessing.

"I'm sorry," Robin manages to croak out.

Snow puts a hand on his arm, gentle movements meant to soothe him and he wants to shrug her off. "Don't apologize for your loving your family," she says, making him almost bristle because it sounds like she is offering acceptance and it enrages him, but she is a kind woman like this wife, she only means well.

And he bites his tongue to stifle any response, leaving his own pastry on the counter when he leaves, put off.

….

There is a saying here, he has heard it many times, that life goes on. Life goes on; he tells himself this every morning, forces a smile and tries not to think of her.

Life goes on. Life goes on.

….

Some nights it is excruciating, there is a disturbance and it assaults his body from the inside, deepens its clutches and it is rotting him, he thinks, makes it difficult to even lie in bed beside his blameless oblivious wife, and he finds himself pacing the hallways.

More than once, although he won't breathe life into it by speaking of it, admitting it, the void makes him do foolish things like knock on Regina's door and wait for her figure to almost float down the stairs, and he tries to hide his face because she will turn him away, tell him that she can't find peace with it while he is a constant there and then she will close the door, and every time he is left on the porch, still trying to catch her features, already darkened by the late hour and he fails, he fails.

During these brief stints of madness, and it must be because during their missing year he had felt drawn to her, but nothing had come of it as he'd hoped, she was a mother grieving every single second for her lost son, and Roland had devoured her attention greedily in her moments of peace, he makes it back to Marian's side before anyone catches him.

He kisses her temple, never her lips like this, and promises to do better, he can let go of his insanity and make things the way they should be.

One evening, though, he finds Friar Tuck sitting on the stairs, an unreadable expression on his face save the frown of concern on his brow, and Robin has to slap a palm against the wall to keep his knees from buckling.

"Tell me," he whispers, sounds soft and patient and he is a perceptive man, his tone already full of understanding.

And helpless to anything else, Robin does, he opens his mouth and speaks from the bottom of his soul about Regina until dawn, and Friar Tuck sits there, listens to every word and says have hope, have faith, give it time, that loving again with a heart that has grieved must take time, and he feels anger like he never has before.

Questioning over and over why everyone else finds it so simple, and he is so tired, he is so tired.

Despite his heart's purge, by the time sunlight beams bright and breaks through the curtains, he has breakfast in his arms and Marian smiles, blinks sleep out of her eyes and Robin reminds himself that life goes on, and he is a good man, an honourable one and he stays, he stays, and life goes on.

Nothing wakes him.

At least he thinks nothing wakes him, and it takes a quick second of shaking away the disorientated state sleep has put him in, but Robin hears the piercing cry again, such a high shrill sound that it nearly levitates him, and he is running to Roland before Marian has chance to open her eyes.

The door hits the wall and more likely than not, damages it, but Robin only has eyes for Roland, wrestling around on the bed in a battle with his pajama top. It appears he has already kicked his bottoms off, and he lets out frantic, agitated cries that choke up between sorrowful tears.

"Papa," Roland weeps, yanking at his collar, his sleeves, whatever his little hands can clutch at, "Papa," over and over in the same hoarse garble, a plethora of tears soaking his cheeks, sweat making his curls stick to his forehead.

He has night terrors more than Robin can bear, he had suffered them as a babe and then again after the monkey attacks despite the brave face he puts on, and his brows furrow when he notices Roland's plush toy doing so little for him. Regina had soothed him with it many times, explaining absently that Henry had once suffered from them too, and he saw the full extent of her mothering touch that first time she sat with Roland in her chambers, shushing and holding him.

It usually works effortlessly.

"Roland," he says in a soft voice, clambering up on the bed to reach him, "It's alright my boy," he reassures, "Papa is here now it's alright."

Grabbing the seam of Roland's pajama top, he yanks it up forcefully, catching on the ears before throwing it in pile somewhere off into the room, opening his arms to his trembling boy and Roland lunges straight into them, his chest and back clammy.

A terrible, horrible one tonight, he already knows.

Not that Roland will tell him, not even later when he is able to breathe without sucking down mouthfuls, chest heaving.

"Robin, what is it?" Marian asks as she appears in the doorframe, and Robin hasn't missed the lines of worry on her features, but can't take them off because he is finding it hard to soothe Roland himself, the boy fighting and kicking in his hold, flustered and smothered even as his limbs tire out, and his voice grows hoarse.

She cups a hand on Roland's scorching face, her affection always given so easily, but Roland resists her harder than ever.

"Rgna," he slurs out, shaking his head away from her, and Robin feels his blood run cold, Marian stiffening beside him.

"Roland, please," her voice is loud enough to be heard over Roland's sobs, and Robin can pinpoint the exact moment her face goes hard, though he can hardly blame her when he imagines Roland crying out for anyone but him— Marian doesn't deserve this.

A cowardly part of him can't look at her, too afraid of what he will see.

Another part of him, a shameful part, fears what she will see in return.

"I'm afraid not, my boy," Robin tells his son, rubbing circles in his back as he remembers Regina doing after the particularly unpleasant ones.

"Yes, Papa yes," it continues, and Marian turns sharply but doesn't say anything, and although she is too wonderful to be pleased when their son is weeping, Robin feels her relief when he shakes his head no, appearing to not want it either.

He is only thankful that his emotions stay hidden, that he can control the tiny part of him that almost rejoiced at Roland's words— Regina may be keeping her distance but she would never turn Roland away, and he doesn't want to consider what that says about him.

"Please, Papa, Mama," he even tries, his wet brown eyes turning up to the identical ones on his mother's face.

Marian looks torn before she takes the initiative to bring Roland into her arms, she is his mother and a child knows, Robin prays he knows, but even before the boy starts kicking and fighting again he knows that it won't end well.

And it really does not.

It's unclear how long they sit there, barely speaking, and soon enough there is a knock on the door.

Granny's grim smile is the first thing he sees when Robin rises to answer it, and not a single part of him was prepared to see the older woman at the door in nothing but a nightgown, a cross bow in her hand, and she inquires, "Everything alright in here?"

"I'm so sorry," Robin apologizes, his cheeks colouring, "The neighbouring rooms," he clarifies.

Granny nods, looking equal parts gruff and mildly apologetic; no one wants to silence the crying child.

Back inside, Marian looks tired and worn, and her face doesn't fall but rather it blanks over, and he would have known what was going on beneath the surface years ago, and it's another kick to his stomach because he doesn't know her now, can't pretend to, and he thinks it should definitely hurt him more than it does.

Wiping at the thin sheen of sweat across her forehead as the mask falls then, she looks frustrated, upset too, but she looks angrily at him, and waves what Robin understands as a white flag, "Take him to her," just so, her cheeks flush and anger, yes, that is what Robin sees.

"Marian," he begins tentatively.

They have been trying and she has not mentioned his behaviuor, did not call him out on the first lie he told her months ago about wanting Regina's happiness above all else, even as he could have vomited at the thought of another man inside her, and it should have been for Marian that he felt such jealous rage but it was not.

And it should be her that Roland continues to cry out for, but it is not.

"Just take him to her," Marian repeats, somewhat calmer, and he feels like he is breaking something when he does.

Robin initially thought it would help, that the perpetual ache in his chest would melt away once he saw that she was fine, that he'd be able to breathe with his lungs fully expanded again, that the yearning would stop, and it would all leave him feeling anything other than empty.

He was wrong.

It does not.

She looks ill, thin and pale and she looks beautiful too, battered and bruised on the inside perhaps, but elegant and truly stunning in every way, even with the jut of her collar bones and the hollow of her cheeks, hitting him like a bullet how desperate he has been to look at her.

Robin can't breathe at all, never mind at full capacity, and when their eyes meet blue on brown, he might as well be dreaming.

"Come inside," she smiles softly, nowhere near her eyes, and pulls the door open.

Roland doesn't give her a moment to gather herself, not even to put a robe over her flimsy silk before he flops out of his arms and into hers like some kind of ragdoll, never hesitating with doubt that she might not catch him.

"Oh, Roland," Regina sighs deeply, breathing him in as one hand secures him to her, and the other cups his head.

Half a mind catches on the fact that Roland is still wearing his coat; he'd had to wrap him up warm because many things in this land he has conquered but a wheeled carriage he has not, and Robin has to beat down the niggling hope that it is him she greedily inhales, too.

They're still in the doorway, but for long moments none of them move, two savouring their embrace and Robin, he can't deny it, he is captivated by the sight of her and he tastes shame, thinks it tastes an awful lot like Marian's kiss and it ratchets up tenfold at the thought, but finally, he is seeing her.

"Regina," he starts, throat catching.

"Don't," she says, her chin musing Roland's hair as she shakes her head, and his boy's little hand slides into her hair to keep her still, but doesn't drop it again after that and she says in a quieter tone, "This is for Roland, nothing else," and twists on her heels to the kitchen.

Robin smiles, ever so lightly: Marian isn't the only one who can spot a liar.

"You remember how to make cocoa, I presume?" her voice calls out, starling him into following.

"I'm a thief, not stupid," He snips, a play in his lilt he thought he'd forgotten, "And I'd never forget your lesson, milady," he finishes, and he smirks.

Regina looks up with narrow eyes, briefly making wonder if he has gone too far before realizing that it fails to bother him fully, he has only been in her presence for a second and his shoulders roll and relax and already his son has stopped crying, it's a relief, she is like breathing in and out with relief.

"Well in that case," she says in a dark tone, fighting the twitch on her lips, "Roland and I are going back to bed, which I assume is why you're here, and you," she hands him a small pot of cocoa powder and when their fingers brush, something shifts inside of him, "Can bring it up before showing yourself back out."

"And what of my son?" Robin asks, raising an eyebrow.

Regina jostles the boy in question, hikes him up on her hip and the sleepy giggle Roland releases provides more relief to Robin than any woman could, his wife or his queen. "I'm hardly going to toss him out of the street now, am I," and if she is trying for bite in her tone, it fails, only makes Robin shrug with faux-uncertainty, "You may collect him after breakfast."

"And is this one cocoa or two?" he calls after her, already by the stairs, and he can't understand what she mutters under her breath but it makes his son laugh again, and so it makes him laugh too.

The second he hears her bedroom door close, however, he exhales and feels as though he could deflate.

He lingers downstairs, then, minor façade falling.

He feels guilty, and shamed, but mostly afraid, and the smell of the powder turns his stomach and the smell of Regina lingers, the familiar scent that blankets throughout her entire home. He can't see her again, not now, not when he can breathe and he hates himself for it, hates how much he has longed for it and hates how much it has helped.

Just to see her.

It makes him almost want to question, watching as the milk boils, how one woman can leave such an impression after such a short time.

But he is afraid of the answer.

Despite seeing the way Roland's eyes were drooping, the exhaustion taking ownership of Regina's features too, and knowing that neither of them will be awake to enjoy it, Robin uses the pointless exercise to settle his trembling hands. No one would believe his aim with the way they tremble now, and he waits until he's certain that both Regina and Roland will be asleep before taking the two mugs upstairs.

Setting them down on the nightstand, he lifts Roland from his spot atop Regina's chest, sprawled and weighted, and sets him down softly beside her, pulling the covers under his chin.

He almost, almost, has enough resolve to turn and leave without looking at her but he is weak, a coward over this entire mess and he's weak for her. Using the backs of his fingers, he runs a tender line down her cheek, feeling her skin before sliding his hand into her hair and he leans close, the hitch in her breath being the only reason he doesn't startle away when her heavy eyes flutter open, locking on him immediately.

"Robin," she whispers as he leans close and presses his lips to her forehead, to her cheek, and pretends it's a mistake when she tips her head and his lips, already tingling with the feel of her, land on the corner of her mouth.

Oxygen appears to fail both of them for a heartbeat, and she comes back to herself, turns her face away and it's the watery smile on her mouth that keeps him there, leaning over her on the bed, "What is it?" he asks her, and when she neither answers nor looks away, he can't stop himself from uttering, "I miss you."

And he is a coward, even then, and doesn't wait to hear her response.

Marian is on him the second he opens the door, close enough that if that's her intention, she'll be able to smell perfume and anything else, and Robin's stomach plummets, even with the knowledge that he has done nothing terrible or wrong.

Or terribly wrong, perhaps, thinking of his confession.

Wordlessly, she pulls the coat down his arms, and then goes for his shirt and it dawns on him that she is not suspicious, but possibly staking a claim, and if that is the case then it terrifies him, not realizing she would want to. "Robin," she gasps, he is slow to respond, feels uneasy and before he knows it, she has a hand on his chest and pushes him onto the bed with a dull thud.

Lost deep in the recesses of his mind, he can't seem to pull himself out of it and Marian is either ignorant or mercifully rapt by him. Robin wills the haze to clear, for his heart to race and for his blood to thunder in his ears as it had with Regina, but it's not her who fists and works with him with her lip trapped between her teeth, still a fierce look on her face, that lovely face, even when twisted with subtle anger and frustration Marian is lovely.

But even so doesn't find release, even as she finds it twice over.

He doesn't find release until spent, Marian rises above him and scoots down, down down until he can't hear moans that are an octave too high to be hers, until he can't look into the eyes that would have drowned him, once, but only serve to remind him of what he is missing, now.

Downdown, her mouth is hot and wet at least, her lovely mouth, he had loved to kiss it, and he fists her hair and finds it too thick and too long, and a pathetic release mocks him when he fists the covers instead, thinking back to the roll of Regina's hips, taking every inch of him and he had held her, thrusting up to get closer, closer, he wants to be closer to her even now, but there is no way, there is no way—

When he comes back to himself, Marian is curled up next to him with a content smile on her face, self-satisfied in a way that suggests she has won something, and the only thing he knows with certain clarity is that the sooner morning comes, the sooner he can collect his boy, the sooner he can see her.

It's only ten steps away after all, as Roland says.

"Good morning, milady."

"Good morning, thief."

Robin huffs a laugh into the space between them. She has a white powdery substance scattered along her silks, pajamas and not a nightgown now he notes, and she is glaring at him before he even steps inside.

She is a vision, with sleep mused hair and deep dark circles, and she smells intoxicating and familiar.

"Where is my boy?" he smirks, presumptuously letting himself in.

Once again he almost falters, not wanting to overstep, he wants to lose Regina all over again a lot less than he wants anything else from her, so he should play it safe he imagines. but they know each other, and theirs is not a tentative relationship, but volatile and explosive and most importantly, comfortable and easy and safe. Or at least it was, and pretending and acting different is both a loss and a disservice. So he smirks, walks past her and he acts true to them, as he'd done before the chaos.

It appears to work as he hopes, too, makes him praise his sleepless nights for allowing him the realization that he wants her in any capacity above all else— that although it may hurt, if he intends to figure out any of this mess then he needs her, and he'll do anything for that, truly.

So Robin raises a brow with faux-impatience at her, and Regina scoffs, rolling her eyes.

"Still devouring his breakfast," and it seems that Roland has lifted her spirits, a beautifully wide smile on her face at his mention, only faltering to give a loaded glance that Robin decides must be an attempt for levity, suggesting that he's unbalanced her and he's pleased by that, "Anyone would swear he hasn't eaten for days."

He shrugs a shoulder, "At least week I'm afraid," and tampering down the hope in his voice, he continues, "I'm a very busy deputy now, as I'm sure you've heard."

"And what of your wife?" Regina snips, tone a little less accommodating, but not quite biting. "I trust she knows how to work the stove by now?"

Robin makes a noise in the back of his throat, staring as face remains blank, and he can't tell if she is teasing or if she genuinely believes that they're not feeding their child and when she puts a hand on his hip, he's the one feeling off-balance, "Of course we feed him," he insists, voice high with indignance.

Her lips then, his eyes fall to them as they curl into a smirk, and he is helpless to the colouring of his cheeks.

She rolls her eyes for the second time he's been here, not even out of the hallway yet, and he brushes against her to move past, scoffing at the glimmer in her eye as she celebrates her win. It lightens him a bit too, though, because no matter what is happening between them, she can't help but rise to his unspoken challenge and if she can't resist it then she is still Regina, still as she was before, and he would die before playing a part in changing her.

Shaking himself, he enters the kitchen and swallows a smile at the sight.

"Morning, Roland," he says cautiously, not wanting to startle the boy and have him choke on what appears to be a challenge of his own, namely how many pancakes he can fit into his mouth at one time. "I've missed you," he says, ducking as he kisses the top of messy brown curls.

"I missed you, Papa," Roland replies, or at least it sounds that way. He swallows, looks around the kitchen before his gaze holds on Regina to give her a chipmunk-cheeked smile, and he asks, "Where is Mama?"

"She is at school," Robin answers him, taking the time to observe his boy. He loves Marian, she is his mother and he has no doubts, but reestablishing their bond has taken some time as it should, and Robin understands that, but it worries him all the same.

Roland immediately looks horrified, and whereas Marian enjoys the school, Roland despises it.

"Is it my time to go today?" he asks glumly, and blindly reaches out to a take a hold on Regina's fingers, his entire hand clutching them to keep her at his side, "Is Regina coming to school?"

He shakes his head, eyes crinkling, "Not today, Roland. You slept the morning away." And smiling at Roland's sheepish, albeit pleased grin, he inhales and it's not to gather courage he swears, before he dips his tone and asks, "Can I talk to you?"

Regina blinks, nods her head and leads them out.

He opens his mouth to begin but she turns immediately, wringing her hands, "I want to apologize," she says, "for last night."

Robin feels his brows furrow, desperately tries to ignore the phantom feel of the corner of her mouth pressed against his lips and she had tipped her head, she had, he thought he'd dreamt it but she had.

"You did nothing wrong," he is quick to reassure her, for isn't he the one doing wrong here? He is wrong for enjoying it, for craving and savouring it. "If anyone is doing anything wrong here, it's me," and he thinks that just by seeing her, he feels more alive than he has in days, and if that's not a sin then he doesn't know what is, "And I'm afraid I can't stop."

"What do you mean?" she asks in a tremulous voice, appropriately cautious.

"Roland, I want to ask you if you'll see him," Robin explains slowly, treading lightly. "To erase the distance and spend time with him."

She gasps and misunderstands, slipping into anger like it's a second skin, "Are you really going to use your son?" disbelieving, "Of all the selfish, manipulative things I've heard—"

"No, no," One eye through the hall, ensuring that Roland is far away, he edges closer and his hands feel too hot against her cool olive skin, "I swear to you I'm not, but whatever this is, it's hurting Roland," He thinks of his cries, the shrill sounds that had woken him the night before, "You can't simply sever all contact—"

"I haven't severed anything," Regina interrupts, a blatant lie, she has severed everything but Henry, and they both know it.

"And neither did I," he snaps, and that flinch again, it makes him ache that she flinches from him, "I am trying so hard, Regina, every single day I try."

"This has been hard for me too," she responds quietly, a downcast expression that makes him step so close that her toes touch the outside of his socks, and he feels foolish when he glares at them because he so desperate, and would worship any part of her skin he could touch.

"Then please," Robin begs with his eyes and his mouth and his hands, slides one of them around her waist. It's wrong and he knows it is the moment he looks up to check that Roland cannot see them, "I beg you please open your heart again, he misses you," And his selfish confession, "I miss you."

She shakes her head, looks extremely offended that he has the gall to believe she has closed her heart off to Roland, his sweet little boy, "I can't."

He urges her, "You can," and sees fear, and hesitancy and some anger, too, and he knows in every part of him that what he's asking for is unfair, she doesn't owe him anything, especially not something that will hurt her, "He loves you."

It is a mistake to back her into a corner, not that he intentionally means to, and he doesn't realize until she swallows and tells him, "My mother always told me that love was weakness."

"I know," And he laughs, it's easy to imagine what awful lessons that woman has taught, and Regina looks murderous, "I've met your mother." Terror replaces her murderous expression in the same breath, as though she cannot believe that he is still here after meeting the woman who birthed her, and he grows serious to tell her, "And I also know that the only thing you inherited from her was your beauty."

And as much as he wants to deny that, it's something he cannot.

He remembers during the numbed time the Queen of Hearts had preserved their corner from her daughter's curse, how she had commanded the lands with her presence and dark dark magic, Emma Swan's shadow at her side, his hook holding good men in place as she stole their hearts, gathering her army.

But she had been striking, captivating and he'd never experienced unadulterated, cold darkness before putting his eyes on her.

"And the tendency to rip out hearts," Regina says, sounding parts bitter and ashamed, her face drawn.

"That is not you," Robin begins but stops, he cannot deny her words either. "Perhaps it was, once," he corrects, because he can't rewrite the past and no one on the earth is without one, "But now you're...you're Regina," and it means more to him than he can say that she is, "And I would rather die than watch you toss that away."

He fears she will, by closing her heart, and it makes his own hammer against his ribs like a cage confined bird.

"I do love Roland," Regina admits, looking pained at the subject matter and in desperate need of a change. He would happily grant her one, but as if on cue there is the scrape of a chair, and Robin is sure there's more syrup on his boy's face than there is clean skin. Oblivious, Roland hops in and raises his arms for Regina, humming when she picks him up, syrup and all, "I've missed him."

Robin smiles, sighs with relief to hear it even though he'd already known, but he is a greedy man, not as good, not as honourable as he was in the beginning and he cannot help it when he asks, "Is...Is Roland the only person you miss?"

She lowers Roland and says, "Go find your shoes, sweetheart," and waits to give him a sharp glare, "Robin, don't."

"Forgive me," he follows up immediately, fear rebelling against his desire to know and it wins, "I shouldn't have asked," and he gently puts his hand out but resists touching any part of her, not when her shoulders square into rigid lines, too prominent collarbones only standing out further.

Although, to his surprise she steps out of Roland's sight, outstretching her hands until her fingertips come up to his chest, caressing so lightly if he could not see them, he'd think he was imagining the contact.

It might kill him, this entire mess is stripping him down to a mere shell and it might kill him, but her touch might save him too.

"I would love nothing more than to see Roland," She explains, then, although her eyes tell a more deceptive story. "Whenever you and Marian deem it acceptable, and convenient," And the emphasis on his wife's name has him reaching for her fingers in defiance, bringing them up to his lips and kissing them over and over until she no longer allows it, "For as long as I'm still wanted around, of course."

Forever then, he thinks but doesn't say, and he doesn't know torture until he imagines that not possible, until he imagines her gone and lost to him, "For a very, very long time then," he answers vehemently.

Regina nods as she crosses her arms and pulls away satisfied, but her eyes are wet once more and she looks exhausted.

He listens to her bare feet patter across her hard floor as she moves away from him, their hands the last thing to disconnect, and Robin stands dumb, motionless, until Roland's shrill laughter rings out and he is ticklish, so ticklish that it brings tears to his eyes, and Regina cannot put his shoes on without sending him into hysterics, and it has never been any different.

That has got to count for something.

The sound brings a smile to his face, or maybe it's the memory, and they were easy simple days back then, but Marian was dead and no matter how much he wants those days back, her life is invaluable.

Even for his heart's desire.

.

"Oh and Robin," Regina says a few minutes later when they're on her porch, when Roland has his shoes on and is on his back, clutching like a monkey. "I'm pleased that you're finding a home here," she sounds sincere, and he doesn't know whether he wants to laugh or cry, "And congratulations on your position as deputy."

Her raspy voice lowers at that, makes him smirk because Emma has told him all about Regina's official decision to come back, to emerge from her self-imposed hiding and it makes him immeasurably pleased, "And you, on officially being reinstated as the mayor." She doesn't falter at his knowledge, her head tipped regally in pause for his next words, and he doesn't let her down, grinning, "I hear our paths will cross quite often, with paperwork and such."

Her laugh is beautiful, and Roland lets out a sigh into his ear at the sound.

"I'm sure it has you trembling with fear," she retorts, and looks immediately like she wants to stop her words from falling out of her mouth, but she fails when she says, "But rest assured we'll be fine so long as you just, don't get in my way."

And ten thousand armies would fail if they tried to stifle his response, his smirk, when he looks at her face, her beautiful face, and he tells her,

"I wouldn't dream of it."

….

a|n: you know that indescribable feeling that you sometimes get in your chest when you just need something or someone so badly and there's no explainable reason for it, you just do, and it makes you feel just so jfknjfjkjkk? that's what i was really trying to achieve here, but it's hard to write about something that just makes you keyboard smash, so i hopehopehope that it came across, rather than just sounding like a bunch of back and forth dramatic rubbish.

i appreciate any feedback you have to give me, and thank you so much for reading— im so sorry for the mistakes, and the next part will be up asap.