"Please," she sobs, her hands tightening around the metal rods of her cage, and they tremble under the force of her grief. "Please, your majesty, I have a family at home—a husband, and a son—"
"Your peasant matters do not concern me," hisses the Evil Queen, and her heavily perfumed face comes within inches of Marian's. "You should have thought of these people you claim are so important to you before you decided to commit treason by helping a wanted fugitive."
Marian shudders under the Queen's triumphant gaze, utterly devoid of compassion, and she knows her case is hopeless, but the thought of her Robin and their boy, left in this world without her, renews her courage.
The Queen turns to make her exit.
"Don't you dare walk away from me!" Marian shouts, and one of the black knights, who had been a motionless sentry by her cell all day, actually turns his head, and his armor creaks from disuse.
The Queen halts in her tracks. "Excuse me?" she says slowly, each word dripping from her mouth like venom. "Would you care to repeat that? Because it will be the last thing you ever do."
"Please," Marian says again, and the tears are hot as they run down her cheeks, "I'm a mother. I've only been a mother for two weeks, but I'm a mother, and that's all that I am now. It's all that matters. Please don't take that away from my son!"
She likes to think she hasn't imagined it when the Queen's stance falters, just the tiniest bit, and her cold, beautiful face turns ever so slightly back over her shoulder, though she does not grace Marian with another of her terrifying stares.
"Tell me. Do you love your son?"
"More than anything," Marian gasps, daring to hope, and could this woman possibly recognize, understand even, the profound connection between mother and child—this evil woman, who had inspired fear in legions of children as they huddled around campfires, regaling each other with countless tales of her cruelty?
"And do you think," the Queen continues, "your son will be able to forgive you if you never come home?"
"How would he know—" Marian starts, but it's a terribly wrong thing to say.
"Then I'll see you in the morning," the Queen says with finality, and she is already disappearing around the corner, "for your execution."
Her cell is damp with cold, and the black knight standing guard had taken the only torch with him when he followed the Queen up the stairs. Marian curls up in a corner, hugging herself to keep warm, and she tries not to cry but the circumstances are so unfair, and now she won't be the only one who is punished for something she hadn't even been caught doing.
She had only wound up in the Evil Queen's clutches by accident, by some dark ugly twist of fate.
"Wrong, wrong, wrong!" the Queen had shouted in outrage when her black knights brought Marian to her, per their instructions to apprehend any woman with dark curls and a hooded cloak. "Did you forget the part about the lips as red as blood and the skin as white as snow? Idiots." She had stood before Marian, hands on her hips, looking her over, until she decided she might prove to be of some use after all.
"Tell me," she had demanded, "have you recently come to the aid of a wanted woman who goes by the name of Snow White?"
"Snow White?" Marian had stammered. Yes, in fact, she had. With her help, Snow White had shot her first arrow not two days prior. And with her help, Snow White had since been smuggled out of Nottingham, armed with a bow and quiver that Marian had stolen from her husband's own private collection. (When she'd confessed to him later, he'd only smiled, kissed her forehead.)
But she hadn't needed to say any of it out loud, because it was written all over her face.
"Throw her in my carriage," the Queen had declared with a theatrical gesture. "I'll make an example out of her in the next village we visit."
Marian closes her eyes at the memory of the burlap sack being tossed over her head, of the bumpy ride that took her farther and farther away from her family, of all the frightened townsfolk upon learning what her fate was to be at the hands of the Queen.
Suddenly there's a scuffling sound, and then the unpleasant screech of metal against metal, and with a rusty creak the door to her cell is cast wide open. A gloved arm thrusts in.
"Make haste," says a voice she does not recognize, and it echoes inside the helmet concealing the face of her rescuer. She inches hesitantly forward and realizes it's the knight, her black knight, and he's holding a ring of keys and beckoning urgently for her to quicken her step. "You need to go, now, before it's too late!"
"I don't understand," she says. "You're releasing me? On whose orders?"
"Nobody who wishes for you to know," the knight answers cryptically, grabbing her arm as she reaches the door and practically hauling her out of the cage. "Go! And don't get caught, or it'll be my head on a platter for the Queen."
She's stealing through the castle, unsure of which way to turn next, when she suddenly comes across an open archway, and a marble staircase spiraling down to the courtyard below. She tiptoes to the bottom and finds herself under an immense sprawling apple tree, fragrant with blossoms and yet, somehow, vaguely sinister.
And when she rounds its vast girth of a trunk, she knows why.
Sitting on a bench, at the foot of the tree, is the Evil Queen.
But she does not look the least bit surprised to see her. In fact, she does not even look at her, at all.
"You," she says with open disdain. "Can't even manage to escape properly, can you?"
"Your majesty," Marian begins, but the Queen holds up a hand to silence her, and suddenly she understands. The woman wears her makeup like a mask, but her hand reveals everything in the almost imperceptible way it trembles now.
She is letting her go.
"Leave," she hisses, "leave now, before I change my mind. Be the mother that your boy deserves."
"Thank you," Marian says, overcome, and she is not sure whether to curtsy or not, "thank you, your majesty. I will never forget this."
"You'd do well to do just that," the Evil Queen snarls, but in that moment, to Marian, she doesn't look so evil. She just looks…alone.
She knows her observations would not be welcomed, so she says nothing, and before she can second-guess her luck she hurries away into the night, towards home, to her husband, and to Roland.
But luck, as it turns out, is still not on her side, and she will never get to be the mother that Roland deserves.
"You again!" says the man standing before her, and he can't believe his luck. She's surrounded by him and his lackeys, all as foul on the surface as they are on the inside, and they're the very same scoundrels she, Robin and his Merry Men had been stealing from when she'd gotten separated from them, separated and taken as an unknown hostage by the Queen's army of black knights.
And this man is the very same she had run from on their wedding day, had run with all her might into the arms of Robin Hood, and had never looked back, until this moment.
The Sheriff of Nottingham is advancing towards her, licking dry lips and fingering the knife tied round his belt with a strip of leather. She turns quickly but there's nowhere to run to now, only the heaving chests of men drunk on liquor and on lust, and as she whirls back around to face the Sheriff—she is not going down without a fight—she sees the murderous intent in his eyes, glinting like ugly black beetles, and she lets out a scream, though no one who cares will be able to hear it.
"Hold still," she instructs sternly.
Henry squirms under her grip on his shoulder and the glare in her eyes, but pauses when she leans closer to inspect the cuts and scrapes on his arm.
"What exactly happened to you," she asks, pulling out her antiseptic and wiping away the blood with the practiced efficiency of a mother to two rowdy boys.
His eyes dart away from hers suddenly, suspiciously, as though worried she would be able to see the truth in them just by looking (she probably could).
"Nothing," he says, entirely unconvincing. "I just, fell. It's slippery outside. You know, all the rain."
She raises an eyebrow, but doesn't pry any more because she'll get her answers one way or another. This one particular gash looks like it could benefit from stitches, but she doesn't relish the idea of waiting on Dr. Whale in the emergency department for five hours to do what she could in about five seconds. Waving a hand, the blood unclots, threads back into the capillaries, and the skin reseals itself from end to end. Good as new.
"Mom!" and he's the one scolding her now, "that's cheating."
Regina smiles innocently at him. "Does this mean you're ready to tell me the truth about how you got like this?" and that shuts him up.
She gives his shoulder a gentle squeeze when she's finished patching him up, and he winces before he can help himself, then looks dejected when he realizes that she's noticed.
Standing, hands on her hips, she looks down at him and he quails. "Up," she orders. "Shirt off."
Henry's reluctantly obedient, and there's a large bruise swelling on the anterior surface of his right shoulder, right where it meets with his clavicle. Tiny capillaries have ruptured upon impact from some unknown force, bleeding out into the tissue surrounding them.
"What," she says, voice low and dangerous, "is this?"
He opens his mouth and she warns him, "Don't tell me about how much it's been raining again."
He mumbles something about bonding time and the forest and recoil—excuse me?—but then her phone is going off, no doubt the Charmings to remind her of the meeting she is now late for, because she needs them to mother her of all people, and Henry is saved by her ringtone.
"Crap, the time," but he doesn't even own a watch, "I gotta go, Mom!" he says loudly and he's already halfway out the door. Her eyes narrow at his retreating form as Snow's little voice starts talking into her ear. "Gonna be late for—something. Love you, bye!"
"How's Henry," Robin asks her innocently that night as they prepare for bed.
She's removing her earrings by the vanity, but she pauses at his question.
"I don't recall saying anything about Henry," she says finally in an attempt at casual.
He comes up behind her, wraps an arm around her waist, his other hand pressed low into her hip, causing warmth to pool into the bottom of her stomach.
"No," he agrees, and presses an open-mouthed kiss to the back of her neck. "Curious minds just wished to inquire." His words rumble against her skin and she shivers.
"You're trying to distract me," she realizes, and turning around to face him with the accusation is a mistake because he has her trapped between the edge of the vanity and the angle of his hips, and he only grants a second for her breath to catch before he's stealing it away with a kiss.
Her hands come up to caress his neck, humming into his mouth as he opens it further, inviting her in, his fingers trailing up her back to tangle with her hair. His kisses spread languidly along her jawline and behind her ear, a particularly sensitive spot for her, and she reaches out to grasp his shoulder as her head rolls back in ecstasy.
Robin's entire body freezes and he lets out a grunt of pain.
Her head snaps back up and she knows the look of guilt before she sees it on his face, expects to find a matching bruise on his body as soon as she's ripped his white undershirt off of it, and she does.
He looks childlike in his sheepishness, attempts a lopsided smile to win her over, but she will have none of it.
"What have you and Henry been up to," she says, incensed, even as her fingers caress the bruise with a gentle touch of concern.
"David—" he begins.
"Charming!" she says, head tilting back in shock.
Eyes are rolling now. "A merry band of misfits," she drawls.
"Well, we thought it would do the lad some good to learn various schools of thought on how to properly defend oneself," he explains. She can't help but smile at the image of the three of them, crowded around Henry, arguing over the finer points of swords, hooks, bows and arrows. Robin rotates his shoulder to stretch out the tender ligaments, and winces slightly.
"So who brought the shotgun," she asks tartly, and then sighs at his look of surprise. "Recoil," she supplies, bends over to apply a soothing kiss like a balm to his bruised arm.
Robin smirks. "Did I mention Granny came with us?"
A laugh escapes her as he pulls her to his side with his good arm, they tumble onto the bed together, and she loves him all the more for wanting to protect her son, for wanting him to learn how to protect himself.
It is a lesson she wishes he had imparted to her as well, not two days later, when his wife returns to him alive, well and with many stories to tell of the time she spent in the Evil Queen's dungeons.
But no amount of light magic can heal the mark he has left on her, and he is like a bruise on her heart.
The first time they meet, his hand is caught in the pantry door and his tongue is caught in his throat.
"What are you doing?" she asks curiously, and he stares at her, jaw agape, as though he's never seen such an exotic thing up close before.
"I—I—milady," the boy stammers. "I'm sorry, I was only just—" He swallows. "Please don't tell your father. My mum is very ill, and we've hardly had anything to eat in days."
"You must be starving!" she says, aghast, and he looks bashful. "Please, have as much as you like. There's far too much for our family alone, and half of it goes to waste as it is."
He's either too shocked or embarrassed to make a move, so she makes it for him, piling loaves upon loaves of bread as well as some dried fruits into a spare sheet of dining linen, and the knot she ties at the top can barely contain it all.
"Here," she whispers. "Go on, take it!"
But the act of freely offering to him what he'd originally planned to steal makes him hang his head in shame, and he wishes he could be someone who only gives her things instead of taking them away from her.
"Where is your family?" she asks, and he points out the window, in the direction of the stables. "Take me to them, please." When he doesn't budge, she sighs, touches her palm to his—she must think him deaf, dumb or both, he realizes regretfully—and their fingers intertwine, hands swinging up and down with each step they take together.
The first time they kiss in public, it is still in secret, behind a marble column draped in velvet, at one of the annual balls her mother throws to entice potential young suitors into wedding her eldest daughter.
"Robin," she giggles as his lips travel along the smooth, silky plane of her throat, "stop, my mother could walk in at any moment."
"Let her," he says gruffly, and the years have filled out the hard lean muscles in the arms that tighten around her waist now, and in the chest that she shoves at halfheartedly to push him away.
"You know that can't happen," she scolds him, "ever," and the number of times she's had to tell him this is the number of times he's grown tired of hearing it.
"Regina," he says, taking her lovely stubborn face into his hands, "I love you. And I am not ashamed by that love. Why are you?"
"You know it's not like that," she whispers, deposits a kiss to his collarbone, breathes in his scent, and he will always smell like the forest to her.
"Tell me again what it's like, then," he says.
"It's like this—I am trying to protect you from her," she tells him, "because she would have you killed if she ever found out about us." He looks skeptical, and she alone has tested the limits of her mother's cruelty and knows that there are none.
"Don't leave me," she says, and her voice sounds broken, as though he already has, and he kisses her hair with a tenderness that casts an ache like a curse over her heart.
"I wouldn't dream of it."
The first time they fight, she is crying into her sister's arms for many hours after. Their mother has finally secured the happy future of not one, but two, of her beloved daughters, and the news has spread throughout the castle grounds that the ladies of the house are soon to be ladies no longer, but duchess and comtessa.
"Oh, Regina," her sister tsks now, combing her hair in soothing repetitive motions as her sobs wrack the bedframe. "What's so bad about the Duke? He doesn't smell nearly as bad as that Earl whom Mother practically tried to sell you to last year."
She can't even bring herself to muster up the laugh that her sister is expecting. All she can think about is the look on Robin's face when she had found him at the stables earlier that night, he'd already heard the news, and not from her.
"Regina," says Zelena suddenly, grabbing hold of her shoulders and lifting her up to sit like a ragdoll. "Does this have something to do with that stable boy?"
She hiccups, "What stable boy," but Zelena's not fooled.
"Oh don't play dumb," she says with a roll of her eyes. "I've seen the way he looks at you during your riding lessons. And I've seen the way you look at him, when you think you're the only two in the world standing there."
"I love him," Regina says fiercely, and Zelena doesn't look terribly surprised, though she's not exactly thrilled either.
"Mother won't stand for it," she tells Regina. "She'll have him killed. Or worse, she'll tell the Duke, and then he will. You know that." Sighing, she takes her sister's hands, soothes out the tension that's curling them into fists. "Are you that selfish, that you're willing to sentence him to death for the simple act of loving you?"
And the last time they see each other, she tells him she will be married in a fortnight, that she is a lucky woman, and the Duke a lucky man.
But like Zelena, Robin is no fool, and she'll have to do better than a few hollow-sounding words to have him properly convinced.
"This is all I ever wanted," she says now, and his eyebrows rise as though to say, Nice try. Not good enough.
"No," he growls, "this is all your mother ever wanted for you. Why can't you bloody stand up to her, for once in your life!" She rears back as though the words themselves have slapped her, and he instantly regrets them, starts forward to take her arm, and she shoves him away.
"Don't touch me," she hisses. "Don't touch me with your—with your filthy hands."
He holds these hands up now in a signal of peace, or at the very least a ceasefire, but she barrels on. "How deluded must you be to think that I would sacrifice this, my one chance at true happiness, to bathe in streams and roll around in haystacks for all eternity with you?"
He looks truly startled now, and she takes that to mean it's finally working.
"You were just a plaything," she says, and she thanks whatever higher power is out there that her voice isn't cracking the way her heart is. "A distraction until I met the real thing, and now I have—I've found a real man to warm my bed at night."
"So this is what you think of me. This is what it's really like."
She can't let herself cry. She can't. She knows that if she does, he will never leave her side again. Which is exactly the promise he'd made to her, and now she's forcing him to break it.
"I'll tell you exactly what it's like," she snarls, and she's disgusted with herself. "It's like this—I will never be with you. You're nothing." He advances a step and her palm shoots out, catching him across the face. His eyes are burning as much as the angry welt on his cheek is now. "You're nothing to me!" she shouts. "Nothing but a common thief!"
Which is true—because while he may not have stolen her bread, he has stolen her heart.
He walks away with it now, and she realizes that she loves him more in this moment than she ever has, and that for as long as she has loved him, for her entire life, really, she has never spoken the words to him out loud, and now he will never know.
The first time they meet, he rescues her from a flying monkey with an arrow to the head. Maybe this means he's not the enemy, but it doesn't exactly make him her friend either. He catches onto her coldness quickly, but treats her with the same warmth she seems to reserve only for his son, especially after she returns the favor by transforming a flying monkey into a stuffed one.
The first time they almost kiss, the only thing stopping them is not the physical distance that separates their bodies, but the kind that separates her head from her own traitorous heart. She is wandering the forest alone, longing for her castle, for her stables and for her saddle, to ride once more and feel the wind nipping at her cheeks and tugging through her hair. Her daydreams take her straight to the river, and she's aghast to feel her face burning up at the sight of him, bare, back facing her, the water treacherously low at his waist. Then she's absolutely mortified when he turns to catch her in her stare, and the smirk that forms at the corner of his mouth sends her pulse into a wicked frenzy. Robin's advancing towards her now, revealing a new tantalizing part of himself with each step into shallower waters, and then she sees his tattoo, she finally sees what's right in front of her, and her first instinct is to run away from it.
The first time they fight, it is in a public place, it is as volatile as the campfire spitting beneath their feet, and it certainly won't be their last time, either. He's infuriated with her for recklessly abandoning their hunting party to go on a solo monkey-chasing mission, and for the life of her she can't understand why. Snow White is loitering on a log nearby, doing her best to pretend she can't hear a word, and Regina lets her think she's succeeded. But Snow is the closest thing to a sister she's ever had, and she wonders if it wouldn't be so bad to talk over all these dangerous feelings her heart has dared to feel whenever he is around. That is, until she sees him pick up his boy, they turn in for the night, and she remembers that Henry is the only real thing in her life, and she has lost him, and nothing else matters.
The last time they see each other, she doesn't say anything to him at all. They part ways outside Rumplestiltskin's castle; the Charmings are already several paces ahead, on their quest to find Glinda, and Robin has volunteered to stay behind with Belle while she makes one last attempt to break through to Rumple. He's watching Regina now, and there's so much depth to his gaze that she forces herself to look away before she drowns in it. And as Snow enacts the second curse and Regina splits one heart to beat as two, she thinks, how weak must her own heart be, to find solace in the fact that this curse will erase all the regret of having never opened itself up to him?
The first time they meet, he shoots an arrow at her head, and he's completely unfazed when she grabs it out of thin air. There's a strange familiarity about him, a pleasurable ease with which he speaks to her, and an unexpected thrill whenever their eyes meet, that she warms up to immediately. The shock of seeing the lion tattoo is only a small detour, in the grand scheme of things.
The first time they kiss, she doesn't have her heart, and he's the one who lost it, but she kisses him anyway, and he's never been gladder of anything, as he tells her breathlessly when they finally pull away, but only for a second, before their lips find each other again.
The first time they fight, he tells her he wishes to never see her again. She would expect nothing less from the man whose wife she had killed in another lifetime, and some shadow of her former villainous self wants to hiss the world "likewise" at him like a curse. But she is no longer the Evil Queen, and he knows this, tells her as much when he's back not a day later, he is the only constant in her life, and he can never stay away for long. But because she is no longer the Evil Queen, and because the very possibility of that transformation has made his love for her as powerful as it is, she has to let that love go, give him the second chance he deserves, with his wife, and not with her. He understands and he tries, for her, for Marian, and for Roland, for everyone but himself, until Marian lets him go, because she is selfless, and he has to learn how to be a little less so. But Regina's not sure she's strong enough to let him in again, and so he waits, patiently, until she is.
The first time she tells him she loves him, it's directed to his back as he's walking out of the diner, she practically shouts it at him, and it certainly won't be the last time, but for now there are no more words. He turns abruptly, sweeps her up in his arms like they're in a damn fairytale, and his lips are hot against hers, desperate, bruising, impatient, because there are so many lost moments to make up for, and Snow is not even trying to hide the fact that she can't stop smiling anymore.
And the timing is finally, finally right.
He does not mean to raise his voice at her. But Sherwood Forest is not as harmless as it appears in the storybooks, especially not as twilight nears, and it's best for young girls not to leave a father's sight for too long, even if it is to catch lightning bugs, as she had insisted to him through watery eyes.
Her little face screws up in its determination not to let the tears fall, and she runs away from his outstretched arms, his apology, across the campfire and into the arms of Snow White, the closest thing to a motherly figure she has ever known.
"You shouldn't be so hard on her, Robin," a voice murmurs at his shoulders, which slump in defeat.
Tinker Bell perches on the log beside him.
"I know you want to protect her," she says.
He sighs, and his face is in his hands. "And I know there are some things I can't protect her from," he admits, and why had he been cursed to raise two children who had both known the loss of a mother?
Tinker Bell squeezes his bare forearm in sympathy, then they're both looking down at his tattoo and it means more to each than the other will ever know. "We all miss her."
"Not like I do," he whispers, and she can't argue with that.
None of the families traveling in their party had brought up a girl of their own before—all they'd known were boys, and Emma of course, who had raised herself all on her own.
But he knows that if she were here now, she would know exactly what to do, would take their daughter into her arms, would say the words to best soothe the wounds her father's angry remarks had left behind, and then her warm embrace would heal the rest. She would put her to bed after her tears dried, and their daughter would finally sleep soundly, rather than tossing and turning as she had done for weeks.
He allows himself to imagine she would even lean in as though to tell a secret, yet whisper just loudly enough for him to hear, "your father drives me crazy too sometimes," and he almost smiles but then the daydream is gone with the rest of the sunlight.
He throws a twig into the fire and watches it catch flame, though it does not burn.
His daughter is peering over Snow's shoulder at a rustling sound coming from the bushes. Suddenly Neal comes tumbling out of them, startling a small scream out of her as she dives headfirst in Snow's arms.
The boy laughs delightedly and proceeds to sneak up behind his mother, quiet as a field mouse. Robin feels the smile tugging again at the corners of his mouth, as his daughter, thinking she is safe at last, peeks her head up once more.
Neal is ready for her, hands brandished out like claws, and she lets out a terrified shriek to match his gleeful one, dashing out of Snow's lap as quickly as her stumbling legs can carry her.
"Neal," Snow is turning around and scolding him, "What have I told you about scaring her like that?"
Robin is shaking with uncontrollable laughter now, deep and wonderful, and his daughter shoots him a startled look, unaccustomed to the sound; when she realizes it's directed at her, she is as affronted as is possible for a four year old to be, and stalks off dramatically.
"Rayna," he calls to her now, and though she doesn't turn toward his voice, he knows she's listening from the way her footsteps halt and her shoulders square up. "Not so close to the edge of the woods. Roland, take your sister's hand. We know better than to let her wander off like that."
Roland obliges, his boy has gotten so big so fast, and before long he will be breaking hearts of his own with those dimples, as his Gina was always fond of telling him.
He leads Rayna back to the campfire, her heels dragging obstinately in the dirt. She is already so beautiful at such a young age, the spitting image of her mother. Robin's heart pauses a beat every time he recognizes that same look in her eye, mocking but fondly so, and the quirk in her lip whenever her father thinks he's being funnier than he really is.
But he is smiling now, and her anger is forgotten as swiftly as it had come, a mercurial thing that only a child could pull off with such grace. She runs into his arms at last, deposits herself in his lap.
"Tell me about Mama," she implores immediately, and she has asked him this every day since the day she could, and he has always found it so difficult to say no to those big, dark eyes that she hadn't inherited from him. Always finds it so difficult to say much before the pain of losing her feels too fresh for him to go on, like picking a scab that will never heal.
"Please, Papa." Her lower lip pouts up at him. "Neal doesn't need to hear stories about his mama. She can tell him herself." Rayna tugs on the sleeve of his tunic. "But what about mine?"
"Why don't I do you one better, darling," he finally responds, hoisting her up onto his hip, "and I'll show you, instead."
He knows Roland comes here often, has caught him sneaking away from camp from time to time with handpicked wildflowers fisted in his hand, daisies and snowbells and daffodils, and he always sees them again later, neatly arranged on the unmarked ground where he and Snow had buried her four years earlier.
But he has never brought Rayna here, never could bring himself to, until tonight, and he feels ready.
"This is where your mother and I first met," he says. "And near that tree over there"—Rayna follows his finger with her gaze—"that's where I saved her from a flying monkey."
Her eyes are wide and full of wonder. "Was it love at first sight?"
"Not in the slightest," he chuckles. "She threatened my life several times, actually." He pauses, thinks that maybe that's not the sort of story he should be telling to their daughter, but Rayna is giggling.
"Mama was funny," she says, and Robin smiles in agreement.
"That she was," he says softly.
"But she didn't, though," Rayna points out.
"Quite the contrary," Robin says with a laugh, "she saved me, in more ways than one." There's a lump in his throat. "She saved us all." And that's why she is no longer with them, because she saved them all, but she couldn't save everyone.
"She was pretty too, I bet," Rayna says thoughtfully, twirling a lock of brown hair in her little finger, and he recalls how Regina would pretend to hate his little habit of doing the same to hers, swatting his hand off, but he always caught the smile on her lips before she turned away.
"Your mother," he sits down, hoisting Rayna into his lap, "was the most stunning creature I had ever met." And he wishes he could extract the images of Regina from his mind and share them with their daughter like a daguerreotype, so that she can cherish them in place of the memories she would never have.
They examine the fresh bunch of flowers Roland had left there recently, roots still intact. "Shall we plant these, my love?"
"Yes," she nods enthusiastically, and together, they dig and scoop and pat the dirt down until their nails are thick with it and the scent of flowers will be near impossible to wash out of their skin later. Satisfied with their work, she puts her small hand in his much larger one and the moonlight guides them back to camp, as the daffodils dance in the wind behind them.
Rayna sleeps peacefully that night, her stuffed monkey held tightly in her arms. It's ratty and ruined from being well-loved, with bare bits of thread poking out of his ears, and Snow has had to sew his eyes back on more times than Robin can count because they keep popping off.
Roland had been reluctant to part with it, even when he should've been too old for such artifacts of childhood, but he hadn't been given much of a choice; Rayna had been eyeing it for some time, and when her fingers were developed enough to grasp and hold on to things, she'd done so to the monkey, and then never let go.
A/N: 'Alternatives' is my baby, but it's kind of like my baby that keeps getting me sick because babies are germ buckets basically. So I thought I'd take a little break with these guys for a while. I hope you enjoyed it! And if you have any prompts in mind for the remaining letters I will happily take them!