Five and a Half Years Ago, Leopold's Manor
"I don't understand why I must explain this to you again, my dear," Leopold says with a simpering, menacingly gentle voice.
Regina flinches at the endearment, knowing what it precedes, and sure enough, his hand closes around her arm, tight enough to bruise as it has many times before.
"I believe I told you that you were not to make any decisions about this household without consulting my opinion first."
"And I believe you haven't taken much interest in what I do to my own chambers thus far."
He slaps her. Hard enough for her cheek to numb and throb, turn red.
"I think you should get out of my sight now, my dear," he sighs with perfect indifference—to her, and to what he's just done. "I am weary, and am leaving for a trip in the morning. I will visit you tonight, though. I hope you figure out a way to cover up that unsightly bruise under your eye."
Regina's blood boils. The bruise is from him. But the more she fights, the worse it gets.
Leopold leaves after that night for three whole months, a blessed respite that would be more restful if the staff were not entirely loyal to him, if she didn't know that one of his personal secretaries stayed behind just to spy on her-"to keep an eye on you" the man told her when she confronted him, but she won't use the euphemism for this servant who writes Leopold a daily letter of her every move.
At first, Regina thinks nothing of it, but when the second month passes and still her cycle has not come, when her dresses begin to grow snug around her belly, she has to admit the possibility to herself. That she carries his child.
She has always loved children, always, but she'd never imagined it to be like this, for her to fear for the baby more than she ever has for herself. (And she was too young, with Robin, to think about children, but she does now-she wonders what it would be like if this baby were his, theirs, if he would insist it was a girl while she maintained that it must be a boy, if the baby would grow to kick at him with his hand on her belly.)
She indulges these thoughts for a whole week, right up until the day before Leopold's return, and she decides she has to force them down. She must be strong for this baby, and she cannot be strong by living in a past that ended and a future that will never exist.
By the time Leopold returns, her pregnancy is quickly becoming impossible to hide, and he is gentle with her in a way he never has been—for the next seven months, he leaves them both alone.
If only things could've stayed that way.
Regina takes a slow, heavy breath, lets it out, repeats. These galas she has to attend for work have never been her favorite way to spend a Saturday late afternoon and evening, for several reasons. The first, of course, is that she's left her son with someone else, and the second is that she's always had a hard time trusting others with Henry. He's with his usual babysitter-Emma is the nineteen-year-old daughter of the only other magical family that lives in her neighborhood, a couple who have become the closest thing Regina has to friends in the magical world anymore. Her family and friends from childhood have foresworn all contact, and at work she tries to keep her head down lest anyone find out too much about her hushed-up past.
But her boss insists—her most brilliant potions master must be present for these events. So Regina is here in her black dress robes, her hair coiled elegantly and simply at the base of her head, hoping nobody will much notice the employee whose posture most solidly reads—back off. At least to all but one person.
"I hope the little one's recovered from bowling into me?"
Robin has snuck up beside her. He smiles, his upper teeth digging into his bottom lip, offers her a tall glass of sparkling champagne. Why is he here?
She's been over it and over it since yesterday, since the encounter that left her so hyped up on adrenaline that she couldn't eat, that her son had to prod her more than once to keep reading their bedtime story because she kept getting distracted and trailing off. But nothing makes sense—Mother had—surely he could not be her Robin, she is imagining things, someone is tricking her-and yet he must be. But—he's alive, it has to be him, but how, where has he been all of these years, does he—and her mother-how did she trick her? But she must have, that woman, even in death, gets worse and worse. What did she see, if not his body? There are only more and more questions filling her head as she stands there, frozen, panicking.
"Are you all right?" he adds, drawing his hand back a little. His shirt shifts at the motion, up the right arm that's holding the glass. And there it is-a black shield, a lion. Dark ink-because she is close, she reminds herself. That is how the spell works now. It is dark when she is close. (But it would be darkest black anyway, her head is filled with him, and her heart.) Her eyes widen before she can stop them, and she looks into his eyes, sees her Robin, truly, for the first time. His shoulders have filled out, and his stubble, and he's grown perhaps two or three inches taller, but that teeth-digging-into-bottom-lip smirk and warm, melted voice and sea blue eyes; the way he carries himself around her, even though he doesn't know her, with a sort of blend of confidence and hesitance around her—it's him. She'd never even dreamed, never thought of the possibility that she might see him again, and her heart has gone to war against her mind, for what she desires, what the ache in her chest pulls her towards, is him, and yet he no longer knows her. They no longer know each other, and that pull—it is just an echo, it should not mean so much to her now. Her pounding heart doesn't seem to care so much about those thoughts. There's no harm in speaking to him, anyway, she tells herself. He doesn't know her.
Regina swallows, realizes she hasn't said anything and he's waiting, his lips quirking expectantly. She curls her fingers around the stem of the glass and lifts it out of his hand, takes a sip.
Robin clears his throat into the awkward silence. "I—hope I didn't upset you, yesterday. You looked a little off kilter when we met."
Regina's heart pounds. She tilts her head, lets the easy banter spill between them as it always used to, half a decade ago. "He's fine," she answers, turning to face him, "In fact, he's rather insistent that you ran into him."
"Is he, now?"
"Mhm. He thinks little boys with books should have the right of way."
"You've taught him well, then." Regina glances at him, and gets caught in his gaze, in the way he's looking at her with these wide, soft eyes, looking into her. It made her uncomfortable at first, when they first became friends and he looked at her like this. But then his mother had fallen seriously ill—an illness that had resulted in a three-week hospital stay at the end of their fifth year—and he'd come to her with the news and said I have nobody left without her, looked at her like this, added you're my best friend. Please don't leave me. She'd held his face between her hands, brushed away an errant tear, made certain they were well hidden behind the suit of armor. Kissed him for the first time, gentle, brief, tentative. (And then he'd given her that look again, gasped and pulled her to him and kissed her some more. She didn't find it so uncomfortable after that.)
"Are you—" he begins.
Regina blinks, closing off the tears that burn at the back of her eyes at the memory.
"Are you quite certain we don't know each other?"
She licks her lips, swallows again.
"School, perhaps? Did you go to Hogwarts?"
"I don't think we've—but yes, I went there."
"Gryffindor," he says with an eager smile. "You?"
"Slytherin." She glances at him, but there is no reaction—negative or positive. Well, he'd never been one for judging such things.
"Robin of Locksley," he introduces himself, holding out his hand.
She glances down, lets their fingers brush for the briefest of moments. "Regina Mills," she returns.
He blinks, freezes for a moment, and a flutter of fear works its way into her stomach—does he recognize the name in other ways than their past, has he heard of—but then he smirks, and she can't help her lips from quirking up just a little in response. "Most people ask why the of."
"Do they?" She takes a sip of her drink, lifts her eyebrows at him, tells herself not to be silly—if he knew he wouldn't be here, and in any case that darker flicker in his eyes slips away. "Well, then, I suppose I'm not most people."
He takes a step into her space, not threatening, just-close, breathtakingly so. "Oh, that's quite clear, Regina."
Her head whips towards him to tell him off, but something in his gaze makes it difficult for her to bite back.
"Are you certain that we haven't—what year did you finish school?"
"I would have finished five years ago."
"It's none of your business," she snaps.
"I'm sorry, Regina, I didn't mean to—"
"It's fine," she dismisses, regretting it a little when their eyes meet and she sees how plainly hurt he is by her tone.
They stay silent for a moment, but he doesn't walk away.
"We were the same year, then. That must be why you looked so familiar on the street the other day."
"I suppose," she allows. She'd never heard that man's explanation of the full extent of his memory curse, so she really doesn't know what Robin would or would not remember, how far his lost knowledge of her would extend. (She refuses to call Leopold her husband, even in her own mind, even years after his death. That sham of a marriage doesn't deserve it.) And the fact that she is the only one who remembers what went on between them-it makes it less real to her, even than when she thought he was dead-like a dream of somebody else's life, somebody else's love, and it stuns her how much of a difference that makes, the reality of this. Stuns her how much it hurts, more even than it did when Cora first told her it had happened.
"What?" she breathes, as Robin's eyes flit around her face, halting finally on her own wide eyes.
"I doubt I'd ever forget meeting you."
She gapes, her heart pounding. Can't help it. "I—"
One of the hospital's most important benefactors taps Robin on the shoulder with a gruff, "I have something we need to discuss, Mr. Locksley."
"Just a moment," Robin agrees, turning back to throw her a wink. "Enjoy the rest of the party, Regina Mills," he says, and he walks away, leaving her breathless and confused, something like hope aching in corners of her heart she'd forgotten she had.
Three days later, his all too familiar voice stops her on her way out of a corner store in Diagon Alley.
Regina spills half of the coffee she'd been holding onto her hand, and nearly drops the slugs she'd just purchased. "Robin?"
"Well that looks appetizing." He nods to the ingredients in her hand with warm, open eyes, a quirked eyebrow and half a grin.
"They're for work. What are you—" Dizziness rushes to her head, as it has both other times she's seen him-he doesn't remember, but somehow, it seems, still cannot stay away from her.
"I'm staying here." He takes another step in her direction, so that less than a foot separates their feet, so that she can feel a whisper of his breaths on her cheeks, smiles kindly, searches her eyes like he knows there's more beneath the surface than she's showing him. "Well, up the street. Not here. Is something wrong?"
"I—" And she's still so drawn to him, like a charm, like gravity and magnetism. She takes half a step closer.
He nods to her hand as she waves her wand over her wrist and clears away the mess. "Would you let me buy you another coffee?" he offers, and she recognizes it, the way he turns on the charm, lifts his brow at her, the way she could fall into the melted flecks of color in his gently pleading eyes, "I have a favorite cafe; I grew up in London." He looks so hopeful, those sea blue eyes still catching her and holding her, those upper teeth digging into his bottom lip as he smiles at her.
"Another time, perhaps."
His face falls enough for her to feel a pang somewhere-she's not sure if it's of guilt or the realization of just how much she's missed that gaze, missed it being directed at her.
She hesitates for a moment, as he does. But she has other things to do-a son to care for, a past that would horrify him, she's a woman who has been beaten down and overcome it, almost unrecognizable from the girl he knew, and-
She has just enough excuses to last her until he's nodding, amicably if disappointedly, and continuing on his way. And she thinks she might also recognize in the tilt of his head as he leaves that he hasn't given up just yet.
A week later, a knock sounds on the door to Robin's hotel room. He sets down his quill and paperwork, about to stand when whoever it is knocks for a second time, quick and frantic raps on the wood.
He pushes back his chair and reaches the door in a few quick strides.
"Regina?" Henry's balanced on her hip, clinging to her, his arms around her neck and his head on her shoulder, a little shaken up. "Is everything all right?"
"It's complicated. Can you—" she takes a deep breath, rubbing Henry's back, "Will you watch him? Just for a few hours. There's something I need to go take care of."
"Can I offer you any other help—"
"Keep him safe," she interrupts. "That's what I need."
"Absolutely, but—are you certain you're all right?"
She nods, but her jaw looks tense, determined. She kneels, setting Henry on the ground in front of her and holding both of his little hands in hers. "Henry, Mommy needs to go do something, okay, so you're going to stay here."
Robin kneels next to them a couple of feet away, and smiles in what he hopes is a reassuring way at her son.
"This is Robin. He went to school with me, and he's going to stay right here with you while I'm gone."
"Will you be back soon?"
"Very soon," she promises, pressing a kiss to Henry's forehead. She turns to Robin then, the panic clearer in her face when her son cannot see her. "I have to go."
"We'll be fine," he assures her, sitting down next to Henry.
She gives Henry a final hug, and with one glance back at them, hurries out of the room.
Robin paces by the door after Henry's in bed. He knew of the gossip surrounding Regina Mills—whispers of it, that she had killed her husband, that the Wizengamot had tried her and found that it was an accident—but he's never been one for Hogwarts gossip, and certainly not for judging people until he knows them.
He worries as he paces, what has upset this obviously very private woman enough for her to ask a near stranger for help. And he keeps his wand by his side, in case there might be some threat, in case he needs to protect her little boy.
There's something about this woman, she is stunning and intriguing and challenging—and just…everything simmering beneath the surface, that she seems to think will turn people off, will make them look away, but not him. It makes him want to know her more, to stare into those dark eyes and see everything. To learn what all those flickers in her expressions mean, and find the best ways to draw out that little quirk in her lips when she's amused.
His tattoo became much more visible the day he met her—and it could be a coincidence, but as he rubs his fingers into it over and over, traces the curve of the crest, something in him knows that's not the case.
Regina's very aware of the sound of her high-heeled boots clicking on the pavement as she hurries through the Leaky Cauldron and back into London. She'd thought, at first, of leaving Henry with Mary Margaret and David, but then her neighbor's house would be an obvious place for Zelena to check. She's had absolutely no contact with her sister since Leopold's death, but this afternoon she'd received an owl, and although she knows agreeing to meet the same day as proposed is a better idea than waiting for Zelena to come to her, she doesn't want Henry anywhere near her family, especially after Zelena's professedly joking threat against her son unless Regina would help her. As far as her sister knows, Robin is still dead (or at the very least, her sister thinks that that is what she knows of Robin herself, and though she doesn't know whether she could possibly hate her family more, but Zelena being involved in that trickery might just do the trick). In any case, he's the only safe guardian Regina would trust with her child right now, and Zelena doesn't have to know she's found him again. Without Mother around, without any way of controlling Regina, her sister would have no means and no motive to go after him anyway.
"Hello, Sis," Zelena drawls from the sofa as Regina opens her own door.
"I hope you don't mind. I thought I'd make myself quite at home."
"Oh, not at all, Sis," Regina bites back, voice dripping with sarcasm. She waves her wand, and the lock on her front door clicks.
"What, the little one didn't feel like joining us?"
"He's at a friend's. I didn't think he needed to be part of this discussion."
"And you didn't want him to meet his old Auntie?"
"Not really, no."
"What do you want, Zelena."
"I don't have time for patience. You are in my home, sitting on my couch, drinking my tea. Tell me what you want, and then get. Out."
Zelena springs up from her chair. "You named him after Father, then?" she asks, picking up a frame from the side table with a red handprint and messy letters that read "tO momMY. LovE HEnrY"
"That's none of your business."
"Fine, fine. Forgive me for trying to catch up. I need you to borrow a few potions from your work."
"And why would I do that?"
"Well, you could do it out of love for your dear, elder sister."
"But if that won't do, I suppose I could tell everyone here—all of your friends, and the people at your pathetic little job, that Regina Mills is a murderer."
Regina tenses, her hands curling into the back of a cushioned chair. "Zelena—"
"Oh, I know, I know, Daddy made sure the Wizengamot called it an accident, but you know Mother and I never believed it. Your own husband, Regina, the father of your child. How many people do you think will stick around after that?"
"Go right ahead."
Zelena barks out a laugh. "You don't mean that."
"Oh, but I do." Two years of marriage to Leopold have given Regina the ability to hide her own panic, and she does it easily now. "You'll leave without anything you want."
"All I'm asking for is a potion of—"
"Stop. Don't bother. I'm not interested, and I'm certainly not helping you."
Zelena takes her wand out of her belt, points it at her sister. Regina does the same.
Zelena slashes her wand through the air. "Confringo!" Fire explodes from the end of her wand, and the glass vases by the entry shatter. "Should I make some more noise?"
"Zelena, we are in London surrounded by Muggles."
"Regina? Is everything all right?" Mary Margaret, just outside the door. Regina opens her mouth to tell her to go away when she hears "Alohomora" and the witch who lives next door walks in.
Zelena lifts her wand to direct another spell at their new visitor, but Mary Margaret and Regina both react too quickly, shout Expelliarmus! together, and Zelena lands on the ground, her wand thrown halfway across the room, too far for her to even consider being able to reach it.
"Do you even know who you're living with?" Zelena asks Mary Margaret, snarling. "A murderer. She killed her husband, Henry's father! You really want to let your family near somebody like that?"
Regina glances back at her neighbor, suddenly panicked—if she chooses to spread this around to her boss, her life here will be—
"I'm aware of the stories," Mary Margaret says, utterly calm.
"What?" Regina gasps.
"I know the stories, Regina. The court thought it was an accident, and the old Pureblood families blame you, but it's not like Hufflepuffs missed out on all the stories about Leopold and your mother. You can guess which version David and I chose to believe, and why we tried to befriend you when you moved in here."
"You…" Regina trails off.
"How could you?" Zelena snarls.
"Is everyone all right in here?" David asks as he jogs into the room, his wand immediately trained on Zelena as well. "Regina, is Henry safe?"
"Henry's fine," Regina manages, "and elsewhere." All this time, they'd known the gossip about her, the horrible stories Leopold's family had tried to spread. She turns to her sister, her shoulders set, head held high.
"I'd get out, if I were you, Zelena," David observes.
"And don't ever come near me again," Regina adds, her wand at the ready. "Looks like your little plan isn't going to work."
Zelena glares, her jaw tight, scrambles over to her wand. "I still don't understand why Mother wasted her time on you," she growls. She disapparates with a loud crack!
Regina leans back against the side table behind her.
"You all right?" Mary Margaret asks again, placing a tentative hand on her upper arm.
"Fine. But what I've done—"
"You're a good person, now. A good mother, someone who works to help heal people." Mary Margaret grasps one of Regina's hands in her own. "That's what matters."
"I—" she searches for something to say, some reason the first friends she's had in six years should leave her alone or grow to hate her, but all she manages is, "thank you."
"Absolutely," David glances at his wife, and, never one to miss her signals, clears his throat and heads to the door. His wife was friends with Regina first, and she is still much closer to Regina than he is. "I'll—let you two talk," he observes.
Once he's gone, Regina stands and points her wand at the broken vases and the grooves they've dug into the wall. She puts the first back together, then the second, but her hand shakes.
"I've spent so much of my life certain I would always be alone," Regina finally says. "And then Henry—Henry was the biggest blessing I could've asked for, and I told myself it would be enough, to love him and protect him. But…" She trails off, thinks inexplicably of Robin and his dancing eyes.
"Is something else going on?"
"No. That is, I—ran in to someone, from my past."
"A bad someone, or—"
"No, good. Maybe," she amends. "I don't know."
"Why don't you go get Henry, Regina? Your heart won't be able to handle anything else until you have him back."
"Yes, all right," Regina agrees as she finishes the last repair and the flat looks like it had before Zelena arrived. "Thank you, Mary Margaret. For everything."
"Of course." With a final, gentle smile, Mary Margaret leaves her alone.
Robin answers the door with his wand out.
"Regina," he sighs when he sees that it's her. "I didn't know if—"
"It's all right. I'm glad you were careful."
Robin nods towards the bed, his voice dropping low and soft. "He finally fell asleep about twenty minutes ago. I got him to eat about half of a sandwich first, and we read from the book you brought. Is everything—"
"Taken care of," Regina answers.
He huffs out a relieve breath. "Good." He guesses exactly what she wants, moves right to an update Henry, "He's very bright. And very stubborn. He insisted he wanted to stay up until you got back, even though his eyes were dropping shut the entire time."
Regina chuckles fondly, and for a long second they just smile at each other.
"You've raised him on your own? Sorry, that's none of my—" And it's like he has to reign in this sense of knowing her, remind himself he's only known her a few weeks.
"That must be difficult."
"It is. But he's wonderful, and we manage." She swallows, cannot stop herself from adding, "I promised myself I wouldn't be like my own parents."
He smiles sadly, lifts a hand as though to touch her shoulder before he thinks better of it and it drops back to other arm. "Me, too. It's funny; they're both gone now, but that still haunts me sometimes." And his thumb has started to absent-mindedly trace the curve of the shield on his wrist. Haunting, indeed.
Regina snaps out of contemplating that mark to remember his words. He's lost his mother in these last few years. She had no idea. "I'm sorry," she sighs, and her tone grows unmistakably bitter. "Mine are both gone as well."
He tilts his head, searches her eyes sympathetically. "Parents can have a way of being blind to their children's preferences."
She scoffs, a broken, sad sound. If only he knew.
"Henry told me you brew experimental potions for St. Mungo's. I'm not sure why, but I have this distinct memory of one of the Slytherin girls in my year being quite adept at potions."
She smirks, but then he's leaning closer to her, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallows, wets his lips.
She turns to the bed. "I'm going to go wake him." She sits beside her son, strokes a few fingers through his hair until his eyes flutter open.
He leaps up and into her arms. "Mommy! Can we go home now?"
"Yes, we can," she tells him, standing with him in her arms.
When she turns around, Robin is smiling at them, and for a moment all she can think is that, in another world, in another lifetime, this could've been them. Their son in her arms. She fights away the pain of the thought.
"Thank you so much, Robin."
"Of course." His head cocks to the side, a gentle, inviting gesture, studying her, and this time he does reach out to briefly squeeze her hand.
Regina shifts Henry's comforting but ever-growing weight higher on her hip. "I should—"
"You don't owe me an explanation," he assures her.
"Mommy I'm tired," Henry declares with a yawn, snuggling into her. "I wanna be in my bed."
"Take him home," Robin insists, pressing the storybook she'd brought with them earlier into her hands. "I run an educational program that's moving its headquarters to St. Mungo's. I'm sure I'll see you around."
Regina catches his eye for a moment, tries not to let it show all over her face how her stomach swoops at the news, then nods and exits.
A few days later and Robin is on his way to the hospital for a meeting about next year's funding when a familiar-looking five-year-old trips into his legs and tumbles onto his back.
Robin drops to the ground to pick the boy up, then stands with him and bounces him as he wipes the tears out of his eyes.
"You're okay, you're okay." He checks Henry over for injuries, scrapes, bruises, but he's absolutely fine, just a little shaken up.
"You're in a big hurry sometimes, aren't you?"
"I like to explore," Henry mumbles, his little hands digging into Robin's shoulders as his tears dry.
"Well, let's find your mother, all right?"
But there is no need. Regina is running towards them, panicked, then sagging with relief as she sees them.
"Oh thank God. Henry!" she cries, taking Henry right out of his arms and squeezing him against her. "Where did you go?"
She turns to Robin.
"We have to stop meeting like this," he says with an easy grin.
"He's always slipping his hand out of mine and figuring out that a puff of magic will give him long enough to toddle off somewhere," she answers. "Henry, Sweetheart, you scare Mama when you do that." She presses a kiss to his forehead.
"Sorry, Mama," he mumbles.
"It's okay, Sweetie. Just try not to do it anymore, okay?"
Henry turns to Robin proudly. "I'm stubborn, just like her!"
"Yes you are," Robin agrees, grinning at the boy. He turns to Regina, cannot resist catching the scarf that's nearly fallen off her neck in a hurry, tosses the end back over her shoulder and lingers to smooth the fabric. "You still owe me that drink."
She sighs as she squats to put Henry back on his feet. But she's smiling at the ground, and he can see the edges of it as he watches her. "I suppose I do."
Four Years Ago
Regina teaches herself potions once she breaks free. Enough to get a job at St. Mungo's, and to be known as one of the most innovative and skilled employees they've had in decades. She always did have a talent for it.
It takes her a long time, to heal from the wounds of her marriage, now that he is gone. It takes her months before she does not shiver when she steps out her door, a lingering fear of the magical binds that used to keep her at the manor, that of course could not reach her now, have not worked since Leopold's death, would not apply to her flat anyway. She has to relearn what it means to be physically free. It takes her several months more to regain some of her old confidence in herself, and who she is. To earn back her sharp wit and sense of humor, a little sharper, harsher than it was, for the life she has lived.
But with a job, and Henry to keep light in her life, to give her a reason to keep going, she learns.
(And she lets herself go quite mad for a few hours every week, works on another potion. A potion that could finally reverse the effects of memory charms.)
Regina's potion flashes from green to navy, then to a crimson red. She sprinkles a pinch of powdered newt legs over the cauldron, a few flies. Bubbles emerge in the liquid, viscous now as it should be. Perhaps this batch has finally worked.
She always did like to take up a challenge, and what better one than being told that this is impossible? Even if the man in whose memory she had created it had been, to her knowledge, dead.
She has worked on this on the side of her job as potions-tester at St. Mungo's for the four years she has lived in the Muggle world, just Regina and Henry, her quiet job and living in a Muggle flat, outside of much magical influence save for her job and an occasional event at work, where she keeps out of the way of the people who know her family.
But now she's trying very hard to ignore how much she needs it to succeed.
He may not love her now, and perhaps he would not after everything she has done, and been, but the way he has found her over and over again in these past weeks, the way he still grins at her and draws her out, the way he protected her son without a second thought—perhaps they might be friends. Perhaps someone from her past in the magical community could look at her with something other than contempt.
"So how'd you end up living with Muggles?" he asks softly as she pours a dash of skim milk and more than a dash of cinnamon into her drink.
"I…" she glances around, making certain none of said Muggles can hear them, "chose to."
"Ah. Did you?" She has to reach for a shaker that's just past her reach, on his side of the prep table, and when she moves to get it, he steps back, a hand on her waist as he, very unnecessarily, guides their switching places.
She shivers. "I felt more at home in this world, I suppose." Regina holds her hand out to him.
He grins. Merlin, this man. "Yes?"
"Your drink," she demands, "you have to get the spices right."
He smirks, chuckles, passes it over. "Like a potion, hmm? You really are an expert."
She taps her forefinger on the dispenser until a little of the brown powder dusts the milk foam of his drink, then takes a wooden stick and stirs it slowly. "Just particular. This will hardly have the same consequences as what I do at my job."
He snags the shaker when she sets it down, spinning it to see the label, catching her eyes, his own dancing. "And…is this magical?"
She notes his grin, wide eyes, hears the laugh in his voice. Still likes to tease, then. "Not exactly," she answers.
Oh, if only he knew. She gives him a terse smile back, lets a few drops of the crimson potion in her pocket fall into his drink with her back to block his sight. Here goes. The only way to know for sure if it works.
"We should do this again, sometime. At my cafe, though."
"You think it's better, then?" She presses the lid on his cup and hands it over.
"You'll just have to find out." Their eyes meet for a second. She blinks slowly, once, twice.
His hand lifts between them, the pad of his finger on her cheek, brushing away a stray piece of hair.
She lets her eyes flutter shut for a moment, forces herself not to lean into the touch, one she's been starved for since their last. How is it possible, she wonders, to miss him when he's right in front of her, but she does, she craves the days when he looked at her with more than this. With more than desire and interest. With love.
Her eyes fly open, and he is watching her.
"I'm sorry, I don't know why I…" he trails off, but his hand has not moved, and it is warmth and comfort and no one but her child has touched her like this in years, like she is worth something just for being herself.
He lifts the cup to take a sip.
"I have to go," she manages, backing away, out of his touch, out of the store.
She hears him call her name once as the door falls shut behind her. She doesn't stop to find out if she's right, if the way his eyes have blown wide, the way he jogs a few steps after her, means he remembers her.
Robin catches her on the street outside of the hospital a few days later.
"Robin? I'm sorry, I have to—"
"Regina, wait." He catches her wrist. "Look, I'm drawn to you…I have been since the moment we met, and I know it doesn't make any sense, but I keep feeling like—I had this dream last night, that I knew you. That we were friends, back at school, but it was so real, and then I woke up and it felt like it was real, and I—"
Her heart pounds as he trails off, feels like it's jumped into her throat, her stomach churns. So it worked, but just a little. Not enough.
"I have this mark on my wrist that I've never been able to explain, and it's been as light as a scar for as long as I can remember. Until the day I ran into you. But when I look at it, I always think of you, even though I can't explain—"
"Robin, I don't know what—"
He takes a step into her space, so that his breath brushes across her face. She doesn't back away.
She lifts a shaky hand to touch the mark, black ink as she remembers it, the roaring lion. She tilts her neck back to look at him, close enough to see the roughness of his stubble, the flecks in his eyes, and she doesn't know exactly who starts it, but then they're kissing. A gentle peck at first, and then his hand settles on her shoulder and hers clutch at his neck, and he groans, presses closer.
It feels like there are fireworks in her chest, like she's downed half a bottle of fire whisky in one gulp, like the moment the midwife placed Henry in her arms, like the day she accepted that she was finally free of Leopold and her mother. Like the day when she kissed Robin for the true first time, all those years ago.
He pulls away, gasping.
She yanks back, and he's stumbling, his fingers on his lips, his eyes wide and unfocused.
Does he—could he possibly—but without the potion it should've—?
"Regina," he whispers, voice broken and warm. And out of the haze it all comes back to her, how stupid she was for thinking that this would be better, after one night when she learned she could trust him. She is not the woman he fell for then, that he couldn't possibly—he doesn't love her now, doesn't know her, probably wouldn't want to after he finds out the truth.
She gasps, turns away, runs.
"Regina! Regina, wait!" she hears him yell. She ducks into the closest corner, out of sight of Muggles, and disapparates.
The first thing Robin does once the memories have rushed back into their places is curse Leopold and Cora for doing this to him. And again for doing this to her. The agony of their separation comes rushing back, their tears and horror, and Regina, he has spoken and heard that name a hundred times since but now he knows what it means, and it is another word entirely. She must have been trapped, kept from him somehow, lied to—he thinks back, and she was shocked to see him that first time, more shocked than just because of the past, but her parents are gone, as she told him, as is Leopold, she is free with the boy who is likely their son. Thank Merlin for that, or he would be murderous, raging.
His hand unconsciously grips his wrist, and he looks down, realizes how he got the tattoo—that it had been over something silly like a girl, but not silly, it had been for her. Kissing her, and the way she looked at him, and after all these years they still fit, still play off each other, like an emptiness he did not even remember has been filled, and the amount of joy he thought possible has multiplied.
He wonders for only a moment if it is his past self that wants her past self, and not really him wanting her, but then he thinks of the look in her eyes just before they kissed, and just after, of the feel of her lips on his, her hands on his neck, her laugh and frown and her trust in him even years later, trust enough to hand him her child without a second thought, and he knows this is no memory of the feeling at all.
And he needs her in his arms again.
Robin has the words halfway out of his mouth before she even finishes opening the door. "Regina Mills. Still stunning in every way." And the look he's giving her—he remembers everything, and he used to look at her like that, like the sun rose with her smile, like she was everything.
He picks up one of her hands, curls it around his wrist, on the lion crest. A single sob escapes her mouth before she can catch it, her hand flies to cover her lips.
The instinct to run again pulls at her. She has learned it well by spending several years of her life as a captive, but this—she's not certain she will be able to keep running from this.
His shaky hand reaches out between them, and when he cups her jaw she trembles, nearly breaks.
"You don't know—my past, it's—you don't know me anymore. You'd be horrified if—"
"No," he promises.
"The magical community, the Purebloods—they kicked me out, for what I've done. I've been banished, and Henry along with me."
His fingers press into her jaw. "Then I'll live in this world with you."
"We were children, Robin, foolish children in love. What does it matter?"
"We were in love, Regina, we were everything to each other, you know we were. You feel something, still, I know you do. I could tell when we kissed. You wanted me to remember."
"Robin, I'm—you couldn't possibly—Why try this, years later? I am nothing to you now."
"You are everything. You are everything, and I never stopped loving you," and he strides forward, cups gentle hands around her shoulders. His mouth has met hers desperately, pushing and probing, frantic. It is everything she had tried to forget they had, the way he touches her, as no one else has in her life, gentle but strong, not cruelly like the monster who still gave her the best thing in her life. Her son.
She tears her lips away, turns her head when he chases after her. "I can't," she sighs, "I can't do this."
"Henry—" she trails off.
"What about him?"
"He's—he's Leopold's, Robin. Henry is Leopold's. I love him with everything that I am, and—"
He takes a step towards her, holds her hands in his. "Why not have both of us?"
She gasps, "but could you—"
Robin brushes the teardrop from her cheek. "He is also yours, Regina. He is your child, and I will find it as easy to love him as it is to love you."
She raises a hand to his face, slow, scared, hopeful, trails shaking fingers over his cheekbone, feels the beginnings of a smile grow on her face.
He's backed her against the table in the entryway, and he lifts her onto the surface so that she's above him, steps between her legs. She whimpers as he steps closer, loops her arms around his neck and grazes fingers over his scalp with firm hands. And she still loves him, this man, she does, always has.
She kisses him, deep and heady, her hands cradling his face, his holding hers, then running down her arms to her wrists and back, across her shoulders, down her back to scoot her a little closer.
She pulls away for a moment, panting, staring at him, eyes wide, she's falling into his loving gaze, and then she's dragging him back in.
"My mother," she breathes, dragging nails down his neck, his shoulder blades and forcing him impossibly closer as her teeth catch on his bottom lip, "threatened to kill you, unless…" she kisses a burning trail down his neck, and his head falls back. When she reaches the hollow behind his ear, she freezes and presses the side of her head into his temple, swallows hard, gasps brokenly, her shoulders falling forward, "unless I convinced you I never loved you."
"Regina," he chokes, holding her to him with a hand at the back of her head, and he feels tears on his skin, she's crying quietly into his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," she winces, shaking, her hands groping blindly for his. He squeezes her hand before she lifts her head from his neck and brings his wrist to her lips, kissing the mark there. "And for what I said about your father—"
He threads fingers through thick strands of hair and tilts his forehead onto hers. "It's all right."
She shakes her head, their foreheads pressed together, "It's not. I had to say anything—everything to hurt you. You had to hate me."
He grips her waist with one hand as he swears, "I never hated you."
A broken, tearful laugh falls from her lips. That almost makes it worse, that it never worked.
"She knew it probably wasn't working, so she told Leopold to cast a memory charm, and then my mother took me to your house and showed me your—your body, said you'd died like your father. I still don't understand how—"
"Later," he promises.
"Let's give us another try," he pleads, "all right? I'm not saying it'll be perfect, but—"
"Yeah," she breathes, unable to think of any more arguments against it. She slides palms across his forehead, down his cheeks to cup his jaw, and he meets her eyes with intensity, not a smile, something more. "I just never thought I'd have this again," she chokes out. She shakes her head; she's being silly, but then he's nodding at her with an empathetic half-smile. He's always understood her so well; apparently he still does.
He hesitates for a moment, and so she lifts her head for a gentle kiss, hums, "I need you. Please." (And he knows her well enough not to argue. He understands what she needs; he needs it too, to feel her skin on his, to talk about the rest of this after.)
He reaches for her, catches her lips again as she slides fingers back around his waist. A hungry groan echoes against her skin as she bunches the material up and her hands meet bare skin. He backs away to pull his T-shirt over his head and tosses it carelessly to the ground, returning immediately to her.
Robin grasps the back of her knees and encourages her legs to come around his hips, and then he's lifting her up, never breaking the kiss, stumbling, he does not know where, he realizes.
"To your left," Regina gasps, smiling despite herself. He pouts at her, and she laughs again, a beautiful sound, her head thrown back, he cannot even find it in himself to care that she's throwing them off balance.
He deposits her on the bed, smirks at her squeak of surprise, crawls up her body on hands and knees until he has lined himself against her.
Her hand hovers where his heart pounds. "It's yours," he rumbles, and she feels the vibrations of his voice where her breasts and stomach meet his bare skin. "It's always been yours."
Regina grabs one of his wrists with both hands and drops his palm over her heart, halfway on one breast, his fingers curling into her collarbone. Her heart races beneath his hand. "Yours," she whispers. Chocolate brown eyes meet his, he's falling into them. She digs fingers into his skin eagerly to bring his lips back to hers.
Regina jerks her hips into his once before one of his hands falls over her breast as the other begins to work at the buttons of her shirt, and she hums appreciatively, reaching a hand down to tug at his belt.
"Merlin, I've missed you," he gasps as she pushes his pants down and then opens her arms to allow him to remove her shirt and tug down the straps of her bra.
He threads fingers into her hair. Long and flowing, it runs to her shoulder blades now. He dots kisses against the swell of her breasts, feels her hands bury in his hair, and he thinks she has never looked more beautiful, more free. "Still stunning."
She ruts her hips into his with a groan, flips them over. "And you still—" she gasps, sighing in relief as he tosses her bra somewhere off the bed and rolls his hips into hers, his lips skimming across her breast and closing around a nipple "—talk far too much."
He slides a hand under her lower back, lifts her hips enough to push her skirt and panties down and off her ankles.
She shivers, not from cold, but he pulls the sheet around them anyway, he's always been such a sap.
"Some things never change," he tries to say, though it comes out as more of a pant as he turns them over again.
She digs a heel into his thigh, stretching her neck up for a kiss, her palm pressing into the mark on his wrist.
They have this, the realization sinks into her as he lifts her legs higher on his back and he finally joins their bodies, has her sighing into his mouth, her mother is long gone, her pathetic excuse for a husband as well, they are not children, she will never let him go again. This time will be different, she will fight for it to be so with all of her being.
"And some things do," she answers, a breathy, stumbling phrase, and she shivers "we never got this," though if his grunt against her neck is any indication, he's long past the point of tracking seconds-old conversation.
He lifts one of her arms over her head, drops down for a better angle. "We have it now," he pants. The sensation floods what thought she has left, leads her to a keening half cry at every thrust. She'll tell him later, they will have time for all of it, and she arches into his mouth at the thought, at the way the desire burns against her skin when he touches her.
"Why didn't we—" she gasps, fingers digging into his shoulder, "—do this—every day, before?"
He chuckles, a stuttering, breathless laugh.
His name tumbles from her lips in a breathless pant then, the back of her head digging into the pillows. He halts for a moment, worry in the blue eyes that find hers, this is the last thing she'd wanted, she feels bereft, whines as the sensations turning her veins to live wires stop. "Loving me robbed you of so much in your life," he nuzzles his nose against her flushed cheek, his apology, and she sees in the strained lines of muscle how hard he's working not to keep thrusting into her. It would be beautiful if she were not so turned on right now, it is beautiful, the sap, he's apologizing for nothing while buried inside of her. "Your family, your old friends."
She scoffs, "some friends," and she will scream if he does not keep moving, uses the heel at his back to spur him forward, as if to spite them, those stupid people who have kept her from having this for half a decade. This is not about them the people she let go of long ago, this about the one person she could not. "You cannot steal something that's been given to you," she breathes, "and I'm yours."
He moves again with a tense groan. Their words become inadequate, fall away and they are alone, together, gasps and whimpers and skin on skin the only sound in the room.
Her face scrunches up in frantic pleasure. He slides his fingers between hers where he has her hand pinned to the mattress, and he can feel her toes curling into his back.
His head spins, he's so close, and he reaches between their bodies with his free hand, works his thumb against her. She moans, and he buries his face in her neck. "I love you," he sighs. His lips brush her skin, and she's fluttering around him at last, writhing beneath him, mewling into his ear. He thrusts twice more before he's falling as well.
He collapses on top of her, hums at the fingers petting his hair, he wonders how he survived a day, a weak, a month without her, cannot fathom how she managed it believing he was dead.
Robin traces aimless patterns across Regina's back, his fingertips skimming across her skin as she tucks her head into his chest. "Tell me what happened," he asks softly.
"The story among my family circles is that I killed Leopold. They banished me from their world to hide the truth from everyone else. A blessing if you ask me."
"Is their story the truth?"
She tenses up. "Yes."
"All of it?"
"He was—" Regina swallows, "he used to hurt me, often, and Mother would help me, sometimes," Robin tugs her closer, anger boiling helplessly in his belly, how dare the man, the boy who used to touch her like a piece of property, he should have tried harder, found her, helped her, "but I was bound from being able to use my magic against him. Helpless. One day, when Henry was just an infant, Leopold started to go after him. He was practicing," she chokes on the words, "he was using our baby as a test subject for spells, including one that burned Henry's skin, and I—something—a mother's anger, and love, I suppose—broke through the curse on my magic, and I killed him."
Robin swallows heavily, and she lifts from his chest to look at him, eyes wide with fear. "That was not your fault, Regina. You were protecting your child from a monster."
"It was dark magic," she whispers, shivering, "it felt—cruel, evil in my veins. I have my husband's blood on my hands."
"But you are not dark."
"No," she sighs, "Henry saved me from that."
He kisses her forehead. "I love you," he reminds her.
"Are you—can you love Leopold's child?" she asks, "Because if you want to—"
"He is yours, Regina, and we both know that children don't have to be like cruel parents. Of course I am certain." He smiles at her, and it only takes a moment before the smile is reflected in her features as well.
"He's wonderful," she whispers.
He smoothes hair off her forehead. "I look forward to getting to know him. So, how has my world treated you these past few years?"
She threads a hand into his hair. "Well enough, I suppose. I always felt on the outside, looking in, in mine. I like this better."
She smiles, a heavy smile, and warm, "It was missing you."
"Not anymore," she agrees, running her hand up and down the mark on his arm. "So what have you been doing?"
"What?" She smirks, nudging his cheek with her nose.
His hand resumes its aimless path against her back. "I run an organization...helping Muggle-born wizards and children from wizarding families meet and form friendships when they're young. Perhaps something in me still knew you."
"And now you do, and we can try again," she sighs, nestling her face towards his.
"A second chance," he whispers, his hand cradling her face tenderly.
"A second chance," she agrees.