A/N: Blue is the sequel to Daughter, which I've included here for reference (feel free to skip ahead!). Anyway, this basically became a missing year EF fic. And it's a two-parter, so stay tuned for more!
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.
He dreams of her often.
"Are you looking for this?" she taunts Zelena with her heart in her hand.
"That," answers her half-sister, scarlet smile gleaming against emerald skin, "and that precious newborn baby of yours."
Robin's grip always tightens on his bow and arrow, trained directly at her smug, smug face, but with a flick of her wrist it redirects at Regina instead and he has no choice other than to drop it, thankful it's even an option. But now, he's utterly helpless to do anything except watch the queen, his queen; he can feel the erratic rhythm of the heart she's holding as acutely as the one beating frantically in his own chest, and only he knows how terrified she truly is.
"What's the little one's name?" Zelena continues casually. "Rayna? How fitting—except for one minor detail, really. When I'm through with her, she'll never be queen of anything." She's positively beaming at the prospect. "And neither will have you."
"'When'?" Regina repeats with a short laugh. "As far as I'm concerned, you'll never have either of those things."
Then she throws a look over her shoulder at him, fleeting but filled with despair, and no matter how many times his mind has tortured him with this memory, the knowledge of what's coming never fails to destroy him, and even though he knows he's dreaming, there's nothing he can do to stop it.
"Regina—" but he can never reach her in time before she's crushing her own heart, and she might as well be crushing his too.
There is a blinding flash of white and Zelena is thrown backward, shrieking as a beam of light strikes her in the belly and propels her up into the air. She mounts her broom to counteract the windstorm shoving her back, but her hand sizzles as it comes into contact with an invisible force field in the sky and she jerks away, crying out as her fingers begin to drip and melt like candlewax.
"Don't think you've won just yet," Zelena screams down at them, clutching her ruined hand to her chest. "I'll get you, my little sister. And your darling daughter too!"
He doesn't know who reaches Regina first, he or Snow, but all that either of them can find where she had been standing not seconds before is her riding cloak, collapsed in an empty heap on the forest floor. A gentle breeze erodes through the remnants of her heart, scattering ash through the air and across the wrinkled surfaces of fallen leaves.
He drops to his knees, and then his chest makes impact with the ground as his entire body crumples, he scrambles for her, claws at the dirt, feels it filling the spaces beneath his fingernails and he yells, screams out for her, begs her to return to him, but she's gone. And she's never coming back.
"No, Regina," he sobs, he moans, the words choke him until he's gasping just to breathe. "No. No. Regina, no. No. No."
And other times, instead of 'no,' it's 'yes.'
She palms his mouth to shush him. "These tents aren't soundproof," she scolds, rolling her hips deeper into his as punishment.
"Complains the woman who kicked us all out of her castle," he counters, but the retort loses its bite at the end when she nips him in the collarbone, and his fingers flex involuntarily at her waist, draw her impossibly closer.
"It wasn't safe there anymore." She tugs his head to the side with a fist in his hair, granting her tongue better access to his throat. "We were stupid to think it would be. Stupid to stay as long as we did."
'I think we could've made do," he argues, but no he doesn't, not really, he just loves to rile her up, because he's a complete and utter fool for her, all of her, every withering glare she gives for everything ridiculous thing he says.
"Please," she scoffs, straightening up indignantly, and he would have regretted the sudden loss of heat her touch had provided if it didn't give him such ample view of her naked body instead. "That pantry door nearly took off your hand. You're lucky I was there to save it when I did." Said hand comes up now to squeeze her breast and she arches into his palm with a hum, though she's still scowling. "And you thought Rumple's castle had booby traps."
"It did," he protests as he sits up, his nose brushing past her cheek and then coming to rest in her hair. "And if I recall correctly, I saved you from one of them."
"Well I guess that makes us even," she breathes, pressing her forehead to his, and then her lips; they ghost across his eyelids next, and down the bridge of his nose.
"So just a matter of repaying your debt, then, or do you actually care now?" he smirks up at her, though he's hardly one in a position to do the teasing.
"Of course I care, you unprincipled pickpocket," she sighs, leaning back again so she can look him in the eye. Her fingertips dance across his stubble as she cups his face in her hands. "And besides…it easily could have been Roland, instead."
It's a sobering thought. He can't argue with that.
Sensing the moment has passed for now, his hands draw away from her front to run up and down her arms instead; they feel chilly, and he throws the blanket they share over her shoulders, tucking the corners in around her sides. "How long do you think this shield you've put up around Sherwood Forest will last?"
Regina looks uncertain all of a sudden. "I'm not sure," she replies haltingly, hands trailing down to rest against his neck before dropping into her lap, and his eyebrows turn downward.
"What is it?"
She fingers the fraying edges of the blanket instead of responding.
"Regina," he says carefully, "what are you not telling me?"
"The shield is tied to my magic," she starts, "and my magic is tied to me." He nods, none of this is news to him; it's the reason why she can never cross to the other side of the shield, can never even come in contact with it, not without reabsorbing all the magic she's stored inside it to keep Zelena's army out.
He waits for her to continue, and when she doesn't, he sighs, reminds her, "I'm not completely idiotic when it comes to this sort of thing, you know."
"I don't know if I can keep it up much longer," the words fall out in a rush, and she's wincing before he's even grabbed her by the arms.
"What are you saying?" he demands, nearly blinded by panic. "Are you ill?"
"Not exactly," she sighs, and he wants to shake her, why can't she just tell him what's wrong?
"I'm—" and she pries one of his hands out of its tight grip on her arm, brings it down to clasp her belly instead. "I'm pregnant." He must look positively dumbfounded because then she feels the need to clarify, "I'm having a baby."
When he finally finds his voice it's almost criminal how joyous it sounds; their lives are imperiled on a daily basis in this world and they're about to introduce a new one into it. It's selfish and absurd and yet he can't stop his smile from spreading wide no matter how hard he bites down on his lip, can't keep the delight at bay as he exclaims, "We are?"
She presses her palms back into his cheeks and a laugh bubbles out of her at the ridiculous expression on his face, and he knows he must be grinning like an idiot but why would he ever stop? "I don't think my body can have this child and keep the shield up at the same time," she confesses. "The energy it takes…"
"We'll figure out a way, with or without the damn shield," he promises fervently, and then he's pressing kisses over every inch of her face he can reach. "Zelena is not getting anywhere near us." She looks less assured than he feels, and he tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, thumb caressing her cheek as he leaves another kiss on the side of her downturned mouth. "Nothing is worth the loss of a child. Our child."
"Robin of Locksley," she says, voice catching, hands clutching his shoulders, then bringing his forearm up to her lips as she presses a kiss into his tattoo, and she can't continue.
He smiles, gently. "Yes, your majesty?"
"I love you," she tells him, finally, finally, finally, and his heart swells as he brings her close to him and they tumble back down into their makeshift bed on the ground. They're both laughing now, flimsy tents be damned, and he gathers her hair in fistfuls as he brings her lips up to his.
But it is only a memory, he can feel her slipping away, and it's too soon, always too soon.
"I miss you," he whispers, and she smiles, bemused.
"I'm right here," she reassures him tenderly, tracing a finger along his jawline but he can't feel her touch, it ghosts right through his skin.
"Regina," he says, throat closing, and she is gone.
How resilient must his own heart be, he wonders, that it somehow remains intact enough to break anew every time he loses her again?
"It didn't work," Regina tells him when they meet once more, not in this so-called 'Storybrooke' land, where they had told him the curse would be sending them all, but back at her castle, after the curse has failed. And God help him, knowing what kind of danger they still have yet to escape, but the sight of her coaxes a breath back into his lungs, loosens the hands that had been curled into fists, even while holding Roland, as they had watched her and the Charmings disappear to the topmost spires of her castle.
"What happened?" he asks, falling into step beside her as they walk aimlessly down a dimly lit passageway. "We heard thunder and thought a storm was descending upon us, but then…nothing."
"Snow White had to sacrifice the person she loves the most," she says, as if that explains everything.
"Sorry, I don't follow," he replies, confused. "She had to…kill Prince Charming?"
"I took his heart," she says, unapologetically matter-of-fact, "and then she crushed it."
"Sounds like something you can't come back from," he responds, startled, because he has just run into both Snow and her husband, looking rather dejected but very much alive, so he suspects there's more to it than what Regina's telling him.
"It was working," she amends, "until I split her heart in two and put half of it in his chest," and when he starts to speak she gives him a quelling look, as though to stave off incredulity, "her idea, not mine."
"Did that negate the curse somehow, then?"
"She didn't give up," Regina says, shrugging uselessly. "She couldn't give up the thing she loves most after all. Not even for more than five seconds." She pauses. "It's been a while since I read the fine print but my guess is that would be considered cheating."
"So what now?" He feels like a right idiot for asking her question after question, but she looks on the verge of falling apart if she's left with her own thoughts for too long, so he bombards her with more, desperate to save her from the darkest parts of her mind.
"The castle needs protection," she states flatly. "Otherwise we can't stay here, knowing that she's after the Charming baby."
"What could she possibly be planning that involves taking someone's unborn child?"
"Nothing good," she responds, "clearly. That baby is pure, innocent. The product of true love. It's the most powerful magic of all."
Her eyes glaze over, she looks lost in herself.
"I'm sorry," he says finally, stopping her with a hand on her arm, and she regards it like it's some foreign object. "I know how badly you wanted to see your son again."
She shrugs him off, though he takes comfort in the fact that she lets his touch linger there longer than she might have done just hours earlier.
"He wouldn't have remembered me anyway."
She's stalking away when he speaks again, his voice right by her shoulder and she looks supremely irritated, as though she had expected him to take that as his cue to leave.
"Can I help you?" she asks tersely.
"I'm sorry you've lost this chance to be reunited with your son," he repeats, "but I'm not sorry that you've failed to lose your memories."
"How did you know about that?" she asks, too surprised to hide it.
"Snow White," he supplies, "mentioned Zelena's…contribution, to the curse," and Regina scowls in exasperation, seems to be struggling not to roll her eyes.
"I know there are things you wish you could forget," he continues, and she glares at him.
"I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about."
"You keep running," he states.
"And just what do you think I'm trying to run from?" she hisses, looking mutinous as she leans forward, and he takes advantage of her sudden proximity, captures her wrist to tug her even closer as he steps forward into the same space, and now she has nowhere to run even if she tries.
"This, Regina. You're running from this." He levels his calm blue eyes with her stormy brown ones. "But sooner or later you're going to realize that you're only running around in circles, because I'm not going anywhere. And sooner or later, you will stop running."
"What makes you think you know me so well?" she bites out.
"What makes you think I don't?" And he has her there, because she knows, and that's what terrifies her, petrifies her, that he knows her and yet somehow, he's not the one who's trying to run.
"My feelings for you have not changed," he tells her sternly. "And I'm not going to stop feeling them simply because you expect me to."
And he's right, because he knows her; someday she does stop running, and not a moment sooner, but when she does he holds her fast before she can run again, promises that he's still not going anywhere, and she promises the same.
But some promises are meant to be broken.
It's funny, isn't it, the thought mocks him, that she was the one who finally threw caution to the wind, risked her heart for a second chance at happiness, and yet he was the one whom fate had decided to fuck over in the end.
"Apologies, milady. I do not know what came over me."
He suspects that in another lifetime she would have taken off a man's head for much less than what he has just done, but this is not the queen of the stories he has heard, the stories that have chased him along with her black knights, league after league but always just a step too slow for his Merry Men. No; this queen is strong, without a doubt in his mind, but delicate too, he's seen it in her eyes before she's even realized how easily he can read them—delicate and altogether vulnerable, to him of all people, maybe especially to him, for reasons he has yet to fathom.
"Temporary insanity, no doubt," she gasps out, cheeks flushed and lips swollen from his kisses, and he can't help but smirk, senses that it will only drive her to insanity (and he's right).
"I can assure you it won't happen again," he tells her, but the real promise he's making is clear; and after he's put Roland to bed later that night, unable to sleep himself—the memory of her hooded eyes and shallow breaths keeps him very much awake every time he closes his eyes— he finds himself roaming the forest once more, when a bird squawks nearby and Regina stumbles out of his mind and into his arms, her sleeve caught on some bramble and her footing caught on a root.
And then he doesn't even have a chance to make good on his promise, because she's the one kissing him instead. The touch of her lips to his always destroys him, a brutal reminder that this is all he has left of the real thing, a dream, a memory of a memory, so his fingers tangle further into her hair and he kisses her with the bruising desperation of one on borrowed time.
She pulls away to draw a breath, her eyes defiant but her voice uncertain ("Why are you doing this?"); he gathers her lips back to his, tries to kiss away all her doubt; presses her body into the tree with a thigh between her legs, tries to will away his fear of her leaving him. And if only he could free himself of the words he's fated by the past to say, and the tattoo she's destined by luck to see, but the fabric of his sleeve always tears on some godforsaken thorn, and his eyes burn with unshed tears when she shoves him away.
"Regina," he starts hopelessly, his step forward encouraging her to take three back.
"Don't come any closer," she gasps, "unless you intend to meet an early end with a fiery demise."
"Back to this, are we, then? With you hurling your empty threats and—"
"Empty?" she scoffs. "Test my patience again and we shall see how hypothetical a fireball feels when it's turning you into a pile of ashes."
"Stop this, Regina!" And he's yelling, perhaps more harshly than he actually did when this happened the first time—would have been years ago, now—but still her reaction is the same, and he longs to shake her, break her out of this trance his memory has bound her in. "Stop running. Stop pushing me away, stop hiding behind your magic and your evil pretenses. Answer me truthfully. What is it that you are so afraid of?"
But he knows; it's him. He terrifies her but he will not know why, not until months and months later, when she finally tells him.
"We're done here, thief."
The term is almost amusing to him now, because she's the one who stole his heart.
This is the part where I'm supposed to leave, he thinks, and by the time the muscle memory of his dream self has started to force his body to walk away from her—"As you would have it, then, my Queen"—she's already fading into the blackness of the surrounding forest.
Even though he was the one to walk away, he always comes back for her. But then she's the one who leaves him, and there's never anything he can do to stop her, or to save her, in the end.
He struggles off the ground, clumsy with grief, intoxicated by it, and he lurches forward, ready to move heaven and hell in order to make Zelena pay for everything he has lost, when a firm grip on his arm tugs him back.
"Robin, stop." Snow White. Her fingers tighten, applying just enough pressure to break through the fog around his mind, as she reminds him, through tears of her own, that Regina gave her life to keep the shield strong, don't let her sacrifice be in vain—Her death is in vain, he shouts at her—and that disturbing the shield will compromise its ability to protect him, all the more so if he ventures beyond it.
"I don't need protection," he growls, and it is utterly ridiculous that he needs to explain this to her of all people, when she gladly gave up half her heart so her true love's could beat again. But not every couple is destined to live such a charmed life as theirs, and the reason why it had even been possible, the reason why his own heart will never be whole again, is gone.
He would rip it from his chest himself if he could, would even hand his soul over to Rumple to somehow make this right, but they haven't seen the imp since the day they broke into his castle, and there isn't even a body left of hers to bring back.
"Fine," says Snow, "you may not need protection, but other people do." Her gaze is drawn behind him and he turns to follow it to the edge of the forest, where Tinker Bell is weaving her way to them with something bundled up in her arms. As she approaches, the sound of a baby's cry reaches Robin's ears and it nearly brings him to his knees again.
"What happened?" the fairy gasps out, surveying the surrounding signs of destruction—the bodies of fallen monkeys, trees knocked askew at the roots, scorch marks upon the ground, and a single riding cape, permanently separated from its owner. "Where's Regina?"
"She's gone," says Robin, "she's—she's—" but his throat closes off to the rest as he reaches for Rayna, who immediately stops crying upon the transfer from Tinker Bell's arms into his. Her eyes were a startlingly brilliant blue at birth ("As blue as your father's," Regina had cooed as a tiny hand fisted around her finger, hours before the first monkey had struck the shield in its weakened, vulnerable state); now, he is utterly dazed to see, they are a dark, rich brown, as though Regina had left one final piece of her behind for him.
"Gone?" Tinker Bell is repeating, voice rising octaves above her normal pitch as Snow comes around to wrap her up in a hug. "Gone? What do you mean gone?" and the last word erupts in a despairing shriek.
Legs unable to sustain the weight of his heart any longer, Robin sinks back to the forest floor, cradling Rayna close. His lips brush against her cheek and she reaches up, fingers wriggling, slipping down the bridge of his nose as they attempt to grasp it, and agony crushes the air out of his lungs in a ragged gasp, his entire being shakes, utterly broken.
Snow has come to kneel beside him, the picture of poise were it not for the tears running freely down her face, tiny pearls of moisture depositing into her hair, and her hands are trembling when they encircle his forearm; he wonders if the gesture is meant more to reassure him, or herself.
"Her eyes," Snow notices suddenly, and Rayna blinks them, gurgles happily when Snow's finger tickles the bottom of her chin, lifting it up for a better look. "They're brown now."
Tinker Bell joins them, palms rubbing furiously over her face in an attempt to dry it, and she hiccups. "That's not possible," she says finally, "unless…"
She exchanges a meaningful look with Snow. "Do you know what this means?" the fairy finally asks, eyes back on Robin now.
He rocks Rayna in his arms, can only manage to shake his head in response. A deep ache is settling into every muscle of his body.
"It's Regina," says Tinker Bell, stroking the back of a finger along Rayna's cheek. "She's preserved in the shield…and in your daughter."
"Meaning?" Robin chokes out.
"Rayna can't go near the shield," answers Snow. "She'll singlehandedly destroy it."
"And absorbing all of Regina's magic…" Tink wonders, "what if it destroys her?"
"We'll stay here, then," Robin starts to say, there is nothing left for him outside of these woods anyway, but he cuts off when a shadow of something moves through the trees, he would recognize that bright blue fur-lined coat anywhere, it must be her, it has to be her—
"Regina," he says, scrambling back to his feet, but the specter does not pause, does not change course as it glides further and further away, deeper into the forest. "Regina!" he yells, and Rayna is crying. He feels a force at his arm pulling him back, but his body is no longer his own, he feels wild, deranged—
"Robin, she's gone," Snow says, echoing his earlier words. "Robin!"
Her voice cuts into his soul like a knife. When he turns again, she's gone. Was never there.
He lets out an anguished cry.
"Papa?" A shaking of his shoulders and a soft voice at his ear are stirring him from a restless sleep. "Papa, you were shouting again." Large dark eyes blink down at him as equally dark locks of hair framing milky skin fall to tickle his face and catch in his beard.
"I'm so sorry, darling." He rubs what little sleep he's gotten out of his eyes and pulls her into his arms. She snuggles close with her face pressed into his cheek. "Did I frighten you?"
She shakes her head. "No," she says, voice muffled, tickling his skin, and she breaks his heart, "I'm used to it, by now."
Rayna starts wiping a palm down his face and it's not till then that he realizes it's wet with his tears.
"What were you dreaming about?" she asks him. "Is it Mama again?"
He buries his face into her shoulder and she pats him comfortingly on the head. "You get to be with her every night," she offers, and he manages a smile, though she cannot see it.
"I love her too," she whispers soothingly, "even though I haven't met her yet."
His daughter (their daughter) is old enough to have formed her own achingly optimistic theories of object permanence—that just because you don't see a thing doesn't mean the thing doesn't exist. The concept of death, however, is a story that will chase her to no avail, a story that even Roland had been too young to comprehend when he'd lost his own mother; but the loss of Regina still haunts him, has broken him too, aged his soul well beyond the few years he's lived, and their Rayna, their darling Rayna, is all either has left of her, apart from each other.
And they will always, always protect her. Even if it's from a truth she is not yet old enough to understand.
Robin's eyelids flutter closed and he feels her press a sloppy kiss to his forehead, hears her sweet little "night, Papa!" before she's puttering back out of his tent.
He falls once more into a restless sleep, but his tent flaps aggressively open and saves him from dreaming again.
"Robin." It's Snow, and she sounds uncharacteristically anxious. "I can't find Rayna."
He's up in an instant, throwing a cloak over his shoulder with one hand and fumbling into his shoes with the other, and he bursts out of the tent within a matter of seconds, startling one of the dwarves walking by.
"Rayna!" he's yelling, no, no, not again, he can't lose her again—
"Papa?" And Robin turns to locate the sound of his son's voice.
"Roland," he gasps, starting forward, meets him halfway, "Roland, where is your sister?" but his boy is shaking his head, looking panicked and on the verge of breakdown.
"I'm sorry, Papa," he's crying, "I was watching her and then I turned away for a second and she was just gone."
"I already sent Charming to the south side," Snow is speaking to Robin's left as he scours the campsite, hoping beyond what he knows to be reasonable that she's had her bit of fun hiding and frightening her papa to death, will pop out from behind a tree at any moment, but she doesn't, and his breathing quickens, adrenaline spikes his blood as it courses violently through his body in a deafening roar.
"Come with me to the north side, my boy," Robin says, taking Roland's hand, and they take off together, as he shouts back to Snow to cover the east and the west. They fly through the air, coasting silently over roots and irregular dips in the forest floor with the grace of ones unaccustomed to any other kind, as their eyes scan every shadow, every sign of motion.
"Papa," Roland shouts suddenly, pointing, "look!" and they both come to an abrupt halt at the edge of a clearing Robin had dreamt about just days before.
She's standing mere feet away from the shield and it shimmers visibly in response to her closeness, as though it senses that they were cut from the same cloth.
"Rayna," Robin calls, feeling numb all over, "step away from that. It's not safe."
The sound of her papa's voice brings a smile to her face, and she only beams brighter when she sees her brother standing there with him.
"It's beautiful," she says, lifting a finger to point at the shield, and it positively thrums with energy.
"Rayna, don't touch it," and he starts forward, "it may be beautiful but it's dangerous too."
"That's what you said about Mama before," Rayna comments excitedly, brown eyes large and wondrous at the implications. "Is it like Mama?"
"No," he says desperately as he nears, holding out his arms for her to run to them, but she doesn't, "your mother was only a danger to those who tried to hurt the ones she loved. Including you."
"And you and bruther," Rayna says with an emphatic nod, but she's still watching the shield with too much curiosity, not enough fear.
"Yes, but you especially," Robin stresses, and she doesn't understand, her hand is reaching out again and he breaks out into a run, Roland not far behind, shouting this time, "Rayna! No!"
A crack of lightning strikes the ground and he's thrown into the air, landing on his back with a force that knocks the breath right out of him for several seconds. He turns to his side, groaning, and then Roland is bending over to grab him by the arms and help him off the ground.
"Rayna?" he gasps in question, but the air around them is dense with fog.
When it clears, she's gone.
A/N: Some of you who've read 'Smirk' may have noticed that parts of this felt familiar? They don't necessarily have to exist in the same universe if you don't want them to, but it was kind of fun for me to write it that way, so there you go :)
Also, I can take absolutely no credit for the phrase 'unprincipled pickpocket,' which I stole from Tamora Pierce's fabulous The Song of the Lioness series. I couldn't help myself, I just love it so.