She could not do anything other than bring her head up at the warm call of a four year old. Roland was running break-neck down the sidewalk towards where she and Henry were walking. Letting go of her son's hand, Regina scooped up the small boy before he could fall.
"Roland," she cautioned while running her carefully manicured hand over his soft curls, "More care is needed when heading down the street. Where are your parents?"
"Why don't we go out for ice cream anymore, Regina?" the child asked, ignoring her entirely as children his age were wont to do.
Words floated in her head but none would come. None seemed right: Your mother has returned and your father is an honorable man; I am doing my best to live up to your father's opinion of me; because it breaks my heart to be near you when I no longer have a place in your life.
Regina could feel Henry's eyes upon her. Both boys were looking to her for guidance as to what to do and she had no response.
Relief flooded her as she spotted Robin hurrying towards them. Her heart may break every time she laid her eyes on Robin and his Marian, but if either of them would save her from breaking Roland's heart, she would be forever grateful. "He's safe. I..." Wasn't kidnapping him or anything; saved him from falling on his face or running into the street unattended; Where were you? "He's fine."
Roland didn't turn to his parents but kept his angel eyes focused on her. "Regina, can we go get ice cream?"
"Roland, it is getting late and your mother is waiting for us."
"You'll have to listen to your parents, Roland. Or if the two of you would like some time alone," without choking on the words. It was a crazy thing to hope that he would decide he loved her more than Marian if he just spent time alone with the insufferable woman, yet she persisted in hoping just that. "And Roland can get ice cream with Henry and me."
"Mom," Henry hissed.
"Henry doesn't mind," she lied. She knew his objections had to do with his worries over her happiness and goodness. "We would be glad for the company."
Little brown eyes went wide as Roland looked from her to his father. "Please! Oh please!"
Rarely one to deny his son, Regina could see the resolve on Robin's face fading. "Roland," he started softly.
She knew it was likely that Marian had insisted that the boy no longer spend time with her. The worst was Regina could hardly blame Marian. She had wanted Emma Swan nowhere near Henry; she had gone to almost any length to keep them apart. Not that it had worked. Eventually, Marian would see that keeping Roland away would do her no good and only harm her relationships with the men in her life. Regina could only hope it would be too late to salvage them when the time came.
Rather than get involved in the stalemate between husband and wife, even Robin's mental one, Regina decided to save herself for a bigger battle.
"I'll see you later, Roland." Regina worked to extract the boy and hand him to his father. "Another time."
Sharp nails dug through her sweater to her skin. Angry eyes glared at his father. "But Papa, 'Gina invited me! You said I need a vitation, and I got one."
Sad, pleading eyes turned her way. "He said I couldn't just go to your house without one."
The look on Robin's face was inscrutable and Regina couldn't tell if there was a hint of sorrow or regret in his eyes. Eventually, he nodded. "You did get an invitation, Roland. I will meet you at Granny's in an hour's time."
"Yay!" Roland cheered.
"Thank you," Regina said, unable to keep the emotion out of her voice. She turned to the boys, refusing to look at the one thing she couldn't have tonight. Forcing a smile for both of them, she said, "I am a lucky woman to have two such men accompany me for ice cream."
Roland giggled and Henry cracked a smile. Without glancing back at the man she knew was standing behind them, she allowed the boys to lead her away down the street.
Sitting out in front of Granny's with ice creams in hand, Regina was listening intently to her son share about the latest time Ms. Swan nearly got her son killed. She wished she could keep Henry out of trouble but he could not seem to help but find it. It was best that he was finding it with at least one of his mothers.
"Anyways, Mom said-"
"'Enry," Roland interrupted "isn't 'Gina your mom?"
Mother and son exchanged a look and Regina nodded at Henry. He grinned and turned to Roland. "I have two moms. Emma is my birth mom and Regina adopted me when Emma couldn't take care of me."
The younger boy seemed to mull it over for a moment. "You took care of me when my mom, Marian, was in heaven," Roland reminded her. "Can you be my other mom?"
Regina's heart broke at the request. She could feel Henry's eyes on her. Without allowing herself to acknowledge her emotions, she covered Roland's hand softly. "Your mom doesn't want to share you, Roland. I don't blame her. Sons are hard to share," she added, shooting a meaningful look at her own son. "Particularly ones as good as you."
"Yeah, my moms didn't want to share me at all," Henry added with a grin on his face.
"I don't like to share Monkey. Regina gave him to me."
Regina looked from Roland back to Henry. She hadn't told him much about her missing year and he had not shared much about New York. It was the gulf that sat between them in their lives. "We were under attack in the Enchanted Forest," a small smile came up at the memory of one of her early interactions with father and son. "Flying monkeys."
"Regina kept it from being scary. Made it safe."
Henry's eyes darted between them before focusing on her. He spoke to Roland but looked right at her. "Mom is good at that."
Regina smiled and sent a silent thank you that her son felt that way about her now. The years where he thought that she was only the woman in that damned book or the ones where he didn't know her had taken their toll on her. Still, he saw her as only he could; Henry believed in her.
"See!" Roland chimed in, "You do the things!"
Color flooded her cheeks and she took a careful bite of her ice cream. Perhaps, she had two young believers on her side. "You were saying, Henry."
He nodded, seeming to understand her wish to take the focus away from herself. "Anyways, Mom said that Killian wasn't allowed to steal boats anymore. He pointed out that everything turned out well and no one would have escaped if it had not been for his quick thinking."
Regina pursed her lips at Henry to smother a smile. "I may have to have a talk with Ms. Swan regarding your safety."
"Aw, come on, Mom, I'm fine. At least she knew I was on the adventure with them."
"Mmm," she said carefully.
A small head leaned against the side of her body and Regina looked down to see a sleepy face pressed against her. "Can I have a story?"
Regina plucked Roland out of his seat before he could fall and remembered Henry at that size. She cuddled the smaller boy and smiled at her son. "Once upon a time there was a queen who should have been very happy. She was a queen of a great land, lived in a magnificent palace and the king was said to be just and fair. However, it was not enough. The queen was longing for something...something essential. Love.
"She almost found happiness," Regina amended the story that she had told Henry so many times as a young boy with a part she had long wished to forget. "A fairy told her that she could have everything the queen truly wanted, but it would require leaving her castle and her kingdom and taking a leap of faith. The queen's heart was so broken and so fragile, she could not trust it. She remained in her castle, scared and alone. She let anger and sorrow tear at her soul until it was all she could see.
"Eventually, she cast a curse that was meant to bring happiness to the queen and misery to her enemies. The queen was still lonely and sad because happiness cannot come from anger and sadness.
"The queen began her quest for love. Eventually she found it in the form of a small child, her son. He began to loosen the tight ties on her heart. His name was-"
"Henry!" Roland interjected.
Regina ran a hand over Roland's curls as she looked at her son. She could not keep the smile from nearly splitting her face. "Yes, he was named Henry. The queen named him for her father, who had been the only other person who had loved the queen unconditionally. While Henry improved her life, she was still fueled by anger and bitterness when it came to matters that were not her child. It took losing him at a great sacrifice for her to realize how much she loved him and how little her dark feelings did for her.
"While she was separated from her son, she started to find other joys in the world to lighten her heart in hope that when her son came back to her she would be a better mother."
Regina couldn't continue the story as her son, covered her hand with his own. She could feel all of his love for her and it was almost enough to patch up the new cracks that had been placed in her most resilient heart. With her child returned to her, Regina could face nearly anything. Her story would eventually find its happy ending.
"And she found another little boy and his Papa who were very lonely," Roland chirped, turning mother and son's eyes his way. "She made his papa smile and got the boy his best monkey and ice cream. And when her son came back sometimes they would all hang out together. The End."
A soft cough came from behind, and Regina turned her head to see Robin. He was watching them with sorrow in his eyes. She felt them rising in her own. Ever the queen, she pulled herself together. Regina once again began the hard task of removing the small child's arms from around her. "Roland, it looks like your papa is here."
Like a shot, the small boy was off to the arms of his father. Regina took a moment to remind herself that she had been cheated from this as her everyday life. It only strengthened her resolve to find the bastard who wrote the damned book and ensure that she got her own happy ending. She was not going to be left alone with this whole in her heart forever.
Henry took her hand as Robin gave them a soft wave. Regina found herself waving back. She would not consider that this story had an unhappy ending, simply an open one. As long as they were both alive, there was still time. Pixie dust wasn't supposed to lie.