A/N: Hey guys! I haven't written for a while, but I'm so excited to get back into it - it has been way too long.
Please feel free to follow me on tumblr: blog/shanjani
This story is mine, mistakes and all since I have no beta, so I apologise in advance if there are any that bother you. However, please enjoy this Outlaw Queen AU.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, I'm not cool enough for that.
She never imagined she would be driving back over this town line.
"Welcome to Storybrooke," Regina sighs, glancing in the mirror to see her baby boy staring out the window. You wouldd think after so many years that the city council would have changed the welcome sign or, at the very least, fixed these horrifically cracked roads. She had vowed to herself, after leaving for college, that she would never return to the town that witnessed her upbringing. Nevertheless, here she is, driving down this familiar road with her six year old son.
"I've never seen so many trees before, Mom," Henry says happily as he stares out the window in awe. Living in New York City, and very rarely leaving, meant that Henry has never seen forests like the ones that decorated her childhood home. These trees rarely entered her mind anymore; New York City is her home now. It is where she has raised her son and ia where she cannot wait to return to after, what could easily be considered, the longest week of her life.
It has been ten years, ten long years, since she's stepped foot in this town. Sure, it's where she grew up and made her childhood memories, but she was more than happy to forget all of that. Okay, maybe not all of it. She has kept in touch with many of her friends and her family still lives here, so she still has reasons to return, but nothing seemed important enough until this morning.
Henry's excited voice pulls her from thought as he points excitedly at all the stores on Main Street.
"What are all these places?" Henry asks.
"Well, that is the library, do you see the large clock on top?" Henry follows her pointed finger to see the building and nods when he notices it. "Out your window, you'll see Mr. Gold's shop and Granny's will be coming up soon."
Henry is looking out his window again, trying to soak in everything at once. Of course he would be fascinated, Storybrooke is probably the polar opposite of New York.
"Did you really grow up here, Mom?" Henry asks, unconvinced, while eyeing her up in her rear view mirror. Regina can't help the small laugh that leaves her body when she notices her son's look of disbelief as she nods her head.
"I can't picture you living here," he admits.
"Well, I was a different person back then, sweetheart," she responds.
"How were you different?" he asks, innocently.
How can she even begin answering that question? She doesn't even know the answer herself, all she knows was that she is not the young tomboy that she used to be. The young girl who wanted to get her hands dirty and be outside all day is long gone. The sweet child with enough faith and hope to share to the entire world ceases to exist.
"I think that is a story for another time," she says as she stops the car and switches off the ignition before turning to face him, "because we're here."
Henry flips his head to look out the window once more and his jaw drops slightly at the sight of a beautiful white house with a grand tree in the front yard that seems to be reaping the consequences of Fall. Regina steps out of the car and walks to open his door. He unbuckles his seatbelt like lightning and hops out himself. After closing the door, locking the car, and stuffing her keys into her trouser pocket, she can really take in the surroundings.
She pauses for a moment and stares at the house of her youth, instinctively taking in a deep breath, revelling in the familiar smells. She peers over at the house to the left and closes her eyes hoping to rid of the memories that were flooding her mind. Henry's hand slipping into hers brings her back to reality, she smiles at him softly before leading him up the path. She is feeling apprehensive, like she should just turn back around and leave, but she knows her father needs her right now and Henry seems to be excited, at the very least.
Before knocking, she uses her free hand to flatten out the creases in her blazer that had been created throughout their drive. For a second she wishes she had opted for an outfit that was less formal. But she was getting ready for work when she received the call earlier that morning and her mind was so rattled that changing never occurred to her. So, here she is donning black trousers, a blazer, and a white shirt - her usual, nowadays.
She lifts a closed fist to knock but can hear the jingle of keys from inside and realises that her father must already be aware of their arrival. Hearing the unlocking of the front door, Henry begins to bubble with excitement at the prospect of seeing his grandfather for the first time in months. Their last encounter had been nine months earlier, at Christmas. Henry Sr. had practically dragged her mother to the city to experience the holidays and, while she constantly complained, Regina knew she was secretly enjoying herself.
The door slowly creaks open to reveal her father and she can't help but wince at the sad look on his face; she had very rarely seen him frown as a child. The bags under his eyes indicate that he has barely slept and the rumpled look of his clothes proves that he has yet to change.
He must have just got home, she thinks.
"Hi Daddy," she speaks, softly. Henry Sr. looks at her gratefully and steps forward to envelope his only daughter in a tight hug, Henry still clutching Regina's hand. The hug is strong with a hint of desperation. Regina and her parents were not the hugging sort nowadays, but she can feel how much he needs this. Regina lets go of Henry's hand to wrap another arm tightly around her father, pulling him in. Henry Sr. lets out a shuddered breath and she can tell that he is trying very hard not to cry in their presence; something her mother had no doubt trained.
"Thank you for getting here so quickly, I know you have a busy life up there…" Henry Sr. mumbles into her shoulder, but Regina is very quick to stop his train of thought, pulling out of the hug while shaking her head and reaching for his hand.
"My family always comes first, you raised me that way," Regina announces with a smile and a squeeze of his hand. Both adults share faltered smiles and Henry Sr. lifts the hand Regina has placed in his, bestowing a kiss on it before letting it fall back to her side.
"Speaking of family, where is that grandson of mine?" Henry Sr. asks as he begins dramatically, one hand of his hip and the other on his brow, looking around as if Regina were alone and the little boy is no where to be found.
"Grandpa, I'm right here," Henry announces loudly, with a slight pull on his grandfather's pants. Henry Sr. kneels to be at the same level as the boy and looks at him as if he is a stranger.
"Well, this can't be right. You see, my grandson is but a small child, not a young man like you,"
Henry looks at his mother for assistance with the cutest, most adorable look of confusion on his face. With a fabricated look of concern, she shrugs her shoulders, as if to say that she is as confused as him. Henry Sr. catches her reaction and throws a wink her way. Regina can't help but stifle a tiny chuckle at the interaction, as it occurred every time the Henry's met.
"I just grew, Grandpa. It's me!" Henry pleads. Henry Sr. smiles at his response and ruffles his hair before bringing him into a loving hug. Henry hugs back with every ounce of strength he has. "I like your house, Grandpa, it's so big."
Pulling out of the embrace, Henry Senior stands up, "I suppose you have quite a bit of exploring to do then?"
Henry nods excitedly, while looking at his mother for approval. Regina nods.
"Off you go, just don't touch anything," she says happily, but with the typical amount of Mill's sternness in her voice. Henry practically disappears, deciding that he will tackle the exploration of upstairs first. With that, Henry Sr. moves inward to allow Regina to enter and he closes the door behind her. With only adults left, they can now tackle the serious issue that has resulted in this reunion.
Henry Sr. guides her to the living room, his hand patting the back of the couch, encouraging her to sit down.
"Would you like a drink?" He asks.
Regina shakes her head while sitting, "No, but I want you to sit down and talk to me. I haven't ever seen you look like this."
"Well, my wife hasn't ever died before, so I suppose that would explain it," he deadpans.
Regina grimaces at his statement and he immediately regrets it. She wraps her arms around her middle and bites her tongue, not wanting to say anything else that might illicit a similar response.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart," he joins her on the sofa and reaches for her hand for the second time that morning. Regina takes it easily, unwinding her arms from her body before he continues, "I'm not handling this well, but that doesn't mean I should make you feel any worse. How are you feeling?"
She looks at him hoping that her answer will just come out, but it doesn't. How is she feeling? She has no idea. She should be distraught, but she isn't. Maybe the news just truly hasn't settled with her yet? She and her mother were distant lately, their relationship became slightly strained once she went to college, but they did have a good relationship as she grew up; a fantastic relationship. So why hasn't she cried?
"It's normal to not know how you feel, you know," Henry Sr. states as her mind wanders.
"I don't feel anything," she whispers, avoiding any eye contact, "does that make me a bad person?" Regina asks, her eyes meeting her father's with a hint of shame, "I haven't felt sad, I haven't even cried. What kind of daughter doesn't feel a hint of grief when her mother dies?"
Henry Sr. lets out a sigh, hushing her rambling, her eyes darting away. He tenderly cups her face and brings her eyes to his once again.
"Regina, you listen to me. Your mother loved you. She absolutely adored you, but it was no secret you didn't have the best relationship as adults. There were too many strong opinions when you were both in a room because you both feel so deeply. However, it's easy to not accept grief right away, especially when the first set of memories you experience are ones of petty arguments and your mother's reluctance," Regina's eyes were brimming with tears at her father's understanding, leaning her face into his touch, "Your grief will come, most likely when you least expect it, and you will have me and the sweetest child in the world to help you through it."
Regina allows a slight smile at his words before they were interrupted by the sound of footsteps racing down the stairs toward them. Regina releases from her father's touch and turns to see Henry barrelling to the couch and climbing onto his mother's lap.
"There are so many rooms. I almost got lost," Henry exclaims animately, "but I couldn't find Grandma anywhere. Where is she?" He asks innocently, looking at the adults.
Regina draws a breath in at his words. She had tried to avoid going through this. It's not the easiest of conversations and he was so excited to travel, she didn't want to make the car ride anything less than an adventure for him. Throwing an apologetic look at the older man, he stands up announcing that he will prepare some coffee and juice for them before leaving them to talk.
"We have something very important we need to talk about, sweetheart. You see Grandma isn't here because…Well, do you remember when you were little and your Daddy had to leave because he got sick?" Regina wraps her arms around Henry's middle, drawing him in close and planting a kiss in his hair as he sadly nods his head, "Grandma had to leave too, because she was sick."
Regina feels Henry's shoulders slump as she holds him and he exhales a breathy sigh. She frowns into his shoulder, keeping him close to let him process the news. Her father should be back by now, so it's clear that he is keeping himself busy to give them both some time. Henry has remained fairly silent in her arms and she can't decide if that's a good or a bad thing. The only sound is their breathing before Henry speaks again.
"Will she come back?" He asks quietly, beginning to fidget with his fingers.
"No, sweetheart," she breathes, and that does it.
Her sweet boy lets out a pained sigh and tries to release himself from Regina's hold but she keeps her grip, keeping him in place. She is mumbling anything she can think to try and comfort him, but it's not making any sort of a difference.
After five minutes that feel like an hour, she feels the impact of a tear that has trickled down his face to her interlocked wrists that remain around his middle. She lifts and turns Henry so he is kneeling on her lap but facing her. His eyes are slightly red, his bottom lip sticking out in a genuine pout. Regina lifts her hand to wipe away a few remaining stray tears from his cheeks and presses her forehead against his.
"You know, she is with your dad now. And I just know that they will take care of each other." she speaks softly, hoping to ease his pain. With their foreheads still touching, Henry mumbles in agreement and plays the the ends of her hair that are falling in front of her shoulder. "We can even talk to her like we do with daddy, how does that sound?"
Finally. There is the smile that she was trying to bring out. His eyes light up at the idea. Henry loosens himself from her grip and hops to the ground. He looks at her with a serious face, Regina leaning slightly to be at eye level with him.
"Promise?" He asks, sticking out his pinky.
"I promise," Regina smiles and loops her pinky in his. They both lean in, kiss their thumbs, and press them together over their linked pinkies; the routine clearly practiced over many years. Regina leans in and sneaks a kiss to his cheek before being interrupted by the entry of her father carrying a tray.
Henry Sr. sets the tray on the coffee table in the middle of the room and Henry is quick to notice the colouring book and crayons that accompanied the drinks. With the child's attention clearly focussed on a new task, Henry Sr. sits back with his daughter handing her a steaming mug.
After several minutes of silence and awkward sips of scalding liquid, Henry Sr. is the first to speak.
"I can take care of the boy tonight, if you have plans"
"Plans?" She asks, looking baffled. She had received the news this morning and the last thing on her mind was to plan an eventful vacation; she packed bags faster than she knew was even humanly possible and started driving, "What kind of plans would I have?"
Her father shrugs his shoulders, "You haven't been home in so long, I just assumed you might have wanted to meet up with some of your friends. They probably know you're going to be here considering how fast news travels in this town."
She nods understandingly but is quick to correct his assumptions, "No, I didn't have plans. I came here to be with you, not to galavant through the forest with people I haven't seen in years."
Sure, she has kept in touch with some friends from high school; some attended her wedding, some visited after Henry was born, but for the most part she distanced herself from the town. There was very little point in trying to rekindle relationships that would likely be forgotten again once she left, despite how strong those relationships were when she was younger.
"Alright, but the offer still stands if you change your mind. At least take the boy out to see the place, there aren't nearly enough children in this town anymore. Perhaps he would enjoy your treehouse?"
Henry's head pops up from his colouring at the announcement, "A treehouse? Can we go, please? Please, Mom?"
He is in front of Regina in milliseconds with pleading eyes, crayons abandoned on the table. How can she refuse with that face beaming at her.
"Of course, let me grab our bags first," She stands up, reaching in her pocket for keys, Her father quickly snatching them from her hands.
"I'll get them, you go. Enjoy a couple of hours together."
She really doesn't want to bump into anyone. She is deliberately leading Henry down unnecessary streets just to avoid people. He is grasping her hand and making comments at the surroundings as they walk and she very quickly recognises Daniel's enthusiasm oozing out of her son.
He has missed four years of their son's life and it kills her. Luckily, despite everything, they are both still so similar and she can't be more thankful for that. Henry inherited Daniel's love of animals, the need to be outside whenever there is a glimmer of sunlight, and, of course, they share a strong love for Regina. Daniel had always wanted to bring Henry to Storybrooke. He always spoke of teaching him how to ride horses, taking them both on camping trips; all the things that Daniel, Regina, and their friends used to love doing as the grew up.
Mother and son are walking through the forest now, the smell of dirt invading her nostrils. Henry has become rather quiet as he soaks in the new environment. He has been to Central Park but he would have never experienced this before in his life. Regina begins to feel a twinge of guilt. Perhaps she shouldn't have kept him from Storybrooke? Her reasons were horribly selfish, they still are horribly selfish.
She had a wonderful childhood, she truly did, but as her senior year and adulthood approached things got complicated. She's was juggling boys, her friends, her mother's big dreams for her, that final summer… And, as much as she wants to, remembering Daniel was still a painful experie-
"How much further?" Regina jumps with fright and stops at the small voice that ripped her from the voice that plagued her mind. She looks ahead, noticing the makeshift house where she had spent countless hours.
"We're almost there, I can see it from here," She reaches for him and lifts him onto her hip, pointing in front of her. She continues to walk despite the obvious struggle of carrying her not so little boy. As they near, Regina stops at the sight of jeans and boots hanging from the ledge of the treehouse and the hushed voice of a man who is clearly speaking to himself. She lowers Henry to the ground, tells him to stay where she has placed him and approaches the voice.
Glancing up, she sees none other than David Nolan sitting on the edge the treehouse. He has his eyes closed as he quietly speaks to himself. Regina chuckles slightly as he fumbles his words and curses quietly. He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a crumbled piece of lined paper and studies it. Huffing out a breath, he folds the paper up once more and starts speaking again.
What on earth is he doing? She thinks as she turns back to Henry, who seems to have found something to amuse him while she deals with David.
She wants to call up to him, but has no idea what to say. She hasn't seen this man in four years and has done a pretty poor job of keeping in contact with him, with anyone. She sighs and looks at the ground, internally scolding herself. David Nolan was one of her best friends, practically her big brother, and now she can't think of one thing to say to him.
Her eyes catch a small collection of pebbles on the ground. Well, if she can't say something to him, this is an acceptable alternative. Regina and David were always the playful type, so she knows that this could be perfect.
Taking a handful of the pebbles, she launches them at the side of the treehouse and watches David jump, clutching his chest as his eyes shoot open. He looks up in the air first, causing Regina to laugh thus drawing David's attention to her.
He blink at her a few times, as if he thought he was imagining her standing there.
"Regina?" He asks, even though he knew it was her. She looks at herself and shrugs with a grin.
"You know, I hear conversations tend to go a lot more smoothly when you are actually speaking to someone, dear." She teases.
David is embarrassed for a moment but then the smile radiates on his face almost instantly. He makes his way to the forest floor and practically runs to her before pulling her into a strong hug that lifts her feet off the ground. She instinctively wraps her arms around his neck, chuckling as he begins to sway her gently side to side.
He releases her reluctantly, "It has been far too long, I don't think we've even spoken since, uh…"
"Since Daniel's funeral, you can say it," she states with a comforting smile.
David releases a relieved sigh knowing that he hadn't completely made her uncomfortable, but then remembers why she is in town. He pulls her into another hug, a gentler one.
"I'm so sorry about your mom," he mumbles into the side of her head before leaving a chaste kiss in her hair, like she had done with Henry earlier that day.
She pulls out of his embrace mumbling a quiet thank you and she pats his shoulder. She instantly realises why she had wanted to be avoid the citizens of Storybrooke; the awkward apologies, the uncomfortable atmosphere that surrounded talking about her mother's death, the possibility of reliving some memories that she doesn't want to relive.
"Anyway," she says, breaking the silence, "What are you doing all the way out in the woods talking to yourself?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.
He lets out an embarrassed laugh and rubs the back of his neck.
"I have to do something and I was rehearsing," he brushes off.
"Do I get more information? Or are you going to keep me guessing and practically ruin my evening while I ponder?"
"I think I might just ruin your evening, but you will understand soon, if you're in town over the weekend you might just witness it," he says with a smirk, "What were you doing out here?" David knew that Regina never returned home for a reason, so he is baffled as to why she would visit such a vital place of her childhood.
"Oh," she suddenly remembers that Henry was stationed a few trees back, "Sweetheart, you can come over," she calls out.
That's when David sees him and he scoffs.
"You have got to be kidding me," he says with a tone of disbelief as he looks at her, "Regina, please tell me that is not your two year old." The last time David had seen Henry was the night of Daniel's funeral and he can't help but try to recognise the small, chubby cheeked boy he remembered within the child walking towards them. Henry reaches Regina and cowers behind her legs, she places her hand on his shoulder before responding to David.
"Definitely not my two year old, however, I am almost positive he is my six year old."
David smiles her and looks at the boy. He sticks his hand out, for a friendly handshake, "Well, six year old Henry, it's lovely to see you again"
Henry walks towards the hand slowly and very confidently clasps David's hand and mutters an adult-like, "Likewise."
David laughs nervously and eyes Regina at Henry's response. She shrugs her shoulders playfully, with a glimmer of pride in her eyes. It doesn't surprise her, Henry had spent a lot of time with her at work and clearly picked up on her word choice when greeting strangers that attended meetings.
David retracts his hand, "Well, he is definitely your son. Wonderful manners, a look that could kill, and the vocabulary of a politician."
Regina hums a quiet agreement before Henry asks if he can climb into the treehouse. She walks to the ladder that, in any other situation, she would have forbid Henry from even consider climbing. He makes the first step and Regina places her hand on the small of Henry's back as he makes his journey upward. The house isn't that high off the ground, but enough to make her nervous that he might fall. Once he reaches the top, he stands up carefully with his hands outstretched as if he were balancing on a tightrope. His confidence sets in slowly and he lowers his arms, turning his head to look around the house. There were posters and pictures on the walls, old and water logged, but they fascinate him. He eyes the pictures and thinks that the girl in most of them is his mom, he turns to ask if it is, but notices he is alone.
"Mom, aren't you coming up?" He asks hopefully as he nears the edge to see her. Her stomach drops and she doesn't know if it is the request or whether it is her son nearing the edge and possibly plummeting to an injury.
"No, sweetheart. I'm going to finish speaking with David, but have fun up there and let me know when you're ready to come down, I'll help you."
Henry yells his acknowledgement of her request and disappears once more. She turns to look at David, unsure what to say to him next. You were practically my big brother, but I'm sorry for not calling for years? No, she can't say that. Maybe she can talk about work or his parents, she just needs to break this silence. Luckily, David does it for her.
"Call me crazy, but that was like looking at a mini Daniel," he says and nudges her playfully with his shoulder.
She smirks at his action and returns it with more force.
"You're definitely right there, I wish Daniel could be up in that treehouse with him. I'm not exactly the type of person to be climbing, especially not in these shoes."
David looks down and notices her heeled shoes.
"How are you not sinking into the ground?" He asks.
"Practise," she responds quickly with a teasing wink.
"I'm going to assume you didn't prepare for forest adventures,"
"You'd be correct to assume,"
"Mary Margaret has some boots you could borrow while you're here, if you'd want. Henry doesn't seem like the kind of boy who will want to stay cooped up in the house,"
She ponders his offer for a moment and nods thankfully, "But I absolutely draw the line at anything rainbow coloured or covered with unicorns," She laughs as David lifts his hands defensively, "How is Mary Margaret, anyway?"
"She's great, better than great. She would love to see you. You know, we are all getting together tonight at the diner, if you'd want to join? There will be a lot of familiar faces."
Ah, there it is. Her worst nightmare. She thanks the high heavens for having a child so she can easily get out of this one.
"Hmm, I can't," she lies, "I've got to take care of Henry and I don't know if my father should be alone."
David doesn't fight her reasoning, thank God. That is until Henry's voice informs him that her father has already offered to care for him while she visits with friends. Why do kids remember things like that? Better yet, why does her child always seem to remember things that she doesn't want him to while he struggles with his multiplication tables. Regina shoots David an apologetic look for her blatant lie while David dramatically crosses his arms in feigned sadness.
"Okay, fine. One drink," she states, raising her index finger in his face. He smiles, uncrosses his arms and uses his fist to playfully knock her chin.
"I'll see you at seven, Mills," he says before offering his goodbyes to Henry.
She has been standing outside Granny's for at least ten minutes, turning her head to avoid recognition from anyone who passed in that time. Maybe David hasn't told anyone that she was coming? No, of course he did. She peers into the window and see's the familiar faces that David was talking about. He is sitting in a booth with an arm draped over Mary Margaret's shoulder and they are laughing at something the girl in front of them has said. Regina can't make out who it is, she is facing away from the window, but she catches the red streak in her hair. Ah, Ruby Lucas. The last Regina had heard of Ruby, she was off galavanting the country with some boy she had met, but she knows that Granny's health hasn't been great lately, perhaps that was why she was home.
Regina is suddenly knocked off balance slightly as a body bumps into her side. She catches herself on the railing, letting out a frustrated grunt.
"Sorry, sister," comes a deep voice as a strong hand reaches her elbow to assist her. Regina turns her head to see the aged face of a boy she once knew. He recognises her instantly and straightens himself, preparing for the tongue lashing that he is expecting to be thrown his way. Regina breathes out a laugh at his reaction; her mother has really made this town fear the Mill's women.
"Leroy, it's nice to see you," she offers, clearing her throat.
"Back at you, Regina," Leroy says tentatively as he relaxes his defensive stance and looks her up and down.
Gosh, this is awkward, she thinks. Of all the people she could have bumped into, it had to be him? Now there was no chance of keeping a low profile, not with the town's walking and talking newspaper aware of her return.
"You have sure grown up," he states bluntly
"I hear that happens with time, dear,"
"True, but time was a hell of a lot kinder to you."
Regina raises her eyebrows at his confession but doesn't disagree with him. He looks much more aged than she did. Perhaps it was his occupation; working in the mines couldn't have helped. Then there was the drinking, David had mentioned a number of years before that Leroy had gone from the class clown to the town drunk. Why is she even thinking about this? She clears her throat again and folds her arms, nervously.
Leroy shoves his hands into his jean pockets and looks to the entrance of the diner, "You heading in?"
Regina nods, looks at to the window again and then shakes her head. She lets out a frustrated sigh, "I was actually trying to think of a good reason not to."
Her honestly clearly surprises him. They were never horrible to each other in high school, but they weren't necessarily friends either. He doesn't know whether to respond or leave. He feels a twinge of sympathy for her as he recalls her mother's passing. Taking a risk, he reaches and grasps at her arm, comfortingly.
"I'm sorry to hear about your mother. She was a heck of a mayor…"
Regina glances at the hand on her arm and back up to him, her eyes squinting in confusion. He can tell that her confusion is related to his comment more than the physical gesture.
"Even though she scared the hell out of me and had the Sheriff arrest me more times than I can count," he clarifies, smiling when he see's a hint of playful agreement on her face. She places a hand over his, that still remained on her upper arm.
"Thank you" she says honestly.
Leroy removes his hand, "Come in. Look, I don't know what happened that made you never want to return to Storybrooke. It's none of my business, but the people in there? They always talk about the good times you all spent together. They have never stopped missing you, Regina. I think you might be surprised and how nice a small reunion might feel."
He doesn't say anything else, he simply turns and walks toward the diner, leaving her to make the final decision. How bad could it really be? She walks slowly at first, but then speeds up when she sees that Leroy is holding the door open for her. She mutters a thanks, steps inside, but stops immediately when she notices all heads have turned to look at her.
She opens her mouth to say something, but closes it again just as quickly. There's nothing she can say. She notices how much things really haven't changed; the wallpaper is the same, the booths are the same colour, even the faces that graced those booths hadn't truly changed, aged maybe, but it was still the same crowd.
"Your usual, Regina?" Granny asks from behind the counter prompting everyone else to return to their chatter. Regina looks at her and nods even though she truly doesn't remember what her usual is, and then turns to look at her old friends. Mary Margaret is out of the booth in a flash and has her arms around Regina's neck in seconds. No words are exchanged between the pair, Regina glances up to see Ruby and David. Ruby waves shyly, beaming her million dollar smile.
"Hi" Regina mouths, still embracing the pixie haired brunette. Both women pull out the hold slowly and smile sweetly at each other.
"I have missed you. It's been far too long"
"I know, I'm sorry."
Mary Margaret nods at her and guides her to sit down. Ruby shuffles further into the booth and pats next to her. Sitting down, Regina nudges Ruby with a grin. Grinning back, Ruby stretches her arm over Regina's shoulders giving her a friendly pull.
Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.
Regina glances at her watch, out of habit, and her eyes widen. Has it really been two hours?
"Have you somewhere to be?" David asks, "I was going to go one more round, but I won't if you need to leave."
Regina shakes her head and tells him to go right ahead. She is pleasantly surprised at how much she is enjoying her evening. There had been very little talk of her mother, Daniel, or any other people they knew Regina would rather not speak about. Instead they spoke of Henry, their jobs, and reminisced sightly about one Halloween night that had been a fantastic disaster. They changed the subject once David and Mary Margaret had turned a deep shade of red that had Regina and Ruby laughing until they were clinging to each other and their stomach's hurt.
Regina wonders when the last time she laughed like that was. It had to have been months, probably years. Henry was always able to make her laugh and her friends in New York could make her howl with laughter, but she can't remember the last time she was doubled over, smacking the table, with tears stinging her eyes. She realised in that moment how much she had missed them.
And then it happens.
The one thing that she never imagined would happen, the one thing she never wanted to happen.
She hears the bell jingle as the door opens, she looks up and her eyes catch his. His breath hitches and he stops in his tracks, staring at her. All in the booth remain silent, bracing themselves for any scenario. Regina looks at her friends, feeling slightly betrayed that they had forgot to mention his return, but understands their hesitancy to do so.
The man makes his way to their booth, but Regina very quickly glares at him and raises her hand to stop him, tears clearly brimming her eyes. He instantly retreats and lets out a heavy sigh.
"Regina," he starts, but fumbles on his own thought. He plans to continue, but the tear that falls from her eye stops him. The silence is unbearably awkward; it has Mary Margaret and David fidgeting with each other's hands and Ruby squeezing passed Regina, dropping a comforting hand to her shoulder, and leaving to offer help to her grandmother.
"Regina, I'm sorry…" he whispers. Regina's eyes snap open angrily at his statement. She rises and walks towards him.
"You're sorry?" she asks angrily with gritted teeth.
"I am," he responds instantly, shoving his hands nervously into his jeans.
"Which part are you sorry for, Robin?" Regina crosses her arms, actually interested in how he responds.
Robin's shoulders shrug, "Everything, I suppose."
Regina scoffs, turns back to her friends, "Thank you for tonight. Truly. I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated. Henry would love to see you both. Please feel free to visit while we're back."
Both Mary Margaret and David lend Regina looks of sympathy, but smile at her offer. She turns around to leave, shrugs her coat onto her shoulders and walks straight passed Robin, heading outside. His body turns and he begins to follow despite David's voice calling out telling him to leave it alone.
Once they make it into the street, he begins to plead, "Regina, please, can we at leas-"
She flips around fiercely and glares at him, "You will stay away from me. You will stay away from me and my son. I gave you numerous chances to be a part of my life, and every time you ignored me or shot me down, so don't you dare try to do it now."
Regina is on fire. She can feel her blood boiling through her veins. She stares at him waiting for him to respond. When only the sound a distant chatter reaches her ears, she turns once again, walking away.
"I don't know what you want me to say to you, it's been ten years since we've seen each other. I'm not going to lie to you, I have always imagined this moment playing out differently," he calls out.
Regina stops in the middle of Main Street, she releases a sarcastic sounding laugh and turns once more to face him, "What? You thought I would run into your arms, tell you how much I have missed you? Well, I'm sorry, dear. That's not likely."
Robin is startled by her bitterness. He always remembered the sweetness of her voice, even when she was angered, but this was different. Her voice has deepened and it dripped with irritation.
"Instead," she continues, "You are going to see me walk away and you are going to remember every little thing you could have done differently. You can go home thinking about how you, one of my closest friends in high school, didn't so much as attempt to speak to me during college despite all my efforts to contact you. You can think about how I got married and you, not only ignored my invite, but devastated my husband because his best friend wouldn't be his best man."
She is screaming at him and her words hurt him, but he listens, "Oh, oh! I've saved the best for last. How about that time my husband died. You remember Daniel, right? He was a good friend of yours. He died and you couldn't even show up at his funeral. Your two best friends married each other and you didn't show, then one of them dies and you couldn't offer even an ounce of support. Now, I am a widowed mother of a young boy, my mother just died, and I am trying to keep it together, so this is really not the week you want to try to get back into my good graces."
He is gaping at her but tightens his lips together in a frown and nods at her; she is right, he knows that much. She is still simmering, she can't remember the last time she's ever yelled like that; it was animalistic, it was… very Cora Mills of her. Shaking that thought from her mind, she concentrates on Robin's next move. He doesn't say a word, he just walks passed her, silently admitting defeat.
She closes her eyes, feeling a pang of guilt. She almost turns to yell an apology to him, but she doesn't. She pulls her coat tighter around her body and turns to follow Robin, not to find him, but because she lives in that direction. She is walking as far behind him as she can without stopping, but she can still see him. He walks into a house, the one he grew up in… the one that just happened to be right next door to her's.
Great, he's back at his mom's she thinks with a sigh while walking, realising that avoiding him isn't exactly going to be easy.
Once home, she saunters slowly upstairs and notices that her father has put Henry in the guest room and has left her to sleep in her childhood bedroom. She creaks her door open and lets out a defeated breath at the sight of her room. Nothing has changed but the bed, which is now a vintage white iron frame fitted with deep purple sheets. Her walls still remained a cream colour, covered in pictures of her friends and posters of the music she used to listen to. She grins as she remembers the amount of convincing it took to have her mother allow posters on the wall.
Looking around again, she gazes at a picture of herself and Mary Margaret on her bedside table, smiling at the memory; it was their final day of school and their friends had decided that the appropriate celebration involved water balloons. They were drenched in the picture, Regina's arms looped around Mary Margaret's neck as they both grinned goofily at the camera. Placing it back, she looks around some more. Her eyes fall on the closet and she walks to open the door. Inside she finds many more treasures of her life. Several shoeboxes that she knows are filled with pictures, drawings, or notes.
One box she bargains with herself while reaching for one. She goes for the one that she had wrapped in paper, while not having a clue what was inside. Tossing the box on her bed, she prepares for bed quietly, hoping not to wake either Henry with running water. Finally clad in her silk pyjamas with a face clear of make up, she pulls back the comforter on the bed, sits crossed legged, making herself comfortable as she reaches the the box. She stares at it for a few seconds, unsure if she should open it or not; it had already been an emotional day.
Can't possibly get worse she thinks before flipping the lid off.
She gasps quietly at the contents. There are small trinkets that she made in art class - a ceramic apple, beautifully painted a deep red. She holds it carefully, feeling rather impressed with her artistic ability as a teenager. She places it to the side, and digs through the box. There were odd notes here and there that she had passed with David or Mary Margaret about how they needed to confess their feelings for each other. She grouped small pieces of jewellery that she had owned and had forgotten about, and was about to study one particular picture that she hadn't seen in years before her phone rang.
Hearing the ring, she drops the picture onto the bed and she reaches into her purse that was on the floor next to the bed, "Hello," she answers.
"Hey," a soft voice responds. Regina releases a relieved sigh and leans back, running her hand through her hair.
"Emma. You have no idea how happy I am to hear your voice right now." she says while trying to keep her emotions in check.
"I figured you might need some moral support and who better than this expert, right?"
"Right. It has definitely been whirlwind of a day,"
Regina can practically hear Emma's concern through the phone even though there is a comfortable silence between them. Emma is waiting for Regina to talk through her day, and she couldn't be more grateful. Emma was her saving grace; her saviour. They had met four years earlier at a support group for widows. Regina wishes she could say that they clicked instantly, but that would be a lie. They bickered with each other constantly for months, then after one extremely emotional night they came together as a unit and helped each other through their grieving process. Once they left the group, they kept in touch, and were now inseparable.
Regina talked Emma through the events of her day, with several moments of commentary from the blonde. Now, they were discussing Henry and ways they could lift his spirits when he and Regina return to the city.
"It sounds like you have a lot more than Henry to worry about, Regina," Emma says.
"What do you mean?" Regina huffs down the phone, already knowing the answer before Emma says it.
"Well, it sounds like you and this Robin have a lot of unfinished business. And from what you've told me, you seem to be really bothered about it an-"
"Of course it bothers me. He was my best friend, Emma. And he completely abandoned me," Regina snaps.
"And Daniel?" Emma asks, cautiously.
"And Daniel. He ostracised us both, " Regina knows that Emma is just trying to help and feels slightly guilty for fighting her, "I'm sorry, Emma, this has just been a heavy day," she apologises.
"I know, but I really think you need to hit this problem head on. Aren't you curious? Don't you want to know why he didn't reach out to you?"
Of course she does. She has asked herself for years, replayed moments in her head wondering if it was something she had done. There was one thing that happened the night before Robin left for college, but surely that's not it, that was just a moment of lamentation. They were young and confused.
"Regina?" Emma asks, drawing Regina out of her thoughts.
"Yeah, sorry. I'm just tired, but you're right, I may consider speaking to him. Maybe, but right now I need to concentrate on my mom," Regina answers with reluctance in her voice.
"Regina… do you need me to come up there? I can take the week off and I could just hang out with Henry - both of them." Emma offers, genuinely.
Regina's heart melts at the offer, "I would love nothing more than to have you here this week, but it's a long trip and a week is a long time to take off work, especially last minute."
"Then it's a good thing I already cleared it with the boss man. I'm leaving at noon, I will be there around seven, and I'm going to hang up before you talk me out of it. Goodnight." Emma announces before hanging up the phone abruptly.
Regina laughs and looks at her screen in disbelief. She loves that girl, her generosity cannot be measured on any scale known to man. She places her phone on the bedside table before closing up her box of memories and putting it back in her closet. Heading back to bed, she flips on the bedside lamp before switching off the main light. She crawls into bed and notices the picture that she had found before Emma had called.
Picking it up gingerly, she recognises it instantly. Her father had taken it on her fifteenth birthday, the banner above her head in the picture indicates that, but she knows it was then, regardless. She remembers this day. Regina was in the middle with her long hair, braided and hanging down in front of her right shoulder, her eyes closed tightly. Daniel was on her left and Robin was on her right. Both boys had hugged her, squishing her into what she had always called 'an idiot sandwich' and pressed kisses to each of her cheeks. Her smile was bright, they surprised her with their actions, she remembers that much.
"Mom, why are we in such a rush to get home?" Regina asked Cora, who was clearly hiding something from her. She had been studying for a midterm despite it being her birthday, and her mother had picked her up thirty minutes early, ushering her rapidly to the car.
"You'll see, sweetheart," Cora grinned, allowing Regina to relax minutely until she wondered if her mother was lying to spare her any negative emotions.
"It's nothing bad, right?" Regina asked, concern painting her voice.
"Nothing bad, I promise," Cora replied as the car pulled up on the street outside their home, "Go inside, you'll see."
Regina raised an eyebrow at her mother before unbuckling her seatbelt and heading to her front door, leaving behind her backpack.
She reached the door and pulled it open to a quiet foyer… a little too quiet.
"Daddy?" she asked, heading into the sitting area. Then all of a sudden, the room was filled with her friends yelling their surprises and she was tackled from either side. Daniel and Robin on either side of her, kissing her face. She scrunched her eyes closed at the shock and opened them to see her father in front of them with a camera in hand.
"You guys, this is so sweet." Regina announced to the room, smiling at her father. She released herself from the boys before making her rounds around the guests. The party was typical of any group of fifteen year olds; they talked, listened to music, ate cake, but the time flew and then everyone had to leave.
Daniel and Robin stayed behind to help clean up the clutter made, which wasn't unusual. They were honourable members of the Mill's family at this point. As the two teenage boys walked to the front door to leave, they both shared hugs with the birthday girl.
"Thank you. Both of you, really. This was so great," Regina proclaimed as they were putting on their jackets.
"Not a problem," Daniel said as he leaned in to hug Regina once more, "I'm glad you had fun, you deserve it."
Robin wrapped his arms around her also, "Yeah, we couldn't have had you revising all night, not on your birthday."
"You know I'm just going to go upstairs and do that anyway," she responded with a grin.
"We know, that's why you're the smart one," Daniel said before opening the door, "Robin, walk me home?"
"Sure," Robin nodded, following him outside, but he turns back, "Oh, happy birthday, by the way. I don't think I actually said it to you today,"
Regina laughs, "You hadn't, but thank you. As usual Daniel was the first to wish me one. One minute passed midnight. Every year, without fail."
"You better up your game, Locksley" Daniel teased and Robin laughed at him.
"I suppose you're right," he responded, waving one last time to Regina before heading down the path together.
Regina sniggered at their conversation as she closed the door. Her mother was behind her promptly and Regina leaned back into her.
"Thanks, mom. I had a wonderful time," Regina whispered.
"Anything for you. Now, get upstairs and work on that midterm," Cora scolded playfully, leading Regina to the stairs with her hands on Regina's shoulders.
"Yes, ma'am" Regina teased back and headed upstairs.
She had studied for at least two hours, she looked at the clock noticing she only had five minutes left of her fifteenth birthday and was about to get ready for bed. Before she could, she heard the faint calling of her name, but she wasn't alarmed, she knew exactly where it was coming from. She walked to the large window in her room, opened it up, and leaned her elbows on the window sill.
Straight across was Robin in his own bedroom, positioned like Regina; they had conversed like this many times. Having a good friend living next door sure had its perks.
"Good evening, milady," Robin winks at her.
"Good evening, to what do I owe the pleasure this late?" Regina asked.
"Can't I just want to have a small late night chat before heading to bed?" He teased.
She purses her lips, "I suppose so, did Daniel get home alright?"
"Yeah, his mother and mine send their love, by the way," Robin said, happy to see the smile that it brings to her.
"I send mine back, however, I really should get to bed,"
"Wait," He announced looking at his watch, startling Regina. He smiled as he saw the time, and leans slightly further out the window, "Happy birthday, Regina," he said.
She laughed a confused laugh, "Robin, you already wished me a happy birthday."
He nodded in agreement, "I did. But you see, upon hearing that Daniel has such a tradition, I have made a decision. Daniel will always be the first to wish you a happy birthday, and I will always be the last."
Regina blushed, taken aback at the sweetness of the gesture while peering at her own watch, watching as the final minute of the day passed.
"Robin," she breathed, brimmed with emotion and not sure of what else to say.
"Goodnight, Miss Mills," he said with a smirk as he closed his window and curtains.
The memory comes back so strongly that it feels like it just occurred, maybe it's being in her old room. She looks at the picture once more, awed at how happy she looks, how carefree she was. An unwarranted tear falls from her eye, which she brushes away quickly. She turns the photo and recognises her mother's handwriting: Regina and her boys. She laughs quietly, remembering how her mother would always refer to Daniel and Robin but frowned just as quickly as she recalls how that dynamic changed.
Catching a glimpse at the clock on her wall, she realises how late it is and decides to get some sleep. She places the picture on her bedside table, face down. Once she switches off the lamp, her room is engulfed in darkness and she thinks of Robin. She will speak to him, if for no other reason than an explanation.
He owes her that.
A/N: Well, there it is. My first attempt at some OQ. I hope you enjoyed it, and I really hope you guys like it enough to want me to continue. Please review and let me know, I will happily update soon if people are interested.