A/N Just a pre story warning it will be a while before Robin makes an appearance. Enjoy!
Regina wrapped her arms around herself in an effort to battle the cold. It was late at night and the November winds were fierce. She looked around her surroundings with a grimace. The bus station looked full of unsavory characters. The light stench of urine and bus fumes wafted through the air causing her to wrinkle her nose. She supposed she and her light blue cashmere coat must stick out like a sore thumb against the dirt and grime that characterized the station. She tried to distract herself from her surroundings by keeping track of all the buses that came through. Their destinations were lit up above their windshields. Sacramento, Phoenix, Las Vegas. In a few minutes she would be on one of those buses, being carried off to the life she'd always wanted. One with her and Daniel, together.
She looked down at her hand and smiled at the tiny band that currently mounted her ring finger.
Regina tried to be as quiet as possible as she clicked her back patio door shut. She had to admit it was a bit ridiculous, sneaking out of her house at her age but it was worth it to see him. She took one last look through the window before creeping around to the side of the mansion. She smiled to herself as she stealthily made her way through the moonlit rose bushes.
"Daniel!" she whispered fiercely. "Daniel!"
She let out a yelp when he tapped her on her shoulder from behind. "Looking for me," he said with a grin and a chuckle.
She playfully smacked him in his shoulder. "That's not funny! If one of the maids would've heard that scream I would be dead and you would be fired."
He let out a laugh. "I'm sorry Gina but when you're around I get playful."
"Well your playfulness is dangerous," she said with a bright smile. She wrapped her arms around his middle and hugged him tightly. She hummed happily as she breathed in his comforting scent of dirt and flowers. "I missed you."
"How could you possibly miss me? I was here all day," he mumbled against the top of her head. He was right. He'd spent all day tending to the rose garden just thirty yards below her bedroom balcony.
"I know," she sighed. "But you weren't here." She emphasized the final word with a squeeze of his torso.
"Well I am here now," he said softly. He leaned down and smiled as he pressed his lips against hers. Her hand went to the back of his neck to pull him closer just as his hand slid to the small of her back. She swore nothing made her feel freer than kissing him.
He pressed his forehead against her own when she finally released him. "Where's your mother this time?"
"She is in Tokyo for the next two days," replied Regina. "She's staking out a new location for the hotel chain."
Regina's mother, Cora Mills, was the CEO of Molinari Hotels, a Fortune 500 hotel chain. She was fierce, calculating and the only thing standing between Regina and the future she wanted with Daniel. The only time Regina would even risk being with him was when her mother was on one of her business trips.
Daniel sighed. "Gina, why don't you just tell her about us?"
"Because she would never allow this to continue," she answered woefully. "Daniel you have to understand. My mother has a very specific idea of what my future should be and that idea-"
"Doesn't include a barely-breaking even head gardener," finished Daniel dejectedly. He clenched his jaw in frustration as he sat down on the stone bench in the corner. "I know."
She placed her hands on his shoulders. "Daniel please don't be upset. You know how much you mean to me. I wish it was different but it's not. She's… not."
He grabbed her hands and placed a kiss on her knuckles. "I do understand Gina and I'm not upset. I just… I hate that she's right. I'm just a gardener. I'd never be able to give you the life you deserve."
"That's not true," she said shaking her head. "The life I want is one with someone who loves me. As far as I can see you're the only one capable of giving me that."
He smiled up at her and gripped her hips as she stepped between his legs. "I just wish I had a better chance at giving it to you."
She groaned between her teeth in frustration. "This is so ridiculous! The person I love works just outside my door and I can't even be with him in daylight. It's unbearable!"
"It's difficult but not unbearable," said Daniel. He pulled her down into his lap where she automatically laid her head against his shoulder. "If it's the only way I can be with you then I can live with that because not being with you at all, that's what truly unbearable to me."
"It's not the only way," she whispered softly. She lifted her head from his shoulder and scrunched her eyebrows together as a thought crossed her mind. "What if we left?"
Daniel raised his eyebrows at her. "Left?"
"Yes," she said nodding her head fervently. "What if we were to leave here and never come back? Then we could be together!"
He shook his head at her disbelief. "Regina you're talking nonsense."
"No Daniel I'm not!" she said swiftly standing to her feet. "I am twenty years old and I am sneaking around with the man I love because my mother won't approve of him. That's nonsense! Things are never going to change as long as I live under her rules and in her house. If leaving is the only way I have a chance to really be with you then I want to take it."
Daniel stood and took her hands into his own. "Gina think about this. Think about what you'd be leaving behind. Your father, your mother, your home?"
"My home is with you," she said stepping closer to him. "The only place where things feel right for me is in your arms. My father will understand that. And maybe after some time my mother will too."
Even as the words left her mouth she could feel the lies on them. Her mother would never understand this no matter how much time she was given.
"Daniel think about it," she wrapping her arms around his neck. "We could go someplace where we could hold hands and walk down the street in broad daylight. Where could make love in a bed instead of in the dirt. No more hiding, no more secrets. Just us, together."
He ran his fingers along her arms and thought about what she was offering. A life with Regina Mills. It was all he'd wanted since the first time he saw her. He thought back to that almost unremarkable day three years ago. He remembered the way she'd walked behind her mother swiftly and silently wearing that long red sundress. Her dark hair falling just below her shoulder blades. He only saw her for a small moment before they got in the car and drove off but he was still astounded by how a girl who could look so beautiful could look so sad at the same time. That was when he knew he wanted to do something to chase her sadness away. That day was the only reason this rose garden even existed. He'd planted it for her and placed it right below her balcony so she could have something beautiful to look at. She'd spent many days looking down on it from her room or reading on the very bench they had just stood from. Now she was standing in it offering him a chance to do what he'd always wanted to do for her… but it still didn't feel right.
He looked down at her and shook his head sadly. "I couldn't ask my girlfriend to give up so much for me."
Regina looked away from him disappointedly.
"But maybe I could ask it of my future wife," he added hesitantly.
She looked up at him with wide eyes. "What?"
He dug around in his pants pocket and pulled out a small golden band with a small ruby set on top. It was beautifully simplistic. She gasped when she caught sight of it.
"Daniel…" she breathed.
"I've been carrying this around for the past few months wondering how to give it to you," he said nervously. "My mother told me that my great-great-grandfather won it in a poker game. Immediately after he supposedly ran to the love his life and asked her to marry him. She said yes with no hesitation. Since then this ring has been used in three generations of proposals in my family and they all lived happily together. My mother told me that if I was to use this ring the girl I asked couldn't possibly say no. So tell me… was she wrong?"
Regina was practically shaking with emotion by the end of his speech. She could already feel the tears welling up in her eyes as she shook her head at him. "No. No she wasn't wrong."
A smile broke out over his face. "So you will? You'll marry me?"
Regina grinned as she nodded her head manically. "Yes! Yes I'll marry you!"
She leapt into his arms and they spun around in joy before toppling to the ground in a fit of laughter. As their laughter subsided Daniel grabbed her left hand and slipped the ring on her finger. "You know if you don't like it I can always get you another…"
"No," she whispered as she admired the ring . "I love it."
She turned and stared into his hazel eyes. "I love you."
"I love you too," he said softly as he ran his fingers through her hair.
Regina hummed contentedly as she twisted the ruby ring on her finger. It hadn't left her hand since that night in the rose garden. Just the memory of that time filled her with warmth. It still seemed like just yesterday but in truth it was months ago. She and Daniel had agreed that leaving immediately wouldn't be good. They needed to be smart about this. They needed a plan. Things began to fall in place when Daniel got a job offer from one of his friends in New Mexico. They were starting a landscaping business and wanted him on board. It was just the fresh start they needed. That was weeks ago and since then Daniel had been saving every penny he made so they could afford a place to stay when they reached Albuquerque. Regina had been stashing whatever small amounts of actual cash her mother allowed her to have and looking job offers in the city online. She didn't have much work experience but she was sure she could find something she was good at. With what she and Daniel had saved they should be good for at least few months before she found somewhere to work.
She snuck another look at her watch. 7:35. She looked up with a sigh. She was starting to get worried. Daniel was running late and their bus left at 7:50. She knew arriving separately was too much of a risk. If she and Daniel missed this bus they would have to wait for the next one and that would be dangerous. It would give her mother time to find her and drag her back home. And then they would never be together. She left the bus station platform and ventured closer to the parking lot. She let out a relieved sigh as she saw Daniel's beat up truck pull into a nearby parking spot. She allowed herself a smile as she saw him exit the driver's door and give her a wave. He quickly pulled the bags from the bed of his truck and stuck the keys into the rims of one of the tires. One of his friends from work had agreed to pick it up and have it sent to him later. Daniel loved his truck but he had to admit it wasn't up for a road trip. He knew he was running late so he threw the bags over his back and started to run toward her.
Regina smiled at him as he ran across the parking lot. In hindsight it wasn't the smartest decision he could've made but she didn't care. It was finally happening. They were leaving together. They were going to get on a bus and go to a place where they could have a future. It was just within reach. All he had to do was cross the street.
Neither of them saw the car coming.
It happened in a flash. Daniel had barely taken two steps into the road when it hit him. All she can remember was seeing the speeding black car and Daniel flying fifteen feet forward. His head knocking directly into the curb. A piercing scream went through the air. Later on she would realize it was her screaming his name. She flew across the street without even thinking about it. The car just continued on. She could hear the screech of its tires as it teared out of the parking lot. It hardly even slowed down. She fell to her knees by his side, gasping as she stared at his limp body through tearful eyes. She pressed her head to chest praying to God there would be some semblance of heartbeat still left there. There was none. She could feel blood soaking into her coat as she moved him into her lap and begged him not to leave her.
"Daniel please," she sobbed. "Please don't go. Please don't leave me. Please… please…"
She could hear the sound of approaching sirens as she felt someone grab her shoulders and force her away from Daniel's body despite her protesting cries. She only caught a glimpse of the stranger's face. She was an older woman with gray hair pulled back into a severe bun. She saw the paramedics swoop in and try to revive him as this random stranger held her back and tried to comfort her. The paramedics repeatedly pressed down on his chest trying to bring rhythm back into Daniel's heart. For a moment she dared to hope. She hoped that with all their medical training and experience that somehow they would be able to bring him back. That they could shock his heart back to life. She hoped… but it was only for a moment.
It wasn't long before the first paramedic looked at the other with a disappointed sigh. "We have to call it."
Her partner nodded grimly and looked down at his watch. "Time of death: 7:46 p.m."
It was all she could think of. They had been four minutes away from everything they had wanted. Just four minutes.
She sat on a bench wrapped in a gray security blanket the EMTs had given her. She had no idea how long she'd been sitting there. Apparently she'd collapsed a few seconds after they'd pronounced Daniel… gone. She'd never been in so much pain in her entire life. It was like she could feel everything and nothing at the same time. Inside she felt hollow but on the outside it was like she felt a burning, beating sensation on every inch of her skin. Her cheeks felt warm and tight from the tears she'd cried. She stared straight ahead at the ambulance. Daniel was in there. She had watched as they had put the man she loved in a black bag and loaded him into the back of the vehicle. She wanted to scream out that the bag was too small. They couldn't fit all that Daniel was into one small black bag. He was more than that. He deserved more than that black bag.
She felt the bench shift as one of the EMTs sat next to her. She didn't turn to look at her.
"Miss?" she said gently. "We've called someone for you. Your mother. She should be here any minute."
Regina just blinked in response. She watched the red and white flash of the ambulance lights. Four minutes.
The EMT pressed on hesitantly. "Um, it's too soon to tell but we think cause of death was the blow to the head he received."
Regina painfully scrunched her eyes closed as the memory of Daniel's head hitting the curb flashed through her mind.
"He didn't suffer," said the EMT softly.
Only then did she turn to face the EMT. She was blonde woman with big brown eyes and a small nose. She was pretty but the lines on her face suggested that she'd seen a lot more than she should have for her age. Regina wanted to thank her for her kindness. For letting her know that things had been quick and painless for him but she found herself incapable of speaking. She settled on jerking her head forward in awkward nod.
The EMT sighed. "Was he family?"
Regina swallowed hard before choking out, "He was everything."
The EMT nodded understandingly and gently placed a hand on her back in an attempt to comfort her. Regina shivered at her touch but allowed herself to be comforted.
"Out of my way!"
Regina cringed and closed her eyes in misery as soon as she heard that voice. Her mother had arrived. She turned her head to see her mother pushing her way through the curious bystanders and made her way up to the yellow caution tape. As always she looked perfectly put together. Despite the late hour she was still dressed in one of her power suits like she was going to a business meeting and not picking her daughter up from witnessing a crime. Her red lipstick was perfect and not one strand of her brown hair was out of place. She moved through the crowd in her three-inch heels like a force of nature, stopping for no one, shoving anyone who dared not to move. As she went to lift up the caution tape she found herself stopped by a police officer.
"Ma'am this is a crime scene. I cannot allow you to cross that tape," he said authoritatively.
She glared at him so forcefully he took a step back.
"That is my daughter!" she snarled pointing towards Regina. "She is clearly distraught and needs her mother. Now am I going to be allowed to comfort her or am I going to have to call Commissioner Chavez to get you fired first? Know right now that I can work with either option."
The officer risked a look at the EMT who gave him a swift nod. He reluctantly stepped out of Cora's way. "My apologies ma'am."
"Excellent decision," she said in a sickly sweet voice. She gave him a superior look as she moved past him towards Regina. She quickly kneeled in front of her daughter and caressed her cheek affectionately. "Oh my sweet girl. I am so sorry you had to see that."
It took all Regina had not to lean away from her touch. To embarrass her mother so publicly would not do her any favors right now.
The EMT stood and offered Cora her place on the bench. "We understand that this is a very difficult time for you and your daughter but this was a crime and she will need to be talked to about what she witnessed."
Cora nodded as she took a seat next to Regina. "Of course I understand but she's clearly in no condition to talk right now." She brushed Regina's hair behind her ear and then turned back to the EMT. "I would really prefer it if I could just take her home so she can rest."
"I completely understand," said the EMT with a nod of her head. "I'll personally make sure that you have the night to yourselves before anyone comes knocking."
"Thank you," said Cora giving her a grateful smile. She wrapped her arms around Regina as the EMT left. To anyone who witnessed it they were the perfect picture of a daughter receiving comfort from her mother. Only those who looked closer could see the wince of pain on Regina face as mothers fingers dug forcefully into her back.
"I will deal with you when we get home," she whispered into Regina's ear.
The ride home with her mother was a long one. They sat in complete silence in the back of the town car she'd arrived in. The backseat was spacious, large enough to fit almost four people, if they were thin enough. But with the two of them inside it just felt crowded. The rage emanating from Cora combined with the grief pouring off Regina filled the air. The effect was stifling. The only thing to be heard were the quiet sniffles Regina was incapable of holding back.
"Stop snorting over there!" snapped Cora. "You sound like a child!"
Despite her mother's wishes Regina couldn't stop. The weight of Daniel's death and her growing trepidation of her mother's reaction threatened to overtake her. But she tried as hard as she could to reel those emotions in. She was devastated by Daniel's death but she still didn't want her mother to see her this way. So fragile and breakable. When she first realized that she loved Daniel she also realized that she never wanted her mother to know of that love. She didn't want her to infect it with her poison. Her feelings for Daniel and her mother were two things that would never mix. And that applied to her love for him as well as her grief.
As the town car pulled up into the driveway Regina looked up at the two-story mansion she called her childhood home. The green vines that stood out against the yellow façade. The white window panes offset by blue shutters. And it all sat on fifty acres of well-managed land. She had thought that after tonight she would never have to see this place again. It was a beautiful prison but a prison nonetheless.
Her mother gripped her arm tight and dragged her into the house and toward the dining room. Her heels clacked against the marble floors as she shoved her into the nearest chair.
"Sit!" she barked at her.
Regina did so without complaint. She just glared at her mother as she crossed the dining room over to the mahogany bar counter in the corner. Cora grabbed a short glass and harshly set it on the counter so she could pour herself a glass of scotch. She kept her back to Regina the entire time. Whenever her mother was truly angry she would always go for the scotch. Normally she would order one of the maids to pour it for her but whenever she was this angry she couldn't even find the patience to wait for them. She brought the glass to her lips and took a long sip. She let out a sigh as she set the glass back onto the counter. Only then did she turn to face her daughter.
"Regina," she said shaking her head disapprovingly. "Where do I even begin?"
Regina remained silent. This was not a time for her to talk. Cora stalked across the room toward her, like a tiger hunting its prey.
"How about I begin here?" she said pulling a folded piece of stationary out of her pocket. Regina shut her eyes as she realized her mother was holding her goodbye note.
"Dear mother and father," Cora read mockingly. "I am so sorry you had to find out this way but I am leaving home. I will not be alone though. I am leaving with Daniel. We have been in love for years and know this is the only way we can truly be together. I am sorry if this comes as disappointment to you but I know I am doing what's right for me. Love Regina."
She let out a dark chuckle as she finished reading. She crumpled the note between her hands.
"You foolish girl," she growled. "Did you really think it would be that easy? Did you really think that he loved you? That you would run off into the sunset with him and live happily ever after?"
Regina flinched as her mother threw the crumpled note at her head. "I should send that driver a thank you gift because he saved you from a lifetime of misery!"
Regina glared at her mother angrily. "I loved him!"
Cora slammed her hand against the table forcefully. The bang from her hand filled the room. "And what… have I always… told you… about love?"
Regina's voice trembled as she spoke. "Love… is…"
Cora leaned in closer to hear her. "I'm sorry love is what?"
"Love is weakness," mumbled Regina.
"Clearer than that!" ordered Cora.
Regina glared at her mother defiantly as she spoke. "Love is weakness," she said firmly.
"Exactly," hissed Cora.
She leaned down to Regina's eye level. "You say that you loved him dear? Tell me just how strong does that love make you feel in this moment? That emptiness that you feel inside, that pain that's radiating off of you. That's what love does. It turns you pathetic and weak. If you learn one thing from this Regina it will be that you're better off without it."
Regina tried to look away from her but Cora gripped her chin between her fingers and forced her attention back. "It doesn't matter whether he died or not. You never would've been able to make him happy."
"You don't know that," whispered Regina weakly.
"And now neither will you," Cora shot back cruelly. She went back to the bar and poured herself another scotch. With her glass in one hand she also grabbed the entire bottle and headed toward the stairs.
"Wipe the tears off your face," she said without turning back. "We have a function to attend tomorrow evening and I will not have you looking all puffed up."
For a full five minutes Regina remained at the table, as still and silent as a rock. It was like she was waiting to wake up. To realize that this was all a cruel nightmare and that everything had gone to plan and she was in Albuquerque with Daniel. It took a glance at the clock to get release her from her trance. 9:45. She should go to bed. She needed sleep. As if on autopilot she rose from the table and headed upstairs toward her room. Once she was safely behind its closed doors she fell against her bedroom wall and wrapped her arms around torso in an effort to hold herself together. It was only when she felt the fabric against her hand that she realized that she was still wearing her jacket. She looked down at the blood covering her torso and began to hyperventilate. Daniel's blood. She brought her trembling fingers up to the buttons trying to get it off as quickly as possible. Once the buttons were undone she frantically shoved it off her arms and tossed it in her closet. She wasn't quite ready to throw it away yet. She pulled off the rest of her clothes and kneeled next to her bed to reach for the shoe box she'd hidden underneath it. Inside was a t-shirt she'd once stolen from the back of Daniel's truck. She doubted that he'd even realized that she'd taken it. She brought it up to her face and took a deep breath. It still smelled like him. She quickly put it on and slipped into her bed. What am I going to do now?
There was a knock on her door and she soon heard the thump of her father's cane against the floor.
"Regina?" he called out softly before poking his head through the door. She didn't turn to greet him. He sighed as he made his way into her room, his cane in one hand, the handle to his portable oxygen tank in the other. Henry Mills had always been sickly, ever since he was a baby. Due to complications at his birth he'd never really been able to breath on his own. He sat on the side of her bed and gently placed a hand on her shoulder.
"I'm so sorry my dear," he said regretfully.
Regina let out one trembling breath at his words. "I feel like I'm dying Daddy. I feel everything and nothing at the same time. It hurts."
He rubbed her back soothingly like he used to when she was sick as a child. "I know it hurts now but you will get pass this. I promise you will."
"I've lost everything I've ever wanted," said Regina sadly.
"Maybe you can love again," replied Henry uncertainly. "Find someone new, someone better suited for you."
Regina's face contorted in agony. "There is no one better and there never will be."
"Regina that's just not true," said Henry. "Daniel was a good man. I liked him… but he was just a gardener. He wouldn't have been able to give you everything that you need."
Regina shook her head at her father's words. He'd never understand.
"I just needed him," she sobbed. From a very young age Regina had recognized that her parents didn't love each other. They tolerated each other at best. It made both of them incapable of understanding the pain she felt. Even though he was trying to make her feel better her father was only making her feel more isolated.
"Please go," she pleaded.
Her father didn't argue with her. He just pressed a kiss to her forehead and left. Once he was gone she was brought up her hand to wipe the tears from her cheek. She went still as she felt the cool metal against her skin. Daniel's ring. She slipped it off her finger and stared at it. She could hear Daniel's voice in her head. And they all lived happily together. She used to be able to look at this ring and feel hope for the future. Now it only reminded her everything that will never be. She rubbed her fingers over the ruby as she let her sobs overtake her. That was the last thing she remembered before she let herself drift to sleep.
Next Chapter: Regina finds out that Daniel left something behind for her.