Welcome back! I know it's been a while but I had a lot going on. Heads up this chapter isn't exactly finished but I think it's good enough to post on it's own for now. The rest will hopefully be up shortly after Valentine's Day. Enjoy!
May 22, 2017
How do you know if someone's a good guy or a bad guy?
Sidney Glass has asked himself this question many times and as he sits in a coffee shop, file in hand, sipping on a lukewarm espresso it wanders through his head once again.
What is it that makes someone good or bad?
When he was young and naive he'd thought the world was split into two clear columns of black and white, good and bad, innocent and guilty. He used to tout around his so-called principals writing tidbit articles about crooks and heroes, as if life was truly that simple but that was decades ago. Time and experience has taught him that the world is for more grey than he'd previously realized. Human beings are complex creatures, himself included. When you're kneeling in bushes, taking pictures of naked strangers going to town on their secretaries you can't exactly call yourself better than them.
Over the years he's seen soccer moms with pill addictions, embezzling philanthropists and don't even get him started on adulterers.
Still he's seasoned enough to know that just because a person does bad things doesn't mean they're a bad person. Selfish, maybe. Lying, obviously but not necessarily bad.
In his eyes, everyone's got a dirty little secret and if you think you don't just give yourself time.
Take for example, Elena Perez, the woman he was meeting with that day.
He'd done his homework on her. School teacher, orphan. One brother, never married, never arrested. Volunteered at her local community center, even managed to donate a check or two when she had the chance. There wasn't a bone in her closet, let alone a skeleton. On paper she seemed like a good person. Exactly the sort of person you would trust.
Of course, that's exactly the reason he'd chosen her in the first place.
He'd doubted whether she'd call him back or not. Their first meeting hadn't exactly gone well. When he'd approached her outside the hospital she'd almost thrown hot tea in his face. For a while there he actually feared that he'd scared her off but less than an hour ago she'd shown up on his caller ID and told him to meet her here, at a coffee shop he knew was close to her house.
Taking another sip from his mug he almost felt disappointed in her.
He knew Cora would have his hide if things hadn't worked out but a part of him had hoped that she wouldn't show up. It would've restored his faith in humanity if she hadn't but he was only halfway through his espresso when the bell above the door jingled and she walked in, half a wreck.
Her dark hair was thrown up in a lazy ponytail and judging by her wrinkled clothes it was clear that she'd put on whatever was closest. Even from across the room he could see that her brown eyes were rimmed with red. She'd been crying. Unsurprising, given all that he knew.
She spotted him waiting for her at the back table and her eyes guiltily dropped to the floor before she shuffled over to him. Uneasily she lowers herself into the seat across from him, subtly ensuring there was as much space between them as possible. Her hand is still gripping her purse and her eyes shift around the room as if searching for hidden cameras. He can tell she's still wary of him, but he doesn't mind. Most people are.
For the first few seconds they're both quiet. She doesn't know what to say and this is the part of his job he hates the most. Even if it's the part he's best at.
Finally, he offers her a tentative smile and asks, "I take it this means you've reconsidered my employer's offer?"
Elena hesitates before responding with a stiff nod.
"So you'll do as I asked?"
"Yes," she grits out, harsher and more weary than intended. "I'll do it. Just… do what you promised."
Her voice wavers and guilt flares up in Sidney's chest. He tries to squash it down but he know how she must feel. It's never easy finding out the price of your own integrity. Especially not for people like her.
"You'll get what you need as soon as you come through," he assured her. "I'll make sure it happens fast."
Not exactly a promise he can keep but he can't help himself. He wants to reassure her. His words don't make the slightest difference. Elena simply crosses her arms and lets out a shaky breath, looking away from him and down at the table.
Before he can stop himself he asks, "How is your brother?"
Her eyes turn to him then, hard and angry as she sets her jaw.
"Worse," she sharply answers. "But I'm sure you already knew that."
Sidney only raises his eyebrow in response. She's not wrong and they both know it.
Pushing away what's left of his espresso he passes her a thin manila envelope that she hesitantly takes from him. "You'll need these. Call me when it's done, then I'll make sure you get everything you need."
It would be better if he'd just leave but for some reason he can't resist adding, "Don't worry Elena. After a while it starts to fade."
She looks up at him. "What does?"
Her wide, hurt eyes are the last thing he sees before walking out of the coffee shop. Without looking back he already knows that she's probably crying again. Years ago he might've even felt bad about it but not anymore. It's all part of the job, he tells himself. The truth is they both got what they needed tonight and if she wanted to cry over it that's her choice, he couldn't care less.
It doesn't matter to him if Elena Perez is a good person. All that matters is that she's a desperate one.
Miles away from Sidney and his machinations, Regina sat on Robin's couch with a relaxed smile on her face.
It was Thursday night and the day had been long and work had been miserable but none of that mattered now. All that mattered was the cartoon movie on tv, the two boys by her side and the smell of spaghetti sauce coming from the kitchen.
Ever since she'd moved into her own place she and Robin had created a standing arrangement to have dinner once a week with the boys, just the four of them. They'd pick a night - usually Thursday - and get together at his house or hers, pop in a classic Disney movie - something the boys hadn't seen but they remembered from their childhoods - then have dinner together. At first it was just a nice little way to keep up with each other, nothing extravagant, but their dinners had quickly become her favorite part of the week.
Tonight they were watching 101 Dalmations, a movie she loved more than expected considering she was a fashion designer with an aversion to dogs of any kind. Chuckling along with the boys, she watched Roger and Anita stumble through their meet-cute in the park. Roland's head was in her lap while Henry leaned against her shoulder munching on the small amount of kettle corn she'd allowed them to have before dinner. As she listened to their giggles she was reminded of a similar night she'd had with her father when she was a little girl. The two of them eating popcorn watching the very movie that she's now showing her son. It's still one of her favorite memories. Maybe that's why she's come to love their dinners so much. They reminded her that life was good again.
"Is dinner ready yet?" asked Roland, for the third time in fifteen minutes.
Regina smiled down at him and shook her head. "I don't know sweetheart. Why don't you let me check?"
Still pouting, Roland reluctantly lifted his head from her lap so she could get up. Standing to her feet Regina made sure to ruffle his hair before heading back toward the kitchen. Once there she found Robin with his head bent over a pot on the stove, test-tasting the spaghetti sauce.
For a moment she stood by the refrigerator just watching him cook. During their short lived time as roommates she'd always loved watching him in the kitchen. When they'd first met he could hardly boil an egg on his own but somehow he'd become more at home in the kitchen than anywhere else in the house. It was a new side to him. One that reminded her of just how much they'd both changed in the last few years and how happy she was with where they are now.
Gently running her hand over his back, she approached him by the stove. "How's it coming?"
"Almost done," he said, stirring the sauce again. He looked over and smiled at her. "Is my son losing patience?"
Regina tilted her head from side to side. "I'd say you have ten, maybe fifteen minutes, before a complete meltdown."
"Lovely," replied Robin with a roll of his eyes. "Well you can tell King Roland that dinner will be ready in five."
"I shall let his highness know," quipped Regina.
Humming contently, she leaned against the counter taking in his profile. As she ran her eyes over his face she remembered what it felt like to feel his stubble against her cheek and his lips against her own. Biting down on her lip she tried to squash the urge to kiss him. The boys are in the other room and could walk in at any minute. It's far too risky.
Still, a smile crawls onto her face. It's only been five days since their date - three days since their moment in her office - and she was still on a bit of a high.
Over the last few years, she'd nearly forgotten the giddiness that comes with starting a new was refreshing. After all those months of self doubt and inner turmoil she finally felt light, happy. Like for once there was nothing weighing her down. She hadn't felt this good in years and, honestly, she was starting to wonder when the moment would come where she'd revert back to her former anxious self.
"So…" drawled Robin. "Can I ask you something?"
He hesitates for a second. "When do you think we should tell the boys we're together?"
Regina raised her eyebrows in shock. She wanted to speak but words got caught in the back of her throat causing her mouth to just hang open in shock. Suddenly her shoulders didn't feel so weightless anymore.
Robin winced at her reaction. "Too soon?"
"I.. don't know," she mumbled, crossing her arms."It's early, definitely."
"I know," said Robin nodding his head. "I know we agreed to put it off but… it feels kind of weird, right? Not telling them."
Regina softly nodded in agreement. If you'd have asked her two days ago if waiting to tell the boys was a good choice she would've said yes but now that she was here having Thursday night dinner she wasn't so sure. When Henry had asked her whose house they would be at that week her heart had skipped a beat. And ever since their arrival she'd been sure to maintain an awkward two foot distance between her and Robin because she didn't want the boys to be suspicious. It suddenly hit her that she was keeping a secret from her son. And she'd never done that before, not when it didn't concern his safety. It felt… dishonest. Dangerously so.
"You're right," she said. "It doesn't feel right that they don't know but it's still so soon."
"I know and I completely understand if you're not ready yet."
She shook her head. "It's not that I'm not ready Robin… I'm just worried that he might not be."
Concern flared in Robin's eyes. "You're worried Henry will be upset?"
"More like confused." She sighed, shrugging her shoulders. While things had been wonderful a part of her balked at the idea of letting Henry know about her new relationship. She knew she'd need to tell him eventually but she had no idea how he'd react.
"I've never dated before, not with Henry. I've never had to tell him that I'm seeing someone in that way. I mean, how would I even start that conversation?"
"I have no idea," said Robin, shaking his head. "I haven't exactly done this either."
"Well, aren't you worried about how Roland will take it?"
"Of course I am," he admitted, with a shrug of his shoulders, "but it's Roland. He adores you, has always adored you and I doubt that will change just because I happen to kiss you every once in a while."
Despite her best efforts a blush rose in her cheeks and a smile made it's way back onto her face.
He reached out to rest his hand on her shoulder. "Remember our pact still stands. No matter what happens here" - he gestured between them - "nothing changes with them."
"I know that's what we said but they never agreed to that pact," she said, lowering her voice and sending a cautious glance toward the living room. "I don't want them to look at us differently."
Robin crossed his arms. "Do you think that they will?"
"I don't know," she replied, shaking her head. She took a deep breath before continuing, "I love you Robin but I also love what we have with the four of us right now. I love what I have with Roland and I love what you have with Henry. And the idea of changing either of those relationships...it feels risky. Especially when it comes to you and Henry."
Regina had always loved how much Henry looked up to Robin. It made her feel good to know that her son had a man he could talk to, especially when it came to things that he felt he couldn't tell her. She feared that would change once she revealed that she and Robin were together. That Henry would stop seeing him as Robin but as just the man she was dating.
"Change can be risky," agreed Robin, "but it can also be really good if you let it."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Truth is, even though I'm nervous I'm also a little bit excited to let them know what's been going on."
"Yeah," said Robin, with a hopeful grin. "What we have is something that makes me really happy, happier than I've felt in quite a while. And I think if we shared it with the boys they might be really happy too."
Regina playfully rolled her eyes at his words. "God…"
"Just trying to figure out how a cynic like me keeps falling for optimists like you," she said, arching an eyebrow in his direction.
Robin chuckled under his breath. "From what I hear we are very good kissers."
An easy laugh comes out before she can stop it. "Well… can't argue with that."
She sighs, silently thinking it over in her head. If it had been anyone else in any other situation she would've said no, that it was too soon for her to include Henry in this. But this was different. This was Robin. He'd always been a part of their lives, always would be and Henry loved him. Maybe it would be good to let him in on their relationship.
"I'll talk to Henry tonight," she said, with a firm nod of her head.
Robin raised his eyebrows. "Are you sure?"
She nods. "Yeah, it's not like we can keep it from them for long. And if he does have any issues it's better for me to know now so I can deal with them. I'll let him know when we get home."
"I could talk to Roland when I put him to bed," Robin suggests, shrugging his shoulders. "Are you sure you don't want to do it now? We could talk to them both, together?"
Immediately she shakes her head and lets out a short, anxious giggle. "No, I think it's best that we do this one-on-one. I don't want them to feel like they're put on the spot."
"Right," said Robin, nodding his head. He lets out a nervous breath and hesitates before adding, "If he does have a problem… you'll let me know right?"
As he looked at her with nervous, uncertain eyes warmth flickered in her heart. Before she can stop herself she's planting a soft kiss on his right cheek.
Robin huffs in surprise. "What is that for?"
Feeling her anxiety drift away, she beamed up at him and answered, "Guess I like seeing that you care."
He stares down at her,with a slightly confused smile on his face, but before he can form a response they're interrupted by the sound of determined stomps coming from the hallway. Roland appears in the kitchen with an exaggerated pout.
"Is dinner ready yeeeeet?" he dramatically moaned, throwing his head back and shaking his curls.
Robin sent him a stern look. "Would you like to give that another try your highness?"
Roland glared at his father but grumbled, "Is dinner ready, pleeeease?"
"It'll be out in a second," answered Regina, grabbing his hand. "Let's go wait in the living room while your dad gets it ready."
"Fine," he whines, letting her lead him out of the kitchen. As they head into the hallway she turns back and gives Robin one last nervous smile. In a few hours or so they'd be telling the boys about their relationship. It was a big step, one she was more than a little worried about, but as she held Roland's hand and plopped back onto the couch with him and Henry she felt a little excited. Steps forward were always a little scary but if there was a chance they'd lead to more nights like these perhaps the risk was worth it.
Since the day she realized she was pregnant with Henry Regina had only wanted the best for him. The best home, the best family and most importantly the best mother. After everything she'd gone through with Cora she'd wanted something different for her son. She wanted him to have a mother that he could trust, one he wasn't afraid of, who made time for him, and could give him everything that he needed. Nearly ten years later, and for the most part she's pleased with how she's done. Her son is happy, he's cared for and undoubtedly loved. Almost every night she's able to lay her head on her pillow and know that she's done the best that she possibly could for him.
But every once in a while a night will come where a decision has to be made or an action has to be taken and she will ask herself "Am I really doing what's best for him?"
Tonight is one of those nights.
All through dinner her mind raced with that question. Through all the spaghetti and dalmations all she could think about was her talk with Robin, the decision to tell the boys and wondering if now was really the best moment. Her heart had thumped in chest as Robin kissed her cheek goodbye and whispered a small good luck into her ear. And her anxiety had only tripled as she'd driven home with Henry obliviously sitting in the front seat.
Once she got home and switched into her silk pajamas she fell back on her bed and blew out a frustrated breath. She had to tell Henry, she knew that. They spent far too much time with Robin and Roland for her to keep it a secret but what the hell was she supposed to say?
Hey Henry, just a heads up I'm dating your godfather?
God, it was like she'd danced straight into a parenting minefield with a blindfold on. All she wanted was to make this as easy as possible for him. She just wasn't sure how.
As she went through possible opening lines in her head, her door opened and she saw Henry walk into her bedroom dressed in his plaid pajama pants and a blue tee shirt. She tilts her head when she sees him, suddenly noticing that it had been months since he'd chosen to wear the comic book themed pajamas he used to be so fond of. Instead he'd been wearing more plain sleepwear ever since they'd moved to California, the cartoon characters and superheroes fading into the background. It suddenly hits her that he probably thinks he's too old to wear them now. Her heart clenches at the thought of him maturing so fast.
Walking over to her bed he asked, "Hey mom, I forgot to tell you but Owen's having a sleepover on Saturday. Can I go?"
"Sure sweetie," she responds without hesitation. Normally she'd say no with such late notice but if she was gonna tilt his world on its axis then she might as well let him get a sleepover out of it.
Leaning forward, an idea sparked in her head. "Hey… how would you like some ice cream?"
Henry's eyes grew wide. "Now?"
She nodded, unsurprised by his disbelief. No ice cream before bed was one of her stricter rules. She'd never allowed him to break it before but considering what would happen next, it couldn't hurt to butter him up a bit.
"Well it's been a rough day and I could use a pick-me up," she lied. "What do you say? Want to split of a bowl of mint-chocolate chip with me?"
She giggled as Henry eagerly nodded his head. Wrapping her arm around his shoulders they head toward the kitchen where she takes out a tub of mint-chocolate chip ice cream, their favorite. Setting a bowl between them at the table, she scoops out two hefty mounds for them to share and they waste no time digging in. Henry happily hums in delights as eats a spoonful of ice cream and Regina smiles at him.
She can't imagine him ever being in a better mood so… it was now or never.
"So… did you have fun at Robin's house tonight?" she tentatively asks.
"Yeah," says Henry, nodding his head. "It's always fun over there. I like it."
"I like it too," she nervously agrees. "Especially seeing Robin… and Roland!"
She hastily added her godson's name, not wanting Henry to get suspicious of its absence. She needn't have bothered though. Henry was far to focused on his ice cream to notice her slip up.
Sighing, she continues, "Hey… do you remember back when we lived in New York and Emma had her friend…August?"
Henry immediately starts to giggle and she knows he's remembering the very memorable night when the two of them came home from a late dinner to the sight of Emma and August heavily making out on their doorstep. More than a year later Regina would still swear the embarrassed red in Emma's cheeks didn't fade for two days.
"You mean her boyfriend?" he mockingly sang.
"Yes her boyfriend," she chuckled. Unsurprisingly, Henry nodded his head. For five months or so August had been a common sight around the house until he'd left to travel through Asia for a book he was writing. Regina had even allowed Emma to take Henry to the park with him, once or twice.
"You remember how he used to take her on dates and things like that?" She gulps when Henry hummed in affirmatively. "Well… what if I had someone like that?"
Swallowing another scoop of ice cream, Henry just narrows his eyes at her as she continued to mumble, "You know someone to take me out on dates and things like that."
"You mean like a boyfriend?"
She nodded. "Yeah… like a boyfriend."
Henry stared at her for a moment before shrugging his shoulders. "Why don't you just do that with Robin?"
Thank god ice cream melts quickly because she nearly chokes on hers. Internally screaming, she coughs up a storm at her son's casual suggestion that she date the man she's already seeing. Clearing her throat she pushes on.
"Well, now that you mention it… Robin and I have been on a date," she nervously reveals.
Now that manages to get his full attention. Eyes widened, he sets his spoon down. "You have?"
"Yeah we have." Regina nods her head with a small smile. "It was really nice and we both really liked it. We both... really like each other actually."
Henry's silent for a moment before softly asking, "You mean… like you used to like my dad?"
It's a question that gives her pause, clenching her heart and leaving her unsure of how to answer him. She hadn't really expected him to bring up Daniel. Talking about him was still a little new to them both and hearing him mentioned in this context was a bit of a gut punch.
"That's a complicated question Henry," she answers, honestly. "But… a little bit, yeah."
Henry presses his lips together, thinking about her answer. "So… Robin's your boyfriend now?"
"Mm-hmm," she nervously hums, nodding her head. Her palms are sweaty as she clasps her hands in her lap, awaiting his reaction. "So… how do you feel about that?"
Henry shrugs his shoulders. "I don't know," he mumbles.
It's not exactly the response she'd been hoping for. She takes his hand in her own, hoping to offer up some comfort.
"Does that mean you guys like… kiss and stuff?"
Her eyes widen at his sudden question, and she can't help the small, surprised laugh that falls from her lips as she nods her head. "Um, yes. Occasionally we kiss… and stuff."
His face immediately twists up in disgust. "Gross! Are you gonna do it in front of me?"
"No," she replies, full on laughing now as she shakes her head. "Not if we can help it."
Henry sighs, relieved. With a shrug of his shoulders he turns back to his ice cream. "I guess that's okay then."
She beams down at him, hope in her eyes."Really?"
"Yeah," Henry replies, scooping up another spoonful of ice cream. "Robin's cool and I know you like him."
Regina narrows her eyes at him, suspiciously. "How do you know?"
"Because you're always making that face around him."
"What face?" she asks incredulously.
Henry immediately plasters a wide grin on his face while fluttering his eyelashes like an adoring Disney princess. Regina's jaw drops at his dramatic impression of her. "I do not look at him that way!"
There's a smug look in Henry eyes as he nods his head. Clearly, his mother's feelings hadn't been as subtle as she'd intended.
Sweet relief flows through her at Henry's easy acceptance of her relationship. Apparently, so long as she toned down their PDA Henry would be fine. It was the best she could've hoped for but she still wasn't done.
Gently placing a finger under his chin, she turned his head so he could look into her eyes.
"Hey… you'll always be my number one man. You know that, right?"
He nods, sending her a small smile. "I know."
She smiles back at him, wondering how she ever managed to raise a son as amazing as the one she had. Letting out a deep breath she presses a kiss to his forehead, relieved that at least for tonight, her best is good enough.
For Robin, holding a conversation with Roland was usually the easiest thing in the world. At five years old his son was quite the chatterbox. Unfiltered, unyielding and fully capable of talking for hours at time without complaint. Some days it was hard to a get word in edgewise and normally Robin would fine with that but tonight was different.
After drawing him a nice warm bath and dressing him in his fuzziest pajamas Robin still didn't have a clue how to tell his son that he was dating Regina. It was halfway through storytime and he was still thinking up ways to explain it in a way Roland could understand. As he read aloud, regaling Roland with tales of glass slippers and evil stepmothers, he ran his hands through his son's curls protectively. Roland was his everything and he didn't want to confuse him. At only five years old could he even understand the concept of dating? If not, how could he put into simple terms how he felt about Regina?
They reached the end of the story and Robin closed the book with a sigh. "So, what'd you think of they story?"
"I liked it!" said Roland, tucked into his father's side with a blanket pulled up to his chin. "Especially when the mice turned into horses."
"I loved that part too," replied Robin, smiling down at him. "I loved all the magical parts."
They'd been reading different fairy tales every night for months now. When she'd moved out Regina had left behind the storybook she'd inherited from her father. Henry had gotten too old for it and she'd said she rather have it stay in the family. Since then Robin had spent every night telling Roland tales of knights and princesses and wicked villains. There were even a few stories he hadn't heard before.
Running his fingers along the edge of the storybook an idea popped into his head. Even if Roland didn't understand the idea of dating, maybe he could understand the fairytale concept of love.
"Hey...you know what my favorite part was?" asked Robin, playfully nudging his son.
Roland shrugged his shoulders. "What?"
"I liked when the prince went to the ball and danced with Cinderella," he revealed. "I thought it sweet when he fell in love with her."
"I guess," mumbled Roland, shrugging his shoulders. Robin suspected his son found that part of of the story boring in comparison to the magic. Still he pressed on.
Leaning closer to Roland he whispered, "You know… I went to a ball a little while ago."
Roland's eyes widened in excitement. "You did?"
"Mmm-hmm," Robin hums, with a nod. "I went to a ball and I danced with an beautiful princess."
"Just like in the story?" gasps Roland, a wide smile appearing on his face as he sat up.
"Just like in the story," said Robin. He grinned as he thought back to his night with Regina, dancing under the night sky to the sound of a spanish guitar. Perhaps it wasn't the crowded castle ballroom his son imagined but it'd been enchanting all the same. "Do you want to know the best part?"
"What?" asked Roland, on the edge of his seat.
Robin leaned close and whispered, "I fell in love with her."
Roland's jaw dropped. "With the princess?"
"Yes," said Robin, nodding. "And I was really lucky that night. Do you know why?"
"Why?" asked Roland.
"Because the princess loved me back," said Robin.
Wonder danced in Roland's eyes as he imagined his father dancing with a fancy princess like the one in the pages of his up at Robin, he asked, "Can I meet the princess?"
Robin hesitated nervously. "Well… you already have. You see, the princess is your Aunt Regina."
Roland furrows his brow, instantly confused. "Aunt Regina's not a princess!" he argues.
Letting out a nervous chuckle, Robin concedes with a nod. "Maybe not like the one in the book but… to me she is."
"You mean because she's pretty?" asks Roland, tilting his head.
"Yes because she's pretty," laughs Robin. "But also because she's kind and nice and she really loves us, both of us, very much."
Roland grows silent, his eyes dropping down to the storybook in thought. Concerned, Robin runs his hand through his curls once more. "Roland?"
His son looks up at him with curious eyes. "Daddy, if you love Aunt Regina does that mean you're gonna marry her?"
"Umm.." Robin freezes in the moment. He hadn't expected such a loaded question from him and he's unsure how to answer.
"Well… we haven't talked about it yet," he responds diplomatically. "And I don't expect we will for quite a while."
Roland thinks on it for a moment before replying, "Good… because I don't want you to marry her."
He finishes his sentence with a firm nod of his head before settling back down into his blankets, utterly oblivious to the paralyzing shock he'd just left his father in.
The next day Robin sat a table inside an italian restaurant less than three blocks from Regina's work with his stomach in were meeting up for lunch and he was sweating bullets at the thought of it. More than twelve hours had passed and he could still hear his son's voice, so soft but still so firm…
I don't want you to marry her.
It had been echoing in his head, making him toss and turn all night. He'd barely gotten any sleep. Instead he'd lied awake, mentally going over his words, praying, hoping there was something he had missed or understood wrong. There wasn't. His son, young as he was, had given a very clear message.
He didn't want his father and Regina together.
That was the question he stumbled over the most. Roland had always loved Regina. They spent so much time together and he'd never once seemed put off by her presence. In fact, he looked forward to it. Or at least that's what Robin had thought. Not having a clear reason for Roland's discomfort only fueled his hesitation to tell Regina what happened.
Sighing, he checked his watch. They hadn't spoken since she'd left his house the night before. She'd be meeting him any moment now and he just knew she'd want to talk about the boys. Obviously, he'd have to tell her what Roland said and the thought of it broke his heart. She loved Roland like he was her own, he could only imagine how hurt she'll feel at his rejection.
Not even ten seconds after his watch struck twelve he saw her walk in the door.
Gorgeous. She looked gorgeous and breathtaking in her tight black pencil skirt with a shining purple blouse that was neatly buttoned up except for the last two which revealed some of her perfect olive skin. His eyes would have wandered down further had they not been glued to the beaming smile she graced him with when she spied him across the restaurant.
Just before she reached the table, Robin got up, trying hard to meet her smile with one of his own. Regina greeted him with a hummed "Robin…" before she pressed a lingering kiss onto his lips which was full of promise. This was going to be hard, even harder than he expected it to be.
"How is work?" Robin blurted out, scolding himself immediately for asking nothing more intelligent. However, work was a safe topic. Work didn't involve them or their relationship. Had he asked about Henry, Regina might have jumped right in for the topic he was trying to avoid for now.
He listened to her talk while they were looking at the menu, but his thoughts were still circling around the best way to break the news to her. They ordered their lunch along with a glass of merlot for her which turned up at their table only moments later. Watching as the sommelier filled her glass, Robin found himself itching for a sip. It had been nearly five years since he'd had a drink. Most days he didn't miss it but right now he could really use something to take the edge off.
Once Regina's glass was full she raised it, smiling at him and waiting until he did the same. "To happy beginnings." Their glasses clinked together softly before each of them took a sip. Robin downed almost half his water, the thought of their upcoming conversation made his mouth go dry. Regina looked so happy and excited it almost pained him to know he was going to shatter her mood before lunch was over.
"Are you free this weekend?" She asked playfully, setting her glass aside and leaning somewhat closer.
"Uh - I have to take care of a couple of things at the bar, but… why?"
"Oh, I was just thinking I could come over with Henry and we could celebrate… us." Her teeth caught her lower lip which was pulled into a giddy grin. "I talked to him yesterday and he's fine with the two of us dating."
Robin's heart stuttered in his chest. "Really?"
Regina nodded, still unable to keep her glee at bay. "He's perfectly fine with it so long as we keep the PDA in front of him to a bare minimum."
She let out a small laugh at her son's boundaries and despite knowing how his side of the conversation would go Robin managed to add a tiny chuckle of his own. Though it would've been easier if Henry had been just as upset as Roland, he was glad that things had gone better for Regina. He knew her son's opinion meant the world to her. She was practically glowing with relief now that she had his approval.
Regina laughed, swirling the wine in her glass. "I should be glad he still thinks of kissing as gross because he is growing up so fast and the time he will start noticing girls is right around the corner. Gosh, I don't even want to think about that! Still, I'm happy he's fine with everything. You know how much he loves you and I was scared of things becoming awkward between the two of you but I'm glad that's not the case. So… how did things go with Roland?"
Sitting across from her, looking into those excited brown eyes Robin's gut swirled like a hurricane. For a brief moment he even considered lying. Coming up with some small believable lie to keep the smile on her face almost seemed worth it but he knew he couldn't do that. As hard as it was he had to tell her the truth.
Reaching out to grab her hand he allows himself a deep breath. Immediately, he sees apprehension seep into her eyes. "Things… didn't go as expected."
Keeping her eyes on his face, she gulps. "What do you mean?"
His gaze drops to the table, afraid to see the look on her face as he speaks. "Well, I told him that we were together, said that I loved you and that you loved us." He paused for a beat before finishing. "And then he said... that he didn't want me to marry you."
Regina's eyebrows scrunched together in confusion as she took in what Robin said. A flash of hurt went across her eyes as she softly shook her head. "Roland...doesn't want you to marry me?" She softly repeats his words as if she can't believe them. "He said that?"
Robin regretfully nods, whispering, "Yeah."
A sharp breath falls from her lips as she shakes her head again, still in disbelief. "Well… did you say that you were?"
"Of course, I didn't say that," he immediately replies. "He asked me about it but I said it hadn't come up."
She trails off with a frustrated sigh, still struggling to wrap her head around this new development. Resting her elbows against the table she pressed her fingertips to her temples. Closing her eyes she takes a deep breath before looking up at Robin. "Well… what did you say after he said that?"
Robin squirms in his seat, uncomfortably. "I… said okay, kissed him goodnight and went to bed." Even as he rushes his words out he can see her eyes widen in shock.
"I know," he moans, ashamed. "I'm sorry. I panicked."
"You didn't say anything?" she desperately asks.
He shakes his head. "It all happened so fast. Then he said it and I didn't know what to say and I didn't want to put him on the spot. I'm sorry."
She blows out another dejected breath. "So... Roland's not okay with us being together?"
"I don't think he is," Robin softly responds.
A bullet to the gut would hurt less than the look on her face right now. So many emotions swirl in her brown eyes. Hurt, guilt, confusion… regret. That last one is scaring him the most. But just as he expected she doesn't let any of those emotions out. Instead, she just sucks in a deep breath, straightens her back and remains silent. Within seconds, he knows that she's run back into her own emotional vault, ready to throw away the key.
She lets out a bitter chuckle and shakes her head. "No it's fine. I've been blissfully happy for about a week now, so it was about time that life showed up to kick me in the teeth again."
"Hey…" he reached out to grab her hand again, "this is not a kick in the teeth. It's just… a small road bump. One we'll get past together."
"Your son doesn't want us to be together Robin." She sadly shrugs her shoulders. "How do we get past that?"
"He's just a kid. He's probably just confused," Robin insists. "We'll figure out ways to make him comfortable. It'll just take time."
The waiter showed up not long after with their food but Regina's appetite was long gone. She hardly took three bites as they talked through lunch, trying to figure out ways to make Roland more comfortable. Less than half an hour later she cut the meal short, claiming she had a mountain of paperwork waiting back for her at the studio. It was a lie, he could tell but he still let her go. He promised her they would find a solution together but he knew that for now she needed her space.
Good moods were a rare thing for Regina. The days where she woke up with a smile on her face, feeling like she didn't have a care in the world were always few and far between. So when she woke up in the best of moods that morning a part of her knew that it wasn't going to last.
After her lunch with Robin and hearing about Roland's displeasure at their relationship, her mood swan dived off a cliff. She'd cut their lunch date short, claiming she had to get back to work but the truth was she just wandered around for a bit after leaving.
She took a few minutes to walk around the neighborhood, lost in thought, trying to come to terms with what just happened. A part of her couldn't believe it while the other wanted to kick herself for not seeing it coming. Then again, she had. When Robin brought up telling the boys about their relationship, a part of her knew it was too soon to say anything. She'd just been so happy and so optimistic she hadn't been able to see straight. She should've insisted they waited, or that they talked the boys together, or just done something that would've helped them avoid the conundrum they were in now.
Roland didn't want her to marry Robin.
Just thinking the words put an ache in her stomach. It wasn't as if she planned to marry Robin. It was far too soon to be thinking of such things, she knew that but… hearing that he didn't want it. Well, it was gut punch. Like having a door closed before you even knew it was there.
By the time she got back to work her head was still swirling and her good mood had completely dissipated. Unfortunately, she wouldn't be the only person to notice that.
Over the past few weeks the studio had become a bit of a refuge for her. A place to find some quiet and be alone with her thoughts. That had all changed four days ago, when all the staff she'd hired had finally started working full time. She missed having a sanctuary but the grand opening was only a few days away. Things were down to the wire and she was grateful to have the help. Though no one would know it by the way she'd started treating them when she came back into work.
Trying to mask her worries with irritation and sarcasm, it was only minutes before she'd started snapping at everyone in sight. She didn't even notice it until she'd asked her new receptionist for coffee and Snow walked in with a steaming mug in her hands and a curious look in her eye.
Regina narrowed her eyes, immediately suspicious. "What are you doing here?" Here gaze landed on the coffee in her hands. "And why are you bringing me my coffee instead of Anna?"
"Probably because she was too afraid to come in here herself," said Snow, shutting the door behind her.
"Excuse me?" replied Regina, the challenge heavy in her tone as Snow set the mug onto her desk. Still pissed she lifted it to her lips relishing the taste of caffeine on her tongue. Anna might be a coward but at least she knew how to make a decent cup of coffee.
Snow took a seat at the chair in front of her desk, the look on her face growing even more concerned as she realized just how snippy Regina seemed to be. "Everyone seemed to be a bit on edge when I walked in. Word is you've been on the the warpath since lunch."
A shameful heat flooded Regina's cheeks upon hearing that news of her bad mood had spread around the studio. But what could she expect she hadn't exactly done much to hide it. Taking a deep breath, she rolled her eyes and tried to play off her embarrassment. "Well, nice to know the gossip mill is the only thing working around here."
"They're just new," Snow assured her. "You're their boss, it's the first time they've seen you upset. They're just not sure what to make of it yet."
Regina looked away, grumbling to herself, as she took another sip of coffee. She knew Snow was probably right, an upset boss was always cause for concern. Whenever Mal had been in a mood it'd felt like having a ticking bomb in the office. She silently resolved to tone it down a bit.
"So what makes you fearless enough to come in here," she asked Snow. "I didn't know you were dropping by today."
Snow sighed, anxiously leaning forward in her seat. "I actually hadn't planned on it. I just… I went to see the doctor you told me about."
Regina straightened up, her eyebrows lifting ever so slightly. "Really? How'd it go?"
"Pretty good," Snow breathlessly answered, nodding her head. She tapped her left arm. "I got the implant. It'll take a month to really get started but it's in there."
Regina offered her a reassuring smile. Not long after their talk in the park Snow had asked her for some advice on birth control. Regina had immediately recommended her personal obgyn and a few forms of long-term birth control that she'd researched a while back. Though she hadn't expected Snow to take action so quickly she was proud to see that she'd taken steps to protecting herself.
"How does it feel?" she asked, curious.
"Pretty much invisible," said Snow, as if she was still a little surprised at it herself. "I thought I would feel it more but honestly, sometimes I forget it's there."
Regina hummed, approvingly. "Sounds nice. Might have to get one of those myself, now that I have reason to."
After the whole condom fiasco on their first date, it might be nice to have some semi permanent insurance now that she was in a relationship again.
"How are things with you and Robin?" asked Snow. "I hope he's not the reason you're in a bad mood."
Regina softly groaned. "Well… at least not directly."
She muttered the words under her breath but it was still enough to widen Snow's eyes. Concern clear on her face, she asked, "What happened?"
A part of Regina is reluctant to share the reason for her anxiety. It still seems a bit surreal to not have Roland's approval. Despite the fact that he's not her son - as far as blood goes - she still feels a pang of maternal guilt at the thought of it. As if she'd failed him in some way. And talking about her failures has never been easy for her.
Still she sees Snow sitting on the other side of her desk, her green eyes sparkling with worry at her silence. She knows if she doesn't come clean the girl with will never let it go. It's best to just let her in on the secret.
Sighing, she leaned back in her seat. "Last night Robin and I told the boys we were together."
Snow knitted her eyebrows together, hesitating before she spoke. "Did it go badly?"
"Not for both of us," replied Regina, with a shake of her head. "Henry took it great. He had some questions but potential PDA aside, he's happy."
"Well that's great!" said Snow, a smile breaking out on her face. After a moment though she tilted her head, confusion clouding her eyes. "Wait… does that mean…?"
Regina let out a soft, disappointed breath. "Roland said that he doesn't want Robin to marry me."
"What?" The shock is clear in Snow's tone, as her lips remain parted in surprise. Her eyes narrowed as she fell back in her seat, still trying to wrap her head around what Regina had just said. "He actually said that?"
"Word for word, according to Robin," confirmed Regina, her eyes dropping down to her desk. The sting is still harsh in her cheeks as she takes in Snow's reaction.
She's still shaking her head in disbelief, unable to understand how this could be true. "I don't understand...Roland loves you! I mean, really loves you!"
"I thought so too… until today," muttered Regina, with just a hint of bitterness. Ever since lunch she'd been running through every interaction she'd had with her god son over the past year, searching for a hint of resentment or apprehension on his part. She couldn't find a single moment that could've helped her see this coming. He'd always seemed so happy when she was around.
"Well, what does Robin say?"
Regina can't hold the sarcastic scoff that falls from her lips. "He says that it's 'just a bump in the road' and we'll deal with it together."
Snow hums her disapproval. "That's it?"
"No," she sighs, still shaking her head. "He wants us to spend more time with Roland, just the three of us. You know, so he can get a feel for the new dynamic. Since Henry has a sleepover tomorrow Robin wants me to spend the night with them."
Snow's optimism perks up at this idea. "Good, you should do that! It might help."
A hesitant groan comes from Regina's throat at the thought of the idea. "I don't know," she mumbles. "If he's really that uncomfortable it's not gonna be something that we can solve overnight."
"Probably not," Snow agrees, "but it could be a good start."
Regina simply shrugs her shoulders, still unconvinced.
A cautious smile appears on Snow's face. "You know… I always had the best time when you had sleepovers with me."
Regina looks up at her with a hint of pain in her eyes. Sleepovers with Snow hadn't been an uncommon thing when she was still trapped under her mother's thumb. They'd spend hours watching movies, braiding each other's hair and talking about everything under the sun… all the while Regina's gut would be swirling, wondering what she'd done to be placed in the hell she was living in.
Snow bit her lip, guiltily shaking her head. "I mean, I know now that it wasn't -that you weren't really happy to be there but… you were good to me. Always."
Regina clenched her jaw, averting her gaze. "Well… I had to be."
The two of them grew silent, both thinking back to that warped time when they first knew each other. Now that the truth was out they both knew that they had very different feelings about those memories and what they meant. Like always guilt filled the both of them at the thought of those differing perspectives - Snow for her ignorance, Regina for her lies.
Snow let out a soft breath before asking, "Why don't you just try talking with him?"
"And say what?" asked Regina, tiredly. "I've already told him I loved him a million times. If he's still not happy with me…"
"Just ask him what his deal is," said Snow, shrugging her shoulders. "If you ask, he'll tell you."
Regina internally winced at the thought of having such a conversation. While a part of her was just afraid of what his answer might be, another felt like the conversation would be too much for Roland. He was only five after all. "I don't know, he's so young…" she weakly argued.
Snow shook her head."He might be just a kid but I'm sure he knows his own feelings, even if he doesn't understand them completely."
She pressed her lips together, and sucked in a deep breath. "You know my father never asked me how I was feeling...like, really never. I never got the chance to say aloud whether I was happy with something or uncomfortable with it. At least not until you showed up."
"You were always asking me if I felt okay or if i was happy with things." She let out a forced, bitter chuckle. "Of course, now I know that I probably wasn't giving you the answers that you wanted."
Once the truth had come out about Regina's torture, Snow had realized that all those times she'd asked if she was happy with their relationship she was hoping that she'd say no so her father would possibly release her from Cora's deal. The knowledge that she'd always had an enthusiastic yes on the tip of her tongue made her gut swirl now.
"Still," mumbled Snow, "I always liked that you asked. It made me feel… heard."
Regina knitted her eyebrows together. "You think Roland just wants to be heard?"
"I think that it can't hurt to listen," Snow replied. With a shrug of her shoulders, she offered her a cautious smile. "And who knows… maybe he'll help you over the speed bump himself."
Regina leaned back in her seat, thoughtfully considering all Snow had said. It was always rough thinking about their twisted past together but at least this time it had offered up a helpful perspective. The issues with Roland wouldn't be solved without effort, and the most certainly wouldn't be solved by hiding from them. If she wanted the three of them to get past this - and she did - she'd have to face it head on. And luckily, she had a partner who wanted to face things head on with her.
To be continued...
NEXT CHAPTER: Henry and Robin have a talk, Regina discovers the source of Roland's displeasure.