Robin had almost forgotten what it looked like, in the years since he lost his wife. He'd forgotten red.
Crimson velvet cloaks. Burnt orange-red leaves. The flames of a campfire. Berries.
It is a flicker at the edges of his vision, the first time he sees it again, a flaming wisp of color that he assumes he imagined. But that could not explain why, as he reaches for an apple that rests on one of the castle's long tables, he suddenly fears he will touch fire.
They are red, he recalls, as he runs a thumb across the glossy surface. Red, as he and Marian learned together, when they met, and began to see color for the very first time. Which word would be best for this particular apple, he wonders? Crimson, russet, ruby...is it the same color that wine used to be, or more like the garnet-encrusted ring he once liberated from its owner, or the color of oak leaves in the fall?
"Papa!" Roland calls, bumping into Robin's legs.
"Yes, my boy?" Robin responds, hoisting his son up into his arms and absent-mindedly smoothing out his wind-blown curls.
"Tell me again," Roland insists, lifting the apple out of Robin's hands and grasping it between his own, "what color?"
"Apples can be lots of colors," Robin tells him, as he has so many times. He shifts Roland to one arm and lifts their plate of food with his free hand, walking them past the table of food and over to a bench to eat. "They can be red, like your Mama's favorite cloak, or more yellow, like the edge of a flame, or green, like the younger leaves on the tree. Or, sometimes, all three of those colors at once."
"Which apples did Mama like?"
"She liked yellow apples, because they reminded her of the ones she ate-" he tickles Roland's stomach, then, grinning at his giggles and breathless protestations, "-when she was little like you."
"Milady, you're injured."
"It's your majesty," she corrects, lifting herself from the ground, "And I'm fine."
Her eyes meet his, and they are warm, warmer than the black of her dress. Could it be that he saw?-but no, that is impossible. Nobody has black eyes, he reminds himself, of course they look lighter than her cloak. He cannot help but stare, though, as every moment he looks into her eyes leaves him with a flush of warmth, like the heat of an evening fire after a cold day.
The feathers tucked into her dark hair-they are the same color as her lips, he thinks. Red. He remembers that from when he last saw it, several years ago. All lips are red. (But no, he reminds himself, they are so many shades, pink, peach, rose, blush-and somehow, somehow he knows that the word for hers is red.)
There were rumors of the Evil Queen. The servants in the castle knew she could not tell apart one hue of cloth from another, could not see blue sky or orange leaves or red blood. And yet she seemed to know how to render each of them in perfect detail, could describe these shades in all of their vibrancy as she ordered that a deep red carpet be laid in the ballroom, or that a diplomatic guest receive azure robes, or that the chairs in the banquet hall be upholstered in violet. She has lost love, they would say behind her back, she must remember color. And always they would add, who could ever have loved her?
Regina sees brown first. Then tan, and white. She can tell her father's chestnut horse from Daniel's brown, can see the difference between the gray mare she has groomed since she was a girl and the grey of Daniel's vest. She knows now that Daniel's hair is not only lighter than hers, but of a softer, gentler brown. Her gowns look different, too, pale pink and cloud blue and crisp green.
Her mother may suspect, perhaps, but without her heart she could never see color herself, and so Regina and Daniel discover it in secret, together.
"There are so many kinds of green," she remembers him telling her one night, with wonder sparkling in his voice, "even in one tree."
They learn the words to describe what they have begun to see, from books and legends, and from the kind cook who first taught Regina to bake.
"That is called evergreen, after the trees," she would explain, adding that it is her husband's favorite, or, "that is the color of sage, and that of basil, and that of the foam on the sea."
Regina soaked up the knowledge, believing fervently in how much more beautiful their world would be once they ran away, together.
The moment Mother ground Daniel's heart into dust, the colors faded out of the world, washed out as though someone had poured water on a watercolor painting. Nothing but a memory.
Regina's used to a very different kind of outcome when playing hide and seek with a little boy. She'd enter a room searching for Henry and tease, "Well, he couldn't be in here, could he?" and his delighted giggles would give him away almost instantly.
She supposes it makes sense that Roland would be different. He has, of course, been raised by a group of thieves whose livelihoods depend on stealth.
After nearly half an hour of searching for the boy in every nook and cranny she can find, she half suspects he's abandoned their game in favor of one of the snacks he so often manages to charm out of whoever is working in the kitchens.
She's just heading that way, her eyes trained on a flash of blue she'd seen in the velvet upholstery of a bench she'd always thought was purple, when she runs elbow-first into-
"I apologize, Milady," he says with a shallow bow. He's smiling, those dimples pronounced in his flushed cheeks, his teeth digging into his bottom lip, a spark in his eyes, and-is that-the spark, is it blue? Her indignation dies on her lips.
"Regina?" he asks. She's been preoccupied for an uncomfortably long time, she realizes. Staring at his eyes. She blinks and glances away for a moment. "Are you all right?"
"Hm?" she begins distractedly, forgetting to correct his use of her given name. "Yes, I-" She takes half a step to the left, and Robin immediately copies her motion, turning so they are still completely face-to-face. She takes a proper look at his smirk, and it's only then that she hears a high-pitched laugh. Quiet, but definitely there.
One side of Regina's lips twitch up into a smile. It appears Roland's not so different after all.
"I was just looking for Roland, but I can't seem to find any clue as to where he's gone?" A giggle echoes from behind Robin.
"Ah, yes. He is rather talented at hiding."
A laugh, louder, then quickly muffled. Robin reaches a hand behind him, and Regina can imagine it landing on Roland's shoulder, can picture perfectly how he's trying to stay quiet as he crouches behind his Papa.
"I should continue looking elsewhere," Regina says, her voice all feigned defeat. Unable to help her smile in response to Robin's wink, she takes a few quick steps past them, then spins around and reaches immediately in front of her. Her hands light on a squirming, giggling little boy.
"I think you might have found him." Robin observes, chuckling.
Regina lifts Roland onto her hip. "Were you hiding behind your papa the entire time?" she asks.
"No," Roland promises through laughter, "but it was taking you too long to find me. So I thought this time you and Papa should both look for me together!"
"Roland," Robin is quick to add, mildly apologetic, "Please ask her if she has time to play some more."
Roland looks back at his father as though the idea of his queen not having enough time to play with him this afternoon is unfathomable (and really, Regina has to admit, he's not wrong).
"I have time," Regina assures Roland, tapping his nose. "But I think this time, you and your papa should look for me."
His eyes widen. "Okay!" he agrees, hopping down from her arms and running across the short distance that takes him to his father. "Okay, Papa?"
Robin picks Roland up and tosses him a foot over his head to peals of laughter. "Okay."
Robin catches her eye, and yes-blue, that was definitely a flash of blue, though it's gone once she blinks. "Ready?" Robin begins, his eyes finally shuttered from view as he squeezes them shut "One-hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight,-" Roland joins in on the count as Regina rounds the corner, smiling despite herself.
"You're twitchy," Snow observes, frowning as she falls in step next to her stepmother on their walk to the castle.
Regina scowls. "I'm fine." A flash of green appears to her left again. She blinks it away.
Snow shakes her head in that aggravating way that means she knows she's right. They walk in silence for a few minutes, and Regina cannot help but crane her head back around towards the little boy and his father. Grey, she thinks, inexplicably. The monkey is grey. His cloak is green.
She's just remembering, she tells herself, remembering what the shading of the world around her means for colors. That particular medium could be dark green, or perhaps midnight blue, or brown. She forces her gaze back to the road ahead.
Snow hasn't missed her companion's wandering eyes.
"So, what do you think of our new friend?" she asks, "Can we trust him?".
Regina scoffs. "He's a thief."
Snow smiles. "Think of it from his perspective. How do you think he looks at you?"
Quite a lot she thinks, though she had noticed his gaze lingering on the flames she threw at the winged beast nearly as long as it had on her lips and the feathers in her hair. Could it be that he is-no, she interrupts that train of thought firmly. No, it couldn't be, she is alone now, she has lost Henry, she is lost. And as for color, that was lost to her decades ago, the last time she saw red, the color of blood and death and love, when Daniel's heart became brown dust before her eyes, and hers began to blacken. And this man-a widower, she has learned, from the chattering men around her-he lost color just as surely, when he lost that little boy's mother and his beloved wife.
Regina swallows and admits, "Point taken."
"He's kind of cute, huh?" Snow suggests, her lips curving into an insufferable smile.
"He smells like forest!" Regina protests, glancing back one last time. She tries not to let herself notice, in the increasingly steady shades of his green cloak and brown vest, that he looks like one as well.
"Regina, are you coming to supper?" Snow asks.
"I'll eat something later," Regina adds dismissively, aware that she sounds like Henry did when he was a toddler and had refused his nap. Henry's loss haunts her always, but it is moments like these, family dinners and roaring fires and everyone else sitting with their loved ones, that twist the knife deeper into her heart.
"We've had a long journey here," Uncharming protests from the door. "Come, sit with us. Try to eat."
Snow takes her hand. "Regina, Henry would not want you to-"
Regina rips her hand away. "Henry does not know who I am," she snaps.
Tears pool over her eyes, and she feels weak, confused. She never knew her vanity table in this castle was that particular shade of brown, had forgotten the pallor of Snow's face and the rosy brightness of her cheeks, so like the face of the girl she saved from a runaway horse. But she does not want this, she didn't ask for this. It is a cruel joke.
"Leave me," she bites out, growing more frustrated the more they prod her. "And tell your husband not to wear colors that clash. He should know better."
Snow gasps, reaching behind her to take David's hand.
"What?" Regina demands.
"You see color, don't you?"
She doesn't respond.
"Who?" Snow encourages, her eyes alight, "Who is it?"
"How should I know?"
Regina fights the tears that desperately want to fall. "Can we-not, right now," she pleads.
"All right. But-"
"I know, Snow."
After they have gone, Regina locks the wooden door and leans heavily against it, closing her eyes against the onslaught of her strange new world.
"Do you need help?" Snow asks Robin one afternoon, when she finds him in the armory sorting through different types of arrows. "I know the fletching is color coded."
"I'm all right, thank you, Snow," he replies, still bent over the table, intent on his task.
"You can recognize the types so quickly without it?" Snow asks, impressed.
Robin smiles, mostly to himself. "Something like that."
She lingers. He pauses, turning to face her.
"Nothing, I'm sorry," she admits under his gaze, though she's looking at him with a curious glint in her eyes. "I'll see you at supper?"
"Yes," he agrees. "Of course."
Robin stares at his tea as he swirls it from one edge of his cup to another, blinking and squinting as he tries to parse the way it changes hue, from the color of dead leaves to the color of cocoa and back. A shadow blocks his light.
A figure hovers in the doorway of the kitchens, still and silent until he speaks. "Regina?" he whispers.
She waves a hand at one of the wooden table, illuminating several candles. "Thief," she says flatly, "What are you doing here?"
He rests his mug against his thigh and look at her as best he can in the darkness. "I could ask you the same."
She glares, and he thinks it best not to allow their bickering to escalate any further. She must have been expecting some measure of peace when she set out for the kitchens in the dark hours of the early morning.
"I could not sleep, so I made myself some tea," he explains, carefully keeping his voice at a quiet, even pitch. "Would you join me? I cannot finish it all myself."
Regina blinks and lingers at the doorway, as though taken aback by the offer. But then, he muses, thinking of the way that even the simplest acts of kindness from his toddler seem to take her by surprise, she probably is. She does not speak, but she settles on the bench beside him, and takes the newly-filled mug that he offers her.
"Were you expecting company?" she wonders idly, smoothing her thumb across the rim of the second mug that he had somehow already brought to the table.
"I-" he pauses, not embarrassed, but a little shy, "I was considering bringing some to you."
"Well," she concludes after a moment, taking a tentative sip, "it's not terrible. Although I prefer peppermint to lemon."
"I'll take that into account, next time," he promises with a grin. Only Regina could insult him and let one him one exhilarating step closer to her in the same breath.
She glares at him half-heartedly for an instant, then bends to take a sip. Her hair falls to cover her face, and he cannot help himself from reaching to tuck it back behind her ear.
She looks up at him, her eyes unfathomably dark and wide and warm.
"What is it?" he asks.
She shakes her head, setting her tea on the table beside them, then easing his out of his hands and depositing it there as well.
Regina reaches towards him, her eyes never leaving his, and settles one hand along his jaw. She leans forward, slowly, cautiously. And then her other hand finds his shirt collar, fingers fisting into the cream cotton of his nightshirt, and she hauls his mouth onto hers.
Her lips are soft under his, but insistent, her fingers sliding up from his jaw and into his hair, twisting and pulling. He buries a hand of his own in her hair, a groan rumbling from his throat as her teeth catch on his lip, his heart pounding.
"Regina," he pants, a harsh whisper, as he kisses his way along her jaw to her pulse point, reveling in the hitching gasps that fill his ear.
She uses the hand in his hair to drag his lips back to hers, and when he drops a hand to her waist to tug her closer, her eager whimper drives him half mad.
He blinks one eye open as her hands slide down his neck, across his chest, it feels like they are everywhere at once, she is everywhere, her lips skimming along his jaw, her nose bumping into his as she presses their foreheads together to catch her breath, and she is breathtaking, stunning.
He can see her. All of her, not just the chocolate brown of her eyes and near-black of her hair and red of her lips, but every shade of tan and pink and brown and every shadow cast on her face by the candlelight.
"You are-" he gasps, wrapping his arm around her waist and drawing her even closer, her body warm against his in the cold night, "-you are stunning."
"You see me every day," she protests, almost teasingly, between kisses.
"No I-" he struggles to explain while his head spins with desire and his palm rubs up and down her back. "I can see-"
She rips her mouth away from his, breathing heavily.
Slowly, she opens her eyes.
There is wonder there first. Joy. She smooths her hand over the wool cloak he brought with him, murmuring green, then glances down at her own nightgown and robe and stares as if she's never seen them before. "I can-" she gasps, "I-"
Then, all he sees is panic. Fear. She is out of his arms before he had even realized she was moving to stand, then out of the room, leaving Robin to stare, dazed and breathless, at her still-warm mug of half-drunk tea. Almonds, he thinks. In this light, her tea is the exact color of almonds.
She sits beside Roland at dinner the following night.
For the first few minutes, he remains silent, and merely listens as she asks Roland about his day.
"My monkey and I went exploring!" he tells her, crawling onto her lap the moment she opens her arms. "We found the tape-tap-tapses-"
"Tapestries?" Regina supplies, and Robin can hear her smile, though he does not turn to see it.
"Yes!" Roland agrees. Robin glances at his son in time to see him reach for a piece of bread from Regina's plate. Granny outdid herself today-it is a honeyed bread with crisp walnuts and sweet raisins, and Roland had finished off his portion before she arrived. He thinks of telling his son that he should not take Regina's food, but then his eyes meet hers, and she shakes her head gently with the easy, unbothered dismissal of a mother.
"Regina?" Roland asks through a mouthful of bread.
He swallows the bite, then asks, "What color is bread?"
"Bread is brown," she answers.
"Like my hair?"
She shakes her head, running a few fingers through his hair. "It's lighter than that. Those raisins are more like the color of your hair."
Roland stares at the remaining bread, frowning in concentration, as though he could wish himself to be able to understand something he has never been able to see.
"And what color is Monkey?"
"What's grey?" he asks.
"Grey is-" she pauses to consider, and Robin is mesmerized by the textures of her voice. Her gown is a deep purple today-he thinks-it has hints of red that he can see, but it's not quite clear to him, as if he's missing a dimension, a tint. "Grey is the color of Snow White's horse. It is like...it's sort of like what you see when something isn't really bright or really dark. When you start to see colors, though, it is much more complicated. There are greys that look more red, and greys that look more blue, and greys that look more green. It can be anything in between. It's very beautiful."
Roland nods thoughtfully, and it makes Robin smile, the way his little boy is starting to pick up little mannerisms from adults. He knows his son has already begun to echo his own grin, and his habit of biting his lip when he's about to smile. Soon he'll be raising his eyebrows to dramatic effect like his new best friend. What a thought.
"I'm sorry," Regina tells him in a low voice once the bread and potatoes on her plate have Roland thoroughly distracted again.
He reaches beneath the table to cover her hand where it rests on her knee, letting out a relieved breath when she relaxes into the touch. "It's all right," he assures her, squeezing her hand. "It scares me, too."
She turns to look at him at that, her eyes the color of melted chocolate.
"Daniel's eyes were blue, too," she says quietly. "But darker than yours."
"You can see blue?" he asks.
"I can now."
He rubs his thumb back and forth on the inside of her wrist. "Do you like blue?"
"Yes," she admits. She scowls at his self-satisfied grin. "So full of yourself, thief."
He puts a hand on his chest and throws back his head, though he is careful to keep his voice low and not create a spectacle for anyone else in the room. "You wound me, Milady."
Regina shifts Roland on her lap, lifting her hand out of his grasp, but with her lips turned up into a smirk.
When she leaves, her fingers skate across his wrist in the lightest of touches. It's a start.
"What?" she asks, her voice warm and rough, her eyes narrowing curiously. She uses an elbow to lift herself up so that she can catch his gaze, her hair falling onto his bare chest.
"Your eyes are so beautiful." He murmurs, running a thumb across her cheekbone as her dark eyes soften. "I'd forgotten how beautiful brown could be."
She sighs and shakes her head, blinking back an unexpected bout of teariness. This man. He is too much. He merely smiles at her and brushes her hair behind her ear.
After a moment, she relents and settles back against his chest, her head rising and falling with his breaths.
His hand resumes its path across her shoulder, halfway down her arm, and back. The steady rhythm of it lulls her into a calm that matches the deep darkness of the night and the breeze washing across them from her open balcony. "What colors can you see now?" she asks, fingers swirling across his chest, ankle wedging itself more firmly between his.
"Gods your feet are cold." He protests dramatically, but lightly, tugging her even closer.
It draws a smile from her despite herself.
"Red," he answers. "Brown. Midnight blue, like in the early dawn or late dusk. You?"
"Green," she hums, tucking her head under his chin, and catching his arm so that she can trace the mark there. It did not surprise her when she first saw it. Who else, after all, could he have been? "Shades of brown and tan and grey. Blue. And purple."
"I miss green," he laments, his fingers sinking into her hair as they always do.
"You'll see it soon." Whether they like it or not, they both have to get used to the idea. For, the more time they spend together, the more he teases out her smile and she encourages his laughter and his grin, the more they grow together, the more vibrant their world will become.
"I can see Roland's hair again," he tells her, smiling. "It looks like his mother's."
She begins to hide her trembling frown against his neck, because she is happy for him, truly she is. He will not let her, lifts her head so that he can search out her eyes. "You will see Henry again, Regina. Someday. I know you will."
She frowns and shakes her head. He does not argue-he always seems to know when it will only antagonize her-but he presses a kiss to her brow and guides her to lie back against him.
"I've always wondered what color the stripes are on his favorite scarf," she says, almost without thinking.
He hums thoughtfully, and the patterns his fingertips draw against her scalp soothe her back towards sleep.
Her son is back with her, at home. Such a colorless place, so black and white. She will have to change that, soon. But for today she savors the green of her apple tree and the red of the sauce for the lasagna that Henry requested for his first night back at home. She relishes in learning new things-his favorite jacket is navy blue, his boots are a very particular rusty tan. Robin wears lots of dark green, while Roland often ends up in teal or blue. The comic books Henry leaves around the house are red and black and yellow. The hot cocoa he shares with Roland is the same color as tree bark. The dress that makes Robin's jaw go a little slack is cobalt blue. And Henry's favorite scarf is orange.
And a colorful world may be beautiful to see again, but not nearly so beautiful as a world that has so much love to fill it once more.