The High Road

By Shahrezad1

Summary: "You mind telling me what that was?" "I can't even begin to know what you're talking about, Swan." "You. And Robin Hood. That was a pretty big flinch if I've ever seen one."

Disclaimer: This is all speculation (and will probably be shot down by the mighty force that is Canon), and I don't own anything—ABC/Disney does. :)

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"You mind telling me what that was?" the question came, abrasive and blunt, as Swan kneeled beside her. Her knees cracked with strain as she did so, eliciting a slight twitch of Regina's lashes.

Still the former Evil Queen maintained eye contact with the forest floor, arms folded, "I can't even begin to know what you're talking about, Swan."

"You. And Robin Hood. That was a pretty big flinch if I've ever seen one," Emma's eyebrows lifted expectantly.

Regina only grimaced, "yeah, well, I'm not exactly known for my friendly nature."

Expecting that to be that and Storybrooke's beloved 'Savior' to shove off, the dark-haired woman went back to looking at the ground, hands fiddling with the makeshift ring around her finger. When Snow's brat didn't leave, however, she looked up in exasperation.

"Is there something that you wanted, Sheriff?"

"Yes. Answers," she jerked a thumb over her shoulder toward the fairy across the clearing. Tink had been twitching to try out her wings since Henry's declaration of belief, looking at them like an amputee who had suddenly regained a lost limb. The only time she'd stopped was when Robin and Regina interacted, her eyes wide and a hand clenched in the fabric of her tunic. Emma wanted to know why.

"Tinkerbell knows something, too."

"So go interrogate her instead."

"She's not talking. And my gut says that you're lying about something."

Regina's expression was droll, "wow. That's original. And you know what, Swan, I lie about a lot of things."

But Emma didn't buy that distraction. Fixed stare unwavering, she waited for her son's adoptive mother to break until, huffing with exasperation, the darker of the two finally rolled her eyes and blurted out an answer.

"Fine! I ruined his life, okay. Good enough for you, Savior?"

"How did you ruin his life?"

"Does it matter? Why don't you ask him?"

"I already did. Robin said that he's never seen you before in his life, and I believe him—."

"Imagine that."

"What's the real story, Regina?"

She opened her mouth to retaliate with the most vicious response she could come up with, but in doing so made eye contact with Emma. Realizing just who her audience was, Regina Mills closed her mouth with a snap. Well, that wasn't going to work. Shoulders collapsing in on themselves, she rubbed at her forehead before decided what to say, "a choice I made—for me—changed his life for the worse. Butterfly effect. Are you happy now?"

It wasn't a lie, per se, but it also wasn't all that forthcoming, and Swan knew that that was the most honest she was going to get.

Emma rose, placing her hands on her back in a stretch as she did so, earning Hook's interest across the way—not that she noticed, "you should tell him."

"What? No!" her rejection of the idea was a hiss.

"Look, we got Henry back," both women turned to their mutual son with softened expressions, but the walls were back up the minute they turned away, "and he wants you in his life—he really does. Which means trying to fix all the things you messed up," it was the wrong wording entirely, sure to set her hackles up, drawing an immediate sigh from the Charmings' spawn, "look, I'm just saying that you might as well start with Robin as any. I don't think he knows who you are that that…might give you a little leeway."

The new information caused her eyes to flicker up in surprise, "what? You can't be serious—everyone knows."

Emma's wave encompassed her, "hate to break it to you, but you don't exactly look—or smell—like the Evil Queen type right now. Just someone's mom."

The comment left her gaping, but by the time Regina had figured out what to say Swan had stomped off—sitting next to Henry whilst ignoring both of her suitors.

The Queen's moment of solitude didn't last long, though, as crunching leaves brought her gaze up…and into the very interested eyes of Robin Hood himself. Bearer of the Lion Tattoo.

"Do you mind if I rest beside you?"

~/~/~

The woman was an enigma, he'd decided. From the moment he'd joined the traveling party, merry men plus one, he'd been constantly drawn to her brooding, dark form.

Their arrival had been as much a surprise to his company as to theirs, the Dark One pulling enough strings to down a tribe of trolls. Of course, it was rather ironic that what it took to defeat a group of Lost Boys was a band of Merry Men—merry men who knew rogue's tactics and the benefits of forest warfare. He took pride in the fact that, even now, no lives had been spilt. Once Peter Pan had disappeared, vowing eventual revenge, the childish warriors had stood down, allowing themselves to be tied up after a long and grueling battle.

But even with the victory fresh on their minds, bringing forth relief, his had been and still was caught up in her. Robin was good about taking things in stride—the existence of killer children, for one, and this group of ladies' penchant for trousers, for another—but something about her threw him off.

They'd fallen into a rhythm together while fighting, he noted firstly, she playing a defensive part while he went on the offense, and the one instance in which Felix was about to strike her down he'd taken an arrow to the (thankfully protected) shoulder for her, the two of them gasping face to face. Yet in their single moment of formal introduction the dark-haired beauty dropped his hand like she'd been scalded, the fear in her eyes chasing away the boldness she'd otherwise shown.

It was an odd dichotomy. And no one had quite explained who she was as of yet.

'Regina,' was the general answer he received from Snow White, as though that should explain everything. Emma's response had been terse and also not forthcoming, stating that the lady was, "Henry's adoptive mother."

She had then proceeded to ask him if he had ever met her before, a curious question if there ever was one.

Robin Hood had been quick to realize that both of Henry's birth parents and grandparents were present as well, complicating the matter and explaining some of the mixed feelings (though it didn't quite give answer to how a couple as young as Snow and David had a full-grown daughter). But it had been the fairy's reaction which pricked his senses most.

While dodging all conversation, Tinkerbell's scrutiny flew from him to this 'Regina', as though all her hopes and dreams rested on them. Her breath hitched when he moved, to collect firewood or sit by his son, and once—just once—she'd made eye contact with him. At the time it felt like she was trying to say something with that clear look and furrowed brows, but he had no idea as to what.

Only that they flickered to the lone figure on the edge of camp immediately after, where Emma Swan knelt in terse conversation.

The both of them looked irritated and tired, defenses up, until abruptly he saw Regina's shoulders droop as something painful was shared. Then the hackles were back up and Swan strode away. But her moment of defenselessness burned something into his chest like a firebrand and before Robin knew it he was looming above her in the dim light.

Regina's eyes were shocked, panic causing them to widen, and before she could demand an explanation he asked, "do you mind if I rest beside you?"

Not waiting for a response, he pulled up a piece of ground next to her, groaning with relief at getting off of his feet. The dark-haired woman studiously ignored him and the ridiculous noises he was making, till he abruptly held his hand out to her. She looked at it like it was a snake before finally slipping her slim palm into his calloused grip. Regina's eyes only rose to his when he refused to let her go for a second, liking the feel of her skin against his.

Only when a pink flush came up into her cheeks did he loosen his fingers, making sure to maintain his regard as she drew away. Afterward the single mother tried to move her hand out of sight, but it wasn't difficult to see her stretching and clenching it, as though to remove a tingling sensation.

The corner of his mouth lifted up in the beginnings of a smile, "I'm Robin Hood."

"Yes. I know. We've already been introduced," she responded tersely, eyes looking away and hair falling in front of her face. He noticed her wording—'introduced,' not 'met.' The stilted tone was also an indication of her status—this woman had had a wealthy upbringing, and the manners which came along with it. Just like his Marian.

"As Regina Mills, I am aware. But I get the feeling that there's more going on here than anyone is willing to tell me—even Neal. I figured that you might be the best one to ask."

Regina's eyes flashed across the glen to a specific individual, "you mean Snow White didn't tell you?"

"She called you, 'Regina.' Looked rather sad while doing it, I admit."

"And what about Swan?" she asked airily, looking just to the side of him.

"She referred to you as Henry's mother. Is that wrong?"

The slight shock in her gaze turned to a darker look, mouth twisting in a wry smile. This she forcibly aimed at him, a physical defense against some other feeling as the maid looked at him in defiance, "I'm surprised that they didn't warn you about me."

His heart skipped a beat at the darker tone, something heavy sinking into his chest. Although part of him was looking forward to the challenge…heaven help him, "and what would they have warned me about?"

"What I've done," she stated simply, straightening proudly despite her seat amongst the decaying leaves of Neverland's forest, and he almost—almost—believed it. If not for the despair he'd spied previously while she was in conference with the Princess' daughter.

"And about this 'rescue party,'" she'd continued.

"Yes? What about it?" he carefully asked.

"The problem being that when it was thrown together by the 'Dudley Do-Rights' over there it was made up of three heroes…and three villains," just like that, the gauntlet had been thrown down. A challenge aimed at him, daring Robin to figure it out. Which he quickly did.

The heroes were immediately evident: Snow White, David Nolan, and Emma Swan. Rumpelstiltskin was the King of all Villains, if there ever was one, and Captain Hook his second. Which made Regina…who exactly was Regina?

Reading the question on his face, her lips twisted into a feral grin, "I've ordered the deaths of whole villages, persecuted innocent little Snow White for half of her life, and betrayed my own allies and friends. I killed my own father for the sake of my revenge and trapped an entire kingdom in an eternal loop of unhappy endings," she was almost proud as she made the declaration of her sins, chin lifted to a self-righteous tilt as though completely without guilt.

His heart jerked painfully. Regina Mills was the Evil Queen and Princess Snow's Stepmother. He hadn't recognized her with the soft hairstyle and straight-lined, simple apparel in red and blue, but now that he saw the familiar twist of her mouth Robin knew…knew that this was…

She waited for the backlash to her exposure, just as surely as he waited for his brain to conjure up what to say. In that pause something in her fierceness…cracked. Infinitesimally. A slight faltering in her expression, her eyebrows twitching together in a way that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. It was hurt, plain and simple, buried beneath layers of animosity and revenge.

The kind of hurt which stared back at him in reflection pools and scarce glass windows; an emotion deftly hidden by a quick smile or a ready joke.

It was portrayed in the defensive hunch of her shoulders and the fact that even as Hook had perched himself within the ring of heroes, demanding acceptance silently, and Rumpelstiltskin had been physically drawn in via the stubbornness of his own True Love, Regina still sat just outside the circle of heat. On the edges of the ring of light, her features falling further into shadow as the day grew longer.

But she was also the Truest Believer's mother—he'd seen it with his own eyes. Seen the boy lurch to both women in his life before declaring Tinkerbell to be the finest fairy he'd ever met. He'd seen the green pixie grow her wings back and knew that any lad that strong of character couldn't have had an all-bad childhood. What's more, Regina had banded together with her enemies for a common purpose and even now was with them until the end.

Her past was…truly horrifying. But could he say that he was by any means innocent, himself? The Maid Marian had given him a second chance, so why not let Regina prove her worth? After all, outside of her boasts all he'd seen of the Quee—Regina's actions was beneficial, so why not allow her to continue in the same vein?

By the time Robin had made his choice as to how he should act her expression had shifted from no-holds-barred regality to anxious uncertainty, her legs twitching and hands clenched in her blouse. The thief heard himself sigh audibly before extricating the closest limb and pressing his lips to the smooth, olive surface.

"Your Majesty, it seems it is my fate to be constantly surrounded by royalty."

Her face paled as he placed the kiss to her hand, but her mouth fell open and eyes welled with tears when he spoke, blanching further.

Across the clearing he spied Emma and Snow staring as though their world had been tossed on its head—again—while Tinkerbell watched them with bated breath, a tentative smile making her wings flutter.

Regina, however, wasn't thrilled, her chest heaving as she gasped for breath, trying to emotionally back away, "you don't understand, I ruined your life, too," she tried to tug herself free, but it was with no real force, though her face utterly heartbroken.

"Well, whatever it is, I'm sure we'll figure it out."

And he meant it.

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AN: So when I started this I was only expecting an Emma/Regina interaction, similar to the one that they had regarding Tinkerbell. I found it interesting that the only one Regina felt "comfortable" enough to reluctantly admit the truth to is Emma—dogged, flawed Emma, birth mother of Henry and child of her hated enemies.

But if anyone has the power to goad her into the truth, it's someone with a similar background of regretful mistakes and losses, with a stubbornness to match.

I didn't expect this to go beyond Robin's decision to reappear at her side, though—I wanted to leave that to the reader's imagination. Until Robin insisted that they actually hash things out for some reason. (Stubborn boy.) XD

With that in mind, I took this in a different direction. I knew that, 1. Regina's problems involve cowardice and hiding from the truth of her actions and that, 2. her reaction to fear is a fight or flight response. She runs away or she bluffs. The initial, "Muahaha, I'm evil," part of the conversation was just that—a test to see if he would run away and leave her like everything else good in her life. But she stated it so that he could choose before she became attached to him and got hurt.

I knew that I wanted to put them in a situation where Regina lays all the cards on the table, so that there would be no chance for either of them to misunderstand one another. But Robin called her bluff, he's not scared and he's not backing off.

Which is the scariest part of all for Regina.

So I suppose all that's left is to see where they take it from here. :)

Thanks for reading!