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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Chapter 4 (It's a long one.)

This had become her favorite place, Regina decided. After dark, that is. Before…well, before the sun set the good townspeople were still out and about, their children playing on Henry's playground.

For it truly was Henry's. She'd had it made for him on the grounds (no pun intended) that they needed a new one. The 'Castle' had almost been a representation of all that she wished to give him—her kingdom, so to speak. Never mind the fact that it was also yet another way to get back at Swan at the time.

In hindsight those battles against one another didn't seem to matter much after what they'd fought for together, though.

Thus on days when Emma had Henry he visited the Sheriff's Office ie the Jail—a detail not lost on her—and on Regina's days she took him to, among other locales, his playground. It just so happened that she visited it on other days, too.

Especially now that her 'coffers' were empty, so to speak. There was no more need to meet up with past 'victims' because she had no more hearts to give.

Literally and proverbially.

Hopper had offered to treat her again just the other day, which she supposed was the next logical step. (Well, that and releasing those locked away in the mental institution below the hospital. Which she had—the ones that were safe to do so, anyway.) But there was something about the whole process which made her feel as though she was being talked down to. As though she was a child; unaware of the impact her actions had on others.

She wasn't dense—she knew what she'd done and would do it again in a heartbeat if it weren't for Henry. And the almost accidental support system which had resulted of Neverland's truce. It wasn't that Regina was unaware—she was. She just didn't like being patronized any more than she liked feeling powerless.

So instead the former Evil Queen took her solace out here, in the quiet solitude of night. The isolation was less oppressive than at the house and with the playground before her Regina could well imagine that she was at her real home, spires rising high out of a similarly dark castle.

Of course, some nights were quieter than others. With the weather clear and only slightly cool with the onset of autumn most nocturnal animals were waking .The flapping of an owl's wings of the glint of fur as a raccoon wandered by were welcome distractions, particularly when compared to their human counterparts.

Sniffles interrupted such thoughts, though, eliciting a frown from the Evil Queen.

Rising from her bench with all the acumen of a parent, Regina cautiously made her way forward to the playset itself. The swings and walkway were bare, but the closer she got the louder the sound became. Forlorn and echoing slightly.

The tube.

Carefully climbing up onto the raised deck in unfortunately high heels, she peered into the tunnel, spying movement. Light came in through the spherical holes along the side, glinting off of what could be a jacket or shirt, but just as abruptly all movement went still.

She kneeled, trying to make herself smaller almost instinctively. Then, with a smile that was friendly and welcoming, she said, "well, hello there. Where are your mother and father?"

The shadow said nothing, merely shaking its head as sniffles made way for hiccups. Wide, white eyes glittered wetly in the dark, moonlight skittering off of a pale cheek.

Conjuring a candy bar behind her back, the former Mayor brought it forward with careful deliberation, "hey, are you hungry? I've got something for you. But you have to come out to get it."

Then maybe she'd know which irresponsible parent the kid belonged to. Of course, he or she was probably afraid of her—no thanks to the wholesome citizens of her town—but there was no point in attempting force first. Not when bribery might work just as well.

Climbing in on hands and knees was improbable at best—she was in a pencil skirt of all things, and Regina could only imagine the headache she'd have the next morning upon trying to fit into a crawlspace meant for someone a third of her size. The only other option was magic and she wasn't looking forward to peeling the playground apart like a can of tuna to get the child out. And 'tugging' them forward through the plastic cylinder was too big a risk—especially when she'd only just tried to make some relative peace with the idiots of Storybrooke.

Just as Regina was imagining that she might have no choice but to use coercion there came the distinct sound of cloth rubbing against plastic. The toddler slid out with inching slowness, and all the while she maintained her friendly smile with impressive patience. Knowing that slow progress was better than none at all. Thus it was that she was rewarded with a tousled cap of curly dark hair, bright eyes peeking up from a cherub's face.

A certain feeling blossomed in her chest, filling it with air for a moment as she imagined another such boy beaming up at her from under the cover of blankets or hidden within a closet.

"Mommy, you found me!"

It seemed so long ago when Henry had looked up at her with such trust, when in reality it had only been a few seasons back. Everything changed the first school year he realized that he was progressing forward to new classes and new teachers while his peers remained in the same frozen state.

Feeling a crack in her smile, Regina forced more cheer into her voice as she fulfilled on her promise, "it's a pleasure to meet you, little one. I believe that you've earned this."

Red-painted lips turned up, she handed the child the chocolate bar. But he only seemed to fiddle with it, confusion furrowing over a normally smooth forehead. When he continued she carefully peeled back one corner of the gold foil, breaking off a piece and putting it in her mouth to demonstrate.

"See? It's yummy," his own nibble was tentative, but as soon as he'd taken a taste his gaze became wide. Then, grinning, he took another much large bite.

"Well!" Regina laughed, "it seems we have a fast learner."

His preoccupation also allowed her to examine him further on the off chance that she might recognize the boy. But no dice—even when mentally comparing him with the adults of the village there weren't any distinguishing features to give it away.

Sighing, Mayor Mills decided to opt for another route, "sweetheart, what are your parents' names?"

He looked up happily, gifting Regina with her first glimpse of the tear tracks running wetly down his cheeks, creating a lurch somewhere in her ribcage. They'd started drying, but there remained a faint pinkness against his otherwise pale skin. And his eyelashes were dark and damp, making the contrast of his smile all the more pointed.

She couldn't help but grin in return. That is, until he spoke.

"Papa!"

Her face faltered minutely. So, trying again, Regina asked, "and…who is your Mama?"

"Mama's resting in the stars."

Oh.

Well.

Not knowing what else to do, Regina rose. The boy registered the movement with little apprehension now that he'd officially found an ally. The Queen, in turn, was busy tugging her cell phone out of her purse, pounding in a series of digits she had reluctantly memorized—only to receive nothing more than a voicemail.

"This is Sheriff Swan. Leave a message if you want me to actually get back to you. Thanks."

The beep was as sharp and abrasive as the speaker herself. Mills grimaced before speaking.

"Swan. This is Ma—Regina. I'd like to report a missing child. Or a found child, or—anyway, whatever," she checked the park for any other presence but it was as empty as it had been before, "he has curly brown hair and looks maybe four or five. I found him in the park. Call me back as soon as possible—you have my number by now."

After that she had no other option but to hang up, having done her duty. And then the single mother was left with a strange child on her hands. The thought that she should drop him off with Snow and her Moron was momentary, given how much she was loathe to see them and particularly after what she had walked in on the last time. Then there were any number of places Emma could be—particularly if the pirate or Gold's brat were involved.

She'd become grudgingly accepting of Swan and her overall trustworthiness after Neverland but the fact of the matter was that Hook had been hanging around, "deputizing," of all things. The irony was too much to think on, especially after their shared, "well, it sucks to be a villain," discussion aboard the Jolly Roger. So she opted to ignore his "abandoning ship" instead.

With all of her options spent there really was no other recourse but to take the child home.

He could sleep in Henry's room, she decided—her son was with 'The Rumpels' tonight, so that left her with an empty bed to spare. An empty, welcoming bed, fully of all the things which little boys adored. Mills doubted that any of her guest rooms would instill a feeling of safety in the child but Henry's bedroom was full of color and life, elements otherwise devoid in the rest of the house.

Having done her civic duty, the magic user lowered herself to her knees once more, holding out one manicured hand, "c'mon, sweetheart. Let's get you home. We can get you something to eat, and warm you up all snug as a bug in a rug."

The keywords of 'home,' 'eat,' and 'warm' were like neon signs as his gaze lit up. Then the boy trustingly walked into Regina's arms, fingers and mouth sticky with chocolate.

But she found that she didn't mind all that much.

~/~/~

Robin was frantic. He'd left Friar Tuck with Roland at the inn so that he could convene with Swan and Jones on getting he and his Merry Band home again—given that they clearly didn't belong in this world.

But when he'd arrived at their temporary residence, world weary and more than a little exasperated, it was to find the cleric asleep in front of the boxed magic mirror, some sort of sporting event transpiring. As for his son, the youth's trundle bed was empty and the window open.

Leading to his current predicament.

They'd split up into twos as soon as the alarm sounded, one duo at the docks, one in the city center, and the other espying Storybrooke's small "suburbia." He and Little John had taken the forest, their long familiarity with tracking surpassing that of his men. It had been this skill which led them to Roland's trail, searching at knee-height for broken branches and muddy footprints.

His son's tracks had taken them right up to an outdoor dwelling of some kind. It resembled a palace in some elements and a fort in others, a series of suspended bridges and hanging seats inserted into the design. It seemed to have no purpose that he could think of, so Robin assumed that the building must have something to do with recreation—those of this world were almost fixated on the activity, their need for survival taken care of.

Of course, it would be the one edifice littered with foot treads which his son toddled to. But by some piece of desperate good luck he recognized a muddy boot print—Roland's clothing had been exchanged for modern counterparts but they had been unable to find shoes in his size, it being a long time since a child Roland's age lived in Storybrooke.

Thus he recognized the small indent of the lad's tiny feet, contrasting the patterned press of other shoes, telling Robin the story he needed to know.

Then it got interesting.

The boy's tracks ended at the dwelling and near the edge the thief discovered…the impression of heels. There were two types, those which were lighter, from walking, and others which were deeper. As though she—for it had to be a she based on the tread—was carrying an object of weight, such as a child.

Which gave him something to work with, the steps evident even as she had stepped off to the semi-damp pavement. And to a horseless carriage with rather distinct tread.

"Little John," Robin called him over, "I believe I have an idea of where to go next."

~/~/~

She woke first with the feeling of being overwarm and trapped. Her arm was numb for some reason, and sticky heat pressed all along her left side. Blinking slightly in the dim light, Storybrooke's streetlamps and passing cars splashed a faded glow against the wall. Regina could just barely see the small form, then, and in her hazy half-dreaming state she saw Henry there.

He used to crawl into bed with her when he had nightmares, tucking icy feet underneath the warmth of her own legs. When she dipped her head to brush a kiss against his head the texture was wrong, though, a curly mop contrasting with the smooth strands of her son.

It was enough to wake her fully, and the realization nearly broke Regina's heart; that it wasn't Henry snuggled at her side but rather a lost boy from the park. Ignoring the tears welling up in her eyes, the former Queen carefully slid her arm out from under him, throat clenching when he made a sound of loss, little brows furrowed.

But if she didn't leave now she would break out into sobs—the dam was about to break, she could tell.

Making sure the little boy was tucked in first, Regina crawled across the mattress and to her closet, tying on a robe as though knotting her own noose. Then, tiptoeing down the stairs as though wolves were at her heels, she made her way to the kitchen.

She had to do something—get her hands busy—until her feelings settled. Until she was strong enough to move the child from her room back to Henry's.

Her first priority was a pan and the ingredients for a pie crust. Flour, sugar, salt, shortening, and water. She had a basket of apples on the counter and pulled out a paring knife automatically—the act of peeling them in long, curling strips was calming; methodical. With every turn of her wrist she poured feeling into it, till she was drained of everything but single-minded focus. It was the same with spell-work—if feeling was magic then she poured every ounce of her rage, sorrow, and fear into it. Feeding the source of all her power.

At least, with cooking, there was nothing there to demand more of her.

Once the materials she needed were pulled out and prepped, she took a slight break. Pulling out a glass to help her drown, Regina hesitated between wine and apple-flavored vodka before deciding on somewhere in between—hard cider. The bottle was cool beneath her lips, head thrown back and stemware momentarily forgotten—until a prickle on the back of her neck made her pause.

Lowering the beverage from her mouth, she slowly turned to find Robin Hood lounging against her far counter, one leg indolently folded over the other and hands clasped loosely in front of him. His weapon lay on the countertop as though it had been initially drawn and then was innocently set aside, arrow tucked into the cradle of its string.

The owner in question was looking at her expectantly.

"Hello, Your Majesty."

She set down the bottle she had been favoring and pulled out the vodka, then poured herself a glass of something stronger. She was going to need it.

Especially given the fact that she was in her silver nightgown and robe, feet bare, while he had donned a leather jacket, jeans, and open-collared green button-up. The boots were the same, though, as were the bracers, but it didn't take away the feeling of being suddenly crowded in. Nor the scent of forest and night and even grass which he had brought in with him. But no horse—thank heavens, there was no smell of horse anywhere about him. The mountain man persona was hard enough to ignore, cutting into the pristine world she'd created for herself, she didn't think she could handle reminders of Daniel as well.

Throwing back a gulp of her new beverage, Regina nearly choked for a moment, coughing into the back of her hand as she hastily set the stemware aside. When she peeked up at him again it was to find that Robin had taken a step forward, though she didn't know why.

To pat her on the back, maybe? To make sure that she was okay? Or maybe to incapacitate her while she was distracted? Regina would never know.

Letting out one last cough, the former mayor ran her fingers over her robe's knotted sash before asking, arms folded, "Robin Hood. What are you doing here?"

I thought I expressed how much I didn't want to speak to you the last time you foisted your presence upon me.

The words went unspoken, but were clear as day in her pointed disinterest. And the way that her eyes flicked to the knife she'd left on the closest surface.

He laughed lightly, if anything settling more fully into his position against the nearby counter—honestly she wouldn't be surprised if there were elbow-prints burned into the granite the next time she turned around.

"Well, as much as I wish that this was a social call," his expression was more than a little ironic, "I regret to inform you that I've come on business. You see, I believe that you have something of mine."

Her immediate response was to frown, arms closing in even tighter till she was sure she was leaving bruises, "I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't taken anything of yours and if you're really that adamant about searching the place then I suggest you speak to the Sheriff in the morning. After all, it seems like you might actually be on good terms with this one."

By the end of her little speech his eyebrows were lifted impressively. Then Robin laughed of all things, scratching his beard a moment, and looked up at her again.

"Well," he began shortly, "it seems that I've gone about this all wrong. Let me begin again. My son, Roland," he paused, emphasizing the words, "seems to have toddled off while I was attending to matters. I believe that you may have found him."

The surprise she felt was nearly a blow, leaving her gaping and speechless—at least for a moment.

Robin had already continued, "I checked the rooms not occupied and found no trace of him, but as his boots are clearly at the door—."

"You searched my home?!"

"—I figured it best to ask the lady of the house herself," ignoring her outburst and now-irate features, he merely shrugged, "so. Do you by chance know the location of my child? This tall, curly hair?"

She was clearly fighting back the desire to shout a litany of insults at him, if the hands on hips and heavy breathing were any indication. Finally, looking toward the ceiling in an effort to avoid looking at him entirely, Regina Mills gritted out, "he's in my room. I put him in Henry's bed but he…climbed out. You'll find him there."

"You have my thanks, your Majesty," bowing slightly, a grand move not quite matching his changed attired, the thief made to exit. Regina's words stopped him cold.

"I'm not. A royal. So you don't have to call me that."

He paused, turning to glance at her over his shoulder, "Mayor Mills, then?"

The dark-haired woman snorted, "not that either. By popular vote."

He blinked slowly before sighing, moving back to the counter and settling back in as he climbed onto the top surface itself.

Regina frowned in confusion, taking a step back, "what…what are you doing?"

Robin's look was innocent, brows raised, "I'm sitting."

"I can see that, thank you very much," she huffed, crossing her arms, "the question is why?"

The taller figure shrugged carelessly, "well, you obviously want to talk."

Her first and most immediate response was to scoff, "who said I wanted to talk?"

"You did," he nodded.

Her look was careful, eyes slitted as her mind processed the moment, "…have you spoken with Granny lately?"

"Granny?" he asked with some confusion, "I'm rather certain there are more than one in this town, so I'm not sure-?"

"Granny. The Widow Lucas. The owner of the establishment that you're staying at," she remarked pointedly, arms crossed.

Understanding cleared his expression, "ah, Granny. I'm not familiar with her beyond the usual polite greetings. Why do you ask?"

She opened her mouth only to snap it shut, turning to the side to sip from her glass. When she set it back down it was with a little too much force, cracking the base. Cursing mentally, Regina finished off the dregs before tossing it in the garbage. Only then, wiping down the spotless countertop—just in case—did she answer him.

"No reason."

"Hmm," his eyebrows rose a degree, arms folded as Robin thoughtfully nodded, "well, regardless of whether I have been speaking with Madame Lucas or no, I have spoken with your son. Henry."

"I am well aware who he is," she commented tartly.

He said nothing for a moment or two, only looking at her with something akin to mild pity and some awkwardness, as though he wanted to say something but was second-guessing it.

It reminded her of Doctor Hopper, for some reason, as well as Swan when she'd first arrived. Realization made her ask, somewhat warily, "he didn't show you his book…did he?"

"Mmmhmm," he hummed in the affirmative.

Forgetting who she was with, Regina groaned, pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration. When she caught herself it was to find Locksley watching her with interest. She sighed, "all right, let me guess—he gave you the highlights of my extended and illustrious career as an Evil Queen?"

His mouth quirked at that, eyes crinkling slightly, "actually…no. That wasn't the topic of our conversation, nor was it what was shown to me."

She'd been opening her mouth in an automatic defense, scowl pulled from her repertoire of displeased expressions, when that took the wind out of her sails, "wait. You mean he didn't…?"

Robin shrugged, nonchalant, "I suppose I am to assume that this is out of the norm for the lad? He shared that tale with Swan, I imagine?"

"Yes," she barked shortly, "yes, he did."

"Well, it seems in this case that he determined to go another route."

The two single parents maintained their silent stare-off for several seconds, the tick of the clock their only companion, before Regina made a decision.

She pulled out another two bottles of cider and handed one of them to him. If he was surprised he didn't show it—other than a flicker of his eyes down to the chilled container he held.

The Queen nodded, firmly, choosing to face this one head-on, "alright, I'll bite. If he didn't air my laundry list of dirty deeds, then what did he show you?"

Robin chuckled, "if I recall correctly, you already covered that information, your Majesty."

"Just answer the question, thief."

His smile was bland, "I don't see why it's so important to you that I do so."

"Well, it's about me, so…" she huffed slightly.

"So you have a right to know, is that it?" he filled in for her, one eyebrow lifted, "I don't see why it matters. Why should you care what it is that he said to me? Is it that you care about what I think?"

"I don't," she cut him off sharply, having trouble maintaining her temper, "I just like to know what my enemies have on me."

Her arms were folded and defensive as Locksley's other eyebrow rose to match the first and he straightened ever-so slightly as though they were finally getting to what they should have been talking about from the first.

"So that's what we are, then? Enemies."

She waved a hand at him, head-to-toe, "please. You're on their side, aren't you? That's reason enough in most cases."

"I don't believe that I'm on anyone's side. Except, perhaps, my own," he held up a hand to forestall her sharp tongue, "which is not to say that I don't believe in doing that which is right. If you are familiar with my tale, as many here bizarrely seem to be, you may be aware that I and the law have never gotten along. Which you so-prudently alluded to earlier."

She swore under her breath, "stop stalling. Just tell me what you read."

She moved a step forward, hand already curled into fireball position, but both of them knew that she wouldn't do it—not with Roland upstairs nor even now that she'd started mending her reputation. Yet he glanced at the hand with interest before looking away, itching his check and taking a swig of the beverage she'd proffered just moments ago.

"And what would you say, your Majesty," he bowed at the waist, "if I were to tell that nothing I read was evil or negative. At least, none of your actions were negative."

Her face froze up and mind blanked as she tried to imagine a time that fit his description and found that…she couldn't. The years skipped then ran past her mental gaze, yet nothing was as he described. Everything that she'd done had a painful recourse, for as long as she could quickly recall without going too far back.

"That…that's impossible."

"Really?" he mused, "was it so long ago that you cannot recall?"

She turned to lean against the closest counter as she rubbed a hand down her face, shoulders collapsing inward, "Locksley, I don't have time for this. Just…take your son and go. You've made your point."

"Have I?" he murmured in question before seeming to come to a decision, "well, how about this, then? I will tell you what I read if you answer me a question."

She peeked out between her fingers, confusion evident, "a question?" she scoffed, "really?"

His shrug was honest, "I am merely curious and as exchanging information must be of an equivalent nature, I presumed that this might be for the best. Do you agree?"

She withdrew her hands to examine him, top to bottom. A similar situation involving Rumpelstiltskin or even Swan normally set off alarm bells, and even deals with Snow had proven to end badly—as she'd found out. Yet Robin Hood had the appearance of a simple hero, no cloak and dagger approach at all. He only asked for the answer to one question and in exchange she would learn what her son had said about her—positive or negative, whichever it might be. It seemed simple enough, yet still she was uneasy.

Finally Regina nodded, holding out her hand for him to shake, "fine. It's a deal."

He readily accepted the hand clasp, hopping off the granite block and moving forward so that his fingers enveloped her own in warmth, never mind the fact that he hadn't been inside all that long. It was…disconcerting. And strangely enough she found her breathing somewhat constricted until he let go, simply waiting a moment or two.

The former Queen coughed into her hand before finding her words, "alright. So. What did Henry say about me?"

"Well," he began, scratching the back of his head in thought, "the boy began with the book, of course, which he had left open for me to read. There was a story about a young girl with a mother that did magic. Unfortunately I didn't get to finish it, but there was some information about the young woman…befriending a stable boy."

Regina's body locked up, face stricken and hand tightening on the neck of her bottle. The reaction surprised Robin, and with a blinking look he continued.

"I didn't get much beyond the scene of a runaway horse speeding by, but I suppose that it's all important?"

The thief moved forward to press a hand to her arm when she continued in her silence. The warmth, as well as his proximity, startled her into jumping slightly and when she realized that he was still touching her she took a step back—against the kitchen sink. Her laugh was pained, choked, as she set aside her bottle once again, "more than you know. So. Is there anything else I need to know…?"

Robin took it as a sign to give her more space, "only that this is supposed to mean something."

He pulled off his jacket, setting it aside as she looked on him in misunderstanding and then rolling up his right sleeve. There his Lion Tattoo stood out darkly against the pale skin of his inner arm, yet another truth put out into the open between them.

Her sigh was audible, and in a move completely uncharacteristic Regina took one step forward, then two. Startling him for the first time that night (or perhaps early morning at this point), she took his forearm in hand and traced the image which was in many ways her downfall. And his.

"So. The fairies told him."

"Or apparently the nuns, I'm not sure which," he stated in a light attempt at a joke.

"The fairies are the nuns," she murmured in all seriousness, "which of course means that you know now. I'm assuming."

His voice was strained, "I am aware that there were…certain opportunities which existed. Which apparently Henry still hopes for. He presented them to both Captain Jones and I."

"Hook?" she looked up automatically, dark eyes meeting light, "why would he-?" realization abruptly dawned on her, with a sigh, "Emma. Henry wants fathers, of course. It makes perfect sense. Apparently Rumpelstiltskin's son isn't good enough for him," she remarked dryly, almost to herself.

"Apparently not, although it may be for reasons other than a penchant for collecting relatives," Robin remarked lightly. When she looked up at him in further question he answered automatically—and how was it that they had moved from strangers standing across the room to parents commiserating over her child, she wondered?

"Yes?" she prompted.

"It seems the boy—the young man is concerned about your own happiness. And Sheriff Swan's. As well as Jones' and my own. He believes that we can find what we need in each other."

Her bark of laughter was sharp and unexpected, as was the rapid withdrawing from his presence. Then the former mayor was back to folding her arms across her chest, back pressed to the edge of the sink, "I've ruined your life enough as it is."

He took in a heavy, frustrated breath. He'd thought, for a moment, that her defenses were down but—no. One should never assume with the 'Evil Queen.'

"Yes, you did mention that. But you have yet to elaborate, which leads to my question, one I've been wanting to ask since Neverland," he watched her thoughtfully, "how did you ruin my life, exactly? How did all this," Robin waved at the tattoo, "come about? Especially as, while your edicts were severe," she rolled her eyes, "I'm fairly certain that we never actually met."

"We didn't need to," she sighed, folding her arms and speaking grudgingly, "it was all a meddling fairy's doing."

"How so?"

Regina refused to make eye contact, "just someone thinking that they knew better for me than I did, is all."

Robin's brows were furrowed, "I'm afraid I still don't understand."

Finally the Evil Queen huffed, "look, falling from a loose banister does not a suicide attempt make, but apparently there are people who think otherwise."

His eyes went from being partially lidded to fully open, startled enough that he let her keep rambling.

"I wasn't calling out for help, I assure you. But then Tinkerbell got it in her head that what I needed to find was…was love or some nonsense, and then proceeded to take me on a goose chase."

One of those accursed eyebrows shot up even further, if that was possible, "Tinkerbell? The maid from the island?"

"Yes. The Fairy!" she said acidly, frustrated that he wasn't keeping up, "she used some pixie dust, flew me to an inn a la the Wicked Witch of the West."

Here she became uncomfortable, looking down at her hands and Robin didn't interrupt, "and...y—he had a lion tattoo. I had a second chance at starting over, according to her, and…well, I was afraid and didn't go in. Leading us to where we are now," she ended sharply.

Realization made him rock back, taking what she had said—and hadn't said—into account. Finally he tapped his lip, tone assessing, "it sounds as though you made a choice, yes, but that's all it was—your choice. I'm still not certain how you ruined my life."

Regina sighed and threw out her hand, "that's what I thought. Then the firefly informed me that I had been selfish. That I…when I didn't go in…" she paused, running a hand through her hair before resting it on her hip, "that I ruined your life, too. Just by doing nothing."

Her expression was rueful, glancing away. Yet Robin's response made her look up.

"That really is interesting. Particularly as I'm fairly certain that my life wasn't ruinous."

The former mayor looked up at him in confusion, "you're kidding, right?"

"No, I'm not," he folded his arms confidently, "I'm a man of action, you see, and given a certain antipathy for magic," he carefully ignored her stiffening at that, "I would certainly know if such power played any part in influencing my decisions or the events in my life."

"You were persecuted by the Prince and his posse—for years," she declared flatly, "I know, I saw the wanted posters."

"Others have been just as persecuted," he remarked pointedly.

"You also lived your life on the run—your marriage on the run," she retorted, scowling.

"I am not the first to claim a traveling romance, either. As your stepdaughter, no doubt, can no doubt attest to," she shot him a dirty look, "and I have to admit, I'm rather surprised that you are so familiar with my life."

"This world thinks that our lives are stories," she explained sharply. It wasn't as though she had actually searched his information out, "and don't change the subject. The fact is, your life has been one terrible event after another."

"Yes," he remarked, bridging the distance between them with more force than he had shown up until that moment, "but the moments between were of the finest crystal. Gemstones of memory that I cherish in my soul. I lived a thousand lifetimes in those moments, and the memories of them are enough to get me through anything."

He watched avidly as Regina's breath hitched and eyes widened, his hands trapping her against the metal edge on either side, "If those moments are all that I will ever possess of such joy then I die a happy man."

Her hand had somehow landed on his shoulder, though whether to push him away or bring him closer she wasn't sure. Only that Robin's gaze scanned her features before falling to her lips, and that the fabric of his shirt was incredibly soft.

The air around them was a vacuum of sound as all the magic user could see was the scruff of his beard, the shape of his lips. He was nothing like Daniel, physically, yet there was that same magnetic pull.

Then a faint bird call encroached in the moment and it was as though Robin Hood had been shot, stumbling away with one hand running over his face and the other reaching for his heavy coat. She was left blinking, frozen, at the sudden universe of space between them, her lungs filling and emptying as though she'd just fought ogres.

And her hands, oh her hands, they practically hummed with magic. The force of emotion encapsulated in those scant seconds left her magical reserves flooding over, an unexpected and unwarranted reaction.

"I…it appears that I have outstayed my welcome," Robin murmured quietly and with more than a little irony, given that he hadn't been let in in the first place, "if you would direct me to my son I would be most appreciative."

"Yes. Yes, of course," Regina muttered moving her bottle entirely aside and checking her robe once more. Closed. Very much closed. And it was dark enough that Locksley probably wouldn't be able to see the color which was creeping up her neck and into her cheeks. She cleared her throat and sidled past him, careful to avoid brushing her arm against his as he tugged on his outerwear and put his bow back into place.

"Just…follow me," climbing the winding staircase, she didn't realize that they were heading for her room until they had arrived. Thanking whatever foresight had caused her to put away her dirty laundry, Regina tried not to notice his quick scan of the area—elegant, simple, mostly unadorned—before his eyes fell on the tumble of blankets which was his son.

Even without seeing his face Robin's relief was evident, shoulders dropping and an unspoken tension melting off of him. He ran a hand through his boy's hair, the child having shifted into a diagonal position across "her" side. But the movement stopped as he looked back at her curiously.

"These clothes, they're…?"

"They're Henry's," she explained shortly, tucking a wayward lock behind her ear, "your son's clothing was dirty, so I fished out some of my son's things. He does you credit, though—he dressed himself just fine. Didn't need any help at all."

"Yes, well, Roland has always been fiercely independent," he said wryly.

"He follows his father, then?" Regina prompted with a hint of a smirk.

The archer paused, "his mother, actually. Though few realized it while she yet lived. Marian even pulled a knife on me once or twice—usually during those moments I insisted on going alone."

Just like the camaraderie which had been present was sucked from the moment. She took a deep breath and continued.

"I'll wash his clothes and get them back to you."

"And I will do the same," he made as if to carry the boy off her mattress, but it was hampered by Roland's fierce grip on the sheets. The father chuckled, "it appears that he has yet to understand the concept of sharing—even in his sleep."

"You can take the blankets with you and just return them with the pajamas. Bed-clothes," she corrected when he looked at her strangely.

"You won't be missing your-?" he waved his fingers and it took a second for her to understand.

"Oh! No, it's fine. I've got some spare blankets in the hall closet. Worst comes to worst I can raid the guest bedroom."

"Multiple forms of bedding—yet another blessing of this world, I am to suppose?"

"Yeah, well, most homes have 'blessings' like that these days," she explained quietly.

"Yet only yours—and perhaps the Dark One's—homes resemble inns and manors yet are entirely empty," he remarked casually whilst wrapping up a very special package.

"You could say that we appreciate 'personal space,'" she remarked with some dryness.

Robin bowed with his son in his arms, a talented endeavor, "given my own form of housing—which is to say, none, I must agree with you."

The outlaw straightened and drew closer, eyes just barely visible in the dark, "that being said, thank you for caring and protecting my son. There are few who would do the same."

She snorted in an effort to ignore his proximity, "you'd be surprised. This town is practically teaming with heroes."

"Yet it was the 'villain' who did the saving. Thus earning a double portion of thanks."

The two of them stood there, at an impasse after their whispering, Regina's nerves tightening further the longer he just looked at her.

Regina opened her mouth in self-defense but Robin beat her to it.

"My lady," he nodded politely at the archway behind her, "if you would let me pass?"

The door. Oh. She was standing in front of the door. Feeling her face flush, Mayor Mills stepped aside, feeling the slight brush of his shoulders as he passed by. Then she was trailing after him down the stairs and to the entryway where Locksley retrieved the child's boots, if not his muddy coat.

The woodsman nodded goodnight to her one last time before disappearing into the dark, where a handful of other shadows converged. With a sigh Regina shut and bolted her front door, heading back upstairs to a bed which had become cold, as empty as ever and now blanket-less. Snatching up a comforter from the hallway she curled up in her solitude, uncaring of the nest she'd made as she promised to clean up the evidence of their kitchen conversation in the morning—including a certain unfinished pie and several rather conspicuous bottles.

She would take care of them well before when Henry got home, when she could focus on more important things than a bandit with a talent for catching her off guard.

~/~/~

AN: Arrrgh. This was a beast to write. Mostly because of work and distractions. I had meant to finish it by Thanksgiving, but unfortunately…I work retail. At a toy store. And thus ended up work Thursday (Thanksgiving), Friday, and Saturday, pretty much back to back. Since then I've also been pretty busy, and I keep getting distracted by Tumblr for some reason. XD Go figure, right? In any case, enjoy this loooooong addition to an already AU story. (Seriously, it's as AU as AU gets at this point. Especially after the most recent episode.)

All joking aside, I hope that when Regina and Robin DO interact that it will be something like this. Him keeping his cool, her not knowing what to do with him, and Henry meddling like crazy. :)

Thanks so much for reading, and I hope that the length makes up for the lateness!