Memories of Him:
"Tell me another one, Aunt Gina!" Birdie demands, plopping onto their picnic blanket.
The little blonde haired beauty places her head in Regina's lap, staring up at her with wide, blue eyes.
She's so precious, her little Birdie, and she loves moments like these.
Birdie is nine now, will be turning ten soon, and Regina can't believe how quickly the years have gone by. It seems like just yesterday Zelena was knocking on her door with a crying baby in her arms, begging for help. It was then that Regina knew she couldn't let Robin down, couldn't let his child be left alone with a mother who knew nothing about being nurturing.
She'd let them in, Zelena and Birdie moving in within the week, and at the time it was nice. Henry was growing up, at that point he was applying to colleges, and she knew within six months her little prince would be off to start a new adventure in life, so having her sister and niece around proved to help take her mind off that particular pain.
Although having a daily reminder of her deceased soulmate was no small feat in the pain department.
She's grown to love Birdie though, the two of them having a special connection that no one could replace.
"You want another one?" she asks incredulously, stroking Birdie's curly hair.
She's been entertaining her all morning with stories of Robin; they've spent the better part of the morning laughing together over the silly antics of her father, Uncle John and Roland, and it's been nice. She's been emotional, of course, tearing up on some stories or when the thought of him became too much, but she loves these days. Loves when Birdie is extra curious about her father and the life he lived.
The little girl nods, snuggling into her as the warm sun shines down on them.
Sighing, Regina closes her eyes, thinking of a story she hasn't told her yet. They do this often, it happened a lot more when Birdie was younger and trying to discover all she could about her father. She'd curl up in Regina's lap with a Robin Hood book, or Regina would find her playing in Robin's things, and they'd spend the afternoon with Regina regaling her niece with tales of her father.
Now, though, it was more of a sporadic thing. Something Birdie liked when she was in need of comfort or sometimes just out of the blue. When it happens with no warning, much like today, Regina can't help but to wonder if Robin is there with them, guiding his little girl into curiously wondering about him. His own little way of interacting with them.
"Well," she sighs, bopping Birdie on the nose. "Your papa didn't know how to use a toaster when he first came to this land."
Her little giggle erupts from her, a hand coming to clasp over her mouth.
She sits up, criss-crossing her legs as she sits facing her aunt. They're sitting under a large apple tree in the backyard, their special spot, and are sprawled out on a large checkered blanket—the one she and Robin shared so many years ago in a picnic in her office. "Papa didn't know how to use a toaster?"
Regina snickers, shaking her head. "He didn't know how to use a lot of things, any kind of electronic, really."
Birdie gives her a look, one she can interpret as wondering if her papa was a smart man, and Regina chuckles, tucking her curly, raven hair behind her ear. "You have to remember, in the Enchanted Forest, they didn't have things like that. It was all new to him."
The girl nods, conceding that that makes sense. "What did he think of the toaster?"
Memories of Robin jumping back in surprise and reaching for his bow and arrow flash through her mind, and she laughs, tossing Birdie a grape.
"He was terrified of it at first," she recalls with a fond smile, popping a grape into her mouth as well. After swallowing, she adds, "It was your brother, Roland, that finally convinced him the toaster was a good thing."
She goes on, recounting how Roland held Robin's hand early one morning, instructing him of how to push down the lever. Regina had sat at the kitchen counter with Henry, sipping her coffee as she watched bemusedly as her thief leaned in close to the contraption, jumping again when the bread popped out. "Roland laughed and laughed about it," she tells her, "but eventually your papa learned to like it."
"It makes breakfast so much easier."
"That's exactly what your papa said," she smiles, tossing their empty plates into the picnic basket. They'd had turkey sandwiches, chips, and an assortment of fruit that Birdie was still slowly working through, but she could at least get the plates put away before the ants started searching for crumbs.
"I think I would've liked Papa," the young girl says, a sad smile crossing her face as she tosses the stems from her grapes into the basket.
She scoots closer to Regina, her head leaning against her arm as Regina smiles sympathetically, running her hands through Birdie's hair as she tries to contain the swell of emotion that just hit her. "I think so, too," she whispers around the lump in her throat. "You would have loved him."
"Like how you loved him?"
Visions of her better half flit through her mind at that—a maroon scarf she eventually stole from him, declaring it looked better on her anyway, ice cream dates with him and Roland, moonlit strolls down the quiet, sleepy streets of Storybrooke, kisses by firelight, strong hands memorizing her body in the darkness of their bedroom…
Clearing her throat, she blinks away the tears, sniffling and hoping Birdie doesn't notice the shift in her mood. "Not quite like me," she murmurs, a small smile gracing her lips, "A daughter and Papa love is different than soulmates, but yes, you would have." She kisses the top of Birdie's head, pulling her into her lap. She's almost too big for this, her legs now reaching mid-calf on Regina if she were to stretch her legs out, so she soaks up every little moment she can with her niece fitting in her lap. "And he loved you, Birdie, so very very much."
Her dirty blonde head bobs up and down under Regina's chin, then she tilts her head to get a good look at her aunt. "He loved me so much that he died for me, right?"
A glowing crystal flashes through Regina's mind, Robin's spirit floating out of him as she reached for him, and he for her, one final gasp that left her lips as she stared in disbelief, not truly believing that he was gone, that he'd died for her, and for Birdie.
A tear trickles down her cheek and she bites the inside of her cheek, trying her hardest not to burst into tears. She can do that later once Birdie is tucked away in bed. "Yes," she croaks, "that's right."
At that, Birdie reaches up, wiping the tear from under Regina's brown eye. "Don't cry, Aunt Gina," she says, twisting in her lap to get a better look at her. Her little hands cup Regina's cheeks, and she leans in, pressing her forehead to Regina's just like Robin used to do in moments of comfort. "It's alright," the little girl whispers.
Regina smiles sadly, nodding, before placing a quick kiss to her little button nose.
"Hey," she says, putting on a big smile, hoping it will conceal the pain she still feels at the thought of her other half being obliterated. "Did I ever tell you about the first time your papa and your brothers made me dinner?"
"No!" she giggles, causing Regina to join in on the laughter.
They situate themselves on that checked blanket that holds so much memory for Regina, her arm wrapping around Birdie's shoulder so that she can play with her hair as they stare up at the clouds.
Birdie curls into Regina's side, and she knows the warm sun is wearing her out and they both might just take a nap this afternoon, but for now, she'll tell her all about the night Robin tried to impress her with his cooking skills.
"Except he didn't know how to use the oven all that well," she snickers, tickling Birdie's belly.
It wasn't the only time Robin cooked for her, but this particular night was the start of a tradition in their household and thinking of it always makes her smile, a warm sensation filling her stomach.
She tells her how he enlisted Henry's help, so of course Roland wanted to assist as well. They'd made homemade pizzas, Roland getting to put toppings on his own tiny one while Henry and Robin did the others. "Henry showed Papa how to spread the dough and cover it with sauce and cheese."
"Mmm," Birdie groans, rubbing her stomach dramatically while licking her lips.
Regina chuckles, nodding as she tells her how Henry had to show Robin how to preheat the oven, then place the pizzas on the correct wrack. "In the end, the boys did a very good job."
"The pizza was good!?"
"Yes!" she chuckles, her finger tangling in her niece's long, unruly hair. She starts to braid a section as she says, "It became a monthly tradition. We'd all go get the supplies and spend a Saturday making pizzas all together."
She smiles fondly at the memory, remembering how much Roland used to love it. He'd bounce down the aisles of the supermarket right along with Regina while Robin and Henry hung back, slowly perusing the junk food and trying to convince Regina to buy it all (which she rarely did, but now she wishes she'd obliged a little bit more, never knowing that he only had a handful of Saturday's left to beg for the sugary goodness of this world).
"We'd curl up on the couch, well, your brothers usually would sprawl out on the floor," she grins, finishing the braid, "and we'd all eat our pizzas and watch movies until the boys fell asleep."
Birdie goes quiet at that, a small smile tugging on her lips. She sits up, one hand on Regina's stomach while the other props her up, her fingertips on the edge of the blanket. "Can we do that?"
Regina's eyes flick from the clouds to her niece, thinking how nice it would be. "You want to make pizzas?"
"Yeah!" she exclaims, bouncing where she sits. "And we can watch movies until Mama falls asleep!"
They both laugh at that, knowing Zelena is always the one to fall asleep first when they watch anything together.
It would be nice, Regina thinks, she hasn't had a pizza and move night since the week before Robin… well, she shakes her head, not wanting to think about that right now, not again.
"We'll have to go to the store," she announces, sitting up.
Birdie nods, a beaming smile on her face as she chatters on about all the ingredients they will need. She's just a little younger now than Henry was when they used to do this all the time, so she knows Birdie will be able to be a big help in the kitchen tonight.
"But let's sit here just a little while longer," Birdie sweetly requests, laying back down and snuggling into Regina's side.
Smiling, Regina trails her hand up and down the girl's back, both of them murmuring to the other what shapes they see in the clouds.
There's a horse, possibly, and oh, Birdie says that giant one looks like a bee's honeypot, but before long, they're both dozing off as a warm breeze washes over them. Before Regina fully falls asleep, she smiles, knowing that breeze, just like she feels anytime she speaks of Robin to his daughter, is her soulmate saying hello, letting her know that he's there with them in the only way he can.
With that, she drifts off, napping with her little Birdie securely at her side for the next hour.
That night, they get covered in dough but have a million laughs as they make the pizza, filling each one with cheese, pepperonis and the vegetables Regina insisted on. They curl up on the couch, Zelena asleep on the floor, and watch Frozen. And the whole time, Regina has a megawatt smile on her face.
Speaking of Robin will always cause an ache in her heart and a pit in her stomach, but she'll never take these memories of him away from her niece. She's a part of him, and she should know the man her father was, no matter how much it pains Regina.
This may not be the life she always dreamed of with her soulmate, but if she can't have him here with her, she can at least have his daughter, and she wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.