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Birdie

Chapter Text

“Aunt Regina?” she hears, wiping the traitorous tear from her cheek.

Regina has told herself for years now, five to be exact, not to feel the stab of pain every time she has to say her niece’s name. Tells herself that, but it never gets any easier.

Robin.

They’d both thought it was a good idea at the time, she and Zelena, while they were standing over his coffin. In the midst of her torturous heartbreak, when nothing made sense or felt fair, she thought it’d be a beautiful tribute to her Robin and his sacrifice.

It took Regina all of four days to realize that hearing her obliterated soulmate’s name every day spill from Zelena’s lips was too hard. Found herself seldomly being able to say the girl’s name, rarely uses it in fact.

She’s tried different nicknames over the years, even convinced her sister to at least spell the baby’s name with a “y” to give her some distinction.

Eventually she had to do as she always does and be the strong one. Accept that her heart would break a little bit inside each time the girl’s name was muttered.

She’d forever look over her shoulder with heart stopping anticipation each time she heard someone else say the name. Robin.

Today, though, today is hard.

It’s been five years exactly since her Robin gave his life to save her and his daughter.

Five years since he begged the god of death himself to use his crystal on him instead. Five years since her entire life turned upside down and she was once again kicked in the teeth - left sobbing over his lifeless body after Zelena and everyone else left her to mourn on her own in her office.

It’s warm out today, and she finds herself sitting under the apple tree in her backyard as Robyn runs around.

It’s a tradition she’s created for herself. Every year on the anniversary of this terrible day, she sits under her tree, searching for solace and comfort as she reads The Adventures of Robin Hood.

She usually reads a tale or two to Robyn, but today the girl is off chasing butterflies, leaving Regina alone with her book and her thoughts.

The little blue eyed girl calling her name, however, pulls Regina from her introspection.

Looking up at her niece, she smiles warmly, closing the book in her lap and opening her arms to let the girl fall into her embrace.

“What’s wrong?” Robyn asks innocently, always so concerned for others - a trait she so clearly inherited from her father.

Regina tells her it’s nothing, but Robyn is quick to not believe her. She asks Regina if she’s sad because today is daddy’s day.

Tears welling up in her eyes, she hugs the girl tighter and whispers out a strangled yes, baby into her ear.

Robyn twists her little body to face Regina, placing her hand on her cheek to wipe away her fresh tear before it reaches the scar on her lip.

“But I’ll be okay.”

Robyn, always so aware of Regina’s moods and feelings, asks if her daddy is the reason Regina never calls her by her name.

She’s always resorted to calling her “baby” or some other affectionate name, letting Zelena be the one to call her by her name. She never thought Robyn had noticed though.

Stunned, she looks down at the girl, pushing her blonde locks from her eyes.

“What do you mean, sweetheart?”

Robyn goes on, saying with all the five year old wisdom she can muster, that Regina only calls her “baby” and “sweetheart” but never by her real name.

Taking a deep breath and blinking her tears away, Regina decides to be the strong one once again.

She tells the little girl that saying her daddy’s name is just too hard for her sometimes.

It slices through her gut and takes a piece of her soul with it each time, in fact, but she won’t tell her that.

“Because you loved him so much?”

Letting out a wet chuckle, she nods, saying, “Yes, exactly.”

In that moment, the quiet is interrupted by a bird chirping out a melodious tune.

“A robin!” Robyn squeals, pushing herself from her aunt’s lap. The girl has always had a fascination with nature, yet another undeniable trait formed from her father’s genetics, and has always had a certain love for birds. “Look Aunt Regina!”

Turning her misty eyes heavenward, she sees a beautiful, orange chested robin perched on a branch above them.

Smiling to herself over the irony of a robin, of all the birds possible, showing up in this moment.

“I know!” Robyn shouts excitedly, running back to kneel in front of Regina. “My name is Robyn, and that birdie’s a robin,” she says, pointing up in the bird’s direction, “so you can call me Birdie!”

The girl giggles, covering her mouth in the adorable way she does, dimples popping out on her cheeks.

Regina smiles, remembering another set of dimples that always seemed to calm her nerves and ease her fears.

She sighs, watching the little bird take flight. A lump forms in her throat as she turns her eyes down to meet the gaze of her soulmate’s daughter once again, this little girl that she loves so much despite the pain she feels when she hears her name.

Birdie. It’s a nice alternative, cute even, and something Regina can see herself getting use to.

She smiles one last time as Birdie picks up the book about her father and strums through the pages, fingertips dancing across the illustrations of Robin.

“Birdie.” She smiles, tears gathering in her eyes one more time. “I like that.”

Chapter Text

“Robyn!” Zelena calls from the kitchen, her British accent echoing down the hall.

Regina leaves her home office and makes her way to the kitchen, asking Zelena why she’s yelling for Birdie.

He sister rarely calls her daughter Birdie, especially after the little blonde child had told her weeks after coming up the the nickname that it was Aunt Regina’s special name for me . That news, of course, caused a smile to break out of Zelena’s face. She’s always loved how close Regina was with her daughter, despite the circumstances that created her.

“Is everything okay?” Regina asks, coming to stand on the opposite side of the kitchen island from Zelena.

“Robyn was in the backyard,” Zelena explains, waving her hand dismissively in the direction of the yard. There’s a large window above the sink that provides both adults a perfect view of the little girl each time she’s out there, which tends to be more often than not seeing as Birdie has such a strong affection for the outdoors. “I looked down to bring the cake out of the oven, and when I looked up she was gone.”

Regina hmms agreeing that it’s strange for her to disappear so quickly, but Zelena doesn’t seem worried, knows nothing happened, just can’t seem to locate the little girl.

Sighing, Zelena whisks the vanilla icing and says, “She wanted to ice the cake. You know it’s her favorite part.”

Chuckling, Regina nods at that and says she’ll go look for her while Zelena is still elbows deep in her baking, though she isn’t quite sure why her sister is baking a cake; it’s no ones birthday and no special occasion that she can think of.

Shrugging to herself as Zelena turns around to add a splash of vanilla into the icing mix, Regina heads down to the basement. There’s a back entrance to the basement from the backyard, and she knows Birdie sometimes likes to sneak in there to play.

Stepping off the last step, Regina calls out. “Birdie?”

The sight that meets her eyes makes her heart stop, stomach drop, and tears form in her eyes.

There, in the middle of the basement’s expanse, stands her niece, dancing with her life size Ken doll. She’d begged for that doll for months leading up to Christmas this year, saying every six year old had one so therefore she should have one, too. It was to be the match for her already owned life size Barbie.

Birdie, with her eyes closed and blonde hair gently swishing around with her Ken isn’t what stirs up so many emotions inside Regina.

It’s what he’s wearing.

Birdie loves to dress her Ken and Barbie up, usually in their wedding attire, as she performs their wedding ceremony. Barbie has long been forgotten today, it seems, as Regina spies the doll laying on the ground a few feet away, hair rumpled and limbs all disjointed.

Ken is currently being swallowed by a large, dark green vest and a brown leather jacket. A jacket she could once feel the warmth of her soulmate’s arms beneath as they wrapped around her torso.

Around his back lays her niece’s plastic bow and arrow set, the one she begged for for her birthday a few months ago, saying she wanted to practice archery just like my daddy!

The sight brings tears to Regina’s eyes, a lump forming in her throat.

The clothes may be too big for Ken, but the vision of those clothes again, being twirled around and hummed to by her little Birdie, makes her heart feel like someone has a death grip on it, squeezing the air out of her lungs.

Clearly the girl clearly didn’t hear her, too lost in her rendition of the lullabys Regina always sings to her at bedtime.

Regina moves a little closer to the girl, eyes scanning the room. Her breath hitches in her throat when she realizes Birdie found the trunk of Robin’s clothing that Regina has always kept.

She’d finally forced herself, with the help of Snow, to clean out his part of the closet a few weeks after he was eternally resting under six feet of dirt, but she could never bring herself to give his clothes away. Not all of them anyway. She’d kept his Enchanted Forest clothes, the green cape and beige tunics he was so fond of, kept his vest and most of his scarves that he liked the wear in Storybrooke. Had, in fact, kept a few of his scarves up in her closet that she still wears from time to time, though his forest scent has long worn off. Birdie, the little thief that she is, has stolen Regina’s favorite burgundy scarf - Robin’s scarf, which she may or may not have thieved herself after their picnic date so many years ago. It’s been her favorite ever since, and she found herself wearing it more often in the days following his death in the comfort of her home, no matter how warm or cold it was, she had it on. It looks good on Birdie, though, wrapped up a few times about her tiny shoulders, so perhaps Regina will let this theft slide this time, she is her father’s daughter after all.

And, of course, she had kept his bow and arrows for safe keeping. Found herself several nights a week that first year without him sneaking down to the basement to cry over his belongings while Henry, Birdie and Zelena slept peacefully upstairs - unaware of her tormenting heartbreak spilling out two floor below them.

She’d slip on his jacket, wrapping herself in the pine scent that still lingered on it back then, curling into a fetal position and letting out all her emotions. It was the only time she felt like she could really grieve, wouldn’t allow herself to show such weakness in front of anyone, no matter how much she loved her family.

Her routine has lessened over the years, now finding her coming down there in the middle of the night only a few times a month. Despite the number of visits to his possessions, the pain is always in her heart; she knows it will always reside there, a piece of her soul is forever missing and can never fully be replaced.

Bringing her eyes back to her niece, who still has her back turned, dancing with her Ken doll, Regina gently says, “Birdie? Sweetheart?”

Birdie stops dancing, song abruptly cut short and turns to face Regina. Her eyes are red and puffy, causing Regina’s heart to break just a little bit more.

Regina asks what’s wrong, taking the girl’s hand and sitting down amongst the heap of Robin’s clothes that have been strewn about the small area around the child.

Birdie turns to look at Regina, wiping a tear from her own eye as Regina pushes her blonde braid behind her back.

“Tonight is the father-daughter dance,” she trails off, and Regina feels like one of Robin’s arrows has just been released, piercing right through the center of her beating heart. “I just wanted to dance with daddy.”

Regina kisses the top of Birdie’s head as she settles into her chest. Her vision is blurry, she’s surprised tears haven’t fallen into the girl’s hair from her position yet. She worries if she blinks too much, they will.

They sit there for a beat in silence, Birdie sniffling and twisting to cuddle into Regina’s embrace a bit deeper.

She feels a tear fall onto her arm, and, well, that just won’t do. She knows Birdie misses the father she never got to know - misses the idea of him and all the wonderful things she could experience with him.

Regina knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that she and Robin would’ve been married by now, living in her mansion and sharing custody with her sister. Robin and Birdie would have spent their time together in the forest, him teaching her how to perfect her archery and the two of them exploring all the different animals they could find.

He was such a great father to Roland, that she knows he would have been incredible with his little girl.

Lightly removing Birdie from her lap, Regina stands, making her way over to Ken as Birdie wraps one of Robin’s scarves around her neck (it’s one of the manlier ones that Regina didn’t feel like she could pull off with her wardrobe).

Regina pulls Robin’s jacket from the doll and puts it on. Birdie wetly giggles, saying, “We both have on daddy’s clothes now!”

“Yes, we do.”

Her memories are once again transported to the strong arms that once filled this jacket. The way he would lay behind her at night, arms wrapped protectively around her, lulling her into the best sleep she’d ever had.

She looks over to Birdie then, noting how her blue eyes are still rimmed with red even as she goes to stand the long forgotten Barbie up and fix her hair.

Once Barbie is all fixed up, Birdie turns to face Regina again. She’s struck with how similar her niece is to her in this moment. Emotions running wild, running to the basement to mourn in whatever way a child can think to do. They need to talk about this, about how she didn’t get to go to the father-daughter dance, no matter how gut wrenching it might be for Regina. She has to be strong for Birdie.

Stretching out her leather clad arm, she motions for Birdie to come closer.

They sit together, backs pressed against Robin’s trunk. Regina wraps her arm around the little girl’s shoulders and runs her fingers over her long, blonde hair, absentmindedly making a mental note to go get it trimmed before it gets too long to manage at bath time.

“I’m sorry you had to miss the dance tonight,” Regina says, mentally kicking herself for not even realizing the impact the dance could have on her sweet, tender-hearted niece.

“Eva was telling us at recess how her and Uncle David were going.”

Fuck. Of course a Charming child would mention the dance. Not that Regina was keeping it a secret, she just didn’t think to mention it since Henry is away trying to find his own story now, and Robin isn’t around to take her.

Truth is, Regina and Zelena are all Birdie has, except for David and Killian, and well, they both have their own daughters to take to the dance.

“Oh, baby,” Regina breaths, “I’m sorry.”

Birdie shrugs, wiping her nose with the back of her hand and mumbling out an it’s okay .

Regina vaguely wonders if perhaps this is the reason Zelena was baking that cake. Birdie, apart from her love of nature, also loves to bake, and Zelena probably wanted to get her mind off of what tonight meant for all the other little girls in town.

Her sister really could be great sometimes. Had really grown to be a better person over the last six years.

“If it makes you feel any better,” Regina says with a smirk, bumping her shoulder into Birdie’s playfully. “Your father wasn’t the best dancer anyway. He probably would’ve stepped on your little feet all night.”

Birdie smiles, her dimples shining on her face as she tries not to laugh.

“You and daddy danced?”

The innocent question bringing so many memories to the forefront of her mind. They shared several dances late at night, one in her office just after he’d put her heart back in her chest. He’d hummed a soft melody into her ear in his deep timber, causing a shiver to run down her spine. They’d also grown fond of dancing in the kitchen once the dishes were done, just a way to unwind and feel connected to each other amongst all the chaos they were living in.

The image of Robin, dressed in a beige tunic and brown vest, waiting for her at the bottom of the castle stairs as she descended them in a shimmering pale, purple dress flood her mind the most though.

She smiles, pulling Birdie into her lap. “We danced in Camelot one time, at a royal ball.”

“A ball?!” Birdie asks excitedly. “Like the one where Cinderella lost her shoe?!”

Regina laughs at that, tilting her head back some. Birdie, despite being raised to know that everyone in town was a fairy tale character and seeing Henry’s story books, she still loved to watch Disney movies. She’s currently convinced Cinderella is her favorite because she likes that the mice can talk - animals that can talk have always been her wish; she wishes for a talking dog every birthday, in fact.

“Kind of, yes,” she says, kissing the girl’s forehead.

She goes on, telling her about how their family traveled to another realm and met a king and a queen. She decides to leave out most of the details, like how Emma was the Dark One and her daddy almost died that night, too, or how the king ended up being a horrible man. Regina does, however, talk about Neal being a tiny baby, making Birdie giggle and aww , and how she and Aunt Snow got to wear big, beautiful dresses like in Cinderella and dance with their true loves.

Talks about how Robin stepped on her foot, causing them to stumble back a step and almost miss the next part of the dance entirely (They were also too busy kissing to pay attention to the dance, but she won’t tell her that). Both girls giggle at that, Birdie scooting down to sit on her knees in between Regina’s legs and turns to face her.

Her eyes light up when she says, “You were in a real castle?”

“Yes,” Regina chuckles, “but remember, I grew up in a castle.”

She’s told Birdie before of where they came from, but she supposes the thought of dancing with her daddy in a real castle just causes too much excitement to flow through her.

“I know.” Birdie shrugs, standing and walking over to her Ken doll. She removes the bow and arrows from around his back, slinging it onto her own with so much practiced ease that it makes Regina wonder when she’ll be old enough for a real set.

That’s something Robin would’ve known. Though she has a feeling he would’ve already gotten her one, despite how young Regina still thinks she is to have a set.

“Let’s go upstairs and I’ll show you Henry’s storybooks,” Regina says, pulling herself off the floor and taking Birdie’s hand. “My dance with your daddy is definitely written in one of them. You can see my big dress.”

“And I can see daddy, too!”

Tears swell in her eyes again, and she blinks them away, unsure of when the day will come that hearing Birdie say the word daddy won’t hurt her soul.

They make their way upstairs, Birdie rambling on the whole way there about her dance she just had with daddy and how she knows it’s not really him, but it’s, “nice to pretend.”

The two of them make their way into the main part of the house, passing by the kitchen on the way to the living room where Henry’s books are stored.

Regina catches Zelena’s eyes, noting the sympathetic look that passes over her sister’s face.

Scrunching her forehead at her sister, the red head motions her wooden spoon in the direction of Regina and Birdie’s clothing.

She realizes then that they’d forgotten to remove Robin’s jacket and scarves from around their bodies.

Sighing, she shrugs sadly at her sister before following Birdie into the next room.  

“Is this the right book, Aunt Regina?”

Looking at the large, brown book Birdie is holding, Regina hums. “Let me see. You know Henry has a few of these books.”

Birdie nods as she climbs onto the couch, patting the spot next to her for Regina.

She smiles, settling herself onto the couch and flipping open the book. She sees a picture of Isaac and how he’d sent them all to his version of their land, so she knows Camelot can’t be far behind. Knows she needs to not flip too far, though, seeing as Robin’s story ends so soon after their trip to Camelot. Regina hasn’t opened this book in a while, always unable to stop herself from flipping to the end and seeing his soul leaving his body one last time - that blue outline of his body that still haunts her dreams and wakes her up in a cold sweat so many nights.

Finding the page, Regina moves the book over so Birdie can look inside.

The girl ooohs and ahhhs at all the pretty dresses she sees, giddily pointing out Emma, her Aunt Snow and Regina’s dresses.

“And there’s daddy,” she states sadly, running her little fingertip over the curve of Robin’s face.

The act makes Regina’s stomach twist, wishing so desperately that she could run her finger along his jaw like that now, feeling his stubble beneath her palm. Wishes she could wake up to those ocean blue eyes staring back at her like so many times before.

She smiles down at her niece, eyes suddenly wet again. She curses herself, trying to fight the tears. Between seeing all of his clothes, knowing how much Birdie wishes she could have her father back, and actually being in his jacket, she’s surprised she’s held off on her tears as long as she has.

Sniffling, she wipes a tear that has fallen on her cheek. Birdie looks up at her when she hears the sound, and places her hand on Regina’s cheek. Her thumb rubs a tiny line back and forth, causing Regina’s eyes to close at the contact.

Robin used to comfort her in the same way. Would always cup her cheek and run his thumb along it while he kissed the top of her head, assuring her whatever was wrong would be alright.

Opening her eyes, she sees Birdie’s eyes begin to water again as she removes her hand from Regina’s cheek and looks back at the book. She turns the page, looking at a picture of Robin and Regina laughing while Regina bites down on her bottom lip.

“This is the part where your daddy and I forgot the steps to the dance,” Regina says, poking Birdie’s belly playfully.

Birdie giggles, flipping to the next page distractedly to look at another picture.

The next page, however, causes the breath in Regina’s lungs to get stuck, the sensation stabbing her chest as if a knife had been plunged into it.

Staring back at her is a picture of her and Robin sharing a kiss on the dance floor, decidedly not interested in the dance taking place around them.

She still remembers his kisses, every single one, whether it’s illustrated for all of eternity in a book or not. Can still feel his plump lips against hers when she closes her eyes.

Birdie leans in closer to the book, looking at the picture and then sits back, turning her head to look at Regina. “I miss him,” she states sadly, shattering Regina’s heart completely.

She knows Birdie never knew Robin, so some would say she can’t actually miss him, but she misses the idea of him. She’s heard all the wonderful stories of her father, and she knows she would’ve loved having him around. Regina would too; she’d give anything to have him back with her. With them.

She closes her eyes at Birdie’s confession, a lone tear escaping from beneath her lashes.

“A real castle,” she whispers in amazement, strumming her fingers along the picture, tracing over the stone pillars and poofy dresses all the women in the background are wearing, but like always, lingering on Robin’s picture just a bit longer.

“Come on,” Regina says lowly, clearing her throat and wiping the last tear away. “Let’s go finish that cake.”

Thoughts of father-daughter dances seem to be temporarily forgotten by Birdie as she perks up, red rimmed eyes seeming to dry instantly in only the way that children can do, closing the book with a hardy thunk and hoping off the couch.

She may have forgotten about the dance, but it’s forever imprinted in Regina’s mind. She never wants her Birdie to feel so isolated again. Never wants her to feel like she can’t experience something that all her friends get to just because she doesn’t have a father to do those things with.

As mayor, she’s taking it upon herself come Monday morning to amend the dance to be a  guardian-daughter dance from now on so that next year, she can take Birdie.

Birdie will never feel so alone again.

Chapter Text

“Aunt Regina!” Birdie exclaims, hopping onto her lap where she’d been attempting to take a nap.

It’s Saturday, and Regina has worked hard all week. It’s nothing compared to the days when demons, and devils, and things that go bump in the night would stalk their town, but being the mayor, their queen , and helping raise a rambunctious six year old little girl can be tiring. She doesn’t remember Henry ever being quite this energetic. She blames Robin, really. He was always ready to go, always waking up long before she did, wanting to explore this new curious world he was living in and start the day.

She smiles at the memory, wishing he could wake up before her now. She’d explore every town, city, and realm possible with him at any hour of the day if it meant she got to be with him again. She’d give just about anything for that, really.

“What is is, Birdie?” she giggles, sitting up so her back is against the armrest and her legs are stretched out along the length of the sofa. Regina pulls the little blonde up with her, situating the child on her lap and wrapping her arms around Birdie’s middle.

Her niece reminds her that she promised they’d watch a movie today, and, well, a promise is a promise. Rubbing her tired eyes, she looks around, questioning where her mother is. “Taking a shower,” Birdie replies simply, hopping down to search the shelf for the perfect movie.

Her blue eyes seems to settle on one, and she pulls it out, making Regina’s stomach swoop in dread. Robin Hood . Of course. This little girl has always had the uncanny ability to find connections to her father. She’s had the movie since Henry was a toddler, having watched it over and over and over and over again when he was little. But it holds a whole new meaning now. One she’s not sure if she’s ready to face. Sure, he’ll be a fox in this depiction of him, which will be amusing, he was always sly as one anyway, but there’s a pit of apprehension niggling down deep in her belly.

Birdie brings it over, shoving it in Regina’s face, making her laugh. Pulling the movie’s case down where she can see it better, she asks if this is the one she wants.

“Uh, huh!” Birdie shouts happily, taking the movie and running over to the television. She’s learned recently how to put in her own DVDs, which has been helpful in moments when she or Zelena have been cooking (not that her sister cooks much) or otherwise occupied and unable to turn on the free entertainment for her niece.

She puts the movie in as Regina flips to the right input on the television. Birdie closes the case and bounds over to Regina, climbing up onto the plush couch with her and snuggling deep into Regina’s embrace.

She loves this little girl, more than she ever thought she would when she was first conceived, and moments like this make her so thankful that she has her. Henry’s been off making his own story for the past few months, so she’s glad to have another child in the house to help fill the void, and the silence.

The movie begins, and just as soon, so do the questions. He’s a fox? Why a fox? Little John is a bear? Is that why he’s so big in real life?

Regina laughs at the inquiries, finding humor as well in the shape of her deceased soulmate and all his friends.

She chuckles at Birdie’s question of Little John, a man she’d had the pleasure of meeting last year when she and Zelena took the girl to the Enchanted Forest. It was a trip that had been hard on Regina, emotionally damaging seeing her other half so happy and in love with a version of the man she’ll never have again. She’s ecstatic for her other half, sure, but the pain of never having her Robin ever again crushes her a bit each time she thinks about it.

They’d taken Birdie so she could meet Roland, a brother she always knew about and always asked questions about. Zelena finally thought she was old enough to understand all the strange aspects of visiting their land, so they’d called up a portal and gone. Birdie had loved Little John, of course. He was always so good with Roland and any other children in his vicinity; she always wondered why he never settled down and had one of his own.

The man was big and burly, just like the large bear depicted on the screen, and it makes Birdie laugh more than it probably should. Regina loves her little laugh, a squeal of excitement before it tampers out into soft giggles, a laugh she’s heard more often than not, and she’s glad that she’s able to help in providing such a joyous life for her soulmate’s daughter.

She runs her fingers through the girl’s long, blonde locks, making a mental note to give it a good comb through after her bath tonight.

“Why is Papa trying to win that contest?”

She smiles, pulling Birdie down to lay in front of her, Regina essentially becoming the big spoon in their cuddly embrace. “He wanted to win Maid Marian’s heart,” she tells her simply, trying not to feel that tiny pinch of jealousy too much at the thought. She knows Robin loved Marian, just as she loved Daniel, long before they even knew each other. She thinks the feeling stems from when Marian came back to their land and Robin nobly chose her, doing the right thing against his inner desires, not realizing divorce was such a thing in their land, and none of them realizing it was her sister is disguise, Marian never truly coming back from the dead.

“I thought Papa won your heart?”

It’s with those six simple words that Birdie, once again, brings reality crashing down onto Regina’s heart. They go so many days, weeks even sometimes without her niece bringing up that particularly sore spot in Regina’s partially mended heart. Talking about Robin isn’t as painful as it was six years ago, but it still sends a shock of resentment and sadness coursing through her body each and every time. Living with her lost love’s daughter, though painful at first, has grown to be a sort of comfort. Robin is always in the back of her mind, she thinks of him daily and misses him terribly still, but she makes it through each new day. She doesn’t cry herself to sleep anymore like she used to; she’s learned to live this new life without him. But sometimes, like today, Birdie will do or say something that makes her heart ache a little extra. Makes her just a bit melancholy. Makes her lament his absence even harder than most days; she thinks about his life, about his memory, and all the things he’s missing with her. With them .

It’s when Birdie says something more catered to the fact that her papa loved her, that she feels a deep pain trying to crack her heart open again. A fracture in her organ that she knows will never fully be healed.

“He did, baby,” she mumbles into the back of her head, placing a soft kiss there. “This part of his story was before your papa even knew me… before Roland was born.”

She oh ’s at that information, though Regina is positive the little blue eyed babe still has plenty of questions. Birdie sits up, coming to sit on Regina’s thighs, pinning her down to the couch. Her eyes are fixated on the screen as she says, “I thought you were always part of papa’s story.”

Regina smiles, explaining that the tales she’s been told her whole life were mainly once her aunt was in the picture, but her papa lived a whole life long before he knew her.

Seemingly satisfied, Birdie nods, tucking her hair behind her ears. Her feet are propped up on the couch cushion, bringing her knees closer to her. She rests her elbows on her knees, palms cupping her little chin as she sways side to side on Regina’s legs. They watch the movie in silence for a few more minutes before Birdie’s eyebrows scrunch in confusion again.

“Why are they fighting?”

A tougher question to explain to a first grader, but, she tries. Tells her how the prince was making Nottingham collect money from everyone in the village, more than they had to give, so he was taking their homes away from them. Robin didn’t like that, thought it was unfair, so he and his friends - “The Merry Men!” Birdie interrupts excitedly, making Regina smile and nod in agreement - stole back the money from the bad guys to give to the people of their village.

“Steal from the rich and give to the poor,” Birdie murmurs with a resolute nod to herself, fixated on the television again. “Just like Papa says in all his books.”

Regina closes her eye, scrunching her eyebrows together before opening them again. It pains her, knowing that this little girl only has advice from her father printed in books for her to remember him by, learning her lessons from Robin through black ink instead of his warm, soothing voice.

“That’s right, sweetheart.” She kisses Birdie’s pudgy cheek as she curls into Regina’s side again, letting out a yawn. Glancing at the clock, she sees its almost two in the afternoon. Birdie hasn’t napped during the day since she was a toddler, but she’d spent the morning out in the garden with Zelena, watering the plants and picking a tiny bouquet to set on the kitchen counter, so she supposes all that sun tuckered her out.

The movie ends, credits rolling as Birdie mumbles that it was a weird thing to watch, seeing her father and her uncles as animals. She’s sure it was hard to understand too, the only storyline a child of her age probably understands is the love story between Robin and Marian. So, maybe they’ll try again when she’s a little bit older. At least for now, she knows she has every book ever published about Robin Hood, a few on every reading level so his daughter never goes without tales of his heroic life, waiting on the bookshelf, and this movie to play from time to time to make her niece giggle.

Clicking the power button on the remote, she wraps her arms around Birdie, pulling her impossibly closer and pressing a kiss to the back of her head. The girl turns in her arms, facing her now, blue eyes locked on brown, and placing a tiny hand on Regina’s cheek.

“I like you with Papa more than Marian,” she whispers, as if telling a deep dark secret. She brings her hand to cover her gap toothed giggle, eyes glowing with mischief, and it makes Regina smirk.

Pulling a blanket over them, Regina snickers, quirking up her eyebrows and whispering out an all too elusive, “Me too,” into the space between them before they both drift off into a restful nap.

 

Chapter Text

It’s warm out, not too unseasonably hot, but a nice, spring breeze blowing through the trees as Regina and Birdie make their way to their destination together making it feel nice out.

They have a picnic basket packed, stuffed with a large blanket to sit upon and snacks to fill their bellies. Birdie has a growing appetite these days, Regina and Zelena blaming it on her now seven year old body needing all the nourishment it can get. They’d just celebrated her niece’s birthday last weekend, having a party full of cake, candy, and all the friend’s the little girl has made over the years.

Regina is glad, was always worried people wouldn’t want their children to associate with Zelena’s daughter, but her sister has truly redeemed herself over the last seven years, and she’s glad other people can see that too. It still hurts, knowing Zelena played a small role in Robin’s death, but ultimately she blames Emma, Hades, and his ridiculous crystal.

Sighing, Regina lets go of Birdie’s hand, reaching into the basket to pull out their blanket.

“Can I go say hi?” Birdie asks excitedly, looking from her mother over to her father’s tombstone.

Regina smiles sadly, “Of course, dear.” Birdie skips over, blonde hair bouncing behind her as she kneels in front of Robin, grazing her hand over the words beloved father etched into the headstone. They come out here often, a tradition she’d started with her niece when she was just a baby. It gives Regina time to be with her soulmate, and it’s also nice for his daughter to feel connected to him.

They used to come once a week, Regina squeezing in a few more visits alone on other days, but it had become too hard. She needed to learn to live her life again, not spending her days away from the office talking to a piece of granite while she was wrapped in his burgundy scarf. Still, though, their weekly chats are nice. She’s able to update Robin on what is happening in town, what’s going on in her life, and Birdie is able to tell her father all about the happenings of her first grade classroom. There are days, however, when there are too many requests on her desk, or Snow is being insufferably optimistic, that she comes out here alone, sitting with Robin, getting to be completely herself, just the two of them. It was the only way when he was alive that she could be herself -  sitting with him, his warm, comforting hand wrapped around her own. He was the only one she was ever truly her with, no barriers, no walls, just completely Regina.

Regina stretches out the large, maroon blanket, smoothing it out beside his plot. She sets the basket down, opening it up as she hears Birdie saying Daddy, you won’t believe what Eva did at school the other day! She smiles, pulling out a carton of pineapple and some crackers. She stays there, munching on the sweet fruit, wanting to give Birdie time to talk to her father on her own.

After a while, her niece comes bounding over, telling her she’s all done. Birdie reaches into the basket, pulling out her paper, crayons and hardback book she’d packed to press down on.

Regina stands as the little girl settles onto the blanket, lips twisted in concentration like Robin’s always did when he focused too hard on a task, drawing precise lines to fill in with her crayons.

She smiles at the sight, turning to walk the few steps over to where Robin eternally rests. She squats down, settling onto the grass. Her knees sink down, the morning’s mist still clinging to their tips. Regina sighs sadly, a lump forming in her throat. No matter how many times she comes here, she never manages to leave with a clean face. The tears always seem to come - and not just at his tombstone. Regina finds herself crying on random nights, wishing his pillow still smelled like him and she could hear his beautiful laughter one more time.

“Hi,” she breathes, tracing the ridges of a feather carved into the top of the headstone. “I miss you.”

A tear trails down her cheek, and she reaches up to wipe it away, laughing to herself. “I don’t know if I’ll ever make it here without crying,” she whispers, not wanting Birdie to overhear. Showing emotions is good, she knows that, and she wants Robin’s daughter to know it’s okay to cry for him. But she cries every damn time they come; just once she would like to not make her niece sad.

She looks over, checking on the little girl. Looking back to Robin, she smiles, giggling softly as she tells him how Birdie’s birthday was last week. She’s sorry they didn’t come by sooner, but they’d thrown her an extravagant shindig filled with green and blue streamers and arrow shaped balloons (ones Regina had to magic into existence since no store around makes balloons that shape - but Birdie had wanted them to go along with the bow and arrow sets Zelena set up in the backyard for the party). “I’m sure she told you all about it,” Regina laughs out, her hand landing on the lion in the center of the stone, the one made to resemble his tattoo - the tattoo that was living proof of their destined love. She picks at the dirt that’s collected in the indention, making a mental note to remind Marco to scrub the headstones better. Regina sniffs, telling Robin how his little girl had demanded they have tiny bows and arrows in the backyard so the children could practice their archery skills. Birdie, of course, had been the best. “She’s a natural,” Regina grins. “Just like her father.”

“I already told him about that, Aunt Regina,” Birdie adds from her place on the blanket. The girl huffs, pushing a stray piece of hair that’s stuck to her forehead back behind her ear. Regina smiles, rolling her eyes slightly at the already pre- pre -teen attitude her niece exudes sometimes. Wonder where she gets a flare for the dramatics , Regina thinks wryly, knowing exactly where she gets it from. The who is sitting at home right now, washing clothes and getting paperwork done for the upcoming week.

Regina apologizes mockingly, saying she’ll just have to tell her daddy about something else then. Birdie nods seriously, focusing back on her picture. The little girl looks up into the sky, taking note of the robins flying overhead. She gets distracted, as she usually does in nature, and stands, mumbling to Regina about how she’ll be right back.

“Don’t go too far,” Regina reminds gently, looking back to Robin’s plot.

She smiles, watching the little girl run off in pursuit of the birds she loves so much, the ones that gave her the inspiration for her nickname.

Regina tears up again, telling Robin solemnly how their anniversary is coming up. “It’s so hard every year, Robin,” she cries, covering her mouth to muffle her emotion. She wipes at her tears, knowing it’s no use. She misses him, misses everything about him, and this time of year with Birdie’s birthday and their anniversary so close together, it always stings just a bit more.

“I just feel so alone,” she tells him sadly, a thick lump lodged in her throat. She promises she knows he sacrificed himself for the right reasons, to him anyway, but she will never be able to accept that her life was worth more than his. He had so much to live for, and he just gave it all up for her. “I’m standing here all alone now because I don’t have you ,” she cries, tears falling onto the ground beneath her. “I just want you back so badly, Robin.”

The wails of her cry get too loud, and she glances over the top of Robin’s headstone to where Birdie is still chasing the tiny birds. She catches the little girl’s eye, though, and her niece starts to make her way over to her.

Shaking her head forcefully, she swipes beneath her eyes, clearing the tears away and sighing out a large breath. She knows if Robin were here right now, he’d have his arm wrapped around her, pulling her close and shushing her, telling her it would all be okay. She’d looked for ways to bring him back over the last few years, not sleeping in the beginning until she found a way. After searching every spell book available, and having her doppleganger do the same in the Enchanted Forest, she’d had to, regrettably, admit defeat. There was no way to bring back the dead unless Zeus himself deems it appropriate (a point she’ll be speaking to him about as soon as she makes it up there one day). She knows Robin would smirk, vowing to her that he was fine, that he was waiting for her and to stop spending her life searching for a way to get back to him.

God, she loves that man. She knows she’ll never love anyone else the way she loved him. He is her soulmate, and no one can ever replace that type of deep, soul changing love. She takes solace in the times that she dreams of him, waking those mornings feeling more relaxed than she usually does. She’s half convinced herself that it’s actually him in those dreams - his touches and kisses feel so real, can still feel the ghosting of his lips sometimes when she wakes up - but no spell book can explain the phenomenon. Regina sighs, taking comfort in the thought, once again, that she’ll see her other half again one day. She’s convinced, deep down, that these dreams are a sign. A sign that when her time on Earth is up, she’ll be reunited with Robin once and for all - for eternity, as it should be.

Birdie skips over, always such a happy child, and looks between Regina and her father. She scowls a bit, reaching up to wipe one last tear from Regina’s cheek, then tucks a piece of hair behind her aunt’s ear. “It’s okay, Aunt Regina,” she swears to her, leaning down to wrap her arms around Regina’s shoulders - just like Robin would’ve done for her.

The little girl straightens back up, walking over to the blanket and picking up the picture she’d been working on. “I made this for Daddy,” she tells her, turning the picture around.

Regina smiles brightly, a new wave of tears forming in the base of her eyes. The picture is of Birdie, Henry, Roland, Robin, Regina and Zelena all around a Christmas tree, presents scattered across the floor, waiting to be opened. “It’s the Christmas I’ve always wanted,” Birdie explains casually, a touch of sadness to her tone. She’s always talked about Christmas and how she wishes her father and Roland could be there with them, but this was the only way to ever have them all together for the holiday.

Regina pouts in her direction, scrunching her brows together briefly as she pulls her niece into her lap. Birdie’s legs bend, burying her toes into the grass in front of them. “I hope you like it, Daddy,” she murmurs, leaning closer to the grave to place her picture there, resting it against the hard stone. She sits back, leaning deeper into Regina’s chest.

She wraps her arms around the little girl, hugging her tightly and rocking back and forth, assuring her that her father loves the picture. “I just know it,” she whispers into her ear, wiggling her nose into the side of Birdie’s face. The little girl squeals, giggling at her aunt as she squirms in her lap.

Her niece angles her head, looking at Regina from the corner of her eye. “And my daddy loves you,” she tells her seriously, cupping her cheek. “I just know it.”

Regina takes a deep, calming breath, trying not to sob all over again at the maturity of this little girl. Birdie’s always had that - the ability to comfort Regina and say all the right words - a trait she knows she inherited from her father.  

She smiles, leaning in to kiss the girl on her cheek. “I love you, Birdie,” Regina tells her, hugging her closely again. She presses her nose into the girl’s long, blonde hair, inhaling the scent of the baby shampoo she still uses. Birdie’s hand drops from her cheek, reaching down to rest atop Regina’s hands that are locked around her waist. She pats Regina’s hands, picking up her pinky to play with absentmindedly as she promises her love to her as well. Regina’s heart swells once more, completely filled with the love she has for this little girl. No one understood it at first, couldn’t see how Regina could love her so effortlessly, but despite the pain of seeing Robin’s blue eyes reflected back at her from the little girl’s tiny face, she’s learned to look passed that pain. She’s learned to love her niece so fully, so completely, knowing Robin’s love for them both was his driving factor in dying for them.

The wind blows around them then, mixing the smell of forest with Birdie’s hair, and Regina chuckles wetly to herself. The forest will always be Robin’s fragrance, and she smiles, a lone tear tumbling down her cheek as she can’t help but think that the new breeze wasn’t sent from the gods this time, but from her soulmate - his way of wrapping his arms around them the best way he can from where he waits for her beyond the grave.

Chapter Text

Halloween shouldn’t be an emotional holiday. And yet, this year Birdie went and made Regina cry.

They’d been sitting around one night, cuddled together on the couch while Zelena fought with the DVD player, trying to get a pesky disk to play. They were giggling at the redhead’s antics, Regina encouraging her to Just use your magic, Sis .

After another failed attempt, Zelena stood with a huff, saying they weren’t getting to watch a movie tonight. Regina had squeezed Birdie, tickling her sides as her mother slid onto the other end of the couch, lifting Birdie’s feet to rest in her lap.

“Halloween is in a few weeks, my darling,” Zelena informs her daughter, rubbing her feet tenderly. “Have you decided what you want to be?”

Birdie sits up, pursed lips as she contemplates her options. Pulling her knees to her chest, she rocks back and forth before shimmying closer to Regina. “I could be a witch,” she announces with a giggle, looking over to her mom. “Like you, Mama!”

The older women share a look and a chuckle, Zelena saying it might be in poor taste for the daughter of the Wicked Witch to parade around as such. Birdie giggles, twirling her blonde hair around her finger tip and shrugging.

They’d gone to bed that night, Birdie and Regina whispering costume ideas to each other as Regina tucked her niece in, pressing soft kisses to her forehead.

The next morning, while walking hand in hand to school, Birdie tugged on Regina’s hand, halting her steps. “I decided in my dreams what I wanna be for Halloween!”

Smiling down at the little girl, Regina runs her fingers through her blonde tresses. “What’s that, baby?”

Beaming up at her aunt, Birdie puffs out her chest and points to the sky proudly. “An angel!”

“An angel?” Regina clarifies, pondering, “What made you come up with that?” The girl had never thrown anything close to that out while coming up with costumes over the last few weeks. There’d been princesses, super heroes, witches, cartoon animals, but never anything like this.

“Because,” she laughs happily, taking Regina’s hand once more, walking toward the school building, “Daddy is an angel, and I wanna be just like Daddy!”

Biting down on her lip, Regina tries her best to quell her tears that instantly fill her eyes. “Oh,” she breathes, reaching up to wipe a tear from her eye before Birdie can see it.

“Isn’t that a good one?!”

She chuckles wetly, looking down at her niece. Nodding her head, she confirms her excitement, telling Birdie that it sounds like an amazing idea. “Your Daddy would be so proud,” Regina tells her around the lump in her throat.

Images of Robin flash through her mind - his smile, those dimples that always made her knees go weak, his laugh (especially that deep belly rumble that would make her smile no matter how mad she was pretending to be at him). His words run through her mind, words of love and undying affection, words of advice when she needed them and comfort in her weakest moments. God, she loves that man, will love him until her last breath and even then, she’ll love him longer in the afterlife. Their love is eternal; a love like that never fades, never stops, no matter what happens.

She thinks about him often, even after all these years, but it’s become a dull pain, a pain that is constantly there, never quite going away, but easier to deal with on a day to day basis. Birdie glances up at her, stopping their walk once more as her brow pinches and her little head tilts to the side. “Aunt Regina?”

Pulling herself from her thoughts of her lost soulmate, she smiles down at his precious daughter, the one she vowed to always look after and protect. “Yes, baby?”

“Why are you sad?”

One side of her mouth tips up, a sad little smile that she tries to pretend is bright, and she tells Birdie she’s fine.

“Is that not a good costume idea?”

Regina adjusts her purse onto her shoulder before bending down, thankful she’s mastered the art of balance over the years in her heels. She tucks a bent finger under Birdie’s chin, tilting her face to look at her and making sure she has the seven year old’s undivided attention. “No, Birdie,” she grins up at her. “It’s a wonderful idea.” She assures her that they can make an angel costume - claiming they can get her the whitest of white dresses and Zelena can make some wings while Regina works on the halo.

“Can I have gold glitter on the wings?!”

Chuckling, Regina stands, promising they can make the costume look however she wants.

With a nod, Birdie smiles once more, lacing her fingers with Regina’s as she chatters away all the way to school discussing how she thinks Daddy and all the other angels have Gold tipped wings, probably most likely some feathery halos, and flowy dresses! Stopping mid-sentence, Birdie laughs lightly, asking as she swings their laced hands to and fro, “Do you think even Daddy wears an angel dress?”

Tears come to her eyes once more, threatening to fall but not quite there yet, as she thinks again about her other half and how he’s waiting for her on the other side. She has no concrete proof, just dreams every so often where she sees Robin, talks to him and updates him on her life and Birdie. Before waking, he always kisses her, assuring her of the unending love he has for her. She cries in every dream, wakes with tear stains on her face and the sensation of his lips on hers. They always feel so real, so she chooses to believe that they are; chooses to believe they are Robin’s way of visiting her, being there for her, reminding her how much he loves her. She makes sure during each visit to confide in him how much she loves him too, how much she misses him and can’t wait to see him again some day.

He gives her that dimpled smile and nods, saying when the time is right, they’ll be together again. Forever this time.

Regina thinks about what he’s wearing in those moments, always his dark green and brown Enchanted Forest attire, green cloak and bow strewn across his back, but figures that wouldn’t match up to Birdie’s expectations of what angels wear - no fun in telling her they just wear their regular clothes. So she fibs a little, scrunching her nose up as she confides, “I think boy angels wear white suits.”

Birdie’s face lights up, nodding in excitement as she agrees. “But I still want to be a girl angel so I can wear a pretty dress, and twirl around this this!” the girl says, stepping away from Regina for a moment to twirl around as if she’s already in the angel’s dress.

Laughing, they link hands again and walk the rest of the way to school. Once there, the two of them step onto the front steps of the school, pausing to say goodbye to one another. Reaching up to wipe one last stray tear from her cheek, Regina bends down to kiss the top of Birdie’s head.

“Have a good day, Birdie.”

The little blonde wraps her arms around Regina’s waist, promising her she will. “Go visit Daddy’s grave today,” she tells her, her blue eyes locking onto Regina’s browns.

Looking down inquisitively at her niece, she asks her why. The girl simply shrugs, smiling up at her aunt as she explains that seeing her Daddy always makes Regina feel better when she’s sad about him being gone. She’s always been so intuitive, her little Birdie, always knowing that talk of Robin makes her sad, but also happy at the same time. It’s nice to share fond memories of him with someone else. Regina fully believes that part of Robin lives on in his daughter - she always knows exactly what to say to comfort Regina, just like her father had when he was alive.

Hugging Birdie once more, she ushers her into the school building with one last kiss to the cheek. Halloween is next week, so before going to her office for the day, Regina makes a pit stop at the store, picking out a few white dresses for her niece to choose from tonight before making her way to the cemetery to visit her love.

A few days later, once the entire costume has been concocted and put together (Zelena having to give in and use her magic, of course, to make the wings perfectly outlined in gold glitter like her daughter wanted), Regina stands back, watching an angel Birdie twirl around her bedroom, preparing to go trick-or-treating.

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she bites her lip and tells herself not to cry looking at the full costume. Before the emotions can overwhelm her even more than they have since that day at the school, Regina walks into Birdie’s bedroom, taking her hands and twirling around to the soft music that plays.

They laugh and play for a few moments before Regina grabs the white pillow case off the little girl’s bed. Holding it out to her, she inquires, “You ready?”

“Yep!” Birdie exclaims, taking the pillow case from her aunt’s hand and rushing down the stairs.

As they walk around the neighborhood with Zelena, admiring all the costumes and collecting more candy than they’ll ever be able to eat, Regina can’t help but once again be reminded of how thankful she is that even though her Robin can’t be here, she still gets this one to bring her a sense of joy in this life.

Chapter Text

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.