“I’m too pregnant for this,” Mary Margaret gripes as she walks into the diner.
“For what?” David laughs as he grabs a seat across from Robin and shares with him a private roll of his eyes.
The man loves his wife more than Robin could ever put into words, and frankly, Robin has never seen a pair better matched. The playful teasing of one another is even endearing.
“For this weather, for winter. I’m too pregnant for puffy coats and chunky sweaters layered on top of my baby bump. It better get warm fast or I’m going to start toppling over,” she grunts, sitting next to her husband at their usual spot by the window.
“Three more months to go,” Robin reminds with a smile.
“No, it is ten and a half more weeks to go, thank you very much. Or technically ten weeks and four days,” Mary Margaret retorts.
Robin laughs. Sometimes she is so much like the child he remembers. The little girl who would stick her tongue out at him as he rode his bike by her house, the child who liked finger painting and making birdhouses, frilly dresses and Victorian themed tea parties.
Their age difference is only five years, and it really isn’t anything these days. But those childhood memories cling to him, and something about her seems forever young and innocent.
David, of course, had none of those memories. So when Robin has invited him to his family home to Thanksgiving one year, David saw only a beautiful twenty-one-year-old woman, not the young girl she once was.
They fell in love right away. Robin has never witnessed anything like it. It was as close to love at first sight as could possibly exist. David proposed six months later, and they married a year after that.
And now they are having a child.
He watches as David wraps his arms around her and presses a kiss to her forehead. Their love runs so deep.
Robin feels that uncomfortable wave of jealousy rising up in him, that voice that screams it is unfair he doesn’t have what they did.
It’s not that he misses Marian and wishes he was still with her. He loved — loves — Marian so deeply, and when she became pregnant he really thought it was a sign that they were destined to be together.
They did everything right. Said their vows, promised to love one another forever. But in the end, something was missing.
She was the one to say it, he the one to agree.
She found someone who made her complete. And it hurt Robin, deeply, seeing her so happy with someone else. But he has to admit she is happy with Mulan in a way she never was with him. So no, he isn’t upset because he wants Marian back.
It is just that it is hard, being single and surrounded by couples in love.
So sometimes when he sees his best friends so happy, or when he sees the way David looks at Mary Margaret, he can’t help but feel a bit bitter.
He takes a moment, as he sometimes does in these situations, and looks out the window just to gather his emotions, just so they don’t see the flicker of sadness and worry about him feeling like a third wheel.
That’s when he sees her.
It’s been over thirteen years yet he’s never forgotten her face, the way she holds herself as she walks, still so prim and proper.
He holds his breath, still not entirely convinced it’s her until she pulls her hair out of her face, and then he’s certain. It’s those elegant fingers that spiral so perfectly around a lock, tucking it behind her ear and smoothing it in almost a nervous motion. So reminiscent of her seventeen-year-old self, the girl he was mesmerized by.
“Robin? Did you hear me?” Mary Margaret asks.
Robin cringes, his throat dry, unable to speak. Mary Margaret wouldn’t want to see her, they don’t speak about her, it’s this silent agreement between them. He struggles to speak, and then she looks towards the window, and he shakes his head furiously but can’t get a word out.
“What are you looking at? Is that… oh my god!”
“It just looks like her,” Robin says quickly. “Just leave it, it’s not who you think.”
“No, that’s her all right! That is Dr. Whale with his receptionist. Again. Honestly, that man’s poor wife.”
Robin glances out the window and exhales in relief. Regina is nowhere to be seen.
“None of our business,” David reminds. But Mary Margaret only rolls her eyes.
“I was never good at staying out of other people’s business, David.”
“I’m aware,” he laughs.
“If I hadn’t been so nosy I never would have met you,” she chirps, and David can only laugh.
Robin watches the woman as he is certain is Regina comes back into sight only for a moment, before she walks past his line of sight, disappearing from his view like a ghost.
Robin is almost convinced he imagined her for a bit. It wouldn’t be far outside the realm of possibility. Over the years, Robin has thought of Regina more than he should have. They were only good friends — best friends, really, as children and into puberty.
As a child, Regina Mills was a force to be reckoned with. She was the first to ride her bike up and down the pile of gravel in that abandoned old lot by Robin’s house. She tried to rollerblade on the train tracks — something that never truly worked and she had the broken arm to prove it. She built forts in the snow or in the leaves better than any of them and created the most inventive games with incredibly elaborate rules that Robin could not begin to understand, all which inevitably ended at him having to bow before her and tell her she was the victor and he the loser.
Robin asked her to marry him once when they were eight.
Regina turned him down and pushed him into the mud. But then she helped him up and kissed his cheek, so he wouldn’t call it a complete failure of a proposal. Plus she wore that little plastic ring he bought her from a vending machine for the rest of the week, so did she really turn him down?
He’s unable to think of any part of his childhood without thinking of her. His youthful self had accepted Regina as a constant in his life, like his father, mother, and grandparents. The thought of her ever not being in his life to boss him around was simply unfathomable.
But as they grew from children into teenagers, the bold, audacious girl he knew became withdrawn and shy. They still talked, they still saw one another every day. But she was no longer playing games in the streets or concocting plans of revenge in the ever going prank wars in the neighborhood.
Sleepovers were no longer allowed, in fact, she didn’t want him in her room at all.
She started seeing him less. He always had to make the effort.
He didn’t know what happened. His mother had told him that it’s hard to be friends with the opposite gender once they go through puberty, but Robin had never believed that was fully it.
He knew that puberty had changed his feelings about Regina. She grew so beautiful, developed these amazing curves he found himself staring at. He had feelings and desires that brought him both shame and excitement.
He knew she didn’t feel the same way back then. He didn’t even have to ask, it was written all over her face when she looked at him. He kept hoping she would change her mind, that one day she’d look at him as a man, not her childhood friend. Instead, she only withdrew from him more.
Really, she withdrew from everyone.
She was different, guarded, easily scared, and angry, so angry.
And then one day, at the age of seventeen, Regina Mills murdered her own stepfather with a butcher’s knife.
Teenaged Robin had been devastated and refused to believe the news that it was his Regina committing murder, even when the evidence seemed overwhelming. He refused to eat, could not sleep, just wrote Regina letter after letter as the state decided whether to try her as an adult. His parents took him to a psychiatrist, worried sick that his friend’s crime would be Robin’s downfall.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing is Robin never heard her story or her side of things. All records were sealed. He heard a plea deal was reached was endorsed by the victim’s family to the extent that everything was kept confidential.
All he knows is Regina was sent to a mental facility for two years prior to being released.
There were so many questions, of course. Journalists pressed everyone they could, but somehow the story never came out.
Little Mary Margaret Blanchard was understandably devastated when her father died, but even she clammed up about the death. She was only twelve at the time, of course, young, and naive and missed her father so very much. Plenty of people wanted to show their support for her, and their outrage in Regina’s light sentence. But one day, Mary Margaret made an impassioned plea in the middle school lunchroom, begging that no one bring up Regina Mills or her father again, even if they thought they were being supportive, it was too hard for her.
News spread to the high school fast enough, and Robin took her request seriously. Though Mary Margaret sought Robin out more after her father’s death. He’s not sure why, he was always Regina’s friend, not hers. Still, he missed Regina so badly, and loved her so much, her little stepsister was a connection to him that he could not break.
It’s been thirteen years and he doesn’t know why Regina Mills killed Leopold Blanchard, but he thinks of her often, especially in his line of work, where deals with teenagers who have undergone tragedy.
So it makes sense that he just imagined the woman from his past.
At least, it did make sense, until this morning.
The moment he walks into King’s Roast, he spots her, even though she is far ahead of him in line and he can only see the back of her head.
She’s still wearing the same black, fitted coat, her ebony hair sweeping across. Her hair is shorter than it was at seventeen — it once went halfway down her back and now hits along her shoulders — but it’s still the same color, thick and shiny, with these odd pops of red you can see in the sunlight sometimes (now, as sunlight streams through the window of the store, it catches some of that hair in the same way).
She turns toward a display of coffee mugs long enough for him to catch her profile. She is so beautiful from this angle (every angle), her hair still frames her face in the same way, that olive skin bright and glowing.
She never looks back the entire time they are in line, never catches him staring at her shamelessly (thank god for that). It’s not until she picks up her coffee and starts to walk away that he finds his courage to speak with her, giving up his place in line to call out.
“Regina!” he says, and she turns instantly, her face full of fear before she even spots him. But she sees him, her eyes going wide and scared.
“Robin? I… why are you here?”
“I live here,” he responds, walking over to her, close to her, so he doesn’t need to shout. He should not be smiling, but god it's been over thirteen years, and he doesn’t care who she murdered. He missed her so badly. “I… I tried so many times to contact you, you know? And then you just disappeared.”
“I… didn’t want to speak to anyone back then. I’m sorry, you live here? In the middle of nowhere Oregon?”
“It’s a lovely town,” Robin says, “I’ve lived here for years. What brings you here?”
“Dr. Montgomery!” a voice calls. He sees Sadie Brown walking toward them. “I’m so glad you decided to try this place out. I swear it will beat that charred crap any day.” Sadie assesses the situation, looking at Robin, then Regina, and smiles a bit too widely. “Oh my gosh, so you’ve met Robin? I could sell people on Misthaven after one meeting with him. He’s a gem.” Neither of them responds right away. They just trade looks, Regina's of fear, Robin's more of curiosity.
Robin just doesn’t understand. She’s a doctor? And a Montgomery?
“Oh, Sadie, you’re absolutely exaggerating, but thank you,” Robin manages to speak after the silence grows too awkward.
“No, he’s the best in DHS, seriously the only social worker you want to deal with.”
Regina's mouth drops at the mention of DHS. She must be surprised in his career path.
“Thanks, that’s um, quite a big endorsement, Robin.”
“It’s well earned,” Sadie insists. She then checks her watch and groans. “I better get going, I have to manage the walk-ins today. Goodbye, Dr. M,” she waves and bounces off just as joyfully as she stepped into the conversation.
“I have to go, too,” Regina mutters.
Regina starts to walk away and then Robin can’t help it, he calls out to her. “Regina, please, it’s been years, and I don’t understand—“
“Mom?” He hears the broken, pubescent voice behind him and though he hears Regina’s muffled no, Henry! And before he turns around he knows.
The boy, Henry it seems, is standing there, confused.
“Why did he call you Regina?” He asks.
“I, Henry, he’s, um—”
“I’m an old friend of your mother's,” Robin says over her stuttering. “It's a name I used to call her. My name is Robin.”
Henry smiles and shakes his hand. “Mom, this is Robin? The guy who taught you the bow and arrow? And the one who covered your mom’s car in post-its?”
It seems his reputation has preceded him. He notices a shift in Regina’s posture, something slight that makes him think this little piece of information was not supposed to come out. He smiles in her direction, and she smiles back, cheeks tinged with red.
Robin looks back at Henry and nods. “That was me, yes.”
“That’s awesome!” Henry says with a smile. “But mom, Mr. Cranston is so strict about being on time, we can’t be late.”
Albert Cranston teaches eighth grade. Which would make Henry… about thirteen. Or maybe twelve turning thirteen... oh god.
Robin tries to keep his features from showing the surprise, but Regina spots it on him. And she looks terrified.
“Henry, I’m so sorry but Robin and I have something to discuss. Can you go back to the car? We have thirty-five minutes to get you to homeroom, and I’ll be right there. I promise I won’t make you late for school. I never have, have I?”
Henry groans and tells her he will be waiting in the car and will be back after “three songs”.
The second he’s out of the coffee shop Regina grabs Robin by the arm and drags him to an isolated corner table. She sits down warning him, “I only have a minute.”
“Okay,” Robin says sitting down.
“I just moved here. But I’ll find a new place to work, just— until then, I’m begging you to stay silent and not tell people about my past. My son doesn’t know, and I never want him to know.”
“Regina,” he's so confused, what does she think of him?
“It’s Veronica, now,” Regina corrects. “Roni for short. Though, frankly, Dr. Roni Montgomery sounds absurd. But I… I found I wanted the same initials. I just wanted to change my name enough so people wouldn’t associate me with… you know. So I’ll leave, I’ll get out of town, just please, I’ll do anything if you keep this from my son.”
“Regina— err, Roni— I’m not going to hurt you or torture you with your past.”
“I know what everyone thinks of me from Storybrooke,” she says simply. “I saw the headlines, the interviews. Leo was beloved.”
“You have a thirteen-year-old son,” Robin breathes, still very much stunned.
Regina cringes. "Twelve, actually. He's a very bright boy."
“I don’t want to tell you what I’m thinking,” Robin whispers back. She understands it for the question it is.
“You should know that I tell Henry his father was Daniel Colter,” she says softly. “I want him to think of his father as a good man.”
“Daniel Colter?” Robin asks, bewildered. “You two never—“
“No,” Regina confirms. And then her face screws up as if she regrets her words. “Could I have convinced you that we did?”
“No,” Robin admits. “I remember everything so clearly, I don’t think I could have believed it, try as I might.”
Daniel was a mutual friend of theirs, but Regina was never particularly close to him. And she was really never the type to take up a boyfriend at all. Or at least Robin told himself that to keep himself from ruining the friendship and asking her out.
Daniel was a nice kid, but what Robin remembers him most for is his death. Daniel, his brother, mother, and father were all killed, struck by a drunk driver while driving home from a family vacation in North Carolina.
It had happened not long after Regina’s arrest.
“He is Leo’s,” Robin says in a choked whisper.
Regina swallows heavily. Her voice is shaky. “No. He is mine. He will never hear any theories about his father being my stepfather, do you hear me?” Her eyes water, “Not that man. He’s my son. He doesn’t belong to anyone else.”
“Okay,” Robin says softly. “Okay, I get it. I wrote you letter after letter, Regina. I never judged you back then. I knew you better than to do that or believe any of the insane theories for why you killed Leo. Did you ever read any of the letters?”
“My attorney advised against it,” she says back as if in a trance. “I was… fragile. There was so much hate mail, and I was pregnant…”
Robin frowns, his heart beating fast and painfully, thinking of a seventeen year old Regina too scared to read his letter for fear of what it contained.
“You thought I’d honestly think less of you? After everything? After a lifetime growing up and sharing everything together?”
Regina shoots him a haunting look that would kill. “I had secrets I never told you.”
“It didn’t matter.”
“I committed a violent murder.”
“Our of necessity it appears. Which is what I always thought.”
She looks at him quizzically. “Really?”
“You don’t need to leave town, Regina. Your secret is safe with me. And I don’t think less of you. I never would.”
Regina swallows heavily and nods slowly.
“Okay then. I should go. Henry is waiting.”
“Can I see you sometime?” Robin asks. He’s already writing his number on a piece of paper for her, because even if she says no, maybe she will change her mind later, “I don’t think I realized how much I missed you until this minute. I can show you some child-friendly activities in town — I have a son of my own, you know.”
That earns him a truly bright genuine smile from Regina that makes his heart knock hard. “You do?” she asks.
“He is only five, but yes, I do.”
“Does that make him too young to go to the play tonight?” Regina asks, a bit nervously, “Because my son is insisting we attend.”
“Ordinarily it would,” Robin smiles at her, trying to tamp down his pride, “but my son is one of two kindergarteners in the play. He is playing the littlest duckling.”
“That’s adorable,” Regina says, “Well, I’ll be there with Henry. And knowing him he will spot you and say hi. I just ask you be discrete and let me fill in the dots. He’s heard about you, but… I changed some things. Only to protect him.”
“That’s fine,” Robin smiles. He thinks he might have to warn her that Henry will be meeting Roland’s moms, too, though from what he knows of Regina, her son won't take issue with that. And Mary Margaret could smooth any issue over—
Shit! Mary Margaret!
How on earth did he forget to mention her?
Regina stands up with her cup of coffee, and, to his surprise, takes his scrap of paper with his number written on it without a word of protest.
“I really have to go. We can speak more at the play if you wish. And I might call you, thanks for the offer.”
“Regina, about that. I have to tell you—“
She gives him this look like she knows where it’s going and rolls her eyes. “I’m sure your wife is lovely. I have to—“
“I’m not married and it’s not that. It’s that—“
He hears the sound of a plastic cup falling to the ground, liquid spilling and splashing everywhere.
He turns to the source of the sound as does everyone, including Regina.
Shit. Mary Margaret really picked the wrong time to treat herself to a decaffeinated latte.
She has maybe been here twice since becoming pregnant. Of all the rotten luck…
“Oh my god,” Regina looks at Robin horrified, angry, he doesn’t know which. “Oh my god, I have to go.”
She rushes out the door, right past a shocked, shaken Mary Margaret who looks like she saw a ghost. Customers are around her, worried about the state of her pregnancy, and that seems like a convenient excuse, no one suspecting her horrified face had been caused by her seeing the pretty newcomer to town.
But Robin wonders how long that will remain a secret.