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Here and Now

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“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.

Regina.

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?”

He nods.

“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…

“Re-Regina?”

“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.

Chapter Text

“Come on,” Robin says, ushering Mary Margaret out of the coffee shop before people ask too many questions. “We have to talk.”

He doesn’t know where the best place to have this conversation, but Granny's diner is down the street. And it is warm and familiar and has plenty of comfort food for an angry pregnant woman, so he decides to go there.

“I can call David,” Robin offers as Mary Margaret sits down, looking as stunned as she did the moment she saw Regina.

“No, it’s fine. He’s at work. Don’t — don’t you need to get to work?”

“I can be late,” Robin assures. “No early appointments.”

“It was her.” Mary Margaret is still staring off into the distance, her eyes darting back and forth as if she cannot trust her own vision.

Robin reaches out and grabs her hand to anchor her down to earth. He drops his voice low, something he’s learned during his years as a social worker is soothing, comforting to people.

“Yes, it was her.”

“How long have you been spending time with her?”

Mary Margaret’s question is more curious than accusatory. And scared, he can see it in the hitched, shallow breaths she’s taking, the nervous way she wiggles her hands and fingers.

“This was the first time I saw her,” Robin confirms. “She just moved into town a few weeks ago. She’s a doctor, works with Sadie Adams, so I would suspect she’s a pediatrician.”

“How is that possible?” Mary Margaret asks.

“There’s more,” Robin says. Mary Margaret shakes her head.

“She has a baby?”

“Not exactly. He is in the eighth grade, now.”

Tears start falling down Mary Margaret’s face, silent sobs wracking her body.

“You knew,” Robin says softly.

Mary Margaret nods slowly.

“I didn’t know what was happening back then,” she says defensively, then sighs and buries her head in her hands. “But maybe that is because I didn’t want to know. He was… I don’t know, he was such a good father to me, Robin, and he seemed like a good father to her.” She smiles sadly. “Remember him? Remember how he seemed?”

“Yes,” Robin admits. He’s uncomfortable with the memories now, but he still has them. “Cora was harsh. And so strict. When Regina’s dad died and it was just Cora, it was difficult to be in that house. We were younger we were always thrilled when she was off somewhere and Bettina was babysitting. But then when she married Leo, things changed. He was always telling her to lighten up. He made things fun around the house. On the surface, he seemed like a decent father.”

Mary Margaret nods solemnly. “He was a good father to me. But Regina… she was always afraid to be alone with him, and I didn’t understand it. She would beg me to spend the night in her room when she got older, and whenever I’d ask why she’d say I would keep the bad dreams away.” Mary Margaret frowns, tears leaking from her eyes. “I kept him away, not the bad dreams. Dad put a stop to it, said there would be no more sleepovers, that we needed our independence and our own space to get a night of proper sleep.” She shivers, Robin doing the same. The lengths he was willing to go to! “I didn’t know, I should have known. But I didn’t want to know.”

“When did you find out?” Robin asks.

“Regina's attorney told the state’s attorney. He told my father’s brother and his parents. And… um, Cora of course. My uncle and aunt told me when they thought they had to. Because everyone was demanding justice. And I… I was angry at her, at first. They knew I’d never remain silent if I found out she got such a light sentence or no sentence at all. My family didn’t want my father’s name, our name, to get tied up in this forever. My family, they wanted people to remember him as a good man.”

“He raped your step-sister,” Robin scowls. Because someone has to say the words, god damn it. Until she confirmed it, he wasn’t entirely sure. And now there’s unchecked rage bubbling to surface. A good man? He was a monster, and they’ve let Regina wear that title for years. Unjustly so.

“I know,” Mary Margaret says, tears falling again. “I hate him for that. He was also my father. I was twelve, Robin. I couldn’t deal with everything that had happened, with knowing my father was doing that. And my family had some, um, toxic thoughts on it.”

“You mean they blamed the seventeen-year-old over the sixty-year-old rapist,” Robin guesses, utterly disgusted. But it’s not as if he hasn’t seen this behavior before in his line of work. It never ceases to upset him, girl after girl blamed and shamed for being abused.

Mary Margaret grits her teeth and her eyes cast downward, and she’s terribly ashamed of this, but she nods.

“They thought, um, she enticed him. They thought she knew that she wasn’t set to inherit anything, only his children were. But if she had a child of his…” Mary Margaret can’t finish her thought, trading words for rubbing her eyes, and Robin is biting his tongue hard to keep from lashing out at the harmful theories of her relatives. But Mary Margaret saves herself, rushing to explain, “I know they were full of it now, but it was an easy bullshit lie to believe when you are so desperate to believe he is a good man. I could never fully believe it because I loved her, and it wasn’t like my sister to do something like that. I know why they believed it. It is so much easier to believe something like that when it’s someone you love dearly. “

“Did Regina kill him in self-defense?” Robin asks, seething anger still radiating through him.

Mary Margaret shrugs. “That was a contested point. The state said maybe she manufactured the confrontation, knew he would get violent when she confirmed she was pregnant and had the knife there to make it look like self-defense… I don’t know. I don’t know, Robin. I’ve never wanted to know. The defense said she had the knife for protection, and only used it because she had to. Our attorney said it was very likely the jury would believe a scared, pregnant, seventeen-year-old girl. I suppose the state’s attorney agreed, I never heard.”

“Everyone back in our town thought she was crazy, or greedy and after his inheritance,” Robin notes cooly. Years of talk about this girl and people had no idea.

Mary Margaret cringes. “As I said at first I was so mad at her, even knowing... I didn’t want to believe my father did this to her, and I wanted to think it was her fault. Then, after hearing the way everyone talked about her, not knowing the full story? Even as a twelve-year-old, it weighed on me. I wanted to tell people it was more complicated, that Regina wasn’t like that. But I couldn’t share anything. My family made her a generous settlement so Regina would not mention the abuse, and it was Regina’s request in the settlement that no one speak a word about her pregnancy. It had to be a secret.”

“A settlement?”

“She should be a wealthy woman. She wouldn’t need to work,” Mary Margaret whispers back to him.

“Well, I’m glad about the settlement but it appears she is working,” Robin says, trying to hide his anger. Mary Margaret knew all of this. All of it! And what’s worse she knew how desperate Robin was to contact her and how much he worried for her, and she never said a thing to him. For years! “I never asked about her, Mary Margaret. I never asked because you begged us not to. I thought it was because you were angry at her or hurt by her, but all this time—“

“Robin. Confidential settlement. I was threatened if I ever revealed what happened I would bury my family and cost Regina every penny she received in that settlement. I wanted to tell you. I couldn’t.”

“You wanted to tell me?” he asks. “Truly?”

“Why do you think I followed you like a puppy dog after all this happened? I was mad at her, and at times I convinced myself it wasn’t true, that she was lying about my father doing that to her. But even through all that I still loved her so much. I barely remember my life without her as my sister. I know she was older, for her it’s different and she probably thinks of me as this byproduct of my father. But she wasn’t just a daughter of Cora to me. She was my sister, Robin. I loved her, I loved her as much as my own damn father. And I missed her, I worried about her. I knew you felt the same. Just being around you and knowing you understood me in this unspoken way… it made me feel better. I thought I’d tell you one day after the baby was born and Regina had disappeared. But then you went away to college, and you visited less, and it just seemed like an old memory we didn’t need to rehash.”

“It wasn’t like that. I don’t think there’s been an entire week in my life where I haven’t thought of her,” Robin mutters. His anger at Mary Margaret dissipates. She wasn’t the one he was ever really angry at anyway. She was a young victim in all of this too. After all, she was just a child. The important thing is she doesn’t blame Regina, doesn’t hate her.

Robin finishes his thoughts with a little bitter laugh. “I am a social worker because of her. Because I worried something like this might have happened to her.”

“I’m sorry,” Mary Margaret croaks back. “I never knew that.”

“I know. I didn’t want to bring her up and hurt you. But she made a huge imprint in my life. How could she not? We were friends. Best friends. You don’t just get over your best friend committing murder and leaving your life forever.”

Mary Margaret sighs and nods. “You’re not the only one. I think about her every day. I have a lot of guilt over the whole thing. I’ve gone years wondering what I’d say if I ever saw her again, how I’d apologize for things I said in anger, tell her I loved her, that I don’t blame her. All I did was spill a huge cup of coffee and make a mess.”

The tears come again, this time Mary Margaret rushes to hide them as she hangs her head in shame.

Robin squeezes her hand. “Hey,” Robin says, trying to urge her to look up. “Hey,” he says again, gently tilting her chin up. “You were in an impossible situation, okay? And her showing up here is quite unexpected.”

“I want to talk to her,” Mary Margaret says, her voice reedy and choked. “I have to apologize. We should never have made the terms of that settlement that way. She should have never been robbed of a chance to tell her story. I was so young, I didn’t think of it, Robin can I please—“

“I don’t have her number,” Robin sighs. “I gave her mine but something tells me she won’t be calling.”

Mary Margaret sniffles. “This has weighed on me for years. I tried to ignore it, but I don’t think I can anymore.”

“She told me she was going to leave town,” Robin murmurs. “Or she offered to before when she saw me. I figure after seeing you she might very well do that.”

“I would not blame her. But I hope she stays,” Mary Margaret sighs.

Mary Margaret orders tea and yogurt, Robin another strong cup of coffee and a bagel with cream cheese.

Robin only leaves her when he is sure she looks okay. When the tears and redness from her eyes are gone and her voice sounds calm.

Mary Margaret will be okay.

He’s not sure he will, though.

.::.

Robin works through his lunch break and yet still feels utterly useless. He’s not been able to stop thinking about Regina all day.

In a way, he had always known she had gone through something awful. Perhaps deep down inside he always knew that Leopold Blanchard has done something horrible to her.

Regina was nine when Leopold married her mother. He remembers how angry she was to be in her little junior bridesmaid dress (frilly and shimmery, Cora had decked her bridesmaids in silver and gold).

Robin had meant what he said to Mary Margaret — Leo was a favorite in the neighborhood. He was the happy-go-lucky father everyone loved. He gave out the best sweets at Halloween. He always let sleepover guests stay up a little later. When it was ungodly hot out, he offered his pool to practically every child in the neighborhood. More than that, he spoke to kids as if their opinions mattered. As if he cared.

Everyone liked him.

In fact, most hated Cora Mills, the strict, angry disciplinarian who seemed far more likely to be the abusive parent.

At first, Regina loved him, too. She raved about him. He paid for her horseback lessons, he gave her toys and books her mother found frivolous.

But she became uncomfortable around her stepfather years later, rolling her eyes when he came out to play with the kids, squirming away when he came over to hug her or ruffle her hair. It wasn’t always like that. They were, at one point, close. He had assumed it was part of her new, teenage personality (many kids get like that around parents), but that wasn’t it, was it?

Damn it.

As a child, it was easy for Robin to miss all the clues, each hint that Mr. Blanchard wasn’t who he pretended to be. But years of social work later, it’s overwhelmingly clear that the man fit a textbook profile of an abuser.

And Regina, the sudden change in her, the fear, the anger all around those preteen years... it all makes sense.

It’s hard to remind himself that he couldn’t do anything. He was powerless. A powerless, stupid kid.

His cell phone rings around two PM. He doesn’t recognize the number, and normally would let it go to voicemail, but something tells him maybe, possibly, it’s her.

His intuition is right.

“Robin Locksley,” he answers.

“Hi, Robin,” she answers softly.

“Regina,” he whispers. “Hi.”

“Veronica,” she reminds, and then he hears that classic frustrated groan. “You know what, let’s just call me Regina for now. I can’t talk to you and be someone else.”

“Regina it is,” Robin says, trying not to be flattered at the sentiment. “Listen, I was about to tell you about Mary Margaret when she showed up. I swear.”

“I figured that out,” Regina says shortly. “I wanted to speak to you because my son really wants to go to that play. He has new friends he wants to support. I told him we have to move again and he had a meltdown. He’s only been at the school for a few weeks but he loves it here. More than the other schools.”

“You don’t have to move. I spoke with Mary Margaret. She would never share your secret. Ever.”

“She may try to kill me, though,” Regina chuckles darkly.

“No. No, Regina. She’s really sick over the whole thing. She doesn’t hate you.”

There’s silence on the other end, but Robin lets their pause in conversation grow, waiting for Regina to process.

“How?” Regina finally asks, sounding breathless and awestruck. “I killed her father.”

“Because she knows what he did to you,” Robin answers softly.

“So did lots of people,” Regina answers weakly. “Her uncle, her aunt, her grandparents, my mother,” she counts. “Lots of people knew or should have known. That didn’t mean they forgave me, or… thought of me as less of a monster.”

Fuck.

Rage boils inside him for a decades-old injustice it’s far too late to right.

But he can’t fix that, he doesn’t have a time machine. So he does what he can, says what is true.

“Those people are the monsters, then. Your mother included.”

“I don’t know. I just wanted to see the play with my boy,” Regina whispers. “But I can’t if she will be there. I can’t, I’m too… it’s too hard.”

“Then she won’t be there,” Robin says. “She has no children performing there, it will be easy for her to miss.”

“She was planning on attending, then?”

Right. Better get this out then.

“Only to see my son perform,” Robin explains. “She is close with him.”

“Are you two—-?” Regina starts, and Robin is horrified at the implication.

“God no, she’s like a little sister to me!” Robin responds. “She married my friend, though.”

“How’d that happen?” Regina asks as if genuinely interested.

“Well,” Robin starts. “One Thanksgiving my good friend David had no plans— his mom and dad were going on a cruise, you see. So I brought him home with me for the long weekend. He met Mary Margaret, they fell in love, she moved out here with us. They’ve been good friends to me since then. They uh, helped me through my divorce.”

“Oh,” there’s a slight cough at the other end. “I’m sorry about your divorce.”

“I’m not,” Robin replies confidentially. “It was for the best. The marriage and the divorce. I don’t regret either. But in any case, Mary and David are quite close to my Roland. But not so close that he will be upset that they missed seeing him perform the line “QUACK QUACK” or see his waddle across the stage.”

That earns a bit of a laugh out of her.

“Good, then,” Regina sighs. “Thank you. I’ll be there. I might not want to talk, if, um, we happen to see one another.”

“I understand,” Robin assures. “If you feel up to it, I’d love to see you. But if you don’t, I won’t be put out or approach you. Whatever you want.”

Regina hangs up soon after and he makes the very difficult call to Mary Margaret to tell her she cannot attend the play.

Mary Margaret is upset, very much so. Not just because it means she won’t see Roland, but because she desperately wants to talk to Regina.

“Let’s go slow,” Robin begs. “I don’t think Regina is going to leave in the middle of the night. Like it or not, we are tied to a very difficult time in her life. And we remind her of that. It can’t be easy.”

Chapter Text

There is a large crowd of parents and children watching the play, but even though it's not as if Robin is looking for Regina (that's a lie, a complete lie) but he spots her immediately.

Walking nervously, clinging to her son, they go down the aisle as she searches for a seat, Henry mimicking her action until his eyes settle on Robin’s and he smiles.

Oh god, no.

He doesn’t want to force her into a situation where he has to see her again, but it seems the boy has other plans.

“Mom, it’s Robin!” Henry says, smiling and waving to him.

“Hi, Henry,” Robin smiles. He looks up at Regina to share a mildly concerned look. She just nods, as if to tell him speaking to her son is fine.

“My mom talks about you all the time,” Henry says, sitting down in the aisle seat, just a spot away from Robin. “But I never get to meet any of her old friends.”

“It’s hard when we move away,” Robin manages to say, hopping he doesn’t sound as disoriented as he feels.

Are they going to sit with Robin? Marian and Mulan are backstage helping Roland with his costume, but they will be out soon to sit next to him, and God, he can’t think of anything more awkward than a conversation with his high school crush, the murderer, her secret son, his ex-wife, who has heard too much about Regina, and her loving wife, who has been trying to set Robin up with a nice woman for years now.

“Yeah, you guys are far from home.” Henry nods.

“Mhm, I don’t see too many of my friends from high school, either.”

Except for your mother’s step sister, of course. I see her every day

“Mom, let’s sit here!” Henry motions to the seat between him and Robin.

“Oh, Henry, Robin might be saving those seats for someone,” she waves off.

“I’m not,” he assures, pointing towards the coat he has strewn across two seats on his other side. “I’m saving seats over here. My son’s mother likes to sit a bit closer to the middle.”

“You have a son? Is he in the play?” Henry asks. He looks toward his mother and urges her again. “Mom, come sit!”

Regina shoots Robin a nervous glance. He gets it — this is awkward. But he doesn’t want her to sit away from him, not at all. Marian’s side eyeing will be well-worth it.

“Please do sit,” he asks. “Honestly, seats are filling up fast. These may be one of the few unclaimed seats you have.”

When Regina moves to sit down, Robin watches Henry smile.

“Yes, my son is in the play,” Robin says, answering his question from earlier. “But he’s very young and will only be in the play for a second. That won’t stop us from taking hundreds of photos, and celebrating like he had the lead role, though.”

Henry laughs. “Mom does that all the time. I was in a play when I was in kindergarten. I played a tree. She has one million pictures of it.”

“You were the best tree there ever was,” Regina tells him, her voice solemn and genuine. “I had to capture that performance as best I could.”

Henry looks at Robin and rolls his eyes dramatically. Robin laughs at the child’s playful actions.

But then Robin spots Mulan and Marian across the room and feels his stomach grow tight again.

Mulan is scouring the room looking for him, so he raises his hand and waves, drawing her attention toward him.

Mulan spots Regina next to him and raises her eyebrows - in question, in hope, god knows (she will be disappointed of course, this isn’t a new girlfriend).

“Who are they?” Henry asks, again leaning over his mother to ask another question.

“That is actually my son Roland’s mother right over there,” he points, drawing Regina’s eyes toward the couple.

“Which one is his mom?” Henry asks.

“Well, both, in a way,” Robin says hesitantly. She just smiles back. “The one in the red is Roland’s mom, and the one in the grey is her wife and Roland’s step-mom. But he calls them both mom.”

He trades a nervous glance with Regina, it’s still confusing for some kids, afterall. But Regina doesn’t seem concerned in the slightest.

Henry doesn’t either, he just nods and says oh! and waves back as they approach.

It occurs to Robin that Marian knows a whole lot about Regina, and he hasn’t prepared her for the fact she’s suddenly surfaced.

That was stupid. But he never expected she would sit with him. He was hoping they might get to exchange a word but that’s really it.

Before Robin can figure out how to warn Regina about Marian’s knowledge, Mulan and Marian are there. Marian has that little suggestive smile she sometimes wears when she thinks Robin might be flirting or interested in someone.

She wants him happy, desperately.

“Hi, I’m Marian,” his ex-wife introduces herself to Regina, “This my wife, Mulan. I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you.”

“Veronica Montgomery,” Regina responds, and Robin breathes a sigh of relief. Had she introduced herself as Regina, Marian would have known instantly, and then Roland’s first performance would be eclipsed by the chilling knowledge that she was sitting next to The Regina.

“It’s nice to meet you both. My son Henry and I just moved here a few weeks ago.”

“Hi!” Henry interjects.

“Well it's a great town, you’ll love it,” Mulan declares, stepping around Henry, Regina and Robin to sit on the other side of him.

“I already do love it,” Henry declares. “This is my favorite school I’ve ever been to.”

Regina swoops in to explain. “Between med school and my residency, I’m afraid he’s moved around a bit.”

“Oh, you’re a doctor?” Marian asks.

Regina nods. “A pediatrician.”

“I would ask if that’s how you met Robin but I can’t remember Roland needing any medical treatment lately.”

“They know each other from high school,” Henry declares. “Isn’t that weird? They both went to school all the way on the opposite coast and now they are both here!”

“That is a strange coincidence,” Marian says, staring at Regina with curiosity. Her tone changes as she moves her eyes back to Henry. “But what fun!”

Robin isn’t so sure it’s fun, and he’s not sure Marian buys it either. She is inspecting Regina as if trying to place her face.

Robin had pictures of Regina, of course, from childhood into those teenage years, and Marian had seen those. She might remember what Regina looked like.

She hasn’t changed too terribly much from seventeen, after all.

 

But he really doesn’t want to get into how the love of his young life and violent offender is back, not right now.

“So, do you like plays?” Marian asks Henry.

He nods vigorously. “I like to act and write.”

“He’s very good at both,” Regina adds, running her hands through his hair. “He came to school too late to audition for this one. But he will be in the next, I’m sure.”

“Did you tell them about Roland?” Marian asks, prodding him gently.

He’s been unable to add much, still in a bit of shock, and she’s trying to get him back into it.

“Just a bit. He’s going to be a very little duckling,” he tells Henry, who chuckles.

“We just came from helping him back there. He is very excited and looks adorable in his costume,” Mulan gushes.

The lights dim and the conversation stops, though, he catches Marian’s eye as she gives him a little smirk. And Robin feels ever the more confused and uncomfortable.

Thank god for an hour of silence.

.::.

The last few hours have been part dream, part nightmare.

And it still doesn’t feel real.

Robin is sitting next to her. He knows what she is, what she went through (some of it, she guesses) and he doesn’t seem to care. Or rather, he doesn’t, fully.

It’s all too terrifying to examine too deeply. Especially here, wedged between her son and her childhood crush.

It’s not that she doesn’t like Robin, or that he is making her uncomfortable. It’s just that he reminds her of her old life.

Of what she had to do and what she will do.

It makes her feel dirty, even though she knows she isn’t that same person anymore.

But she’s so… broken.

Robin has grown into a handsome man with a family. He fits in. He has normal relationships and friendships. He has a son, a good companionship with his ex and his ex’s wife.

Regina, well… she only has three relationships with others at all. One with a friend, one with her son, and the last with her therapist. She keeps everyone else at a distance. And even those three people don’t know fully know everything (if they did, they would run). She hasn’t even fully opened to her therapist. Her one job as a patient and she can’t do it.

She is a failure.

Robin doesn’t know that. At least if he does, he is acting like it isn’t a problem. He’s treating her so normally. He’s not backing away from her like the crazy person she is.

She doesn’t know how to process this kindness. It’s what Dr. Hopper had always told her was a possibility— that people who knew her past might not judge her for it— yet it seems she never believed it.

Maybe Robin thinks she is magically cured and carries none of that darkness anymore. She is a doctor, perhaps he thought she had to heal to go through medical school. Of course the truth is all that learning was a convenient distraction keeping her from fixating on the pain that gnaws at her when she has the time for her mind to wander.

“There he is,” Robin whispers to both Regina and her son (Henry already likes him, she can tell, because he treats her son the way adults should), pointing to a beautiful boy with a messy mop top of hair beneath a duck bill hat. “That’s my boy.”

Robin’s son is dressed in feathers, waddling and laughing as he pronounces, loud and animated, “That egg was scrambling my brain!”

She laughs as hard as Robin and Roland’s mothers, covering a snort with her hand.

Oh, if only there were only happy moments like this.

“He’s adorable,” Regina whispers back, “Really, a gorgeous boy.”

“Yeah, he got lucky and takes after his mom,” Robin answers.

Regina can only raise her eyebrow.

Marian is gorgeous, that is undeniable. And yes, the boy looks like her.

But Robin can’t be unaware of his own good looks. It’s impossible for someone to look that good and not know it.

In high school he had been cute, with big blue eyes, a sharp jawline that made him look older than his teenage years, and these red lips that were always up turned into a smile.

Now he has a scruff of hair around his jaw, his still eyes that deep, piercing shade of blue. But they are older now, wiser, more alluring, somehow.

He’s objectively a very good looking man. And someone so attractive cannot pull off a self-depreciative joke. He smiles sheepishly back at her, and she can’t help but roll her eyes, despite the fact her heart is racing.

How is it she gets to spend time with him after all these years? How is it that he is being so kind to her, treating her as a normal person and not the dangerous woman she is?

She doesn’t understand.

It’s making her emotional in ways she can’t process. She tries to focus on the play, but when a snide duck says, “Some eggs should never have hatched,” she thinks of Henry and her eyes water.

It’s embarrassing even without anyone noticing, but Robin, in fact, is aware of the tears. Aware enough to grab down and reach for her hand and give it a good squeeze.

She lets out this breath that is a bit too wet to be a laugh.

“Don’t be embarrassed. I cry at these things all the time,” he tells her, and Regina believes it. He looks halfway to tears whenever Roland is on stage, even though he’s only said one line and a few quacks here and there.

Robin probably knows her tears stem from something deeper, but he is playing it off as totally normal, and that is what she likes about him.

It’s reminiscent of the boy she knew, a more mature, more confident version.

In the darkness, with the play distracting them, she lets herself pretend she’s just a woman watching a children’s play with her good friend.

There weren’t confusing years, a change in identity and a homicide dividing them. She is just Regina Mills, single mother, doctor, and ungodly sap. And he is just her Robin, her best friend who knows her inside and out.

It feels good to be like this. Maybe she can stay here. She can keep Henry at school here, and Mal is so close by, it’s perfect, really. She just… will find out all the places Mary Margaret likes to go and won’t attend any of them. It can’t be that hard, right? To avoid one person in town?

She thinks of Mary Margaret not as an adult, but as the sister she once knew, tears streaming down her face as she asked, “How could you?”

It still hurts the same, all these years later.

Fuck, of all the rotten luck. This is so hard.

“That’s my friend,” Henry says pointing to a young kid dressed as a bullfrog. “Benjamin.”

Benjamin starts to sing, and Regina forces herself to pay attention to the play and just smile through the rest, laughing with Henry at the funny parts, trying not to cry when the ducklings grow and say goodbye to their mother.

When the play is over, Henry drags her back stage to say hello to his friends, Robin following them with Marian and Mulan, also excited to see their son.

Regina waits on the sidelines while Henry runs to talk to his friends.

She can’t help but let her eyes wander to Roland, watching as that his hair flops and bounces as he rushes toward his father and cries out, “Daddy did you see me?”

Robin lifts him in his arms and smiles big enough to let those dimples shine.

He looks so happy, so proud.

She’s happy for him, really she is.

“Mom, can we go with Ben for ice cream?” Henry asks, drawing her eyes away from the perfect family. Regina nods, knowing that finding friends midway through the school year is difficult, and not willing to deny him every opportunity to make friends quickly.

“Sure,” she smiles at her son and walks towards Ben and his family. “Where exactly are we headed?” She introduces herself to the parents and has polite, vacuous conversation.

Empty. Courteous. No connection.

Like everyone else she meets in her life.

She excuses herself to grab her coat, but the second she turns around, she’s greeted by Robin, his happy, bouncy son in his arms.

“You off, then?” he asks, still looking like he won a million dollars tonight, god, the pride just radiating off of him for the little man in his arms.

“I am,” she can’t help but smile back. “Hello Roland, I’m a friend of your dad’s. You were very good in your play.”

“Thank you!” Roland chirps. “I practiced a lot.”

“Yes, he’s waddled across the living room and kitchen nearly every morning for a month,” Robin confirms.

Regina can only laugh.

“I have to go before Henry kills me. But it was good seeing you.” And when the words are out, Regina realizes she means them.

“I hope to see a lot more of you around town,” Robin says, not so subtly.

She is going to try to stay. For Henry, who finally feels like he fits in.

For herself, even. She didn’t realize how lonely it is pretending to be someone else. How odd it is to go through life meeting acquaintance after acquaintance but never any new friends.

Seeing Robin is disarming, it may trigger some terrible thoughts from her past, but he also makes her feel comfortable in a way she didn’t expect.

“I have a feeling you may see more of me,” she tells him, grabbing his hand and squeezing it before she leaves.

.::.

Robin waits for it.

He knows it is coming — the conversation where they ask about Regina, as soon as Marian and Mulan have him alone.

But right now, there’s a little jumping bean in his arms, excited and up past his bedtime.

“Can we go out for ice cream?” Roland asks.

“Sorry, kiddo, we’re gonna have to take a rain check,” Mulan says ruffling his hair. “Tomorrow we will get pizza and ice cream, but tonight we are going to bed.”

“Can Daddy tuck me in too?”

Robin had expected this request — it happens often when they are all out together. Roland knows it his moms’ day, of course. But they’ve never truly observed the custody agreement as a firm rule

“That’s a question for your daddy,” Marian smiles.

And of course, Robin cannot say no.

.::.

Robin knows many people think his relationship with his ex and her wife is odd. Especially considering Mulan and Marian found each other when he was still very much drowning in grief from his failed marriage. Marian became so happy at a time when he was so lost, lonely, and miserable.

But that time has passed. The memories sting but now, in the present, Mulan and Marian’s relationship doesn’t hurt him. Marian has been an amazing mother and partner. She insisted on joint custody, and she bent over backwards to ensure Robin was completely updated on Roland’s activities. She advocated to keep their agreement loose, giving him holidays scheduled to be hers, rearranging days when emergencies happened, and inviting him to dinner most nights. When she and Mulan moved in together she insisted nothing would have to change. Robin thought it would but… they’ve been very good. He likes Mulan quite a bit. Oddly, the two of them have a lot in common, and he’s sought her for advice more than once over the years. The three of them have been fabulous in terms of co-parents. He’s never been denied time with his son. Outside of vacations when they are out of town, Robin can pretty much stop by at any time to say hi to Roland and they won’t bat an eye. Of course, they are also always welcome in his home when Roland is over.

Robin is grateful for it, because now he’s allowed to tell his son how great he was as he takes off his ridiculous costume, to help him wash and change into pajamas, to be there as Roland climbs into bed and picks a book for him to read with his mother. Roland’s eyelashes flutter and close midway through the book, as his breathing becomes slow and steady. Robin sweeps back his curls to press a kiss to his forehead and tiptoes out of the room.

And as soon as they are safely in the kitchen, the conversation starts.

“Veronica seems nice,” Mulan says, leaning over the counter and popping a raspberry into her mouth, smirking at Marian.

Marian narrows her eyebrows in thought. “She looks so familiar but I can’t place the face. Were you two close in high school?”

“They’re close now,” Mulan smirks. “You guys were all cuddling up at the play. And you know I can always tell when he’s attracted to someone.”

“Oh, what a skill,” Marian quips sarcastically as Robin blushes. Marian catches it, and waves her hand as if to explain. “Robin, you’re a subtle man, but you always have a tell when it comes to women you like. You get so… stiff and tense around us.”

“It’s cute,” Mulan assures. “And you always give them that certain smile, the extra big one.”

“She's obviously attractive,” Robin mutters. “I don’t think that’s why I was um, stiff, as you say.”

“It’s probably because he likes her,” Mulan laughs, drawing out the work ‘likes’ as a schoolgirl would. Robin resists the urge to match her childishness and roll his eyes at her.

“Maybe they will get married and then we will have free medical care for Roland,” Mulan notes with a smile.

They think they are being cute and funny, that he’s flushed and embarrassed now because they are planning his wedding for a woman he barely knows.

They don’t understand.

So he is going to tell them.

It’s Regina's secret to tell, he knows that. But Mulan and Marian deserve to know her past if he and possibly Roland get to spend more time with her.

Though clearly Regina is not a threat. She is around other children all the time. But if they find out about her past on their own without Robin saying something first, well, that would hurt them. And change their relationship permanently.

“She goes by Veronica Montgomery now,” Robin starts nervously. “But she’s… um, she was Regina Mills.”

Marian searches her memory for the name, then her jaw drops open.

“Mary Margaret’s sister? The one who—“

“Yes, but if you speak to Mary Margaret it’s more complicated than all that.” He rushes to assure her. And then, “She’s not dangerous.”

Marian furrows her brow. “She’s a pediatrician. She— she has a son, how does she have a son that old? She must have been…”

“Sixteen or seventeen, I don’t know for sure,” Robin shrugs.

Marian looks confused until her jaw drops. “Mary Margaret’s father, he—?”

“Yes,” Robin says softly.

“Can someone fill me in? Because I haven’t followed a damn thing here,” Mulan grouses. “Are you two speaking in code?”

Robin sighs, and recounts the story as he knows it from what Mary Margaret and Regina have told him. He tells her about Henry, about the settlement, the treatment instead of jail time, how she uses her new identity to escape people gawking at her, how she doesn’t want anyone to know. Mulan doesn’t react much, as she does when she’s absorbing information. She listens and nods silently, but asks no questions. Marian jumps in a few times, and Robin answers them for her.

When the story is over, Mulan takes a sip of hot chocolate and simply says, “She wasn’t convicted of shit. There was no plea deal.”

“The details are hazy, but I’m quite sure—“

“No one pleas to two years of psychiatrist treatment for murder. Charges were dropped and that family, they sent that girl away.”

Mulan takes the last sip of her drink and stands, taking her’s and Marian’s empty mugs to the sink.

“What I am saying is that Regina isn't a murderer by any definition of the word. She wasn’t convicted, she didn’t plead guilty to it. And you have good judgment so I’m not going to worry about her cutting you up for dinner anytime soon. Spend all the time you want, she’s welcome around me whenever she wants.”

Marian, as suspected, is more hesitant. “She’s been through so much,” she says, cringing at Robin. “She must have a lot of scars, I can’t imagine a woman like that has much of normalcy.”

Robin feels a flutter of defensiveness creep into his stomach. “What is normal, anyway? Because a lot of people wouldn’t call our arrangement here ‘normal’. And we all have scars. Myself included.”

He doesn’t mean to be so pointed, but he stares a bit too long at Marian as he says it, enough to where she reads his unspoken intention immediately.

“I get it,” she says. “I know, I just want what’s best for you.”

“I think I can decide what that is for myself. But nothing will come out of this. I just want to be a friend to her, and yes, that means I’ll have her around Roland, assuming she lets me get close to her at all. And should her secret ever get out, I need you to know what happened, and I need you to support her. For me.”

Mulan shrugs his request off as if he just asked that she hand him a paper towel. Marian, it seems, has a lot of unspoken words to share, but must think better of it.

“I trust you. You have always had good judgment,” his ex-wife tells him. “I won’t let on that I know anything. I’ll be very welcoming.”

“Have her over for dinner!” Mulan offers.

Marian doesn’t visibly flinch, but he sees a flicker of concern rising off of her.

“I’m not sure she will want to see much of me. But you never know. I’ll keep your invite in mind.”

He says his good nights and goes home, but he does not sleep.

He’s consumed with worry and guilt for his old friend. He doesn’t know if she can ever forgive him for not realizing her pain sooner, but if he’s given a chance, he’s determined to make it up to her.

Chapter Text

“Good for me?” Regina asks, glaring into into the skype window.

“Yes, good for you,” Dr. Hopper reiterates.

“My sister is here. In this town!” she tells him again because clearly he doesn’t understand.

But Dr. Hopper is unphased, nodding his head and staring back at her with those nonjudgmental eyes.

“Yes, Mary Margaret and Robin, both of whom, it seems, only want to reconnect with you.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible,” Regina groans.

“How do you explain Robin’s behavior otherwise? And why would he lie about Mary Margaret’s response? Regina, let’s look at this objectively.”

“Objectively, I’ve spent my life staying as far as I can from the northeast because I want to leave the past in the past. Isn’t that what I am supposed to do? Move on and not dwell on what I can’t change?”

“But you’ve never been over what happened. And you’ve always harbored a deep hate for yourself,” Dr. Hopper reminds. “You have not moved on from the past, you’ve run from it. And it’s affected you. You have survived by pretending to be a different person. But you don’t have to be that any more. Regina Mills is not a monster. She never was. Who better to help you see that than Robin and your sister?”

“I’m not ready for this,” she whispers back. “Henry isn’t ready.”

“Henry doesn’t have to know right now. But you may want to tell him. He’s nearly thirteen, Regina. He’s more than capable of understanding.”

“I don’t want him to think that I… resent him for his father.”

“He has his entire life’s experience knowing you don’t, Regina,” Dr. Hopper reminds. He keeps on using her old name, always using that name. He understood needing a fresh start without being attached to her past when they started this years ago, but he’s advocated for her to make the switch back to her old name for years. And now he is no longer recognizing ‘Veronica’, it seems.

“You really think this is a good idea?” She asks incredulously.

“I think it would do wonders if you stayed. I think the problems you’ve been having deal with unresolved issues with your past, I think not having to hide that part of you from someone would do wonders.”

She thinks of her nightmares, of her panic attacks, of the constant fear of someone discovering her.

Maybe he has a point.

“They were both important to you then. How does it feel to find they don’t see you the way you suspected they would?”

“Surreal,” Regina breathes. “And… unbelievable, almost.”

“Believe it,” Dr Hopper tells her. “You were a young child being horribly abused. You may not see it that way, but the world would if they knew. That settlement did you a terrible disservice, Regina. You never got to see how neutral parties would view your situation. But as I’ve told you before, the whole reason the Blanchard’s wanted to hide this was to protect your step father, not to protect you, as they said.”

“I know,” she whispers, though she’s never quite believed it. She knows that they had their own self interest at heart— that their feigned concern for her was hollow and disingenuous. But she’s always believed hiding was mutually beneficial for both parties.

But now, with the way Robin treats her…

Maybe she has this all wrong.

.::.

Regina called him first, Robin reminds himself. She called first, she sat down next to him, so it’s perfectly normal and acceptable for him to use his caller ID to call her and invite her for a drink.

Why does this feel so creepy?

He keeps hitting her number and thinking better of it.

He hasn’t seen her since the night of the play, she’s not called, and he’s been trying to give her space. It’s not even been a week. He went thirteen years once and he managed just fine after a while.

But he misses her all over again now. Everything is fresh again.

He tries to distract himself from thoughts of Regina. She isn’t his to be concerned over, she can come and go from his world whenever she damn well pleases, and he has no right to be worrying about her or wondering when he will see her next.

His phone rings and interrupts him from chastising himself.

It’s her.

Okay, he can be happy about that.

“Hey,” he answers a bit too cheerfully. “I was just thinking about you.”

“Hey. I was wondering if…” she trails off as if she regrets starting the sentence.

“If what?” Robin asks.

“If you wanted to get coffee, or maybe dinner, or… I don’t know. Something… interactive?”

Robin has to bite back a laugh at how adorable she’s being.

“Henry is thirteen, I suppose he doesn’t need a babysitter, does he? If he does I have some recommendations.”

“He has a sleepover this Saturday,” Regina clears her throat. “With a friend of ours in the area. Usually I come along but I’m still unpacking and decorating so I figured I could use the day. And I’m sure I will want to take a break.”

“I’d love to see you more,” Robin tells her. “I’ll be free all day. Mulan and Marian have Roland, it turns out.”

“Maybe a lunch?” she asks, sounding nervous and tense about something he’s unsure about.

“Sure. Let me pick a place.”

They work out details on where to meet, and Robin feels an oddly placed sense of relief.

.::.

Saturday morning Regina calls again. Robin’s first thought is she is going to cancel, so he answers with trepidation.

“Um, you know when I said I was still unpacking and decorating?”

“I do,” Robin smiles.

“I’m putting together a big bookshelf and I thought it would be easy—“

“Say no more. I’ve just gone out for a run so I need to shower, but I’ll be right over. What’s your address?”

When he gets out of the shower, he finds himself using a bit of cologne.

He tells himself not to think much of it.

.::.

“Hey,” Regina says, opening the door a bit. This isn’t how she wanted to see him. She’s in a pair of leggings and a white tee shirt that she just threw on over a black sports bra. And the way Robin’s eyes are drawn to her chest, yeah, it is a bit see through.

She feels a tinge of misplaced guilt she’s still battling, because she didn’t invite Robin over to ogle or kiss or touch, and she hopes her outfit hasn’t given the wrong impression.

It doesn’t seem to, Robin asks where the shelf is and then laughs when he sees the sheer size of it.

“This isn’t a one-woman job,” he teases her her. “You wouldn’t be able to get this up and anchored alone.”

“Well, I got help in the end, didn’t I?” she asks.

“Mm, you did.”

“Well now that I’ve roped you into free labor for a project considerably bigger than you imagined, can I offer you a beverage to make up for it?”

His face screws up and he checks his phone for a second — checking the time, she thinks.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a beer?” he asks.

She smiles and walks toward the kitchen. “I have a cider, Blue Moon and an interesting IPA I saw at the liquor store.”

“Impressive collection,” Robin notes.

Regina shrugs. “I like a beer now and then but I can never decide what I want,” she explains. “So I get a few six packs and they last me awhile. I guess I’m indecisive.”

“So not much has changed,” he teases. “Remember at the soda fountain? You had to have a sip of each flavor before you picked.”

“I have discerning tastes,” she deadpans as she opens the fridge. “Now which would you like?”

“I’ll take the IPA,” he offers. Regina opens it for him and takes one for herself.

They trade small talk sitting at the breakfast bar. Not much has changed with Robin - with his personality, that is. He is the same charming, funny, thoughtful guy.

Her beer starts to warm before she notices how much time they’ve spent on safe topics - sharing stories of their children and reminiscing about their own childhood.

“Okay,” Robin says, standing up, “I think it’s about time I make myself useful. I’m going to grab a screwdriver. And those directions.”

A few moments pass as he sits on the floor inspecting the “directions” (if they can be called that), and then he huffs, looking up at her thoroughly amused. “Did you find the one furniture place more complicated than Ikea?”

Regina shrugs. “It was the exact size I was looking for for the space, and it said it was solid wood. I didn’t see that assembly was required.”

Robin laughs at her. “Well you’re lucky. I am one of the few people who enjoy putting together furniture. The more complicated the better. It’s like one big puzzle.”

“God, we did love puzzles, didn’t we?” Regina murmurs. “And Tetris, I think of you every time I see that game.”

“Do you?” he asks, his eyes twinkling just a bit. “Well I think of you anytime I see a little girl climbing a tree. Or one of those vending machines with the plastic jewelry in it.”

She ducks her head so he can’t see her blush, but the heat comes.

She remembers that day.

“I probably would have married you if you had gotten the mood ring,” she teases him. Robin huffs out a frustrated breath, mutters a just my luck that has her laughing lightly.

“Probably for the best,” she winks at him and goes serious. “I mean, for Roland’s sake and all.”

“Mm, Henry’s too,” he says almost automatically.

There’s a slight knocking of her heart at that mention, but she knows he doesn’t mean it that way, and it’s almost comforting that he’s willing to interact with her this way. But then Robin realizes what he said, his eyes going wide.

“I’m so sorry,” he says looking absolutely miserable. “I just, it slipped out, I wasn’t— I wasn’t thinking.”

“I’m glad you weren’t thinking,” she says shyly. “I mean, about that. I’m glad it hasn’t been on your mind since you got here. I always feel like… like everyone who would know wouldn’t be able to get past it and it’s all they think every time they see me.”

“No, no,” Robin assures. “To tell you the truth, I see you and, well, first of all, we have a lot of happy memories together. And secondly, there’s a lot to you. That? What happened, I don’t see it when I look at you.”

“What do you see?” Regina asks softly, unable to look at him as she asks, so she busies herself arranging nuts and bolts by size.

He opens his mouth and then closes it fast, his ears turn red and cheeks streak crimson. He clears his throat and answers confidently, “A very intelligent, witty woman and attentive mother.”

“That’s not what you were going to say at first,” she notes.

Those streaks on his cheeks grow brighter and deeper, dimples pop up as he dips his head down.

“I was going to call you beautiful,” he admits, his voice dropped low and breathy. “But I... I didn’t want you to think it’s the thing I see most, above everything else. And I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“Why would being called beautiful make me uncomfortable?” Regina smiles back at him. “It’s a rather nice compliment.”

“It’s not something I have ever shared with you,” Robin reminds. “At least, not since we were what? Eleven?”

She remembers vividly what he’s talking about, the way the sun felt on her hair as he said the words, his hand on her back.

“I got braces and was crying because I thought I looked hideous. You told me I was beautiful.”

“You were,” Robin chuckles. “And are.”

She feels a rising swell in her chest, a rush of affection and surge of adrenaline she can’t quite place. It settles with a heat on her cheeks. She feels young again around him. Lighter, almost.

“I thought you were just trying to make me feel better,” Regina manages to get out in a way that sounds a bit sly and teasing.

“I was,” Robin concedes, “but I was also a little bit in love with you then.”

The words hit her hard in her heart. It’s not as if she didn’t know, she always did. But she could never return those feelings, not when feeling spoiled and rotten.

Regina avoids telling him as such, choosing to tease him instead, saying, “You were always a romantic. Not many eight year olds propose.”

“I was a grab-life-by-the-horns kind of boy,” Robin smirks back. “In any case, it seems no matter my age, I find you very beautiful. Not that I—well, I’m not trying to come on to you.”

“I know,” she says finishing her beer. She walks back to the kitchen to toss it away and comes back to sit next to him, holding a shelf steady as he screws.

“So, you said you had a friend out here who is taking care of Henry?” Robin asks, trying to make an awkward change in conversation, still looking a bit embarrassed from his confession. He needn’t be, it’s flattering, really, has her feeling oddly giddy.

But the mention of Mal brings her down to Earth a bit.

“Yes, she um…” Regina sighs. “Okay, to explain her I am going to have to explain a lot. And I feel like I should get all this out. I mean, you probably have a lot of questions and you deserve answers. If I’m going to stay… which, I really feel I should, for Henry.”

“You don’t have to tell me anything,” he insists, still working on that shelf. “If you don’t want to, it’s certainly not a requirement that I know your story for you to stay.”

“I killed my stepfather,” she reminds him.

“Yeah,” Robin nods. “Years ago. You are now an accomplished pediatrician with a teenaged son who wants to live in a peaceful town. I can speculate — replay the past in my head forever and ever coming up with what happened — but it doesn’t matter. I have no concerns that you are going to go on a killing spree here, so what difference does it make?”

“You accept this so easily,” Regina murmurs.

“I have a story to explain why, but I don’t think you want to hear that yet,” Robin tells her. “Your story make sense to me. It’s easy to accept.”

“I don’t think I want to talk about that right now,” Regina says, clearing her throat.

“Of course!” Robin says, as if he’s worried he will scare her off. “I didn’t mean to pry.”

“I know. It’s just… I do want to talk about Mallory. And about what happened after…” she searches her mind for a polite way of saying it, “all of that.”

“Okay,” Robin accepts. “I’d love to hear about your friend, and any part of your story you’d like to tell me.”

Mal is great,” Regina says quickly. “I was sent for inpatient psychiatric treatment at a facility after you know, it all happened. I was depressed, pregnant, and mad at the world. I was financially stable,” she darts a look at him, but he doesn’t ask. He’s not supposed to know about the settlement, so he doesn’t tell her that he does. “But, money didn’t do much to cure the loneliness.”

“Your mother?” Robin asks. “Was she there for you?”

“No, she never came to see me, she was, um, I think she was mad. And definitely horribly embarrassed. She thought highly of herself, marrying Leo was an accomplishment for her. We were always, you know, well off. My dad had a good amount of money. But Leo? He was American royalty. She was proud to be a Blanchard, that she had charmed a Blanchard. And then all of that happened and it crushed the perfect life she had tried to build.”

“I”m sorry,” Robin says, “I never liked Cora, but I didn’t think she was quite capable of being so cruel.”

“Not cruel, selfish,” Regina sighs slowly. “Her life worked better without me in it so she decided to leave it that way.” Regina frowns and shakes her head. It’s been so long she can’t truly remember the details of her mother’s face. She doesn’t look at pictures of her. She can only think of scowl lines and furrowed brows, a seeping feeling of disappointment tumbling out of stern lips. She shakes the memory away. “So I didn’t have anyone. I had a week of group therapy where I was angry and lashed out at everyone. I made cheeky remarks, sat and did the crossword puzzle instead of listening to everyone. Mallory was in the group, too. She saw that I was smart, so she asked about finishing school.”

“Finishing high school, you mean?” Robin asks, and Regina nods. “In the hospital? You could do that?

Regina smiles at that. Who would know you could do that? No one but Mallory. “Turns out I could apply to finish the semester via homeschool. At first I resisted. My life was over, what did I need with school? I wasn’t even sure if I was keeping Henry then, once he was born I thought I might want to give him up. And just run off.”

“I can imagine most mothers in your position would choose that path,” Robin says softly.

“Regina nods. “And that’s their choice. I was deeply depressed, and Mal just pulled me out of it. She kept it up, kept teasing me, asking me to help her with crossword and sudoku puzzles that I knew for sure she had the answers to. But she knew I liked them. So she kept giving them to me, and I just had to solve them. And while I worked, she kept telling me that it was a shame I wasn’t in school, that I was wasting a good talent. I ignored her until…”

Regina catches her lip in her teeth and looks at Robin. He’s soaking in the story. He’s definitely not surprised or concerned at all, just curious. Nonjudgmental. Okay, then.

“Mallory picked my brain a bit every day, and I found myself telling her the whole story in little pieces. Then one day she just casually said that it’s what he would want, for me to waste my talent, for me to never be able to move on from this moment. She said Leo would love to see me fail, to see me never reach my full potential, as if I couldn’t live without him.”

“Jesus,” Robin grimaces. Not exactly the best way to snap someone out of a trauma.

“It was harsh, but it worked, because what she said made me so damn angry I applied for school hours later. It wasn’t very hard to catch up. I had Henry. And he was so perfect, Robin. I thought I wasn’t good enough for him, that I couldn’t do enough, that I was…” She swallows heavily thinking of all the bad thoughts that swim inside her head to this day. “But I knew I was his mother the moment I saw him. He didn’t make me think of bad memories, I could totally separate him from that, I know that sounds odd. I loved him. And I didn’t want Leo’s memory or my mother to separate us with whatever they had convinced me was wrong with me.”

“He is certainly your child. And I say that as someone who frequently sees children who clearly meant for non-biological parents..”

Regina smiles and whispers a “thank you” before returning to her story. “So after Henry was born, Mal wanted me to apply to college, which I thought was ludicrous. What college would accept me? I was a single woman with a baby who had been accused of murder and was in a mental facility. But she helped me with the applications, with the essays… she’s a mother too, I guess in a way she mothered me right from the start,” Regina laughs, half nervous, half embarrassed. “Better than anyone else, and well, the hospital I was staying at was all voluntary treatment once I turned eighteen, so I could have left when I wanted. So I got into a few places. Including Case Western.”

“Very prestigious,” Robin notes.

Regina nods. “Way better than I thought I could get, what with a pregnancy and gap in education but I had good grades, good standardized test scores, and they said I had a good story, you know? I had all this money from Leo, and the best thing was Mallory was working in Cleveland. She recovered from her…” Regina isn’t sure Mal’s substance abuse should be shared, it’s complicated. Not yet, she thinks. “... from her illness, and went back to work a few months before I started school. She helped me find childcare, a good apartment, she… she did everything. Helped me the whole way through, I got all these internships and clinics because of her. She helped me study for the MCATs, helped me with Henry so much. And she got me into University of Michigan for med school. Got me fabulous recommendations and wrote me one herself, even.”

“I think you probably got yourself in,” Robin says, to her. “But it’s amazing what she did. All from a woman you just met?”

“We understand one another,” Regina explains, not wanting to explain the depths of the statement. “I wasn’t too far from her when I went to med school, but then I got my residency in Los Angeles so I was there a bit. Then she found a great job not too far from here. Urged me to apply around this area, and I did, and found this job.”

“So, you’re close to family,” Robin surmises.

Regina smiles. “Yes. Um, Cora promised she’d reconnect once the dust settled… but I guess that has not happened yet. It doesn’t matter anyway because when I needed her most, she abandoned me. I wouldn’t want her in my life anymore. Mal is my family now.”

“I’m very glad you met her.” Robin smiles.

He doesn’t know the extent of that statement, of how true it is, of how much they both had their worlds changed forever by meeting one another. He won’t know, he can’t.

Regina just swallows the emotion down and says, “Me too. But anyway, I tell you this because I want you to know that Henry has moved a lot. From the hospital in Connecticut to Cleveland, to Anne Arbor, to Los Angeles. I promised him we were done moving this time, and that he’d have his aunt and his cousin nearby and he would be here until he graduated.”

“Good. Stay here,” Robin says with a big smile. “No need to move. You are welcome here.”

“I need to talk to Mary Margaret,” Regina admits with a frown. “And I will, as soon as find some courage.”

Robin reaches out for her hand and gives it a squeeze.

“She’s going to surprise you.”

“I’m scared,” Regina admits, and then she rushes to explain, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to— sometimes, my therapist is always telling me to define my feelings it... it helps somehow? I don’t know how. I didn’t mean to say that out loud. I must sound crazy to you.”

“Not at all. You can tell me how you feel,” Robin tells her soothingly. “For what it’s worth, I was terrified, coming here today.”

“Really?” Regina tilts her head in question. She’s desperate for him to share a little something, after she’s shared so much.

“I didn’t want to scare you off,” he laughs. “I have thought about you for years, and just saying that out loud sounds really creepy, doesn’t it?”

It doesn’t. Not to her. Not at all. It’s also very relatable.

So she gives him a coy look and shakes her head.

“Not at all. I thought a lot about you too. As you should know. My son knows your name. And he knows several of your antics,” she reminds, ducking away from his eye sight.

“That did give me an odd sense of pride,” Robin admits. “Okay, I’m going to try to stop looking at you for long enough to finish this bookshelf.”

She laughs. “Stop looking at me?”

“I’m still not quite sure you’re really here. It’s been so long,” he says quickly, not looking up at her, focusing on the bookshelf. “And if I’m being entirely honest…”

“Please,” she asks, urging him on.

She can tell he’s focusing a little too intently on the directions to this blasted bookshelf, and she knows. He’s gone shy on her, he’s about to give another confession.

And she finds herself holding her breath, waiting for him to speak and make her heart skip again.

He runs his fingers through his hair and sighs, and then the words come out, smooth and steady. “As I said before, you’re beautiful, and even if you weren’t my best friend from high school, I’d have trouble taking my eyes off you.”

There’s more confidence in his tone this time, no doubt emboldened by the fact she appreciated the last compliment.

“Are you always such a terrible flirt?” she asks.

Robin shakes his head. “I’m not flirting. I’m stating facts.”

They work in silence for awhile, and she finds she can’t stop grinning as they trade screws and bolts, her cheeks painfully hot, but enjoying trading goofy looks with him just the same, hands touching against one another in ways that clearly aren’t accidental.

This is so ridiculous. This can’t go anywhere. She doesn’t work that way. She doesn’t work at all, really. She can’t do a relationship, she can barely do a friendship.

“Robin,” she finally says, with a deep breath. “I, um, I don’t date.”

Robin laughs as she cringes at the embarrassing bluntness of the statement.

“Me either, quite frankly,” Robin admits. “I’m not very good at it. Kinda retired a year or so ago.”

Regina shares a knowing smile with him.

“I just… it’s nothing personal, nothing against you—“

“I’m not asking you on a date,” he interjects. “I mean, I would want to, you’ve correctly assumed that. But I wouldn’t — I’m not trying to pick you up right now.”

“I know,” Regina says softly. “I just… um, I don’t know how to do it. And I have no desire to learn how to do it anytime soon. Henry is my whole world, for now.”

“I swear I’m not trying to—“

“I know,” she holds up her hand to stop him from explaining further, it will only be more embarrassing and she has to get this out. “I… I want to be friends. If we can. Even though we…” she looks up at him, emphasizing the word we, because he deserves to know he isn’t alone in this “... are attracted to one another. And there are feelings, sure, left over from childhood. But it won’t, well, It won’t lead to anything.”

“Alright,” Robin says as easily as agreeing to another drink.

Too easily.

Oh.

Maybe she misread. He’s not all that broken up about the fact they won’t be together. Perhaps it’s just an infatuation she’s thought more about because of her feelings.

She tries not to look hurt as she nods back at him, murmuring, “Thank you.”

“Did you like the coffee place?” Robin asks, seemingly at random.

Regina shoots him a puzzled glance.

“Friends have coffee together,” he explains with a shrug. “They have coffee, go to the movies, eat dinner… that sort of stuff.”

“Oh,” Regina smiles slyly. “Friends go on lots of date-like activities, apparently.”

“Mhm,” Robin nods. “All the food and drinks with none of the sexual tension and kisses goodnight. It’s a good deal.”

There will be sexual tension, though. Because she’s not only attracted to him, she has this indescribable emotional attachment she’s felt since they were younger.

This is dangerous.

But she’s tired of being lonely, and she craves more time with him.

“I’m letting Henry take the bus now. It picks him up at 7:15, but I don’t have to be in the office until nine.”

Robin smiles. “7:30 coffee date on Wednesday work with you?”

It does. She tries not to blush as she agrees to their not-date date.

The bookshelves get built, and they celebrate with a pizza and a few more beers.

And this is strange, makes her nervous and dread the inevitable fallout, but she can’t help but miss him when he leaves, looking more forward to Wednesday then she cares to admit.

Chapter Text

“Switching it up, Ms. Mills?” Robin asks.

He always uses her real name. And she’s never asked that he not, so he thinks it must be okay.

If anyone ever asks why he uses it, he’ll just tell them it’s an inside joke and leave it.

They’ve been on twelve coffee dates now in a little over a month. It was supposed to be once a week, but they both work close to the coffee shop, and they both get coffee there every day anyway, so…

So maybe he prefers to get in an hour and a half earlier than he needs to just to see her.

On the days he doesn’t have Roland, that is. The elementary school does not start until 8:50, and he cannot drop Roland off until 8:40. So two to three days a week, depending on the week, he has to forego their coffee.

They’ve already developed a routine and he’s already noted her preferences. He can tell when she steps outside her comfort zone. Like now, she usually orders a macchiato, but this is different. Smells different. Looks different.

“Dirty chai,” Regina says with a smile. “I was feeling like cinnamon today.”

“You crazy risk taker,” he says, clutching his heart. She rolls her eyes at his sarcasm, and then her eyes dart around the table, looking under it.

“Did you bring them?” she asks.

“What do you mean?” Robin asks. What she definitely means is hidden, tucked away in his briefcase for this exact reason.

“Come on, Robin,” she says, ducking under the table. “I know you have them somewhere.”

“Do you mean… the croissants? The ones from Three Bears Bakery?”

“You know I do,” she scowls adorably.

“The croissants you are always telling me you hate me for bringing? The ones you say I need to stop making you eat because,” he lets his voice go high, trying to imitate Regina’s voice, “Oh my god, Robin, they are giant sized and go straight to my thighs, Robin, how dare you.”

“Where are they,” she smiles. “Come on.”

“What if I was honoring your choice for once and decided not to buy them?” he asks, with a cheeky grin.

“I would cry, is what would happen.”

Regina and Robin share a laugh. And she lets out a cute little whine and adds, “Come onnn, Robin, I’ve been waiting for that croissant since last night. I spent an extra thirty minutes on the treadmill thinking of it.”

Robin smiles and takes the bag out of his briefcase. When she tries to take it, he snaps it back out of her reach.

“Say you love the croissants and you’re happy I bring them.”

“No, giving myself plausible deniability in this situation is the only way I let myself eat them.” Regina groans. “Gimme.”

“Nope, not until you tell me,” Robin insists, clutching the bag tightly.

Regina growls in this cute, ungodly sexy way, then admits defeat. “Fine, the only reason I even have coffee with you is for the baked goods you bring me, which I absolutely adore.”

Robin smiles, he will take it as a victory despite the joking insult. He hands her one of the huge pastries.

“Still warm,” he tells her as he places it on a napkin.

She takes a dainty bite and closes her eyes and moans as she chews. Robin has a punch of attraction for her (judging the way his body responds, it’s better categorized lust).

God, this is getting out of hand.

He had a crush on her when they were teenagers, but it felt more innocent then. He can’t say she had not popped into his mind in a lustful, heated moment, he can’t say she didn’t give him those urges even back then (he felt bad about that, too, he remembers the guilt) but now he’s an adult and fully aware of how things should and should not be. Still, he hasn’t felt like this about a woman in years. He had tried when Marian found Mulan he had the urge to try, but no one excited him like this.

But that doesn’t change the fact that they are just friends. And he knows her story now and it makes his feelings seem even more inappropriate.

Though, Regina has told him to forget about those things, to not always see her in the context of a survivor. She doesn’t know how easy it is for him to obey her wishes. Regina Mills is not a victim. She doesn’t act like the wounded, scarred person she fears he sees. There are scars, and perhaps unrelated wounds, he knows that. But she’s weathered through, and there is so much more to her than her past. She hasn’t let it define her.

“They also had cornetti today,” he says with a smile, reaching into the bag to pull out another treat.

“She groans, looking between her croissant and the cornetto as if she’s not sure which to take.

“Raspberry filling,” Robin entices.

She glares at him. “You’re going to hell,” she says before taking a bite of the sweet pastry and moaning at the taste. “Oh my god, Robin, I would stay here forever on that bakery alone.”

Robin chuckles. “Well we better ensure it never goes out of business,” he winks at her.

He takes out his own croissant and bites in. Perhaps chewing will keep his mouth busy enough and he won’t say anything stupid or sappy.

She doesn’t need to know that he’d already be devastated if she moved away again. And she certainly doesn’t need to know how much these last few weeks have meant to him.

She takes a small sip of her drink and something in her eyes turns. They playful glances are gone. He already knows she’s about to say something serious.

“I think it’s time I talk to Mary Margaret.”

“Oh,” Robin says, trying to sound nonchalant, his mouth full of the buttery pastry. He takes a sip of his coffee to wash it down, but it’s too hot, has him stuttering and coughing as he tries to spare his dignity and swallow the scalding liquid.

So much for playing this cool.

“Too much for you?” Regina asks with a smile.

“I… I wasn’t expecting you to say that, is all,” Robin explains.

Mary Margaret asks about Regina almost every day. She’s desperate to see her, but Robin keeps convincing her to give it some time and space.

“Her baby is probably due soon,” Regina notes.

“It’s um, around a month and a half now. She tells me the countdown every time I see her, not that I pay much attention” he admits.

“She signed up with our office,” Regina explains. “Before she knew about me, I believe. Her child will be a patient of ours.”

Robin nods. “Well, I would say that is a surprise to me, but Roland is a patient there, and of course before you came to town she asked me if I liked the office, and I—“

“Recommended our practice with flying colors, no doubt,” Regina raises her eyebrows. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is she will be in the office for a while at first anyway, and I suppose we should clear the air before we start bumping into each other when she has a newborn.”

She tries to smile, but it doesn’t quite land. Her shoulders pitch forward as she tucks a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Hey,” Robin reaches for her hands, clasping both of hers between his, leaning across the little table as she does the same, moving into his touch so easily. “There’s no need to be nervous. It’s going to go great.”

She nods. “I don’t know where to see her, though. I think it should be somewhere… not too public, but somewhere neutral, where we both feel comfortable?”

“My place?” Robin asks.

Regina has only been there once when he convinced her to come to dinner with Henry last weekend. But she seemed comfortable and cozy there.

“No. I don’t think there should be an audience,” Regina sighs, her hands leaving him, one supporting her cheek as she contemplates.

“I don’t have to be there,” Robin shrugs.

“How awkward, you let us into your house and then you leave?” Regina laughs and waves it off. “No, there has to be a better idea.”

“I’m sure there are several. But it’s not so bad,” Robin smirks. “Or I can take Henry for a bit and Mary Margaret can come to yours. I don’t want you at hers — not that, I mean, not that I get a say in this. But I want you to feel safe and comfortable. And she’s pregnant but she gets around just fine. And she has David to lean on.”

“I don’t even know how to set this up,” she admits. “I just know I want to talk to her where no one can overhear us, because if they did, I just couldn’t stay here.”

“Why don’t I take Henry out somewhere? Maybe he needs to buy something… manly? Or there’s a movie you’d never let him watch that he wants to see? Or well, if he likes Basketball games I could take him into Portland.”

Regina smiles at that. “He loves the NBA.”

“Perfect, there’s a game this Sunday. I’ll take Henry, you invite Mary Margaret over for a little chat. If you need me to keep Henry longer, you can text me. I’ll be prepared for anything, including an impromptu sleepover.”

Regina rolls her eyes. “I won’t need that.”

“But the offer is there,” Robin shrugs, taking her hand back into his. “Anything you want or need, if I can do it, I will.”

He’s being honest and he thinks she can tell because she looks stunned before smiling and ducking to hide from his eyes.

“Why are you so nice to me?” she asks just above a whisper.

“We are friends. This is what friends do.”

“We’ve only known one another for weeks.”

Well, that is patently untrue. He shakes his head and shoots her a look that says she’s full of bullshit and she knows it. She looks back, a bit uneasy. Worried about what he is thinking, it seems.

He squeezes her hand and pulls in closer, so she can understand, fully appreciate what he is telling her.

“No, we’ve known each other since we were children. Maybe we didn’t see one another for years, but you never entirely left me. You’ve entered my mind plenty of times. Maybe that is why it doesn’t feel like you ever left.”

She shrugs and takes a big bite of her pastry. “Think she’s free on Sunday?” she asks, covering her mouth as she chews through the mess of crumbs.

Robin is unable to resist smiling as he looks at her, so cute as she chews nervously.

“If Mary Margaret has any Sunday plans, I’m sure she will cancel them,” Robin assures her.

Understatement of the year. She’d postpone her child’s birth for a chance to see Regina again.

“I’ll reach out and set it up if you want.”

Regina gives a slight, nervous nod.

And it makes Robin feel better than he expected, having helped a bit, in some small way.

.::.

On Friday Robin gets a call from John quite unexpectedly.

“I have a late afternoon meeting in Rosewood and the clients want to have dinner, but after that, I was thinking, it’s been a while since I’ve seen you. My guess is you could use a night out.”

John moved to Portland a year ago, and he’s much happier in a vibrant city. Still, Robin had missed him when he left, as one of his few single friends in the area. Portland is only a bit more than an hour from him, yet they now only see one another a few times a year. It’s hard, with John’s budding social life and Robin’s… Roland.

“I could use a night out,” Robin chuckles nervously. He knows where this will lead and frankly he has no interest in dating and even less interest in picking up a one night stand. “Are you sure you want to bother with the small town bar scene?”

“Robin,” he hears his frustrated huff on the phone, “I can’t get you to come up to Portland, so I will gladly come down there to have a beer and a chat. It’s been a while since we caught up.”

It sounds a bit telling, like John knows there’s something new on Robin’s predictable, boring life. Robin thinks of Mulan and grimaces. She better not have talked to him.

But John adds, “Plus I miss the old place. And um, I heard Tinks will be there this weekend.”

That little seed of worry drops away, and Robin can breathe again. This is about John reuniting with his old fling more than it is about trying to be there for Robin and help sort through his mess of his life.

“She is, and we have some organic, free range, local vegetarian vegan and gluten-free friendly bar, and I’m sure she’ll end up there at some point.”

“That’s Oregon for ya,” John laughs at Robins sarcasm. “Anyway, I’ll bet she shows with at least a few of her gorgeous friends.”

Robin grimaces.

“I’m… not…” Robin coughs. “John, I don’t want to do that anymore.”

John laughs. “Have you become a monk then?”

“I might,” Robin says back, his voice short and clipped. “If I became one, would you all stop trying to get me back out there? I’m done with that. It’s not going to happen for me.”

“You’re fucking thirty man, why are you talking like your life’s over?”

“My life is not over,” Robin insists. “I'm more than fulfilled with what I have now.  My dating life is over. I’m not interested, okay? Maybe later, but now, I’d like to see you, catch up, have a few beers, and not try to think about women for myself. I have enough of them in my life. But I’m more than happy to be your wingman.”

John laughs and agrees.

.::.

It’s been far too long since he’s done this — since he tucked his son into his bed, kissed him goodnight, said his goodbyes to Mulan and Marian, then went home to shower and change and head out to a bar with a few guys. Maybe a drink at Mary Margaret’s or David’s, or occasionally Killian throws a party, but not the bar scene.  Not in a long while.

There was a time when this was part of his weekly life. But it grew old fast and he quickly moved past it all.

Still, it already feels mundane and flat as he enters the brand new bar, full of beautiful single people laughing and drinking and enjoying music that is just a touch too loud for his taste.

They grab a spot near the bar and order, waiting for John’s cute little pixie of an ex to come flitting by. John in the middle of a very animated, sordid story about his love life when his eyes wander and he frowns.

“Who is that?”

It’s a small town, but not so small that Robin would know everyone at the bar. Still, he turns toward where John is looking to see if he can be any help.

She’s seated at the bar, and by the time Robin turns she’s faced away from him, but he sees the wave of her black, shiny hair, the backs of her bare arms somehow readily distinguishable, the tilt of her head and the way she holds herself as she leans and laughs at…

Fuck. Killian.

He watches as Killian leaves her, winking as he heads back to his table. Alright, they aren’t together.

At least not yet.

“That’s… someone I know. She’s new to town. I, do you mind if I—?”

But John’s eyes are on Eliza, his tiny ex with the long blonde wavy hair (Robin has always seen her more of a Goldilocks than a “Tinkerbelle”, but the nickname stuck years ago).

“Sure, man, I’ll just… find a way to amuse myself…” John says, walking toward his girl as if drawn by a magnet.

Robin gives himself a moment to watch as John approaches the table of girls. Tinks, upon seeing him, stands up and gives him a far too tight, too long of a hug to be merely friendly.

Robin laughs and grabs the empty seat next to Regina, who spots him as he walks toward her, giggling in a way he hasn’t ever heard before.

“What are you doing here?” Robin asks in a teasing way.

But the answer is unexpected and rolls off her tongue clumsily.

“Trying to get laid,” she slurs, giggling again at the absurdity.

Something dark and green twists in Robin’s gut before he can tell himself he has no right to the emotion.

Didn’t she say she didn’t date?

Doesn’t matter. He has no right to know about her life. And she’s telling him far too much far too matter-of-factly, because she’s obviously tipsy, if not sloshed.

“I’m sorry that was way too blunt,” she tries (and fails) to whisper, “but I am.”

“Oh,” Robin smiles back, hoping he’s not looking too judgmental. She’s cute like this, truth be told. She’s a happy drunk, not entirely sloppy but definitely…. Almost girly. He wouldn't have pictured her to get like this when drunk. Young, giddy almost.

“It can’t be you,” she explains, answering a question he hasn’t had the courage to ask.

“You’re too nice,” she slurs, downing the last of her whiskey.

“That is one of the worst things about me,” Robin jokes back, and Regina giggles and leans into him.

Okay, she’s too drunk to be here alone. And that's a conclusion he's made entirely unrelated to his jealousy. He’s going to find a nice way to convince her to sleep it off, and live to have a night out another day.

“I mean, it has to be someone I will never see again. And I want to keep seeing you,” she explains, covering her mouth as if she thinks she’s mumbling this. But it comes out in a loud rasp.

And Robin might laugh at how cute she looks right now if that little revelation didn’t have him so worried.

He knows what she’s doing and why.

He pushes things he can’t control out of his mind and tries to keep the mood light.

“Well,” he drawls, “might want to pick a different venue for that. This town is small enough where you’re likely to run into them again. Especially if they have a child since you’re employed at one of the few pediatrician offices in town.”

Regina grits her teeth. “Oh god, small towns…”

“Yes, you’re not in LA, Cleveland, or Ann Arbor anymore,” he tells her with a smile.

“Does that guy have kids?” she asks, nodding back to Killian.

Oh god, him.

Robin has to suppress a smile.

“Town isn’t small enough to where I know everyone,” he reminds her.

“Oh, right, of course not,” she mumbles.

“But as it turns out I do know Killian,” Robin tells her with a smile. “He’s a friend of a friend. And no, he doesn’t have kids.”

“But he’s a friend of a friend of yours,” she grimaces.

“Well, he’s closer to David. And his wife, Mary Margaret.”

Regina’s eyes widen and she looks absolutely mortified before something shifts and the whole situation must turn comical because she just snorts and laughs, burying her head in her arms while she does.

Robin can’t help but laugh along. “So you might want to find a different bar,” he tells her, just before he has to grab her to keep her from falling off her barstool, “and a different night, when things look a little clearer.”

“I never get like this,” she murmurs, “I don’t know how…”

August comes by just then from the other side of the bar and grabs Regina’s keys that are peeking out of her purse. He tosses them to Robin with a nod. “You got this, Rob? Killian got her a double whiskey, but he used Blanton’s, that stuff is practically grain alcohol level. I didn’t realize she was so many in.”

“I got it,” Robin nods, knowing Regina will have something to say about this.

“I didn’t drive,” Regina says bitterly. “I’d never drive. Those are my house keys.”

“I know you wouldn’t drive, darling,” Robin tells her. The term of affection just slips out, and he cringes internally until he realizes she must be too drunk to notice. “But seeing as I did drive I’d be more than happy to give you a ride home. Save you an uber charge?”

“I can manage,” she says, getting off her barstool.

She starts to sway, and Robin grabs her arm out of fear she might tip over.

“Or not,” she says under her breath as she grabs her coat from the back of her stool. “Oh god, how did I get like this?”

Robin gets off his own bar stool and stops to leave a twenty on the bar to cover his drink and any of hers that weren’t paid for (August will let him know if he owes any more later), then moves quickly to Regina’s side, wrapping an arm around her to help her balance.

He thinks of two days ago, to the coffee date when they set up the meeting with Mary Margaret. He thinks of all she has in her head, the past and the fear of the future. He’s not surprised she had a bit too much tonight, not really. There's a huge burden on her.

“Happens to all of us,” he tells her.

She just grunts. “No, it doesn’t. In college, maybe.”

“No, trust me, you’re not alone in this,” Robin tells her. “People get divorced, they fight over custody, they have a bad breakup, they lose their job… this is perfectly normal.”

He thinks of how blind numbingly drunk John got when he broke up with Eliza, and that reminds him. “Mind if we do a little detour? I have to say goodbye to a friend.”

Regina gives a little nod and they walk toward John, who is very much immersed in conversation with the group of women.

“Hey, John,” he calls drawing his attention to him.

The man steps away from the group and walks toward Robin and Regina.

“Well, hello,” John says with a chuckle, no doubt thinking Regina is leaning on Robin for a much different reason.

“Not like that,” Robin says quickly, holding Regina to him close as she buries her head in his jacket. “This is…” he catches himself and gives the right name just in time. “Veronica.”

“Hello,” John says with a smile. “I’m John.”

“Hi,” Regina says shyly.

“She is a good friend of mine. And in need of a ride home.”

John gives her a once over then and must notice something in her stance, in the way she's leaning, that clues him in that this is not a one night stand in the making.  

“Ah," He says, almost disappointed, it seems.  But that disappointment is lost in his sly smile as he adds,  "Well, I’m good here, as you might be able to tell." 

“If you need a place to crash tonight, the guest room is open,” Robin says. “You know the code.”

John nods and looks back to Tink, who, it happens, is already looking at him.

“With luck, I won’t need that,” he chuckles as Robin rolls his eyes and Regina snorts again.

They say their goodbyes and leave the bar.

Chapter Text

Regina wakes entirely tangled in her sheets and comforters, her mind as confused and knitted as her body appears to be.

Oh god, she drank so much last night.

She is dizzy and thirsty, disoriented…

But oddly not sick to her stomach like she should be, that liquid rushing around the way it normally does. She must have eaten something, or...

Oh god, she definitely threw up last night. She can remember it, the sloshing sound of vomit hitting the pavement as she leaned out the passenger side car door.

Thank god the driver stopped in time.

She can remember asking him to pull over, he was so nonjudgmental about it, nice for a driver…

Wait.

Oh shit, that was Robin.

Fuck, it was… shit, he was there the whole time and she was chatty.

She’s going to have to move. Right now. She’s going to pick up Henry from his friend’s house and just go off into the night, never to speak of this time again, because if she ever has to look Robin in the eye again—

“You’re up,” says a familiar voice that makes her nearly jump out off her bed.

“Sorry,” Robin soothes from the doorway. He’s wearing jeans and a white, sleeveless tee shirt and carrying a glass of water and a bottle of Gatorade that definitely belongs to Henry, but, well, it will have to be a casualty of this emergency. “I thought you might want something to drink.”

“Why are you here?” The words tumble out of her before she can self censor, the words making her groan. “Sorry, sorry, I mean… oh god, I could use the Gatorade.”

He laughs and walks quickly to deposit the bottle on her nightstand. She grabs and chugs it, and allows herself to take in the sight of a very grown Robin in a sleeveless tee.

He’s been hiding quite a body underneath sweaters and layers of clothes. God, he looks good. Better than he should Better than he should be allowed to look today of all days.

If he looked this good last night….

Oh god, did she jump him?

She watches as Robin makes his way back to the doorway of the bedroom, moving away from her, as if to give her space. The move strikes her as silly, his presence in the room isn’t any more mortifying than half of last night. Still, he’s acting like he hasn’t had permission to enter, and that leads her to believe they did not sleep together.

Thank god.

Robin’s voice is soft and soothing. “You had a lot to drink last night. I fear you may be out of practice with high proof whiskey. So I drove you home. But then you invited me in, and you were a bit sick. I just wanted to make sure you were alright. I passed out on the couch,” he explains.

“God, I was so far gone you had to babysit me?” she asks, hiding her head under the covers for a moment of quiet embarrassment.

“You were fine. You had an irrational worry that Henry would call and you wouldn’t be able to come and get him, so I promised I’d get him if he called.” Robin laughs, but Regina is still mortified.

She is also suddenly aware she’s wearing only underwear. And… not the thing she wore last night. And her hair smells of shampoo.

She lifts herself out of the covers and props herself up on the bed.

“Did I shower last night?”

“Yeah.” Robin cringes. “I didn’t think it was the best idea, but you were adamant.”

A flash of what hopefully didn’t happen last night crosses her mind and she winces. “Did I strip in front of you?”

Robin laughs again, nervously. “Not entirely. I didn’t see anything more than I would at the beach.”

“I know what sort of lingerie I was wearing,” Regina scowls.

A thong, for one. And a matching sexy, lacy, not entirely opaque bra.

The type one wears when they are hoping someone else will see. Someone you’re sleeping with, that is. Not your poor friend who has a crush on you.

“I turned my back right away,” Robin assures. “And then you asked me to get your pajamas and underwear so I just grabbed what I saw in the drawers.”

This is getting worse.

“I… asked you to get me clothes?”

“And a towel. You kinda just jumped into the shower without any forethought.”

She snickers. “Wonderful. And these are the pajamas you gave me?”

The black cottony boy short underwear was a good choice. Not sexy, not entirely granny panties. The camisole is… a little sexy and she wouldn’t call this outfit pajamas.

“I brought you pajamas and a long sleeve top too, but you claimed it was too hot, so you um, decided to forego them.” He points to the neatly folded items on her dresser.

“How else did I embarrass myself last night?” she croaks.

“You didn’t embarrass yourself in front of anyone.”

“Liar,” Regina rolls her eyes. “I remember throwing up in your car—”

He does smile at that, as if he was hoping she wouldn’t remember, but he waves it off. “That was just in front of me. You can’t embarrass yourself around a good friend. And anyway, you asked me to pull over first. And as far as puking goes, you did it quite daintily. Even had a mint for yourself for after the vomiting.”

She can still taste the burn of Listerine in her mouth. “And drank half a bottle of mouthwash, it seems,” she groans.

“See? You destroyed all evidence of that little mishap,” Robin kids.

“Robin,” she sighs, looking at him as her heart catches. “You’re a social worker. I know what this looks like. After last night, I’m sure you have worried about my ability to parent Henry—”

“Why would I worry about that? Henry was safely at a sleepover last night.”

“Still, I can remember pieces of what I told you, and I need you to know it’s not that I engage in deviant behavior—“

Robin snorts. “Deviant behavior?”

“I can’t have this conversation from across the room,” she groans. “Come here,” she pats the side of the king bed and rolls over a bit to give him room.

He sits on the end, but her legs, facing her with a shy smile.

“I told you I was looking for a stranger to sleep with, didn’t I?” she asks above a whisper. “What would you call that?”

“Quite normal behavior for a single person?” Robin asks. “I mean perhaps society doesn’t want to acknowledge it but what is Tinder if not an app created to get strangers to have sex?”

“It’s not what parents do,” Regina grits her teeth. “And you know it.”

“This isn’t normal behavior for a single father?” Robin asks. “When they have a night off from parenting?”

“I don’t…” Regina huffs. He knows this is wrong, why is he pretending otherwise? She isn’t an idiot.

“It would be perfectly acceptable if you were a man, and it is perfectly acceptable as a woman. There’s just a stigma,” Robin says with a determined nod.

“I got drunk out of my mind,” Regina reminds.

“And it was clear to everyone including the bartender that this is an unusual occurrence for you. Your tolerance isn’t high enough to be an alcoholic,” he teases. “You had a bad night, Regina. It happens.”

“Has it ever happened to you?” she asks, narrowing her eyes in frustration.

Robin surprises her by nodding. “Oh, most definitely. Several times. There were stressors, of course. Marian and I, our divorce was hard because at first, it meant seeing less of Roland, and I was so scared. I had a bad night where John had to put a bucket by my head and watch me all night. Then when I met Mulan for the first time, I lost it a bit, definitely had too much. And I slept with a lot of strangers over that time, just so you know. You needn’t be embarrassed about that, either. You are in good company.”

Regina pers up at that, shooting him a puzzled glance of disbelief. “You?”

Robin shrugs. “My best friends were coupled up. I wanted what they had, perhaps, but my methods were suspect. I felt a bit lonely and unwanted. It made me feel better, temporarily, those nights out.”

“It is always temporary,” Regina sighs, and Robin’s sad smile seems to understand.

He brushes a strand of her hair off her forehead, and she sighs softly at the soothing contact.

She’s really been starved of this. Just being touched by someone who knows her, who is caring for her. Someone who isn’t her son.

“I’m sure you have an idea of my, um, stressor,” she says quickly.

Robin nods. “And let’s cancel the date with Mary Margaret for now. It’s not—“

“No,” Regina shakes her head. “I need to do this. It will be worse if I don’t. And it’s not entirely that…”

She bites her lip. He should know. She should just trust him. Her therapist is always telling her that. To trust more, believe more people to be good.

“When I told you that I don’t date, I was being honest. I don’t. I couldn’t.”

“I get that,” Robin says. “Trust me.”

“No, it’s not that I'm tired of the scene or that I think I’m too selfish to be with someone. It’s just… I don’t do that level of intimacy. I can’t. But I’m also not a nun, I’m not… asexual.”

“I get that too,” Robin nods. “You like sex, but you don’t really get attached.”

She’s not even sure she can say she likes sex.

“I guess I just have, um, desires,” she chokes out as her cheeks heat. “And it’s not overwhelming, but Henry had a sleepover and I was faced with a rare night off, and I just… thought it would help clear my brain a bit. Give me one less thing to be thinking about, you know? God, this is humiliating.”

“It’s not,” Robin shakes his head. “It’s just me, Regina. And it’s not as if I haven’t experienced the same things and, remember, I hear of people using sex for all sorts of things in my line of work. Stress relief sounds downright healthy.”

It’s not just stress relief, she wants to scream. It’s a dare she has with herself, a worry that becomes obsessive whenever sexual thoughts creep up in her. Can she enjoy it this time? If she is healthy, if she is truly recovered, she should be able to enjoy it. She certainly wants it, god it had been over a year since the last time and she was getting quite desperate until last night’s embarrassment tamped down those thoughts.

But she’s not ready to explain all that, so she just says, “It’s more complicated than all that.”

“I’m sure,” he tells her with a sad smile.

“You really don’t think that this means I can’t care for my son or… do my job effectively?” she asks meekly.

“Are you getting drunk and trying to have sex with strangers at work or with Henry?” he asks.

Regina snorts. “No.”

“Can you parent and doctor without obsessing over alcohol or nights out?”

She rolls her eyes. “Of course.”

“Then how would this impact either of those things?”

“I don’t know,” she sighs. It definitely shouldn’t. “It just feels like something a terrible mother would do.”

“No,” he assures. “I don’t know where you got it into your head that parents are all ‘Leave It To Beaver” types. We are all normal people, and on our nights off we like to do things that are very unparent like. I work with bad parents for a living. This is not bad parenting.”

She remembers that he was at that bar, rather late at night, and something just fits.

“Is that what you were doing out, then? Same as me?” She raises her eyebrows at him. She wouldn’t expect it of him, but of course, you never know.

Robin shakes his head and buries his head in his hand. “No, god, I’m sure that’s what it looked like. I was just with my friend, who was hoping to see his ex girl and have a little reunion fling. Which, from the sound of the text this morning, he did. But I meant what I said when I told you I don’t date anymore, either. I kind of gave up on it long ago.”

“Why?” Regina is legitimately curious. He’s a man, he is good looking and he’s easy to talk to, god knows he has a good body. It can’t be much of a challenge for a guy like him to have a one night stand, or more, if he wanted.

He sighs. “I’ll tell you my whole sordid story. And then you’re going to feel a hell of a lot better about whatever problems you think you have going on.”

She chuckles and shakes her head into her pillow. “You’re not going to beat mine.”

He looks as if he doubts it. “When Marian and I split, it was hard at first. But I got over it. Until she met Mulan, and it became obvious they were meant for one another. And I got jealous. Not of Mulan, mind you. Of Marian. Of them together. David and Mary Margaret were together, and they were the couple Marian and I spent so much time with. And then I became a third wheel or a fifth wheel as it was. My single friends weren’t close by, but I sought them out, and I began doing what I thought would help. Sleeping with multiple people, sometimes just to prove I could do it. And it didn’t help at all if you’re wondering.”

“I figured,” Regina says. She’s familiar with trying to cure things with sex. It never seems to work.

“No connection, no real desire, nothing interesting. I figured I didn’t want any of that, that I wasn’t interested in a relationship and meaningless sex sounded great. But I wasn’t getting real enjoyment out of it like you should with sex, it was just the obvious ego boost of still being able to attract women combined with the thrill of doing something I wasn't supposed to, and that was in itself a passing excitement. Then one day I was asked to leave a bar because I was caught fucking a twenty-two year old in the bathroom, and I had this come to Jesus moment where I realized I was doing all of this nonsense and not really happy. I was risking my reputation with people I work with, or anyone I would want to date, befriend, or anything, in this town by being with meaningless flings. So I stopped. No more of those nights.”

“But didn’t you want to, you know, date? Like not a pick up at a bar. A real date.”

“I hadn’t met anyone who interested me that way, and I didn’t want to go on date after date trying to find a spark or hope for one,” he explains, shrugging. “I don’t need to be with someone just to fill a void. My life is good as it is, and if I had someone who was less than what I wanted, I’d be more unsatisfied. So I sort of gave up on that life. I don’t date. I don’t look for women.”

“You don’t have sex,” Regina surmises.

Robin nods, but his cheeks pink up, obviously, this admission embarrasses him.

“Not for quite some time,” he admits with a little chuckle. “I am not in a habit of telling people this, by the way.”

“Do you miss it?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Robin nods. “Sometimes. But if I’m being honest, it’s always something I want until I have it. And then it’s never as good as I had hoped, and…”

“I know exactly how you feel,” Regina assures. She knows it all too well, that feeling of wanting something, dreaming about how it will be only to be incredibly disappointed when it’s a reality. When some drunk guy who smells of stale corn nuts and whiskey is awkwardly shoving himself against her. It isn’t always that awful, but it is never is quite what she envisioned.

“I feel a little silly,” Regina says, smiling shyly. “I told you I didn’t date, thinking you were interested in me, and obviously—”

“Oh, no, you were right,” Robin assures. He is wearing a goofy smile now, his cheeks are bright red. “I wouldn’t have tried anything, though, because I can read you pretty well. I know you aren’t interested in me.”

He’s wrong. He can’t read her at all, it seems. In another life, if she had another past and was free of trauma, she’d be flirting shamelessly with Robin, perhaps now he would have spent the night for another reason, and they’d be having a conversation in the afterglow, instead of this awkward mess.

But as interested as she is nothing can be done. She’s not cut out for the life he deserves.

“I thought you haven’t found a woman you’re interested in,” Regina reminds. “Or was that slightly exaggerated?”

He is looking at the bedspread when he speaks again. “I hadn’t… for a while. But that ended when you came back into my life.”

Oh shit.

She feels oddly misplaced guilt, concern, and oh god, this is a mess. When he looks up, he must see it written on her face, because his eyes bug out at her reaction, and he’s quickly trying to temper his statement down.

“I don’t want you to feel bad about this, and definitely don’t want you thinking I’m trying to get you into bed—”

“I don’t think that,” she says. She knows what’s going on. What’s been going on since they reconnected. “I feel it too, you know.”

“Really?” he asks, tilting his head.

“Of course,” she scoffs, annoyed he thinks she can’t perceive what is obviously in front of her. She’s not that broken. “I can feel things, you know.”

“That’s not what surprises me,” Robin chuckles. “I thought you meant, you feel something for me, too, but perhaps I misunderstood.”

“You didn’t misunderstand,” she smiles back at him. “I feel things for you. I can feel what is between us.”

There’s a moment of silence between them before Robin breaks it as if he’s afraid the quiet might swallow them whole.

“I guess some things never change,” he smiles. “This is very high school right now, crushing on the girl who is my friend and who has made it clear will always just be my friend.”

“I liked you back then,” she says, her nerves fizzling under her skin, screaming at her to stop as her heart pushes her forward. “But... I couldn’t. There were things you didn’t know. I couldn’t, not when he was…”

She thinks of Leo, not of his face. She doesn’t see his face anymore. Just pieces of him, just his shadow in the dark. He’s just some monstrous form that haunts her past and spills into her present and future whenever it suits her.

“You could have told me. I know I would have believed you.” Robin’s eyes are warm and loving as he says the words. She believes him. Her gut twists in a missed opportunity, it would have been so good then, to have someone. He must notice her distress because he rushes to add, “But I also know why you didn’t think I would believe you.”

She lets a tear fall and nods.

“You accept all of this so easily. It’s… I don’t understand how. Especially with what you heard for years.”

Robin sighs and looks up at her remorsefully. “As you know, I’m a social worker, right?”

Regina nods slowly.

“When you left…” he bites his lip, shaking his head. It’s an odd way to phrase it, but it works. “I know we were just teenagers. But you were like… family to me. And never getting to talk to you, or to understand what happened, it really made an impact on me.”

“I’m sorry—“ she starts, but he holds his hand up and shakes his head.

“I don’t say this to make you feel bad. I want you to understand why I accepted this all so easily. It’s because I had already put the puzzle pieces together. I’ve played and replayed our interactions, how you changed from this bright, happy girl into this withdrawn, nervous teenager. I had those memories running in my head for over a decade trying to figure out what happened, trying to understand what was going on with you that I missed, with Leo that I missed. And then I went into child psychology, and then I got a masters in social work. And everything started to fit. See, the reason I accept this so easily, Regina, is that I already knew.”

“You loved Leo,” Regina shivers as she says the words. “Everyone did.”

“Textbook abuser,” Robin tells her, his town full of conviction. She knows this isn’t the first time he’s thought of this and categorized him as such. “Everything he did, it was all right out of the definition of predatory behavior. Red flag after red flag, I missed it.”

He looks guilty, which is patently ridiculous. No one saw it back then, why should a young teenage boy beat the guilt of missing something her own mother, her own teachers, and doctors didn’t see?

“You couldn’t have seen it back then. You were a kid.”

“I see it now,” Robin assures.

Regina nods slowly, fighting the urge to cry. These are old wounds. No sense crying over them.

The thing is she trusted Robin. She still trusts him. She always did. And this is a terrible time to be discussing this, hungover and in her underwear under the covers, but she finds she has to get this out.

“I’m glad I ended up seeing you again,” she tells him. “It hasn’t been easy, but I think it’s good for me.”

“Yeah?” he asks.

She nods. “And you should know, I’m in therapy… I mean I suspect I’ll be in therapy for the rest of my life—” She holds her hand out to stop Robin’s protest. She knows he’s going to rush to assure her she’s normal and she doesn’t need to hear it. “— I’m fine with that, I know it doesn’t mean I’m weak or less, and I’ve heard the whole song and dance before. I’m in therapy, I’ve been in therapy since seventeen, and I’m a doctor myself, which has its faults because I know everything I’m supposed to think and do about treatment. But in any case, my therapist thinks this is a good thing. Confronting my past, all that. It’s not easy, but it might lead to good results.”

“Anything I can do to make it easier?”

Don’t leave, she thinks. But she’s not going to voice that plea, it’s needy and silly. He won’t run for the hills. He cares for her. She knows it.

“Being you is enough,” she says quietly. “You don’t have to do anything more than that.”

He looks thoroughly pleased with that. “Good,” he tells her. “Something I can do easily.”

The look at each other again, it’s so soft and sweet, the way he looks at her. And she loves it, she feels young and innocent again. He takes her hand and rubs his thumb soothingly against her palm She gives herself a moment to just feel, to feel everything she denies herself. She waits until her insides are gooey and warm before she breaks the moment.

“I should get up and get changed. Henry will need me to pick him up.”

“Yeah, of course. I should…. Put a real shirt on, maybe.”

Regina snorts. “You don’t have to rush to do that anytime soon.”

He tilts his head at her in disbelief and she just shrugs and winks at him, letting the heat of her blushing cheeks embarrass her even more.

It’s good to have a fun, flirty moment.

He gives her some privacy, and when she comes downstairs, his shirt is sadly on, coffee is made, and the blanket and pillow he used are neatly piled on the couch.

“See you tomorrow,” he reminds.

She nods. “Henry’s excited for the game. And completely shocked I’m letting him stay out so late on a weekend.”

“Well, everyone deserves a treat now and then,” Robin smiles. “Hopefully the Trail Blazers will make a decent showing.”

She’s the one who leans in to hug him goodbye, planting a kiss on his cheek without so much as a thought.

Robin does not know that this is the first time she’s given this kind of touch to a man who is not her son in… perhaps ever.

There’s been plenty of kissing before, in the heat of the moment, during sexual advances.

But there’s never been true moments of tenderness, of real affection. Not with anyone else.

It pains her that he will never know this, that he probably doesn’t appreciate it as anything more than a standard farewell.

She knows, though. And the significance of it, the spark she feels when he kisses her cheek back, the warmth that spreads in her heart and radiates through her limbs, buzzes loudly in her brain and refuses to let her dismiss it as something casual.

Things are becoming complicated.

Chapter Text

If truth be told, Robin is a bit nervous as he rings Regina's doorbell on Sunday afternoon. He’s about to spend the day with Henry — a teenager he knows little about. And that in itself isn’t too unusual for him — in his line of work he’s spent many a dinner date or soccer game with children he barely knows in some ways but knows far too much about in others.

But this is Regina’s child, not a child he’s working with. If they are to be friends, he knows Henry’s opinion is important. And truth be told, he wants to make a good impression.

But Henry is an easy kid, and nerves go away as soon as he opens the door.

“Robin!” he says with a toothy smile. “I can’t believe we’re going to go to a Lakers game!”

“A Trail Blazers game,” Robin corrects, pretending to frown at Henry’s Lakers jersey. “You’re wearing that to the Trailblazer game? Blasphemy!”

“You don’t like Lebron?” Henry asks incredulously.

Robin sighs in an exaggerated way. “Of course I like Lebron. Doesn’t everyone? But I do like my home team more.”

“The Lakers are my home team,” Henry reminds. There’s a stifled voice he can’t hear, and then Henry squints and says, “Oh yeah, come in!” Henry finally opens the door and lets Robin into the home. Regina is on the other side of the door, wordlessly mouthing sorry.

“Did you finish your homework?” Regina asks.

“All of it except for two math problems that will be so easy I can do them tomorrow morning!” Henry assures.

“Do them now,” Regina scolds.

Henry looks at Robin for help, but he just shakes his head. “We have plenty of time before the game,” he tells the boy.

“Fine,” Henry says, dramatically trudging up the stairs.

“Let me get you some coffee,” Regina says, motioning for him to take a seat in the living room. “I’m trying to work on his manners, but you know boys—”

“His manners are fine,” Robin laughs. “Seriously. He’s an excited teenage boy. He’s entitled to be a bit scatterbrained.”

She nods and smiles, looks perfectly content and at peace as she waits for the coffee, but he can feel it, the nerves radiating off her.

“How are you doing? Ready?”

Regina looks up and smiles. “I’m getting there,” she tells him.

“I can call it off,” he offers.

“No, I want to see Mary Margaret,” Regina admits. “It’s been too long. I’m hopeful it will go well. And how about you? Are you excited about your little game?”

“Don’t call it that around your son,” Robin warns her. “And yes, I’m very excited about my little game.” Regina hands him a coffee mug and grabs her own, setting it down on the coffee table. “Mary Margaret hates sports, and David cannot stand to be away from her for even a second, John is a football kind of guy, so it’s actually been a good while since I’ve gotten to see a good game. This worked out nicely.”

“He’s so excited,” Regina says with a smile. “And he is terribly interested about us as children, so I expect him to bombard you with questions.”

“I’ll tell him all about his daredevil mom,” Robin answers. There’s a hint of worry there, so he adds, “I won’t share anything I know I shouldn’t.”

“Remember. Daniel.” she says quietly, glancing up at the stairs.

“I won’t ruin that for him,” Robin promises. “What does he know of your family?”

“He knows that my stepfather died, and that when I got pregnant mom decided I should go away for awhile. He knows that my mom and I don’t get along, that she was angry at me for getting pregnant.” Regina frowns.

It’s not entirely untrue, Robin realizes. These are half truths, and they are awful.

“Okay,” Robin nods, swallowing down words of protest.

“He knows I have a step sister, but that she was a lot younger than me and we don’t talk anymore. He might ask about her. You can… be creative.”

“Got it,” Robin tells her. “Now, you have a very busy, stressful period ahead of you, and I think it’s best we lighten the mood a bit. Would you like to hear the story of my son’s attempt to make breakfast for Mulan? I promise it ends with a splash — literally.”

He’s proud of himself for having her laughing and looking free by the time Henry comes downstairs and declares he’s finished with his homework, showing Regina his worksheet as proof.

“Okay. Have fun you two,” Regina says. She looks intently at Robin, and he can tell something serious and solemn has crossed over her as she leans in and whispers, “He’s all I have. My whole world. Be careful with him.”

He knows without a doubt she’s entrusting him with something she reserves for a small few, and suddenly things feel ever more important and meaningful.

“I’ll make him my honorary son for the day,” he tells her truthfully.

He won’t remind her of the hundreds of kids that have been in his care, of how responsible he is, because she doesn’t need to hear that. She knows, or she wouldn’t be letting Henry go with him.

While Henry grabs his coat, Robin leans in to whisper back, “Call me if you need anything. And if you’re not ready, or need more time—“

“I won’t. I’ll be fine by the time you get home,” Regina says shortly.

“Ready to go?” Henry asks.

And yes, yes they are. Robin smiles and nods, letting mother and son say goodbye. Watching them interact, it strikes him as downright comical that Regina would worry about him thinking she’s an unfit mother.

She loves deeply, and her boy is nearly drowning in care and affection.

.::.

“So, you really just had an extra ticket to this game?” Henry asks as he fiddles with Robin’s radio. “None of your friends could go?”

“Not this time,” Robin says. It’s a bit of a lie — he picked up the tickets from a friend when they needed an excuse to take Henry out of the house, but it works perfectly, him being a Lakers fan. “Sunday nights are difficult for adults. Busy week ahead and all that.”

“When I grow up I’m never going to say no to free tickets,” Henry declares, finding a station he likes and keeping it on.

“You say that, but then you’ll get yourself married and your other half won’t want to go to games, and you’ll find you’d rather spend your time at home with them.” Robin sighs. “Happens to all of us.”

“My Aunt Mal and Aunt Gwen are married, and they go to lots of games together,” Henry challenges.

“Is that so?” Robin asks. He’s not heard Mallory was gay, nor that she was married.

“Yeah, my friend Lily has a dad and two moms, just like Roland.”

Suddenly Henry’s complete lack of confusion as to his arrangement with Marian and Mulan makes a bit of sense.

“Ahh, that’s an uncommon arrangement, but in our case, a good one.”

“Lily’s dad sucks though,” Henry says simply. “She’s fifteen now and she doesn’t have to see him as much. But her mom is always saying—“ he mimics what must be her mother’s voice, “‘Lily, you need positive male role models in your life’’— the voice drops, and he adds, “Lily’s mom is a psychiatrist. Well, Aunt Gwen is a psychiatrist. Aunt Mallory is a surgeon. But Aunt Gwen is why Lily always gets to spend time with her uncle, who is really cool.”

“Well, I’m sorry her dad isn’t that wonderful, but grateful for her uncle.”

“Is that why mom is letting me come with you to the game? Is that why I’m invited? Because I need a positive male role model?” Henry asks, his voice a bit skeptical, but not accusatory.

He’s a clever boy. As much as he wants to see the Lakers he realizes that this is slightly odd, being dumped in the care of a man he doesn’t really know.

“No,” Robin tells Henry honestly. “She never mentioned you needing any positive male influences to me. I think she just wanted you to have fun today in a new place. And the Lakers are a piece of home, right?”

“Yeah…” Henry says skeptically. “Are you and my mom going to date?”

“What?” Robin asks, turning his eyes off the road to find a very bemused Henry looking at him as if he knows too much.

“When people like you date a single parent they always try to get to know the kid. Is that what you’re doing? So you can take my mom on a date?”

“No,” Robin clears his throat. “But I do want us to be friends, not just her, us too.”

“Did you know my dad?” Henry asks.

Robin grits his teeth and thinks of Daniel, because that’s who he is to speak of, not Leopold.

“I knew Daniel a little,” he tells him. “He was a really nice guy. Loved animals.” Robin searches his mind for something else. Daniel, he knew Daniel. They weren’t incredibly close but they hung in the same crowds, anyway. He can’t tell him how Daniel was the best at rolling a joint, or how he was always the mellow, level headed one when they were drinking, so he searched for more PG memories. “I can remember his art. Had much more talent than anyone I knew. He would make these elaborate ink drawings that would always win contests and made the school happy.”

“I have two in my room,” Henry says proudly. Robin wonders where in the hell Regina got those and then decides he doesn’t want to know.

“Daniel was a great guy. It was so sad when he died.”

“I wish I knew him,” Henry says, his eyes now focused out the window.

“He was a good guy. I really liked him,” Robin tells him honestly.

“But you were always closer to my mom,” Henry guesses, as if he’s already asked this question.

“Yes, your mom and I knew one another for a long time. We grew up right down the street from one another.”

“Did you know my grandma?” Henry asks.

Robin swallows. “Yes, I knew Cora.”

“She doesn’t like me,” Henry states.

“She doesn’t know you,” Robin corrects. “She would be afraid to. She’d end up liking you too much.”

“Mom never talks about her,” Henry tells him. “She sounds really mean.”

“She wasn’t a nice lady,” Robin agrees. “Family is what we make of it. It sounds like your Aunt Mal and Aunt Gwen are very nice people. And better people than your grandma.”

“Yeah, my grandma could be like Lily’s dad,” Henry decodes.

Robin laughs and agrees.

“Enough of this boring talk. What would you like for dinner? Anything you want, your doctor mother and her nutritionist-like requirements aren’t here.”

“Can we get burgers and shakes?” Henry asks excitedly.

“Sure. And plenty of junk food at the game,” Robin chuckles. “Just don’t tell your mom unless she asks.”

Henry laughs and informs Robin he wasn’t planning on it, and tense conversation is abandoned for awhile.

.::.

Regina has styled and restyled her hair, inspected every millimeter of her skin to make her makeup pristine, she’s wearing the perfect outfit, professional, conservative, feminine. Non threatening. A nice, pale blue shift dress that should be soothing. She has blueberry scones (her sister liked blueberry and scones… though she isn’t sure she still likes both, or likes them together). Water is in the kettle to make tea for them.

She keeps finding new things to fuss and fret over, a frayed edge of a blanket that causes her to refold and hide the messy ends.

Anxiety is still on high when she hears the doorbell ring, but she refuses to back down, resists the urge to run into her bed and hide until she leaves.

Okay, she’s an adult. And adults confront problems.

She can barely feel her legs as she walks the door. She grips the handle and readies herself, taking two big breaths in and out.

She can do this.

But as she opens the door, she realizes how unprepared she’s been for this exact moment.

Mary Margaret still has those beautiful big eyes that can pierce through a person’s soul. Her hair is short now, and she is pregnant, but still every bit the twelve year old girl Regina remembers. Her lips still have that beautiful shade of red, skin porcelain but with that girlish hint of pink on the cheeks.

“Regina,” she breaths, eyes already wet as she looks up at her. “You look so… so pretty.”

Words are caught in her throat as she grips the door.

“You’re so grown up,” she finally rasps, even though she is thinking the opposite. She’s still such a child, still someone Regina wants to love and protect from the harshness of the world.

“So are you,” Mary Margaret tried to chuckle.

“Come in, please,” Regina says, opening the door wide and showing her to the coat rack.

Mary Margaret takes off the pink garment revealing her huge baby bump.

Mary Margaret is married to a good man, Robin tells her. She’s starting a family. Her child will grow happy and full of love. Regina didn’t scar her, and no one else did either.

If she keeps telling herself that one day she will believe it.

“Please sit down. I’m making tea,” Regina says quickly, shuffling off to the kitchen to put the kettle on. “Would you like some? I have camomile, and decaffeinated lemon ginger, cinnamon spice, India chai, mint, English breakfast, and—“

“Regina?” Mary Margaret asks softly. Regina spins to see her smiling at her. “Do you regularly keep so much decaffeinated tea on hand?”

Regina laughs nervously. “You liked tea when we were younger. I thought you might want some.”

“The lemon ginger sounds fine,” Mary Margaret says softly. “I’m going to sit down and I’m definitely taking one of the scones you have on display on the coffee table.”

She walks into the family room and sits on the couch, Regina following her and taking a seat on the chair.

“You’re just as scared as I am,” Mary Margaret says, almost bewildered and relieved.

Regina nods, laughing nervously.

“I am so, so sorry, MM,” she tells her, using her childhood nickname. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

“He hurt you,” Mary Margaret says, her eyes already full of tears. “I never saw it back then, I wasn’t, I was a dumb little girl.”

“I never wanted you to know,” Regina says honestly. She hid what she could, tried to hide her disdain for him, even. She never wanted Mary Margaret to know what her father was. She never wanted her to have to live with the knowledge she did. “I tried to keep it from you, even. And then it happened and, I knew you’d be hurt.”

“If you had died, I would have been hurt too,” Mary Margaret reminds her. “You can’t blame yourself for defending yourself.”

Guilt rises in Regina anyway, and she swallows thickly. “I don’t know. I could have run away. I could have avoided it happening, I think.”

“No,” Mary Margaret says as if she wants so badly to believe this was the only way. “He did this. Don’t blame yourself. I don’t anymore. I know I was awful to you when it happened. It’s only because I was heartbroken and refused to believe my father could do something like that. When the paternity results came back I was just… my whole world turned upside down.”

“I never wanted you to have this burden,” Regina tells her again. “If there was a way I could have kept that from you forever I would have done it. But I didn’t see how I could keep it from anyone once I became pregnant. You know mother. She would have pressed me for a name. And I was… there was no boy in my life.”

“She wouldn’t have believed anyone you said,” Mary Margaret nods. “She always had a strong lie detector on her.”

Regina laughs bitterly. “Though she didn’t believe me when I told her the truth about the baby.”

“I think she did,” Mary Margaret says softly. “She was far too defiant and scared from the moment you made the accusation. She knew, deep down inside.”

The kettle whistles and Regina stands up quickly and gets the tea ready.

“Excuse me for just a moment,” she says.

She grabs two pretty, homey looking mugs so different from the fine porcelain they grew up with. This is better. It is more them.

“Do you still take cream and sugar?”

“Yes,” Mary Margaret laughs. “Plenty of both.”

There are moments when Cora is still there in her head, and making tea is one of those times. She remembers sternly ordering Bettina how to make a proper cup of tea for her English friends. Those instructions are with Regina as she pours the hot water over the tea bags, adds milk to Mary Margaret’s, and adds a generous portion of sugar that Cora would never approve of.

For herself, she keeps the tea plain, carrying the mugs back to the living room and handing it to Mary Margaret with a smile.

Mary Margaret’s back is somehow straighter, she’s holding herself in a way so reminiscent of what Cora required, even in her childhood tea party games.

Regina takes a breath in and dares to ask about the mother she no longer belongs to. “Was Cora… was she kind to you after I left?”

Mary Margaret licks her lips, and looks up from her tea with such guilt. “Yes,” she tells her. “I was raised by my aunt and uncle after dad died. They moved to town and I moved in with them. They thought the memory of the house would be difficult, and Cora, of course, was your mother. But she made a lot of effort. Birthdays, Christmas, Easter. My family, um, they accepted her, I think. She never talked of you. Did she ever see you? Are you in touch?”

“No,” Regina shakes her head. “I really screwed up her life plan. And a murderous, troubled daughter wasn't exactly on her road to recovery. She visited twice. When Henry was born, she said she was trying to get there, but…” Regina shakes her head. “It was too hard for her, I suppose.”

“That’s awful,” Mary Margaret says just above a whisper. “I’m so sorry.”

“I had someone to help,” Regina says softly, thinking of Mallory by her side, her ob/gyn and the nice nurses that offered her more support than she ever thought she deserved. “It was better that she didn’t come, honestly.”

“That’s… a relief at least,” Mary Margaret says. “Cora and I don’t keep in touch anymore, not since I left town. I don’t speak to many of my relatives. It just, it wasn’t my world, you know? But I’m so happy to see you. And knowing you became a doctor in spite of everything? It makes me so happy. I worried that the way we handled everything would make it so hard to recover from, I didn’t want your life to be ruined.”

Regina winces. That is something she’s thought about often in regards to Mary Margaret. How odd that they both harbored the same fear.

“Did this ruin you?” Regina finally asks, her eyes, filling with tears. “I didn’t want it to, but how could it not? You lost your father tragically, in a small town, and your sister who you trusted killed him, and—” Regina has held question in for years, and getting it out is no less than terrifying. She is unable to finish talking without her body breaking down, sobs wracking her body.

“It didn’t ruin me,” Mary Margaret says soothingly. “Regina, listen, it didn’t ruin me. I was upset. But once the fog cleared, I realized I was upset at him. He’s the one who did this to us. Not you. I was mad at my family, too. And mad at Cora. I leaned on Robin, we healed, we got through it together. I went to therapy, it helped immensely. I went to Bucknell for college, and it was great. Joined a sorority. Majored in education. I taught, or I did. I took the year off since I’m pregnant. I still have my trust fund, you know, I kept that.”

“Good,” Regina tells her. “You deserved every bit of that.”

“You deserved all that and more too,” Mary Margaret tells her. “We both went through hell, but you… it doesn’t compare.”

“Robin tells me your husband is a good man,” Regina ventures. She wants to know everything is normal in her life. That Mary Margaret can love and have intimacy. He shouldn’t have taken that away from both of them.

“David is great,” Mary Margaret smiles just saying his name. Regina feels a rush of relief. She looks truly happy. “He’s been everything to me since the moment I met him. I love him very much. He’s kind. And he’s… a little awkward at times, but in a sweet way. He’s protective, in a good way. A very attentive husband. I think he paces our hallway everytime I tell him I’m leaving, these days. He’s very worried and excited about the baby.”

Regina smiles. “Good. I’m glad. So you’re happy? I mean, your life is good?”

“I’m happy,” Mary Margaret tells her. “I still miss you, I still feel guilty for how I left things as a girl. But my life is good.”

Regina didn’t realize until this moment how much she’s avoided googling or looking up Mary Margaret because she was afraid she wasn’t doing well. She’s been scared for over a decade that she would have put the girl in a mental facility, or made her into an angry, violent person. And now… it seems all is right with the world.

“I’m glad,” she tells her. “I…. I feel like we never got to talk, and you might have questions. I hate thinking about that time, but I can do my best to answer them, if you want.”

Regina expects questions about Henry, but Mary Margaret surprises her.

“I idolized my father back then,” Mary Margaret chokes on the words. “And all the whole time he was doing this behind my back. I guess I wanted to know, how long? How long was he hurting you?”

Somehow answering that question feels so revealing, as if Mary Margaret will read so much more into it than a simple age.

So she avoids answering directly. “It started… oddly. I can’t tell you a day or a time. I wasn’t sure it was even inappropriate, I felt like I might be the bad one for thinking it was inappropriate. It was just some strange conversations at night, before bedtime. And touches that… weren’t all too different from normal but felt different somehow. It was gradual, I would protest and he’d ask how dare I think he was being wrong, that I was disgusting to even think of him that way. So I shut up. But then things became clear to me one day, and I told him to stop. He asked why I hadn’t said something sooner if I thought it was so wrong. He said no one would believe me, that my story didn’t make sense, that telling would just hurt everyone and destroy our family. And I, I suppose I felt guilty, and I was scared.”

“I’m so sorry,” Mary Margaret whispers. “I never saw that in him.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” Regina tells her. “You aren’t responsible for him.”

“I yelled at you. I said hateful things. I didn’t believe you at first when I heard you were pregnant and the baby was his. I was so angry.”

“You couldn’t have known. I would have been just as angry if I heard those claims about him before he…” Regina can’t continue, can’t say the words. She starts over. “I know now that I should have told people before, I shouldn’t have been scared. I should have just told people.”

“I’m not sure it would have helped,” Mary Margaret tells her. “I've thought about that a lot. Even Cora didn’t give you a lot of sympathy or rush to your defense and you were being abused.”

Perhaps if she had told people at thirteen or fourteen there would be sympathy, Regina thinks. At seventeen she was looked at as a near adult, with adult motives and manipulations. She doesn’t give voice to the thought, because there’s no point in theorizing what could have happened.

“I think I had options,” Regina tells her, “Options that would have prevented that confrontation. But I was just… scared, I suppose. And humiliated. I didn’t want anyone to know at first, and when I was pregnant I realized everyone would find out the truth or believe an embarrassing lie. But then I became worried about what might happen to the child. He just seemed so powerful back then, I thought if I went up against him, I’d lose and that wouldn’t just hurt me anymore. There was a baby to worry about.”

“I have a brother,” Mary Margaret says looking dazed as Regina tries not to cringe at the words. “I always pictured him a baby. The whole time, in my head he’s never aged. When Robin reminded me of how old he is now I was shocked.”

“I know he’s your brother,” Regina says, swallowing the bile in her throat. “But I’d prefer you think of him as a nephew. I just… I’ve lied to Henry. I told him his father was someone else. I didn’t want him to know his father was a cruel man.”

“Of course, that’s fine. I won’t say anything,” Mary Margaret says adamantly. “I want to know him, if I can. Not a lot. Just a little.”

“I haven’t told him you’re in town. But he knows I have a sister,” Regina tells her. “He thinks Cora kicked me out once I became pregnant. With Daniel Colter’s baby. The boy who lost his whole family in that car crash?”

Mary Margaret doesn’t speak, just nods.

“He knows my father and stepfather died. He doesn’t know the story behind that either. He knows he has a grandmother, but she is estranged and doesn’t want to know us. Which is largely true. I never want Henry to know what I went through to bring him into this world. I never want him to think for one second he wasn’t wanted, that there is anything wrong with him. I heard it so much, I had so many worries myself, that I wouldn’t be able to love him because of… how he was made. But then he was born and there was none of that. I don’t look at him and see Leo.”

Mary Margaret nods. “I understand all that. I’m sure I won’t see him either.”

Regina isn’t so sure. Still, Henry deserves to meet his family. And if Mary Margaret is here and they both want to reconnect, she shouldn’t prevent that just because she is terrified.

So she bites down her anxiety and tries to smile normally. “He’s a wonderful boy. I’ll introduce you soon. He will have lots of questions, of course. He’s at that age where he’s starting to wonder about his family, you know? Maybe meeting his aunt will help.”

Mary Margaret smiles, looking so pleased. “I’ll only answer questions that I can. I would so love to meet him.”

Regina breathes a deep breath in. “So you’re okay with me being here? Truly?”

“I’m thrilled you’re here,” her sister tells her. “I’ve wanted to see you and make peace for years. I want to have family here, when I have my child, you know? My mother and father are dead, Cora never truly looked at me as much more than her key to unlock doors to aristocracy. My aunt and uncles are wrapped in their own life and aren’t really people who wanted children. You’re all I have, really. And I know things ended badly between us, but for a few years there, we were close, right? You…” It’s Mary Margaret’s turn to cry. “You loved me once, right? Before he hurt you—“

“I loved you even after,” Regina tells her, her own tears welling up inside again, and oh god, will this ever stop? “Even after he died, even after you told me you hated me. You are my sister. What he did to me didn’t change how I felt about you.”

“But I was such a spoiled brat,” Mary Margaret says in a choked sob.

“Yeah,” Regina agrees with a laugh. “And I was a bossy little snob.”

Mary Margaret laughs at that. “God, you were bossy. But you commanded a room. The whole neighborhood followed you around. Even the older kids.”

“I think they liked the structure,” Regina smiles back at her.

Mary Margaret laughs and reaches for another scone. “Thank you for this talk. And the tea and scones — blueberry is my favorite, you know.”

“I had an idea,” Regina says, thinking of the little girl who went through a carton of blueberries herself for morning breakfast.

“Do you remember when your mother would ask Bettina to hide the blueberries in the back of the fridge so I wouldn’t eat them all?” Mary Margaret asks with a smile.

Regina almost can’t believe it, but it happens, they work around that difficult time in their lives and trade memories from before everything change, laughing about their youthful antics. Regina even trades pregnancy stories, and she is delighted that MM doesn’t shy away from it, doesn’t tiptoe around that time of her life.

When Mary Margaret leaves, she reminds her about seeing Henry, and tells her how wonderful it’s been to see her.

And Regina agrees.

It’s not until she shuts the door that she lets herself break down into tears, let’s herself sob for as long as she wants, thinking of the years they lost, the bond her idiotic step father severed, of what could have been a beautiful relationship that is now a mess.

And the fear of Henry meeting her and discovering something, somehow… that is overwhelming, too.

Chapter Text

Regina has assured him that she is okay with Henry staying out past ten PM this one time, but Robin is still glad when the game ends before nine.

The game was never too terribly close, but never a blowout, giving Robin and Henry plenty of time to rib each other about the other team. The Lakers win, of course, and Henry gets to celebrate while Robin pretends to be upset. Really, he’s just happy to see the boy having such a good time.

“Now I’ve got to get you to bed so you can get your rest,” Robin tells him as they hurry to the car trying to beat most of the stadium traffic. “You have to be up early tomorrow.”

“I never sleep before eleven PM anyway,” Henry argues. “After mom says lights out I always sneak a light back on to read.”

“Well, still, it’s been a busy day and you’ve got a long week of school ahead of you,” Robin notes. “And I’m old. I need my beauty sleep too.”

“You’re not old,” Henry laughs. “You’re awesome.”

“Am I?” Robin asks, already far too pleased.

“Yeah, all my friends are jealous,” he tells him, holding out his phone. “I got to go to a basketball game on a weeknight and didn’t have to have an awkward talk about girls or my changing body.”

Robin laughs. “Well, it’s not too late for either conversation.”

“Don’t ruin it!” Henry says, holding his hands over his ears for dramatic effect. But then he puts his hands down and smiles. “This was really cool of you. Thanks.”

“You were good company. Maybe we will do it again — sometime when the Lakers aren’t playing, so I can keep my dignity.”

Henry’s smile widens. “Great!”

Robin grins, feeling silly for ever being nervous about this little night out.

And he thinks of Regina and hopes her night has been at least half as successful as his.

He texts her before they leave, letting her know they are in the car and on their way, and asks if she needs anything.

She responds No, I’m fine. Today was really hard but cathartic. I’ll see you when you drop off Henry.

Henry, for all his talk of not being tired, falls asleep about fifteen minutes into the drive, and when Robin pulls into Regina’s driveway, he finds himself having to wake the boy.

“Sorry,” Henry stutters.

“Don’t be, it was a busy day,” Robin tells him. “All that junk food can cause sleepiness anyway.”

He knocks on the door just in case, stopping Henry as he goes for the door himself.

Regina opens it within seconds, looking soft and refreshed in a sweatshirt and leggings.

“Hey baby,” she says to her son, earning a growl in protest from the preteen. “Did you have fun?”

“Yeah,” Henry yawns. “Lakers won! Robin almost cried!”

“There was dust in my eye!” Robin argues back, adding to the boy’s joke.

Henry looks nearly catatonic as he hangs up his coat, and Regina raises an eyebrow. “Why don’t you skip the shower for tonight and take one tomorrow?” she asks, looking at the clock. It’s about 10:20, not bad since Henry’s bedtime is normally ten.

“Yeah, I’ll do that,” Henry says.

“Wash your face and brush your teeth,” she calls out as he starts going up the stairs.

“God Mom, I know!” he grouses.

Regina doesn’t look pleased with the attitude and seems about to voice her displeasure until Robin quickly steps in, whispering to her, “He’s embarrassed you said that because I’m here, is all. Kind of a thing you say to younger kids, you know? And he’s at that age where he wants to be an adult.”

“Oh,” Regina whispers back. “Right, he’s… right.”

Now that Henry is gone, so is Regina's armor, it seems. She’s not the smiling, happy woman she was. She looks worried and exhausted.

He wants to know how things went, but perhaps he doesn’t get the right to know. Or even ask.

“Can you stay for coffee?” Regina asks, looking at the time. “I have some leftover pastries… I hope you like blueberry.”

It’s late, and Robin should be getting home, but he doesn’t want to leave her. So he nods. “Coffee sounds great.”

“I’m going to make mine Irish,” Regina tells him from the kitchen. “Do you want to join me?”

“I’m a big fan of the Irish,” Robin tells her (because no one should drink alone, and because Irish coffee is delicious).

“Great,” she says. “Have a seat.”

.;;.

She’s not sure why seeing Henry has her like this, but from the moment he walked back home she’s felt vulnerable and terrified.

She’s dealt with Mary Margaret. Things went unbelievably well, all things considering. Truly the best case scenario for such a situation.

But it’s real now. She has been in a protective bubble since she found out she was in town. She’s been with Robin, who kept her from seeing her. She hasn’t had to think about seeing her.

More importantly, she hasn’t had to think about Henry seeing her.

And Mary Margaret called him her brother, and god, that’s right, he is, but it’s not… that’s not what she wants to hear. She wanted to forget that relationship.

Henry is going to meet her sister and also, sadly, his sister, and she’s going to have to keep that part from him.

So many lies, she doesn’t want to lie to her baby this much but she can’t exactly tell the truth, can she? It’s too late for that now.

“Regina?” Robin asks. His hand is on her back. Soothing. Warm. Grounding.

“H... Hi,” she says, trying to focus on her breathing.

“The coffee is ready,” he says softly. “But I can hear your heart beating from here, and I think your nerves are already on end, so I hope this is decaf.”

She has no idea how much time has gone by, but there is fresh coffee in the pot, and she feels ridiculous right now.

She laughs a little choked sob, and tells him, “I’m sorry.”

And before he can say anything, she throws her arms around him like the weak person she is.

He only wraps his arms around her tightly (it’s good, the firm grip, it reminds her that he’s here, that someone is here for her) and whispers soothing sounds in her ear while she lets go of all pretenses and just cries.

“It’s okay, darling,” she hears him say. “I know, I know this was a lot. You’re so strong, not many people could do what you did. Let it go, darling, you’re safe now.”

“I don’t know why I’m crying,” she tells him, still sobbing in his shoulder. “It went well.”

“Yeah?” Robin asks. He’s rocking her a little, and it’s good, it’s a bit like a parent soothing a child but right now that’s about where she is.

“She, she-she was r-really nice,” Regina chokes out, “But then she said she had a bro-brother, and it just—“

Tears take over, and she can’t help but chastise herself for being so weak, and that only makes the tears come harder.

“Oh, of course, that was hard,” he says, pressing a kiss to her forehead. He must second think the act because after a bit he asks, “I hope I’m not overstepping, sorry.”

“N-n-no,” she sobs, “It’s helping, it feels good.”

“Good, good,” Robin whispers in her ear. “Do you want to talk about it, or do you just want me to hold you for awhile?”

Hold me for hours she thinks to herself. He doesn’t know, he couldn’t, how starved for this kind of affection she is. Mallory hugs, Mal has held her when she cried, Gwen too. But they are married women with a child of their own to deal with, and she would feel bad for leaning on them like the parents she always wanted but never had. She tried to create some emotional distance when she moved away for medical school, and truth be told it’s been years since she had anyone to hold her, to reassure her.

It feels so good, she wants to soak the feeling up for as long as she can.

She wonders how long she has.

“I don’t know what will help,” she whispers back.

“What if we go sit on the couch and just watch something funny on television?”

If he thinks he’s ending this hug anytime soon, he has another thing coming.

She’s going to be holding on to him for dear life until morning, or until her son gets up or needs her. Oh god, that’s right—

“Henry can’t see me like this,” she murmurs into his shoulder. “I don’t want him to get up and see me crying, I never let him see me cry. And I can’t even tell him why.”

“Okay,” Robin whispers. “He’s probably already out,though. He was exhausted. Though perhaps he will get up some stomach cramps… I did let him eat a lot of junk food.”

She laughs at that, through her tears, a snotty, gross laugh.

“I hate you,” she sniffles and Robin just squeezes her tighter.

“So, do you want to talk about it?” he asks.

Regina is shocked to find that she does. She nods.

“Is there somewhere where we can go where he wouldn’t walk in and interrupt and see or hear anything? The laundry room? Something like that?”

Yes, there is somewhere where Henry has learned to always knock first; it’s a policy they share.

“My bedroom,” she whispers.

She shifts her hold on him extra tight and then leaves his embrace grabbing his hand so he knows he is welcome there.

Henry’s room is all the way on the other end of the home, so this is also a quieter setting as well. She walks past a guest room with a twinge of guilt. “I made you stay on the couch when I had an open bed,” Regina cringes. “I’m sorry I was so rude when drunk.”

“You actually told me I could sleep with you. You couldn’t remember if you had made the guest bed yet, apparently. I was chivalrous and decided to take the couch.” He winks at her as she groans and opens the door.

“I’m sorry my drunken self is such a slut, then,” she smiles. Robin says nothing as if he understands she’s just temporarily pulled herself together, that this is all her attempt to lighten the mood before the tears start again.

She looks at him and nods. “I’m a mess,” she admits.

“You’re not,” Robin says as he pulls her back into his arms. She takes the hug, she has missed it from the moment they had to relocate. “You've no idea how little of a mess you are.”

“You mean, considering all I went through,” Regina gripes.

Robin shakes his head. “Plenty of people with no trauma at all don’t put themselves through medical school as a single parent without family support.”

“I had Mal,” she reminds. “And… lots of money.”

“Mary Margaret told me about that,” he tells her.

Regina’s heart beats faster and she breaks out of his hug, backing up so she can see his face. “About the settlement? She can’t share that.”

“I know. She trusted me. I won’t tell. I think it was weighing on her.”

“Oh,” Regina says. “Oh, right.” She walks back in a daze and sits on her bed. “It was so much money. What Henry’s inheritance would have been, basically. I couldn’t have done what I did without it. I never had to worry about an apartment, paying for tuition, moving costs, childcare… it was really helpful.”

“You could have just sat on it and not done anything. You chose to become a doctor. You worked hard, despite not needing to.”

“I wanted to help people,” she admits. “Children. I wanted to help children.” Her eyes feel hot and wet, god, this is going to be a disaster all over again.

Robin joins her, sitting at the edge of the bed next to her. She leans into his shoulder and sighs.

“She and Henry deserve a relationship. But I don’t want a brother-sister relationship, I—“

The tears start again, and Robin puts his arms around her, predictable, and the warmth comforts him.

“Mary Margaret has to understand that.”

“She does,” she hiccups. “She said so immediately. But then I just realized there’s this secret, Henry will never know this is his sister, that they have a special biological connection, he won’t ever know that, or it will accidentally come out and he will hate me for it and I—”

She’s spiraling and she knows it, so she stops talking, cuts herself off right there. She knows the source of the problem.

“I hate lying to him. But I hate the truth even more.”

Robin doesn’t look at her with pity, and she likes that about him. He gives her a look of understanding, that same nonjudgmental, thoughtful expression that makes her want to open up to him.

“It’s a hard thing for a child to understand,” Robin tells her after a few moments of silence. His voice is soothing, slow and steady. “You’re not a bad mom for lying to him. You’re doing it to protect him. And you’re letting him have a relationship with his Aunt.” He kisses her forehead again, urges her to tilt her head up, so she can see him. “Do you remember when I first saw you again, and I said I realized Henry was Leo’s? You said something that made a lot of sense. You said ‘No, he is mine’. And I realized how right you are. He’s not Leo’s son. He’s yours alone. And that makes Mary Margaret an Aunt, not a sister. Even if he knew the whole story, she would still be Aunt MM.”

Regina struggles to nod. She knows she wouldn’t be comfortable with them acting like siblings. The thought turns her stomach.

“I’ve been terrified of her for years. And she was so nice. So much more than I deserved—”

Robin shakes his head at that. “Nonsense. You deserve to be treated well. You’re a victim of him as much as Mary Margaret. We dance around this, but MM told me. The man tried to kill you, Regina. You can’t be upset that you killed him first.”

Her heart races at the words. She wants to reply to that, to argue, to say anything. But she can’t.

“I don’t care how the situation happened,” Robin continues. “I know, I’ve talked to people who have defended themselves and felt great remorse for the damage they did trying to stay out of harm’s way. There was always a better option, always an escape route. But I’m telling you, in the moment sometimes we can only think of one solution, and we can’t judge ourselves by playing Monday Morning Quarterback.”

She nods her head. What can she say? He’s so convinced that she had only one option, he doesn’t know, he wasn’t there.

Still, he’s comforting, and he’s helping, just by being here now.

“It just brought up so much,” she whispers in a choked voice. “I keep thinking about that night, I keep thinking about all these nights… thinking about little Mary Margaret, remember what a little brat she was back then?”

Robin laughs. “She was stupidly adorable.”

Regina tries to laugh, but it comes out as more of a sob.

She knows what is most likely to happen tonight. Sometimes, when therapy would bring up these old memories, the worst of them would come back to haunt her dreams. She remembers waking a six-year-old Henry with her screaming and feeling mortified at the fact.

“You’re shaking,” Robin notes, stroking her arm. “What can we do to make that stop?”

“I’m… I’m stuck,” she vocalizes. “I’m nervous, I‘m feeling very alone, and—”

“You’re not alone. I’m here. If I can help you feel better, let me know how and I will do it.”

She swallows and looks at him. Really looks at him.

He is here. He’s here when he should have run weeks ago, but he’s not judging. And she really needs a friend.

She nods her head and gives him a small smile. “I can’t ever repay you for this, you are just doing nice thing after nice thing, and I’m just taking everything and I don’t give you—”

“Oh, don’t finish that sentence. I wouldn’t want you to be a liar,” Robin soothes. “Because if you were going to say you don’t give me anything, you are quite wrong. Your friendship means the world to me. And it’s helped me far more than I can express. And I love when you’re honest with me. So please, be honest with me now. How can I help?”

She has no right to ask this of him, it’s taking advantage of his feelings. And yet, the words tumble out disguised as a half joke. “Ideally you’d spend the entire night holding me and waking me if I look like I am having a nightmare, because I’m very high strung right now and you… this is helping. But obviously that’s not an option, plus Henry would be rather confused to see you at breakfast. So maybe you could stay for just a bit longer?”

Robin laughs. “Henry won’t find out. I’ll slip out before he wakes up. And I have absolutely no problem with sleeping next to you all night.”

She nods, guilt rising like bile in her throat. This is unfair. “It’s not right, I’m not, I’m not asking you to have sex with me, and I know that’s unfair—”

Robin chuckles. “Regina there is no part of me that thought you were inviting me into your bed for that reason. And I’m fine with it. And I can be a good distraction. In a platonic, nice kind of way.”

She shouldn’t agree to this. Shouldn’t, but she does. Because she’s been starved for this type of care for perhaps her whole life, and she really needs to be a parent and a doctor tomorrow, so she needs all the help she can get.

And this is helping.

.::.

She’s given him her old baggy pair of scrubs, the ones four sizes too big that fall off her that she loves to wear when she’s feeling particularly bloated.

And he’s got one of those tank tops on, smelling of soap and mint (she always keeps extra toothbrushes around, and she’s glad she does).

He’s been talking to her about Henry and the game, about their time together. It’s a good, light conversation on a matter she cares about as she’s gradually gotten closer to him. And now she’s curled against his side, his arm wrapped around her as she sighs contently and can’t think of a time when she felt safer.

There’s a lull in the conversation, so he asks, “How are you feeling?”

“Okay.” She thinks that’s true, anyway. Stil, she amends, “Much better.”

“Marian would get bad panic attacks,” Robin tells her as his fingers trace these soothing circular patterns against his arm. Goosebumps flare in a delightful way, she feels soothed and excited at once, somehow. “Not that you had one, but I was just reminded of them. They would come in varying degrees, and she had some bad ones. Once we thought it was a heart attack. She passed out another time. But most of the times she’d just have trouble breathing. And she’d need a hug, and we’d breath together. In and out until she could catch her breath. Happened a lot, especially as a new mom on little sleep.”

“You were such a good husband,” she says. “Is it hard to see her with someone else?”

“At first,” he admits. “We both knew it was for the best, the separation. We had married when she was pregnant with Roland and our first two years were full of parenting our son, and we both do that well together. When he got a bit older, it became difficult. We didn’t relate to each other the way we should. I didn’t feel what I thought I should. She finally told me, and I agreed. It wasn’t easy. At first we were separated but still living together. She wanted me to have the house, since I did most of the renovations on it and put down the most down payment. So she left once we figured out a budget. She rented a little townhome and we struggled for a bit but then we found our groove.”

“Until you met Mulan,” Regina recalls, thinking of their last conversation.

“Yes. I had a setback there. It seemed terribly unfair that she got to be happy and I didn’t. But now, I think I actually get along better with Mulan than Marian. If she were into guys, I’m sure people would have tried to set us up.”

Regina blurts out an unexpected, “Ha!” that makes Robin laugh in turn.

“I mean it! We are always on the same page with Roland. And almost anything else. She always seems to understand me in a way Marian doesn’t. It’s really odd. But it’s made parenting very easy. Mulan and I have a relationship apart from Marian. We do our own thing and genuinely care about one another. Marian always jokes that we gang up on her. I don’t think she expected to fall in love with someone who would become best friends with her ex.”

“Too bad she’s not into men too. You could have been polyamorous,” she teases.

“Nah, I don’t feel like that about Mulan,” Robin chuckles. “She’s like a sister to me. And at this point, if Marian asked me to go to bed with her, that Mulan said it was okay, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t love her that way anymore. She’s just my son’s mother, that’s all.”

“Is it hard to share Roland?” Regina asks. Her stomach goes tense. “I’d never want to share Henry with anyone. You have to share him with Marian but now this other woman too.”

“Parts were difficult. But Mulan didn’t force the relationship so it just happened naturally. What she has with Roland was fully earned and very respectful of me. There’s no question that if Marian would disappear and no longer be part of the equation, I would still split custody with Mulan. She’s his mother now. She belongs to him, same as me and Marian.”

“I can’t imagine that. It’s just been Henry and me for so long,” Regina frowns. “I had Mallory and her wife Gwen to help, but they weren’t, we weren’t a traveling family. Henry belongs to only me, and he’s only my responsibility.”

“And honestly I can’t fathom how hard that must be,” Robin soothes, pulling her in closer. “I have a god damned village helping me with Roland, and two very attentive co-parents and I still get stressed.”

“You have to give up a lot,” Regina admits. “But it’s not… it’s things I didn’t think I wanted, so it didn’t matter.”

“What type of things?” Robin asks.

And she hates this day, this vulnerability, but eyes well up with tears. She tries to hide them in his shoulder, but he shifts her, raises his arm until her head is cushioned on top of his chest. God, this feels good. Just being held and comforted.

“I’ve never had this,” she admits, as tears threaten to fall. “I mean, I've been in bed with people before, I’ve never been like this with anyone.”

“Never even cuddled up with someone even for a second?”

“Never with anyone except for my son, if I was trying to get him to bed,” she whispers, admitting her shame. “Even when I was little, it just wasn’t done.”

“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Robin asks, his hand burying itself in the base of her neck, combing through her hair and scratching at the sensitive skin underneath.

“I didn’t know I needed it,” she says, holding him tighter, and then the tears flow, and she stops fighting it.

She hears the soft shhs as he strokes her back.

She hates holding all this in, letting it out feels good, and she’s not nearly as mortified as she should be, crying on his shoulder right now.

“We all need a good, long hug sometimes,” Robin tells her. “Just being close to someone, even just my son, since he still wants to cuddle, that helps me. Physical touch of this kind is very underrated. It can be a lot. It’s been awhile for me, too, I know.”

He does this, always is assuring her she’s not the disaster she was just thinking she was, like he knows what she’s thinking and can convince her otherwise in the most subtle of ways. She is sobbing on his shoulder because she hasn’t felt this safe in forever, at god damned thirty years old, and he’s making her sound normal. She’s requested that the man who is attracted to her lie next to her all night and platonically comfort her, and he’s acting like this is the most normal request in the world.

“Oh, I need to stop crying,” she sniffles, trying to pull herself together. “I’ve been closed off for so long I didn’t realize MM would bring that up in me. I thought I had dealt with this, but clearly, I hadn’t.”

“Or you had but it was still difficult seeing her and reliving all of that. Which is totally understandable.”

“It has been thirteen years,” Regina reminds. “It’s hardly a new trauma.”

I’m not fully over what happened,” Robin chuckles. “And I was just a bystander in the events. Give yourself some credit.”

“Right now I just keep reliving it,” she groans. “That day, over and over in a loop in my head. I need to think about something else.”

“Well,” Robin says, shifting a bit, his hand staying on her back, warm and solid. “Luckily for you, I am full of distractions. Now I can talk to you about Roland until I’m blue in the face. Or catch you up on some of my college antics. Anything you want. Embarrassing, sad, happy, scary memories. I have them all.”

Regina thinks about everything she’s wanted to know about Robin and goes with an oddly pressing question.

“Tell me about your first kiss,” she asks slyly. “Other than the time I kissed you when we were eight. That doesn’t count.”

Robin pauses and contemplates. “Well, you were there for it. Anna Froste. Spin the bottle, sixth grade.”

“I knew it!” she smiles, reminding him, “You told everyone you had kissed someone before.”

Robin laughs. “I lied. Well, not really. I was thinking of our kiss at eight-years-old, which seemed to count back then. But I was so nervous I had to pep myself up and remind myself I kissed someone before. Then there was Carmella, you remember her, don’t you? She was nice.”

“She was easy,” Regina laughs. Okay, this is helping. The tension in her belly is lessening, she feels like she can breathe again.

“She was, and a whole grade above us. Being with an older woman really scored me points with the guys.”

“How far did you ever get with her?” Regina asks skeptically.

“I got her bra off once,” Robin admits sheepishly. “That’s as far as it ever went. I guess some dry humping. Didn’t even get a handjob.”

Regina runs her fingernails over his tank top, feeling the muscles underneath.

“Did you date anyone else in high school? I can’t remember.”

“No,” Robin admits. After junior year prom I hooked up with Belle, but you remember that.”

“I was so mad at her,” Regina remembers. “Defended your honor.”

“You scared her off. She didn’t want a repeat of that night. Though I didn’t really pursue it, either.”

“Belle knew we were close,” Regina tells him. “I didn’t want my friends being with you.”

“Yes. She told me you said it was like she hooked up with your brother.”

“That was a lie. I was jealous.” Regina says softly. “But I didn’t want anyone knowing I liked you.”

“Mission accomplished,” Robin scoffs. “No one would have ever guessed that. Least of all me.”

Somehow the memories of this time unrelatedly to Leo are helping, she’s not sure why, there’s that undercurrent, that knowledge of what was happening to her in the background. But it’s not as oppressive. It’s good to remember there were other things going on in her life back then.

“First girlfriend?” she asks.

“Second year in college I dated a girl for three months. Andrea. She was a little crazy, but fun at first. We fought too much and had to break up.”

“First time?” Regina asks

“Freshman year after one of those big campus parties. I wasn’t really into it. I just wanted to get it over with, you know? I felt so far behind everyone. Anyway, she never knew it was my first time— hopefully anyway. It certainly wasn’t hers.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

Robin huffs, his chest filling with air, propping her up as he inhales, then slowly exhaling.

“Yes, but I was nervous. And I was hiding the fact it was my first time, trying to act like I had done it before. I was a bit in my own head. Took me awhile to finish. She blamed the alcohol to save my pride, I think. Maybe hers.”

“How did you meet Marian?” Regina asks. She feels better, a lot better, actually. Robin keeps scratching at her scalp in this placating way, and she’s echoing the movements, tracing patterns over his tank top.

“Well I moved here not long after I got my degree. John, my friend from college, was from Portland, and he thought I’d love it here. It was expensive to live as a social worker in the Northeast. They needed social workers here so they paid a bit above average, and cost of living was cheap. So I moved here. Marian was a childhood friend of John’s. He invited both of us out one night and I don’t know. We just clicked. Fell in love, all of that.”

“Made a cute kid,” Regina adds.

“Yes, we did rather well with that one.” She can hear the proud smile in his voice. “We dated for about three years before the pregnancy. We were young, in over our heads but so, so happy.”

“And then she realized she was into ladies?” Regina surmises.

Robin chuckles. “No, no, no. I knew she played for both teams early on in our relationship. I think if she were a lesbian, I’d have a harder time with it. Thinking she wasn’t enjoying herself for the years we were together, or pretending and trying to be someone she’s not. That would hurt. But when she started dating Mulan she went out of her way to tell me she didn’t leave me for that reason. She told me she had truly loved me, she wanted me, she was attracted to me, all of it was real. That helped my ego a bit.”

“She sounds nice.”

“You’re going to love her,” Robin says emphatically.

“Does she know about me?” Regina asks tentatively.

“Yes,” Robin admits. “You were a big part of my life so I talked about you. My parents still have pictures of us as children around the house. Marian knows the whole story. She knew it was killing me, not ever seeing you again, you know? She’s happy for me, I think. And before she knew who you were she was very happy.”

“Why?”

Robin chuckles. “They want me to settle down, Marian and Mulan. Or maybe just have a female companion. And you were there looking all gorgeous, and they got all excited for a moment.”

“Oh god,” Regina laughs. “I was so worried I made a bad impression, crying at a children’s play when mine wasn’t even it.”

“Are you kidding? That made a great impression. And they are such tough critics. But you’re so beautiful, and such a wonderful mother to Henry, then you show this sweet, sentimental side, but you’re also bold, opinionated and a doctor, I mean who on Earth wouldn’t want—”

The kiss just happens, as if she is not in control of her body. Not in control of her arms as they weave around his neck, control of her neck as it dips downward, certainly not in control of her mouth as she kisses him.

She feels like her heart may burst, the pounding thumping fast under her chest. She hasn’t felt this type of joy or relief in so long, and it’s all because of what Robin is saying. Telling her that other people see her as something wonderful, not the damaged person she feels like.

He kisses back. Neither deepens it, so it's just a meeting of the lips, but it’s passionate and turns into a few shorter pecks. She didn’t think she could feel so much with such an innocent kiss. How could so many small meetings of the lips make her dizzy and breathless? It feels like time stops for a few blissful moments, but then she comes to her senses, draws back and pulls her head back from out of the stars and realizes how wrong this is.

“Sorry, sorry, god, I’m sorry,” she says, her fingers tracing her lips in disbelief as she looks at a rather bemused, smiling Robin. “I just… you make me feel so…”

“Please don’t apologize for kissing me,” Robin chuckles. “An apology is not on my list of things to hear after sharing something so enjoyable. For me, anyway.”

She shifts out of his arms so she can properly look him in the eye. “I enjoyed it. But I told you I don’t date, I asked you to have a sleepover with me, and now I’m kissing you. That’s sending mixed messages at best.”

Robin laughs. “Oddly, it doesn’t feel that way to me. Though I suppose I am a bit confused. Is this right now, is it grief or tension that has you kissing me? Or is it—“

“Not tension. I'm not trying to use you as stress relief,” Regina shakes her head. “I like you. I like being with you. I’m attracted to you. You were saying such wonderful things and it made me so happy, I just lost myself for a moment. I can’t date you, still. Unless all dating means is sleeping next to you and going on coffee dates and sharing a few kisses—“

“Yes, let's do that,” Robin smiles. “That all sounds lovely.”

“We wouldn’t be able to have sex,” Regina scoffs. “I… okay, you deserve to know this.”

She moves to sit up to face him, and he frowns, following so he’s propped up on pillows and looking back at her with curiosity. She doesn’t want to say the words but she wants him to know this about her, oddly, so she gives her explanation quickly.

“I don’t have sex in a healthy way. It just doesn’t work. And I hate admitting it. It just never ends well for me.”

“You can’t enjoy it,” he surmises.

She bites her lip. “I have tried really hard to overcome it. I can um, physically, I can get there. God this is awkward.”

Robin doesn’t seem phased at all (he wouldn’t, he’s a social worker, he’s heard worse, after all). Still, she feels ashamed being so technical with her friend.

Robin assures her, because that’s what he does best. “It’s not awkward at all to me. I want to know. I’m glad you’re telling me.”

“I’ve only told my therapist,” Regina spits out in warning. “It’s not pretty. And quite embarrassing. I’m not sure how to go about telling you.”

“Okay,” Robin says, furrowing his brows. “Maybe it will help if I ask some leading questions about it?”

Actually, yes, that will help. Regina nods.

Half of her face is hidden from him in her hair, and Robin must not like that, because he’s brushing it back so he can see her. She should feel exposed, but she doesn’t. Instead she feels safe. He’s calming her, almost. “So, you can’t have sex in a healthy way. Now what is it about sex that makes it difficult?”

She wants to hide in her hair again, wants to look down at the covers and say nothing. But she doesn’t. She forces herself to look at him, because he’s giving her no judgment and he deserves her honesty. “I can enjoy it while it’s happening. But I can’t enjoy the moments after.”

“It feels wrong?” Robin guesses.

Regina nods her head, and now she is unable to look down. She can’t admit this if she looks at him. “I feel disgusted, I guess, that would be the best way to put it. And as you know, I never want to see the person again. I end up feeling queasy even thinking of the night. I think it’s an intimacy problem. I’m working on it. But it keeps happening.”

“Well, I certainly don’t want you to never want to see me again. So we won’t have sex,” Robin decides, grabbing her hand and squeezing it.

“Okay,” Regina breathes. “So, of you want to leave—“

“I’m not leaving.” Robin chuckles, his hands still playing with her fingers. “And if you want to, if you want to still have coffee dates and nights out and sleepovers where we share and care for one another, with an occasional kiss here and there, I think we should do that. Date one another, I mean. Without sex. Which is such a little part of a relationship, right?”

“It’s a big fucking part of a relationship,” Regina snorts. “And that’s not fair to you.”

“I’m not having sex right now,” Robin reminds. “Dating you isn’t exactly taking that away. It will add a lot, with nothing removed. Kind of the perfect situation.”

It’s not, though. Right now he is free to be with anyone he wants whenever he wants to. And if he was with her, that would change, wouldn’t it? She thinks about Robin with another woman and it’s terrifying to her, has her feeling sick to her stomach over the thought. God, when did this happen? When did her feelings become so complicated?

No, she can’t demand this of him. She’d have to deal with him sleeping with other women, should he chose to.

So she clears her throat and forces the words out.

“If we did this, you’d obviously be free to, you know, see whomever you’d like on the side.”

Robin must see how miserable she is saying it, judging from the way he looks at her, how his eyebrows raise and he pouts as if he feels so sorry for her. God, she hates how terrible she’s concealing her feelings right now.

Robin shakes his head, and takes her hand with his, leading it to his lips and kissing it softly. She almost blushes, but she doesn’t. At least, not in a way that is recognizable in the pale moonlight. “Don’t give me permission for that. I don’t want it, and you shouldn’t think you have to give it. Staying celibate is easy and it’s worth it for you.”

“For how long?” Regina asks. “I'm still like this and it’s been thirteen years. There’s no guarantee I’ll be okay with this anytime in the future.”

Robin shrugs. “We don’t know how things will go in the future. And plenty of people abstain from sex until marriage. We wouldn’t be any different from those couples.”

“Except there’s an end there. There’s not here,” Regina reminds. “This could be permanent.”

“Well, if I’m being honest I don’t think it will be.”

“You think you’re going to fix me?” she asks, insulted and annoyed for the first time at Robin and his ego.

“No, I think you’re going to heal yourself,” he says simply.

“I haven’t been able to do that in years,” she reminds. “What makes you so confident?”

“Those were busy years. Having a baby, finishing those last months of high school, med school, your residency, the boards. And you still obviously got a lot done. you seem very together, so I’m sure you made a lot of progress as busy as you were. Now, though, you’ve settled a bit. But I don’t expect this to change overnight. Or even within a year or two. We may decide this isn’t for the best for reasons entirely unrelated to the lack of sex, and that will be fine. I’m not doing this to get laid. I just want to be able to spend time with you, to be important in your life, to not hide how I feel about you.”

Her stomach feels tight, her breath constricted. He is proposing something that in many ways sounds lovely. But in others, it’s a mess. It has been almost a year, since she’s had sex, and that’s longer than she’s gone since Henry turned three. And how does she explain that even with the bad feelings that come after it’s over, she still craves it, still wants it, still finds herself looking for it?

She tries, shutting her eyes so she doesn’t have to see his reaction. “I don’t know that I could wait years without sex. It’s already been a year for me and that’s quite some time. I know that sounds awful, but even when it feels shitty afterwards… for some reason I still want it.”

“Okay,” Robin says. “But you don’t know why you want it, right?”

“Presumably the orgasms,” she deadpans, and he laughs.

“I’m betting it’s more than that.”

He’s right of course. She doesn't need a man to have an orgasm, yet she pursues them just the same.

She shrugs.

“Do you want it right now?” He asks.

“Yes,” she admits. “With you, but that’s not going to work. I know what happens afterward.”

“Do you want a one night stand?” Robin asks, no judgment, no curiosity. “Right now, I mean. If you could. With someone you wouldn’t have to see again.”

She thinks about it, and truly it doesn’t seem all that satisfying at the moment. “Not right now,” she shrugs.

Robin seems pleased with that answer. He gives her a slight nod, then says, “Why don’t we wait until you want that and talk it out then?”

He’s making everything sound too easy but it’s not, is it?

Regina huffs. “I don’t want to hurt you, and don’t tell me you wouldn’t be hurt if I told you we’d have to stop seeing each other because I really want sex.”

Robin laughs. “It won’t be ideal. But I’m not even sure we would need to stop seeing each other like this.”

“You’d just be fine with me sleeping with other men?”

“Not fine,” Robin admits. “When you told me you were looking for someone, and you had an eye on Killian, I was incredibly jealous. But then you explained things. You’ve explained more tonight. It’s not really related to the way you feel about me. I’m not sure I could handle it if it comes up on the future, but right now I think I could. Meaningless sex with someone you never want to see again? It’s not something I’d be jealous of, necessarily.”

“We have no idea how I’ll be—“

“We don’t. We don’t know how I’ll end up being, either. We won’t know until we try it.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” she says again. “I feel like it’s bound to happen.”

“There are very few relationships, I would wager, where people don't get hurt. It happens when you feel a lot for the other person. Doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. I know it would be worth it to me, being with you like this.”

She bites her lip and thinks about it. This could work. Until it doesn’t. “I… I want to be like this with you, too. I just don’t want to lose you. I just got you back in my life, and—“

“I’m not going anywhere.” He assures.

“If this ends poorly, you’ll —“

“I’ll go back to being your friend. You’ve been honest with me, that’s all I can ask. You won’t lose me.”

There’s silence as Regina tries to find another argument against this, but there is none.

She wants this, god, how she wants this. It’s so comfortable with him, being in his arms, spending time with him, feeling loved and appreciated. It’s nice to have that type of relationship — even if it’s not quite real since they can’t do the things couples do. Not everything, anyway.

Robin genuinely seems unbothered by that.

And she trusts him, god how she trusts him.

“Sleep on it,” Robin urges. “Think it over. You don’t have to tell me your answer right now.”

She nods, taking a moment to appreciate him, for what he is to her, for what he’s offering, for all he’s already given.

“Okay,” she says, letting Robin lead her back down to the bed, so her head is on his chest again, his arm around her.

She lets herself stroke the muscles of his chest a bit more boldly now — she can do that, they had a frank discussion after all.

Still, he laughs when her hand swoops down low to his abs.

“What are you doing?” he asks playfully.

“Nothing, just noting a few things that have changed since high school.” She presses her hand firmly against his stomach and feels his chuckle.

“I’ve noted a few things of yours that have changed since high school, but somehow I think it would be decidedly ungentlemanlike of me to feel those differences for myself.”

God, she likes him. He doesn’t tiptoe around her, he is teasing her, making light sexual jokes that don't make her uncomfortable in the slightest, but she appreciates hearing. It’s good, it makes things feel honest between them. He’s not hiding attraction or desire for her but not forcing the issue either.

She cuddles in closer to him and lets him lull her to sleep with soothing strokes of her hair and neck. The last thought she has before she falls under is that it feels so wonderful to be this comfortable, this safe, in the arms of someone she’s known for most of her life, who knows more about her than almost anything.

Chapter Text

Regina wakes before the sun, feeling groggy and a bit confused. It comes back to her, the night before, the fact that she decided to share a bed with Robin. God, she should be humiliated that she asked for this. Still, she slept soundly, better than she would had he not been here. Though she’s not sure how they fell into this current position. She’s spooning him, her body flush against his. She shifts a bit, feeling her nipples (she’s warm, but they are hard as pebbles for some reason) graze against something. It feels good, sets her aflame for a moment until she comes back to Earth and remembers that she shouldn’t be feeling like this next to Robin.

It takes her a while to put it together in her half-awakened state, but the source of this pleasure is Robin’s hand cupping her breast. And she’d blame him, except her hand is over his, almost as if it put him there in their sleep.

Not his fault, it seems. It’s also not his fault that he’s currently hard against her hip. That’s just biology. Or it’s a natural reaction to someone putting your hand on their breast. Either way, he gets a pass.

She’s surprised the feeling of him doesn’t give her a punch of anxiety, but she supposes she knows him and knows he’s harmless.

She takes his hand with hers and moves it safely around her middle. Oddly, having him like this feels nice, warm and right. It sends a rush of blood to her head, has her feeling silly for being so affected by an arm around her belly.

Her nightstand clock says 5:15. Henry will be up at 6:30 (lately, not without her practically dragging him out of bed) and her alarm clock is set for six so Robin can sneak out.

Maybe Robin should leave now just to be sure. But he makes her feel safe and settled, has her falling back to sleep for a few precious moments.

.::.

Robin wakes before the alarm. Thirteen minutes before, that is. He doesn’t remember how they got in this position, how his nose is in her hair, his arm around her middle.

She’s fast asleep, her breathing slow and steady, so he takes a moment to press a kiss into those long, tangled locks.

She responds as if by reflex, her head falls back a bit adorably, but then her hips rock against him, and he has to bite back a moan at the feeling of ass unintentionally grinding against where he’s unintentionally hard.

Unintentionally as of now, but a few more swivels of her hip and it will be a very different story.

Shit.

He’s desperate to create space between them, because he’s not sure what Regina feeling his erection will do, whether it will trigger something or scare her in some way.

So even though it pains him, he frees his hand from hers and attempts to scoot back.

Regina, apparently, is a light sleeper. Even his small movements have her waking with a groan, chasing his body, pressing back as he keeps scooting away

“We still have a few minutes,” Regina rasps, “And you’re warm; stay for a second.”

He can’t help but smile at that. She’s never spent the night with a man, she’s made that clear, she doesn’t cuddle. But she’s made herself quite comfortable with Robin after only a few hours.

And then she presses herself flush against him, and he’s reminded of the reason he so desperately wanted some distance.

She must feel it because her body stills against him. He moves away quickly, shame creeping up and resting hotly on his cheeks as he worries about her.

“I’m so sorry, it’s nothing, it’s just that—“

“Robin,” she says sleepily, shifting away to turn the alarm off (they are clearly up, him in more ways than one), “I’m a doctor. I know about male biology.”

“Oh,” Robin chuckles. “Right.”

“It’s okay,” she says, turning to face him. She looks a little timid, possibly a little hurt. “I’m not that sensitive or… I don’t have a phobia or anything. You don’t have to walk on eggshells around me.”

“It’s not that,” Robin says quickly. “I didn’t want you to think I was enjoying this too much or thinking of things we made clear aren’t happening,”

“Right,” Regina says as if realizing that could be a problem. “I really don’t think that. I know you.”

She places her hand on his chest, over where his heart is. The contact is a bit unexpected but pleasant. He didn’t know Regina could be like this, so affectionate.

“I’ve been thinking, if you are really, really sure you want to try this, to… date without really dating—“

“Dating without sex is no less real,” Robin interjects. Regina looks up at him with a raised eyebrow.  "And yes, I am very sure."

“You should know, I might be awful at this,” she warns Robin. “I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s just been me and Henry for a very long time. I have had years of therapy trying to deal with my problems getting close to people. I have almost no friends. My coworkers barely even know me. I’m very fucked up.”

Robin chuckles. “You don’t seem so to me. And I know you say you have trouble with friendships and getting close to people, but these past few weeks I would say that we became friends, didn’t we?”

Regina bites her lip, smiling as if conceding the point, nodding slightly.

“And maybe it will be too hard, but we could at least try it, right? Look at how well you adapted to your first time cuddling with someone.”

Regina rolls her eyes and tries to look annoyed, but the amusement is on her face

“I’m not sure how well I handled cuddling in my sleep. As I remember, you had your arms wrapped around me like a teddy bear,” she reminds.

“And you liked it,” he teases back, earning a bright but brief smile from her.

She’s all tense and overthinking this, he realizes.

“Hey, don’t stress. We’ll take it slow,” Robin tells her, though she’s so beautiful, he can’t help it, he reaches up to cup her cheek, his thumb brushing against the apple of it gently. Okay, maybe he’s incapable of taking it slow. He can tell the sudden touch startles her, but before he can move away, she relaxes and smiles. “I can tell you that I’d be happy just going to coffee and occasional dinners with our sons, confiding in one another and being there for one another. Just knowing you are with me, that we can care about each other in a special way? That’s something I haven’t had in a long time, and something I’ve missed but hadn’t really wanted to seek out before you. I don’t need anything physical The parts of dating I miss the most aren’t much different than what we’ve already been sharing. I want to give it a shot if you’re willing.”

There's silence where he waits for her to give a list of reasons why this is a bad idea, to argue or let him down in a diplomatic way.  He braces himself for it, realizing the rejection will hurt more than he realized.

“Do you give back rubs?” she asks playfully. Her little negotiation tactic is endearing.

“Oh, yes, loads of them. Anytime you want.”

“Okay,” she says, looking so genuinely happy at this moment it takes his breath away. “Let’s try it.”

He almost swoops down to kiss her, but he’s reminded that even a chaste kiss isn’t something he should be pushing on her a second after she’s given this arrangement a tentative yes.

So he thumbs over her cheek one last, slow time and says a soft, “Okay, then. Would you like to meet me for coffee in about an hour and a half?”

Regina snickers and looks at the clock. 6:06

“Shit,” she whispers. “You have to leave.”

“I do,” Robin sighs. He goes to get up, but there’s a bit of habit he’s fighting here. He’s so rarely left a bed with a woman without kissing her. He had been with Marian for years and never missed a day of kissing her goodbye each morning. So as Robin gets up, he presses a light kiss to the crown of her head, hoping it settles her as much as it does him. She doesn’t seem to mind it, thankfully. In fact, she even looks pleased.

She turns on her side, no doubt trying to catch a few more minutes to sleep. And as she’s not facing him, he decides to quickly change in the bedroom (if Henry wakes up by some stroke of bad luck, he definitely wants to be fully clothed and not wearing scrub pants that definitely belong to a woman several inches shorter than himself).

Regina doesn’t turn around, doesn’t question or berate him for changing in the same room as her, so he thinks she probably feels it is for the best, too.

“Coffee, 7:30,” he reminds again after putting on his socks.

“Mmm, yes, definitely,” Regina says sleepily back. “Lots and lots of coffee.”

God, she’s adorable. He laughs and leans into whispers goodbye in her ear, and then he quietly tiptoes out the door.

He’s still feeling a little rush of adrenaline as he pulls in his driveway.

An odd thing, John’s car is there.

Robin walks in the door puzzled as John has made himself at home, eating a home-made egg and bacon sandwich in the kitchen.

“Hey,” John says as if it is nothing.

“What are you doing here?” Robin asks, wracking his mind for a reason.

“The question I should be asking,” John says, looking more than pleased (oh no), “is what were you doing not here?”

“I don’t have to answer to you,” Robin quips back, feeling oddly defensive. “This is my house!”

“You told me I was welcome to crash here anytime I needed it,” John reminds. And that’s true, of course. “I spent the whole weekend with Tinks, who, by the way, is moving back here, she wasn’t just in for the weekend. Anyway, I had to leave last night. We both had to get some sleep, I swear to god I was afraid my dick was going to fall off. We kept trying to stop but you know how we are.”

“I don’t need to hear this,” Robin groans.

“I sent you a text. Several, actually. I knew you were at the game, but by the time I managed to gather all my resolve to leave, I was way too tired to drive all the way back to Portland, so I thought I would crash here. You did say your door is always open, and I do know the garage key code.”

Robin frowns and checks his phone.

John is right. He sent several texts. Starting around ten PM, John keeps asking where he is, and if the offer to crash and his place is still open. Eventually, he guesses Robin is asleep and says he’s going to let himself in.

“Shit, I’m sorry,” Robin groans. “I… had a busy night.”

“With the girl you like’s kid, right?” John asks. “Mulan kinda filled me in over lunch yesterday.”

“You two went to lunch? Without me?”

“Tinks and I went to lunch at Granny’s and saw her there with Marian and your kid. Mulan came over and was chatty. I told her I thought you might have gone home with a Veronica on Friday, and she informed me all about how smitten you are with her, and her with you.”

“Wonderful,” Robin grimaces.

“So, you were at her place last night?” John asks with a raised eyebrow. “Not a monk anymore, huh?”

“Nothing happened,” Robin sighs. “And nothing happened on Friday night, either. She just needed a ride home. And last night we just stayed up talking. But, I’m not sure how open she wants to be, so keep this to yourself for now.  She did sort of agree to try dating. But we’re taking it super slow.”

“Well hot damn,” John smiles.

“I gotta get dressed and ready for work,” Robin sighs, glancing at his watch. 6:40. He has about a half hour to get ready and get to coffee in time.

“You don’t have to be in till nine, right?” John asks. “I have to go to work. I’m fucked. I’m about two hours away with traffic.”

“I have to do something first,” Robin tells him. “Great seeing you, man. Was this a one-time thing with Tinks, or do you think you might start up again?”

“We’re going to try again,” John tells him. “An hour apart is much more doable long distance, you know? And the distance was the only real reason we broke up.”

“Great,” Robin says, giving him a pat on the back. “Then we will be seeing you more! Another one of my single friends down the drain. On that note, I’m taking a shower. But seriously, I’m happy for you man. And good seeing you.”

John laughs and takes his dish to the sink, running it under the water before slipping it in the dishwasher.

“Hey remember, you’re also someone who is no longer single,” John reminds as he heads out the door.

Right.

As Robin turns on the hot water, he can’t help but smile over that fact.

.::.

Robin rushes to get ready and is able to head out the door in about twenty minutes. He gets to the coffee shop, it’s 7:32, and Regina is already there, sitting at a table by the corner, a bit prompt, with two cups of coffee on the table.

He takes a moment to just admire her, just look at how adorable and beautiful she really is, sitting here, waiting, clearly nervous.

And then he walks over to her and apologizes for being two minutes late, which she completely waves off.

“No, I was early, so I thought I might get you coffee. I got you a shot-in-the-dark. Felt like you might need the extra shot of espresso after staying up half the night and getting up earlier than you’re used to.”

“You know oddly I’m feeling rather wonderful today, despite the lack of sleep,” Robin says sitting down and grabbing the coffee. “But thanks for the caffeine. You guessed right. I was planning on ordering this anyway.”

He watches her looking at him, her head tilted as she stares back, the way her face starts to relax. Whatever fears are roaming in her head must be dissipating.

He wants to say something sweet, something calming, but all he can think to say is, “Hi.”

He does so in a flirty little way, in a way he hopes conveys so much more.

Robin thinks the job is done when she blushes and runs her hand through her hair (as she always does when she’s nervous, he’s noticed).

“Hi,” she says, surprising him when she reaches her free hand across the table and squeezes his hand.

“You look nice,” Regina says, her hand still playing with his, fingers winding and intertwining with his own. “I’d never guess you got under five hours of sleep.”

“Look who’s talking,” Robin chuckles. “You really do look gorgeous. Blue’s your color, it seems.”

The blue top she’s wearing brings out her skin, her eyes, in some sort of way he can’t explain.

“Flirt,” Regina teases, stretching her palm and lining it against his before she laces their fingers.

Robin leans in a bit closer and reminds, “I think I might have been granted license to do that now.”

She flashes him a knowing smile. Then those nerves come back, and her free hand goes through her hair.

“How do things change?” She asks, “You’re going to have to walk me through this, I don’t know how to date someone.”

“How do things change from when we were just friends?” Robin asks. She nods, and he licks his lips, thinking. “Well, they won’t change much. I’ll be allowed to flirt with you and not feel bad, you can feel free to do the same, though something tells me you never worried about how I felt about that.”

“Right,” She says leaning in closer.

“We will probably touch a bit more,” he says, nodding to their hands. She blushes as if she’s been caught doing something inappropriate, moving her hand back after a little squeeze. It makes her seem so innocent, so sweet. “But, really, nothing more than that. So, how was Henry today? Grumpy and tired?”

Regina laughs. “Actually, no. He seemed well-rested. Which is good. I think you must have tired him out and he must have gotten to sleep almost right away. It was busy today, he had to shower and change and get out the door for the bus, I barely had time to do the same myself, so it was a breakfast on the go type of day. But he still showed me a picture of the game before he left. A selfie of him holding his thumb up and you pouting.”

Robin chuckles. “Yes, his team crushed mine. We were ribbing one another the whole game. He’s actually a lot of fun.”

“I think he really likes you,” Regina smiles. “He was asking when he was going to see you next.”

“Anytime he likes. You can even come, too,” he winks back.

“Maybe we can do dinner sometime,” she throws out nonchalantly.

“I’d love to. And by the way, Henry asked me a few things while we were at the game. Or commuting to and from the game — the actual game was all smack talk and junk food.”

Regina raises her eyebrows, obviously too worried about the actual questions he asked to worry about dirty language and sugar overdoses.

Robin scratches the base of his neck while thinking about how to phrase it. “At first he asked if we were hanging together because he needed a positive male role model. Apparently, he got that from his Aunt Gwen and cousin Lily?”

Regina laughs. “Yeah, he knows Gwen and Mal worry about that for Lily since her dad is such a trainwreck. I guess I worry about Henry, too, but I’m trying not to let him know it.”

“I don’t think he knows. He was clearly just trying to figure out why you let him go to a game on a weeknight.”

Regina nods.  "This is what I get for being such a strict mom.  No trust," she deadpans.  "So, Anything else?”

“Well, then he asked if we were hanging out because I was dating you,” Robin explains. “And I said no because I was being honest at the time. But I need to know how this arrangement works. If we’re telling people, I mean. If you don’t want to tell people, that’s fine. Your choice, always. But I can’t lie to Henry. He trusts me now and it would be a shitty thing to do to take advantage of that and not tell him the truth.”

Robin wonders if this a deal breaker (he hadn’t really known how he felt until the words came tumbling out himself) but suddenly being dishonest to Henry seems untenable.

Instead, Regina looks genuinely touched. “You care so much about him? Already?”

“I do,” Robin nods. “And you know, when I feel I have a child’s trust, I’m loathe to give them any reason to think I’ve broken it.”

“We can tell him,” Regina agrees. “I’ve never had to tell him anything like this — god, how awkward.”

Robin chuckles. “And everyone else? Adults, I mean. We can remain friends in their eyes, or—”

“You mean can you tell your friends we’re dating without the sex?”

She keeps qualifying it and that’s rather frustrating to him. None of this feels fake to him, yet she seems to think the relationship isn’t real because they have no plans of consummating their relationship. As if this were an old fashioned arranged marriage.

“Does this feel too awkward for you? If it doesn’t, we don’t have to do this. If you don’t think you can get close to or get to know one another without the physical, or you’re at all uncomfortable, I’m sorry if I pushed you into this.”

“You didn’t,” Regina says firmly. “I’m pretty sure I’m the one who asked you to spend the night with me. And I’m the one who kissed you. I am very attracted to you and I really like you. I just hate that I can’t just be normal about this with you.”

“No one has to know our sex lives but us,” Robin tells her. “I just want to know if you want me to pretend to be friends in front of Marian and Mulan, or whether we can say we’re seeing where things go.”

“I like that, actually,” Regina tilts her head. “Seeing where things go. That sounds… accurate. And honest.

“Good,” Robin says with a goofy smile. “So when would you like to do dinner? If it’s any place that does burgers, I’m bringing Roland.”

He notices the way she relaxes a bit, the way things just start to unravel. It’s encouraging.

It’s highly inappropriate, far too soon to say this out loud or even think it, but as he watches the way she smiles, the way she responds to him, he starts to think that yes, maybe this will work. Maybe this will last a lifetime.

It’s overly romantic and sentimental but it’s also not a thought he’s ever had about anyone before, and that means something, doesn’t it?

Chapter Text

Three Weeks Later

They are getting closer.

It is unexpected to Robin, how she’s so naturally affectionate and comfortable with him. She was so closed and cold as a teenager that he expected that to continue into adulthood, especially considering what she’s been through. But since they started the friendship that hasn’t been the case and it’s even less so now.

She is touchy-feely, actually, she leans against him when they talk, places a hand on his thigh whenever she’s close enough. She does it even in public settings now, sometimes at least.

He loves it. How comfortable she has become.

She told Henry about him, so now he gets a scowl in his direction everyone they get a bit too cuddly, but Henry is rather okay with it, frankly. He hasn’t had any questions for Regina.

He did have questions for Robin. Some questions were expected, like the question of whether he was going to be Henry’s mother’s boyfriend now. Robin had answered only if she wants me to be and that seemed to satisfy Henry. And Henry has asked if they will get to hang out together or would his mom be there all the time? Robin assured him the next basketball game they go will be without his mom, and Henry seemed happy about that. But then Henry had asked if they dated in high school, a question Robin knows Henry has asked before, so it strikes him as odd.

“No,” Robin had told him honestly. “But I had a crush on her back then. I suppose that never stopped.”

Henry doesn’t seem to quite believe him, which surprises him. Still, the boy is handling things fine. He’s even met Roland and handled the overexcited five-year-old as well as could be expected. He showed him his room and let him play some games Roland definitely does not have the manual dexterity and brain power to be able to play yet, but he was excited to be taught by an eighth grader.

“He’s good with kids,” Robin had told Regina. “He will make a good babysitter. Even teacher.”

Regina has just brimmed with pride over that.

Their time is spent with kids and family, so there’s barely been time to register the lack of sex life that they have had, but it’s there beneath the surface, crops up at inopportune times when his body betrays him, is too distracted by hers.

She really is beautiful, sexy even. Effortlessly so. And it’s increasingly hard to force himself to not be aware of that. They kiss, they hold one another, they can spend a whole movie stroking up and down each other’s backs and arms. It’s as if they missed that passionate, sex-filled time in a relationship and skipped forward to a domestic form of intimacy. All of that is wonderful and more than he thought he’d have again. Sometimes, still, her shirt will be unbuttoned a bit too low, she will wear something that makes her ass looks amazing, or a skirt with a slit up the side that reveals toned thighs, and his mind goes straight to the gutter.

Still, things are going well, as new as this relationship is, things become so natural and they know one another so well, that it seems natural to invite her to dinner with Mulan and Marian.

In retrospect, it might have been a bit fast, but he eats with them so regularly throughout the week it seems silly to separate that part of his life from her.

And lord knows Marian and Mulan both want to meet her.

Regina seemed touched when he asked, thank god. He’s looking forward to this, to having her get better acquainted with some of the most important people in his life.

 

.::.

 

“Don’t be nervous,” Robin tells her yet again, but how the fuck is she supposed to stop nerves? He needs to shut up.

“I’m not nervous,” she tells him, smoothing her hair one final time before getting out of the car.

“They already love you,” He reminds.

“They don’t know me.”

“They met you at the play and thought you were lovely. It’s just dinner.”

It is just dinner. But it’s his best friends and Roland’s parents and the first dinner with Robin’s friends they’ve had since they became… whatever they are.

Eventually, she will have this with David and Mary Margaret. Though MM is so pregnant she’s paused her social calendar until after the baby comes. That is a relief for Regina, because they will have to introduce Henry, and she’s rather terrified of it. MM and David are the hard ones, the ones where things may get awkward between Robin and his two close friends.

So she really needs to make a good impression with Mulan and Marian. She wants them to like her more than she can admit.

“I wish Henry were here,” Regina grimaces. “He’s such a good buffer.”

“Well, next time we’re going to have to check this boy’s social calendar,” Robin proclaims.

“I hope that birthday party is worth it,” she says under her breath. “Because he really screwed me over.”

Robin just chuckles and rings the doorbell and waits.

“What in the hell?” Mulan asks, opening the door with a scowl. “Since when did you decide you have to ask permission to enter this house when we are already expecting you?” She sees Regina and her entire demeanor shifts to friendly and welcoming. “Regina, hi, how are you? I’m so glad you could make it.” She ushers them in, and then calls out “Hey Marian, guess who made me open the door for him like he was a god damned king?”

He hears Marian say something from upstairs, but it’s too low and stifled for Regina to catch it, but Mulan catches it, the way she snorts and looks at Robin teasingly.

Regina is still taking in the surroundings as she takes off her shoes. Marian and Mulan have great taste. Everything is in these light, neutral colors, there’s plenty of sunlight. The home is modern, but not too harsh or cold. It’s a family home, after all.

“Oh, come on,” Robin teases Mulan back, “I was with a guest, I didn’t want her to know how rude I normally am.”

“Oh, well too late for that, Marian and I have all the stories. Though treating this house like it’s your own isn’t rude, it’s rather nice for us. And Roland. So don’t stop doing it.”

Roland comes bounding in as if he hears his name.

“Daddy!” he yells, running for him at top speed.

Robin braces himself and stretches out his arms, absorbing the full body blow Roland delivers with a started grunt.

“Careful, Ro,” Mulan scolds. “Daddy’s getting old.”

“Daddy is not getting old. Your mommy is being silly.”

“You are old, Daddy!” Roland proclaims. He points at Mulan then and smiles devilishly. “And so is Mommy!”

“Why you—” Mulan says pretending to be angry at him, Robin comically holding her back from chasing after a very amused Roland.

They really are a good parenting team, Regina thinks. And good friends. It’s odd, as Robin said. For sure. This is the woman who replaced him, after all. The woman who stole his wife. But they act like old friends. It’s really nice to see.

“Roland, your mother is all calmed down now,” Robin calls in the direction Roland scurried off, “Why don’t you come back in and say hi to Regina?”

They’ve met before, just two little dinners with Henry and both of them Roland had to go to sleep not long after it started, so she’s surprised when Roland rushes back in and runs over to her, hugging her by her waist.

“Hi, Regina!” Roland chirps, before letting go of her and rushing back into the other room.

“Well, he sure likes you,” Mulan notes.

“I don’t know about that,” Regina says shyly. “Maybe he just likes hugs.”

“Nope. He likes you. We know it when we see it. And he has excellent taste,” Robin says. “You work with kids all day, I think you underestimate how good you are with them.”

“Oh, that’s right, she’s got that pediatrician magic,” Mulan notes. “It shows.”

Robin nods. “That it does. Now, what are you making us for dinner again? Please tell me it’s my favorite.”

“I did make you some as appetizers. But Marian made short ribs, so don’t fill up on them.”

“She makes dumplings that are out of this world,” he whispers to her, loudly enough to Mulan can hear. “And she won’t give the recipe or show anyone how to make them so we all have to keep coming back to have more.”

“It’s not like you’d ever be able to make them right,” Mulan scoffs. She dishes a few of the potstickers out onto small plates and grabs a few chopsticks. “Eat, please,” she says, handing the small dish to Regina while she pours a bit of a sauce into a ramekin. “You’re not allergic to anything, right?”

“No,” Regina says, feeling like it’s the first time she’s gotten to say a word between the two of them. “And these look amazing.”

“They are,” Mulan says proudly. “Please, eat at the counter. Do you want a beer?”

She doesn’t ask Robin if he wants one, Regina notes, as Mulan grabs one and blindly holds it back for Robin.

“Beer would be nice,” Regina says with a smile.

Roland comes in then, throwing himself at Robin and then running away with a giggle. Robin shrugs and chases him leaving the two ladies alone.

“So,” Mulan says, grabbing Regina a bottle and opening it for her. “How you like our little town?”

“It’s nice,” Regina tells her, and it really, genuinely is. “You know Robin and I grew up in a small town, and I was convinced I’d never want to live in one when I grew up. I always wanted a big city. But I’ve been in three big cities so far, and I always felt like an outsider, like I was still figuring stuff out. It’s been easier here. And nice seeing Robin again and reconnecting with him. Everyone is so friendly.”

“So we’re keeping you, then?” Mulan asks.

For once Regina doesn’t qualify anything, doesn’t have any doubts. The answer is easy.

“I’m staying, yes. Henry deserves to go to high school all in one place. I won’t pull him out of school. And Robin is here, and I think I’ve already gotten used to seeing him nearly every day again. So I think you’re stuck with me.”

“I don’t suppose Robin filled you in on how protective we all are? Of Robin, not Roland.”

“He didn’t,” Regina says, gritting her teeth. I guess this is the talk she thinks to herself. “But I met you two at the play. I could tell.”

“I’m not the one you have to worry about,” Mulan waves off. “Marian, she’s different. She’s a worrier. She hurt him terribly with the divorce, and I think part of her still feels guilty for being happy. So she really wants him to be happy, too. So if she’s snippy or sounds overly judgy just remember she’s not being a jealous ex, she’s being more like, like a…”

Mulan searches for the words.

“More like a sister,” Regina guesses.

Mulan snaps her fingers and points to her, nodding. “Sister! That’s it. Anyway, I’m glad you’re sticking around, and I am glad you and Robin are trying this out. And she is too. She just doesn’t want Robin hurt.”

Regina nods. “I don’t either. Especially after all he’s done for me since I got here. I care a lot about him. But it’s still new.” She feels she has to qualify, has to remind Mulan because this conversation is verging on serious for two people who are “just seeing where it goes.”

Mulan looks at her with a little smirk and nods. “I’m not saying you have to promise to fall in love and marry the guy. Just be gentle with him.”

“I am,” Regina assures. She thinks of last week when it was just her and Robin and the kids. He had gotten wrapped up in talking to her and accidentally set the oven too high, entirely ruining the chicken breasts by the time they noticed (he was nervous, she could tell). She grabbed an onion, celery, hamburger meat a can of pre-made tomato sauce and the wine they had and made a quick poor man’s bolognese— nothing fancy, but enough to pass. Dinner wasn’t much later than planned, and the kids were happy about their hamburger helper styled meal.

Then Robin, obviously touched and overwhelmed at the moment, had kissed her. In front of Henry.

Not a deep kiss, but they were edging on flirting while getting dessert ready, and Roland said something about Regina being the most delicious cook in the world and then Robin just put an arm around her waist and crashed his lips into hers.

He had become so, so, scared when he ended the kiss, particularly when he heard Henry’s he labored Oh man! Come on! And Roland’s Daddy, why did you kiss Regina?

He apologized, and yes he probably should have asked her if PDA was okay in front of the children, but she knew he got caught up in the moment, and Regina didn’t have the heart to scold him. She gave him a little kiss back and swatted him with a dishrag and told him to cut her an extra small piece of carrot cake.

So yes, she’s gentle with him. That comes naturally to her.

What doesn’t come naturally is sex. They’ve had a few kisses and light touches, not even a heavy makeout session. She feels like some evangelical Christian in high school, but Robin doesn’t seem to mind. Most of their time together has been with the children, anyway. It hasn’t seemed to change the intimacy level, either. She finds herself growing more comfortable with him in other ways.

Still, it hangs over her, the worry that this problem of hers will have to be dealt with because she can give him everything he deserves. Hell, everything they deserve. She’s been through enough, she’s earned the right to be able to touch him like she wants to, to make one another feel good, to share that special connection.

“Hey, I’m so sorry I’m late!” Marian says, walking downstairs looking far too gorgeous for a casual get together at her home. “Oh good, you like beer!” she says to Regina, walking over to her with a smile.

Marian is wearing a casual mulberry wrap dress that makes her already perfect figure look even more flawless. Marian is gorgeous, and Regina has conflicting feelings between just enjoying the sight of a very pretty woman and remembering the man she is interested in used to regularly sleep with that and is used to someone curvy, shapely and impossibly sexy. She doesn’t expect this, the whispers of insecurity that threaten to speak louder if she doesn’t indulge and listen to them.

And she does, she indulges them. But only for a second, and then she snaps out of it.

“Hi, Marian. So lovely to see you again,” Regina smiles, holding out her hand and the woman comes toward her.

“Sorry about my wife. She takes forever to get ready,” Mulan says with a playful roll of her eyes.

“Roland squirted ketchup on me,” Marian explains. “I had to change.”

“I’m familiar with that particular accessory,” Regina grimaces. “Henry loved grape jelly for a while. The squeezable kind. My clothes were unamused.”

Marian laughs. Robin appears behind her, holding a squealing Roland over his head as he growls and takes on the role of… some sort of monster.

“Momma!! Help me!”

“I can’t,” Marian says looking up at Roland with a little laugh. “You’ve been caught by a very hungry dinosaur.”

“Wild Thing!” Robin and Roland correct.

“Ohh,” she says, then cringes at Regina. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Regina asks. Marian doesn’t answer, she just follows Robin with her eyes as he carries Roland back to the living room and tosses him on the couch and starts to tickle him.

Roland thrashes and giggles, and then, in a voice far louder than any five-year-old should be capable of, yells, “BE STILL!”

Regina visibly jumps at his scream, but can’t help but laugh as well.

A line from the book, she realizes. And Robin seems to obey, freezing in place as Roland tames him.

“I’m sorry that I think that’s too adorable to scold,” Marian says with a sheepish grin.

Regina laughs and shakes her head as she continues to watch them. “I’d never be able to stop that, either. They both look too happy. I’d never want to ruin their fun.”

And Marian flashes her a grateful kind of smile she hopes means she’s going to be given a fair chance.

.::.

Dinner goes well, he thinks. Marian made a delicious meal that even Roland enjoyed. He didn’t request any of his childish favorites after a few bites like he normally does.

That put Marian in a rather good mood. He expected her to be a bit more… Marian. But other than a few arguably intrusive questions she’s been very nice. Regina has handled everything in stride. He knew she would, she’s her own worst critic, so she’s always pleasantly surprised to find everyone doesn’t hate her.

“Bedtime, Ro,” Marian calls out.

Roland was so well behaved at dinner that he had been rewarded with quite a big ice cream sundae. Seeing his sloppy chocolate glazed smile had been a treat Robin didn’t know he needed to see. But now he’s winding down, watching his iPad from the couch as they finish talking at the table.

“Who is reading me a story?” Roland asks back.

“Who do you want?” Marian asks him sweetly.

“Daddy and Regina!” he yells back, and Regina looks surprised, to say the least, but Robin is thrilled.

“You know, kid, you could have said all of us, geez,” Mulan teases.

“I’m sorry,” Regina says sheepishly

“Don’t be sorry for our son liking you,” Mulan laughs.

Robin notices that Marian isn't quite as amused by all this. She bites her lip and shoots Robin a glance.

“Seems Roland’s already got himself attached,” Marian says, trying to sound nonchalant and failing miserably.

“I…” Regina starts but Robin waves her off. She doesn’t need to apologize for the boy liking her.

“I’m going to take this as a sign that we get free house calls anytime Roland is sick,” Mulan interrupts, looking at her teasingly.

“Anytime,” Regina smiles back. She looks lighter, relieved, and Robin is yet again grateful for Mulan.

“Come on guys!” Roland huffs in a frustrated voice, already walking toward the stairs. Well, he must really be ready for bed. Okay then.

.::.

Regina misses the night time routine for a child. Henry hasn’t needed assistance going to bed in years. He’s always been an independent boy. Bedtime was a ritual that she had to give up when he reached about eight years old and decided he could do it himself. She kept the bedtime stories for as long as she could, but by eleven, he just preferred to read on his own.

She can’t have another child — a single mom is hard enough with one. But she’s absolutely entertained the thought of adopting another over the years. Henry is everything and another child certainly isn’t something she needs. But being with Roland feels right as if he’s filling a void she didn’t know she had inside her the whole time.

She helps him get ready for bed, is able to be surprisingly stern when he tries to delay and does a sloppy job brushing his teeth. It does come naturally, assuming this role with him. As they read a story together, she realizes that it’s not Roland who has become attached.

She has.

After a few short weeks, she’s already attached to this family. It’s why the thought of meeting Marian and Mulan had her so nervous, why she was so worried over what they would think of her, why she kept trying to delay this while Robin said it was just a casual date, that he’d take her if they were friends.

But they are not friends, that’s not what she feels toward him. She wants lots of nights like this with him and his son and the women that undoubtedly complete his family. She wants to be part of it too. And right now, she feels a part of it. Everyone is welcoming her, even a reluctant Marian.

She and Robin are just seeing where it’s going, this is supposed to be casual. But her feelings aren’t very much of either.

And she should be scared, because this will undoubtedly end badly, but for now, she is going to soak up the feeling of finding a family she truly feels at peace with.

“You know what they say, it’s never too late to correct a mistake!” Robin says, finishing the Berenstain Bear book Roland had picked out.

Roland smiles, his eyes already half shut. “That’s a good story.”

“Mmhm,” Robin says, “I agree.”

“Goodnight, Daddy,” Roland says, holding out an arm to accept a hug and a kiss from his dad. “I see you tomorrow right?”

“You do, I’ll pick you up after lunch.”

“Goodnight, Regina,” Roland says sleepily, sitting up to give her a hug.

“Goodnight sweetie,” she says, letting her fingers brush through his hair.

“Kiss,” Roland directs, and Robin bites his lip to keep from laughing. “What? We always kiss goodnight!” Roland scowls at Robin.

“True, true.”

“Where do you want your kiss?” Regina asks.

Roland gives that some thought before pointing to his cheek, a spot very close to his lips.

“Settle back under the covers,” she says, lifting them and waiting for him the lie-down.

She kisses him then, right where he asked, on the corner of his cheek and lip.

Roland smiles, his eyes shut tight.

Robin adjusts a nightlight and then lights are turned off and they step out.

“How’d he do?” Mulan asks. Dishes have been put away, and she is wiping down the table when Robin and Regina get down.

“Great, as usual,” Robin says taking a seat on the couch and motioning Regina to sit next to him. “He just conned Regina into a kiss goodnight.”

“He just asked,” Regina laughs. “Which was nice, trust me. Henry will barely take a hug these days.”

“I dread those days,” Marian sighs. “Roland is going to have three affectionate parents with their feelings hurt.”

“We'll be fine,” Mulan says, pointing to Marian and herself, and then looking pointedly at Robin.

“I’ll take it like a man,” Robin promises.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of,” Mulan answers with a dramatic sigh. Robin chuckles, and Regina laughs, stroking his chest and pressing a kiss there.

“You are just tenderhearted,” Regina teases, snuggling into him closer.

He wraps an arm around her and nods. “I’m a bit of a sap, yes.”

A bit?” Marian asks.

“Oh, look who's talking, you are the worst of us all; you cry at commercials,” Mulan gripes.

Marian laughs and shakes her head. “I’m making coffee, does everyone want a cup?”

They all do, and Marian grabs Robin to help her with dessert.

“So are we a deal breaker?” Mulan asks Regina casually as they both head toward the kitchen.

“You know… we act like this whole situation is normal, but I know damn well it's not. Robin is best friends with his ex and his ex’s wife. And we are all incredibly too familiar with one another. I can’t imagine how that would be for a new girlfriend to walk into.”

“Oh,” Regina laughs. “But there’s a child involved, so it’s different.”

“Some might say that’s worse,” Mulan shrugs. “Robin, Marian and I are likely to be like this for the next twelve to thirteen years. I mean, I know this would be odd for any new girlfriend Robin may have — not that you’re his girlfriend at this point but...” she gives a little nod to upstairs and, well, she has a point. She’s tucking his son in, calling her a girlfriend doesn’t seem like a stretch. “Anyway I know this whole thing would be hard for anyone new, you know? But I’m selfish and this system is good for Roland and I would rather it not end.”

“What’s good for Roland?” Robin asks, balancing three plates for pie with a fork on each plate.

Regina stands up and takes two out of his hand, handing one to Marian.

“The three of you being friends like this,” Regina explains. “Mulan was just telling me she knows it’s a bit unconventional.”

“I said weird, it’s weird. And more than a bit,” Mulan corrects.

Marian comes in carrying two cups of coffee looking perplexed.

“I was saying our arrangement is weird,” Mulan explains. “Just so Regina realizes we’re aware.”

Robin laughs at that, going to the kitchen to grab the other two cups of coffee as well as Marian’s pie looking like he wants a breather from this conversation.

“Oh, yeah, that,” Marian says, sitting down, her body going rigid. “I’m sure the whole thing looks bizarre from an outsider’s perspective. “

“Maybe it’s a bit… intimidating,” Regina says carefully. It is unusual but she isn’t upset by it. “You guys are a solid unit. But it’s not off-putting or threatening. I love that you’re a family like this. Roland is lucky. I’d love it if Henry had this type of family. You know, when there aren’t grandparents or aunts nearby it can be hard.”

“Yeah, the closest family is Marian’s. Her parents are about an hour away,” Mulan tells her.

“And they are amazing,” Robin adds.

“He just says that because he’s the favorite,” Mulan says rolling her eyes. “But Roland has Marian’s mom and dad, and she’s got a brother in Seattle. My family is just outside of San Francisco… but they are still kind of coming around on the whole married to a woman thing, so they aren’t the best.”

“My parents adore Roland,” Robin says, “As I’ve told you. But they are far away. So yes, it’s nice that we all can rely upon another. Even if this is a bit odd.”

“I think everyone should aspire to be like you three,” Regina says with a shrug. “I don’t think… I trust Robin, that’s all. And I’d do this for my son if I could. The more family the better.”

“Well, that’s wonderful,” Mulan says breathing a sigh of relief. “So, you knew Robin’s mom as a child. Was she always straight out of a fifties sitcom?”

“Hey!” Robin says, as Regina snickers.

“She is a nurse so she always had a job, but she worked part-time. And she baked. A lot,” Regina says winking at Robin. “For the whole neighborhood. I wouldn’t have thought fifties housewife, but she did kind of always have an apron on, didn't she?”

Conversation falls into a friendly, light conversation about Robin’s family and how Regina remembers them. It’s subtle teasing. Mulan and Marian trade stories about his family as they know him now.

Mulan and Marian are sprawled on the love seat together, Mulan starts scratching Marian’s head, running her hands through her hair as they talk. Which makes Regina feel better, less on display, because Robin’s arm is around her and her hand keeps finding its way to his chest time and again, to give it a soft pat or a lingering touch.

It’s all so touchy-feely, more than she ever saw herself enjoying, but with Robin, time and again, she’s finding out how much she craves this type of affection, and how much she loves to give it back.

She’s feeling comfortable, all trace of nerves gone until Mulan and Robin insists on letting her sit while they clear the dishes. She feels her stomach goes in knots at being left alone with Marian.

Marian smiles at her knowingly. It is a bit awkward.

“Robin talked about you a lot, you know.”

Regina’s skin goes hot. “Yes, I know what happened made an impression on him. It… it wasn’t easy, I’m sure.”

“He didn’t just talk about that,” Marian waves off. “It was about everything. What a great skater you were, the elaborate games you’d create, the movies you liked, the things you would say…” she chuckles. “For a while, I thought of you as competition. Like Robin could never care for me as much as he would the memory of you.”

Regina’s face falls, and Marian quickly adds, “Not that it was true. It was just that I wanted you to know Robin didn’t only think of you so often because of the tragedy that happened. He had lots of happy memories. I was worried that no one could live up to the person in his head, the person that you are. But, I meet you and I realize you’re exactly as he described.”

“Not… not exactly,” Regina chuckles. “I was a fearless little girl. I’m a bit of a wimp these days.”

“You don’t seem it,” Marian tells her with a soft smile.

And Regina can’t help but smile as Robin and Mulan come back.

She hasn’t felt this at home since she was a child herself.

They chat for a few more minutes but things grow flirty now. Robin is scratching up her back in a way that may be innocent but feels like so much more. She lets her hand rest on his leg, occasionally giving his thigh a little squeeze. From the way he’s looking at her, he’s exactly as affected as she is.

And she’s not thinking about anything but the way he feels, how he can make her heart swell and her belly go warm with the most innocent of touches, the most casual of glances.

.::.

She’s not sure what has gotten into her, but the moment they are first alone and out of sight, the moment they are in the car together, she forgets the reasons she shouldn’t and just kisses him like she’s wanted to. It’s awkward, groping at each other with a steering wheel jutting out and a center console between them, but they make due.

She’s barely shared more than a few chaste lingering kisses, really. There was that time last week when he walked her to her car after lunch, and the parking lot was mostly empty, surprising for midday, and he smelled good, looked good, and she let herself indulge a bit, deepened the kisses until it became more, until her tongue was caressing his and she was grabbing at his coat, pulling her toward him. It was only a few short seconds, but it meant something, and the way he’d panted, smiling at her, she knew he felt it too.

This is so much more than that.

Her hand is on the back of his neck, holding him to her as she kisses him the way she’s meant to, her free hand anchoring at his side, pulling him in closer.

His hand is in her hair. Other than the slightly started Mm!! before she grabbed him, there’s no hint of protest.

She hears little grunts of pleasure, it’s not just coming from him but her. He’s such a good kisser.

She should have known he was this good of a kisser by now. She should have done this weeks ago.

But they are here now, and his fingers are scratching at her scalp delightfully as his lips move against hers, and she tries not to think about missed opportunities.

Especially when he breaks from her lips with a gasp only to — oh god — dot kisses to her jaw and neck, this shouldn’t be this hot, it shouldn’t, it’s barely… fuck he feels amazing.

“God,” she moans, her hand running through his hair, cupping the back of his head.  "I've wanted to do that all night."

“Me, too,” he rasps.

She reaches down to cup his chin, drawing him up to kiss her again.

”Henry and his friend went to a movie,” she says, still catching her breath. “I don’t have to pick him up until 10:15. If you wanted to go to your place for a few minutes first—“

“Yes, yes, lets,” Robin agrees, pulling away and starting up the engine comically fast. “Oh, only if you are sure.”

“Robin,” she says sternly her breath still a bit labored. “It was my idea.”

.::.

It’s still her idea as he opens the door and she walks in kissing him and pressing him against the entrance to shut it. He chuckles at her boldness, but she doesn’t care.

This feels free, it feels nice, so she’s going to soak up the feeling without overthinking it. He is being careful with her, she knows that, because both his hands are at her hips, fingers almost reaching toward the swell of her ass but not quite having the courage to go for it. So she helps, reaching blindly behind her and sliding his hands down to where she wants them.

He lets out a satisfied moan and cups at her ass, it seems with permission he has no trouble being brazen, now he’s treating himself to handfuls of her, and she doesn’t mind in the slightest.

It feels really good, actually.

She unzips her own jacket and starts to help him with his own until he does it for her, taking both their coats out and putting it sloppily on the hooks by the wall.

She starts kissing him again, pressing close to him for a few moments before his hands reach back down to her ass, this time urging her up, lifting her.

It’s unexpected but hot, yet she still laughs a bit as she wraps her legs around him, letting him walk them into the living room. She keeps kissing him as he sits them down, him on the couch and her on his lap.

She doesn’t feel threatened, doesn’t feel uncomfortable or trapped, it’s this exciting rush of adrenaline free of any of the fear or despicable thoughts that can sometimes enter her mind (but they usually come later, much later, in this process anyway). This is different, she hasn’t felt this in any of her hookups, it’s always fun at first, a bit exciting, but she never feels this warm, never this safe.

“Regina,” Robin groans as she settles on top of him, shifts so she is fully sitting on his lap instead of straddling and hovering over him.

He’s hard, she feels it beneath her, and Robin is clearly nervous, readjusting, trying to move her off him.

“It's okay,” she sighs, “I want this. Don’t stop.”

But Robin doesn’t kiss her again, he takes his hands off her hips, shaking his head.

“I need to know,” Robin pants, “I don’t want this to end, I just need to know what we’re doing here if you’re going to be okay when this over. Because otherwise, we should really stop.”

He doesn’t want to stop at all, and she knows it looking at him. Even saying the words is painful to him. She has a rush of feelings for him just at how much he cares for her.

“This is okay,” Regina says, trying to gather her thoughts. “I can handle this, just no, no sex. No pants off.”

“Okay,” he whispers back, cupping the side of her face. She waits, lets him stroke her cheek as he looks at her.

He doesn’t do anything.

She bites her lip, still waiting until Robin speaks. “Darling I want you, so badly right now, but you are going to have to lead, I don’t—“

He’s adorable. And has earned the right to be tentative, so she doesn’t tease, she just kisses him and lets him kiss back.

Things get hazy as she gets warmer and more aware of her own desire. She’s wearing thin, black pants, and he’s hard beneath her, she can’t even say when she starts to rock into him, but he does it back. His hands start wandering, from either side of her hips up to the sides of her breasts. He gets close, grazing the sides, but doesn’t cop a feel, of course. And that only makes her want it more with each pass of his hands, each time she feels his thumbs come so close to where she wants him. Her nipples harden, and everything goes ultra sensitive, and well, definitely pants can’t come off, but…

She cups his face with both of her hands before taking off her sweater. It’s a thin pinkish-purplish thing, she’s only wearing a camisole underneath, a little black stretchy thing over a lace bra that definitely is peaking through. She doesn’t mind in the least.

Robin’s eyes are as big as saucers, he’s stopped touching her altogether, his eyes focusing on where there’s now a decent amount of cleavage (she wore a good bra, she thinks with some satisfaction).

“Touch me,” she asks. He does, puts a hand in her hair and one on her side, not exactly where she thought she had obviously directed.

“Fuck, you are gorgeous,” he whispers.

She has to bite back a smile as she takes his hands in each of hers and moves them until they are cupping both her breasts.

He lets out a whoosh of air, and she, embarrassingly enough, moans just at the feeling of his hands on her.

“I got, um, really sensitive after Henry,” she explains.

A few things changed after giving birth, these are one of them, and she’s grateful for it. It’s something she didn’t have as a teenager, there are no bad memories over this particular part of her body.

Robin starts rubbing his thumbs in tandem over her hardened nipples, and she lets the feeling take over, sparks of electricity popping and singing under his touch.

She rocks into his lap harder. “That’s good,” she moans, “Really good.”

“God,” Robin moans, “You are so sensitive, so beautiful.”

She leans in to kiss him and for a while it’s all grinding and touching, him learning the way she likes to be touched, mimicking moves that have her gasping and writhing. It’s good, but she wants a bit more.

And she’s wondering why he hasn’t so much as asked to go under her shirt and bra, but she realizes he won’t, he’s never going to ask her for more than she gives. She has to ask for it.

So she stops kissing him long enough to lean back

“Everything okay?” Robin asks when she pulls away from his touch.

His own question is answered when she pulls her breasts out of her bra and shirt.

This time she doesn’t need to direct. He just grunts put an oh fuck… and then his mouth is on her, covering each breast with sucking, swirling kisses. She cups the back of his head and soaks it in.

He’s working her up, each kiss getting closer and closer to the nipple, but not sucking, not doing what she wants, what she craves. She could cut glass with them now, the hardened pebbles almost painfully in need of attention.

She grinds into his lap with a purpose now (okay, she has to be careful here, this could get out of hand, but fuck it feels so good right now).

“Robin, please!” she begs as he traces his tongue over the stiffened peak of her right breast, gasping in the teasing touch.

“Please what?” he asks, his mouth hovering over exposed flesh. His breath comes up in warm pants over her damp skin, goosebumps flaring in anticipation, arousal, god, something.

She has to shift a bit because he’s hunched at an odd angle trying to give her what she needs, so she corrects it, palms the back of his head and redirects his mouth to where she needs him.

“Suck, it feels so good when you —mm!”

She lost the friction at this angle, there’s not much between her leg (she wants to ride her hand, but she will not). It almost doesn’t matter, Robin is good at this and he is into it, which is somehow making it feel even better. Those little moans as he sucks and kisses his way between both breasts, the way his hands tighten at her sides when he gives her a nibble that makes her gasp.

God, you wouldn’t think this was their first time, it’s so rare to be so in sync with one another so quickly, to find the right pressure, the right spot, the right pattern with his tongue, but he’s so quick, he’s so responsive to the way she moves that he catches on fast.

“Oh my god,” she mumbles as his tongue scrapes against a nipple, a pulse of pleasure hitting her hard.

She has the urge to kiss him, to give him some attention, so she draws his head up meets his lips.

While they kiss she has the friction back, and his hands are on her breasts, giving the attention that has been driving her wild. She feels it, the rhythm they start, him pressing into her, her pressing back, rubbing, grinding as they kiss.

He breaks out of a kiss to let out a whimpered Christ, and she thinks she hasn’t heard anything hotter, anything that’s made her so excited and so… oddly proud.

She feels safe and good at this moment, so in control, and she has to watch it, she's getting close, but this is good, it's—

She’s pulled out of the haze of pleasure by her phone alarm.

Henry she thinks. Henry needs to be picked up, you idiot. How did time go so fast? That certainly didn’t feel like a half hour.

“Shit, Henry,” she says getting off his lap — oh god, the feeling of just moving while this turned on makes her ache. She is so, so slick between her legs, fuck fuck fuck. It’s been over a year since she’s been with a man and her body remembers, it’s now crying for attention, for a release, and she needs to be stronger than her urges right now. A release is definitely something that cannot happen.

She leans against her far wall facing Robin panting, looking at him with a little laugh that he echoes from the couch. He’s on the couch trying to catch his breath the same as her, the bulge in his pants probably visible from a football field at this point.

“Well, I guess we don’t have to worry over whether we are sexually compatible,” Robin teases.

Regina laughs, wiping a hand across her head and into her hair. Fuck, she’s going to show up to pick up Henry looking flushed and disheveled and he knows she just came from Robin’s, that will be fun.

“I didn’t worry about that,” she pants with a smile. “I knew it was going to be good. Maybe not this good. ”

Robin bites back a grin and nods.

“Fuck, Robin I can’t see my son like this,” she says, trying to control her giggle. “I need to cool off.”

Robin nods. She watches as he gets off the couch, limping slightly as he makes his way to the kitchen and returns with some ice water.

“Sometimes this can help,” he says as if he’s had experience with this particular feeling.

She takes the water and starts to chug it, imagining it cooling her insides, soothing the ache inside her.

But he’s looking at her and he smells so nice, and he looks amazing, his hair all messy from her hands, skin flushed and damp, oh god…

She sets the drink down and lets herself kiss him again. He seems a bit surprised, but definitely not disappointed. Surprised because she’s supposed to be cooling down, for fuck's sake.

“Oh god, you being so close is not helping,” she says, in a gasp, pushing at his chest playfully.

Robin laughs and moves back to the couch. Their little separation is comical but necessary, she thinks as she tries to drink the last of her water.

She looks around for her purse and tries to get it together. “Okay, I need to—”

“Maybe get back into your shirt?” Robin asks, Oh god, that’s right, her breasts are still out. She grimaces and rights her bra and camisole, but she’s still so sensitive that the feeling of the fabric against her nipples has her biting back a moan. Damn it.

Robin gives her her sweater, holding it an arms distance away, being respectful of her space, it seems. She can’t stop laughing at this situation.

“I did not expect this night to go like this,” Robin says as she runs fingers through her hair and tries to tame the no doubt wild locks.

“I didn’t either,” Regina says. “I like seeing you with your family. And it’s nice to feel like I fit, too, I don’t know. It was a good night and I just wanted more of you.”

“I’m glad,” Robin says. “Really glad. But is whatever you want, as much or as little as you want whenever, you know that, right? I don't expect this to happen again. You don’t owe me anything.”

He’s being so perfect about this. Soothing fears and anxieties she doesn’t even have.

It’s his job, she thinks. He is a social worker and knows more about her situation than she wants to believe. He’s being respectful and not telling her how much, but he knows more. Because he’s soothing a legitimate fear she doesn’t yet have but may in the future.

“I know you won’t expect anything more,” she assures him. “Later, when I have more time I can maybe explain better, about you know, the limits for us, things like that.”

It’s an awkward conversation, but they should have it. He is owed it.

“Whenever you’re ready,” he tells her.

He walls her to the door and kisses her goodbye, sweet and innocent again.

She gathers her strength and focuses her thoughts on her son, letting the cool air cool the last of her pent up arousal.

.::.

There are certain things Robin thinks he shouldn’t be doing, and this is one of them, jerking off while imagining his girlfriend doing a host of things he can never expect to experience in person. But, fuck it, the alternative is a night of pain because there’s no way he’d be able to get off without thinking of her, not after that.

He’s swollen and aches, had been incredibly close before Henry called, and it’s been quite a while but the situation hasn’t gotten any better.

He certainly wasn’t going to let Regina know he was in this amount of pain, and he doesn’t regret it, but he certainly can’t let this linger all night.

He imagines sometime later tonight, Regina might do the same thing.

And that’s what has him over the edge, has him in bed with his boxers pulled down, covers kicked away with his cock in his hand.

He uses a generous amount of lube, because with as hot as thinks they getting he’s been imagining her soaked. It’s his fantasy after all.

He imagines her just as she was, kissing and grinding on him until she tells him she wants more, wants his cock, wants him badly. God, she was so into it tonight, she acted as if she wanted him so badly, it’s really not a stretch. And it’s his fantasy, his fucked up creative conclusion of a fiction that will never become reality, so she can beg for him, she can tell him she loves him, and he can say the words that he has had to bite back because he knows it’s far too soon.

He thinks of her taking off his jeans and boxers, taking him in a mouth, sucking him and looking beautiful before she takes him inside her and bounces on his lap like there’s no tomorrow, her tits bouncing, every inch of her available for him to kiss and touch and experience, her small, the way she’d clench around him (oh fuck, that’s it, those little contractions, god he misses sex, god he wants her).

His hand is a poor substitute, but his imagination is vivid and intense, and he’s able to fool himself into thinking he’s with her, touching her, feeling her, that she’s responding to his touch the way she has had, those little moans god, the way they sounded, her perfect tits, oh god… He finally imagines her crying out and coming around him, and that’s what does him in.

His release is intense and powerful, and so welcome, the aching discomfort washed away as he spills in his hand, moaning her name as he does.

That mild guilt returns as he basks in the afterglow, but he tries to chase it away. He reminds himself that Regina doesn’t even know, and anyway, she’s far from a prude, and that his fantasies have kept him fine company over the years, that it has never meant he needed to live them out, and this is no different.

The only difference is now he’s fantasizing over someone who kisses him, who wants him, too. And that’s better, really.

Chapter Text

“When were you going to tell me you have a boyfriend?”

Mal’s tone is more amused than hurt, but Regina still cringes with guilt as she holds the receiver on her ear.

“He’s not really a—“

“Henry says he’s a boyfriend. And that it’s Robin.”

“Oh, god, Henry,” she grimaces. “We aren’t really dating. We are seeing where things are going. It’s very casual.”

“Henry says he’s over all the time,” Mal draws out playfully.

“I’m a mess, you know this,” Regina sighs. “It can’t be more than casual with what I’ve got going on.”

“Does he know? I mean I know he knows about what happened to you, but does he know you have trouble getting close?”

Mal doesn’t even know the full extent of that, she’s alluded to it in the vaguest of ways, never explained the extent, because it’s embarrassing and reveals too much about her.

So instead she says, “I told him no sex. And he acted like it wasn’t a hardship at all.”

“Men,” Regina can feel Mal’s rolling eyes through the phone. “They think everything is so easy.”

“You don’t think he can handle it?”

“I don’t know him,” Mal reminds, adding with a little laugh, “But if he’s dating you, he’s going to be tempted. You’re a beautiful woman. It won’t be easy.”

“Thanks, now I feel even more like shit,” Regina gripes.

“You’re worth it,” Mal tells her, her voice going serious. “Just because he’s tempted doesn’t mean he will go through with it. You add a lot to a person’s life. Don’t you dare think you have to give him that to keep him, or anyone in your life.”

“I know,” Regina huffs.

The thing is, she doesn’t know. They aren’t children or people in their early twenties still discovering their sexuality, nor are they religious individuals saving sex for some sort of higher purpose. They aren’t sick or physically unable to have sex. They are two very experienced, very healthy adults abstaining because she is broken. Because she let her asshole stepfather give her deep psychological trauma.

“Tell him,” Mal urges. “Just lay everything out on the table. Anyone worthy of you will understand and wait.”

She’s going to. She knows she has to.

She left yesterday to Robin and Roland, taking the opportunity to catch up on paperwork and spend time with Henry. But on Sunday, Robin is without his son, and Henry is invited to laser tag and lunch, so Regina has no excuse to avoid having this conversation, really.

She calls Robin and asks if she can see him for a bit, and he’s as eager as always for the opportunity.

And she has to admit, as she rings his doorbell, there are butterflies in her stomach and thoughts of Friday night’s activities reverberating in her mind.

Not now.

But then Robin answers the door smelling good, wearing a blue tee shirt he should know better than to wear around her, and she figures a kiss hello is proper at this stage of the relationship.

It lingers, becomes a few soft, tongue filled pecks until she is mentally reminding herself she absolutely cannot grip at his ass no matter how good it looks on those jeans.

“Well, hello,” Robin says cheekily when the kiss breaks.

“Hey,” Regina smiles back. She hears the murmur of the television in the background and perks up. “Is that… Die Hard?”

“It just started. I can never bear to change the channel when it’s on. Want to watch it with me for a bit?”

They can talk after, she decides.

.::.

Less than an hour later, they aren’t watching the movie anymore.

It really hasn’t taken that long to get like this. They rarely have the house to themselves (and god knows it’s been a while for both of them), so it’s not surprising they are acting like horned up teenagers. A few small touches turned into kisses, and now she’s fully on his lap, her back turned toward the screen.

He’s not touching her anywhere that could be seen as inappropriate and their kisses are lazy and soft, not hurried or frantic. She’s soaking up the attention, the feeling of being wanted and cared for, the desire for more just a dim feeling churning beneath the surface.

“Mm, I could do this all day,” Robin hums, kissing down her neck and onto her collarbone. She’s sensitive there, her skin buzzes with sensation with every touch.

“You could not,” Regina chuckles. “This would get old fast.”

“I think you forget how long it’s been for me,” Robin laughs into her skin. “And how mind-numbingly gorgeous you are.”

“This is nice,” she admits, it really is, so she dips down and kisses him a bit more passionately. Robin moans, she does, feeling heat pool low in her belly, and that’s when she knows they need to break.

She breaks the kiss and gives him a few soft smooches before climbing off his lap.

She doesn’t even see a flicker of disappointment in his face when she abruptly ends the makeout session, and that somehow makes her feel more guilty. How is he so perfect?

He just shifts to watching the movie again, drawing her close.

She keeps looking at him trying to give some sort of explanation, and he finally smiles back at her and asks, “Everything alright?”

“I wanted to talk,” she says softly. “Um, so you know where the goalposts are.”

“Okay,” Robin says simply without pushing or prodding. “I want to know whatever you’re willing to share.”

“I’ve never had a relationship before,” she reminds, biting her lip. “I’m thirty. I’ve never had a relationship — not even a second date.”

“I know,” Robin says with a smile. “We’ve talked about this before. I feel like you may think that is extremely odd when in fact, it isn’t as unusual as you might think. Relationships are a lot of work. Not everyone likes to invest in them when they are in their twenties.”

“Okay,” Regina says, not truly believing him. “I just… want you to be aware there’s a reason I haven’t dated. Because I don’t think you’ll see much point in doing, um, what we are doing after I explain how fucked up I am.”

“You’re not fucked up,” Robin tells her, running a hand through her hair gently. “Tell me, darling. You said you feel disgusted after, right? How far do we have to go for you to feel like that?”

“I’m not sure,” she admits. “I know… when it’s… that panting, sweating moment after sex, when you’re all coming down from your high, the reality of what happened hits me, and everything just spoils.”

This is humiliating. She feels like a child, like a broken fucked up child. She really should have been able to deal with this.

“I know that,” she says softly, and fuck it, she might as well voice the rest, “If I finish, if I, orgasm with someone else there, the fun ends quite quickly. It’s all, it’s all bad feelings after that.”

“Oh,” Robin says softly. And he’s staring at her as if he knows her shameful secret. As if he knows why experiencing pleasure during sex is so triggering, god, she hopes he doesn’t really know, that this is all in her head.

“Not that that happens all the time I have sex,” Regina qualifies, because as good as she is at working her own damn self up, one night stands are notoriously awful at producing orgasms and she’s not such a nympho that she can get off everywhere. “Other times it’s just the feeling, it seems to only be an issue when clothes are off or after actual intercourse.”

“Maybe it’s the partner’s orgasm that is triggering,” Robin theorizes, causing shame to well up inside her.

“I don’t think it’s that,” she says firmly, “or I wouldn’t have proposed that. It’s not fair—“

“Listen when you said no sex and I agreed to this, I wasn’t expecting anything,” Robin injects. “And it wouldn’t be fair that I get off and you don’t. So we won’t do that. But what else? No nudity, maybe?”

“Yeah…” Regina says, her skin flushed. ”Nudity very well may play a factor — full nudity.” She cringes. Has there ever been something so awkward? “God, I’m so sorry. This is all so clinical, and well, disturbing.”

“I’m a social worker,” Robin reminds. “This is barely disturbing, I can take a lot more.”

“That’s what makes it worse,” she admits. “I don’t want to be one of your cases.” Just the thought makes her shudder. She doesn’t need someone analyzing her, figuring out her secrets, or coddling her.

“Trust me, I don’t,” he chuckles. “I am not here to help you through this, you’re not telling me this so I can assess what services you need. I just want to be aware of what bothers you, as a friend. That’s all.”

“Okay,” Regina says, searching for limits, thinking about what she likes, what she can handle. “Kissing is good. And I don’t mind tops coming off.”

Robin smiles, but it doesn’t meet his eyes completely. “Good. But, I don’t want to do things you just ‘don’t mind’. It’s only enjoyable if we both want it.”

“I enjoyed myself a few nights ago,” Regina says shyly.

“No guilt?” Robin asks, and it’s only then she realizes he’s been worried about that, perhaps since she showed up here.

“No, no guilt,” she admits, “not one bit.”

He breathes out a sigh of relief. “Good.”

She nods, but she’s still tense.

“You know, you can talk about it with me,” Robin tells her. “I’m not going to run away. If you wanted to share anything, even the parts that will make me want to dig up his grave just to desecrate his corpse… If it makes you feel better, if you think it will help me understand, you can.”

“I don’t think I’m ready for that,” she admits. She looks down at her lap for a moment before clearing her throat. “It’s a lot. But you can’t think of me as a victim. I’m not.”

“Of course not. And if you ever decide you want to talk…” Robin raises his eyebrows.

She nods. Something tells her she will tell him. Eventually.

“I think maybe I should take a few days off from talking about this,” she sighs, trying to smile. “Just for a while.”

“Alright, we will leave the past in the past until you say otherwise.”

She smiles at him and nods.

It’s just too soon to have a frank discussion now. And she isn’t sure she’s ready for him to know what she really is.

The worst of it is, Robin thinks she’s a survivor. That all of this just happened to her, that she tried her best to protect herself, that’s all.

He’s got it all wrong.

“Come on, let’s watch John Mcclane finish this,” he says, urging an arm around her.

They watch the last action-filled moments, Robin mouthing and murmuring each line. His hand rubs at her back, through her hair, and she lets herself feel, listen, and breathe. The anxiety breaks and dissipates from her chest, the nervous, constricting feeling that overtakes her when she has to focus on her flaws and her shortcomings, the past truths that crop up to haunt her.

.::.

Monday and Wednesday Robin has Roland, and Tuesday Henry oversleeps and misses the bus so she could not have her morning coffee with Robin. She hasn’t reached out too terribly much, only texting him to cancel Tuesday’s coffee. She’s glad for tonight’s dinner (just a home cooked meal with Henry and Roland). He’s given her a break from talking about the past at all, and she intends to take it for a good long week or two before she thinks of it again

And when the kids are there… it just feels really nice. There’s a perfectly normal reason why she can’t act on her hormones and a perfectly understandable reason why she feels comfortable and at ease (a reason that doesn’t have her forced the examine her relationship too closely). It’s one thing she’s always found to be the case — she’s at her best around children. She’s not sure why, but it’s always been true. It’s probably why she’s a pediatrician.

Robin is supposed to bring Roland right after work, so she expects him here between 5:15 and 5:30. But it’s six now and she still hasn’t even heard a word from him. Roland’s bedtime is at eight, and if he doesn’t show soon there won’t be much time for dinner at all.

She starts to worry, idiotically, of course, that perhaps he’s running away after all. Sunday had been an awkward conversation and they haven’t seen one another since. Perhaps he wants space. Perhaps he’s rethinking things.

All of this is nonsense. He cares for her, there’s no way he would do that.

Still, as she stirs the risotto that will most likely just be for two, she gets nervous.

Robin calls at 6:17, before the sense of dread and fear of rejection can even translate into anger.

She tells herself to prepare for the worst as she answers it.

“Robin?” she answers.

“Regina, hey, I am so, so sorry. I… I lost track of time, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Regina lies, “don’t worry about it.” There’s noise in the background, some faint yelling, and a voice over an intercom that sounds so familiar.

“Where are you?” she asks.

Robin lets out a sigh. “Helping a friend. I… I’m at the hospital.”

“Who are you helping?” she asks. He doesn’t want to answer, clearly, and she has absolutely no fear he’s cheating on her but the idea of him having friends she doesn’t know about does bother her.

“I am with Mary Margaret,” he admits. “And David. She’s been in labor all day. I had to take a half day, David needed support, you know, MM, she wanted a natural home birth, but things didn’t go well, and now we’re at the hospital. And she’s less than thrilled. It took her hours to even agree to come here, with the midwife even begging with the rest of us.”

“Oh,” Regina says, “I forgot that she was due so soon.”

She’s a bit annoyed Robin hasn’t mentioned this sooner. If he’s been with her all day she would have expected a text.

“I’m sorry, I know the last thing you need is a reminder of the past,” Robin says softly. “I didn’t want to bring it up.”

“Right,” Regina says, gritting her teeth. “Well, no, I didn’t… I didn’t want that, but I mean, you could have… oh, who cares. How is she?”

“Stubborn,” Robin answers. “Apparently all the women on her mom’s side of the family have had natural home births. And they are recommending a c-section. More than recommending. They think it’s necessary. She’s refusing so far.”

“Oh god,” Regina says, biting her lip.

“But it’s not for you to worry about. Take your time off thinking of her or anything right now. It’ll be okay. I’m so sorry to cancel dinner this late.”

“It’s okay,” Regina says, still a bit stunned. Mary Margaret is having a baby. And it’s not going well. And she has no family there with her, no other woman to walk her through it. She thinks of herself, alone, scared, but at least there was Mallory. MM has her husband. It’s fine. He can handle it. She’s sure he can.

“Take care. Good luck,” she says to Robin, and then, “I hope it goes well.”

He sounds nervous as he assures her all will be fine.

She hangs up and thinks of little Mary Margaret, as naive as ever, so far away from her family but desperately trying to be so close to them in whatever way she can.

Regina doesn’t want to think about her anymore. Not right now. It’s triggering, especially when she’s so recently exposed almost all her scars to Robin. But she finds she cannot stop dwelling on it, wondering if she’s okay. If David and Robin are enough to support her through this.

.::.

“I want to wait,” Mary Margaret begs, “Please, just a few more hours. I can feel it. I know —“ another intense contraction comes, and she cries in pain before locking her jaw and schools her features, trying to hide the pain. “I know I’m going to dilate soon and the baby will be already into position, let me try walking again.”

“Mrs. Nolan,” the doctor says again, “You are risking serious infection and the baby is showing signs of distress—”

Mary Margaret is no sooner up than she doubles over in pain, interrupting with an Ow!

“You’re exhausted,” the doctor tells her. “You’re only three centimeters dilated. The baby’s head isn’t positioned right, and your body is out of steam. This is a safety issue at this point.”

The doctor appeals to David again, looking at him with sympathy. “Delaying treatment could cause serious injury.”

David clenches his teeth. “Oh god, Mary Margaret, I don’t think I can handle this.”

“We can give you the epidural now, and —”

“No,” Mary Margaret shouts. “No drugs, I’m doing this naturally.” She crawls back into bed. “Oh god… OW!”

She squeezes the life out of David’s hand, the man looks absolutely petrified. Robin is at a loss for what to do, he’s only here to try to convince MM to come to her senses, and he is failing.

“Mary, love,” he says as the contraction leaves her. “I don’t want to lose you or the baby. We need to do what the doctor says.”

“I can’t,” Mary Margaret cries, and then she breaks down. “I wish my mother was here. I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t do this, David.”

“You can,” says a familiar voice. Robin looks up and sees Regina in her scrubs, walking with a purpose and pulling up a chair next to Mary Margaret. “You can absolutely do this.”

“Dr. Montgomery?” the doctor asks at the same time Mary Margaret calls out a relieved Regina!

The doctor looks perplexed, and for a moment Robin considers trying to explain, but Regina just shakes her head, ignoring the name issue altogether.

“Mary Margaret and I are practically sisters,” she says, and Robin can almost bite back a smirk because it is technically true. Stepsisters, not related by blood but for a while, they might as well have been. “We’ve known each other as far back as Mary Margaret can remember, isn’t that right?”

“Yes,” Mary Margaret sighs. Her hands have left David, they cling to Regina’s instead.

“And I knew your mom and the harrowing tale of how she fought off doctor after doctor, refused any treatment, discharged herself and then gave birth to you just fine at home. Isn’t that right?”

“Yes,” Mary Margaret says, her eyes fill with tears. Another contraction comes, and she breathes and looks at Regina.

“I never met Ava, sadly, because by all accounts she sounded like a warm and loving woman, but god damn it, she was an idiot,” Regina remarks bluntly.

“Reg— Veronica!” David admonishes. This is their first meeting and it seems to be going horribly for both of them, neither making the best first impression.

“Shut up David,” Mary Margaret hisses. It surprises Robin, shocks the hell out of David. Insulting the girl’s mother has been off limits as long as Robin has known her. She was a goddess in MM’s eyes and her pristine image could never be touched or criticized.

“Why would you say that?” Mary Margaret asks, her eyes so wide and innocent as she clings to Regina’s hand.

“Well I suppose I always knew that decision was one a moron would make. But then I went to medical school and the tale became even more disturbing. She could have killed you, MM. She could have killed you and herself. She beat the odds, thank god, but that birth was incredibly risky of her. And she suffered a long recovery. She was sickly, that’s what everyone said. Do you want your first months with your new child to be you fighting off infection or trying to heal from a risky, painful birth?”

“No,” Mary Margaret sobs, “But I don’t want my baby all drugged up, and—“

“He won’t be. You’re smarter than this. An epidural won’t go into the bloodstream. It won’t hurt your child at all. You know this, I know you do. You research things. As a child, you always had to know everything about everything. You were always looking up all the answers.”

Mary Margaret lets out a sob, clenching, riding out another contraction. “I feel like I’m letting everyone down,” she admits, as big fat tears roll down her eyes. “My whole family, the ones I love, they all gave birth this way. I don’t want to be like my father’s side.”

“Mary Margaret,” David starts, but one look from Regina has him clamming up. Robin doesn’t blame her. He’s been trying to work on her all day to no avail. Regina's gotten further in two minutes than he has in twelve hours.

“Listen to me,” Regina says softly. “I am your family, right? And I might not be your mother's side, But I’m not your father’s side either, right?”

It’s not easy for her, Robin can tell, bringing up their connection, speaking of Leopold. He can tell the way her eyes change for just a second, her posture goes into that rigid, tense stance he’s come to associate with her working through trauma.

He feels guilt for having ever called her about this. MM could handle this. He didn’t need to bring Regina into it.

And of course, Regina was going to come. Of course, she was, he should have known.

This isn’t easy.

“Yes, you’re not my dad’s side,” Mary Margaret chokes out. “Not like them.”

“And you know what I did when I gave birth to Henry?” she asks.

Mary Margaret shakes her head.

“I took every medication they offered, they let me get an epidural early because I was in active labor and not progressing, just like you will. And then a funny thing happened. I started to work again. The pain, the nerves, the adrenaline, it actually was working against me. The epidural helped in my case. And Henry came out perfect. And now he’s a smart, gifted young boy.”

“He is,” Robin adds. “Inquisitive and insightful.”

“I don’t want a cesarean,” Mary Margaret chokes. “I just, I can’t.”

“You can do anything for your baby,” Regina tells her bluntly. “This is a sacrifice for your baby. Ripping your body open for your baby. It’s not easy. It’s pain. But you are doing it for that little person inside you. I would do it for Henry, absolutely.”

Robin would have thought to tell MM how easy the c-section would be, how pain-free and quick, and he’s puzzled by the way Regina describes. And even more puzzled by the way MM responds.

“Okay,” Mary Margaret concedes, “okay, I’ll do it. For Henry.”

Dear god, if there was any part of him living in denial about how he feels about Regina, it’s gone now.

She’s so god damned strong, and she cares about her sister more than he ever knew. This isn’t easy, but she’s here. Taking charge, looking as beautiful and brilliant as ever, and he loves her deeply.

Regina looks up at the shocked obstetrician and raises an eyebrow. “Get the anesthesiologist in here now.”

It takes a few minutes, and Regina says nothing as David comforts Mary Margaret from his spot on the other side of the bed, shh-ing her, comforting her, telling her it won’t be so bad.

Her part is over, now.

“Veronica,” Robin says, touching her arm and conscious of the doctor in the room who doesn’t know her true name, “I think we can go now, love.”

She nods, looking as if she is all too happy to be ushered out, but something keeps her grounded.

“There should definitely be fewer people in this room,” her doctor states, frowning. “At least, less medical professionals.”

Well, clearly that is Robin. He stands to leave. Regina gets up to follow.

“No, please don't go,” Mary Margaret pleads, grabbing for her hand. “Please stay, for a few more minutes.”

“Mary Margaret—“ the second Robin begins to remind her how unfair she’s being, Regina gives him a death glare. Okay, then.

“I can stay,” Regina says, looking up at the other doctor. “A bit longer.”

“I’m going to give you all space,” Robin says, “I’ll just be outside.”

“Thank you,” Regina says softly.

David surprises Robin with a hug. It’s then that he realizes his friend has been falling apart all day.

“It’s going to be great,” Robin tells him. He takes a seat right outside the door, in time to see the anesthesiologist coming in.

Robin smiles at him, noticing the equipment on hand as the man walks through the propped open door.

All will be well now.

But then he hears David call out, “Dear god!” and Robin’s heart skips a beat, and he debates just walking into the room against his better judgment, but as he peers back into the room he spots Regina grabbing David as the anesthesiologist sets up, grunting an I need to talk to your husband for just a moment, we will be back before nearly pushing him out of the room.

It’s awkward, being here for what feels like an awkward conversation, but Robin isn’t about to make it more awkward by reminding them of his presence.

“I know I don’t know you,” Regina says tightly, “But you need to keep it together. She needs you to tell her everything is good. Not that the needle looks scary and you can’t handle looking at it for even a second.”

“I… I hate seeing her in pain,” David says, grimacing. “I’ve had to do it all day, I never left her side, I can’t anymore, I—“

“You can. She’s been in all that pain all day and she’s handled it just fine. So suck up your sympathy labor agony and be there for her.”

“I am terrible with needles,” he admits. “And blood.”

“So you don’t look,” Regina directs. It’s then that she glances at Robin. “Keep him out here. I’ll get you in a second.”

David looks absolutely mortified as Regina walks back into the room.

“Fuck,” David says, flushed, his eyes full of tears. “This has been a helluva day.”

“It only gets better from here,” Robin smiles. “It’s all good now. Your child is coming.”

“I think MM’s sister hates me,” David grimaces, laughing nervously afterward.

Robin laughs too. “She’s just tough. And… protective, it appears.”

David nods. “She can be whatever she wants to be if it means Mary Margaret and our baby are okay.”

.::.

It takes a bit of work, a bit of calming MM, but the epidural gets in, and then, as it works, she starts to relax.

She looks right calm two minutes later, breathing big sighs of relief.

The adrenaline of the pain is leaving her now and she’s fully able to feel something else — exhaustion.

“I’m so tired,” Mary Margaret admits, eyes filled with tears.

“Can I speak with you a moment Dr. Montgomery?” Dr. Katharine Midas asks softly.

Regina takes Mary Margaret’s hand and squeezes it tight. “I’m going to be right back, okay? We just need to talk medicine for a second.”

Mary Margaret makes no protest. She looks peaceful now.

For fuck's sake, she could have had this sense of relief twenty hours ago.

Dr. Midas takes her outside and down the hall to an open computer, where she reads her chart.

“I’m not all that familiar with Mrs. Nolan,” she says tightly, “She didn’t have a physician in place for an emergency. She put everything on a new age midwife.”

Regina winces. It’s not that midwives are disliked in the medical community, not really, many offer a great service to the community and patient. But the midwife that Mary Margaret sounds like she was probably not one of the ones they work with in tandem.

“I didn’t realize what her birthing plan was,” Regina mutters. “Obviously.”

“Right, well, as you can see the midwife scurried off soon after convincing her to go to the hospital. Made the right call finally, but Mrs. Nolan was livid. Even more so when I said I thought an epidural might help her. They fought me for hours until nothing else worked, and the midwife recommended they try birthing back at home. The husband refused, and the midwife left. Left her patient all alone.”

“Wonderful,” Regina groans.

“I’d try to wait and see if we could try something, to assist natural birth now, but her water broke over 40 hours ago.”

Right. It’s too late.

“And she’s exhausted,” Regina agrees.

“Exactly. And like I said, she has a long way to go. She’s dehydrated and weak and I have my concerns natural birth may not be possible anyway.”

“She has already made peace with the idea of a c-section,” Regina says softly. “I’ll tell her.”

Mary Margaret sheds a tear or two but doesn’t fight the news this time, thank god.

“David will be right with you,” Regina says. “He’s changing now into scrubs.”

“And you?” Mary Margaret asks softly.

Regina shakes her head. “Only one person in the operating room, I’m afraid.”

“Regina, no, can it—“ Mary Margaret grabs her arm, “Can it be you?”

“Mary Margaret, it’s David’s child, he deserves to—“

“He can’t do this,” Mary Margaret chokes, “he can’t, Regina, I’ve seen him, he’s too tired and he’s too soft, he won’t last in there, I need you, I—“

“He’s the father,” Regina says again. “I won’t take this away from him. Let me give him a pep talk, okay?”

David is diligently waiting outside as told, now in scrubs looking no less nervous.

“Listen to me,” Regina holds him by the shoulder, bracing him for what is to come. “You don’t look at anything in that operating room but your wife’s face, maybe her hands if she needs to hold yours. Nothing else. No matter what they are doing. Your job is to be there, with the anesthesiologist, monitoring her. Don’t look beyond the screen. Even when you hear your child scream, wait. Wait until she can see too. Okay?”

David looks shaken as he nods. “Will she be in pain?” he asks.

Regina shakes her head. “No, she will not feel a thing. That’s over now, until recovery. It’s going to be okay.”

“Dr. Montgomery?” Dr. Midas asks, motioning her over.

“Go in there and assure Mary Margaret that you have this. And that she does, too.”

David nods and Regina makes her way back to the doctor.

“If you wanted to scrub in and take the place of the nursery nurse, that could work. And you’d be able to offer her assistance with the first nursing.”

Regina grits her teeth. She hadn't expected any of this when she showed up, being such an integral part of her estranged step-sister’s birth.

But now that it’s being offered, she finds there is some protective sense outweighing the unease of being a part of a family she’s been running from.

“Of course,” she says, breathing slowly. She looks at Robin, who is staring at her with worry in his eyes. She shakes her head. “Wait here. It’ll be all over before you know it.”

.::.

Robin is worried.

It hasn’t been all that long since he watched them wheel Mary Margaret into the operating room, but it’s still a frightening sight. Today has been… miserable. One thing went wrong after the other until he had to bite down fear something awful would happen to Mary Margaret due to her own stubbornness.

Regina has had quite a burden placed upon her. He worries this will set her back, push her into a dark place. It’s not fair that she care for the daughter of her rapist, a woman who reminds her so much of a bad time.

It seems like ages pass until David steps out with a smile.

“A little girl,” he pronounces. “Emma.”

“Everyone okay?” Robin asks.

David nods. “See for yourself.”

He leads Robin to their room. Mary Margaret is holding the baby girl in her arms looking so adoringly down at her as if she can hardly believe she’s real.

“Robin, she's perfect,” Mary Margaret tells him. “She’s absolutely perfect. Just like Regina said she’d be.”

Regina is nowhere in sight, but Robin tries not to think of that as he holds his god-daughter for the first time.

He’s always been a bit of a sap, shedding a few tears as he looks at their perfect child, at how happy they are.

He remembers the joy of holding Roland for the first time, nothing really compared to that. David and MM are feeling that now, and it brings him joy.

He sends a quick text to Marian and Mulan telling them things went well, but they are asleep by now, he’s sure of that. Still, it will be good news to wake up to.

“I should get going,” he says softly. “Give you two some time to rest. You have a busy few years ahead of you.”

David chuckles and nods. “Thanks for everything,” he says, sincerity dripping from his voice.

.::.

Robin is about to text Regina when he spots her walking toward him, changed out of scrubs and in casual clothes she must have stuffed in a locker.

He’s hit with that same punch of emotion for her. She’s incredible. Stunning in every way, but particularly when she’s working as a physician.

“Regina,” he smiles, “are you all right? I was so—“

“Don’t you ever patronize me like that again!” she says, shoving him back before he can even register the pain in her eyes.

Right. That’s a snap to reality.

“I didn’t know… how was I patronizing?”

“I’m not fragile. I’m a doctor and her sister, and this nonsense was going on all day and no one told me,” she looks at him, her eyes now a frightening shade of black. “I could have helped earlier. Just because it’s hard for me doesn’t mean I need to be protected. For fuck’s sake, didn’t you know I’d want to help her?”

“I didn’t know it would be necessary,” Robin admits. “It’s not your job to comfort her—“

“Of course it is,” Regina scoffs. “She has no one else, except two useless men apparently.”

Robin can’t help but laugh at that. “True,” he admits. “And a useless midwife.”

“I’m going to petition to take away her license, but something tells me she doesn’t have one,” Regina groans, grabbing a seat by the open bench in the hall.

“Probably not.” Robin takes a seat next to her, hoping the proximity is okay with her.

“I don’t need you to coddle me,” she sighs, less angry now, more explanatory. “I didn’t want to have any talks about how I handled the PTSD from all of that, I didn’t want to think about Leo, and yes, MM can remind me of him. Maybe it seems we are practically strangers from each other these days, but she’s still my sister and she’s back in my life now and if I can help, I want to have the choice to do that. And especially when she’s talking about family and how they’ve always done things? I could have added something to that discussion and you know it. I could have spared her hours of misery. In the future, if anything serious happens to anyone in your life or mine, I want to know.”

“Understood,” Robin says. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

“I know your heart was in the right place,” Regina sighs. “That’s why it’s so hard to be mad at you right now.”

Robin chuckles. “A well-intentioned but idiotic move.,”

“Mmhm,” Regina nods. “But it felt good to help in the end.”

Robin’s heart swells thinking of her, of how she commanded the room from the moment she entered it. He’s unable to keep that feeling to himself, sharing, “You were pretty incredible tonight.”

Regina chuckles. “I just know how to talk to her. Not much has changed since she was twelve, though don’t tell her that. She will take it as an insult.”

“It’s not just how you talked to her. How you talked to the nurses, the doctor, and David. You took control. You were very much in your element. It was… pretty hypnotizing to watch.”

She raises an eyebrow at him coyly. “Have a kink for bossy woman?”

Robin chuckles. “Oh, I would have thought that was quite obvious.”

Regina smiles back, then stares into the distance. “She is a beautiful baby.”

“Truly,” Robin says softly. “Just a perfect little girl.”

Regina nods. Her mind is elsewhere, he knows. Then she just speaks softly, and says, “I’m glad he’s not alive to see her.”

Robin tries not to read too much into the statement (it’s hard to avoid thinking where her mind has gone). He just nods, presses a kiss to her brow and says, “I’m glad, too.”

Regina sighs and leans against him, and he can feel the tension radiating off her.

“Do you need to get back to Henry?” Robin asks. “It’s late.”

Regina shakes her head. “Honestly he’s old enough now to leave alone. I do that when I have to work nights. But I didn’t know when I’d be back, and I didn’t want him waking up and having school to handle without me. So I… um, called Mulan and she insisted I bring him over for a sleepover.”

“Yeah?” Robin asks, more pleased than he should be. “Roland’s there.”

“Roland was ecstatic,” Regina admits. “But also about to go through the whole bedtime routine by the time we got there. I don’t think I made Marian and Mulan’s night very easy.”

“They will be fine,” Robin laughs.

She snuggles into him closer, and his heart beats extra fast. He loves her, so damn much, and when she’s close to him like this, it makes him into an idiot, punch drunk enough to dare to ask, “Come home with me. Please.”

She looks up at him. “You want another sleepover?”

Robin nods. “I could just tell you I want another opportunity to spend the night with you when there are no children. And that’s true. But if I’m being quite honest, it’s been a long night. And trying to act like I wasn’t terrified for David and Mary Margaret was difficult, and now I just…”

“Could use some comfort?” she asks.

Robin feels embarrassment pumping through his veins like a drug. “Yes,” he admits. “Pathetic, I know.”

“Not pathetic,” she says softly. “I have a spare set of clothes in my locker. I’ll grab them and meet you at your house?”

.::.

Robin hasn’t even properly kissed her since she’s entered his home. They are lying together on his bed, talking, not talking, just touching one another, he’s making these soft soothing passes with his fingertips against her back, as she mimics the action against his arm.

They are making small talk, but that’s not where her mind is.

She’s thinking of how nice it is, being with him. Even fighting with him hadn’t been so bad. She likes having someone to fight with and be angry at, it turns out.

Especially someone like Robin.

She runs her fingers over each rippling muscles of his arm, humming at each indentation, each hill and valley of his body, just indulging in him. He seems to know where she’s going, his breathing goes shallow as she touches him, and he’s watching

“I’m so attracted to you,” she whispers, still shocked by how much.

He chuckles. “Trust me, the feeling is mutual. Quite mutual.”

“I’m just not used to it. It’s been so long,” Regina smiles.

It’s been since she was a young girl harboring a highly inappropriate crush on the married woman who had been her mentor. Whereas those feelings brought both excitement and guilt, this just brings excitement and novelty with none of the worry and shame she had for her feelings for Mallory.

That’s all over now, she doubts Mallory ever knew about it —Regina would be mortified if she did. The woman has become more like an older sister to her. And Regina didn’t think she’d ever had that type of lust again. She associated the feeling with childhood, a schoolgirl crush she would grow out of and never feel again.

But here it is, that feeling again, the dizzy, giddy one, growing stronger every day, and nowhere near as toxic and awful as she thought it would feel.

She kisses him because she wants to, because it’s late, and tonight was a win, and damn it, she deserves to celebrate.

Robin kisses her back, several chaste kisses amongst some deeper ones, but it’s soft and sweet, not the hot passionate kisses of last week. This is a comfort. It’s something other than lust and pent up sexual tension

She knows he might be feeling more, or wanting to do more, but he never makes her feel like he’s sacrificing anything. He just smiles at her between kisses, runs a hand through her hair, making her feel comfortable and… loved.

That’s what she’s feeling, the nicer, softer side of lust, without guilt or confusion. Or, rather, not lust at all.

She loves him. And it’s too soon to say out loud, too much to process right now, but she does just the same.

She didn’t think this was a feeling made for her, that she could ever feel it again. But here it is.

She doesn’t let herself dwell on what it means, on what it could mean for the future, on the pain and disaster that love may bring, not tonight.

Tonight she’s just going to enjoy the feeling.

They trade lazy kisses until she’s dizzy with exhaustion until she can barely keep her eyes open.

A deep sleep falls over her as she thinks to herself that what they have may be flawed and unconventional, but she definitely wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

 

Chapter Text

“I get to meet Mom’s sister soon,” Henry says with a smile as he fiddles with Robin’s radio.

Robin had surprised Henry earlier this week with Trailblazer tickets again, this time as an early birthday gift for the soon-to-be-teenager. He figured it would be the last game of the season, but they somehow managed to score a playoff spot, and there’s a chance Robin might be able to get a ticket to one of those games, too. They are incredibly expensive and Robin doesn’t make much, but John knows a guy.

And Robin actually really enjoys Henry’s company. Even now, as they are on the road and Henry is switching radio stations every split second, he’s still only amused, not annoyed.

“Yes, you get to meet her quite soon,” Robin says enthusiastically back to Henry. “And you get to see Mary Margaret’s new baby. You excited?”

“I’ve never seen anyone from Mom’s family before,” Henry says, “I’m excited but maybe nervous?”

“Well, Mary Margaret is the best of them,” Robin says confidently.

“Mom told me everything,” Henry says solemnly. “Because I’m almost thirteen now, and I’m old enough, she said.”

And, well, Robin knows he hasn’t been told everything. But he does know what Henry has been told, Regina told him in detail on the phone after Henry went to bed that night. She was nervous and jittery but sounded relieved.

She hates lying to her son and getting another truth out had helped her.

“I know Mom’s real name is Regina, I know why she had to change her name and why some family doesn’t like us,” Henry recounts.

“And how do you feel about that?” Robin asks. “It’s a lot to learn. It’s a very complicated situation. Not every person could understand it. And I don’t mean ‘not every child’. I mean not every person. Your mother knows that you’re intelligent and thoughtful enough to handle something like this.”

“I know what self-defense is,” Henry answers with a shrug. “I just don’t understand how he was able to fool everyone. How he was secretly so bad.”

“There are a few people on this earth with that gift, unfortunately. They can appear very normal to everyone else, but they let down their mask privately, for a few people. Your mother was just unlucky. But I believe that others knew what he was and turned a blind eye because they didn’t want to see it.”

“And they still think he’s the good guy,” Henry says, visibly agitated.

“Yeah,” Robin groans. “Some people are idiots and dismiss facts that are right in front of them. Mary Margaret is much smarter than the rest of her family,” Robin says affirmatively. “She knows your mother did what she had to do to survive.”

“She doesn’t blame mom even a little?” Henry asks. “Mom said you guys are like best friends. So you’d know.”

“We are close. I think of her as a sister.” Robin sighs and licks his lips. He expected this conversation, but he had hoped maybe the game excitement would restrict it to small talk. But it seems Henry wants to know everything. “After your mom had to leave town, Mary Margaret was over the house all the time. My mom loved her, always made her these snickerdoodle cookies she liked and cooking her favorite dinners once a week just like they did for me. My family quite liked her. And they were better at parenting than Mary Margaret's aunt and uncle. George and Audra cared for her, but they didn’t understand children, not having any of their own. My parents were happy to fill in the gaps.”

Henry nods. “Mom said your mom is like Mary Poppins.”

Robin laughs. “I think that’s just the British accent. I was blessed with absolutely wonderful parents, though. They are good role models.”

“Do they know Mom?” Henry asks.

Robin could laugh at the question. As if he could keep someone as important as Regina a secret from his parents.

“Oh yes, they know her well. My mother calls her apple turnovers “The Regina Special” because your mom would come over and devour them. Cora didn’t really keep baked goods in the house, so Regina got her sweets and junk food at mine. My dad called her The Warrior because your mom was quite a spitfire as a child.”

“I want to meet them,” Henry says decidedly. “They sound funny and nice.”

“They will be here in about two months to see Roland,” Robin tells him. “I’ll introduce you then. They are already excited to see Regina again.”

“Did they know my dad?” Henry asks.

Robin frowns. “I don’t think they ever had the pleasure of meeting Daniel, no.”

Henry huffs in frustration. “Oh. But Mary Margaret probably let him, right?”

“I think so,” Robin says, searching his memory for a time when the two of them were together. “Probably, she was much younger, so she didn’t know many of us that well.”

“She knows you,” Henry says, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes, because I lived down the street. Daniel lived on a farm. He was a bit further away from us. I don’t know if MM knew many of Regina’s friends besides those of us on the neighborhood. Why, are you looking for stories about your dad?”

“I guess I want to know anything about my dad. Mom even only has three pictures with him. And one is from when they were 13. And she never wants to talk about him. I’d think that maybe he was a bad guy but she always says he wasn’t.”

“He definitely wasn’t,” Robin agreed. “He was a very kind and gentle guy. Easy going. I don’t think there’s anything or anyone he really disliked. He was always positive. His death was very hard on our whole school.”

“Maybe that’s why Mom doesn’t like to talk about it,” Henry theorizes.

“Maybe,” Robin says noncommittally, not wanting to lie, and not able to tell the truth. “It’s tough to say, I am not in your mom’s shoes, so I can’t exactly say how it feels, you know?”

Henry nods. “I know. Anyway, I’m excited to meet Mary Margaret. Mom talked a lot about her. Did she really have a doll that cost two thousand dollars?”

Robin laughs. “She really did. And she carried it everywhere. It was filthy. She would have been fine with any old doll, but her family always had to get some charming handmade antique.”

Henry laughs. “Hey, are we stopping at Killer Burger before the game?”

“Ugh, yes, this is your birthday gift so you are entitled to a meal of your choice,” Robin says, “but did you really like that peanut butter junk spread all over your burger or did you order it just to gross me out?”

“It’s delicious!” Henry chirps.

“You’ll eat that but Marian slaves under a hot stove making you delicious pasta and you won’t even try it,” Robin says rolling his eyes dramatically.

Squid ink pasta!” Henry protests “It was pasta with black ink all over it! Sorry, Roland’s chicken nuggets seem better than that.”

“Excuses, excuses,” Robin teases him back.

Henry tells him he’s being unfair for a whole host of reasons, and Robin can’t help but smile at the boy’s arguments.

He is his mother’s son. That’s probably why Robin likes him so much.

.::.

“Well that’s a fucking big day,” Mal says on the phone. “Your son meets your sister.”

“And his sister,” Regina reminds.

Mal scoffs. “Do you know I still see patients with secrets? Like the classic sister of a much younger sibling who confesses she’s really the child’s mother. Or sisters who adopted a younger sibling’s child. You’re hardly the first.”

“It’s still a big secret I’m keeping from him. And it’s still a big moment.”

“I remember you were terrified of this happening one day,” Mal says back. “One of the reasons why you left the area, wasn’t it? You were afraid Mary Margaret would see you and your son and confront him.”

“I was terrified of her for years. And of her telling him what I’ve done to their fathers.” Regina agrees. “But she… she doesn’t think that way. Now I just have to watch them interact, knowing they are siblings and that they have that man in common.” She shudders.

“They have you in common,” Mallory argues. ”Henry never knew Leo. He was gone by the time your sister was twelve, lord knows she never got to know the real man. The biggest thing they have in common is you. And I bet that’s all Henry wants to talk about. His mom and his sister and how they used to be. Embarrassing child stories and all that.”

“Yeah…” Regina sighs. “At least Robin will be there if things get into sensitive territory. He’s good at redirecting conversations.”

“Robin is going to be there?” Mallory asks. “You two do everything together it seems.”

“They are… easy,” Regina admits. “Oddly easy. I guess because we were friends for years.”

“You always talked about him as of it was a bit more than that,” Mallory reminds. “And you always bring him up. Are you telling me I’ve been misreading and it’s just easy? Or are there real feelings?”

“Feelings,” Regina sighs. Part of her hates talking about this and the other is desperate to say anything to anyone. “A lot of them.”

“It’s been awhile now, hasn’t it?”

“It’s been almost three months,” Regina admits.

“And you told him everything, right?”

Mostly, she thinks.

“He knows everything you do,” Regina admits. “And he didn’t run.”

“In three months, you know.” Mallory says softly.

“What do you mean?”

“You know if it’s casual or if you’re in love and it’s serious. So is it casual or is it serious?”

“You don’t always know that in only three months,” Regina sighs.

“You do if you’re sharing secrets and trauma,” Mal says in that exasperated tone. “If you’re in love with him, I should meet him. And by the way, if you can’t answer the question, I’ll answer it for you. I just want to hear you say it.”

“He’s… Robin,” Regina sighs. “I’ve always… in my way…”

“Were talking about romantic love.”

Mallory won’t let her get out of it, it seems.

“I…”

She clears her throat. “I miss him when he’s not here. I like talking to him, and you know I’m not a talker, so that’s… that’s new. I feel so damn comfortable in a way I haven’t really felt unless it’s with you and Gwen. I love his son. I really, really love that boy.” Her eyes fill with tears, because this is all too much. “But I can’t be intimate with him and I’m not sure I ever can be, so no, I don’t know what I feel for him. I know what I want to feel. But there’s a barrier there.”

You’re the only barrier,” Mal sighs. “I’ve been telling you this for a straight decade, Regina. And you never listen.”

“I know.”

“I just want to see you happy. You deserve that. To have some sort of relationship instead of… whatever you end up doing.”

“I know.”

“If he’s still here and you feel strongly about him, then I think this may be right guy.”

“The right guy?” Regina laughs bitterly. “You’ve known me for long enough to know there most likely is no one for me, not with all I have going on. And I don’t even know that I’d like something long term. I don’t think I’m the type.”

“You’ve always been a soft, romantic woman,” Mal says softly. “You’re absolutely the type. Just with a little hardened shell on top. What does your therapist say about lover boy?”

Regina sighs. Dr. Hopper has been rather supportive but sometimes she wishes he’d say more, do more, dictate more.

“Dr. Hopper never makes judgments like that. It’s always support but never… he won’t tell me what I need or what to do. I have you for that.”

Mal laughs. “In that case I say you’re required to stick around and let him love you.”

“He hasn’t even said the words yet,” Regina dismisses.

“He’s made an effort with Henry, he’s introduced you to his family, he’s spending his afternoon with you and your sister, and we know he’s not putting up with it for physical pleasures,” Mal counts off. “He’s not saying it because he’s probably picked up in the fact that you aren’t ready to say it.”

“Oh,” Regina thinks about Mal’s argument, and it seems rather… true. Regina has actually wondered about Robin’s feelings. He hasn’t said much on them, but god how he shows her what he feels all the time. The realization sends and a shock wave of fear that hits first before the adrenaline settles and revs up again, this time all positive, all excitement.

Maybe it’s selfish, but she wants him to love her.

.::.

“Ready?” Robin asks the question in a hushed whisper as he helps Regina out of the car. Not that she needs it, but old fashioned chivalry never hurt anyone.

“I don’t know,” she says, looking at Henry who is currently pulling their gift out of the trunk. “But it’s happening, and I’m glad you’re here.”

“It’ll be an easy meeting, with everyone here you know?”

Regina nods. A new baby will keep things distracting, more casual. The focus won’t be on Henry and Mary Margaret’s first meeting.

“Mom lets go!”

She grabs Robin and holds it tight as she walks up to the door and knocks.

MM answers immediately with an excited grin.

“Mary Margaret, this is my son, Henry,” Regina says, running her hands through Henry’s hair.

“Hi!” Henry says. “We got you and Emma a present!”

Regina had expected the tears, the woman is sentimental after all, the way she looks at Henry is so touching it almost brings tears to her own eyes.

“You’re so handsome,” she whispers through her tears.

“MM, invite them in,” David calls out, causing Mary Margaret to laugh.

“Come on in. I’m sorry, we haven’t been sleeping well,” Mary Margaret admits. As if on cue, Emma starts to fuss.

And then Regina forgets herself for a bit, forgets the anxiety of her son meeting her sister, and just focuses on Emma.

“Hello, little one,” she says, her heart beating fast as she walks over to David. “Can I hold her?”

David nods and attempts to gingerly hand her over. But Regina is more experienced than he, so she takes charge, takes the child out of his arms before he can attempt to put Emma in hers.

“Aren’t you precious?” Regina asks the bundle in her arms. And from the way Emma looks back at her it seems she agrees.

Emma is calming now in Regina’s arms. Instead of those angry cries, there are just little whimpers. She’s overtired, Regina thinks.

One look at MM and David and she knows they are similarly lacking in sleep.

She faintly aware of Robin talking to David and Mary Margaret, of being led back to the living room, but she barely notices anything but the child.

“Regina, you’re wonderful with her,” Mary Margaret whispers. “Can you come over all the time?”

“She’s just sleepy,” Regina explains. “But she doesn’t know what she’s feeling is exhaustion. She just knows she uncomfortable. Do you mind if I try to get her to take a nap?”

MM looks like she was just offered a winning lotto ticket as she breathes out a yes, please.

“Where is the crib?” Regina asks.

“I’ll take you,” David volunteers.

Regina squeezes Robin’s hand as she goes, offering him a pointed stare she hopes he knows means watch them and don’t let the sleep-deprived new mom drop any secrets.

Robin squeezes her hand back and whispers “Don’t worry.” He presses a tender kiss to her brow (in front of everyone) and she tries not to blush as David leads her to the nursery.

.::.

“Would you guys like anything to drink or eat? We got a big sub, chips and a salad for visitors, and um, some cookies?” Mary Margaret looks a bit nervous as she lists the food available, her eyes on Henry. It seems meeting Henry has given her some anxiety, too.

“Why don’t you sit down and let me handle it?” Robin asks. “You look tired.”

“Round the clock feedings,” MM tells him as she sits down. “You know where everything is.”

“‘Mhm,” Robin smiles, “Do you want anything?”

“Peanut butter cookie,” the woman tells him, “and some water?”

“Henry?”

“I’ll take any kind of cookie. And soda? if there’s any.”

“There is,” Mary Margaret says, “Ccoke.”

“I’ll be right back,” Robin says, leaving them alone but not out of earshot.

“Is there anything you want to know about your mom as a kid?” he hears MM ask. “Any silly stories you want to know, I can tell you.”

“I wanted to know if you still talked to my grandma,” Henry says.

Shit, he’s got to get back out there.

“We talk rarely. She reaches out every now and then to be polite. I get cards on Christmas and my birthday.”

“Does she talk about us?” Henry asks.

Robin bites his lip, waiting for the answer.

“No,” Mary Margaret admits. “I think she feels it’s best not to be discussed, especially with me. Cora and I aren’t too terribly close anymore. We are polite at social functions, when I attended them, anyway.”

“Here you are,” Robin says, handing Mary Margaret her water and Henry his soda. “I’m just going to bring the cookie plate onto the table with some napkins, okay?”

“Okay,” Mary Margaret says with a pointed stare, “we’re fine in here.”

“My mom doesn’t talk about Grandma a lot. But she talks about you!” Henry says, his voice more upbeat.

“And what does she say?”

“That you had fancy dolls and liked to dress up like a princess every day.”

Mary Margaret laughs. “All true. Regina is going to die when she sees our daughter’s room. it’s all decorated with pink crowns and and princess dolls.”

“If you had a boy what would you decorate the room as?” Henry asks.

“I would have wanted Peter Pan,” Mary Margaret tells him. “But David wanted knights and dragons.”

“Knights and dragons are better,” Henry says with a nod. “Dragons were my favorite when I was little. I used to write stories about them. Even a play, once!”

Robin sets the cookie plate down and breathes. For now the conversation is about two people trying to get to know one another, far less concerning than Henry trying to investigate the Curious Case of Cunty Cora.

.::.

Regina burps Emma and then rocks her to sleep before setting her down in the crib.

And then she wakes.

Regina laughs and repeats the process after swaddling her tight and holding her for awhile first.

This time, the little one sleeps.

Regina tiptoes out of the room, grabbing the monitor by the door and turning it on, heading downstairs into a situation she isn’t sure she can process.

She finds Henry, Robin and Mary Margaret laughing.

“... and then your mother decided that all the dolls needed dreams and backstories, and our ‘tea party’ was more like an intense interview process. My stuffed bunny was unprepared.”

Regina chuckles. Mary Margaret couldn’t have been more than five then. She is surprised she remembers.

“That doll Madeleine was the worst of them all,” Regina recalls. “What did you insist she wanted to be again? A trust fund floozy?”

“A unicorn horseback rider,” Mary Margaret deadpans, narrowing her eyes back at Regina before they all laugh again.

“Whenever Regina played with dolls they either had serious occupations or they were superheros,” Mary Margaret explains. “A lot were superheroes.”

“I think that’s what I wanted to be most when I grew up,” she chuckles. “Not even to be a hero. I just wanted the powers.”

Robin laughs. “I’m remembering the time my dad called you Xena. You asked why. He explained that she was a warrior princess.”

Regina chuckles. “Princesses were too girly for me. I said if I had to be a royal, I would be the warrior queen.”

Mary Margaret laughs, shaking her head.

Henry looks… fascinated. She feels a twinge if guilt for having not told him more stories of her youth. She didn’t really think he cared. But it seems learning about her in this new way interests him.

“When did you first know you wanted to be a doctor instead of a superhero or a queen?” Henry asks with a amused smirk on his face.

“Oh, I went through cycles. I wanted to be a veterinarian for a bit,” she glances at Robin and he nods, remembering how much she wanted to help horses once she found out they are often killed if they suffer broken legs.

“President,” Robin recalls.

“Yes when I was 9 I decided I was fit to lead the United States,” Regina laughs. “Later, a chemist. I loved chemistry.”

“When did you decide you wanted to be a doctor?” Henry asks.

Regina smiles shyly, ducking from eye contact with the others.

“Your Aunt Mallory played a huge role in that. I always looked up to her. She loved medicine. I wanted to be a doctor just like her.”

It’s part of the reason though not all of it. The reason she wanted to be a doctor was partially because of what she went through having Henry. But he doesn’t need to know that.

“What do you want to be, Henry?” Mary Margaret asks.

“A playwright,” he answered with a huge smile on his face.

“It’s true, he has it all planned out,” Regina smiles. “But he’s still going to work hard on all his subjects, because it’s too early to give up on any of them entirely.”

“My dad must have hated science too,” Henry groans. “Because mom loves it, and I don’t like it at all.”

Leo was never much for science, actually. Though he was never much for anything except investing, which can be quite scientific, right? It has to be.

“Daniel actually liked biology,” Robin tells Henry, and yes, that’s right, Daniel. She needs to stop wondering if Henry inherited his hatred of science from his father when she damn well knows that’s not a biological trait.

“He was in advanced biochemistry, too,” Robin adds.

“So where do I get this from?” Henry grunts.

“Get what from? You have straight As,” Regina reminds.

“But math and science are boring to me,” Henry reiterates. “I just wish I didn’t have to do them and could read and write all day.”

“Math is useful,” Robin tells him, “You’ll need it all your life. Better stay with it for a bit.”

“I’ll pay attention enough to learn what I need,” Henry argues. “I just already know I won’t be going into math or science so I don’t know why I have to be in honors. And Mom is probably going to make me take all the AP classes.”

“You’re lucky you’re so good at everything. Even subjects that don’t interest you,” Mary Margaret smiles. “I never liked math and I was awful at it.”

“Mary Margaret never properly applied herself,” Regina corrects. “And she didn’t have anyone telling her she could be quite brilliant at mathematics if she just worked harder.”

“Your dad never told you that?” Henry asks, looking up at Mary Margaret innocently.

They’ve been dancing around the subject of him, and Henry should know mentioning him would be hard on everyone, so he must be really curious. Or perhaps it is a test to see how MM reacts when her father is brought up right in front of his murderer.

“My dad did not,” Mary Margaret smiles, as if the subject of him doesn’t bother or surprise her in the slightest. “He just told me it wasn’t for everyone. And then my aunt and uncles didn’t mind if I was good at numbers and never pushed it. And that is the story of why I had to take remedial math in college. Don’t be like me.”

Henry groans. “Fine. I’ll do it. Just stop ganging up on me!”

“Hey, you wanted to meet your family,” Robin teases him. “This is what big family get togethers mean. Lots of people who love you hanging up on you and telling you what to do for your own good.”

It warms Regina’s heart, in a way, hearing him so casually mention the mutual love they share for Henry. And she knows Robin isn’t including himself as family, but if she is being honest, he sure is acting like it.

Has been since they reconnected.

And Regina is grateful for it.

“Mom?” Henry asks as he buckles himself in the back of her car.

“Yes, Henry?”

“Do you think you’ll ever change your name back? I mean now that everyone knows you by the old one and it’s been so long and we are so far away?”

“I don’t know,” Regina sighs, “Seems complicated. I already have my medical license in this name.”

“But you can change that, can’t you? Aren’t people always changing their names after they get married?”

“Yes,” Regina admits. “Yes, but I don’t know, it’s a confusing situation for everyone. And you’d have to change your name too. Would you like to be Henry Mills instead of Henry Montgomery?”

“I don’t know,” Henry shrugs. “It wouldn’t be so bad.”

Robin shoots her a sly smile.

“I just think it’s confusing,” Henry further explains. “And you didn’t do anything wrong, so you shouldn’t have to hide yourself.”

“Boy’s got a point,” Robin notes.

“Now you two are ganging up on me,” Regina laughs.

“That’s what family does,” Henry parrots.

She feels her cheeks heat as she turns to Robin to find the telltale traces of a blush are on his own face.

Good, then.

“Are you coming home with us?” Henry asks to Robin. “Mom said we can have whatever I want for dinner.”

He shoots a glance to Regina and she nods, granting him permission.

“I’d love to stay,” Robin admits. “But only if you are picking squid ink pasta.”

“Gross!” Henry giggles, “I’m never picking that!”

Regina can’t bring herself to scold Henry for his manners and thoughts of Marian’s lovely dinner. Not when she’s too busy thinking about how nice it is that Robin and Henry have their own inside jokes, their own relationship, really, something that’s developing fast and on its own. It could be scary but it’s really just wonderful.

.::.

As much as she likes to think of her son as unpredictable, Regina is not surprised when her son orders pizza.

Two half eaten boxes are open on the counter, and Regina has a mind to wrap up the leftovers, except she’s not entirely sure the boys are done eating.

Since they’ve entered her home she’s felt like a third wheel in the absolute best of ways.

Robin has taken over care for Henry, leaving her to process the day and wind down herself.

It’s just one more thing she’s thankful for when it comes to this man.

It’s been a day that includes many of her nightmares — Henry meeting Mary Margaret was a frequent one. In those moments she’s pictured Mary Margaret telling him how evil his mother was, that she was a stranger to him, someone with a dark past she kept hidden.

Instead it was… almost pleasant.

Henry knows so many things she swore she’d never share, things she’d protect with her life. But he’s slowly learning some of those things and her world isn’t in chaos like she imagined.

And it’s all thanks to the man who is currently playing some sort of video game football with her son.

“Mom! Robin said he’s coming to the play!” Henry tells her excitedly.

“Of course I am,” Robin laughs. “What made you think I wasn’t? You’ve been talking about it for weeks.”

“I know but you never said you were coming, I thought you only liked to do sports stuff,” Henry says with a little laugh.

“I went to the last play! I enjoy art and culture,” Robin says in mock offense.

“Yeah, ‘cause Roland was in that one,” Henry says. “Not because you like seeing middle school plays.”

“Well I’m going to see you,” Robin shrugs. “Can we pause this for a second?” he motions to the television. “I’m going to grab another pizza.”

Henry nods and pauses the game, directing his attention to his phone, apparently looking up some mood music while Robin makes his way back to the kitchen counter.

“Hey, so…” he turns around to look at Henry, continuing only, it seems, because the boy is entirely distracted. “I’m not sure if this is overstepping, but I know Henry is playing baseball this summer, but his schedule sounds elsewise pretty light. And there’s this local theatre that does camps in the summer, little workshops. They even have an beginning-to-end camp for those interested in playwriting and directing. I thought it would be nice, early on, if he knows he can do both sports and arts at the same time, so many boys think you need to choose one or the other, you know? Anyway I can get you the information if you’d like. I have a pamphlet in my car… are you okay?”

She’s not sure what face she’s making right now, but she definitely knows what she is feeling.

She gives him a little smile and pulls him by the hem of his shirt, until he’s close, until his lips are so close to hers she only needs to tilt her head up to claim them.

And she does. Robin seems a bit surprised at first, his breath puffs out of him, but then he’s kissing back properly, one hand around her waist holding her close, the other in her hair.

She releases his lips after a few brief moments (Henry is still in eyesight, after all, should he choose to look behind him), and whispers, “You have never been more attractive to me than you are right now.”

He smiles back looking a bit skeptical. “Playing video games while eating pizza and drinking soda? If so, there’s a lot more where that came from.”

She shakes her head and laughs. “No, caring for Henry the way a…” The word father is on her lips, but she can’t say them, if nothing else it’s far, far too soon. “For looking out for him, and treating him more than just my son.”

“Oh,” Robin chuckles. “You don’t have to thank me for that. I enjoy spending time with him. He’s an interesting kid. That is quite unrelated to any wooing I’m doing with you.”

“I know,” she smiles, wrapping her arms around his shoulder. “That is exactly what makes it so wonderful.”

She kisses him again, this time a bit longer, her arms all around his neck, up on tiptoes to meet him. It would be easy to get wrapped up in this, to trade kisses with him and flirt, but well—

“Gross!” Henry cries from the living room. “I didn’t need to see that!”

“Henry!” Regina scolds, eyeballing Robin when the man can’t help but snicker. “Don’t be rude.”

“Robin, aren’t we still playing?” Henry asks.

“Yes of course,” Robin says, piling a pizza slice into a plate and giving Regina another little, short kiss before turning around.

She doesn’t know what it is about that kiss that does it to her. It’s not heated, it asks nothing of her, it’s just a short little peck goodbye, even though he’s only going a few steps away.

It leaves her dazed and breathless, watching him make his way to her son as she traces her fingers over her lips.

She knows what this feeling is.

And she’s not even scared anymore.

“Can you not kiss my mom like that?” Henry gripes just loud enough for her to hear. She walks a bit further into the living room, only mildly guilty over eavesdropping.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Robin says in his smug little way. “Kissing your mom is one of my favorite things.”

“Ugh,” Henry scowls. “I did not need to know that.”

“I thought you liked us dating,” Robin says, picking up the controller as Henry restarts the game.

“I did, I do,” Henry says exasperated, “just not that part of dating.”

“You won’t find kissing gross forever,” Robin tells him.

“I’m not saying kissing is gross. But… how would you feel if people were kissing your mom like that?” Henry asks incredulously.

“Sorry, sorry,” Robin laughs as Regina suppresses her own. “You’re right. Let’s get back to the game.”

She busies herself tidying up the kitchen until it’s time to remind Henry to go to bed, belly still warm and fluttery and the thought of what she’s somehow stumbled into.

Things she thought she’d never have.

“I should head out,” Robin smiles as he finishes his game and gives Henry a hug. “I have Roland tomorrow. No idea what he has in store for us, but I might find myself at the diner if you two want to join?”

“Yes!” Henry answers right away. When Regina looks at him he just shrugs. “Dutch apple pancakes,” he says with a shy smile.

“Okay, well if there are going to be pancakes tomorrow you are going to bed now.”

“Goodnight, Robin!” Henry waves making his way up the stairs.

“Goodnight,” Robin mumbles as they watch Henry fade from their view. He has a cheeky little satisfied smile on his face and it’s just so damn kissable.

“Come back,” she whispers. “I’ll text you after Henry is asleep. Come here and spend the night? Please.”

Yeah?” Robin grins.

Regina nods her head and forces herself to speak her mind. “I want to be close to you tonight.”

He weaves his hand through her hair. “Honestly, I can't remember a night in recent history where I haven’t wanted the same. Is that okay to admit?”

“It’s more than okay. It’s relatable.” Words are bubbling inside her and she just wants to say them, but not now. Soon. “Come back.”

“Call me,” he asks of her.

Regina nods and kisses him goodbye.

.::.

It’s good she didn’t try to keep Robin in the house, because Henry can’t find the new tube of toothpaste and then insists on making himself a glass of water before bed. Part of her wonders if he’s not actually checking for Robin but that seems like paranoia on her part.

Still, she’s grateful that his room faces the backyard instead of the driveway. When she hears his familiar breathing pattern around 11:15 she texts Robin and asks if he’s still up to coming.

He texts her back Of course, so she unlocks the front door and waits for him to come back.

She’s on the couch when he does, flipping through channels idly.

He doesn’t rush to her. He actually stops to make them both a glass of whiskey, setting one down in her hands before kissing her.

“Hello again,” he smiles.

“Hey,” she says, taking a sip of her whiskey and setting it back down. She lets the television fall on some random channel and then turns the volume down.

“Everything went well today with MM and Henry, huh?” Robin asks. “You feel good about it?”

“I do,” she says, and it’s definitely true. “It takes a lot out of me but I had been imagining it over and over since Henry was born. And then it turned into a nice moment. Did I miss anything when I was soothing Emma?”

“He started asking about Cora, but MM didn’t have much to say. She hasn’t spent much time with her, you know?”

Regina nods.

“He’s definitely curious about her. But he doesn’t ask me about her much anymore. I’m sure I’ve let on that it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want him to think terribly of her, but I…”

“You can’t protect him from knowing the truth about his grandmother,” Robin shrugs. “She’s not a good person.”

“A part of me is always going to hurt when you say that,” Regina admits, taking a sip of whiskey.

“Sorry,” Robin sighs. “But you’re a mother. I’m a father. Think about what she did, how she acted. It’s not something I could ever understand. You would die for Henry. She wouldn’t even sacrifice her social status to defend you.”

“I know,” Regina sighs. “She never directly told me she didn’t believe me, mind you. Never told me she did either.”

“She left you on your own and pregnant,” Robin reminds. “You were 17, babe.”

“I know,” Regina nods. “I still miss her sometimes. And I don’t know why. It’s hard to talk about. I guess… I never fully got to see her and know it was the last time I’d ever see my mother. I still wish we could make up sometimes. But I’m also harboring a lot of hurt. And anger.”

“If you ever want to see her again, I’d be happy to come with you for support,” Robin tells her, rubbing her thigh in that comforting way about him.

“I know you would,” she smiles. “Even if a conversation with Cora is not on your bucket list.”

“She’s around town. I see her when I visit my parents. But yes, we prefer to ignore one another. But I’d change that for you.”

“You already do enough,” she sighs. “More than enough. I can’t even begin to thank you.”

Robin shakes his head. “You’ve no need to thank me. I like everything we’re doing. Quite a bit. I… I care about you. A lot.”

There’s something about the way he says it just has her losing all better sense and reason.

“I love you,” she blurts out, her eyes widening as she realizes what she said practically out of the blue. “Oh god, I did not mean to say it like—“

“I love you, too. So, so much,” Robin tells her, lifting her wrapping his arms around her tighter. “Loved you so strongly, perhaps way too early in all of this. But I’ve wanted to tell you,” he kisses forehead. “So many times. I thought you’d run or I would have said it weeks ago.”

“I want this to work,” she says, her cheeks flushing as she takes his lips. “I know when we started this I said some things, but, well… everything’s different now. I don’t want to see anyone else, I don’t want you to see anyone else — even if it’s unfair since I can’t give you anything — it would hurt me, I don’t want to share you, I—“

“I was never going to be with anyone else anyway,” Robin soothes, running hips hand through her hair. “I am addicted to you, love. I don’t want to spend time with anyone else.”

“Even if it’s just to get off?” she asks.

Robin snickers. “I’m more than capable of tending to my own needs. Better than being with someone else — infinitely so. I can just think about you, about us. It’s not so bad. I want you, terribly so. That doesn’t mean I would be satisfied if I replaced someone else with you. Not even close. I’d much prefer nothing at all.”

“If you’re sure,” Regina sighs. “I just… I feel a lot for you. I don’t want to lose you.”

“I’m sure. And you won’t lose me,” Robin assures her. “That I can promise.”

“Even if you found out… horrible things about me?”

Robin looks at her with some amusement. “What possible trouble did you get in as a new mother while attending college and medical school?”

She has no answer. All her serious transgressions come before that time.

“Did you kill or hurt any children?” he asks teasingly.

“Of course not,” Regina scowls.

“Participate in any serious acts of terror?” he asks.

Regina just rolls her eyes.

“Honestly, even if you had it wouldn’t make a difference. Who you are now matters to me. And who you were when we were younger makes me confident I know your heart. Whatever you are too afraid to tell me, if there is anything, I swear it won’t change how I feel about you. I love you, Regina. Every part of you. Even the parts of you that you aren’t proud of.”

“You’re absolutely sure this is what you want?”

Robin cracks a smile and nods.

“I’ve never been more sure. Since you’ve moved here it’s like a missing piece of the puzzle. Everything just fits with us, at least to me.”

Regina nods. “It feels like that to me, too.”

Robin smiles and takes her hand, holding it tight. “I think it’s because in a way, I’ve always loved you. The love just changed over the years. When we were children I loved you as a child can love. Of course I always thought I would marry you, I had such innocent thoughts of romantic love back then. You were pretty, you were brave and wild and fun. I wanted to spend every moment with you. And then we hit those awkward preteen years and things started to change. I loved you, I knew romantic love was quite different, and I started to feel it. I got jealous when you talked to other boys. I didn’t like hearing about the celebrities you liked.” Regina laughs shyly.

“Who were you even jealous of? I can’t even remember back then.”

“You did talk to Daniel occasionally,” Robin teases. “And then Graham moved to town, and he was interested in you.”

Regina rolls her eyes.

“Trust me, he did. I could tell. I stressed more than you know about the older better looking guy asking you out and you having no time for me.”

“You were crazy,” she tells him honestly. He had to be partially insane to think she could ever leave him for someone else back then. He was her person.

“I was… insecure and confused. It was immature, the way it developed at first. But then around those early teenage years, I became aware of my feelings. I loved you, but I wanted to be with you. In ways that felt dirty and wrong, that made me feel awful because you were my friend. I loved you, but I lusted after you in private.”

“I liked you the same, back then,” she admits. She could never let herself fully enjoy it, but she’s familiar with the way Robin sometimes made her feel, and if she could have enjoyed those feelings back then, it would have been nice, if not guilt inducing for a different reason.

“After Leo’s death I matured a bit. I had to, as I’m sure you did. But I went back to caring for you as a person first and foremost, not just because you were sexy and beautiful. The whole time we were apart, I loved you, the memory of you, worried and cared for you so often, it never fully went away. And since you’ve been back in my life, it’s like I’ve felt everything. Even the terrible parts of love. I didn’t love hearing that you intended sleep with another man, I realize that’s awful to admit, but I can’t say I’m not without faults.”

She chuckles, her heart swelling with guilt. “I’m sorry about that. And I don’t want that any more.”

“Even if you did, I might be jealous, but I wouldn’t stop feeling this for you. I’d even understand, I do understand. That is how I know this is real love. It is what I had with Marian, but so much more, so much deeper. All I wanted was to feel what I felt with Marian again, and I never thought that would happen. Now there’s you here, and I’m just so much more in love than I ever thought possible. It’s more than I ever hoped for. So yes, I love you. I’m certain that it’s real and certain that this is what I want. Just you and me, the way we are now is perfect for me.”

She does as Mal says, then, and lets him love her.

She lets him shower her with affection, soaks in the warm feelings and gentle kisses as tears of relief stream down her cheek.

God she feels so much for him.

And she wants to do more, the mood begs for it, she knows Robin wants to, for fuck's sake the timing is right. they’ve confessed feelings for one another, he’s said things any other woman would kill to hear. He deserves this, she deserves this. She’s said the words she hasn’t said to anyone who isn’t her son for the first time in over a decade.

She wants him, she should be able to act on it, but she just can’t.

They are lying next to each other in bed, kissing but trying to be chaste, trying not to rile each other too much, because there’s no ability to get relief, no fireworks at the end of this show, and there’s no point leaving them wanting and frustrated, unable to sleep.

She loses it anyway stars stroking up and down his abs. He follows her lead, his hand hovers a bit lower than the small of her back, and when she rocks back into him he lowers his hand enough to grab her ass fully.

They both moan, and that’s when the frustration occurs.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, breaking out of the kiss.

“Don’t be sorry for a damn thing right now,” he growls, pulling her back for another kiss.

She shakes her head and avoids his lips. “I can’t, we can’t—“

“I know,” he rasps, “It’s okay, I didn’t expect it.”

Somehow that makes it even worse to her.

She lets out a frustrated grown and turns to lie on her back, covering her eyes with her forearm.

“If this is about me, I’m more than okay with our arrangement. Did I do something to hurt you?”

“No!” Regina sighs, “You were perfect as always.”

“Then what is it?” he asks softly.

“I just want to be over this,” she whispers, still avoiding his eyes.

“You will be. Give yourself time. There’s no rush,” Robin tells her.

“I think I could have been over it already if… “ she starts. All of this has been building up inside her and she wants to share what’s been weighing on her, but she’s never been more terrified. “I want to tell you this, because it feels like I should, like you should know…”

“You can tell me as much or as little as you like,” Robin repeats.

He is always saying that.

“Don’t you have questions? On how I let it get so far, on why I didn’t report earlier?

“I see this in my job, love,” he tells her. “I can guess the answers. I wish you would have told me back then. But what would an eighteen year old me do? I would have been just as scared as you.”

She nods. “Leo was tricky. I didn’t realize what was happening at first. I was young, I thought they were just massages, these innocent bedtime talks. And mother never gave me any attention, I just was so grateful he gave wanted to spend time with me at first.”

She shudders.

“Of course,” Robin rasps back. “Nothing to be ashamed of, you know lots of children fall into it.”

“The worst of it is it didn’t all feel awful,” she admits, feeling the bile in her throat, because that’s what she has to confess, what she keeps in to everyone but her therapist. “The attention, the talks, having someone actually listen to my thoughts and not mock them, you know, I thought it was nice at first, that interest he showed in what I said, how I felt.”

Robin’s hand is draped around her, soothing, comforting, rubbing at her hip. It’s an unspoken action that makes her feel safe in sharing more.

“And then later, the things he did, how he touched me, not always, not often later on, but sometimes…” she won’t look at him, but his arm is still there, not letting her go, not seeing her as poison. She chokes it out. “It felt good sometimes, and that’s why I’m like this. If it had just been awful the whole time, I think, if I fought and hated every moment I’d be able to handle this. But I can just remember…” She remembers the stupid moments where she didn’t realize his massage of her thighs was anything inappropriate, how she just focused on how it felt, so young, so stupid.

How easy it was to guilt her into it, remind her that she liked it, that she wanted it.

“It disgusts me, but I remember it feeling good sometimes.”

Her eyes shut tight and she waits for Robin to talk.

Waits for him to stutter and tell her he doesn’t know what to say, to act like he’s okay with everything and then slip off tomorrow and suddenly have a packed schedule from here until the 20th of never.

“Of course it felt that way,” Robin says instead. In a soothing but unsurprised tone as if she just recited a well known fact. “Surely you know how normal this is. You’re a doctor. You know about biological reactions, physical reactions.”

“Of course,” Regina murmurs. “But I wasn’t tied down, I wasn’t—”

“In a way you were. He had power over you. Even at 17. Letting yourself feel good could even be a coping mechanism. Like your body trying to protect you from further trauma.”

“Right.” Regina is educated on this subject, she knows all this. It’s one thing to know it and another to believe it when it comes to her own experience. But it’s no matter. That’s not why she’s having this conversation. “I thought you should know that this is why I can’t enjoy myself. I used to feel so awful in the end, when he would leave and it was just me cursing myself for letting it happen. I’d be so scared during, so miserable, and yet…”

“All of this is painfully normal,” Robin soothes.

“I know,” she admits. “It’s just so rarely talked about I don’t think many other people would know or understand.”

“I’ve got a bit more knowledge in this department because I deal with victims of sexual abuse as an unfortunate part of my job. I’ve read the medical records. I’ve sat through the proceedings. I’ve had the children confess things to me,” Robin shrugs. “But I think even if I didn’t have that, I’d understand. Even if your mind isn’t into it, your body can still react. And I’m sure that feels like a horrible betrayal. But it doesn’t lessen the rape aspect at all. In fact it heightens it. It was worse. He knew what he was doing. He forced you to feel what he knew you wouldn’t want to feel.”

It’s still hard to believe that no part of him feels disgusted, or shocked by this.

“I know sex is healthy, I know there’s no reason to feel this. I keep trying. But it’s in me now. The same feeling I had as a little girl, cursing myself for enjoying anything even for a second. And I can’t stop it from happening.”

She breathes out.

“Can you… “ Robin sighs, “Sorry, it’s not my place to ask.”

“You can ask anything,” she says, turning to him. “Please. I want to at least be honest with you, so you aren’t wondering anything.”

“Can you ever enjoy yourself in that way without guilt?”. His cheeks flush as she tries to diss out what he means. and then she figures it out.

“You mean can I please myself?”

“It’s not my place to ask, I’m sorry. I just—“

“No, it’s absolutely fine to ask and I can. It’s not… not at first. But that was easier to, um, adjust in that department. I can.”

“Good.” Robin exhales slowly. “I mean, uhh, not that it should make a difference to me, it’s just—“

“It’s a good thing,” she concedes putting him out of his misery. “And if the roles were reversed I’d have the same question. It makes it easier, doesn’t it? Knowing we’re not just sexually frustrating ourselves to no possible good ending?”

“Yes,” he admits with a chuckle. “I trusted you to know what made you comfortable, but… it is still good to know. Knowing everything, really. I can’t begin to understand what you went through, but this helps.”

He should be running far, far away from her.

She’s an absolute mess, thirty years old and still suffering from a childhood trauma that she has had the treatment to recover from by now.

But he’s not. He’s still right next to her with an arm around her, holding her as if she were precious, and it’s almost too much for her to believe.

“Thank you,” she whispers, “for listening.”

“I’m glad you felt like you could tell me,” he says softly. “it changes nothing. Nothing about how I feel about you or what you mean to me.”

She feels it, feels the charged air around her everything going still and silent as he adds, “it might even make me love you even more, if that’s possible.”

She lets out a deep sigh of relief, wipes away the remnants of tears she didn’t know she shed, and settles next to him.

“I love you,” she whispers. He echoes her words and urges her to sleep, teasing her with the promise of pancakes in the morning.

She’ll never know what force on earth decided she was deserving of this after everything she’s done, she’d certainly never thought herself worthy. She has a wonderful, patient man who is in love with her, and she’s committed to him with all her baggage attached, she wants more than she’s entitled to, yet he doesn’t seem to mind that at all.

Chapter Text

 

The moment he knows he’s walking into a trap is the very same moment he pulls into Regina’s driveway and sees Henry with a little friend outside.

And somehow Robin already knows who she is.

They appear to be playing basketball, though from the dark clothes and blase expression on the girl’s face, she’s playing with Henry purely to humor him.

“Lily!” Henry cries. “It’s Robin, my mom’s boyfriend.”

“Oh,” the girl says, focusing on Robin. Her eyes are big and expressive, accentuated with a bit too much makeup. “Introduce me!”

Robin bites his lip and tells himself this isn’t too big of a deal. He would have liked to get a heads up from Regina, but this is fine. She was supposed to be at the party tomorrow, Lily and her moms. He was prepared for tomorrow, and he can be prepared for today. “Ready, buddy?” he asks Roland as he pulls his keys out of the ignition.

“Who is Henry’s friend?” Roland asks.

“We’re about to meet her,” Robin tells him, opening his door and then helping Roland get out of his own booster seat.

“Hey, Robin! Hey, Roland! Look! Lily and her moms surprised us and came a day early to my birthday!”

“I see that,” Robin smiles. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Lily. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too!” Lily says, sticking out her hand for Robin to shake.

“This is my son, Roland,” he introduces.

Roland goes shy on them for some reason. He manages a small smile and a wave, but clings tightly to Robin’s side.

Lily smiles knowingly. “We just got here. Mom wanted it to be a surprise. I heard you guys had dinner plans.”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Robin waves off. “Just dinner with the kids. We will reschedule. It’s not every day Regina and Henry get a visit from their best friends.”

“Mom says we should all eat together,” Lily shrugs. “She wants to meet you.”

“Well I’d very much like to meet both of your mothers,” Robin says, trying not to show the bit of nerves he’s suppressing, that concerning feeling he only remembers feeling when first meeting Marian’s parents.

“Mhm,” Lily says, her eyebrow raised. “Let’s go inside, Henry!”

“Daddy, are we still having lasagna?” Roland asks.

Robin laughs while Lily turns around and answers for him. “I think we are ordering from a restaurant.”

When he walks into Regina’s home, he sees her with a cup of coffee smiling nervously at two women who appear to be in the middle of a rather serious discussion… or interrogation.

She looks up sheepishly and makes a beeline for him.

“Hey, look who decided to surprise me,” she says, her eyebrows raising. “Sorry, I was about to text you but—”

“I said why not make it a surprise,” one of the women finishes for her. She is quite a few years older than Regina but absolutely striking. Blonde hair, big blue eyes, and full lips, wearing simple black slacks with a silk top that makes her look almost regal. “Sorry about crashing your dinner. I’m Mallory. You must be Robin.”

Ah, he could have guessed, The Mallory. The stories of her seem to make more sense now that he has the woman in front of them. She commands an audience, oozes confidence. He can imagine she’s a difficult woman to say no to.

“Nice to meet you,” he says, shaking hands. “And this is Roland.”

Mallory seems natural with children. She kneels down so she’s the same height as Roland and gives him a reserved smile. “Hi, Roland,” she whispers. “I’m Mallory.”

“Hi!” Roland says. “Are you Regina’s friend?”

“Mhm,” Mallory nods. “We are very good friends.”

“Regina is my dad’s girlfriend,” Roland says in a not-so-hushed whisper.

Robin laughs, the other adults in the room joining in.

“It’s true!” Roland says, looking insulted by the laughter.

“It definitely is, my boy,” Robin chuckles.

“I’m Gwen,” the other woman says timidly. “Nice to meet you.” Her voice has a crisp accent from somewhere he can’t place.

Gwen is no less beautiful than Mallory. She’s toned and tan, dark hair and eyes that remind him of Regina and Marian, actually. It’s odd, if he didn’t know that Lily was biologically Mallory’s he would have assumed she was the one with the biological connection.

But then again, who looks at Roland and sees any evidence of his paternity?

Robin shakes Gwen’s hand and she bends down to say hello to Roland.

“I’m bored of basketball. Can we play Mario Kart?” Lily asks Henry.

“Yeah!” Henry answers. It’s clear he looks up to the girl a bit. She’s older, at least two years during a time when an age gap makes quite a difference.

“I wanna play!” Roland jumps.

Henry, who has never showed a problem involving Roland in anything before, actually scowls.

Regina shoots him a look that means business, and whatever he thought of saying he must think otherwise of.

“Take him along. Play nice.”

“We will!” Lily assures, “Roland you can pick first.”

When the children leave, Regina sighs, cringing. “Sorry. It seems that Henry feels the need to impress Lily today.”

“He’s a thirteen-year-old boy and Lily is fifteen,” Mallory waves her hand. “He doesn’t know what she likes because she doesn’t know herself. Plus she can be intimidating… even for me. But she’s harmless. Under all that eye makeup is a girl who loves video games and cute little kids. She’s more than happy with Mario Kart.”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Robin smiles. “I’ll be up in a minute to play a round or two and check on them if things don't go well. My son is honestly grateful for any attention he can get from older children. He’s a bit of a ham for them. My wife’s friend was a bit involved in local theatre and they use him for the young children roles sometimes. He loves it, especially when the older girls fawn all over him.”

Mallory snickers. “Sounds like he will be a handful in a few years.”

“He’s a handful now,” Robin admits. “It takes three parents working full time to handle him.”

Mallory and Gwen laugh but Mallory clearly has something to say.

“Regina raised Henry all herself.”

“I’m forever in awe. I have my mom and dad, my friends, Roland’s mother and her partner. And it’s still exhausting.”

“She’s magnificent,” Mallory says plainly, as if it’s a simple incontrovertible fact.

“Mal—“ Regina says, her face flushed and embarrassed.

“I entirely agree,” Robin tells her.

Regina shakes her head. “Mallory and Gwen helped me infinitely. For the first four years of Henry’s life they were—”

“We occasionally helped with babysitting. You parented all alone. And went to school and got straight A’s all on your own,” Gwen interrupts. She raises her eyebrows and shoots Robin a look. “Do you know how incredible it is to go through college, to get into medical school and then get a highly coveted residency program all while raising a child alone?”

This is exactly like meeting your girlfriend’s parents, he realizes. Right down to them bragging and embarrassing her.

He thinks he loves it.

“I can’t even imagine,” Robin admits.

“I had money for a nanny and two fairy godmothers,” Regina groans. “Are we done applauding my credentials?”

“You should have seen her when she was younger,” Robin smiles, thoroughly enjoying the reddening of her cheeks. “She was this daring, bold little kid who was always the first to try something ill-advised and dangerous. Jumping out of second story windows—”

“What?” Mallory asks with a laugh.

“Onto the little bit of roof below, and then down,” Regina sighs, “I’m not stupid.”

“She has no fear and a head full of wonderful ideas. And anyone who wouldn’t follow after her would suffer humiliation. Children five years older than her were all but in her command.”

“Stop,” Regina chuckles.

“She was always finding new and creative ways to have fun,” Robin smiles. “She invented land jet skiing. Someone on rollerblades would hold onto a rope tied to a moped.”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Regina sighs.

“No,” Mallory smiles. “I want to hear more stories about young Regina. Gwen and I don’t get those.”

“I’m going to need wine,” Regina groans. “And some food if I’m going to listen to you guys trade stories about me for hours.”

“Oh, believe me, we will be doing that. And dinner is our treat. So keep the stories about Regina coming,” Mal says with a wink to Robin.

.::.

Things actually are going well. Mallory and Gwen are very personable, and he’s less intimidated now that he’s gotten to know them.

They clearly love Regina and know her well. Still, they enjoy the stories about Regina, Mallory at one point laughing so hard at a story that she spills her glass of wine laughing at her. They tease her, but also give her these loving glances he can tell radiate off then. They are her family, and they are proud of her.

He’s glad she has that.

“Mom, my tv’s broken again,” Henry says walking into the dining room with a little groan.

“It’s not broken. What did you do?”

“I just tried to change it from the Nintendo switch to YouTube to watch a video game walkthrough!” Henry sighs. “And it just shut off!”

Regina rolls her eyes and takes a long sip of wine. “Duty calls. “I’ll be right back.”

No sooner is she out of earshot than Mallory says, “So. Your wife left you for a woman?”

“Mallory!” Gwen gasps. “I’m so sorry, Robin. This isn’t like her.”

“It’s okay,” Robin waves off. She apparently wants the story and he’s certainly not going to act like his wife being with a woman is an issue. “Marian left me, and then fell in love with a woman.” He thinks, anyway. He’s never quite been sure, but that’s the story he was told and that’s the story he chooses to believe. Still, he amends, “Or maybe she left me for Mulan and left appropriate time between us to start things up. I’m not sure it would make a difference to me at this point. In either case, yes, Marian left me. And now is happily married to another woman.”

Mallory’s expression is blank yet thoughtful. “Regina says you are good friends.”

“Yes,” Robin nods. “People around town find it odd.”

“Lily’s father despises me,” Mallory says nonchalantly. “It must be nice to have a close relationship with someone, even if that person hurt you.”

“She didn’t purposely hurt me,” Robin shrugs. “I guess that makes forgiveness a bit easier. And honestly, in her case, there was nothing to forgive. She just fell out of love with me. It was hard for me, but not really a conscious choice of hers.”

Mal looks at him as if she’s conducting some sort of magical lie detector, analyzing his face with deep suspicion.

Then she nods.

“I suppose it is too late to mention now, but you know you can’t even unintentionally hurt Regina,” Mal says sternly. As if it were so easy. As if it were something he can easily control. Mallory looks to Gwen and trades a look he doesn’t quite understand. “She’s been through enough pain. And if there’s even a part of you that is unsure—”

“There’s no part of me that’s unsure about a damn thing about Regina. Or about us,” Robin insists defensively, almost angrily. As if he’d dare to be here right now knowing everything about Regina’s past if he weren’t fully committed to her.

“Wonderful,” Gwen says in feigned cheeriness. “Then that’s settled then.”

“I know you know her whole story,” Mallory frowns, swirling her glass of wine. “And if you truly think you can handle it, good. But if you don’t,” she shrugs. “Don’t think you’re doing anyone a favor here, or being so noble or good or patient with her. There are plenty of men who would slay dragons to be with her.”

He suppresses the urge to either laugh in her face or yell at her for thinking so little of him and Regina. Because Mallory has certainly got it all wrong if she thinks he’s seeing his willingness to take this slow as some sort of heroic quality.

“Mallory, I appreciate what you’re doing,” he starts tentatively, “But I’m happy with the relationship I have with Regina right now. And no part of me thinks I’m being selfless here. Even implying it would be demeaning to Regina. You know her well enough to know what it’s like being around her, so I’m confused as to why this would be some sort of surprise to you. Or maybe I am the one with the issue here. If enjoying my time with her is so unusual that someone of your intelligence can’t understand it, that is.”

He thinks he’s gone too far, been too visibly annoyed and borderline insulting, but it seems his rudeness was exactly what Mallory was hoping to find in him.

She smiles at him, it’s a bright, genuine thing, not a polite smile like he’s gotten before, he realizes that now.

She looks to Gwen and nods.

“Good,” Mallory smirks. “As long as you know what you have.”

It seems he’s passed some sort of test.

When Regina returns, they welcome her back, and things go back to the casual conversation they had before. Though this time there is a sense of warmth in Mallory’s tone, and maybe some genuine respect in her eyes.

.::.

Robin and Roland leave around eight, Roland uncharacteristically grumpy and argumentative, insisting he isn’t tired and doesn’t need to go home to bed.

But the boy kept rubbing his eyes, and Robin and Regina shared a knowing look as Robin ushered him out, reminding him that tomorrow was Henry’s birthday and he needed to be well rested for a big day.

Henry and Lily are still upstairs together (it occurs to Regina that at their age perhaps she shouldn’t let a boy and girl unsupervised in a bedroom, but these two have been raised as cousins and it seems unfathomable to suspect their friendship would turn into anything else).

She, Mal and Gwen are having some cocktails while the tv hums in the background, but Regina isn’t sure what is on. She is too busy waiting for their inevitable comments on Robin or what they observed.

The two of them had practically ambushed her, showing up unannounced and then insisting she not cancel dinner with Robin because they so desperately wanted to meet him.

And she’s been nervous about it the whole night. Even though Robin looked totally comfortable, she had still wondered what he had been thinking about the whole mess.

“Out with it,” she huffs, finally caving. “Just tell me what you think already.”

“About what?” Mal’s brow furrows as if she has no idea where Regina’s outburst has come from, and that is particularly vexing.

Regina rolls her eyes and turns to Gwen, who hasn’t said a word, but looks like she’s suppressing a laugh. “You know what. Come on, tell me what you think is wrong with him.”

Gwen raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t see anything wrong with him. He’s a good father and a very nice man.”

She had expected this from Gwen. She’s softer, sees the good in people. She’s not tough and prickly like Mallory.

She huffs and looks toward her other friend. “And you?”

Mallory shrugs. “I don’t know what to tell you, Regina, I liked him.”

“She didn’t seem to at first, but then he just about yelled at her,” Gwen giggles, “When you left to help Henry with the television.”

“Oh god,” Regina slaps a hand over her eyes. Poor Robin, as if her own issues weren’t enough, now he has to deal with the baggage of her adoptive family. “What did you do to him?”

“I made sure he knows how entirely extraordinary you are. And that he is quite the opposite.”

“Mallory!” Gwen scolds. “She didn’t say that, Regina!”

“I just made it clear that he’s the lucky one,” Mal shrugs.

“She wasn’t that bad,” Gwen assures, but Regina isn’t sure.

“So, you hated him,” Regina sighs. “What was it?”

“No,” Mallory smiles and shakes her head. “I actually really liked him.”

“You just told me how unextraordinary you find him,” Regina reminds. This has to be a joke, a clever trap she falls into before Mal lists all the reasons he’s a bad person.

“I needed to make sure he wasn't one of those men who think he is everyone’s savior,” Mallory explains. “I know how they can be.”

Regina thinks of Stefan, of Mal’s own experiences, and she supposes she understands her caution, however ill-placed.

“If you scared him off, I’ll never talk to either of you again,” Regina says, gritting her teeth.

Mallory shakes her head. “I couldn’t scare him off you if I tried, Regina. And that’s what you deserve.”

Regina tries so very hard to be annoyed by her overprotectiveness, but part of her is glad. Glad she has someone like Mal who cares so much, and glad the new person in her life is willing to put up with every last thing he seems to encounter, all for her.

Chapter Text

Celebrating birthdays had been a serious affair in the Mills-Blanchard household. Even before Cora married Leopold, there was a certain need to… outdo the neighborhood. Cora wasn’t afraid to spend money for the compliments she got, for throwing parties her friends were envious of. It was never for Regina, always for Cora. Always about the most expensive and in-demand birthday items, regardless of whether Regina cared for it.

And then Leo came into their lives. He was such a doting father on Mary Margaret. There was no expense spared for her birthdays, and he offered that same luxury to Regina once he married Cora. She had a couple of good birthdays with him where he listened to her and paid for something she’d never imagine having. When she was ten, he paid for them to go to an indoor obstacle course, perfectly suited to her tomboy needs. When she was thirteen, Leo had paid for ten of her friends to go on an all-expenses-paid ski trip for the weekend.

But then the birthdays felt like bribery, it felt wrong to enjoy anything he gave her, so she stopped giving input entirely and let him throw what he wanted. He still threw them - a surprise party when she was fifteen, a huge, elegant affair at the country club for her sixteenth. But they were never catered to Regina. They simply weren’t about her, and it showed.

Regina will never do that to her son. So the parties, for all the money she has, aren’t these incredibly lavish affairs that other people with money have. They are simply what Henry has asked for.

This year, Henry has asked for a party at the trampoline park. It’s loud and crazy but active and fun, everything a boy his age could want.

She has a regular store bought cake for him (at his request) but she did put together some party souvenirs — water bottles filled with candy — for the kids.

There are six boys here already and more on the way, though it seems only three girls will attend what was supposed to be a coed party — two from drama club and Lily, of course, but Henry doesn’t seem to mind too terribly much. He’s absorbed playing on the trampoline and laughing with his friends.

She’s already patting herself on the back for what seems like a successful day when Robin shows up with a very excited Roland.

“Regina! Momma never lets me play on trampolines!” he says while bouncing up and down. “I always ask for one every year and she says no!”

Regina cringes and looks to Robin apologetically. He’s quick to explain. “Marian can be a bit… neurotic when it comes to trampolines. His friend has one in his backyard and it’s rather elevated with no edge and… we don’t find it safe.”

Well, that’s because they aren’t. Even these trampolines carry a risk, one that thirteen-year-old boys can handle. But Roland is five, she should have thought about that.

“But Momma and Mom say these trampolines are safe,” Roland cheers.

“Well…” Regina cringes. “You still be careful out there. Don’t let those wild boys push you around. Two of the boys have brought their siblings so you won’t be the only one a bit younger out there. There are some grownups there too if you need any help, okay?”

Roland nods excitedly and walks out of the party room to the play area. Regina holds her breath until she watches him wave to another child he must know, joining him in the foam pit.

“Relax. You’re more nervous for him than I am,” Robin kids.

Robin is dressed for the trampolines, in mesh shorts and a plain tee shirt. He looks good this way, in workout gear.

Ugh, she has it bad for him.

Robin’s smile goes sheepish tilting his head to meet her eyes. She’s been caught staring at him.

“You look really nice,” he says.

Her hair is in a low, unstyled ponytail and she is wearing a sports bra and a tank top, some plain, old leggings, and she’s in these brightly colored trampoline socks.

She’d think he was just being overly complimentary, but then she’s just been gawking at him while he’s dressed in nothing special at all.

She looks down at her bright pink socks and laughs. “This isn’t my usual look, but I suppose I blend in with everyone else.”

He chuckles, then takes two steps toward her and kisses her lightly on the lips once, next on the cheek.

“Really, truly gorgeous,” he whispers in her ear. His hands settle on her hips and grip at them in a way that drops her mind down the gutter. And that is quite unfair.

“We are at my son’s birthday party,” she whispers back.

“I can still look,” he teases.

“So can I,” she flirts back, smiling triumphantly when her words affect him, have him sighing softly while taking a step back from her as if he doesn’t trust what he might do if he remains close.

“How can I help?” he asks, but Regina shakes her head.

“It’s all taken care of on this end. I’m just going to finish greeting everyone and then I’ll call everyone in for pizza.”

“You won’t be bouncing around yourself?”

“I doubt I’ll have much time,” Regina laughs. “Besides, they are playing trampoline dodgeball later, which, by the way, Roland and the younger kids will have to avoid. With my luck, and what I know of thirteen-year-old boys, I’d wind up with a black eye and a very interesting story to tell my patients — especially those of whom I tell to avoid trampolines at all costs.”

Robin laughs. “I think I’ll convince you to get out there somehow. Though, you’re right. We will stay clear of dodgeball.”

He glances out the party room window so she follows his eyes. They can see the foam pit from here, and Roland is still in it, seemingly having the time of his life. Regina spots Mallory right by the pit, somehow, even in workout attire and brightly colored socks, she looks oddly sophisticated. It’s the same way she carries herself that makes her look like a queen even in surgical scrubs.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think Roland had his own bodyguard,” Robin smirks.

“She’s protective of children,” Regina murmurs. She thinks back to when she was a child herself once. When Mallory became her protector in that clinic.

Not much has changed.

Robin leans in and kisses her again. “I’m going to go say hi. You will come out here the moment the last child arrives?”

Regina promises to do so.

.::.

Robin makes a beeline for Mallory and stands next to her. She doesn’t notice him until he clears his throat. She’s too busy watching the boys kicking and struggling in the foam pit.

“He loves these things,” Robin chuckles. “He has a little friend who just had a gymnastics party, and I believe he spent a full hour just jumping in and working his way out.”

“These types of parties scare me,” Mallory drawls. “Lily’s past the age of concern, but these little ones…”

She trails off, her eyes still on Robin’s son.

“Roland is a tough kid,” Robin assures. “We wouldn’t have him here if we didn’t know he could hold his own.”

“Yes, it appears he doesn’t scare away easily,” Mallory notes. She turns to him and her whole face changes, suddenly she looks so meek and innocent as she asks, “Takes after his father in that way, I assume?”

It’s a quiet observation that sounds more like an apology than he’d expected.

“He does, I suppose,” Robin nods. “I am not entirely sure that’s a good thing.”

“I would say it is,” Mal says quietly.

He tries to hide his smile. Apparently winning her respect meant more than he thought it did.

.::.

It’s a busy next few hours. The last of the guests arrive and Regina is out on the party floor, checking and tending to every little problem that arises.

Robin keeps catching her eye, keeps watching her as she gets dragged this way and that.

She looks so happy. She’s laughing so much.

One of the fathers is flirting an awful lot with her, and Robin can’t find it in his heart to be anything more than amused at that. He keeps dragging her into the foam pit, trying to get her to play basketball, teaching her arcade games, keeping his distance but clearly showing his interest. It doesn’t make Regina uncomfortable so it doesn’t make Robin uncomfortable.

Robin is maybe jealous he hasn’t had a proper moment with her, but he’s not jealous of anything else.

After all, he keeps seeing Regina looking at him, checking him out.

Right now they are having a moment. He’s helping kids slam dunk on the trampoline basketball hoop, and she’s just finished directing a child to the bathroom. She’s watching him, smiling shamelessly as he lifts Roland in the air and helps him slam dunk.

He helps a teenager next, and that takes considerably more effort, but less finesse, he jumps and grabs the kid by the torso, pushing him up as far as he can.

The kid makes the basket easily, and Robin is very proud Regina witnessed it.

She walks toward him, and he thinks he’s finally going to get her on the trampolines, will get to watch her laugh and play like he had hoped. But then that hopefully-single-dad comes back, and he’s asking for Regina.

She walks over to him, flashing Robin an apologetic smile as he just shrugs and smirks back.

She’s so cute.

Moments later there is an announcement that everyone from Henry’s birthday party should report to the dodgeball trampoline court if they want to play.

“Daddy! Dodgeball!!” Roland says excitedly.

Robin cringes. “I’m sorry, my boy, I think this is only for the bigger kids.”

“But I play dodgeball all the time,” Roland argues.

“Yes, but this is dodgeball with strong teenagers. And on trampolines. Let them go crazy. We will stay safe. And we can cheer people on like we do at basketball and baseball games.”

They make their way to the court, Regina watching nervously already as they choose captains and start to pick teams.

“I wish I could play,” Roland says bitterly, just in Regina’s earshot.

Regina turns around, good god she’s beautiful like this up close. She only gives Robin a brief glance before kneeling in front of his son. “This will be better. You can help us judge and make sure no one breaks the rules. Watch and make sure anyone hit leaves the court, okay?”

Roland nods, happy to have a job.

Robin and Regina lock eyes again. It’s almost ridiculous what he feels for her.

“Hi,” Robin says softly.

“Hey,” Regina whispers. “You’ve been… active.”

“Mm, and you’ve been busy,” Robin teases, spotting the flirtatious father in the crowd and nodding in his direction.

Regina laughs. “Craig is harmless,” she whispers back.

“I know,” he winks at her. “You’re cute when you blush, you know.”

She’s blushing fiercely and him calling attention to it only makes her flush a deeper red. She laughs.

“Well if Mike’s dad gets to play than another dad has to play for the other team to even it out!” a kid points out.

“What grown-up wants to play?” another one of Henry’s friends asks, looking around the crowd. This Craig fellow is already volunteered, or “Mike’s father” as he’s been identified. Most of the other people here are moms or fathers who did not sign up to jump.

Regina looks at Robin and he shakes his head.

“No,” he says, protesting what he already knows is hopeless to argue over.

“Roland, would you like to watch your daddy play the game?”

“Yes!” Roland says excitedly, “Daddy, you should play!”

God, he hates her. Loves her, but god, he’s about to toss himself into a pit of teens and preteens who have something to prove. And he’s even excited about it because she’s going to be watching him. Maybe she will care for the inevitable injuries he will suffer.

“I’m in,” Robin volunteers, holding his hand up.

“I call Robin on my team!” Henry says quickly, his faith in Robin unwavering and perhaps unwarranted.

But it makes Regina happy, Robin knows that.

She is with his son as he joins his team next to hers. Nothing feels more natural about it.

.::.

Regina shouldn’t be this attracted to Robin while he’s playing a juvenile game amongst gawky teenagers. Shouldn’t, but is, and since no one can read her thoughts, she’s going to stop feeling guilty over it.

Dodgeball on trampolines isn’t as bad as she expected. Your aim is off when you don’t have proper footing. The boys aren’t as brutal as she had expected, and Robin and Craig seem to be confined to shooting against one another as if they have something to prove. It’s Henry that finally tags Craig out, hitting him when Craig is too busy worrying about Robin’s next shot to notice.

Robin makes it to the near end, suiciding to block a ball from hitting a teammate as it becomes clear that his team will win.

When he comes back to her, he is sweaty and breathless.

“Now I am dragging you on one of these if it kills me,” he declares. “You owe me.”

She nods. “We have pizza and cake after this,” she warns. “You will have to wait until after to get your payback.”

He nods, rubbing his son’s hair. “Roland, do you want to see Regina play on the trampoline?”

“Yes! Oh, but Daddy!” he pulls his dad in closer to whisper something she can’t quite hear, but it makes Robin chuckle.

Regina raises an eyebrow in question and Robin smiles at her devilishly.

“Roland has a good idea,” he explains after his son leaves. “He wants me to throw you into the foam pit.”

Regina shakes her head. “Not happening.”

“We’ll see,” Robin winks back. “Now do you need any help with lunch? There are a lot of children here.”

There are, and she’s damn happy about that. Henry joined school midway through the year and she did worry that he would have trouble fitting in and making friends. But it seems like he’s found a place for himself here, and she’s happy about it.

“You can pour the drinks,” Regina decides. “Or at least supervise the drink station. I know they are thirteen, but I don’t trust them to not spill everywhere or… I don’t know, start a soda fight in the middle of lunch.”

“Got it,” Robin smiles back, seemingly happy to help supervise a bunch of teenagers. He does it all with a smile on his face, assuming the role of the birthday bartender as if it were a paid gig.

He’s adorable.

Her heart beats a bit faster when Henry calls Robin over to sit next to him. She’s about to give Robin a pass and insist that the adults all sit together, but Robin is more than pleased to be invited to sit with Henry’s friends.

Roland is sitting with some of the younger children and doesn’t seem to mind sharing his dad in the least.

She can’t help but notice how different Robin can be when it comes to children. Her table is full of parents who mostly want peace and quiet from their kids for a brief fifteen minute period, and he’s seeking out new children he isn’t even responsible for.

“He’s one big kid,” Mal notes, observing him with interest. “I like that. You’re too serious all the time. You need someone to remind you to have fun.”

“When we were little, I was the one always pushing Robin to have more fun,” she grumbles.

“Well, apparently you made a good impact on him,” Mallory shrugs.

After lunch, the party coordinator calls and asks for all the jumpers to go onto the free space trampoline.

“We cleared the free space so you all can jump and we can get a few pictures,” the employee explains.

Robin shoots her a knowing glance.

“Should we do just the kids?” Regina asks.

“We like at least a few with the whole group. It’s a nice memory,” the employee explains.

“Oh, we should definitely make memories,” Robin smiles, pushing her out to the trampoline area while the kids already have run out to pick their spots.

Craig joins them, still oblivious, it seems, to the fact she’s very much dating Robin (she’s dropped enough casual hints about it, she’s not sure why he’s not receiving them). She likes that Robin doesn’t seem to mind when Craig bumps into her, tells her he can’t wait to see her jumping around.

Robin just stifles a chuckle.

The adults take spots in the back of the group when it’s their turn, and Robin doesn’t take his eyes off her.

She doesn’t jump, just walks as confidently as she can on the uneven bouncy surface.

“Now that’s not fair,” Robin teases. “I want to see you really jump.”

It’s been a while since she was on a trampoline — Henry begged her to take him to one of these when he was seven, and she still felt she had to be there for him. Before that, she was a child herself.

It’s an exhilarating feeling, as she jumps higher with each bounce, not caring how childish she may look.

When she looks to Robin she finds he’s staring at her, not jumping at all, just smiling — no, laughing, he’s laughing at her.

“You’re always so serious. I am surprised to see you like this,” he smiles. “You look… cute.”

She smiles back at him and decides to let loose a bit more.

She jumps up and kicks in the air for photos, even does a toe touch and straddle split in a few, and every time she looks to Robin, he’s staring at her, mouthing, Wow.

It sends a rush through her. She likes this playful, harmless flirting.

She even catches him when his back is turned away from her, after pictures have been taken, and tackles him, tossing him to the ground and laughing. He takes her with him, though, tugging on her arm as he falls. She half-heartedly tries to fight him off, but she cannot help but laugh as he pulls her on top of him, trying to free herself by tickling him with her free arm.

He’s ticklish, she finds out, he lets out a delightful laugh and wiggles as she tickles around his sides.

The attendant tells them their reserved moment on the trampoline has ended, and their little fight comes to a full haunt.

Luckily they weren’t the only ones playing games, it doesn’t seem she made a spectacle of herself. Though Craig has certainly gotten the point, as he’s left the trampoline area in a hurry.

Robin wants her, that’s obvious, but he’s not being inappropriate, nothing that would be shocking in front of kids (they don’t know how turned on she is— and that’s inappropriate, she supposes, but at least concealable).

She finds she feels so bubbly and flirtatious she has to stop herself from grabbing Robin’s ass on the way off the trampoline court.

She’s not felt so sexually free in… well, forever.

Robin keeps the flirting up, keeps close and continues to teases and joke with her, and she finds herself truly enjoying herself at this party when usually the anxiety of meeting Henry’s expectations overwhelms her. She entirely forgets about Roland’s devilish plan until she’s by the foam pit zoned out a bit, watching Henry dive in with the other boys.

She doesn’t notice Robin sneaking up behind her until he scoops her up and tosses her in.

Roland squeals in delight, “You got her, Daddy!” and she looks up at Roland in feigned sadness.

“Roland, I thought you were on my side!” she pouts. “And to think, I gave you another piece of cake when your father wasn’t looking.”

“Oh, did she?” Robin asks, lifting his son. “Son, I’m sorry, but the price of extra cake must be paid.”

“Daddy no!!!” Roland laughs, clearly enjoying himself as he soars into the air and plops into the foam near Regina.

“I’ll race you to the other end!” he giggles at her. “Come on!”

It’s only then that she realizes she has a relationship with Roland that’s blossomed over the last few months, and she’s incredibly grateful for it despite not even knowing how it evolved.

Robin is at the other end to help them out of the pit. His son climbs out first, declaring himself the winner and running to tell Henry that he beat Regina in a race.

And then Robin dips down and helps Regina up, his smile and his scent and his everything all around her, tempting her, making her want things she can’t have.

That feeling simmers for the rest of the party, through every flirtatious joke, every thought he has.

She can’t say any of her thoughts at a child’s birthday aloud, but she also can’t resist grabbing him by the shirt and kissing him long and hard when the day as ended and she’s almost sure the kids are preoccupied enough to miss it.

And if they do see her, she really doesn’t mind that much.

She’s allowed this.

.::.

Robin sticks around to help Regina with the aftermath of the party— loading the gifts into the car and taking down some of the decorations. Roland is getting a bit cranky, but Mallory has been distracting him, sneaking the boy candies that Robin is sure he’s not supposed to know about but doesn’t mind anyway.

He’s been trying to occupy his mind as best he can on anything but Regina. He’s spent more time than he’d like to admit trying to find ways to avoid popping a stiffy at a kid’s birthday party.

She’s just so pretty today. She is also gorgeous, out of this world sexy, but today she is pretty. She is ethereal and happy, despite being dressed so casually and seemingly wearing almost no makeup, yet still just radiating beauty. Her hair is tied back in this ponytail that’s somehow cute and provocative at the same time. He never knew he had a thing for any hairstyle in particular, but this…. the way her locks keep sliding out, the way she tucks them behind her ear, the way it bounces as she runs to tend to this or that… well, maybe he has a thing for it after all.

But he can’t kiss her breathless today, can’t drag her into a maintenance closet and tell her what she’s doing to him and watch her blush and smile (he’s thought about it more than once). They can’t do that, because this is Henry’s birthday.

Of course, this whole relationship has an element of holding back, suppressing the physical, and while Robin imagines others might find it frustrating, it adds such an element of danger and temptation to everything that he can’t say he minds the waiting.

It may be painful, but the pain is good, it makes you appreciate pleasure so much more. Every sweet ache has him fantasizing about how incredible it will be to touch her the way he wants, show her how much he loves her physically.

If they ever get there. They might not, but he can still dream about it, and that’s its own little reward.

He doesn’t expect any affection from Regina today (or any day, really). As flirtatious as today feels, as much sexual tension as there has been, they are still surrounded by screaming teenagers.

But when the last of the presents is loaded into her car, and Henry is distracted talking to a friend, Roland still oddly in the care of Mallory of all people, Regina begins to thank him, and he can feel the air charged and the mood shifting.

She cups the back of his neck and leans in to kiss him, really kiss him, deep and passionate, pinning herself to the trunk of the car as she pulls him tightly to her.

She moans into the kiss, her tongue moves in this way, this twisting, sliding against his in a way that makes him imagine how she’d feel on other, more sensitive places, the blood quickly rushing from his head straight to his groin.

They kiss until they are both breathless, but even when they part Regina keeps reaching for a few more smooches.

“Thank you so much for everything today,” she whispers, nuzzling into his neck and breathing in deep. “It was very appreciated.”

“I like spending time with you,” he assures, grimacing at how low and raspy his voice sounds. “And this was a fun day. But anytime you need me for something that isn’t fun, I’m here.”

She thanks him, rubbing her nose with his as they part and come back down to Earth.

And then he has to leave her. She has birthday traditions to tend to and time to spend with out of town guests, and he has a very sleepy five year old to attend to.

He finds himself distracted for the rest of the night.

It had been a few seconds of making out, but it feels so scandalous, doing something so unexpected in a very public parking lot, and his imagination keeps going back to that moment for the next few hours, despite his attempt to reign it in.

So when Roland finally sleeps, Robin heads into his own bedroom, lies down on the bed, and gives himself permission to think about Regina as much as he wants.

Fuck, she looked so hot today. Her ass in yoga pants is something he’d rather like to see every day for the rest of his life. They should start working out together or something. Or maybe not, popping a boner in gym shorts doesn’t seem like it would be too terribly fun.

But fuck, he can just imagine how she looks running now, how everything bounces and moves, fuck…

She’s probably amazing in bed, looks amazing bouncing and riding…

Fuck, any last doubt he had about where this is going crumbles. He makes sure the door is locked, kicks off his shorts and boxers and grabs the lube from the nightstand as he settles back into bed.

There is a faint lick of guilt, knowing he’s too far gone to even be realistic in what he imagines Regina doing to him, but it’s just a harmless fantasy, and it’s not like he ever will expect it…

He takes himself in his hand and urges take over, he realizes how long he’s wanted to be touched all day, how much he needs it. The image of her stripping down for him after a long day of play surround his thoughts.  Sometime when it’s just the two of them. When the boys are anywhere but home with them.

She’d strip off sweat-damp clothes and pull him against her as she did earlier, pull his clothes off him and wrap her legs around him and just grind into him—

The buzzing of the phone stops him mid stroke. He should ignore that, right? Roland is asleep in the other room so it can’t be an emergency for him and Robin is... preoccupied.

He grabs it to have a look at who is calling and sighs when he sees Regina’s face lighting up on his screen.

His needs can wait.

“Hey,” he answers, still a bit breathless.

“Hey,” Regina's voice sounds soft and tentative. “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

Robin stares back his lubed hand and grimaces. “Oh no, not at all. Just wasn’t expecting to hear from you. Is the birthday boy happy?”

“Mhm. He’s off seeing a movie with Lily right now, actually. He was very happy with the party.”

“I’m glad,” Robin smiles. “He deserves it. I can imagine moving to a new stage can be difficult but he’s definitely made many new friends.”

“Yeah,” Regina confirms. “And you, um, were quite the hit at the party. I’m not sure what you did, most teenagers can’t stand being around adults.”

“Well I don't act like an adult,” Robin reminds. “So I guess I fit in easier.”

“You acted like an adult plenty. I saw you with the kids. And you really helped me with everything, so thank you.”

“You don’t have to keep thanking me for today. It was all fun.” And his mind is still there, so he adds, “Plus I got to see you jumping around in leggings and a tight little shirt, so that was it’s own reward if I’m deserving of any.”

She laughs (thank God). “Not one of my usual outfits, but…”

“That’s a shame,” Robin can’t help but interject.

His cock twitches, it hasn’t even really fully deflated since she called, and he’s not making the situation any better.

“If I knew you were into leggings and tee shirts I wouldn’t have bothered trying to impress you with all those skirts and dresses,” she teases.

No, he wouldn’t give those up, not at all.

“I love everything you’ve ever worn. But please feel free to wear outfits like that around more often, I mean, if you’d like to.”

“Mm, I would say you’re being crazy, but I know how it is. I love you in suits and sweaters but there’s nothing like seeing you in a plain old tee shirt.”

“Now that is crazy,” Robin chuckles. “Me wanting to see you in gym clothes makes perfect sense.”

She chuckles. “Is Roland in bed?”

“Yeah, I set him down a bit ago. He was exhausted. I think he might sleep in, which would be wonderful for me.”

“What are you up to now?” Regina asks. “You have a whole evening to yourself.”

“I was… just lying down,” Robin starts.

“Oh gosh, did the party exhaust you too?” She sounds a bit worried, and he supposes if she told him she was in bed at 7:30 he might be worried as well. But no, it wasn’t like that.

“No, no, I was just um, decompressing.”

“Decompressing?” Regina asks.

“Just… going over my day and taking a moment,” Robin says, “and… thinking about you.”

“Thinking about me?” Regina asks. “All good things?”

“Oh, trust me, flattering things. It was very fun flirting with you, even at a child’s birthday.”

He hears Regina’s muffled little laugh, and then, “I don’t know what was going on, maybe the fact that we couldn’t do anything…”

“Maybe the fact your ass looked incredible,” Robin murmurs.

“I wanted you, too.” Regina admits, “Very badly. You have no idea how much. Especially after you got all sweaty and red-faced after that game…”

Her voice sounds breathy and sexy, shoots straight to his cock which is now in desperate need of attention. Oh god, he really shouldn’t be touching itself while talking to her, but just one stroke, just to relieve all this pressure so he’s not out of his mind.

“You mean when I beat that guy who was after you in a showing of testosterone-fueled masculinity?” Robin tries to joke, keeping the conversation from devolving into a list of the ways he currently wants to fuck her, which is really all he can think about.

“He wasn’t after me—”

“Yeah, he was. And I don’t blame him. You’re so hot and so fun—”

“I’m not fun,” Regina protests, “not anymore.”

“You are,” Robin insists. “You’re an absolute blast to be around, and any single man who isn’t interested in you is crazy. You’ve no idea how many times I caught him staring at you when I was trying not to do the same. And you have no idea of the dirty thoughts that kept going through my mind despite the fact we were at a party with children.”

He laughs nervously and so does she. “You seemed so well-behaved,” Regina notes.

“I kept flirting with you,” he reminds, giving his cock another stroke, “And finding ways to get close to you without giving myself away.”

“Me too, why do you think I tackled you on the trampolines?” Regina asks, god her voice is sexy now, it’s low and heated...

Robin loses his mind the thought of that moment, of her being turned on, wanting him, wanting more

“I wanted to take you into a closet and just…” he shouldn’t be saying this, definitely shouldn’t be jerking off while he does—

But Regina lets out this breathy moan, this sexy thing that has him losing his mind. “Fuck, babe, I want to fuck you so badly.”

“I want that, too. You’ve had no idea how many times I’ve thought about it.”

“Have you?” he asks. He’s given up his feeble attempts to keep his hand off his cock, he just keeps stroking with a purpose, now, he won’t let go on the phone with her— he will save that for after — but he’s going to give himself a good start.

“Mm, so often now,” she whispers, these little sighs catch and crackle on the phone. “I can’t stop thinking about it, with you…”

“God…” he moans back, unable to help it.

“I shouldn’t be telling you stuff like this, not when I can’t—”

“You should always tell me stuff like this,” Robin insists, “I don’t care if we can’t have sex yet, just knowing you want to—”

“So badly,” she confirms, “Oh…”

Shit. Is she… doing what he’s doing?

“You don’t mind?” she asks breathily. “That I get off thinking about doing things with you we can’t do?”

“I do the same,” he chuckles, “so it’s even. And I swear one day, it’s all going to work out and you’ll be able to enjoy it, and we’re going to make up for all that lost time.”

He cringes, his cock is speaking for him now, and that might upset her, she gets so nervous about this, about the possibility of them ever being physical.

But this time she just groans and says, “God, I hope so. I need you.”

“I need you, too.” He grows bold enough (or horny enough) to ask, “Where are you right now?”

“I’m in bed too,” Regina pants back, oh fuck.

“I wish I was there,” he says, adding a twist of his hand as he jerks up, a particularly good mood that has him biting back a moan.

“I’m… I need to take advantage of having the house to myself,” she tells him, “I’ve been turned on all day, I need…”

“Mmm, give yourself what you need,” he whispers back.

“I already am,” she moans. “Are you…” she sighs contentedly, “Are you touching yourself?”

“Mmm,” Robin groans, now that he has permission, now that it’s not a secret, he allows his strokes to be more deliberate, to have a purpose. “I was jerking off thinking about you before you called.”

“Ohh,” she sighs, and he can hear her smile from the phone. “Sorry to interrupt.”

“Don’t you dare apologize,” he moans, jerking faster. “Oh god, I’m so hard for you right now…Is it okay that I am doing this? If we do this together will it make you feel...?”

“No, I think this is fine,” she breathes. “Robin…” her voice sounds like a prayer, fuck, she’s so sexy. “Tell me what you were thinking of before I called.”

He chuckles darkly. “I… I was pretty pent up. Things were getting out of control. I’m not sure I should. It doesn’t mean I don’t care for you, or that I don’t love the way things are—”

“I know,” she says with an edge of irritation. “I know how you feel about me. Just because I have an unhealthy sexual quirk doesn’t mean I don’t want it, doesn’t mean I don’t get horny, or feel sexual, or want it as badly as you. I’m not that innocent, I swear.”

He doesn’t respond right away, he’s trying to think this out. He wants her, he wants to do this with her, to tell her everything he wants to do with her and hear her moan and pant, to know his words are working her up, god to hear her come…

“Tell me,” she asks again, and who is he to deny her? He breathes in and exhales slowly.

“You came to see me wearing what you did today, except you were all sweaty, like from running around or the gym…” His cheeks are hot even sharing this, this so embarrassing, how does he explain what was in his head? “You were… you really wanted me.”

“I do so badly right now,” her voice is raspy and sexy, “I want to strip off your clothes, mm!”

“I was thinking of you stripping, pushing me against right against the front door, and god please, taking off my clothes…”

“And then what happened?” she asks.

“Then you called,” he answers, and she chuckles.

“What would have happened if I didn’t?” she asks.

He knows where this fantasy is going, where it usually goes. Perhaps because he’s always so worried about her enjoying things, she’s always aggressive in his fantasies, always making it crystal clear how badly she wants him.

But it’s also a bit selfish.

“It’s just a fantasy—” he starts.

“Tell me,” she rasps. “I want to picture this with you.”

“You’d unzip my jeans,” he breathes, letting his imagination wander, he’s so intoxicated with the thought he adds easily, “and get down on your knees…”

She moans, sighs, “I really want to suck your cock.”

He nearly drops the phone.

He’s never heard her like this, not outside of fantasies, and really he doesn’t think he’s ever heard a woman sound genuinely enthusiastic about a blow job.

“Fuck, babe,” he moans. “You have no idea what you’re doing to me.”

“It’s not usually my favorite thing,” she sighs, “but I always think about doing it with you, I want to… make you moan, know that I’m the one giving that to you… I think about it a lot.”

“Mm, me too,” Robin tugs at himself a bit faster, then slows down.

It’s a marathon, not a race, and he’s felt like he’s had some sort of foreplay going on in his mind for hours. He has to reign it in a bit.

“I want to take you down my throat,” she moans, oh fuck, “just feel all of you, slide my tongue up your length as I take you in and out…”

“Christ!” Robin can barely breathe, and forming a coherent sentence is hard, but he adds, “Just the thought of you doing that is enough to unravel me, I won’t last long if you do that.”

“You’d wait for me,” she says in a raspy laugh.

God, he would. He would wait — will wait— forever, if he has to.

“Yes,” Robin admits, giving himself those slow, deliberate strokes so he can stay on edge and not tip over that peak of pleasure, “Because I also, god you’ve no idea how much I want to go down on you and then fuck you.”

“No one has ever made me come that way,” she moans. “I’ve never… I want it to be you.”

“I want to… mm,” he hears her trail off and hears some crackling and shuffling on the other end.

“What are you doing?” he whispers, hoping she knows it’s curiosity and not judgment.

“I just got out a… thing I use, sometimes,” she breathes.

“Ohh," Robin feels a rush of blood go straight to his head at the thought. "A sex toy?”

“It’s just… a small vibrator. A bit thin, but it’s…. It’s strong,” she explains.

He thinks she turns it on at that moment because he hears a faint buzzing.

“Fuck I want to use that on you,” Robin breathes.

Regina laughs. “Mm, you were talking about going down on me.”

“That too,” Robin groans. “I just want to strip you bare, lay you down and just bury my tongue inside you.”

He hears Regina shift, the faint buzzing growing a bit louder as she exhales. “Mm, and kiss my thighs…”

“You like that?”

“I like being touched by you, kissed by you, and my thighs are sensitive,” she breathes.

“You’ve got great legs,” Robin moans, “Think about them all the time, about them wrapped around me as I fuck you with my tongue, think about how you’d taste…”

“Oh, god, Robin….Oh!” she gasps in almost panic, but then he hears her laugh.

“You alright?” he asks, slowing down his own movements, making sure she didn’t hurt herself.

“I’m fine,” she sighs, “It’s just that this thing can make me come so fast, I almost…”

“You should have,” Robin groans, rubbing his thumb over the tip of his cock, “I want to hear you.”

“I want to come with you,” she moans. ‘I don’t want this to end.”

“You can go more than once, can’t you?”

“Mm, benefits of being a woman,” she agrees.

“I want to hear you let go so badly, please,” Robin begs, “don’t stop, just let go.”

He reaches back to his nightstand and gets more lube, after everything she’s shared, he’s going to picture her good and wet, soaked.

“I’m going to make you come on my tongue,” he promises. “One day, I swear, I won’t stop until you scream for me.”

“Please,” Regina sighs. “I can get close, but no one…. No one I’ve been with has ever really tried in that area, they just sort of... go there for two minutes and then give up when I don’t respond.”

“None of them were worth a damn, then” Robin breathes, “I love you. I want to know you and learn what you like. I can’t wait to do everything with you.”

“I want you inside me,” Regina gasps, “It’s been…” she is breathing heavy and each sound is going straight to his aching cock, “so long since I’ve had that, since I’ve had sex, longer since I had good sex, I know it will be good with you, mmm!”

“It’s been forever for me,” Robin groans, “I didn’t really miss it, except now I can’t stop thinking about how it will be like with you.”

“What position do you like the most?”

“I usually think about, mmff! you on top,” Robin thinks of her the way he has so many times again, pushing him down on the bed and climbing on his cock, fucking christ if that ever happens he’s going to have a hell of a time lasting long enough to make her come, just the thought of it has him seeing stars behind his eyes. “Just thinking about you wanting it, taking charge…”

“I want that,” she groans, and he can hear something in her tone, in the breathy, anxious way she speaks that makes him wish she had called him on facetime, because fuck, she must be a sigh right now.

“Are you...mmm, are you fucking yourself now with the vibe?” Robin asks, in his head she already is, but confirmation, that’s good.

“Yess,” she hisses. “Slowly right now, but I… I’m aching for it. Gonna go fast and pretend I’m on you,” he hears her, the hitch in her breath, the little relieved murmurs coming from the phone that just radiate sex.

“God yes,” Robin moans, jerking himself in tight, fast strokes, “Fuck me fast and hard,”

“I will, I really will, ohfuckthisfeelsgood, mmm! Robin, I wish… Oh! I need you!”

He needs her too, and she will never understand how desperately.

“Mm, go faster, harder, don’t stop babe,” he begs, “Let me hear you. You sound so good right now, You’re probably so wet—-”

“Soaked,” she moans, “ I’ve been turned on all day but this is just—”

“Oh fuck,” Robin moans, wiping a bit of precum off his now-throbbing cock, “I want to be inside you so badly, to watch you get off on me…”

“Would you mm, touch and rub my clit while I’m riding you?” she asks, “I like that, I need that sometimes, to uh, finish.”

“I will, I’d give you anything you wanted,” Robin promises, and fuck, he really needs to get off now, this is going to become painful if he’s not careful. “I’m so in love with you, you have no idea….”

It’s maybe too sappy, too ridiculous, but she answers it with an I love you too and thank god for that. He’s never been this touched and this ridiculously turned on at the same time.

“Robin,”  her voice goes high and reedy, “Babe, I’m going to, I want to…”

“God please let go for me,” Robin begs, “I want you to come on my cock so badly, think about your tits bouncing right on display for me, one of my hands on them and the other on your hip, my thumb on your clit, and just—”

“Mm, Robin! I’m going to—!”

Her voice is so sexy at this moment, a bit higher, definitely pitchy and there’s a sense of urgency there, he’s not sure what the combination of these things is doing to his body but he’s not complaining in the least. He never knew he could be so attracted to just a voice, just a sound.

“Come for me,” he begs.

“Oh! Mmm, fuck, I—-”

He hears her reach that peak and topple over. It’s not the over the top sounds you hear in porn or even the sounds he’d hear from some of the women he fucked when he was trying to get over Marian. It’s not a big show, just some deep breaths and a relieved little “Goddd!” that makes him ache with need. He’s not sure why the term angelic comes to mind, but that’s what she sounds like to him, like pure heaven.

What he is picturing is far from saintly, though, as he continues to imagine Regina fucking herself with a vibrator, knowing hse’ pretending it’s him, his cock, his body she’s riding, and fuck, that image is going to be the death of him.

“I’m, Regina, I’m going to—”

“Please…” she begs, and she sounds like she’s just coming down from her high, she won’t mind, she said as much, and it’s not like he can hold back, so…

He grips himself and retracts his foreskin back as comfortably as he can, the feeling is intense but good, he’s sensitive but also hard and in serious need, so it feels even better as he slides the foreskin up and down, over the head and retracting back, faintly aware that he’s talking during all of this, groaning about how good it feels, how much he wants her, how he’s never once felt this good jerking off (that’s true, god, this is so much more than anything he’s ever felt, and he’s spent a lot of time with his hand lately, since Regina came back into his life).

He cups his balls with his free hand and just that added stimulation is enough to pull him over the edge. The release is powerful, has him panting like just competed in a 100 yard dash, and it should be embarrassing, but the feeling is too good, too all-consuming, warmth and tingles spread from low in his belly and radiate out, his whole body feels calm and satiated, thank fuck.

“I love you,” he pants when he is able to talk again, “so much.”

“I love you too,” she rasps.

“Are you alright?” Now that he's baser instincts are taken care of he’s aware that she’s shared with him that she has problems with these moments after an orgasm, and he’d have a lot of trouble forgiving herself if that happened again.

“I’m…. really, really good,” she laughs, or sobs, he can’t tell. “Thank god, I don’t have that nauseous feeling at all, I just feel happy.”

“Good,” he murmurs.

“I am a little sad you aren’t here to lie with me,” she admits softly. “But otherwise I am quite satisfied.”

“Mmm, me too,” Robin slurs. “This was incredible. I can’t thank you enough for doing this with me.”

“It was for me as much as you,” she insists. “Trust me on that.”

Robin does trust her. And it’s silly but after something as seemingly meaningless as phone sex, he feels so much more confident in them, in their future, and mostly, in Regina.

Every time she shows more of herself to him he just falls deeper in love and is more sure that she is the person he will be with for the rest of his life.

.::,

Regina can’t stop smiling.

It’s ridiculous.

She’s never had phone sex before, honestly had no idea if it was going to go well (she had assured Robin it would be fine without truly being aware herself). All she knew is she was too damn horny to stop it from happening, and she’s damn glad about that because it was amazing and she still feels wonderful.

Maybe it was the safety of knowing he couldn’t see her, but she doesn’t think that’s all it was.

It’s Robin, she thinks (hopes).

Something about him, about thinking about him and even being with him, it makes her feel so worthy, so loved, she doesn’t feel exploited, doesn’t feel slutty or wrong.

She can’t imagine ever feeling that in front of him, truly.

But Regina will not jump into bed with him right away, she doesn’t want it to backfire, to have any painful flashbacks or negative associations with Robin, because right now things are good.

When she looks at him, she can see the love in his eyes. He’s made her see herself differently, too. He’s reminded her of all the good that’s in her, and she somehow feels less spoiled and broken now. Maybe that’s not just Robin, maybe it’s facing her past more, reuniting with Mary Margaret and telling Henry at least half the story, but it’s all had a healing effect and raised her self-worth to a new standard.

There’s still so much to work through, but tonight she actually believes she’s going to be able to take all this anxiety, all the guilt and disgust that clings to her sexual experiences and expel it, replace it with something healthy.

And the very moment she’s able to move on from all of this she is intends to make up for years of loss time, and Robin is going to help her with that.

Chapter Text

 

Regina’s stomach turns as she stares into the computer screen.

This was much easier when she was in Cleveland and could see Archie in the office. Somehow being in the same room with him in public made her think she could delay difficult conversations with ease. Like there were distractions.

Now she can’t look out the window and comment on the weather or pick apart the collection of books on his shelf.

It’s just his eyes piercing into her with each session.

“So, Regina, how are things with Mary Margaret and Henry?”

“Why do you still call me Regina?” she snaps back, desperate for a delay in the inevitable conversation she’s about to have.

She has to share things she’d rather not. She hates doing it but she knows she has to and knows it will help ultimately. It still doesn’t make it easier. Every conversation about her sex life feels awful.

Archie just smiles at her and scratches his head. “I have always called you Regina. It’s your name.”

“No, it’s not,” she reminds sternly. “I changed it. You understood why I had to do that, remember?”

“You changed your name to avoid questions when things were still fresh and you were just trying to get through college unnoticed. I got that. But I’m not sure why you need to cling to the name change now. I’ve told you this before. I want you to embrace being Regina. Not to try to act like you have a completely new identity. Embrace who you are, Regina.”

“And what, I’m supposed to do that by just changing my name back?” Regina snorts. “That’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of explaining I’ll have to do with patients and fellow doctors.”

“You never struck me as one to be intimidated by paperwork. Name changes—particularly last names—are so common for women of your age most of your patients will assume you either married or divorced and reclaimed your maiden name. They probably won’t ask.”

Regina rolls her eyes but says nothing.

“Do Robin and Mary Margaret call you Veronica?”

Regina scowls. “Sometimes when we are with others who know me by that name. But mostly… no. None of them do. Roland, his mothers… they call me Regina too, you know? And it’s all very confusing. One of the doctors at the practice actually overheard them and asked me why they call me Regina. I just said it was the name I used when I was a child. He assumed it was my middle name, that’s an easy explanation, you know? No one seems bothered by it.”

“Does it bother you? Having two different names in daily life?”

Regina sighs and nods. “I haven’t been Regina since I was nineteen. I am Regina again in almost all of my social interactions and I just feel… like I’m trying to be two different people.”

“See, that was a consequence of the name change that worried me,” Archie explains. “You didn’t just change your name. You invented a new backstory for Veronica, a new life, a new personality. It wasn’t necessary, but you did it. And I can imagine why. But it hasn’t done you any favors when it comes to appreciating who you are. It was like playing a part for almost all your life and coming home to a few friends to finally be yourself, as if the true you needed to be hidden from the world. You don’t need to do that anymore. You never did. Just let Veronica go.”

Regina bites her lip and nods. “I’m not hiding from anything. Not anymore. I can’t hide my childhood when I’m surrounded by it. I have Roland, Robin, MM, even David, Mulan and Marian all wandering around knowing at least some version of my backstory.”

“How is Henry coping with that?” Archie asks. “He knows Leo was abusive, just not sexually, correct?”

They went over what she was going to tell Henry in detail. Archie has approved it, though he did seem to be pushing for her to just tell him everything.

But Regina couldn’t fathom doing that. He’s just too young to sit with all that horrible knowledge.

“He asked MM if Leo ever hurt her, too. And she answered it perfectly, said no. But you know that child of mine is nothing if not curious and… unrelenting. He always wants to know more.”

Archie laughs and nods. “He’s a bright boy. So how are he and Mary Margaret getting along?”

Regina shrugs.

“Things are going well. She wants to go to his play, his games, she’s looking forward to all of that, but right now it’s hard for her to make it out with an infant. But he has her phone number and I’m aware they send texts. She sends him pictures of the baby. Though he’s hardly special, my phone is full of pictures too,” she chuckles and tries to act like this annoys her. She sees babies all the time, after all. But she doesn’t mind the overload from Mary Margaret. And her child is adorable.

“And you, how are you handling it?”

She shrugs. “It’s sometimes unnerving, I’ll see them together and MM will make a face, or her expression will screw up into something that’s so Henry, and I remember they are related, and I just…”

She cuts herself off. She sounds so weak.

“Does it make you want them to see less of one another?” Dr. hopper pries.

She shakes her head. “No. It just makes me feel guilty for not telling Henry the whole story. But I can’t do that yet. I know I can’t. I’m not, um, stable enough for that conversation.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’ve practiced telling him, and I’ve yet to do it without having a full breakdown,” Regina explains sharply. “I don’t want Henry to see me like that. A son should never have to see his mother turn into a crying, sobbing mess. I’m supposed to be strong for him.”

“You don’t have to be a superhero,” Archie soothes, he does this a lot, reminds her of the unrealistic expectations she has set for herself. “You can just be human.”

“I want to at least be able to keep my composure. And field his questions, you know?”

Archie nods. “Henry doesn’t need to know the full story right now. He did only turn thirteen. But I think he can handle it, and I think you are stronger than you believe yourself to be.”

“That’s what Robin always says,” Regina grimaces. “I don’t know why you two have this impression that I’ve got it together when I keep showing you what a mess I am.”

“How is that going?” Archie asks softly, the way he does when he knows she wants to talk about something. It’s not condescending but it feels a bit… fatherly.

She’s annoyed she’s so transparent that he knows what she wants to talk about so easily.

“It hasn’t spoiled yet,” she says, frowning.

“Are you waiting for that to happen?” he asks, with that annoying lack of judgment and infuriating calmness that makes him too damn perfect at this.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Regina qualifies, “But we both want a lot more and I’m not sure how much longer this arrangement will work for us.”

“And that worries you?” Archie asks.

Regina puffs out a breath of air. “I’m fixating on the physical again. I mean, the way I have before.”

“You are having sexual desires, you mean.”

Regina cringes at the phrasing.

“Plenty of women can go years without sex, I can barely go a few months before I keep thinking about it. And I shouldn’t. I mean given my history—”

“Stop assuming that childhood trauma should make you asexual,” Archie warns.

“Not asexual. I could just be one of those women content to be without someone, and yet I… I don’t know.”

“So you want to have sex with a stranger again, the way you’ve had those urges in the past?” Archie asks.

“No,” Regina groans. “I want to have sex with Robin. Which I can’t. So it’s just frustrating.”

She’s not sure why Archie smiles at this, looking so smug she almost wants to close her laptop up and leave.

“What?” she asks, her tone sounding more sour than it should.

“Every time we’ve discussed this issue in the past you’ve never had a particular man or woman in mind. It’s just been a desire to have sex,” Archie reminds, “I think this is different.”

“The result is the same. I want something that is most likely going to end up making me miserable.”

“You know,” Archie sighs. “You’ve had people interested in you in the past. You never wanted to sleep with them, even the ones you admitted were attractive to you.”

“Because I knew it would be awkward if I chose them to get off on and then had to never see them again,” Regina grumbles.

“Because it was never about intimacy with one person in particular.”

“Of course not,” Regina sighs. “I have an intimacy problem.”

“Things seem rather intimate with Robin,” Archie notes.

“We have a high school relationship when it comes to intimacy,” she scoffs.

“Intimacy doesn’t mean physical parts only, Regina. You’re smarter than that. You know what I mean. You’re just looking at this too narrowly.”

“It’s a perfectly normal, healthy part of life I can’t enjoy. Of course I focus on it. Things with Robin are going really, really well. And when I’m with him,” she takes a moment to compose herself, to put in words what she feels. “I forget that I’m broken in that way, or any way. And I fall deeper into this. But then I start to want more, and he wants more too, and I realize we have an expiration date unless I can fix myself. I don’t even know how long I have to do that. This could become unbearable for him quite soon.”

“It’s only been a few months, Regina. Has he given you any indication that he’s anxious to pursue the physical with you?”

She frowns and mulls over his question. Robin hasn’t, not really.

 

“He’s given me every indication that he wants to be physical with me. Not that I’ve played that too coyly, either. And I keep testing the boundaries of what I can do without… feeling the way I feel afterward.”

“So you’ve done more than just that one time when things got a bit carried away?”

Regina sighs and nods. God, this conversation is thoroughly embarrassing. She’s a thirty-year-old woman for god’s sake and she can’t talk about a little phone sex.

“He helped me with Henry’s birthday, and it shouldn’t have made me… I mean it was a child’s birthday party. Something about seeing him parent, seeing him with children, it’s very, um, attractive to me.”

“That is perfectly normal,” Archie assures. “Parenting and caregiving are attractive qualities. It makes sense to feel sexually attracted after witnessing that.”

“Right,” Regina clears her throat, “So I was feeling that way, and he was as well, apparently, and we flirted a bit, but obviously nothing could happen at the party, and we went to our separate homes. And then um, I called him, just to thank him for help, and things got carried away again.”

For once, Archie doesn’t immediately understand her, and she thinks he will make her say it. His brows furrow and he asks, “So you invited him over?”

“No, we um, talked dirty on the phone.”

“Oh,” Archie smiles, nodding. “Okay, and how was that?”

“It was…” she bites her lip. “It felt good, the whole time, not like other times, I wasn’t nervous, and I always liked the nerves, they made things feel better, stronger, but this was more exciting without making me feel that edge of danger I always feel during other times. And he was just…” she blushes. “He said and did all the right things, I guess. It was… It was the best sexual experience of my life.”

Her eyes water at the mortifying confession, at the truth of it all. The moment of reveling in the memory leaves and she’s left with the knowledge that she’s so terribly dysfunctional. “That’s absolutely pathetic, I know that. The best sex I’ve ever had, if you can call it that, is basically with myself.”

“Phone sex is interactive and you know that,” Archie says simply, dismissing her cynicism. “Were you able to orgasm without the negative aftermath?”

She closes her eyes tight for a second. Things can get so blunt and clinical with him, as a doctor herself she’s usually able to handle it, but he’s still the biggest male presence she’s ever had in her life asking her about her orgasms, and it’s a bit humiliating.

“Yes, I could. Presumably, because he wasn’t the one touching me, and I want… I don’t know.” She sighs, that self-deprecating wave crashes over her and she can’t help but mock the situation. “So maybe that will be how we handle things when we want sex. Go to separate rooms and call each other. That’s perfectly reasonable, right?”

Archie ignores her frustrated joke, though he’s smiling at her as if he’s… proud. Or… happy for her.

“You know, I’ve noticed a pattern when it comes to you seeking out sex. It usually is the result of some sort of triggering event. The last time it was—”

“My fear of seeing Mary Margaret again,” she mutters.

“Maybe that was it, or maybe it was something else. In college, it seemed to happen every time you got close to someone of the opposite sex, or even the same sex if you acknowledged an attraction. But you’d never sleep with them. You’d always say you didn’t want to sleep with them, in fact. And then you’d sleep with someone else.”

“To test myself to see if my relationship with sex had become healthier,” she reminds, “I’m aware of this. I keep thinking I can fix it this time, I can’t stop thinking about it unless I try—”

“And then sometimes it’s around Henry’s birthday or Thanksgiving that you confess to having one of these escapades.” She shudders to think of the terrible memory Thanksgiving brings her. Of course with Cora, an indulgent holiday of stuffing your face with treats wouldn’t really be a good one for long, but all those Thanksgivings ago...

“I hate that Henry’s birthday or these other holidays remind me of… that,” she grits her teeth. “But I just can’t fully separate it. It’s not as bad, I’m so happy remembering Henry’s birth. But there are moments where his new age reminds me of how much time has passed.”

“And then you wind up sleeping with someone. Why is that?”

“Undiagnosed nymphomania?” Regina deadpans.

Archie shakes his head. “I’ve never gotten the impression that this is about an uncontrollable libido with you. Your pattern of behavior doesn’t quite match that, does it?”

Sometimes he speaks to her as a physician. She’s grateful for those times.

“No obsessive sexual urges that make your job impossible, no excessive masturbation—”

Never mind. She wishes he spoke a bit less like a physician now. Her cheeks heat. She knows she has to talk about these things to heal, but god, is it ever awkward.

“None of that, no. But I do want it, and then… I guess I have a desire to test myself.”

“Punish,” Archie corrects. “You have the desire to punish yourself.”

Regina snorts. “For what?”

“For all of it. For wanting sex at all, partly. For past sexual behavior—though I can’t really count your participation in those rapes as sexual, I know you do.”

“It wasn’t my choice,” she acknowledges, “But I did definitely engage in sexual behavior. I remember what I did, how I felt. I won’t ever forget those moments.”

“Exactly. You’re still punishing yourself for them,” Archie notes. “That’s why you pick one night stands, it’s probably also why the sex is usually so unsatisfying.”

“It’s clearly not that it’s unsatisfying,” Regina says, because she’s already explained to him—multiple times—that she can orgasm through sex.

“Your body can respond to stimulation no matter the circumstances. You keep proving that to yourself over and over,” Archie notes. “I’m sure I know why that is important to you, to prove orgasms can happen even when you aren’t fully enjoying the experience. Even if consciously you don’t want to acknowledge it, there’s a reason behind that.”

Regina cringes. She knows what he’s getting at, but she’s not ready to talk about that right now. Not ready to talk about how her body responded during rape.

“In any case,” Dr. Hopper says, clearing his throat, “your desire to have sex in the past didn’t seem motivated by a physical desire or a desire to be close to someone. Can you honestly say you’ve had a sexual experience with someone you chose because you liked them for any reason—even a superficial one? Anyone you slept with because of anything about them specifically?”

She can’t say that, really. Not one of the litany of short affairs she had left much of an impression on her.

It was all about finding someone at the right time, in the right place.

She cringes.

“But now you’re telling me—for the first time—there’s someone specific you want to be with. Not a stranger, not an urge. It’s different.”

“That doesn’t mean the end result will be any different,” she grouses.

“It certainly doesn’t mean things will end the same,” Archie says. “Look, I can’t say for certain what would happen. But your relationship has gone this far and you haven’t had an issue yet. That’s something to celebrate instead of looking at the road ahead and worrying about how far you have to go. You’ve come quite far already.”

“If you couldn’t sleep with your wife would you find something to celebrate in that?” she snaps, then amends, “I’m sorry, that was out of line.”

“It’s alright,” Archie smiles. “You’re right, it’s unfair and has to be frustrating. But I’m on the outside of this. And I can see how far you’ve come. I can see the big changes made in the last few months. You’re more yourself. More comfortable in your own skin. You are letting people get closer to you. You’re making a ton of progress you can’t see. You fixate on what you consider to be your flaws, Regina. I’ve no doubt that critical aspect got you far in life, particularly in academia. But it can be counterproductive when it comes to overcoming a trauma. Stop focusing on what may happen or what may not. Focus on what it feels like, now, with friends you can be open with who know you. In a relationship with someone you love. Don’t worry about the future.”

It’s easier said than done, but Regina resolves to give it a try.

.::.

Henry has been in theatre performances before throughout the years, but it’s never been like this. Mallory and Gwen would always find a way to come, god knows how, but they’d manage to take a cross country trip for a two-hour elementary school production. That way after it was over Henry wasn’t the only child with just one family member congratulating him.

Not that he ever seemed to mind the scores of family that surrounded his friends, but it became a fixation for Regina. Something she wanted to provide for him that she couldn’t.

Well, now, it seems she’s finally delivered on that.

Mary Margaret, David, Robin, Marian, Mulan, Roland, Lily, Gwen and Mallory are all here to support her son.

She’s part of one of those obnoxious families who will cheer backstage for their child, loudly reminiscing over every mundane line said that they found captivating and amazing.

She loves it.

Henry seems to enjoy the attention as well. Though he seems a bit nervous backstage with her and Robin. Nothing compared to her own nerves, but she can sense them just the same.

“The thing about being Hook is,” Henry says, grimacing at his costume, “he gets to wear something cool.”

Robin laughs at the oversized nightshirt and hat. Luckily they had let Henry wear pajama pants instead of doing the play in what would be, quite honestly, a baggy dress. “Aren’t too many good costumes for the men. The boy who plays Peter will be in tights, I assume. And are they staying true to Michael’s costume? Seems like it could be worse.”

“Yeah, the boy they got for Michael is in sixth grade, and he’s in a onesie. They let him wear a red one instead of pink, but still…”

Robin laughs. “Yes, well, rarely are male costumes exceedingly manly, are they?”

“I don’t usually mind,” Henry says with a smile. “I just wanted to be Captain Hook. But, Ms. Bailey said even though she likes my acting quite a bit, my singing has to improve before I can do solo songs.”

“Is that so?” Robin asks, raising an eyebrow at Regina. “Does Ms. Bailey know she’s doing a middle school play and not an off-broadway production?”

“I like that she doesn’t treat us like we are just little kids,” Henry protests. “She expects a lot of us. That’s how it should be.”

Robin genuinely looks proud of him, his lips curving up and his eyes growing soft and almost grateful. She’s seen Robin use that look on his own son. It warms her heart to see it again, this time directed at her Henry.

“Well I’ve heard you sing, and I respectfully disagree with her,” Robin says simply.

“I’ll practice more over the summer,” Henry shrugs. “Ms. Bailey teaches high school theatre too, you know.”

“I think I did know that,” Robin says. And that’s right, he’s put Roland in a play she runs, he must know something about the woman. Robin is right—she is over the top and extremely stern over simple children’s plays. But she makes her son happy and she’s not one of those teachers who praises everyone for their talent, and Henry tends to rise to the occasion, so Regina rather likes her despite the unrealistic expectations and intensity.

Henry bites his lip, wording something silently.

“Going over your lines?” Regina asks, hoping she’s not throwing off his concentration.

Henry merely nods, mouthing his lines under his breath.

“You have everything perfectly memorized. Don’t second guess yourself.” She smiles at him and tries to breathe.

Henry nods. “It’s going to be fun,” he decides with a smile. “Mom, can you go to your seat? You’re so nervous you’re making me nervous.”

She realizes then that she’s been pacing in front of him all this time, and that can’t be helpful at all.

Sorry, Henry.” She smiles.

Robin laughs and winks at her. She puts on a mocking pouty face to her son as Robin grabs her by the hand and leads her back to the theatre.

“He’s going to be great,” Robin assures her, kissing her forehead. “He’s put in a lot of hard work, he’s practiced so much that I nearly have the whole play memorized.”

She smiles and nods. “I just really want it to go well. Everyone’s here and…” she sighs looking at him. “This place is home, we’ve settled down here. There’s no end date in sight. I just want him to love everything about it here as much as I do. It’s not like he will be gone in another two to three years like the other times.”

“I think he’s already set down roots here,” Robin assures, rubbing up and down her arm in that comforting way. “He seems happy to me, already calls this place home and everything.”

He can read her well, so he knows what this is really about before she does. It hits her when he adds, “He loves Mary Margaret for all her little quirks, he’s told me of her antics often and he definitely is amused by her. You’ve seen him warming up to David, and you know he likes being close to Lily. And he was just talking about how cool Mulan was last weekend. He’s older and I know he’s lived most of his life without much in the way of family or adult friends. This is a big change, but I think it’s a good one and I get the impression he’s taken to it. He told me he feels like one of those sitcom families that have loud, crazy parties for Christmas. And he said it with a smile.”

“Really?” she asks.

Robin nods, squeezing her tightly at each bicep. “Let’s go find our seats.”

Bless Mallory, she’s gotten there early enough to get front and center seats and save her and Robin ones. Mulan, Marian, Roland, Mary Margaret and David are behind them, looking just as excited as they did the day of Roland’s play.

She sinks into her seat and sighs, patting MM’s hand as she feels it squeeze her shoulder. A mother of a client waves to her and she waves back and smiles.

She’s entirely surrounded by her past and present in one room. And it’s surprisingly not awful.

It’s wonderful, actually, and it will kill her if all of this turns to hell, if anything ever threatens the new life she’s built, a life that seems to be going in a certain direction. One of which she’s already become too attached and is now willing to fight to keep.

All of this is just too good to give up.

.::.

The play goes well. Really well, actually. Henry gets a few laughs for his delivery of lines, and his singing really has improved.

Robin has his arm around her for most of the play. He holds her hand tight during Henry’s entire time on stage, watching just as mesmerized as she has been, except he reaches down to kiss her knuckles at random times, or to press a kiss to cheek, rubbing her back, leaning in to whisper to her how wonderful her son is as he kisses her ear. Those little gestures have her feeling tingly and warm throughout the entire play. He looks good today, and she can’t say she hasn’t found time to notice, to admire how he can look in a plain white tee-shirt, in between set changes and when Henry isn’t on stage, at least. She keeps finding ways to lean into him, breathing in that woodsy smell of aftershave or cologne…. All of these little movements are very on display, after all, it is in front of her closest friends, and she catches Mal looking more than once, but she really doesn’t mind. He’s an affectionate person, and thank god for it because she’s craved it for most of her life and now it feels like it’s finally coming to her in droves, making up for lost time.

She still cries at the end of the play like she always does when Henry performs. It’s that ball of tension and worry for him finally bursting inside her, filling her with a sense of relief and pride she can not describe in words, but has her fighting happy, grateful tears.

“He was incredible,” Robin says as they cheer and applaud at the final curtain call. “Definitely should have been Captain Hook, though. He is in a different league than that other boy.”

She snickers. “He will get bigger parts as the years go on. Don’t worry.”

“Well if he isn’t I might want to talk to Debra Bailey and ask—”

She slaps him playfully. “Don’t you dare,” she giggles, “Or he will be in the chorus for his entire high school.”

“No, she wouldn’t dare waste his talent,” Robin says decidedly.

And he sounds so much like a proud parent and so genuinely invested in him in such a short time. Perhaps she should be scared of how intermingled they already are. Ordinarily, this would make her run, thoughts of being tied down always have. She’s not sure what has happened, but she’s sure Robin has fallen in love with Henry as much as he has with her.

She’s not scared. She’s grateful for it.

And really, there is nothing a single parent could want more.

She tries not to be jealous as Henry’s eyes light up when he sees Robin, as he runs toward him to ask if he saw how the flying went, asking him if it looked cool, if he noticed he said his lines just like they practiced.

“Henry, we bought you these!” Roland says, breaking away from his moms to deliver a bouquet of cookies shaped like balloons and stars with, “Congrats!” and, “You’re a star!” written on it in bright frosting.

“Woah,” Henry laughs, looking down at the bouquet with a smile. “Thanks, Ro!”

“It’s from me and Daddy,” he explains. “You were good at being John. I liked all the songs!”

“You were great,” Mal says, tapping Lily on the shoulder pointedly.

“It was really good for a school play,” Lily says encouragingly. “And you were the best. This is the part where we all get to go out for pizza, right?”

Regina laughs and nods. “This is indeed that part of the night.”

There are so many people here she’s had to make reservations at a local pizzeria, instead of grabbing a two-top in the middle of a crowded restaurant they are sprawled out on a long table against the wall.

The night is full of laughter, the focus on her son, but also all of them as they joke and share stories. Robin sits next to her, he keeps finding these ways to touch her, just platonically, but it feels so good, his hand on the small of her back, fingers rubbing down her spine,giving her a little pat on the leg of support while Henry talks about his favorite part of the play to a very attentive audience.

Toward the end of dinner, a sleepy Roland has shifted from his seat on the bench to Robin’s lap next to her. He’s yawning and Robin is kissing the top of his head so tenderly.

She’s just admiring how sweet they look, what a good pair they are, when Roland slumps into her. Robin laughs and lets the boy squirm out of his arms and into hers. Her heart swells in a way that almost makes her feel guilty, has a voice chiding her too soon and he’s not yours. The voice is beaten back amidst the purity of the moment. She loves him, and she doesn’t need to worry about how or when it happened. She runs her fingers through his hair and lets him lean against her. It is almost an hour past his bedtime, but he gets to stay up late tonight because everyone agreed he should celebrate Henry. There is something so touching about that.

Roland shifts, his little fingers clutch at her shirt as he asks sleepily, “R’gina, can you read me a story tonight?”

It’s something she’s heard him ask of his father and mothers often, when he knows he’s staying with one or the other. He is an only child with far too many loved ones around him and he is spoiled by it.

Robin is about to answer, but Henry beats him to it. “We can go to Marian and Mulan’s, can’t we?”

Regina looks up at Mulan and flashes an apologetic look. They shouldn’t be inviting themselves.

“You’re always welcome,” Mulan insists. “No need to even ask us. But it’s up to you.”

“It’s your night, Henry. Would you rather go home?”

“I don’t mind stopping by,” Henry shrugs.

She’s surprised by this offer. If Roland were at Robin’s for the night she wouldn’t be surprised at all, he loves it there and is very at home at Robin’s. But Marian and Mulan, well, it’s not exactly a fun place to go. And at the request of Roland, who is asking for her attention at a time when it should be fully on Henry.

“I... are you sure?”

“Yep,” Henry says, as if it were the easiest thing in the world. His attention turns to Lily, leaving Regina confused, but touched.

It’s not until she’s in the car with Henry that she revisits the issue, some attempt to alleviate some unwarranted deep guilt she feels for reasons she can’t explain.

“Henry,” she says as he straps himself in. “We don’t have to go to Marian and Mulan’s if you don’t want. That was really nice of you to offer, but I’m sure Roland won’t mind if we forego it.”

“I know I didn’t have to say yes to going,” Henry clarifies. “But I’ve been thinking… okay, do you know that Roland calls Aunt Mary Margaret “aunt” too?”

This is seemingly out of nowhere, but Regina lets her son continue, nodding in agreement. “He does.”

“And Aunt Mary Margaret says Emma will call Robin her uncle.”

“Yes, sometimes people feel like family even if there’s no marital or familial connection,” Regina says dryly. “What does that have to do with —”

“Aunt Mary Margaret is our family, and Robin is her family, so that makes Robin and Roland our family too,” Henry says with a shrug. “By like, the transitive property.”

“I don’t think family necessarily works that way,” Regina says softly.

“Well, it feels like it does,” Henry says with a shrug. “Anyway I’m always hanging out with Robin so it’s only fair Roland gets to spend time with you, too, right? And I don’t mean anything bad about it, but usually it’s just the two of us, right? It’s kind of nice to see you with more friends, or a boyfriend, I guess… whatever.”

“You are a very clever, very sweet boy,” Regina remarks. “And I have no idea where you got it from because it certainly wasn’t me.”

Henry laughs and shakes his head. “Just so you know, I’m not going to start calling Robin my “Uncle Robin”. Because that would be weird considering he’s your boyfriend.”

“That reminds me. Robin and Roland and Marian and Mulan, they do feel like our family,” Regina says tentatively. “But I am dating Robin right now, and we might not be doing that forever.”

“But we will still stay family if you break up, right? Like Robin and Marian.”

Regina hopes so. She can’t guarantee, but if she has to guess...

“Robin’s not a jerk like Lily’s dad,” Henry points out. “Plus he’s not just your boyfriend, he’s my cousin Emma’s uncle.”

Henry is clever. Very clever. He’s made the perfect argument for Robin being in their lives forever.

Regina should probably feel awful that they’ve gotten this far, this entangled, especially when there’s so much to work through. She feels oddly warm… and at peace.

This has happened rather fast but they have a history together. They love one another. She trusts him. Maybe, no probably, probably, even when this is over between them, when he fully appreciates what a mess she is, he will still be around. If not for her, for her son.

“I suppose that’s true,” she says softly. “But we don’t know what the future holds, okay?”

“Yeah. But, Robin already said he’d still be my friend even if you break up,” Henry says nonchalantly. “Unless you don’t like it.”

“He said that?” Regina asks, a bit taken aback.

“Yeah. I asked him.” Henry looks up at her and frowns. “Is that okay?”

She nods, forcing herself to focus and not get swamped with emotion. “Oh, of course it is. You can talk to Robin about anything,” she says, feeling her throat growing dry, her eyes stinging.

“And I guess that’s why it’s only fair that you get to do things with Roland, too,” Henry smiles, knowing he’s won his argument.

She nods back to him and mutters, “If you’re sure…”

But there’s no need to say that. Henry has made up his mind.

.::.

Henry isn’t the only one who seems to support her little storytime. Mulan and Marian leave the entire bedtime ritual to her and Robin, Mulan opting to play some game on Xbox with Henry, Marian to make herself some coffee, joking about how she’s grateful she doesn’t need to put a sleepy and quite possibly cranky Roland to bed this time.

Roland is a bit overtired and whiny as he’s forced to brush his teeth and wash his face, but it’s not the worst she’s experienced. He gets on pajamas and crawls under the covers with little protest. And midway through his bedtime story, Roland’s eyes start to flutter, his breathing grows steady and rhythmic. She only has to run her hand through his hair a few times before he seems to completely fall asleep, eyes not opening as they tiptoe out.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Robin stops her halfway through their walk down the upstairs hallway to kiss her senseless.

She’s surprised at the need she feels to kiss him back, the matched urgency as they tangle together. He leads her backwards until she’s pushed into the bathroom, Robin shutting the door with his foot as he kisses her neck.

The kisses grow more passionate, hands start to wander, and she loses herself to the feeling until she hears the sound of her son laughing downstairs and she remembers where they are — specifically, in the bathroom of Robin’s ex wife’s house with her son being entertained on the floor below.

That reality pours over her like a cold bucket of water. She pulls out of the kiss, offering Robin a shy smile.

“Sorry,” she breathes, “This is not the appropriate venue for this.”

“I don’t think Mulan will mind,” Robin winks at her. “Just for future reference, if the mood ever strikes—”

He looks like he’s drawing close, like he’s about to kiss her again, so she moves back, places her finger on her lips and reminds, “My child is right downstairs.”

Robin nods, kisses her forehead and says, “Of course, you know I’m just teasing. Though… maybe not entirely.”

Regina laughs. “I’d say we’re just kissing but…”

She squeezes his ass and he laughs. His hand is on hers, too, and he echoes the motion before withdrawing from her.

“I think Henry and I should be getting home,” she says, her hands reach for his, and he gladly holds them.

“Can you…” Robin’s cheeks redden and he pauses as if he’s working out what to say, “call me tonight?”

She smiles at him, knowing exactly what sort of phone call he’s asking after, and she’s definitely on the same page with wanting him, it’s just that she wants a bit more than that.

“Actually,” she says pulling his arms toward her until he is pressed against her, “I was thinking maybe…” she runs her hands up his arms, then back down to grasp at his hands again, “after Henry goes to sleep…” she presses her forehead against his for a moment and the temptation to start kissing him again is maddening, “maybe I could come over?”

Robin raises his eyebrows. “Come over?”

“Roland is here…. Mallory and Gwen will be at my house with Henry.” She looks at him devilishly and adds, in a way that’s not subtle at all, “ We could have some time to ourselves.”

He looks both excited and nervous, and she expected as much.

“You know there’s no pressure or hurry to—”

“I know,” Regina smiles, lifting up on her toes to kiss him. “I’m not pressured. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I want to do this. It feels right. But I’m not promising anything. I just want to be close to you, and if you want to try—”

“I do,” Robin assures quickly. “I definitely want to try or do whatever you want.”

Regina smiles, squeezes his hand and whispers, “See you tonight.”

.::.

It’s past midnight and Regina is on his lap, the steady hum of the television is behind them as they trade lazy kisses. Nothing too passionate yet, but there’s no hurry. They have all night.

Things had started off innocently enough. Regina texted him to let him know she had changed into scrubs, technically to apologize for not exactly dressing sexy.

But Robin happens to find Regina ridiculously hot in practically anything, particularly an outfit she wears to save lives, something that reminds him he’s dating a badass.

He encouraged her to still come over anyway. She did; she showed up in mulberry colored scrub bottoms with a tight, long sleeved black top, her face fresh and clean of makeup and looked far sexier than anyone ever should.

She was, quite frankly, irresistible to him.

But the fact that this seemed a little like a booty call might have put pressure on them, so Robin had set a different tone. He had champagne out to celebrate Henry’s day, had a movie queued up on Netflix, some ridiculous romantic comedy for them to mock.

And that had worked for awhile, settling them in an easy rhythm as they killed the bottle of champagne and laughed over helpless female heroines and clichéd romantic tropes.

Regina got touchy feely. Not just her natural affectionate self, just a bit more that told him she was still very much in the mood. She rubbed up his leg, breathed into his neck when she laid her head on his shoulders, pressed kisses to his shoulders.

“I think I’d take our story over any plot of a romantic comedy,” she had said, threading her fingers through his.

“Ours is a bit dramatic and I think the story may drag in the second act,” Robin had mused as he squeezed her hand, “But extremely rewarding in the end.”

Then she had confessed in some ways it should seem weird that they have this history, these childhood memories together. But even as a teenager she developed romantic feelings for him, and they had such a strong friendship it feels so natural.

Robin wondered out loud if he could have ever gotten her attention these days if they hadn’t had any history for her draw back on.

“You mean if I saw you at a bar?” Regina had asked. When he nodded, she snorted and nodded. “I would have tried to go home with you. I’m ridiculously attracted to you on a very superficial level as well.”

He flirted then, asking what she’d do to get his attention if they met as strangers.

Then she straddled his lap and told him to let her show him.

“This is quite a risqué move in a public bar,” Robin teases. “But it would have worked.”

Regina chuckles, one of her hand wedges between them and strokes up his stomach.

He’s not as toned as he has been in the past and from this angle and the way he’s sitting it’s rather unflattering. He finds himself sucking in his gut for a second before he realizes she will be able to tell if he does that.

So he lets her touch him, flaws and all.

Regina, however, isn’t focusing on the little rolls of fat.

She rubs a hand up from his abs to his chest, then grabs the ends of the shirt and lifts it up, ridding him of it.

And then she just leans back to get a better view of him and smiles coyly.

“This is nice,” she murmurs.

He remembers that this is all new for her. Not sex, but intimacy, trading lazy kisses without any expectation or hurry.

He’s no stranger to this feeling, either, but it’s been years since he had it, and he has to agree, it’s nice.

“Everything with you is nice,” he admits, kissing her neck. He has to be careful how much he says, how much he reveals about his feelings and where his mind has been going.

They’ve not been dating enough to discuss it, and they haven’t even had sex, hell, he’s not even sure they ever will be able to have sex, and it doesn’t matter in the slightest. He doesn’t want separate homes, separate families, or separate lives.

“I love you,” he whispers tenderly into her ear. “You are so beautiful.”

She smiles and starts to rock into him, placing his hands up the black cotton of her shirt. He’s stone hard for her, practically has been since she entered his home.

He runs his fingertips up her belly, skimming up, hoping he isn’t crossing any boundaries, but being careful not to ask too many questions or treat her too delicately, as he knows that throws her out of the moment sometimes, has her defensive and worried that he’s focusing too much on her past trauma (he thinks of it, of course he does, but only the fact that she has a limit here, lines he can’t cross— he’s not caught in the terrible details).

His fingers itch to touch more, but he teases, slowly drawing up her torso until he reaches the laced edges of her bra. He runs his hands just under the swells of her breasts. Regina arches into the touch and sighs encouragingly.

Good, he reaches up to give them a squeeze through her bra, the fabric is… thin and there’s some sort of design on it. And that might have him wanting to take her top off even more.

He gives her shirt a small tug. She nods and moans and arches herself into him as eager to get her top off as he is.

His cock twitches, remembering how much she likes her breasts being played with, how she is likely anticipating this as much as he is, and that’s hot, picturing her wanting, needing him.

He takes off her shirt and has every intention of doing the same to her bra until he sees it.

It’s small and hardly looks supportive in anyway. It’s nude and sheer with black lace around the edges, a design of black flowers swirling along the sides.

He looks up at her and groans appreciatively.

“Do you like it?” she asks breathlessly.

“Love it. Though I wasn’t expecting this to be hiding under that outfit.”

“Surprise,” she grins, her hands around his shoulders as she rocks into him, “I figured if I was going to show up in scrubs I could wear something a bit fancy underneath.”

Robin has never been into lingerie. Marian had asked for his preferences on the subject one night, and he had to confess that he finds a woman at her most alluring when she is bare. Lingerie did nothing but cover some of the best parts.

It’s different now, perhaps in part because getting Regina’s clothes off isn’t a foregone conclusion here, and the best he might get is admiring her with it on. But the thing that has him incredibly turned on, the part that overwhelms him and has him fighting the urge to flip her onto the couch and please her until he gets lockjaw, well, that is because he knows she wore this with him specifically in mind.

He’s so hard under her, completely tented in his sweats and he can feel the warmth of her through the fabric.

For a moment, he imagines how she would feel if there were nothing between them, her warmth, being clutched by her, being one.

That’s not happening today, maybe not ever, and he doesn’t really need it, and he scolds himself for not properly appreciating what is happening.

What is happening is Regina is on his lap in a tiny bra, her face all flushed, hair tousled, grinding into him as she — fuck, moves his hands to her breasts.

Her nipples are visible through the sheer fabric, hard and dark and as gorgeous as the rest of her. Fuck, she’s amazing, he loves how sensual and sexual she can be, how free she is being with him, especially lately.

A voice inside his head reminds him that there are limitations here, that as much as he wants to see her blissed out and satisfied, as much as he wants to finish together with her, that’s not in the cards.

When she cups the back of his head and guides his mouth to her breasts, he knows he’s going to forget everything but the feel and sounds of her, everything but his desires.

Somehow, a few moments into this, into her grinding and moaning against him, he’s already forgetting everything, already drowning in the feel of her and wanting more, so he forces himself apart from her long enough to gasp, “Tell me, tell me when it’s close, when it’s too close, I don’t want—oh Christ…”

She hums and whispers something that sounds affirmative, like she’s heard him, but he’s not entirely sure, because she’s planting kisses and love bites along his pulse point, running her fingernails up and down his chest, and it is fucking heaven.

He draws her mouth back up to kiss her appreciatively. She’s in control, and he’s going to let her keep it and enjoy every second of it, fuck it all, she’s too damn irresistible for him to dream of stopping her.

.::.

Regina hasn’t expected to get so caught up in this so quickly.

She shouldn’t be surprised, though, she’s been rather sexually charged this week, been thinking about getting Robin alone for days.

It’s better than she remembers. They have the house to themselves so she isn’t worried about waking a sleeping Henry or Roland, which is rather freeing, not having to swallow down every moan, every cry she might have in response to the pleasure.

Robin is assertive but not aggressive, he wants but he doesn’t take, he’s just perfect for her, and fuck, he’s good at this, at kissing, at touching her, he’s good with his hands and his mouth, when they work together (that probably translates to an area they’ve not yet explored but fuck, she can imagine…)

His hands are on her hips right now, helping her rock into him, and it’s good, she likes it, his hands are firm, grounding, but she wants something else (dressed for something else). She feels bold enough to grab at his hands and tug them up toward her breasts.

He groans and throws his head back, like he’s been aching to touch her but holding back. He cups each breast in the palm of his hand, squeezes tenderly, his thumbs brushing over each nipple. She’s already sensitive, and the simple, warm feeling of his hands shoots a current of pleasure through her straight to her clit, and she wants more, god, she wants to feel him on her without any fabric between them.

She shifts and reaches blindly behind her to get the bra off, but Robin stills her hands.

“I am guessing you’re wearing a matching set?” His fingers skim around the drawstring of her scrub pants, not forcing, not prodding, but definitely wanting.

She nods and kisses him briefly before pushing off his lap. She feels a flush of heat as she shimmies out of her pants.

The underwear is the same nude sheer material framed in black, with a little floral design on the left side.

It’s nothing big— she has far racier lingerie, push-up bras and bright colors, things designed to get attention. This is more… delicate. Understated.

But you wouldn’t know that looking at Robin. He truly looks awestruck. He sighs slowly and just stares at her, and she feels on display. She normally does not like this, being gawked at, it somehow makes her feel less in control. But with Robin, it’s different. The way he looks at her makes her want more, makes her want him to do more than just look.

“You are so beautiful,” he murmurs. “You wore that for me?”

Of course she did. She doesn’t answer (doesn’t need to), only smiles at him. He holds his hand out and she reaches for it, let’s him reel her back to his lap.

“You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he chuckles, all too real, all too sweet, all too unbelievable.

In the past she would have run from something like that, some statement that seemed so obviously misguided, for surely anyone who thought she was the best at anything was sadly misguided. Instead she just kisses him, eases back into the passionate makeout session they had before.

He’s handsier this time, and she quite likes it, he grips at her hips and pulls her toward him, the way his hands coast over her bra, over her nipples, plucking gently at first, more firm when she encourages him to do so, until he reaches the pressure that makes her pant and moan.

“Love—” he rasps, busing another kiss to her lips, “you— ” another peck, “so much.”

Robin’s hands are on her bra clasp now, apparently he’s okay stripping her now.

He doesn’t ask, but he does pause until she kisses him harder, humming an affirmative answer to the question he’s not asked. He strips her of her bra, then bends down and takes a nipple in his mouth. It’s a bit of an awkward angle, but it feels so good, she lets him kiss and touch and work her up until she misses being able to kiss him and draws his chin up to do exactly that.

Robin groans into her mouth and kisses back with fire. He usually is tender, has a hand in her hair or on her cheek, but now both hands are otherwise occupied, one cupping and kneading a breast, the other steady on her hip as she rocks into him.

He’s touching and plucking at the nipple in a way that makes her clench, floods her with warmth and wanting, and she grinds against him harder to ease the ache.

She’s close now, right on the edge, but she can do this, she can ride this high and not topple over, she’s done it before so many times.

She gasps into the kiss and grips at his shoulders, rutting down into him, grinding hard as their lips come together, over and over, as the pleasure builds in her, slowly at first, then more rapidly, fuck, he is so hard under her, and she knows she’s slick between her thighs. There’s that ache, that growing, pulsing need only partially removed each time she drags her clit against his erection, Christ, her underwear is damp and he can likely feel how turned on she is. Fuck, it would be so easy to just take off the clothes that separate him so she can just take him inside and ride him like there’s no tomorrow; it would feel so fucking good.

She gasps for air and shifts just enough so her clit rubs into him at a different, even better, angle, and the sound she makes is loud and carnal and might be embarrassing in any other circumstance.

Robin is so far gone, his brow is knitted, eyes shut tight hard, but he manages to moan something, some question about whether she is okay, if it’s too much.

It’s not, she knows what she’s doing, but it’s taking all her concentration to keep the edge without falling over it, so all she does is shake her head, grip his shoulder tighter and bury her head against his neck, and oh god… don’t come, don’t come...

The fabric between her legs is wet and sliding blissfully against her sex at every thrust of her hips, that warm, strong ache growing, and fuck, don’t come...

There’s a punch of pleasure that knocks her back, has her groaning up at the ceiling and gritting her teeth, enjoying the pleasurable ache. Christ, he feels so good, he’s kissing that spot on her neck now, he’s so hard underneath her, he’s thrusting into her now, too, oh god…

Robin breathes out a raspy, sex soaked groan that goes straight to her clit, and in that moment she can’t think of anything besides him, how he feels and how he is making her feel. Perhaps that was the breaking point, but then he licks down her neck, tongue swirling down to her left breast until he reaches her far too sensitive nipple and takes it in his mouth.

“Oh god, Robin, mmm!” Regina cries, and then…

The gentle bite, the sucking pressure, his words, his body under her, it all just hits her at once, floods her head with a rush of adrenaline and sends her soaring over the edge.

It’s all white hot bliss hitting her at once, there’s no time or room in her mind to fear this, all she can do is grip him tightly as she gasps and moans, and god, this is strong. Each little tremor, each little orgasmic contraction feels so significant, swamps her with warmth and pleasurable vibrations that radiate up her spine.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Robin said something, she heard him say something encouraging, like That’s it, love or I’ve got you, love, and he’s rocking into her slowly while he traces slow, steady scratches up her spine that only intensify everything.

She tries to draw it out as best she can. It’s fantastic, it’s deserved, but all too soon she feels herself coming down from that high, realization that she went too far seeps in.

It will be just fine. She can work through the impending guilt and self-loathing this time. Robin loves her and he will understand, he will give her what she needs.

She braces herself internally for the feeling to hit, but until it does, while she’s still free, she can at least enjoy this.

Robin looks awestruck, shocked a bit, but also very, very affected by watching her come. She smiles and cups his face lovingly, pulling him into a kiss, laughing a bit at the absurdity of all of this, of the fact that she just dry humped her former best friend into perhaps the best orgasm of her life.

He continues to rub her back while they kiss, and it sends shivers down her spine, and it’s another euphoric rush of blood to the head, fuck, she loves him so much.

He pulls back after a few moments, placing one final smooch on her lips as he draws back to look her in the eye. One of his hands cups her cheek, his thumb rubbing soothingly against her.

“Are you alright?”

“Yes,” she smiles, ducking back down to kiss him, almost cutting off his next question.

“Did you—?”

She knows what he’s asking so she nods, yes, she did orgasm. Then she kisses his lips briefly.

“And you still feel… fine?” he asks tentatively. “I don’t want you to conceal anything or pretend with me.”

It’s then she remembers she has been kissing him for quite a while, and this euphoric, freeing feeling is probably the afterglow.

She’s never experienced this before.

That gross, depressive wave isn’t coming, it isn’t swooping in at all. The voice that creeps in and tells her how dysfunctional and perverted she is, the urge to shower in scalding hot water, even the way the simple scent of aftershave turns putrid to her… that’s all not here this time. She expected it to come when the last waves of orgasm left, just like usual. But it hasn’t. And so much time has gone by now that she’s convinced it won’t.

She laughs, tears forming at the sides of her eyes. Robin’s eyebrow raises, waiting for her to explain. He looks nervous, maybe even worried.

“I don’t feel that way I normally do after,” she smiles, still shocked that she’s able to say those words and that they are actually true. “It’s wonderful. All of that is… it’s not with me.”

His smile upon hearing that is as wide as the ocean, and before he can speak or ask anymore questions, she kisses him quiet. He’s still hard as marble underneath her, he rocks into her when she presses herself against him. Her hands reach for the waist of his pants, because, Thank Christ, she can do this now, she can have this. It’s possible.

She’s surprised when she feels his arm gripping at her wrist, keeping her from taking his clothes.

“Hey,” he says softly, “let me take you to bed.”

Well, that seems like an absolutely wonderful idea. She nods and tries to scoot off his lap, but he holds her close and stands up with her in his arms.

It’s a sweet, romantic move, so she tries not to notice that he grunts and wobbles a bit getting off the couch.

She wraps her arms and legs around him and lets him carry her into the bedroom like some sort of cherished prize.

He drops her on the bed and follows after, kissing her while lying next to her, all hungry and passionate. Thank fuck she gets to know him like this, that her life wasn’t just wondering what it would be like to know him as a friend and partner and also a lover.

She’s just about to take off his pants when he starts shimmying down her body.

“Robin?” she asks.

His breath is hot against her skin as he swirls his tongue between her breasts. “Mm?” he asks.

“Fuck me,” she directs, gasping at the feel of his mouth and hands.

He chuckles into her belly, giving it a soft kiss before looking back up at her, his finger slowly skimming down her torso. “I’ve wanted to eat you out for quite some time, if you don’t mind me doing that first.”

They’ve talked about this during phone sex while indulging in fantasies, she’d confessed she hasn’t orgasmed this way, and he told her he wants to be the first. And she does want it, but not now. It’s too difficult. She just wants to be able to do something a bit easier. But he actually sounds like he sincerely wants to do this for his own selfish reasons which makes it harder for her to explain this.

“But I am not very good at that,” she reminds. “Maybe we can work on it a different time?”

“I wonder if you know how a man’s mind works,” he teases, hand still drawing patterns on her belly. “Because once you told me that it has never been done properly, I have wanted to do it even more.”

“I don’t think it’s a problem of technique,” she warns. But that might very well be it. Too often she felt like it was some first step, some easy way to lubricate her before sex. She didn’t know anything about these men and they didn’t care or really know her, so why would they waste much effort in getting her off?

“Now, as someone who is quite good at receiving oral, I have some advice.”

Regina looks down and raises an eyebrow at Robin, who is looking at her with a mischievous smile.

“Relax. Don’t be afraid to let me know what’s working and what isn’t. I want to do this, I want you to enjoy this as much as you can. Don’t focus on the end, don’t focus on what you want to do. Just let it happen. Tell me if there’s anything that doesn’t feel right. And anytime you want to stop, tell me. Promise me that.”

Regina shuts her eyes and nods her consent. “I will. Of course.”

His look is so pure when she responds. She feels so safe with him, it’s jarring. She hadn’t realized she had ever felt otherwise during sex until now.

He takes off her pants and underwear slowly, kisses down her legs as he does, all the while checking in on her, making sure she’s still feeling okay with this. And she really is.

It’s not often that she’s out of control in a sexual setting. It’s nerve wracking, somehow. She feels shy and a bit too on display as he situates himself between her thighs, which is ridiculous, so many men have seen her like this. But none of them have been a man she loves or cares about.

And that is a little bit exciting.

Robin moves slowly and gently, his tongue caresses the inside of her legs while she fights the urge to shiver. He kisses up them slowly and tenderly, he legs trembling as he does (she’s mentioned she’s sensitive there, and it seems he’s remembered that fact).

“Christ, you’re wet,” he moans as he reaches the apex of her thighs, but he doesn’t touch her there, doesn’t eat at her, just continues to pay attention around where she is most sensitive.

This is different, the way he’s acting, how he’s not diving right in like there was some race to win.

And it’s different, how she feels, she’s not focusing on shooing away the bad thoughts, on reminding herself that normal women have sex like this all the time and she needs to be able to do this if she ever truly wants to consider herself over the past trauma.

She is just enjoying it this time, how he approaches this, touches growing ever closer to her sex but not quite there. Heat floods her lower belly as each teasing touch grows firmer, closer, longer.

“That feels nice,” she whispers, arching her back as he swirls his fingertips up and down her thigh.

“God, you’re hot,” he mutters, repeating the action, his tongue growing ever closer to where she’s most sensitive.

She’s heard men call her hot so many times, in so many different settings. It’s never really made her feel the way it has now. Because it’s Robin, and he loves her and cares about her and wants her for so many reasons beyond what is physical or what she can do for him.

And that just makes everything more.

She doesn’t realize she’s been holding her breath in anticipation until he swipes his tongue up through her folds, his tongue swirling around the top of her clit. She exhales slowly, revelling in the gentle, steady feeling of his mouth on her.

It’s not going to get her off, but it feels… nice. Each pass of his tongue feels a bit more.

She’s used to being in charge when it comes to sex, she figured she had to be, really, to reach a climax, to feel anything pleasant, so it’s a bit surprising that this is working at all.

Things are nice, but she needs a firmer touch for it to feel any better. She’s not going to say anything at first, even considers faking it for a second. It’s what she normally would do in this situation, but this is Robin. She doesn’t want to be insincere with him, plus he’d be able to tell anyway (he always seems to). So she tells him to go Harder and he complies, his tongue pressing hard against her clit now, his hands holding each of her thighs open in a way that is just downright hot.

Soon she settles into the feeling and grows bold enough to cup the back of his head and press him into her more.

She’s used to being controlling and seeking her own pleasure during sex with men she doesn’t know well or care about much at all. But with Robin… She cares about him, she wants him to enjoy this, too, so everything feels more important and it’s just… better. Emotionally and physically.

He makes these sounds, hums and groans as he eats at her like some irresistible dessert, and that makes it better, knowing he’s enjoying it this much, on its own, that she doesn’t need to do anything to encourage this or ask him to keep going, he’s got this…

He does stop, though.

Not really, only for a moment does he move his mouth and replace it with his thumb, pressing and rubbing hard, tight circles around her clit, and ohfuckgod that is intense, a strong bolt of pleasure sings through her, she gasps out loud, so loud in fact she follows it up by a small, embarrassed ha!

“This good?” she hears him ask.

She looks down at him and tries to give him a skeptical glare because how can he not know how incredible he’s making her feel? But she knows she’s smiling, far too pleased to be pretending to be annoyed at his question.

“Pretty sure you can— mm!— tell,” she stutters out, arching her back and rocking into him.

“Tell me anyway,” Robin rasps, and maybe it’s about stroking his ego, but in this moment she’s fairly certain he is checking on her, just making sure. It doesn’t feel patronizing or too therapeutic at this moment, like she thought it might. It just feels right.

“You feel perfect, Robin. I love you— mm! Don’t stop.”

“I won’t,” Robin groans, “I love you, too. You look and feel so… fuck, Regina, fuck, you have no idea…”

His mouth is on her again, but this time he’s licking through her sex, fucking her with his tongue as he keeps his thumb on her clit.

She can feel that sweet ache building up in her, thank god, this is working.

“Mm, like that,” she gasps when he presses into her harder.

She tries to only focus on the pleasure of now, on Robin, not trying too hard, focusing too much on reaching that peak and tumbling over.

She can feel everything building, her body responding, thrusting into him as he eats at her, though his tongue won’t reach that spot inside that can light her up, it’s still good, still incredible.

He can’t go any deeper but her body craves it, and perhaps she gives it away that things are just a bit less than perfect when she palms the back of his head and pushes him into her, because then Robin stops and looks up at her.

“You feel amazing,” Robin looks up at her with this hungry look and it’s intoxicating, “I wanted to— if you are all right with this…” He trails off and presses a finger against her opening.

She isn’t going to deny him anything, she can enjoy herself, so she nods, though what he was doing before was working, it was, it was just building rather slowly, it—

Oh.

He slides a finger in and curses under his breath and says something about how amazing she feels and all she can think of is that she really does.

His finger goes deep and slow, the angle changes with every thrust until he finds the right one, it doesn’t take long, she gasps and arches into his touch when he finds it. He moans a bit when she does, fuck, he’s really into this.

“Good?”

When she peels her eyes open to look at him she finds he is completely focused on his fingers, on what he’s doing to her, so nodding won’t do.

“So good,” she groans, “you can, mm! You can do more…”

She isn’t making any sense and not even sure what she’s asking for - faster or another finger, either would intensify things, but he gives her both, thrusting into her until she’s gripping the bedding and crying out his name.

“Fuck,” Robin groans, “Can you come? Just from this?”

She’s dizzy with the rising feeling of pleasure, only wanting to focus on that, to breathe and enjoy it, but she manages to answer him with a throaty yes.

It’s better with something on her clit, it is, but she’s been able to come like this before, only when she’s in control, but it’s happened, and fuck, it is happening.

Robin mutters, “Fucking Christ, you’re hot,” and “I’m going to try something, if it’s all right—”

Whatever it is, she trusts him, so she nods and cries out please.

The next thing she knows his mouth is on her, and Ohmyfuckinggod!

His fingers keep thrusting inside her while he adds this intense, sucking pressure to her clit, his tongue massaging as he does.

This is not something she’s had before, none of this, but well, this proves that those men were absolutely useless, and it wasn’t her after all, because this is fucking perfect.

“God, Robin, please don’t stop!” she begs. He hums something into her, a wordless assurance that he won’t, no doubt, and thank god, the feeling is steadily building, those sweet pangs of pleasure swelling up inside…

Her legs start to quake, that familiar weightless feeling swamps her, and then all of that anticipation and build up bursts into warm currents of euphoria.

Robin doesn’t stop, bless him, she can hear him moan but his mouth stays on her, his fingers still fucking into her as she clenches around them.

The last of the tremors leave her body, and there’s once again nothing but warmth and elation. Thank god.

Regina taps Robin out when it all becomes too much, when she is too over-sensitive to be touched.

He looks up at her with a sheepish little smile. “Sorry,” he whispers.

“Don’t apologize,” she laughs, “that was... unbelievable.”

“Good.” Robin joins her in bed, grinning ear to ear. He lies next to her and draws her into his body.

Regina lies her head on his chest and sighs. “Tonight was… unexpected.”

“In the very best of ways,” Robin adds.

“Yeah,” she nods. “I wasn’t sure I could ever have this. That we could ever… I figured it would take trial and error for a while, at least.”

She can hear Robin’s grinin his voice and feel his heart beat faster when he asks her, “How does that feel?”

“Amazing,” Regina sighs, her fingers swirling patterns on his chest. “I didn’t expect to be able to feel this way… not our first time. And certainly not with…” she gestures down her body, “that.”

Robin cups her cheek and urges her to face him, which she does. He winks at her, and the mood goes cheeky when he says, “Don’t doubt my abilities again.”

She smacks him playfully. “I wasn’t doubting your abilities, I was doubting mine. I mean, I’ve been with a lot of men—”

“Oh, let's not talk about that,” Robin interrupts, giving her a teasing wink.

She snickers. He’s being playful, not judgmental. “I mean, I had good reason to believe it wasn’t going to work.”

“Well…” he kisses her deeply again, and she can feel how excited he is, how badly he wants her. “You are just… so incredible. Can’t imagine anyone not wanting to eat at you until they are told to stop or their jaw falls off.”

Regina rolls her eyes. “That was not my experience. With anyone.”

“Most times sex with a stranger is shit,” Robin smiles, “They don’t know you and you don’t know them. There’s no intimacy. That’s part of why all of this is better for me, anyway. With you. ”

Regina bites her lip hard, Dr. Hopper’s words replay in her head, about the act she tended to use sex as a punishment or a test. That’s what the casual sex had been for her. The sex she was having was designed to feel unsatisfying and dirty.

Having sex with Robin is a completely different thing, perhaps the same physical act, but the emotion and motivation behind it is completely different. This type of sex won’t ever feel dirty to her.

“This is, far and away, the best I’ve ever had,” Regina chuckles. “Not that there was any serious competition.”

“I’m still going to be proud of that. Though...” Robin’s voice goes playful and teasing after a few moments of silence, “It sounds like you picked particularly impatient, selfish assholes before.”

“You,” she kisses him deeply, the taste of her is on his tongue, his body flush against her, his body all tense, and no wonder, he’s not had his turn, “are definitely not impatient.”

Robin sighs slowly, his eyes shut tight. “I’m very patient, that is true.”

She scrapes up and down his chest. Robin groans and breathes out a throaty little fuck that shouldn’t sound that sexy.

“I love you,” he tells her. It’s perhaps the hundredth time he’s said the words and she isn’t about to grow tired of hearing it.

“I love you. Quite a bit.” She works a hand between their bodies, down to the drawstring of his pants.

His breath hitches, and she’s about to pull them down when he asks, “You’re feeling alright? For sure?”

“Yes,” Regina assures, her fingers dancing under the elastic waist of his pants. “Wonderful. But I want more…”

She sticks a hand down his pants, wraps her hand around his cock, and is about to give him a good jerk when Robin stills her wrist.

Regina shoots him a quizzical glare. He wants this. She knows he does, he thrust into her palm on instinct, so why is he stopping it?

He answers her question before she can ask it.

“Let’s take this slow.”

She snorts and almost smacks the stupid out of him. “We’ve been taking it slow. And now I can—” she puffs out a breath of frustrated air. Robin looks so infuriatingly handsome and sweet right now, she’s finding it very hard to be annoyed with him for delaying this. “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting to be able to do this with you?”

She sounds petulant and grumpy, not the look that she’s going for, but it only makes Robin smile at her in that sweet, loving way.

“Believe me, I know,” Robin presses his lips to hers and smiles, “take it from someone who has been in love with you for most of his life.”

“Yes, but…. Do you know how long I’ve—“ her voice cracks, her eyes water, and she’s going to lose this argument by being far too emotional, “—how long I’ve been hoping I could enjoy having sex like a normal person? Without the consequence of all that misery and baggage that comes later?”

“I know. This is a big deal,” he runs his fingers through her hair and sighs. “This is new for you, and I want to keep tonight about you for the time being.”

“This is about me,” she insists, “I want to know that I can do this, that we can—”

“I don’t want our first time to be about proving what we can do,” Robin’s voice is soft and non judgmental, but it still stings, because he has a point. “As much as I want to be with you, I want to make sure you are fully in control and in charge, and there’s no pressure or need to—”

“You are,” Regina insists. “I’m fine, Robin.“

“I want to do this,” Robin says. “I have thought a lot about this. I don’t want a part of you in some random, unconscious corner to feel obligated to do something you don’t want, not ever. And I know what you want now, but there may be other times when you don’t. I want you to remember this night so that you will know that I’m fine with stopping anytime, that you don’t need to reciprocate or do anything for me to make me feel good. That when I’m with you, there’s absolutely nothing I expect in return.”

She’s not sure how he can do that. How he can know things, how he was able to correctly guess that obligation was a factor in her past abuse, something that’s lingered now. But then she remembers he’s a social worker. She doesn’t want to dwell on how he understands this, not at all.

“I’m doing this because I want it. I don’t feel any indebtedness. I want to make you feel good.

“You already have.” Robin kisses her forehead and brushes a hand through her hair. “If this was the beginning and end of our sex life, I’d already be more than satisfied.”

Regina doesn’t quite believe him, as sincere as he sounds, he’s not a saint. And she doesn’t want any acknowledgement that she might continue to struggle to have sex in a healthy way, true as it might be. “No, Robin—”

“Yes.” There is fire in Robin’s eyes as he nods with conviction. “I love you. And that’s what love means. It means we connect on so many levels that sex doesn’t have to be a part of our relationship for it to work and for it to make me happy. There’s so much more to you. To us.”

Her eyes water, and the mood is shifting into something too sweet and deep and meaningful, that’s not what she wants. “I love you, Robin, but I want this too. I want you.”

He exhales slowly, nodding in agreement, his eyes closing for a moment before he stares back at her, taking her hand and squeezing it. “I want you, too, so badly. “But let’s wait on that. We have a lifetime together, Regina.”

She watches as his face crinkles ever so slightly, some discomfort or regret in something he said. She isn’t quite sure what has him feeling off.

“Okay,” she smiles and scratches his scalp. “If it means that much to you, we can wait. But I really don’t need that. I’m ready whenever you are. More than ready.”

She kisses him softly, knowing it won’t lead to anything more (he’s won his argument, after all) but wanting to express how much she loves him and cares for him in some way, since putting it into words seems too difficult at the moment.

But the kisses heat, because it’s them, because they have chemistry in addition to all that love. Robin pulls back first, looking more affected than she’d realized.

“I’m going to, um, use the bathroom,” he whispers, kissing her forehead, each cheek and her lips.

When he gets up from bed she takes a moment to admire him all shirtless and sexy. His sweatpants are still (infuriatingly) on. And from the tenting in those pants, it appears the conversation they’ve had hasn’t exactly killed his desire.

She raises an eyebrow and considers saying something teasing before deciding against it. When she touched him just a few moments ago, despite his insistence that they stop, he had thrust into her palm. He’s probably been quietly aching in need for a while now. If he’s going to take care of himself behind closed doors, it’s unnecessary and not what she wants, but it is, she can admit, rather sweet.

Sweet, and rather more than she deserves. She’s not innocent, yet he treats her as if she were something he wants and needs to protect.

She replays their conversation and the words We have a lifetime together stick out. She realizes he’s implied that they would be together for the rest of their lives.

It’s far too soon to be talking about that, yet it doesn’t matter to her. If she had her way, she’s already sure this is what she wants. For as long as she could, she’d fight for this.

But he’s been so wonderful to her and he thinks so highly of her, and it’s because he doesn’t know the terrible things she’s done. There is something she had planned to keep a dark and miserable secret her whole life, but it hardly feels to do that anymore.

He thinks he knows her story, but he doesn’t. Not entirely. He deserves to know her completely if he’s going to be this supportive and wonderful, he has to know how little she deserves it.

A bit of guilt seeps in, because, well, she should have told him before they became intimate. Yet she really didn’t know that was happening tonight. She hadn’t been entirely sure it was ever happening.

But now it has and she’s let him get all swoony and thinking of a future lifetime when he doesn’t know what darkness is inside of her.

What she’s capable of. Her true nature.

Robin comes back to bed smelling of soap and mint, and isn’t that just Robin? He radiates this clean purity she envies. She’s not looking at him, she’s lying on her side facing away. But the soft cotton of his pants rub against her bare legs and he drapes an arm around her bare stomach and kisses her shoulder, spooning her against his warm chest.

“Are you alright?” Robin asks

“Yes,” she answers too quickly.

Robin sighs.

“Love,” he whispers, urging her to turn around and face him, “we are being honest with one another.”

That almost causes her to double over in guilt. She wants to look away from him, but Robin does not deserve that. So she forces herself to look him in the eye, she owes him this.

“It’s not — it’s nothing to do with the sex. There’s something I have to tell you. Something I realize I should have told you before.”

Robin’s reply is immediate, far too sweet and soft. “There’s nothing you could tell me—”

“You say that but you don’t know,” she warns. “You don’t know what I am going to say.”

“Is it about your past or present?” Robin hasn’t stopped touching her, rubbing her back in this gentle reassuring way she does not deserve.

“Past,” she answers.

Robin shrugs. “Regina, I am sure there’s nothing you could tell me about your past that would change how I feel about you now and how much I want to be with you. You can tell me anything.”

Regina bites her lip and says the words quickly, as if she’s ripping the bandaid off.

“I killed him.”

Her voice is cold and distant, as she already expects him to judge her.

“I know this,” Robin smiles, tugging at her to come closer, to cradle herself in his arms. She won’t allow herself that comfort, so she resists the urge to wrap herself around him. “I’ve known that you killed him. It has not changed a thing about how I’ve felt.”

She squirms out of his embrace and lies on her back, shutting her eyes as she explains what she’s been hiding all this time, how it was wrong of him to ever treat her as if she were a delicate victim.

“No, I killed him. It wasn’t self defense. It was premeditated murder. It was planned. Very planned.”

Robin isn’t running for the hills, his arms are still around her, his frame still warm against hers. She stares at the ceiling instead of at him, gathering the strength, because this is it. This is the last time they will be like this.

She doesn’t think for a second that he will turn her in and he won’t ruin her career. But this will do it. He’ll leave her now. He’ll take Roland from her and stay away.

“Good,” he says softly, and she feels a chill through her. She’s unable to move, in disbelief at his words.

Good?” she asks.

“I’m not supposed to advocate for murder, I suppose. And in my position, you’re always supposed to look for the possibility for redemption. But yes, good. I’m glad he’s dead. I don’t care how it was done. He deserved to die. I’m glad you killed him and I’m glad you’re here, free, today, telling it to me. He is where he’s supposed to be.”

“I didn’t want to kill him,” she admits, her voice shaking. “Not at first.”

“What changed your mind?” he asks, sounding genuinely curious instead of judgmental or outraged, like she would have expected.

“A look,” Regina cringes and shits her eyes, replaying that moment that’s seared into her mind, that terrifying moment that won’t leave her. “It was just a little look. And I’m not sure if it was ever more than that or if I imagined it... no, no I didn’t.”

Robin says nothing, but he tightens his arm around her, a little reassuring squeeze that feels so loving despite the fact that this must sound like gibberish to him. Despite the fact that this moment haunts her dreams, that she wishes she could hypnotize herself into forgetting it, she can share this with him.

“I should explain,” Regina takes a breath in and blows it out slowly. “Leo was clever. After I got pregnant I thought I finally had to do something, you know? I couldn’t pretend this wasn’t harmful, that he wasn’t harmful. Not just to me, but he’d harm others in the future. Including, potentially, my future child, and… well, I had to end it. I confronted him with my pregnancy and tried to record the conversation. He caught on instantly, somehow guessed that I was trying to collect evidence. He said he wasn’t sure what I was talking about, was I crazy? He told me if I wanted he’d keep my pregnancy a secret, or we could tell Cora together, or he’d even help me get an abortion. He also encouraged me, giving me ideas of who the father could be since, he said, I must not know. You came up a lot in those discussions.”

Robin chuckles bitterly. “Bastard.”

“Whenever I insisted the baby wasn’t yours and you’d know it since we never had sex— I hadn’t had sex with anyone else, you know, but...”

Regina still hates thinking about how that awful man was her first and only sexual partner. It’s part of why she slept with so many men after. Like washing a bad taste out of your mouth. She rushes past it. “Anyway, Leo told me that he knew you wanted me. And he would bet if I gave you the chance you’d jump at it and probably think the baby was yours after only one time. And Leo said you would be a good father — a better dad than most teenagers, anyway. He made it clear he wasn’t ever going to admit or acknowledge the fact he had touched me. I wanted him to just say it once, just to have proof to show people but somehow he knew it. I even bought this webcam and ran it recording all night, put black electrical tape over the “on” light so you couldn’t see it was filming. But… he stopped.”

“Stopped what?” Robin asks.

“He stopped coming to my room,” she explains. “Over a month went by. He never did anything. Nothing inappropriate, that is. I was shocked, you know, how he could just stop. Like he was able to the whole time and never had the incentive to try. At first, I completely blamed myself for not trying harder to get him to stop earlier. But then there was the look.”

Robin tilts his head in question but says nothing.

She bites her lip and replays it in her mind, shuddering. Her eyes shut tight and the words tumble out.

“Mary Margaret was twelve, then. Still a child, but her body was changing. She put her foot on the coffee table one night to tie her shoe. She was in her field hockey uniform, you know? And I saw him watching her. I saw the look he gave her. I just couldn’t get that look out of my head.”

“You killed him to protect Mary Margaret,” Robin says, his eyes widen at the confession, then narrow. “What a vile, disgusting man. I’m so sorry you had to do that.”

Regina’s eyes water and overflow with tears. She lets them dribble down her cheeks, trying to keep her voice steady as she answers, “I was twelve when he started. Mary Margaret was twelve when I killed him. I told myself he wouldn’t ever harm her or touch her, that she was his own daughter. I told myself that it was over, that at least my pregnancy had scared him into stopping. But then I saw his eyes dart over her when he thought no one was watching him, looking up and down her body, not as a daughter, but as a thing he wanted. I knew that look. All I could think of was that he was not stopping, not for good. Maybe nothing would have come from it, maybe he would have kept himself away from his own daughter. Maybe he really had stopped for good. But you know Mary. She was so innocent and trusting and full of life, and all I could think about was that if that had happened to her she wouldn’t recover.”

Regina wipes at a tear. “I had this child growing inside of me and the thought of anyone in a similar position to mine just tormented me. The thought of it being my sister was too much. So, I guess I snapped.”

“He wouldn’t have stopped,” Robin’s voice is stern. “Men like him don’t stop. It might not have been her. But it would have been someone else. You were right.”

“I have my doubts,” Regina admits. “In any case, I tried provoking him into starting it, to attacking me. I thought that way it would look unplanned and self defense. I always had a knife hidden on me or near me when I’d approach him when we were alone. But he never made a move. Except for one night when we were both up late in the kitchen and I tried provoking him again. He tried to ignore me, but I wouldn’t move out of the way when he was reaching for a spoon in the drawer behind me. I stood there, strong and ready and made him have to go around me. And when he did, when he went to push me aside, I just cut him on the forearm.”

“But it looked like you made that wound while defending yourself,” Robin notes.

“Yeah, because he was leaning into me when I did it,” Regina sighs. “See, I planned everything, thought of everything. I wasn’t an innocent.” Robin looks like he’s about to argue with her on that point, and she really can’t hear that right now, so she rushes to add, “But anyway, after I cut him? Then he got mad and he tried to hurt me back.”

Robin nods and squeezes her hand. “Did he? Hurt you, I mean.”

“A bit. Enough to make a self defense claim viable, but not… not really. He never got a really good hit, actually. He might have been a bit drunk, he was definitely tired. I can’t really remember those moments. I can remember that things got hazy and tangled and twisted and the kitchen wasn’t well lit that night. We were struggling, he was trying to get the knife away from me, trying to hurt me, and I just kept trying to cut him every chance I had. Until… you know, I stuck him deep in the chest. I could feel it then, I just knew it was over, it was so… it took so much more force than I thought it would take, as sharp as the knife was… it… it didn’t go in easily.” She shivers, thinking of the sickening feeling of raking that knife into his flexing, protesting muscles, the sound of flesh cut by steel, of blood pouring and dropping on the kitchen tile. It was awful. “And Leo… he looked at me as if I had surprised him for the first time. He was on top of me when I stabbed him, but luckily fell to my side when he bled out. Blood was everywhere. All over me, him, the floor... I just started crying. Mom was there not long after it happened, but MM was a heavy sleeper, she didn’t wake. Mom called the police. I kept begging her to go upstairs and make sure Mary Margaret wouldn’t see, to go get her and take her away, but she wouldn't leave until the police came.”

“Why?” Robin asks, “Why was that so important?”

Regina shrugs. “I think it was so she could be the first to speak with them, to control the narrative and make sure they knew she was asleep the whole time and called them immediately when she woke to find Leo dead. She was so concerned with clearing her name, while we waited she kept saying something about being asleep, about how I did this and I can’t expect her to protect me or take the blame for me.”

“I hate your mother,” Robin mutters. She smiles bitterly at the sound of her own thoughts being voiced by Robin. She’s fought with that mindset her whole life. She always felt terrible for not loving or understanding her more. But Mallory and her therapist always gave her permission to harbor those feelings. In their mind, her mother didn’t deserve unconditional love and understanding the way Regina felt mothers ought to no matter what they do.

Regina swallows down that misplaced guilt and continues. “Sure enough, the police were loud and they woke Mary Margaret up and she wandered downstairs… an officer had to grab her and walk her away from the kitchen to prevent her from seeing. She was crying and asking for her father. I’ll always remember that.”

“Fuck them all,” Robin mutters through clenched teeth. It surprises her that he’s focused on him. “I know I’m supposed to believe that violence is never the answer, but the fact that you managed to not kill your mother for all these years is a testament in strength in and of itself. Leo deserved to die. Perhaps more painfully than he did, but his death was necessary.”

“I could have gone to the police,” she reminds, “to a therapist, to—”

“And we’ve discussed this. Without proof it would have been your word against his. And there’s a large chance he’d win and you would end up branded a disturbed liar. I’ve seen this play out before.”

“For years, I had wanted him to die,” Regina confesses just over a whisper, fighting the urge to break into sobs. “I didn’t want to be the one to do it, but I wanted him dead. Not in prison. Dead.”

“I understand,” Robin rubs his hand down her arm, softly, just to comfort. “That’s not unusual. That makes you normal.”

“I’m a doctor,” she reminds, “And I decided to end a life. That is not fitting of a physician. Or a mother.”

“What you’ve told me sounds very much like a protective mother,” Robin argues, soothing her back “And someone who recognizes that people can be toxic and need to be removed for others to stay healthy, so yes, a doctor, too.”

She smiles at the mental gymnastics Robin took to make first degree murder a wholesome decision.

“Regina,” Robin calls her out of her thoughts, doesn’t speak until she’s looking him in the eyes. He smiles and brushes back her hair. “Did you really think I’d think less of you?”

She nods, shutting her eyes tight. “Of course I did.”

Regina’s voice is shaky, weighted with emotion and relief. She presses her body into Robin’s and lets him wrap his arms around her. He kisses her hairline as she holds back tears. “I’ve never told anyone this. I was prepared to die with this story. My therapists, all of them from the start, I never told even one. Mallory doesn’t know… no one was ever going to know.”

“But you told me?” Robin asks with a reverence in his voice she could kiss him for. He understands.

“Yes,” she croaks.

Robin seems incredibly touched at that.

“I can't imagine how it has felt to keep this inside for so long. And it has to be hard to finally share something you’ve tried to hide forever,” Robin dots kisses along her forehead and in her hair. “Is this… do you feel really exposed or vulnerable right now? Is there something I can do, can I—”

“I feel like someone took a six hundred pound anvil off my chest,” she says, her voice wet and breathy. “Like I can actually breathe for the first time in forever, and I can’t believe you’re still here, I can’t believe I shared everything and you’re still—”

Robin interrupts her with a smooch to her lips, his hand tangling pleasantly in her hair, calming her, steadying her.

“Of course I am. I love you, Regina. I see a brave woman and you will do anything to protect the people you love. That’s all. Not everyone who kills is a killer. You are just a strong woman who went through a terrible incident and did the best you could.”

“You truly don’t have any... concerns?” Regina asks quietly. “You are still fine with me around Roland, or—”

“Of course, don’t be ridiculous,” he sighs, hugging her tightly. “I know you. I know you would never hurt someone unless you needed to do so to protect another. And even if you had killed just for shits and giggles back then, it doesn’t change the person you are now.”

She presses her lips tightly together to stop the quivering from the bottom one. She is not sure whether she wants to laugh or cry. She figured anyone who ever knew the whole story would see her as a monster. And now everything is out in the open. And he still wants her.

Tears stream down her face as she cuddles close to him, rests her head on his chest and listens to his heart beat as he threads his fingers through her hair.

“I’m sorry you had to carry this for so long all by yourself,” Robin mutters. “That had to be hard. It’s over now, you don’t have to be in this alone.”

And he’s right. The burden is lifted. All these years later, she finally feels free.

After the lights are out and alarms are set, as they are drifting into sleep, Regina whispers, “Thank you.”

Robin’s head perks up, his eyes open and search for hers. His smile is all warm and gooey as he tells her, in a sleep-laced tone, “There’s nothing you have to thank me for.”

“My life is so much better with you in it,” Regina hears herself get high and pitchy as she fights the urge to cry again. “I’m just so much better than I ever was, you have no idea what I was like, I—”

“And that’s great. But you did that all yourself. I didn’t do anything.”

“You did,” Regina insists, “you love me and support me. You don’t judge me, you—”

“There are a million people suffering from PTSD who are surrounded by supportive loved ones,” Robin says matter-of-factly. “You’re the one who decided to talk to Mary Margaret after all these years. You’re the one who let me in, let me be a part of your life, let me date you and after all you’ve been though, that had to be difficult. You shared all of this with me, you took major risks and you worked hard on your own recovery. I’m just the lucky fucker you decided to let in.”

He’s not, not at all, he’s much more than that. And he is responsible for the progress she’s made by being so patient, so loving and nonjudgmental. But it’s useless to explain that to him, because it’s clearly important she believe she was her own hero.

So she doesn’t argue with him. Instead she smiles into the darkness, cups his cheek and whispers, “I feel lucky, too.”

She knows, deep down inside, that she is not cured. The trauma she suffered will always be with her, rearing its head at times she won’t expect. The difference is now she is not afraid of it consuming her, bad days and moments will still come, but she is confident she can work through them.

And the genuine relief she feels is more satisfying and blissful than she ever thought possible.

Chapter Text

The next few days feel like magic.

Regina feels like she’s floating on air.

It’s really rather silly, but the inability to be physically intimate had been about so much more than just sex. It was a constant reminder that Leo had scarred her in some way, that though not visible, she had this mark forever from him she couldn’t scrub off.

An imperfection, something anyone could point to and say, “that person is the victim of sexual abuse.”

Now that is gone. She can tell herself that she is finally clean of him, because god, she’s been wanting to do that forever.

And she’s desperate to prove that it really is true, to actually have sex with Robin now that she’s finally getting over all her past trauma, but he’s being much more cautious.

She wanted him in her bed that very next night, but he asked her to wait a bit, that it was a big step and he wanted to do it right. She doesn’t like that, making a big deal over what should be a mundane, normal couple event, just sex, they are in love and should have been doing it months ago, maybe years ago frankly, if you go back to their high school days.

And lord knows Robin isn’t someone who makes sex into this magical experience. He’s told her of hiser past, of a series of one night stands. And Marian has made a joke or two Regina has caught that makes it clear he was not very romantic with her.

So he’s doing this because of her and her issues, and she hates that.

She hates it, but it’s still sweet of him to care.

She’d like to have been able to tell Dr. Hopper that she’s been able to do everything without the accompanying guilt and disgust she’s lived with years. That of course, she knows she may still have nightmares and panicked moments, but she’s clear of that sexual dysfunction that’s bothered her for over a decade.

But at their next appointment she can’t quite say that yet.

She does proudly tell him how things are going, how she’s been able to get over a major hurdle. She explains that she is finally able to have near-sex in a healthy way without being plagued by the past.

“So it seems that long-standing issue has been resolved,” she says, relieved.

She has learned to read Dr. Hopper’s expression even under webcam lighting, and it seems he’s not so convinced.

“What?” she asks skeptically.

“Regina, this is wonderful news. And I am very happy for you. And you are right. It’s major progress.”

Progress.

Not exactly what she was thinking.

“It’s a huge issue that’s resolved,” Regina reiterates.

He doesn’t just nod or agree; he pauses, that familiar grimace he makes when he is thinking of how best to word something.

“Oh, just say it,” Regina groans.

“You have done enough research of your own into PTSD and psychological trauma to know. I think you know what I’m going to say.”

She groans. “What? I’ll never fully recover and it will haunt me and follow me forever? Fine. But certain things get better. Problems do get solved. And my other issues have gone away over the years, haven’t they? I used to not be able to have sex at all when you first met me. I couldn’t even look at myself naked. And that’s all gone away, hasn’t it? Why hasn’t this, too?”

“Well, the first time you saw yourself naked that problem didn’t entirely go away, did it?” Archie asks gently.

Regina groans and winces. She’s lived with this for far too long. It has to be gone. She's tried so hard to convince herself of this.

She feels the wetness on her eyelashes, swallows the lump on her throat and asks, “You think I’m still going to have this as a problem?”

“I think sex with Robin is a different animal than the sex of your past. That’s not to say there may not be other issues relating to sex with someone you love, but it may not cause the same reaction sex with strangers does. Regardless, I think you know we can’t declare the matter resolved based on one night. And you’ve put so much importance on this one aspect of your life, because you’ve thought if you could do it, you’d be free. But this was just a symptom, Regina, of a deeper issue. Even if you never have those depressive episodes again, you have to allow yourself to be human.”

Dr. Hopper clears his throat and says, “My theory, if you want me to be very honest with you, is that you were caught in a cycle before. Something would happen, some trigger would bring you back to your teenage trauma, and you’d be stuck on it, focusing on it. And then you’d get angry at yourself for not being perfect and healed, and I suspect, for whatever you still blame yourself for with regards to that. And then you would punish yourself. You’d have sex with a stranger, I think some part of you always knew how that would end. It would bring up all the past, unresolved guilt and the cycle would continue. As we discussed, being with Robin isn’t part of the cycle. If it doesn’t cause the same reaction, it may be because your reasons for being with him are different. Not because the cycle has broken.”

“Okay,” Regina shrugs. “But if it doesn’t happen with him, then I don’t have to worry about it, do I?”

Dr. Hopper smiles sadly. “There are still going to be triggers for past trauma. There’s still a concern you find a way to punish yourself. I’m sorry, I know this isn’t what you want to hear. But you need to be prepared for it.”

“Great,” Regina shuts her eyes and tries to think through what this means. “So all of this could still ruin what I’m trying to make of my life.”

“You are the same person you were before all this. None of these issues mean you’re unable to be in a healthy relationship,” Archie soothes. “But constantly trying to make yourself into this perfect person you strive to be inhibits progress. This is great news and I’m happy to hear it. It shows things are heading in the right direction. And you have to be proud of yourself. You never let yourself look back and see everything you’ve gotten through, Regina.”

“I know,” she scowls. “Moving on—”

“No, I’m going to recap it for you,” Dr. Hopper smiles, “Maybe I’m proud, too.”

She sighs and throws her head back against the couch dramatically. No one can make her feel more like a child than Dr. Hopper.

“You came to me at age eighteen. In a new city. You had some psychological inpatient treatment at another facility, a young infant son you were terrified you couldn’t raise appropriately despite an abundance of financial resources, and a desire to go to college to make something of yourself so you didn’t feel broken.”

“I remember,” she says quietly.

“You had trouble sleeping, eating, and were completely convinced that you would lose custody of Henry if you weren’t careful. You insisted you were dangerous to him and others.”

Dr. Hopper doesn’t know that she killed on purpose. She’s not sure he will ever know. Even though he’s not obligated to report a past crime, she imagines knowing the weight of her crime would put him in a tough spot. Still, she no longer sees herself as a murderer. Robin’s reaction definitely helped her with that, and it’s been years and she’s never had that desire to get violent and seriously hurt someone since.

So yes, that has changed.

“You’re a doctor now. Your son is a thriving teenager whose only problem is that he’s never seen his mother be anything other than perfect.”

Regina rolls her eyes. “That’s not true. I’d love it to be, but he’s seen me make mistakes. Just not big ones. And if he hadn’t seen my flaws, if I was perfect to him, that wouldn’t be a problem at all.”

“Some might say it's an impossible standard to live up to,” Dr. Hopper explains. “Seeing your flaws every now and then isn't so bad, actually. You shouldn’t fear it so much.”

Regina frowns. He may have a point. Thinking Cora needed her to be perfect made her early years miserable.

“I’m not saying you have to purposely screw up in front of Henry. Just that it is not a problem for him to see you mess up sometimes.”

“Right,” Regina muses.

“Henry lives a stable, happy life. You did that mostly on your own. You did something very few people - people without a past trauma, without being a teenage mother - can do. You used to think you had to protect him from yourself. Do you feel differently now?”

She thinks about it. “I want to protect him from knowing what I’ve been through. But not me. Not any more. No, I don’t worry about being dangerous to him.”

Dr. Hopper smiles and leans back, the grainy webcam capturing his smugness perfectly.

“See? That is progress.”

He seems to have a point. She believes in her soul she’s a good mother, the best person for Henry. She’s not afraid of hurting him, or protecting him from the person she was before she changed her identity and tried to bury her past. It’s a world away from where she started.

“How do I keep… progressing?” Regina asks. “I mean, if I want to feel better, or more free of all this baggage?”

“I can’t really answer that,” Dr. Hopper sighs. “Your fear has always been your past. And I’ve always said you should confront your fears. I’m not sure what that means for you. But I know accepting yourself, your whole self, is a big part of it.”

It’s a typical answer from Dr. Hopper, one that isn’t an answer at all. And it would be frustrating, but he’s got her here so far, and she can’t really argue with the results.

.::.

They have a routine that’s developed.

Robin will come over for dinner a few nights a week, he will help her cook and clean and spend some time with Henry. When it’s time for Henry to sleep, Robin leaves.

And inevitably, Regina is asking that he come back in an hour or two so he can spend the night.

It’s happened a few times since the first time they’ve been intimate, and they haven’t gone any further than that. Robin wants a whole night with her, he says, a whole night without her having to go on mom duty at any moment and him having to sneak out of the house.

Regina has agreed and felt a decidedly less need to rush it since the last therapy session. She’s been fixating on it as a major milestone toward healing, but it really isn’t that. And it seems wrong to be tying up what she has with Robin with trying to work through her issues.

She finds herself less and less interested in spending nights alone. She doesn’t need it, frankly.

So it seems rather silly when it’s Henry’s bedtime and Robin gets up to go like he always does, saying goodnight to Henry and goodnight to Regina.

And like always, she asks him to come back when Henry falls asleep.

He respects her boundaries, that is clear.

He’s always looking for a boundary and making sure not to cross it. It was annoying — the way he would hold off on doing more physical things, ini fact, it bordered on frustrating. But now she’s grateful for it.

She’s grateful to know she can have him anywhere, including her bed, and he won’t make her feel obligated, or even like inviting him to her bed means they will do anything other than sleep (not that they’ve managed that, quite frankly, but she’s always the one who starts it, not him).

All of this makes her less interested in sleeping alone, ever, really.

So that’s why she invites him to stay the night tomorrow (really, she wants to invite him to stay with her every night, but it’s too soon for that, she won’t scare him by asking that).

“I have Roland tomorrow,” he reminds. “I’d love to bring him, but I fear it might be a bit difficult to sneak back in the house after hours with a toddler.”

Regina giggles.

This whole thing feels ridiculous. She’s not sure what a child is supposed to need, how much protection they need from knowing about their unmarried parent’s love life, but it seems like pretending to sleep in separate bedrooms until and unless they marry is a bit puritanical.

So she shrugs. “Maybe we should just do a big sleepover.”

Robin raises his eyebrow. “Should we?”

Regina nods. “I’m not sure how this should go, letting our children know we share a bed? But Henry isn’t exactly stupid. I won’t be able to keep this from him for long, and I’m not sure I should.”

“Roland is too young to think much of it,” Robin shrugs. “But if he were Henry’s age, I’d agree with you. We can’t sneak around forever, and this definitely isn’t a fleeting, causal relationship.”

“Right,” she smiles. “So let’s just be open about it.”

.::.

The next night is just a simple dinner and a movie, but this time after dinner, she and Robin tuck Roland in for the night in her guest room.

Henry doesn’t even raise an eyebrow as he ventures off to bed and leaves Robin and his mom downstairs.

“Well that was easy,” Robin muses, once he hears Henry’s door shut for the night. “I expected an awkward question about where I would sleep.”

Regina laughs. “I think he knows and just…” she pauses, the thought of Henry knowing his mom was sharing a bed with her boyfriend still doesn’t feel right. “I guess he doesn’t think it’s wrong. I would have heard from him if he did.”

Robin grabs her hand and urges her onto the couch. She takes her place on his lap instead of next to him.

“I’m glad he doesn’t think it’s wrong,” he tells her, “because it’s not.”

Oh, she loves him. He lets her kiss him and work him up, lets her recklessly dry hump him on the couch while their sons sleep upstairs and somehow, she can’t find it in her heart to feel bad about it at all.

When they move up to the bedroom, she’s all but lost to him in the lust and the heat of the moment.

“I want you,” she rasps, reaching down between them to grab at his cock over his boxers.

He moans, he even lets her jerk him a bit through the fabric before stilling her.

“I want you too, god, you’ve no idea how much,” he groans.

“Then be with me” Regina moans, “I want to feel you, I think about this all the time. And not for any other reason than it’s you and I am so in love with you. Be with me.”

“I would, but I don’t want the first time with you to be when I’m worried Roland might wake up and call for me in the middle of it,” he admits, causing Regina to snicker.

“I want it, rather badly, but I’m rather committed to the first time being ... good.” They both laugh then, nerves and adrenaline running high.

She knows it won’t be bad, could never be, not with him. But she also knows what he wants and why. And yes, she doesn’t want her first time to be worrying about waking children.

“Relax,” he directs, kissing his way down her body, “I’ve been thinking about this since last time.”

He has her panting and moaning into her hand, wrapping her legs around him tightly as he eats at her, god he already knows her body so well, he has her writhing and grasping at the sheets in record time. When he thrusts her fingers inside her it’s almost too good, has her crying out his name in this wanton way, and oh god, the kids are in the house, oh god, he was right, there can’t be sex, but fuck, would it ever feel good.

He has this tendency to moan when he’s eating at her, just this little sound in his throat that sounds so sexy, like he is starving for her, and fuck, she loves that, loves feeling like he wants to do this, all on its own, for no other reason than to please her.

She can feel herself growing closer as he starts to move into her faster, and she looks down at him and it’s all too much, the sheer amount of effort he puts into pleasing her is just overwhelming.

He’s too far away, she decides.

“Stop,” she groans, hating herself for saying it the moment it’s out of her mouth, because Robin stops, stills and she feels the loss of all of his attention immediately.

“Are you alright?” he asks softly, she can tell he’s trying not to sound too concerned, but she knows him.

“I want you with me,” she says, motioning him up. “I want to kiss you and feel you while you… can you just come up here?”

Robin chuckles and presses a surprisingly tantalizing kiss to her upper thigh, then crawls back up her body.

They kiss, all lined up perfectly. So she rocks into him, right against where he is hard for her.

“That’s good,” she whispers as he thrusts back into her core. It is good, the rubbing friction against her clit so satisfying, so strong, and yes, it’s all better with him up here with her, so she can kiss him, touch him, feel his breath on her cheek, hear every murmured word of pleasure that falls from his lips, and there are lots, he’s telling her how good she’s making him feel, how much he loves her, every part of her, how warm she is, how much he loves seeing her like this.

He turns them so he is fully on his side and they are facing one another. Regina hooks a leg against his hip and they continue to press together, him through clothing, her, wet and bare, grinding against him shamelessly.

She can feel her insides turn molten, her legs beginning to quake, each thrust driving her closer and closer to the edge, until she’s scratching his back hard and crying out his name.

She is fully content to grind herself into an orgasm until Robin breaks away with a gasp, panting out, “I need to… slow down.”

“You don’t,” she insists, pulling him back against her.

“I really do,” he chuckles. “I’m close.”

“That’s okay,” she smiles, it is, it really is, “I want you to.”

He shakes his head but doesn’t say no, exactly, just brings his hand between them and blindly tries to find her clit. It feels good — very good, but isn’t exactly what she wants.

“Robin,” she whispers

“I’m here,” his voice is strained as his fingers draw tighter, firmer circles.

“I want to feel you,” she says, moving his hand away and rocking into him.

He doesn’t protest this time, just lets her push and thrust against where he is hard.

That’s better

“God…” Robin groans, “you feel so good… you’re so wet…”

He always has his full attention on what she is feeling when he is going down on her, but now he is very, very much a part of this, and she can tell it affects him, how he starts to chase his own release before he bites hard on his tongue and slows down.

It’s a lot for him, too, and that adds more to this, makes it hotter, better, she can watch him, imagine how he’s feeling, how she’s making him feel, fuck…

She’s so close but he’s closer, and she sees his grimace, feels the way he jerks into her and then pulls quickly away, his hand replacing his cock, fingers slipping inside her as he starts to give her those hard, deep thrusts she likes, and she can’t even be upset, he’s still kissing her, his palm is pressing hard into her clit with every pump of his hand, it’s pure bliss.

She shuts her eyes tight as a particular flick of his wrist sends her over the edge, her body quaking under the steady, gentle release.

When she starts coming down to earth, his hand goes around her hip to hold her against him, a tender, warm embrace she realizes Robin likes after sex… or after whatever they are having. She loves it, never would have thought being wrapped up in a person, held against them, would make her feel so alive and free.

This time, though, he holds his lower body a bit away from her. She chases it a little, pushes towards him as he scoots back.

They’ve been trading soft kisses, but she breaks out of that to look up at him with a raised eyebrow.

His cheeks are streaked with red.

“What is it?” she asks softly.

“This is embarrassing,” he starts, “but I didn’t really expect anything tonight, and then you were rubbing against me a lot in a very good way and… this doesn’t happen often— I mean ever, this is the first time this has ever happened, but, I um sort of…” he looks pointedly down his body and she follows his eyes to the faint spot of wetness on his briefs.

Oh.

“Well that was long overdue,” she teases, as he laughs more, that shy, embarrassed little laugh she hears so infrequently.

“I mean it,” she tells him, kissing his lips. “I am not at all uncomfortable by it. I’ve wanted things to be more mutual since the first time we did this, you know that. Stop worrying.”

“I know,” he chuckles nervously, “I am not just worried about that. It’s just… I feel a little like a high school kid, popping off in my pants and all that.”

Regina giggles, her leg looping around his hip, drawing him closer to her. He doesn’t fight it this time, presses against her easily with a soft little hum.

“And when were you ever coming in your pants in high school?” she asks playfully.

Robin laughs again. “Fair point. I was more mature in high school than now, it seems.”

She can tell he still feels a bit humiliated (he should not, she was grinding against him hard for far too long, and he’s only human, this is the fourth time they’ve done this, and it was bound to happen). She is so rarely in the position to comfort him — it’s always the opposite, always him caring for her. This actually feels like a gift, a rare moment when she can be the one to soothe him, even for something so minor.

“Robin,” she cups his face, waits for him to stop avoiding her eyes, “there’s a lot going on here. There’s a lot of feelings and a lot of concerns, but honestly, this is probably the most normal thing that’s happened so far.”

They both smile at that, and she shakes her head, “Really, we ground each other to orgasm, it's expected. It isn’t like you popped off when I held your hand or something.”

He gives her a smile for her efforts but reminds her, “But I was holding back. And you know I lost control.”

“Maybe you should lose control once in a while. It’s a bit more fun.” He raises an eyebrow playfully at her and she just shrugs. “And I’m going to take it as a compliment that you couldn’t hold back. It’s actually a bit flattering if you think about it.”

“Oh, you should be flattered,” Robin agrees, “You felt and looked and sounded amazing, smelled heavenly, and… god, I’m going to stop before I get too excited again.”

She smiles coyly at him. “I wouldn’t really mind if you worked off some excitement with me, you know.”

He knows, he just keeps waiting, and it’s adorable and sweet but she doesn’t need to wait anymore.

Robin kisses her hand tenderly. “Thank you for being wonderful about this. I just have wanted this with you for quite awhile, and I want everything to be perfect.”

“It is,” she assures, kissing his lips softly. “Perfect for me may be a bit different than for you. This is perfect. Way better than I ever dared to hope for even a few years ago.”

Robin genuinely smiles at that, tilts his forehead to hers and hugs her, before whispering, “Okay, I need to clean up.”

Regina snickers and slowly releases her hold on him, watching as he walks off to the bathroom. God, he’s good looking, He’s always been good looking, even when they were younger, but he really grew into something spectacular.

And how odd that she winds up with the good luck to fall in love with a man who looks like him? Her, with all her lifetimes of rotten luck?

She’d love him if he had a beer belly and a bald head, just the same. She knows it the same way she knows if every minor, annoying habit he had were to erase, she couldn’t love him any more. The way he has a tendency to coddle her, how he leaves dirty laundry right next to the hamper instead of inside it, his obnoxious love of terrible fast food… all of it.

And it strikes her that he must feel the same way, loves her despite all those imperfections, or maybe even loves the imperfections.

No one is perfect, after all, and people fall in love all the time with imperfect people, loving them all the same.

When he comes back to bed, she beams at him.

“You’re truly okay with all of this, aren’t you?”

His dimples pop as he pushes the comforter back and climbs into bed and grins at her.

“I’m more than okay with this,” he tells her, pressing a minty kiss on her forehead.

“I mean… you really don’t mind all this baggage, do you? Things are so complicated with me, our sex life is only just one aspect of that. Yet you really don’t mind, do you?”

Robin’s brow furrows, he looks at her with a hint of concern. “I thought you knew that already. I’ve told you as many times, haven’t I?”

“I think…” she smiles, throwing an arm around his neck, “I didn’t quite believe you until now.”

“This is by far the cutest way I’ve ever been told I was considered a liar,” he teases. He urges her to snuggle in closer and adds, “I love you, I love us. I wouldn’t change what we have for anything.”

“Not a nymphomaniac MENSA level genius neurophysicist and part-time model?” she teases, trying to hide her smirk as she looks up at him.

“Not this fictitious character who I’m sure was written into the plot of some tv show or romance novel, no. She wouldn’t be you.” Robin kisses her forehead, his hand anchoring at her hip. “I don’t want anyone else.”

“Good,” Regina says, ducking to press a kiss to his chest. “I don’t either. And now that we got that sorted, you should just give it up already and let me have sex with you.”

He laughs at that, his chest reverberating as he looks down at her appreciatively.

“Dr. Hopper doesn’t even see an issue,” she tells him honestly. Mentioning a psychiatrist should be a killer to this afterglow, but somehow it isn’t.

“Yeah, speaking of that,” Robin says, “is there anything during sex that you don’t like?”

She pulls herself out of his embrace to give him a skeptical glance.

“Is there anything you don’t like? You first.” She is mildly offended, or maybe frustrated, because he’s capable of learning her body and taste just like he would any other woman. He doesn’t need to always tiptoe around her.

He doesn’t flinch at her question, though, shrugs and thinks on it. “I… don’t like demeaning insults in the bedroom. Not that I imagine you using them. Calling someone a slut or a worthless bastard is not sexy to me.”

She laughs, wondering if he’s ever encountered that.

“Your turn,” he reminds.

She feels very on the spot, isn’t sure what hangup to list first. “I don’t like that either,” she tells him. Then she wrinkles her nose. “Don’t like to be called baby, that always kills the mood for me. But you don’t use that.”

“Nah,” Robin admits, “not my thing.”

“I don’t like being called ‘girl’ either, ‘come on, girl’, ‘good girl’...”

He knows where that comes from, she’s sure of it. She can’t look at him and definitely doesn’t want to talk about what a bastard Leo was yet again.

“Anything else?” Robin asks, thank god, thank god he is so wonderful, that they don’t have to go into details.

“You’d never say or do the things that bother me,” she says confidently. “I guess I don’t like being told what I’m supposedly thinking or doing, you know, ‘you want this so bad’, that sort of thing, that’s never appealed to me.”

Othing things have popped up in her sex life, things she’s discovered she has an association with, but she won’t have to worry about Robin calling her a slut or telling her how dirty she is

“What else?” Robin asks, his voice entirely free of judgment or the weighted concern that she thought this conversation would carry.

“Nothing really,” Regina tells him honestly. “That I know of, that is. I, um, usually hated being beneath someone, with their weight on me. But with you? I like it.”

He nods. “If you think of anything…”

“I’ll tell you,” she assures, stretching. “I better wash up before I pass out.”

She walks out of the bedroom into the master bath nude. He doesn’t know how far she’s come, for that simple little walk not to bother her at all.

.::.

Robin has always loved summer, even as a social worker who is well aware that children find themselves in the most trouble when school is out. It is such a joy-filled, happy time, the sun does everyone good. Roland is a summer child at heart, and all the activities of summer — pools, shores, parks, and amusement parks — still fill him with a sense of unabashed excitement.

Regina was his summer when he was Roland’s age. When he thinks of his youth he thinks of running wild through the woods, building forts, tumbling down hills and smelling of freshly cut grass and detergent. He thinks of Regina smiling at him with missing teeth, sneaking to the ice cream truck to eat red popsicles and then scrubbing her face hard to erase the sugary residue that would cling to her lips and tongue like a smoking gun. There were s’mores and campfires and shared blankets and backyard tent, all things Roland enjoys now.

Regina enjoys them as well, it seems. She had a campfire in her backyard, one for Henry and his friends, but Robin and Roland were invited of course. She has been doing stuff like that - planning outdoorsy activities the four of them can partake in. It’s nice and cozy and makes him feel like they are becoming a family.

Regina has relaxed so much in the last week or so. If Robin had known all it would take to get her to stop fretting over sex was to sexually humiliate himself, he would have done it ages ago.

He’s not sure why, but since that day there’s been a change in her. She seems to have taken pressure off herself.

They’ve spent many nights together, many without sex or a discussion on it. And she seems to understand — truly understand — that he doesn’t need it.

And he really doesn’t. Sometimes, of course, he wants it so badly and wishes he could just have that with her, but those moments pass, and it’s not like he didn’t have those times with Marian when she wasn’t up to it.

He’s not sure why but it didn’t feel right to take their relationship to that level when she was so focused on doing it. Maybe because then it felt like a test she was determined to pass, and there was a lot of pressure on both of them.

Now, things are just easy. She’s still in charge fully of the physical aspect of their relationship. Beyond kissing, he won’t make a move unless she does first. That’s hardly a hardship, she initiates at times, opts for a night of cuddling and turning in early on others. She doesn’t apologize for these decisions anymore, doesn’t act like he is owed anything.

And that’s how taking that next step feels right to him.

Of course planning a night and day without kids, without pressure to do more, is difficult, and he’s not even sure how to plan for the kids to be out of the house, so he’s left it.

Until Mulan unintentionally gives him a perfect solution.

John is in town again this weekend, but his girl had to take the night to finish something for work, so he called Robin and invited him out for drinks.

 

Mulan had also expressed interest in a drink, so the three of them wound up at the bar together, catching up and trading stories while Marian spends a night alone with Roland and Regina was at work.

“I was going to ask Henry if he wanted to hang out Saturday for the Madden tournament? I figured he might want to play with me. Not that we can win, but we have a shot of getting kind of far. Or maybe you know, he’s got an age-appropriate friend to battle with. I don’t know. But if he’s interested…?” Mulan shrugs, “It could be fun. We work well together.”

“Saturday?” he asks. Mulan nods. He tries to remember their custody arrangement, he’s fairly certain he has Roland that day.

“Henry might like that. I’ll ask. How long is this tournament lasting? Do you think he’d want to spend the night? You could take him and Roland and make it a little sleepover.”

As much as he tries to sound nonchalant and smooth, she sees right through him.

“Well someone wants a night alone to do unspeakable things to his girlfriend,” she teases.

“You’re thinking kink?” John asks Mulan, a glint in his eye, “I was thinking romance, just because it’s Robin and he’s all stupid for this girl. Something with rose petals, I bet.”

Mulan snorts.

Marian and John do not know they haven’t had sex yet. No one knows. Not John, not Marian or Mulan, no one but Regina. It’s no one’s business, really. If they did know, they wouldn’t be joking like this. Honestly, he welcomes the teasing. It adds a bit of normalcy to a situation that is not exactly normal.

He tries to play the whole thing off as no big deal. “We are parents. Why don’t you think I’m fixing a way to sleep in ‘til eleven on a Sunday?” he asks.

“Because you’re blushing right now,” Mulan notes, gesturing at him with her hand that’s holding a beer.

Something hits her then because her eyes widen and she asks, “Oh my god, are you going to propose?”

Robin nearly spits out his drink.

“Are you crazy?” he asks. “It’s been less than six months. We… we don’t even live together yet.”

“Oh yeah,” John notes. “Why don’t you, again? Have a problem with living in giant ass mansions?”

“He’s practically moved in,” Mulan says, “Roland told us all about all the sleepovers he has at Regina’s house. He even has his own room that he can sleep in. Apparently Regina got dinosaur sheets for him.”

The heat in his cheeks is nothing to the creeping hotness flushing up his neck, god, this is embarrassing...

“She’s buying linens for your son? That’s serious,” John jokes. “I think that’s practically a proposal in its own right.”

He rolls his eyes. “It means she loves my son, which is pretty important. But not exactly all that is needed to move in together, is it?”

Mulan frowns. “I don’t know what else you need. You two seem pretty perfectly matched and ready to get married. Moving in seems like a no-brainer.”

Robin sighs. He can’t talk about why he’s holding back, why he is waiting for her to make every move, less he make her feel pressured or stifled. So instead he just rolls his eyes and says, “Fine, I get it. Thank you two for your faith in us. Anyway, Mulan, are you going to help me get a night alone with my girlfriend or what?”

John raises an eyebrow and Mulan rolls her eyes, reminding Robin that her assistance was never in question.

“It’ll be fun! Marian will be thrilled that I have someone to geek out to about the game. And it being a barely teenage boy? That will arm her with enough jokes to get through the next decade. Trust me, we would love to have him. I’ll call Regina and ask her myself if she’d want to drop off Henry.”

And that right there is perfect. No pressure, not him asking Regina, everything in her control.

He says his thank-yous and quickly changes the subject to something a bit less humiliating.

 

.::.

Regina calls Robin and tells him Henry will be with Mulan and Marian for the night on Saturday, and asks if he would like to keep her company.

They don’t really plan dates anymore. He has a calendar of her nights off — it’s just easier, since he helps out and makes dinner for Henry when she’s working. When she’s off, more often than not, he finds his way to her house.

The weekend was a foregone conclusion. But now, without kids, he decides to take her to a restaurant a few towns over, a place he’s wanted to return to for years but never had an occasion to do so since Marian and he broke up.

So he tells her he’s going to plan a little adult date, as long as he can get reservations at a place he likes.

It’s a romantic restaurant, set right on a cove on the coast, a dramatic landscape and the beautiful blue ocean make the perfect setting. And Regina has always loved the ocean.

And then there is the food. Certainly not something Roland would enjoy, he’s not much for pork belly confit or duck prosciutto or hamachi. But Regina enjoys really good food and a view, and she really ought to enjoy more of Oregon. It has aspects to it that she loved about Maine, albeit without the bitter winters she always appreciated more than he did.

Robin thinks she can always take Henry to visit Storybrooke in the winter if she needs her fix of arctic weather, but then he’s reminded that no, she likely won’t do that. Maybe they can head up to Vancouver instead some weekend if she needs to feel that blistering cold again.

In any case, she sounded genuinely interested to be near the ocean and do a little exploring around Oregon. That made Robin’s heart beat a bit harder, hearing that little edge of enthusiasm and excitement to her voice when he proposed their evening. All these years later and he can still hear this distinctive tone in her voice when she’s up for an adventure. A sort of giddiness he didn’t know he had missed all these years.

He’s about to start showering and dressing for tonight when he hears his phone buzz and spots his mother’s face on the screen.

Shit.

Robin loves talking to his mother. He really does. The woman is a saint, a sweet, positive Betty Crocker type that can’t help but make you smile.

But she has a tendency to overtell the most mundane details of her life, and this call is filled with unnecessary recounting of ordinary daily activities, and he really doesn’t have much time to talk. He finds himself spacing out, going over the plan for tonight, barely paying attention to the conversation until she mentions his father is looking forward to having him back in Storybrooke.

“We heard back from David and Mary Margaret, of course traveling back with a young baby is too much, we told her we understood. When are you flying in?”

“Flying in?” Robin asks. “You guys are coming here, aren’t you? Same as every year.”

“Robin,” his mother sighs. “We discussed this. You’re coming here this year. For your father’s birthday.”

But his dad has spent his last four birthdays right here in Oregon.

“What?” Robin asks. “When did we discuss this?”

“Oh, last year when we made the plans, then reconfirmed during Christmas and in January when we visited… honey, are you distracted? It’s not like you. We are having a party for his birthday this year. It’s… kind of a big one.”

“Fuck,” Robin groans, then his ears burn at the realization that he just cursed in front of his mom, “Sorry- sorry Mom, I don’t know where my head is at. Of course his Sixtieth is coming up. I remember now. I just forgot to book tickets. But I have time. And I asked off from work ages ago, that shouldn’t be an issue.”

“Did you ask Marian about Roland? You’d better if you haven’t. Your dad will be so disappointed if he can’t come.”

“I did — ages ago I did,” Robin confirms.

“They are invited. They haven’t RSVPed yet. Marian called and said she wanted to talk it over with you first. That was weeks ago. Is something wrong?”

Robin sighs. “It’s been a bit hectic over here but nothing bad, no. In all the craziness, I just thought you two would be coming up like you always have.”

“Well, I’ve sensed that,” Robin’s mom says softly, making it clear she is waiting for Robin to explain himself.

Silence is deafening until his mother comes right out and asks, “Are you seeing someone?”

Well, okay then.

“Yes,” Robin sighs.

“Bring her. Bring her please,” his mom emphasizes. “We want to meet her.”

“You already have,” Robin murmurs. “I’m… I told you about how I reconnected with Regina, right?”

There’s a pause. Robin worries she thinks this is a bad idea, though she sounded happy he reconnected with Regina and appeared interested in seeing her again and meeting her son, his mom has been very quiet on the subject.

But then his mom just says, “Oh, honey, I’m so happy for you. For you both.”

Her voice sounds strained, but absolutely, sincerely happy.

“We’ve been taking things slow,” he explains. “I’m not sure she’s ready to come to Storybrooke. I don’t know that she will ever come back. I’m… I’m sorry about that.”

“Don’t be. This has to be a lot for her,” his mom agrees. “I expected this to happen — sort of thought it would since you two were little, until, well, you know. And then when you told me she showed up and you two we’re becoming friends again, I thought how funny fate can be. But I didn’t want to pry. Are you sure about this? Sure you and her are ready for this? Poor girl has had such a hard life.”

“She’s had a hard life,” Robin agrees slowly. “A hard childhood. But we understand each other the same as always. And I love her just the same as always. More so now.”

“Of course you do,” his mom hums. “I could tell. I just figured you’d give it a bit more time to reconnect as friends first, though.”

Robin’s cheeks heat as he laughs nervously. “I think it was hard to dance around the fact we cared for one another in that way at this point in our lives. I started caring for Henry, she is really fantastic with Roland. Marian and Mulan both love her. I didn’t want to wait to be happy. I waited long enough. It just happened. I wasn’t going to run from it.”

“Oh, Robin, that is wonderful!!” His mom sounds like she’s almost in tears and it moves him more than he thought.

“Thanks, Mom. I’m sorry I forgot about Dad. It’s sort of been all-consuming. Between Mary Margaret and David and their new girl, and Regina and her son, it’s just been a bit of a whirlwind.”

“Regina and her son,” his mom says with a weight that shocks him, and then a forced attempt to sound innocent when she asks, “you know, I never asked Henry’s age.”

He takes only a few moments to think of how to address that, but his mom cuts in first, adding “I’m thinking I can guess well enough.”

Right. His mom is not an idiot. Far from one. She’s been keeping her opinions and theories to herself, but she knows.

He wonders how long she’s suspected as much.

“Henry is thirteen,” Robin answers.

He hears her sharp intake of air. “And the father, I can guess that, too,” his mother mumbles.

He wonders for a moment if she has that curt tone for an entirely different reason.  Perhaps, Robin thinks, his mother believes the father is him, if she thinks she had a secret teenage love affair with Regina before she decided to go a-murdering, but something tells him that his mother knows better. So he just answers carefully, “She tells Henry that it’s Daniel Coulter. A boy in our class who died.”

“But it’s not Daniel at all,” his mom muses, anger lacing her voice. “In fact, the true father wasn’t a boy at all, was it?”

“Mom…” he starts.

“What a horrible man,” his mom says over a whisper.

“No one can know that. Regina can’t say anything. The family paid her handsomely to never reveal Henry’s father.”

“I always knew Leo did something horrible to her. That girl was not a murderer. I always said she had a reason,” his mom tells him in a shaky breath.

Robin remembers nothing of his mother's theories and thoughts on the matter.  All he remembers is how worried she was about him in the aftermath of Leo's murder.  His mom begging him to eat, waking him out of these twenty-hour naps he had, depression threatening to consume him.  All he saw was her focused on him, he never really wondered how she made sense of this mess.  How his parents, who knew Regina from the time she was just a little girl, dealt with the news that she had so violently murdered their neighbor.

He feels a bit selfish and self-absorbed.

“It’s a complicated and horrible story,” Robin admits. “I’ll tell you all you want to know in time. But for now, yes, I’m with Regina. But I suspect you may have to wait a bit to see her. Here, rather than there.”

“Of course we understand,” his mom soothes. “Send her my love, Robin. We will see you in a few weeks.”

And now he’s left having to dress and ready himself, to put out flight alerts for a trip that’s three weeks away. And of course, he has to wonder when he should mention this to Regina.

Both tell her that his mother is aware of exactly what happened to Regina when she was a teenager and that Robin is going to be visiting their hometown with his son.

He probably shouldn’t say anything tonight. It will put a sour mood on everything. Any mention of Storybrooke would, right? And the fact he is still connected to that town, that he still will visit his parents there? That is not so great, is it?

It's one of a few things that they haven't really discussed.  The place she associates with a deep trauma is where Robin's parents live, where his son looks forward to visiting every year, where. quite frankly, he likes to visit himself.  And his mother and father, the people she loved growing up, they will want to be a part of any life they make together.  And they know what she went through, though she probably wishes they did not.

All of this means that as long as she is with him she will have a connection not only to their childhood but to their childhood home.

And they probably need to talk about how they will handle that.

He will talk to her about it tomorrow. Or next week. That is the best thing to do.

But then again, keeping a secret from her so she can enjoy herself and, let’s face it, go to bed with him, doesn’t exactly sound chivalrous either.

Fuck, why did his mom have to call today? Why did he have to forget about this until now?

Chapter Text

After a shower and a change of clothes, Robin feels better.

It’s not lying to just not bring up an upcoming visit to his parents.

There’s no sense mentioning it tonight unless it comes up. And who says she would even be bothered by him visiting Storybrooke?

She will understand.

All thoughts about this trip home leave him as Regina greets him at the door.

He’s seen her dressed up before.

But this is some floral dress that looks painted to her body. Her hair is down and in loose, natural curls. She looks carefree, fun, but also decidedly elegant.

And then she does his ego a solid and looks him over as if he were a piece of meat. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a suit,” she coos, her eyes piercing and pouring out unspoken compliments.

He can feel the heat creeping up his neck, the grateful little flush that comes when she flirts with him. “I… have a suit that I wear to court when necessary. I’m sure you’ve seen it.”

“I don’t think I have.” She rubs her hands over his shoulders.

His mind goes places now he doesn’t want it to. For years, sex hasn’t truly been on the forefront of his mind, yet since he’s been with her, it’s always there, popping up to remind him how long it’s been, how damn good it would feel with Regina, how incredible she looks, and how she looks even more so naked (okay, that’s enough).

“Well,” he clears his throat, “I have definitely not seen that dress before,” feeling free to return the favor and undress her with his eyes as well. He pays deep attention to every curve, to the ample cleavage and dips inward around the hips. He places his hands there, in the curve of her hip, and presses in close, nibbling her neck a bit.

He tastes her perfume on his lips but the slight bitterness doesn’t bother him, it just reminds him to say, “You smell amazing.”

She hums in response, cupping the back of his head as he plants another kiss on her neck, and then another on her jawline, and oh fuck it, is the duck prosciutto really worth it?

“Maybe we should skip dinner,” he rasps selfishly into her ear.

He wants to wine and dine her, but god, how he wants to spend the entire night here, touching and kissing her for as long as she will let him.

She giggles, this light happy thing, swats his back and tells him, “Not a chance. You’ve talked up this place all week, and I really want to go.”

“Fine,” he groans in feigned annoyance. “Let’s go eat an amazing meal in an amazing ambiance on this perfect, beautiful day, if you insist.

She seems absolutely thrilled with his acting and his suggestion, following him happily to the car.

.::.

It had been a bit more than a half-hour to the restaurant, maybe closer to an hour. She thinks Robin might have taken a slightly scenic route, but she doesn’t mind at all. He had pointed out all sorts of beautiful places, mentioning other spots he wants to take her to when they next get a chance, but she had gotten distracted looking at him.

He’s wearing a midnight blue suit that compliments his eyes very well, his hair is styled quite nicely, the faint smell of product mixing with his aftershave in a way that makes the car smell woodsy and fresh.

She’s worked her whole life to make something she can be the tiniest bit proud of, to somehow muddle through without defining every action by her past, maybe leave the world just a bit better than she found it. But now she’s with the boy next door who knows each and everything about her, and she isn’t running at all; she’s happier than she ever thought possible.

This is so much better than pretending to be someone that she’s not, to try to wrap up her past, and conceal all thoughts of it.

Being with Robin, being here in Oregon, even being with Mary Margaret and her adorable daughter, doesn’t make her ashamed or sick or that she needs to be better, push herself harder to strive toward an undefined goal she now realizes was just “be someone else”.

It was all too exhausting and letting go of all that is incredibly freeing.

The restaurant he’s taken her to is just… wow.

They pulled up to an inn that didn’t look too impressive from the outside, but the restaurant is floor to ceiling windows overlooking an incredible view of what has been called “whale’s cove”. She has no idea if she is expected to see whales, but they are up above overlooking a deep ocean cove, the sea is crystal blue, the sun is setting and sending each ripple wave a-shimmer. The air is crisp with that sense of sea salt that makes her feel at home, oddly. This is exactly her type of place.

Those fearless, reckless urges of her childhood make themselves known, itch and scrape inside her, whisper, “You should jump off that cliff into that beautiful water.” She knows better, but still, it’s nice to feel this alive again, this daring, this unafraid.

“Regina?”

Robin looks at her with this amused little smirk, and she knows she’s been caught.

“Hi,” she smiles.

“I was asking you if you wanted to do the tasting menu or just order à la carte?”

She hasn’t even looked at the menu, but she’s feeling adventurous anyway. “Tasting menu,” she smiles. “Thank you for bringing me here. It's beautiful.”

“Mm, well, it’s a bit selfish. I have a vested interest in seeing that you stick around here, so I’m trying to show you as many beautiful places as I can.”

She laughs, but looks skeptically at him, trying to see if any part of him is actually worried she might one day up and leave.

The thought would be ludicrous, yet she thinks she sees a twinge of some uncertainty.

“Hey,” she says, tilting her head and grabbing his hand. “I am not going anywhere. This place could be a dreary, ugly mess and I’d still love it here more than anywhere I’ve ever lived. I wouldn’t want to go somewhere where you are not.”

“I know; I was just joking,” he says in a way that makes it sound as if he really wasn’t joking. “But sometimes this all seems too perfect, with you. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

She can’t contain the laugh that bellows out of her. “Robin,” she giggles, “are you kidding? With all the issues I’ve had? Several shoes have dropped. It’s been raining shoes, in fact.”

“I don’t see it that way,” he tells her with a sincerity that is truly touching.

“What issues…” she almost forgot their last hurdle, and amends, “besides one—do we even have to tackle?” she asks, shrugging. She sees a glimmer of something in his face, a little bit of worry, and she cocks her head, and asks, “What?”

There’s indecision in his eyes, she can tell, but he just shakes his head and says, “Nothing, sorry, I was just thinking.”

She nods, shaking off the feeling that he’s hiding something from her, and finishes her thought, “This hasn’t been easy, any way you slice it. When we first started all of this, I told you that I might have to cheat on you with strangers.”

Robin laughs at that, his dimples popping out nicely in the fading sunlight. “But you didn’t. Everything went better than I expected.”

She smiles coyly and raises a glass. “To your low expectations.”

Robin chuckles and shakes his head. “I wouldn’t say anything I could possibly think about you could be described as ‘low’, Regina Mills.”

The name hits her like a punch to the gut, a reminder that her life is still somewhat fractured.

“Veronica Montgomery,” she murmurs, voicing the ridiculous name she still expects people to call her, a name, an identity that increasingly just doesn’t fit anymore.

Robin winces as if he’s made a mistake. “If you want me to try to call you that, I could, but—”

“No,” she says, shaking her head, he’s missed the point. “It would be ridiculous to hear you call me Veronica. I don’t want that. You all—Mary Margaret, Roland, Mulan, Marian, hell, even David—you make me feel comfortable, make me like my old name even. And it doesn’t feel like my old name, either.”

It seems like a lot to say at a dinner that’s supposed to be flirty and casual, but she’s ready. “I think I’m going to change my name back to Regina Mills.”

Robin raises his eyebrows. “Oh,” he says, obviously trying to conceal his excitement. “That’s a big step.”

Robin has been wonderful with her, he’s tried so hard to call her Veronica in front of her coworkers, and still… she knows he would rather just call her Regina

“It doesn’t feel like me anymore,” she admits. “And my therapist seems to think it’s inhibiting progress or something. There’s no press following that old murder anymore, no one will bother me about an incident that happened thirteen years ago. I’ve been Veronica Montgomery since… Freshman year of college. Over a decade. I never truly felt like myself. And that was good, I didn’t want to feel like myself at the time. But now… I guess I’m okay with being myself again.”

“Well, that’s wonderful.” Robin grins, “I’d call you whatever you wished, whatever made you comfortable. But you’ll always be Regina to me, even if I didn’t get to say the name out loud.”

“I think I’ve always been Regina to myself, too,” she admits. “When I thought back on the past, even the good parts, I was a Regina. Which reminds me,” she points off to the romantic scenic view. “This is beautiful. And do you know what it reminds me of?”

“Cliff house,” he murmurs as if she reads his mind.

She nods vigorously. “That’s right, god, I miss that place. I know you never spent much time there but I did convince Mom to let you be my guest a few weekends, right? It was beautiful. I miss it.”

“I thought of it when I first saw this place,” he admits. “It’s how I knew you’d love it.”

They trade stories of their childhood, he relives her antics, and she’s quite surprised how wonderful he makes her sound, how great she looked through his eyes.

But every now and then, when they discuss their hometown, his parents, all of it, she catches a flicker in his eyes, just a momentary fleck in his gaze that gives her the distinct impression he’s keeping something from her.

“What is wrong?” she asks when she catches his forced smile when she says she sometimes wishes she could go back to Maine and see those cliffs again.

“I… nothing. It’s nothing,” he murmurs.

“It’s something,” she presses, grabbing his hand. “Tell me. You can tell me anything.”

He bites his lip and sighs. “I didn’t want to tell you and ruin the mood, but right before we went out tonight, I got a call from my mom.”

“Oh,” Regina says. She knows she has to see them again, Robin’s parents. If this is going where she wants it to go, she will have to see them and develop a relationship with them. His mom knows about her, Robin had told his parents, argued there was no way Roland wouldn’t mention the pretty new friend of his dad’s, anyway. But now, perhaps, they know more.

And maybe they don’t like it. Hell, she’s not sure how she’d feel if Henry started dating someone with a past as damaged as hers. And maybe it’s different since Robin is a full blown adult but still, it matters.

“Did you tell her that we are… together?”

He nods. “She is very happy for us. Truly.”

There’s a part of Regina that tells herself he can’t possibly know that, not for sure. But she pushes it out of her mind.

“Then what has you upset?” she asks, “and why didn’t you tell me sooner, why didn’t you—”

“I completely forgot that it’s my dad’s sixtieth birthday this year. “

“Oh my god, Robert is old,” Regina murmurs, “Sixty already?”

“Yeah,” Robin nods. “So, they normally come up in the summer for a bit and see us, but this time…” he winces, “they are having a big party in Storybrooke. In three weeks. I knew about this, I just completely forgot and she reminded me. I mean, Roland and I have to go. You’re obviously invited, but—”

“Right,” she says, her throat going tight.

“No one expects you to go back there, Regina.”

She smiles at him and raises her eyebrows. “I have to go back eventually.”

“No, you don’t,” Robin argues, “No one will ever—”

“If this,” she gestures between them, “is going where I think it is, then yes, I do. That town is a part of you, and, I suspect, a part of Roland. Your parents are there.”

“My parents can visit me here,” Robin argues, “it’s just this one time, because of the party. I don’t need to go back there. I won’t.”

“Robin,” she sighs, feeling a surge of affection for him, for how much he loves her and cares for her that he would be willing to give up a place she knows he loves. “You don’t have to do that. And you don’t have to keep stuff like this from me. I can handle a mention of Storybrooke and survive.”

He cringes, clearly feeling guilty, and she wishes he didn’t always feel guilty. “Love, I just found out hours ago. And I didn’t want to bring it up tonight of all nights. But, you’re right. I should have mentioned it.”

“I don’t need to be coddled,” she says sternly, not because she is upset over this, but because that’s her biggest pet peeve with him, and she wishes she could knock all the guilt and worry out of him.

“I know,” Robin says. “I’m sorry.”

She nods. “Will you bring me back some whoopie pies?”

Robin laughs. “My mom is going to make apple turnovers. I’ll bring you some.”

Regina smiles, thinking of his mother and the constant influx of baked goods she had. God, she misses that woman. Misses that part of her childhood, misses the town even, she finds, parts of it at least.

Leo didn’t ruin all her memories of that place, it seems.

“Please don’t bring back too much of your mother’s baked goods. I have fun summer clothes I would like to still fit into.”

“I can’t make that promise,” Robin chuckles. “She makes up Tupperware containers and… I do have Roland and his belly to think about.”

Regina sighs, “You get away with it playing the Roland card, I suppose. Speaking of irresistible things though… oh my god, this meal.”

It really has been a delicious meal, and Regina finds bringing up his upcoming trip doesn’t bother her in the slightest. In fact, it makes her feel settled. It’s a big step, telling family about your relationship, and now Robin has told everyone important. It makes her feel… rather accepted. An even deeper part of him.

So what, for all intents and purposes, should have been rain on a pleasant day ends up being just more sun.

They savor the food, talk about old times, and trade stories about Roland and Henry. She drinks and eats in every delicious moment of their dinner, especially the way Robin looks tonight, the way he looks at her.

After maybe a dozen times of catching his eyes wandering to her cleavage, she teases him a bit.

“You are a fan of this dress, aren’t you?”

“I’m a fan of you,” he corrects. “But… yes. I like it.”

She hums and takes a bit of now-melted espresso ice cream and a few crumbs of the lemon cake.

She’s not really in the mood for more dessert. She wants him. It’s been a perfect date, and all his reserved sweetness, the soft way he checks her out and makes her feel beautiful, their delightful little banter, the overwhelming thoughtfulness that makes her heart pound, warmth spreading and blooming in her chest.

“I know it’s getting late, but it’s beautiful here, and I thought maybe you might like a walk in the moonlight?” he asks when their meal is done.

She really wants to be alone with him, but the natural beauty around them is a sight to see, even in the shadowed light of dusk.

So she nods, let’s him lead her down a well-lit path the hotel has set up around the cove, surrounded by flowers and trees and all sorts of growth and beauty surrounding them.

“Have you taken other women here?” she asks Robin playfully, because it’s almost too perfect, like the adult version of a makeout point.

“No,” Robin chuckles. “The place had amazing reviews and looked delicious, so I did go here once. With, uh, John.”

It’s not that two men can’t share a dinner together, but a romantic venue such as this makes her laugh.

“John was mortified when he saw the setting, but I played it up a bit and kept calling it our special night. The waiter was wonderful and suggested the night garden stroll around the inn, but we declined.”

She snickers, just the thought of them walking arm and arm.

“Even then I thought of you,” he admits, “I couldn’t have ever taken a woman here, it reminded me too much of you. I thought you would love it here. You have no idea how many times, a decade later, where you crossed my mind…”

“It happened to me, too,” she assures.

“Come here,” he says, leading her down toward the water.

“This is why I love it here. It reminds me of Maine, in some ways, but it’s a familiar sort of beauty.”

She gets caught up in the feelings, in the warmth of the night, the breeze and the smell of saltwater, sharing this moment and being in this private, beautiful moment with the man she loves.

She kisses him first, but god does he ever kiss her back.

It’s fire and passion in a way it hasn’t been before, he’s more confident, bolder in a way that absolutely thrills her.

It’s dark and they are on the inn’s property, just off a path lit by tiki torches. Anyone could turn a corner and see them, and maybe that adds a thrill to the moment.

He walks her back against a nearby tree, and she steps gingerly back amidst tabled roots until her back is wedged nicely against the trunk of it. They trade heated kisses between panting soft breaths, him eventually ducking down for more air as he kisses her neck.

“God, I love you,” he murmurs, it’s so sweet and innocent, the words but not his tone, that is all wanton and sultry, has her thighs clenching, thinking of what’s to come.

“Love you too,” she whispers, “Especially —oh —when you’re doing this.”

He’s hard against her, and they are torturing themselves a bit, building things up before a long ride home. So she pulls away a bit, searches for his eyes in the dark, both of them breathing hard.

“Hey,” Regina says, tucking her chin up to buss his lips, “We should go home. It’s a long drive, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself, but it’s been forever since we’ve had a house to ourselves.”

Robin nods and motions her down the path. She takes his hand and leads him back toward the parking lot. Robin is too happy to follow.

.::.

Robin really should have gotten them a hotel room for the night. It’s only a forty-five-minute drive, but it feels like hours.

Especially when Regina has been rubbing his leg for half the trip, talking to him in that deep, sultry voice, sitting improperly in the passenger seat, her body almost fully turned to him, so whenever he glances at her, he gets a breathtaking view of her staring back at him in this sultry way, her back turned against the window, the safety belt situated in such a way that doesn’t quite hide the swells of her breasts.

All while her fingers dance over his thigh, it’s no wonder he’s spent a large part of this trip half-hard.

She is in a delightful mood and so is he. Even bringing up his family didn’t damper their evening, which is great because for some reason not mentioning it right away made him feel like he was lying to her and was messing with his head.

He keeps stealing glances at her, she’s always smiling back at him, suggestively, sweetly, and he’s overtaken by her eyes, her lips, her jawline, and the way her smile is caught in the moonlight.

“What?” she asks, and he realizes he’s not been subtle about these little glances he’s been stealing at her.

“Nothing it’s just, fuck, you’re so pretty,” he blurts out, his ears burning just at the sound of his voice.

“Pretty?” she giggles. “I don’t think I’ve been called pretty in forever.”

“My word choice can be lacking when I’m looking at you,” he says, and he catches her trying to swallow another little laugh, bringing up a little well of anxiety in him. “I mean it, sometimes something about you hits me and I just…” he’s suddenly aware of how childish he sounds.

And she looks thoroughly amused.

“All right, I’m going to shut up before I further embarrass myself,” Robin chuckles, avoiding another look in Regina’s direction, lest he catch her cringing at his corniness.

“Robin, I’ve been staring at you the whole drive. You’re not embarrassing yourself.” He’s not looking at her, but her hand is back on his leg, her voice is all sultry and low and ungodly sexy.

Things get flirty for the rest of the thankfully short trip, and Robin isn’t allowed to let his mind wander into what might happen next, he isn’t, not really, but fuck, she’s bold tonight and he can’t exactly prevent himself from thinking about finally being with her.

When he pulls into her driveway he rushes to get out and get the door or her, but Regina has never — not once — let him be chivalrous about that.

She gets out quickly and smirks at him knowingly as she makes her way to the door.

He intends to linger at the doorway and wait to be invited in so she absolutely knows he’s not expecting or demanding anything of her, but the moment she opens the door she grabs him by the hand and pulls him inside.

She kisses him while closing the door, backing up into it until it clicks in place, drawing Robin with her so he ends up pinning her against it.

He has waited so damn long he forgets to be slow, forgets all the things he had planned to ask and say before this moment, it’s just Regina, Regina, Regina, panting and kissing him and fuck, rubbing her middle against where he’s hard for her. He takes her little cardigan off and lets it drop to the floor, and then she’s all bare arms and shoulders, all that skin on display…

He focuses attention on the supple, soft flesh of her neck, down to her collarbone.

Her hand is warm, cupping the back of his head as he plants sucking kisses, and fuck, every moan she makes goes straight to his cock, has him wondering how she sounds when he’s inside her, how amazing she will feel wrapped around him, fuck…

“This dress is… mmm.” She pauses when his tongue and lips meet that point on her neck he’s come to find out she loves (when all you have is foreplay for months you tend to find all the erogenous zones). He scrapes his teeth alongside the skin before planting an open mouth, sucking kiss, and she groans and fists at his hair.

Fuck, she’s perfect, and god, tonight she seems so sure, so confident, so fucking sexy and strong and oh god, he wants to be with her so badly, wants to carry her off to bed now and finally be inside her, god, he’s missed sex so badly.

He loses himself in her, her soft skin, the scent of lavender that surrounds him whenever he’s around her.

.::.

A good dinner and a good drive amounted to hours of foreplay, and the need to quench the thirst she worked up over that time is almost insatiable.

It’s like this with Robin in a way it’s never been with anyone else. It’s warmer, sweeter, there’s less anxious energy, more passion, and just….

He’s really good at working her up, kissing and touching her in the right spot, has some magic ability to have her wanting to be closer, even if he is pressed right against her. And now she wants to wrap herself around him, climb that man that is hers like a tree.

She tries to lift a leg around his hip but the constricting fabric around it prevents her from doing so.

And honestly, she doesn’t really need this or anything getting in the way of having her way with him.

“So good, ohhh…” she trails off and just lets her feel his mouth on her skin, lips and tongue working her up in a way that should be criminal. “Robin, this dress is rather… constricting,” she manages to gasp.

She wants to explain that she’s ready, that she wants him and wants the fucking thing preventing her from feeling all of him to be off immediately, but she doesn’t have to beg or tell him any of that; Robin already found the zipper, murmuring something about whether that means she wants it off.

She hums affirmatively and cups his chin, drawing him into a kiss as he unzips and helps her out of the dress.

And she’s wearing very little. A thin, strapless black bra and a thong.

She can feel how exposed she is, half nude and in her foyer, but Robin is still just kissing her, when he rubs his finger down her spine she actually shivers.

He stops kissing her at that, or takes his lips off hers to move to her ear, his breath warm against her as he asks, “Are you alright? Not too cold?”

She chuckles and sighs when the stubble of his beard brushes against the sensitive skin of her jaw, she sighs, running her hands through his hair.

“That’s not why I shivered,” she says, her breath hitching, “though I’m not normally so… exposed right by my front door.”

Robin chuckles. “Do you want to slow down for a bit? Grab a robe and some coffee?”

“No,” Regina shakes her head god can he please not let his chivalry ruin this, “I don’t want that at all.” She pulls him against her, tighter, feels the bulge in his pants, and adds, “and neither do you.”

She hears a breath of a laugh from him, all nerves and indecision.

“Don’t feel rushed just because I want you so badly,” he whispers back, “I can wait.”

Understatement.

She snorts at that, raising her eyebrows.

“I’m well aware that you can wait.”

“Well, I nearly stripped you in your foyer, so… I feel the need to make that clear.”

He chuckles nervously, and she shouldn’t have to say this — all signs are there and he knows her well enough for it to be obvious, but with him, with them, she has to be explicit.

So she takes a step back, brushes the hair out of his eyes and looks up at him.

“I want to be with you,” she whispers, tugging at the collar of his shirt. His eyes are dark, he licks his lips but he doesn’t otherwise react, so she adds, “It’s been a really good night and an amazing couple of months, and I can’t thank you enough for how patient and loving you’ve been, truly.”

“There’s nothing to thank me for,” he tells her, tucking a curl behind her ear. “I love you. You mean the whole world to me. So thank you.”

She bites her lip and nods, nervous energy radiating off her.

“Why don’t you get into something a bit more… clothed and less tempting…” he says, looking at her hungrily as she chuckles. “And I’ll make us a drink.”

“Make our drinks,” she agrees. “I’m just going to… freshen up. Take the drinks up to the bedroom and join me?”

He nods and kisses her forehead.

“Feel free to um, catch up to me in the lack of clothes department,” she teases. “Don’t make me drink in lingerie while you are still in a suit.”

He laughs, god he’s nervous, god it’s cute.

She’s a bit bubbly and anxious herself as she heads up the stairs, her mind spinning a bit as she remembers to breathe.

She’s never had sex with anyone she’s known too terribly well… and she’s never had any breathing time between getting caught up in the moment and doing it (she was always afraid she’d lose her nerve and walk out if she had too much time to think, and in fact, she had a few times).

This time it’s all good nerves, though. The giddy kind, the happy excited kind.

Regina walks into the master bathroom, turns on the tap, and looks in the mirror.

She looks ridiculous. Most of her makeup is still on, there’s not a hint of lipstick left, but they are swollen and pink from that little makeout session.

Her hair is a bit of a mess, but she’s able to smooth the curls a bit, fix a smudge in the makeup, and just breathe.

She thinks about whether she should put something on if only to let him take it off, whether walking out in sexy lingerie is too… porny.

But if she wears anything he might take it as a sign that she is uncomfortable, and she certainly isn’t.

There’s a black silk robe she has that barely covers her ass, one she’s been teasing Robin with, and it’s right there, hanging on a hook behind her. So she opts for that, adds a bit of clear lip gloss just to make her lips feel a bit softer, a bit shinier. And then she takes a breath, one last glance in the mirror, a tousle of her hair, and walks into the bedroom.

Robin has his shirt and tie off, and apparently his socks, but he’s still in pants and a tee-shirt, sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for her. She wonders if he gave any thought to his state of dress, and looking at how nervous he is, she thinks he might have.

But when she meets his eyes she can see him relax, the tightness in her chest contracts and she just smiles and takes the drink he’s holding out to her, standing.

“Cheers,” he says, clinking his glass of whiskey against hers.

She takes a sip and rests it on the nightstand and he does the same. And then she stands between his legs and just drinks him in.

His hands find their way into her hair, his eyes so full of love she could almost cry.

“You’re sure?” he asks again.

She nods. “I am really sure.”

“If you ever feel—”

“I know. I trust you,” Regina assures, a sense of calm washing over her as she rubs up his arms. “I love you, I want to be with you.”

The kisses are slow and tempered, not the hot, needy things of earlier in the night, there’s more reverence to it. He lifts her up softly and urges her to lie on the bed next to him. She does, cupping the back of his head as she lands on the pillow.

Thank god she didn’t push this man away-- or didn’t try too hard, at least. Thank god Henry loved this town and begged her not to move him, thank god she wasn’t so scared of the past that she ran anyway. She has no idea where she’d be right now if she had gone with her instinct and run away.

She never thought she’d get to feel what it’s like to be kissed and touched by someone who truly loves and accepts every part of her, who wants her for so many more reasons than her body or the way she feels.

She’s glad she didn’t have to spend her whole life not feeling what it’s like to kiss someone who makes her feel dizzy and love drunk, who has her head spinning with euphoria from a few presses of his tongue.

He’s kissing down her neck and shoulders now, and he loves her, she’s fully confident no matter what she looks like he’d be all over her, but he does seem to have a special fondness for neck, that area around her collarbone that he’s always kissing and caressing, drawing shivers down her spine with the way he moves his lips and tongue and those soft movements with his fingertips.

He feels amazing, but the soft cotton of his shirt is rubbing against her belly and it’s just a reminder she doesn’t have him skin to skin yet, how she wants.

She tugs at his shirt and he gets the message, takes it off, and does the same to his slacks when she tugs at the waist of them, all the while kissing her as best he can manage.

A hand works underneath her and rests at the clasp of her bra, undoing it but not removing the bra until she slides a strap down herself.

“Fuck, you are beautiful,” he rasps, as he travels down her body, kisses growing hot and lingering as he makes his way to her breasts.

“God, these kept distracting me all night,” he groans, taking a greedy palmful of her right while planting a sucking kiss to her left.

“I — mm!— noticed,” Regina's voice breaks as she feels his mouth on her, lips pressing against the sensitive skin.

“You are—” he takes a nipple in his mouth and makes her shudder, “unbelievably tempting, gorgeous, wonderful.”

She lets herself take in every word of praise and just feel as he works her up, his mouth wet and sloppy against her breasts as he kisses and sucks, works her up, her skin growing sodden from his tongue and lips as he moves.

She’s not quiet, because she doesn’t need to be, she’s been able to be as loud as she wanted with several partners in the past, but with Robin, most recently at least, their time is either rushed or quiet, so every untempered moan that he draws out of her is a freeing relief. Fuck, he’s so, so good; she feels herself shudder as he dips to kiss lower, to the bottoms of the swells of her breast, her body lighting up for his touch, nerves standing on end and shivers crawling down her back, the anticipation of what is to come growing overwhelming.

“Robin,” she breathes, as she rakes her fingers through his hair, nails digging into his scalp.

“I’m going to go down on you if that’s okay— ” he whispers, dotting kisses underneath her breasts. Her breath hitches, and there’s a bit of relief that wells over when he adds, “—First,” her belly quaking as his stubble tickles her belly.

“Of course,” she giggles, “You definitely... have blanket permission for that,” her voice breaks as he pulls down her underwear and plants a soft, sucking kiss to her belly button. “Don’t have to ask. You’re very good at that.”

“Am I?” he asks, as he kisses right above her clit.

“Mm, you know,” she manages to reply, arching her back and jutting her hips into his mouth. He must know, he’s given her so many orgasms over the last few weeks she can’t even properly count, and not the quiet, little ones she can give herself in a rush, but the building, soaring ones that have her crashing down hard, leave her aching and sore and thoroughly satiated. And — fuck, he drags his tongue roughly across her clit and she cries out — she always wants to feel him inside her afterward, she’s wanted to feel him move with her, to feel him inside for far too long, and fuck, Robin, like that…

“Christ you’re wet,” he whispers as he slips a finger inside her, and she’s no idea why his voice is making her heat up even more, why stating a simple fact can make her like this, but it makes her want it more.

She only nods and tries to take everything in, the feeling of the stubble of his beard against her thighs, his tongue on her clit, his finger inside her as the pleasant pressure builds inside her, hours of foreplay making her needs known and leaving her quaking as he moves in her.

There’s no way on Earth most people are lucky enough to feel this, she’s fucked so many times and so many ways and none leave her a panting, quivering mess, have a rush of blood and emotions swimming through her head, making her feel love drunk and lust-filled at the same time, dizzy with the combination of too many good things all at once.

He adds a second finger and curls them just the way she likes, gives her that pace she likes as he eats at her, leaving her a trembling mess. God, it’s so easy with him, he knows her body so well already, fuck, that must be why every time is better. He’s picking up on things she likes, like the way he holds her hips in place with his free hand as she starts to writhe, the firmness of his tongue and lips, the slight grazing of teeth that have her crying out his name, begging him not to stop, and oh god, every single instance makes her build, climb higher and higher until she can barely breathe from the sweet, pleasuring pressure, and fuck, if he —if he just, “Robin — mm, can you—”

But she doesn’t need to finish because he knows her, the strong, sucking pressure is on her clit in an instant while his fingers steadily thump in him, oh fuck, fuck, fuck.

She feels the pleasure well up inside of her, crashing over like a tidal wave of warm tingles, nerves buzzing as she clenches tightly around him, his moan vibrating against her clit as he sucks.

He lets her ride it out on his fingers, still moves slowly while he takes away his mouth, groaning words she can barely process, the little grunts of so good and beautiful and just feel.

He doesn’t stop until his palm smacks at her oversensitive clit and has her twitch just the slightest bit in discomfort, she can see him smile his apology as he slows to a stop and crawls back up her body to lie next to her.

Robin kisses her, not with hunger or lust as much as this loving sweetness she’s grown accustomed to feeling with him, despite knowing there’s a lot of wanting there, there always is, but this time, it’s more apparent, less hidden.

She feels his hot breath come out in uneven pants while she catches hers. This is different than other times when he cuddles up with her and tries to settle the mood, where he trades increasingly chaste kisses and strokes her arm and tries to settle them to sleep.

This time is not like that, he’s not trying to settle down those fiery kisses and take away the passion, he’s returning them, and when he moves to kiss down her neck she can’t help but moan.

The eager bubble of a groan is all she hears him return, and all the wanting and waiting wells up inside her.

She dips down to claim Robin’s lips again, her arms wrapping around his body, and god, he feels so good, would feel even better if he were closer, deeper, inside her.

She feels herself clench at the thought of it, and fuck, that’s enough waiting. She pulls at his boxers and he squirms and kicks them off. She grabs at his ass and wraps a leg around him.

“I want you,” she whispers into his ear.

Robin nods immediately into her neck, groans, and plants a sucking kiss there.

“You’ve no idea how badly I—if you’re sure, I—”

His restraint is actually quite sexy, sexier now that it doesn’t remind her that they can’t actually do this. Now they can, and seeing his jaw lock that way, the way he breathes, shallow, strained exhales and looks at her like he wants to devour her but won’t, but is waiting to let her lead, as if she were that irresistible… it makes her want everything so much more.

Regina reaches between them to give his cock a gentle but firm stroke. It doesn’t escape her that it’s the first time she’s actually touched him here and though she’s ground against him enough to know a little about his size, it’s still new to grasp at the soft skin covering the hard length of him. He’s uncut, thick — thicker than she would have thought, longer than she guessed as well, very hard and ready for her. The way he gasps when she touches him, how he thrusts into her hand and squeezes his eyes tight, it’s all ungodly hot, has her stroking a bit more, just to watch the way his face tenses at her movements.

She kisses him into the mattress, rolling him onto his back while she hooks a leg around his waist. Robin’s hands fall to her hips, groaning and urging her on top of him.

Oh, he wants her on top. Given their situation (and her past) it’s probably a better option to make sure things go smoothly, but he’s also talked about how he’s thought about it this way and that’s a godsend. It feels less like protecting her from her past, which is really the last thing she wants to focus on, and more like fulfilling a fantasy. So she straddles his body and slides and rubs against where he is hard for her, trading kisses and deep breaths as they both get lost in the sensation of finally, finally being this close.

“Are you— mm! — ready?” she asks, nerves welling up as she pulls out of the kiss to look him in the eyes, a hand braced on his chest as she balances up on him.

She watches his eyes go wide, his Adam’s apple bobs as he pants out, “Are you ready? I’ve been ready since— I mean, I—”

And just like that, the little bubble of anxiety pops, and even asking that question has her struggling not to laugh. Of course, he’s ready, and so is she, it’s been for-fucking-ever.

She grabs him, holds the velvety length of him, appreciating the way he groans when she gives him a stroke. And then she bites her lip and slides him over her slippery sex, her eyes shut for the moment she takes him inside her.

It’s been a good long while — well over a year — and she can feel it the way her body stretches deliciously to adjust to his width.

When she opens her eyes she sees Robin looking back at her, jaw all tense and locked, staring at her with a look so heated it could burn. His hands grip tightly at her hips and he gasps out Dear fuck, you feel so good.

“So do you,” she breathes, moving up and down slowly, trying to savor the feeling, they adjust to it and get it just right. It takes a few passes of her hips before she gets it just right, but when she finds the position that makes everything zing and pulse, her jaw drops and some ridiculously pornographic moan tumbles past her lips.

“Good?” he grunts under her. “There?”

“Mmm,” she says softly, picking up the pace slowly, she’s wanted it for so long it really shouldn’t be over as quickly as she wants, she really shouldn’t get greedy with it, but, “Fuck, you feel amazing —mm! — you’re... ohhh!”

Robin squeezes her hips tight in reply, gasps out a “Babe,” and, “Oh fuck — that’s it,” and Regina loses herself in the sensation of him inside her, moving in and out, his arms steading her as she rides him. Those reassuring, firm grasps of her side are so hot for absolutely no reason, sends a shiver up her spine and makes the back of her neck tingle as a warm ache rises inside her, fuck, he feels good everywhere all at once.

She’s missed this feeling, frankly, the feeling of a lover inside her is nothing you can easily replicate yourself. And she’s coming out of quite a dry spell so she’s quite certain any sex would be eaten up like a long denied treat, but no, this is special, this is fucking fantastic in its own right, she’s sure of it.

Of course, he would be great at this, too.

She sends a little thank you to whatever god of fate has seen it fit to give her someone who both doesn’t see sex as too terribly important and is pretty incredible in bed.

He may be beneath her but he is fucking back into her rhythmically, and she’s throbbing, the sweet ache growing inside her as his cock hits just right.

She’s going faster now, and it’s a bit of a workout, straddling him upright like this. She brushes back the hair that’s falling in her face at this steady pace and catches Robin looking at her as if she were the hottest thing he’s ever seen and that look does more for her libido and ego than she thought possible.

“Fuck, you’re so fucking — mm, so hot I can barely look at you,” he groans and thrusts into her deeper, harder, and it hits just right, a perfectly timed punch of pleasure blooms inside her and causes her to pitch forward, a hand bracing on the side of the bed as she toppled forward and claims his lips.

The new position changes the angle a bit — she loses that perfect spot, but it’s good, she doesn’t particularly want to get off this soon.

Robin gets to know her body, he shifts underneath her, his hips circling for a few testing passes before everything hits just right and her jaw drops.

“There?” he rasps into her ear, and she shuts her eyes tight and feels it, nodding against him.

“God — yess, there,” she moans, and then she starts to fuck him faster, her hips smacking against his as his breath quickens.

His hand wanders and grips at her ass, and he helps himself to a palm-full, something about his greedy squeeze lighting everything up.

And then— “Fuck you have a great ass,” Robin groans, sounding entirely desperate for her.

Regina smiles, and she decides she really wants to see him under her, again, to see his face and the way he looks at her.

So she braces herself on his chest and moves up until she’s half sitting on him again.

His hand grips tighter at her rear before moving to her hips.

“Mmm— you have great tits, too,” he whispers, his eyes dropping to watch where they are, slightly bouncing as she moves.

Oh, she likes this. Him talking to her, being bold with his words, not treating her like a fine piece of china ready to break at the slightest wrong movement.

“You feel so good,” she whispers, her body humming and throbbing from the way he looks at her, touches her. “Been, mm, so long but I know it’s never been… like this.”

And she doesn’t make sense, but he seems to know what she means, she sees Robin nod underneath her, his face screwing into this tight, almost anguished face as he bites down on his tongue and fucks into her harder, faster.

“Fuck, you’re so perfect,” Robin whispers, “So wet, mm, tight, and… fuck, love, I love you.”

It’s perhaps not the most innocent way to profess his feelings, balls deep and describing intimately how she feels inside, but it still makes her heart swell, sends goosebumps up her spine at the intimacy she can feel between them, and that only makes her want to take more, take everything.

She can tell he’s close, and as his hands go to cup and fondle her breasts, twisting and pulling at her nipples in the way that drives her insane and she gets lost in the feeling, moves faster, more pleasure blooming from every thrust and bounce.

She’s greedy with it, she knows, she can hear the way he groans and gasps and, “Oh god, babe, just like that,” and, “fuck, you feel amazing, love, look so good…”

She meant to draw this out, make it last, but she feels herself getting close so quickly, all the emotion and feelings welling up in her and make everything feel more, almost electric.

“Can I...?” Robin asks, oh god, his voice sounds like pure sex, all raspy and low and needy, and fuck, he looks incredibly hot right now, how on earth did she wait this long to feel this?

His hand swipes between them at where they are joined, and he’s rubbing lightly at her clit (it’s swollen, aching a bit from the lack of stimulation, but he’s fixing that now, isn’t he?).

Regina nods and grinds down on him further. “Please,” she breathes, “just like that.”

God, by now he knows exactly what she needs, the pressure and the movements she likes, how to press those firm, tight circles around where she needs him, fuck.

She braces herself against his chest, her fingers dig into his skin as she listens to him groan and sigh and whisper in that way. “God, yes, babe, take what you need, just like that, I love you so much…”

She tips over easily, so quick it’s unexpected, falling over that edge she’s been riding for far too long, tendrils of bliss blooming and spreading, goosebumps flaring as she falls.

“Good god, babe, that’s it,” he whispers softly, “you look so good right now…”

He doesn’t stop fucking into her, but his hand does fall away from her clit just as she gets too sensitive, and she’s still feeling the aftershocks as he thrusts erratically in her and finishes with a groan of her name.

She slumps forward to nearly fall on top of him (he’s still catching his breath and she hears his little, “Oomph!” of surprise at the weight of her landing on him). His softening cock slips out of her as she shifts and settles on top of him, nuzzling her head into his neck.

Robin wraps an arm around her and kisses the top of her head, stroking up her spine with his fingertips, and she shivers and snuggles into him further, still in that hazy, feelsy afterglow she finally gets to experience.

“You all right?” he asks.

“Wonderful,” she corrects. “That was amazing.”

She feels him chuckle underneath her, feels the way he squeezes her tight.

“It definitely was for me, I’m glad it was for you.”

He sounds a bit nervous. It makes her giggle. She slides off of him and moves to lie beside him, propping up on her elbow as she turns on her side to face him, her free hand drawing patterns on his chest.

“I could vaguely hear myself in the midst of all that, I’m fairly certain I didn’t leave it at all ambiguous as to how much I was enjoying that.”

Robin snorts, his face turns delightfully red.

“It’s been a while, love, and it had been a good while for you. I wanted this for so long, I just wanted it to be perfect.”

“It was,” she assures him, then lies on his chest. His heart is beating a bit faster than normal, she’s not sure it’s from the words she’s speaking or from the activity they just had, but the steady, fast beat of her heart makes her feel so warm and safe.

She shivers again, though, and Robin chuckles and reaches for his comforter with his free hand, awkwardly throwing it over the both of them.

“You’re cold,” he says softly.

“Not cold,” she corrects, though the warmth of the blanket is rather nice. “Shivering is just something I do sometimes when I feel a lot all at once. A lot of good things, in this case.”

“Ah,” Robin says with a hint of understanding. “We are in the same boat on that one. I don’t think I’ve ever… I loved Marian. It was never like that.”

“I’ve never had this with anyone,” she whispers, and then all the feeling wells inside her and topples over, and she doesn’t shake this time, no, to her utter embarrassment her eyes start to water seemingly on their own volition. It’s not out of sadness, it’s utter relief, happiness experienced in such extreme it somehow has her acting the exact opposite, which is rather frustrating. She turns away from him, rests back on his chest as the tears silently flow. She shouldn’t say a word, her voice will break, but she can’t help but add, “I’ve never been able to ever do this with anyone, to just feel good and close after being connected, and…” she sniffles, unable to hide the sound of the tears, “and it’s just a lot better than I imagined.”

“It is,” Robin agrees as he strokes her back. She’s grateful he doesn’t ask why she’s crying or to explain her tears. He doesn’t mention them at all. “Everything is a lot better with you. I’m so glad, thankful, grateful, for whatever I did to deserve this. I didn’t realize just how lonely I was, even with so many friends around me.”

Regina nods and sniffles. She never had much in the way of friendships but she agrees with him. There was a deep sense of longing to feel this comfortable in her own skin and this comfortable with another person for… so long now. And moving here and seeing Robin and Mary Margaret has really helped her feel more like herself than she’s ever known she could. And she sees no reason for this to end, for them to have any distance between one another after all they’ve proven they can withstand together.

.::.

They’ve been lying and touching for a bit, trading kisses and compliments, snickering to themselves, and Robin feels the sort of pure elation he hasn’t experienced since he was a child. That Christmas morning type of feeling, where everything is new and full of possibility.

He had missed sex more than he let himself know, even with all the intimacy they had established, there was definitely a very primal part of him that had craved more with her, and all the waiting and the teasing had not been as easy as he tried to tell himself or her that it was.

He wasn’t really prepared for how incredible it would feel on a purely physical level, even if there weren’t emotions between them that were so strong they hung heavy in the room around them, not exactly oppressive but… overwhelming. His need to please her and make the experience as good for her as it was for him was a bit nerve-wracking at first. He knew she’d hate to know this, but he was worried about her, a bit afraid to trigger something (she really would hate to hear this). But that was only at first, and then it felt too damn good to worry or stress about. He had completely surrendered into the pleasure, and thank fuck, it seems to have not backfired.

Because when she came around him, when he felt her tighten and spasm against him, well, that feeling isn’t really describable, but it was wonderful, had him spilling into her immediately and now he’s here, fighting the urge to hug the breath out of her, tell her how much he loves her, devour her in kisses and start the whole thing up again (it’s been a long time, it’s not entirely horrible that that’s on his mind already, right?)

But this is a huge step for her, and he’s taking his cues from her. She wrapped herself around him, thank god, she had wanted him close and that’s an encouraging thing. He knew there was a chance that she would feel horrible after all this, and he supposes there still is that risk — and they will get through it, he knows they will, but he will hate himself for being the reason she’s upset — if she ends up becoming so.

Right now, though, she’s pressing a kiss to his chest and cuddling into him. A leg is wrapped around him, they are both wet and sticky and she’s thoroughly unconcerned about that, and there’s something rather intimate about even her comfort in being a sweaty, sex-drenched mess without the need to clean up.

He’s still whispering something about how much she means to him, holding her and peppering her hair with kisses when she says something entirely unexpected, out of nowhere, as if the words couldn’t stay inside her a second longer.

Regina shifts to face him, her eyes still wet and her cheeks damp from the tears she’s shed (he’s felt a little prickle behind his own at one point, he understands what these tears are about).

Her smile is as bright and dazzling as ever as she says, “Move in with me.”

It’s a question more than a request, but it sounds a bit timid— as if she’s less confident in his answer than she wants to appear.

Robin can’t help but smile at her, utterly at a loss for words, so happy she feels comfortable enough to ask him to merge their lives like this but also a bit… concerned that she doesn’t quite know what she’s getting herself into.

“Don’t you want to?” she asks softly, and he can see the insecurity flicker in his face, and no, no, he won’t be having any of that.

Robin grabs her hand, kisses the palm, and nods. “Of course I want to. I want to be with you more than anything. I just… it has barely been five months,” he points out. “Isn’t that a bit… fast?”

That slight discomfort he recognized within her seems to dissipate and she lets out a relieved sigh and shakes her head. “I don’t care. I’ve known you since I was a child. I’ve loved you since then too, albeit differently. And we are together and…” she grabs his hand and squeezes, “I don’t see this ending. And maybe it is too soon to be saying that, but it feels right and we could wait a few more months but that’s just a few more months of scheduling sleepovers and shuffling Roland around when we don’t have to.”

She has a point. Five months, under the circumstances, isn’t too soon, and moving the kids around is an unnecessary pain, especially when Roland already has two bedrooms to move between.

But the reason it feels a bit too soon is that... well, they haven’t discussed some things that couples at this stage in the relationship should discuss.

Like finances.

Robin clears his throat awkwardly. “This is, um… I really want to live with you but I should mention I don’t… exactly make a lot of money.”

Regina frowns prettily. “What does that matter?”

He groans and slaps a palm over his face. “I’m not sure how much this place costs, Regina, but I am not even sure I could afford to split expenses and the mortgage with you. And my home, Marian and I bought it, so if I were to sell it, she gets half of anything we get over the mortgage… Which isn’t a lot. And I know I should have mentioned all this with you by now, but—”

“Stop,” she says, looking far too amused. “Robin, I don’t need your money.”

He sighs, it’s a point of concern for him because he doesn’t want to rely on hers at all and if he upgrades to her lifestyle, he will have to, and the whole idea upsets whatever masculine pride exists within him.

“You shouldn’t have to—”

“I bought this house with a substantial downpayment. The mortgage is tiny and it’s only because the rate offered to me was so low I could make more putting the rest of my money into investments,” she explains. “And I’m not completely out of touch with the world. I know you’re a social worker. It’s essential, invaluable work and doesn’t pay nearly as much as it should, and you do it because you want to help people. I have no doubt you could have found a very lucrative career in something else. You were always smart, and clever. You probably would have made an amazing engineer or salesman. You’re doing something you love that comes with a pay cut.”

“Even so—” he tries to say, but she cuts him off again.

“I still have a lot of money, I’ve never wanted for money, not since I was eighteen. I was still a complete wreck even with a small fortune on my hands, before you anyway. I don’t need any more money. I just need…” she smiles and shakes her head as if she realizes how this will sound. “I need you, and Roland, and Mary Margaret. You’ve given me far more and made me far much more whole than ever before. I’m not worried about our income differences, we’re never going to have to fight over money. I’m asking you to move in with me as my partner, not a roommate to split the rent. So will you… I mean, I have to talk to Henry first, but if he says it is okay, will you…?”

She looks at him all wide-eyed and curious, her lips pursed, and that little sparkle in her eye.

He kisses her in reply, a deep, sweet thing, that she chases with a few more sweet pecks.

“I’d love to,” he tells her, kissing her forehead. “And Roland will be thrilled. He loves this house.”

“And I love Roland,” Regina smiles. “I’m going to enlist Henry and decorate his room for him. It’s going to be absolutely ridiculous. Like Pottery Barn and Toys R Us blew up in the same space.”

Robin chuckles, far too amused and besotted and lovestruck to say anything in response to that.

.::.

They come together again that night; it’s faster, more passionate. It sort of sneaks up on her. They are just kissing and touching each other, innocently at first, smiling and laughing despite neither saying anything too funny. And then the kisses become more heated, he starts stroking his fingertips up and down her sides, tracing the curves, and it’s only a matter of time before she’s a tingling mess. He swamps her in affection, laves up and down her body with his tongue, kissing and grazing sensually with his teeth until all she wants is him inside her again.

And that’s how she ends up on top of him, taking him in fast and slow until they both are sweaty and satiated and she’s able to take advantage of another sleepy, sweet afterglow with the realization that there are many nights like this to come in the future.

“When are you moving in?” she asks as they are lying in bed, far too late, trying to fall asleep.

Robin hums, his finger tracing over her jaw and sighs. “It’s up to Henry. And you.”

“Definitely before school starts,” she decides. “So I can take the annual embarrassing first day of school pictures of him in the backyard. Henry hates it. Soon Roland will, too. It’s a great childhood memory to share.”

Robin laughs, but she can tell he’s nervous and holding something back, so she asks, “What are you thinking about?”

His lips purse and his tongue peeks out to wet them. He’s promised her honesty, and she knows he’s going to tell her what’s on his mind, even if he seems hesitant.

Predictably, he rolls his eyes at whatever voice must be in his head, then mutters, “I hate to bring it up, but I was wondering if we should move in before or after I go to visit my parents?”

Right.

That visit.

He’s going to go out there, and for a few days, they will be apart. She’s not going to be there with him for an important life event because… Because she’s been through a trauma and she’s not sure how she will react. Because she’s been hiding from her past her whole life and never thought she’d never go there again to protect her.

But hiding from her past didn’t do her a world of good, and reconnecting with old loved ones has only healed her.

And she thinks of her therapist’s advice, about how to fully heal she will have to confront her fears.

And if her fear is everything back in Storybrooke, isn’t this the perfect opportunity to do just that?

“I, um, about that. I think… No, I know. I want to go with you and celebrate with your family. Together.”

She swears his eyes turn as big as saucers at that.

“You want to... You want to come back to Storybrooke with me?” He’s trying to hide how pleased he is at her offer, she can tell, his face screws up, and he adds, almost like an apology, “Darling, you don’t have to, I don’t want you to feel pressured, or —”

“I don’t feel pressured,” Regina insists. “I want to. I do. You mentioned it and I thought about it, and now… we’re going to be spending our lives together. And this is part of your life. And my life, too.”

“My parents can see us here in Oregon,” Robin reminds. “You don’t have to go back to Storybrooke to have a relationship with them. I don’t want you to feel like you need to do this to be a part of my life.”

“No, I know that,” Regina nods. “But I’ve been hiding from my past my whole life. And that place doesn’t get to have power over me anymore. No part of my past should. I want to be Regina Mills again, fully. Embrace all the good and bad that’s happened and really move on. I want to go back. I want to go back with you.”

Robin smiles at her in the moonlight, looks her over with a sense of awe and appreciation.

“Then let’s book our tickets,” he says after a moment of quiet amazement. “I can’t wait.”

Chapter Text

“I love this plane! It comes with video games!” Roland declares as he looks at his seat with a goofy smile.

Robin bites down his guilt and tries to accept the gift Regina gave him and Roland.

She insisted on buying them first class tickets, and with the fact it was last minute… he really can’t imagine what it costs.

“I treated myself to first class when I first moved to Michigan and had a baby,” she had explained, “And I never looked back. I have… issues.” She had admitted it in a small voice and he hated to see her still so embarrassed. “Sitting that cramped and close to strangers… I couldn’t risk it. I still can’t. And I’d just feel better if you were with me, so let me do this for you.”

He’s never thought of himself as traditional or stuck in the 1960s, but the thought of a woman providing for him has made him feel a bit of a leech.

Looking at how happy Roland is with the seats, he can only laugh. “Don’t get used to it, buddy,” he teases. “Not all, um, planes, are this big.”

He shoots Regina a teasing glance, but she doesn’t seem to find this as funny.

“Can we sit together? I can teach Roland how to play Rally!”

Robin looks over at Regina. “It’s a racing game,” she explains. “And Henry, it’s late. You two should be sleeping. It’s way past Roland’s bedtime. And yours.”

They took the redeye so they can have plenty of time tomorrow.

“But Roland took a nap today,” Henry argues, “And I’ve been up later than this before!”

It’s nearly 10:30 at night, and Henry may have made it to midnight a few times, but he certainly won’t be able to spend many more hours up.

“You can play until we have to turn off the electronics. But remember that Roland is only five.”

“I know,” Henry says dramatically. “But I was five when I started playing—“

“I know. And you were not as good as you are now,” she warns. “Go easy on him.”

“I can sit with Henry?” Roland looks up at his dad in question.

“We are going to be right behind you, if you need me,” Robin tells him. “And you’re still expected to nap.”

Roland just looks excited as Henry starts whispering to him.

“Henry doesn’t want me to sit next to him because he thinks he will be able to sneak more soda and cookies that way,” Regina explains, though she looks more tense than amused, “That’s what he’s whispering to Roland about.”

Robin chuckles and grabs her hand, squeezing it. “Are you alright, darling?”

She nods and takes her seat by the window. Robin joins her.

“Somethings wrong,” Robin notes. “Be honest, what is it?”

He worries she will tell him she’s having an episode, that she’s regretting this trip altogether, that she wants to leave—they will do it, absolutely, he and Roland can get a flight to his father later.

But instead, she surprises him by blushing, looking down at their joined hands and asking softly, “Why did you tell Roland not to get used to first class?”

Okay, unexpected, she should know the drill but maybe she’s forgotten just how expensive it is or thought he’d love the experience so much he’d readjust his nonexistent discretionary budget to accommodate it. “Love, this is wonderful, and I am so thankful you gave us this. But, I simply can’t afford it.”

“Right,” she nods and presses her lips together tightly, and god, something is wrong. “Of course. You don’t want him to get used to anything in case this doesn’t work out with us.”

Oh, that’s it.

“That’s not at all what I mean.” He bites his lip. “I don’t want to depend on your generosity or just assume you’ll be treating us from here on out. I want to provide for my son on my own. That doesn’t mean I think we have an end date, okay?”

She nods, and he sees the nerves on her.

“I want to be with you, I’m confident in us,” he assures her.

She scoffs a bit. “You don’t seem confident.”

“I am,” he insists. “I’m just having difficulty wrapping my head around the lifestyle change.”

“Are you sure it’s not that you’re worried this… meeting won’t go well?” she asks, fidgeting.

“What, this trip?”

She nods, squeezes his hand tighter. “I’m nervous.”

“We can still get off this plane,” he tells her. “I will love you just as much, I’ll be just as happy with you if you decide to never go back. We can see my parents here. I have you and MM here. I don’t need anything there.”

“No, no, I want to go,” she admits as her leg shakes. “I think it will be cathartic. I’m just really nervous to see your parents again.”

Robin can’t help but laugh at that. She scowls in his direction. “Regina, they love you. You know that.”

“That was before I…” she drifts off, throwing a worried look at the boys in front.

“They still love you,” he insists, kissing her forehead. “I promise. And listen,” he cups her chin and urges it up, wants her to look him in the eyes. When she does, he loses his thought, caught up in how beautiful she looks and can’t help but kiss her pretty little pout. “I love you. I love Henry. You’re so perfect, and I’m so happy with you both, you really have no idea. I still think I’m going to do something to screw it up. I’m still shocked you want to be with me.”

Regina rolls her eyes. “I’m far from perfect. And few men would want to—”

“—Would want to be with a beautiful, intelligent, witty, charming doctor?” he finishes for her.

“I have my baggage,” she reminds.

“Mm, you did overpack a bit for such a short trip,” he teases.

She sighs at his corny jokes, but can’t help but smile at it just the same.

“I don’t want to get too sappy here on a red eye flight,” he tells her quietly, “But I know what I feel. I know you’re it for me. I would not be moving in with you and taking Roland with me if I didn’t know that. You’re stuck with us, okay?”

She nods and takes a deep breath, exhales slowly and holds tighter to his hand.

“And I might not be able to picture that aspect of my future, the one where we live in a giant house and fly first class and don’t worry about money. It’s not something I can wrap my head around. But it’s not like I’m even capable of picturing a future without you in it. I promise. ”

That seems to settle her, she nods, and tells him to hurry up and get used to it, and his heart breaks at her quiet plea.

She’s not slept well these past few days and he’s tried desperately not to notice, he knows how difficult this trip is, despite everything. So when they climb up in altitude, after telling the boys they’ve had their last snack and should sleep, he urges her to cuddle against him and take a few moments of peace.

For a few blissful moments, a little over an hour or so, she sleeps, wrapped against him.

He does not.

It’s not that he’s entirely worried, he’s just… not sure how to communicate all he feels for her. Because he can tell she doesn’t entirely know how amazing she is, she’s not completely confident in herself. If only she could see what he and the rest of the world sees, she wouldn’t have any of these ridiculous fears. He truly doesn’t know what he could have done—perhaps in some past life—to deserve to have known and love her all these years, and even be loved back by her.

What he does know is he will make sure she knows how absolutely wonderful she is, how lucky he is to have her. He won’t stand for her thinking otherwise. Of that he is certain.

.::.

“Grandma and Grandpa have a jacuzzi! And bikes! And there’s a whole place that just makes ice cream! And grandma makes the best cookies! And—” Roland is practically jumping in his seat, or might be, if not for the seat belt holding him in place in the rental car.

Regina can see Henry in the rear view mirror. The boy is tired from a day of travel and… dealing with all that is Roland (who, it turns out, sleeps fabulously on a plane and may be the best rested of all of them). Henry is still trying to take an interest in Roland, though his eyes are focused on the scenery, the road.

He’s been so interested in her life, her childhood, she’s not surprised he’s soaking it up. She wonders if he recognizes the parts that are similar to Oregon, if he understands that there are many parts of her childhood she loves and still clings to, despite everything terrible that happened.

“How far away are we?” Henry asks.

“Oh, we should be there in about a half hour,” Regina murmurs, trying to ignore the sting of nerves nipping at every inch of her skin.

Robin picks up on her mood, she knows he does, it’s in the way he moves his head, the way his breath comes out, just subtle but she can hear it. She waits for him to yet again offer to turn the car around and go home if she wants, but he must think better of it. Instead, he just smooths his hand over her knee, stilling her leg from doing this nervous gyration he hadn’t even realized was occurring until he helped her stop it.

She offers him a grateful smile as he gives her one of his own.

Okay, this is okay.

She just has to breathe, has to remember that Leo is dead and his family doesn’t live in town, that it’s not his place she’s coming back to, it’s hers.

But her town is still full of many people who remember her as a murderer, and god, Robin’s mom and his dad.

She loves them both fiercely even with all the time that’s passed, they were a cozy, beautiful memory of a happy family for years. They gave her the love and attention she craved as a child but didn’t quite get, even before the abuse, Leo was… all show. He gave her gifts and treats but she never truly felt loved or cared for, she supposed because he never did. But Robin’s family, god, the way they love…

She lost that love and isn’t sure she can get it back.

His dad is the one she’s most scared to see, if she’s being honest. Robin has assured her that his mom is thrilled to see her, that she’s spoken complimentary of her, but he’s never mentioned his father. It’s not like Robert to say anything, she knows that. And yet, it worries her. She had such a wonderful relationship when she was younger, before it all went to hell, when she was a wild little girl, a dare devil who ruled over the boys in the neighborhood like nothing else. Robert was endlessly amused with her antics, and she can still hear the way he teased her, the way he called her Xenia, warrior princess, and her constant correction that she was not a princess, she was a queen.

Their banter, the innocence of those moments, this perfectly wholesome, loving relationship, it can’t be that anymore. Time is passed and she clearly was never the brave, fearless child he thought her to be.

And she can’t let Robin know she’s worried about this, he will seek assurances and get his dad to say something to calm her nerves, so… no. She hasn’t told Robin these fears, there’s no point.

The rest of the trip she tries to at least look calm, because the idea of actually being calm is out of the realm of possibility.

.::.

“Grandma!” Roland runs ahead of everyone, jumping out of the car and toward the door the very second Robin snaps his car seat restraint off.

“Careful, Roland, be sure to kno—” He is cut off by the door opening, and oh, there’s Rose, as beautiful and comforting as ever.

It knocks the wind out of Regina, just to see those kind blue eyes.

“Roland, my love!” Rose murmurs, scooping the boy into her arms. He’s a bit too big for all that, but Rose is strong and seemingly has no trouble lifting and spinning him in the air as he giggles.

“My friend Henry is here. And Regina! She is Daddy’s girlfriend.” He says it with a snicker, as if the concept of girlfriends is scandalous and silly at the same time. “Daddy says you are already friends with Regina!” Roland adds just as Regina approaches, Robin next to her in a nervous chuckle.

Rose smiles, her eyes leaving Roland’s to focus on Henry. Regina feels her heart stop. She wonders what Rose is thinking, if she’s picking up on some quality of Henry that’s so distinctly Leopold she somehow hasn’t noticed.

But her smile is warm and inviting and she draws the boy into a hug. “Henry, I’ve heard so much about you.”

“You have?” he asks a bit excited.

“Well of course. Robin talks about you all the time. You’re quite the little actor, aren’t you? I’m sorry I missed the play.”

Rose looks up at Robin and shakes her head. “I am usually invited to visit far more often than this. But someone must have been distracted.”

“Since when do you need an invitation?” Robin asks playfully.

His mother shakes her head.

“Oh, Regina, what a beautiful woman you’ve grown to become.”

Regina feels her cheeks heat and her eyes water.

“And such a wonderful mother, I’ve heard, and I can see, plain as day,” Rose says, motioning down to Henry. “I’m so proud of you, my dear.”

And those simple words shouldn’t mean the absolute world to her, but Cora certainly never said them, and Rose was always like a second mother to her, and it does mean so much coming from a woman who knew her as a child, into her awkward preteen and… difficult teen years.

So tears well up, but she doesn’t let them fall (they won’t, not in front of her son.)

“Now I’m going to tell you, Roland, that against everyone's better judgment I bought one of those above ground pools this summer—” she raises a hand up at Robin. “And I know Maine only has about twenty hot days worthy of a pool, and I know they are a terrible investment, but I don’t care. We didn’t have time for a beach trip this year and god knows if we will have time for the beach this visit. Come on in, have a look out back.”

Roland practically runs in, urging Henry to follow him as he runs into the house, the adults following blindly.

The house looks the same, and in some ways different. It still smells the same, of baked goods (something with apples, she thinks) and spice, there’s been some updates to the furniture, the drapes…. and well, Rose has enclosed the patio, Regina notices, expanded the house and added a room. And a little raised porch is off the patio, the lower level of the house is the one that is the ground floor in the back. This newly enclosed room is all windows facing the backyard, and it’s all beautifully gardened, trees and bushes and flowers so pristinely organized and trimmed, but behind the little apple tree is something brightly colored and inflatable, a large eyesore of an above ground pool beside it. Regina can imagine what Robert thinks about that.

She knows Rose doesn’t much care.

“Wow! Can we go swimming?” Roland asks his dad.

Robin shoots a glance to Regina, who nods.

“I’m going to get the luggage and help Roland find his swim suit and make sure he puts on suntan lotion. I’ll be right back,” Robin tells her, kissing her lightly, just a peck on the lips that’s all too common for them, but he does it in front of Rose, and Regina blushes a deep crimson as an odd sense of shyness fills her.

“I’m helping Robin with the luggage,” Henry declares.

“Me too!” Roland decides.

Regina chuckles. Henry can carry the heavier bags, it’s not something he’s in the habit of doing, but he loves spending time with Robin, so he’s been volunteering for these chores a lot.

Roland… he just wants to be like Henry. And she doesn’t think he can help much, except for carrying his own backpack.

“Alright men, let’s move,” Robin says with gusto, “Off to get these bags the rooms upstairs.”

They walk back out the front door and Regina is left with Rose, just minutes after seeing her for the first time in over a decade, and it’s a bit awkward.

To say the least.

“I made you something,” Rose says, motioning for Regina to follow her as she makes her way into the kitchen. Regina does and then cannot help but laugh.

Apple turnovers, piled high on a plate.

“Do you still like them? I remember your cute little face every time I baked them. Still call them my Regina Special,” she laughs, and then motions to the other tupperware containers. “You liked the snickerdoodles even if they were Mary Margaret’s favorite, and I remember you always preferred the brownies from the box.” Rose rolls her eyes dramatically, “Something about those premade ingredients, huh?”

“I still make them from the box,” Regina admits softly, willing her voice not to shake.

“Of course you do, no taste when it comes to chocolate,” Rose says with that affectionate smile, “Never understood why you refused to try cinnamon sprinkles in hot chocolate like Mary Margaret did. And you love cinnamon, but insisted it didn’t mix with chocolate. I always wanted to prove you wrong.”

“Henry likes cinnamon in his hot chocolate,” Regina murmurs and then immediately regrets it, because she has revealed something Mary Margaret and he share, which only draws attention to the unspoken truth that they share many of the same genes that would lead to the same taste, as many siblings would.

Regina is sure she looks visibly horrified and incredibly embarrassed, but Rose, bless her, just moves on.

“Well it’s good to know Henry has good taste, too. By the way, I made an apple cinnamon pound cake, too. Saw the recipe years ago and the first thing I thought about was you.”

Regina grabs the edge of the counter to steady herself as she takes in this outpouring of affection, and she’s sure she can’t breathe, her eyes watering as she tries to find the words to thank the woman for still caring about her, for treating her as if she weren’t some toxic, broken thing. It’s then that Regina realizes she’s been assuming Robin's parents are somewhat disappointed in the turn of events, in the fact their lovely, bright and wholesome son fell for something dark and twisted. That perhaps they would be happy they reconnected as friends, but not as a couple.

But Rose shows her love through food, Regina has always known that, and seeing all that she’s baked has done more to quell all those quiet hidden fears than any words could do.

“Thank you,” Regina says in a choked whisper. “You don’t know what this means to me.”

“I’m just so glad to have you back, sweetheart,” Rose says earnestly, her eyes bright and shiny. “And he,” she motions to the front door, no doubt talking about Robin, “God, how he loves you. I could tell right away when he told me on the phone. But he’s loved you all this time, so I wasn’t surprised. Robert wasn’t either. We’re both so happy for you two.”

“Thank you,” Regina asks, smiling through her tears, wiping the wetness of them off her cheek. “I know I’m… complicated, and maybe not the best—”

“Stop saying nonsense, girl,” Rose waves off. “You’ve never been anything less than wonderful.”

And that seems like it’s the last of it. Rose, who has always been affectionate, seems she can’t waste a moment before drawing Regina into a hug.

Regina won’t let herself sob. Henry could come into this room at any moment, she needs to keep composed. But a part of her just wants to cry while Rose strokes her hair and tells her it’s alright.

A childish desire, but one perhaps she’s entitled to.

“We were so happy to hear Robin reconnected with you,” his mother’s words are soothing and gentle in Regina's ear as they hug. “We’ve missed you terribly. Robert, too. More than you know.”

Regina takes in the affection, then ends the hug far sooner than she’d like, just to be polite.

“Speaking of Robert,” Regina wipes another stray tear off her cheek, “where is he?”

“Oh, he’s downstairs in the den. I tasked him with getting some pool toys inflated, he may be hauling them out back.” Rose smiles and motions to the small set of stairs that lead to the den in their little split level house.

“He hasn’t come up to say hello yet,” Regina ponders, chewing her lip. That has her nervous, worrying if maybe is avoiding seeing her again. Maybe it’s too hard.

“Oh, he’s probably waiting for the right moment, that sweet man. Go, go see him yourself.”

Regina bites her lip and looks up at Rose. She can hear the boys—upstairs, luggage dragged in already, and it sounds like Robin is trying to get Roland changed for the pool.

She can do this. She can say hello.

She walks down the stairs softly, holding her breath as readies herself to see perhaps the best older male figure she’s ever had in her entire life.

The urge to make him proud, to make sure he still can stomach her, to meet his approval, it’s all there, and the fear of what he may think of her, she tries to squirrel that away, but it’s there under the surface.

She enters the den just as Robert does—he, coming from the lower level back door, no doubt fixing something for the kids.

It’s been years, his once brown hair is now a salt and pepper gray, face perhaps showing a few smile lines, but overall, he looks exactly the same.

He stares back at her from a distance, and she has to hold her breath, she cannot speak, is unsure what even to say.

She watches his blue eyes turn shiny and wet.

And then he opens his mouth, his voice shakes, but the words come out confident as he looks at her with nothing but admiration and greets her with her childhood nickname.

“Warrior Queen.”

She can’t quite stifle the sob that comes out at those words, and he closes the distance between them, wrapping her in a tight hug.

“I always knew you were a little warrior,” he tells her, and she can hear the way his voice breaks, feel his tears on her skin. “But you were right. You are no princess.”

“I’m so, so sorry,” she says above a whisper, her voice choked and wobbly, and she’s not sure what she’s sorry for, but she’s overwhelmed with the need to apologize, perhaps she should have been a better warrior. She should have—she knows this now, she should have confided in Robert when the abuse started. She should have been stronger.

He would have believed her, she knows that now, even if as a child she was sure no one would, she should have trusted this family more.

“There’s not one thing you have to apologize for, except for maybe staying away all these years,” Robert tells her, then kisses her forehead and releases her from the hug, but his hand still falls on her shoulder, and he looks her in the eye with a seriousness that shocks her. “You never had to hide from us. You will always be a part of this family. Do you hear me?”

She nods, trying to look brave but the tears keep coming.

Robert smiles and wipes at his own.

“Oh, you’d think we were at a funeral with these tears instead of celebrating,” he says, his voice still cracking. His smile is wide when he asks, “A doctor, huh? A pediatrician, even.”

“Yes,” Regina nods. “I like it, but you knew I always liked the hard sciences.”

“Well it’s not President like you told you’d be one day, but I think it might be more important,” he smiles, shaking his head. “You’ve done amazing things. I’m truly honored to see the woman you’ve become.”

And he won’t know how much gravity those words have, how it shakes and rattles in her, causes a burst of warmth and fills a spot inside her that’s been empty all this time.

“Thank you,” she tells him, and she’s about to pour her heart out, to say so much more, but then Roland bounds downstairs.

“Grandpa!”

“Oh, there’s the old moptop,” Robert says as the boy rushes to hug him.

“I am not a mop!” Roland giggles.

He looks over to Regina, who is aware she probably looks a mess, tear stained cheeks and red eyes.

“Are you happy or sad?” Roland asks, “‘Cause you can cry both times.”

“Well isn’t that clever of you,” Robert praises. “We are happy, happy to see each other after so long.”

“Like how Grandma cries when she sees me,” Roland says, “But we don’t have to cry now because we are all together! And because we are going swimming!”

“Indeed,” Robert laughs. He is looking behind Regina now, but she can’t place why until she follows his gaze and sees her son.

Robert looks… a bit enchanted.

“Hi,” her son says a bit shyly, “I’m Henry.”

“So you are,” he says, as if he’s not sure the boy is real. “I’ve heard so much about you. I can’t believe how tall you are.”

Henry laughs and blushes. “Thanks.”

“Hey, Dad.”

Robin is in a nice fitted tee shirt and swim trunks, and she can almost feel transported into those perfect days when there wasn’t such darkness looming over her head, when they just had lazy summers and days at the pool together.

She relaxes into the feeling.

“Hello, my boy,” Robert says, placing an arm around his shoulders. “Don’t let so much time between visiting next time.”

“I won’t,” Robin sighs. “Mom has already assured me that I am never to do that again.”

“I suppose you’ve made up for it, bringing such lovely company,” Robert notes, winking at Regina.

“Come on! It’s pool time!” Roland whines, breaking the mood, causing the three adults to nervously laugh.

“I’m going to get on my swimsuit, then, though I’m not quite sure the pool is big enough—”

She has a better look at the spectacle that is the backyard from this view, from the ground floor. The pool is large enough for all of them, but that’s not what catches her eye. The colorful inflated mass next to the pool is some form of inflatable water slide, and she can only chuckle and the boys run out together.

 

“This was a big day for us,” Robert explains. “We may have gone a bit overboard. But Henry looks happy. Perhaps he’ll be agreeable to another visit.” And then he presses his lips together as if he realizes he said something unagreeable. “I mean, if you decide another visit is agreeable. If you don’t, that’s okay. We love Oregon, I swear it. We’ll visit all the time.”

“Well, I love Oregon too. But I think we’ll be back to Maine,” Regina tells him in a gentle whisper.

And she’s not quite sure, there are no promises yet and so many parts of this town to rediscover, but she thinks in this moment that if all she has to see is Robin’s family and this cozy home, that it wouldn’t be bad to visit often.

.::.

It’s a long day of playing, eating, and despite the fact they are three hours ahead, Regina struggles to make it to even ten o’clock.

She’s trying to stay up and focused, listening to stories of Robin’s teenage and college years, but the emotion of the day has sucked all the energy out of her, and she’s sworn she could have run a marathon.

“Come, love, lets get settled in for the night,” Robin whispers in her ear.

She’s been cuddled against him on the couch, and now she’s leaning against him, practically laying against him, and it’s all felt so comfortable, even in front of his parents. There’s no concern over whether they are ready to see this type of affection, if it’s too public to do this yet. Everything just feels natural with him, with them.

“I’m sorry I’m so tired,” Regina yawns. “I suppose I didn’t sleep much on the plane.”

“Get your sleep,” Rose tells her, “and sleep in tomorrow, if you can. Or don’t. Go do something fun, together. We have Roland, and Henry, too. He’s a curious little one. I think he’d like to spend the morning with us, trying to get more stories out about his mum.”

“If he asks about his father—” she starts.

“Robin filled us in, love. I’ll just tell him I didn’t know Daniel very well, which is true.”

Regina nods and flashes a grateful smile.

“I always meant to come back here one day,” she admits. “I missed you all more than you know.”

“Oh, there was a hole in our hearts for years, too,” Rose tells her. “It’s good to have you back, my girl.”

She grabs her hand and squeezes it tight.

Regina feels in a trance, showering, washing her face and brushing her teeth in the same bathroom she used to when Robin and she had their sleepovers, before they were separated as a boy and a girl and were just children who enjoyed telling ghost stories in the dark with flashlights.

Roland and Henry are in his childhood bedroom, though, and Regina and Robin are in the guest room. It feels… odd. This room was always for “grownups”, like Robin’s grandparents, his family friends. And now it’s her, tucked into the fresh smelling linens, breathing in the fresh, just-washed scent and feeling just as clean and pure as everything she’s surrounded by.

Robin follows her when his shower is up, the fresh pine scent of his soap filling her lungs, the hint of mint on his breath as he draws her close to him. The old mattress squeaks as she readjusts into his arms, and there’s something reassuring about that sound, about the feel of the mattress, so old fashioned and yet so oddly familiar.

“Hello, love,” he whispers, kissing her forehead. “Big day, huh?”

“Mm-hmm,” she hums, soaking in the affection. “I’ve been nervous about seeing them for… a decade now. And it went better than I could have dreamed.”

“Should have listened to me,” he teases, kissing the tip of her nose. “I told you they loved you.”

“You did,” she admits, dipping her head down to capture his lips. He deepens the kiss, adn she can tell what he’s thinking from the way his hands are moving down her side, not pressuring, not pressing or probing, but definitely… softly exploring.

She laughs into the kiss, pulling out of it with a smile. “We are not having sex in your parents house. And definitely not on this old, squeaky bed. If your parents hear any hanky panky going on I will die right here in their house.”

“I wasn’t trying anything!” Robin laughingly insists in mock offense.

”Mhm,” Regina hums, unconvinced. 

”Well, I might have been thinking about it but I hadn’t made a move,” he amends on a guilty smile.  “And of course, I hadn’t really considered that happening this trip.  But, should you ever feel up to it down the road, I feel I should note that we are both up a small flight of stairs and across the house from the boys and my parents. They can’t hear a thing.”

It’s a split level, and his family is across the house, down the first set of stairs on top of the den, while they are on a floor above the kitchen.

The likelihood of them hearing is small, and yet…

“Oh, and the bed isn’t really that squeaky. There’s just one stubborn spring over there,” he points to her side.

“And how would you know?” She asks, raising an eyebrow.

Robin looks sheepish.

“Have you had sex on this bed?” she asks.

Robin can only chuckle.

“With who? With how many?”

Robin shakes his head, holds his hand up, “Regina, I can assure you I was in no mood to take random flings to my parent’s 1960’s style home to woo them.”

Regina snickers but, no, she’s not letting him off that easily. “Who?”

He bites his lip. “Well, who do you think would come to visit Maine with me, would sleep in this bed with me?” He asks teasingly, and then it hits her.

“You and Marian?” she asks, laughing, “God Robin, if this already wasn’t happening it is definitely not happening now!”

“Oh, am I the only person who's been on your mattress with you?” he teases, his hand wandering up and down her spine, staying in innocent territory yet somehow causing her to have decidedly un-innocent thoughts.

And he has a point. There weren’t many, but there was another, long ago, when Henry was sleeping over with Mallory.

“Still, no,” she teases, and he pouts theatrically, winking after to make sure she knows he’s not upset in the least. 

“Just know that you are utterly incredible.” she wrinkles her nose at his compliment as he adds, “And it turns out I find you quite irresistible when you're laughing at my expense with my parents, in case there was ever any doubt, And I assume you’ll be doing a lot of that these next few days, or, well, years, as it is. So, should you change your mind on any other visit, just remember that I know how to avoid that pesky loose spring.” He winks again playfully and kisses her forehead chastely. 

She can’t help but smile wide at his antics before rolling her eyes at him. She loves that he is comfortable with her, that Robin is at the point where he can try to initiate sex and doesn’t mind in the least when she turns him down. And he also doesn’t ask her about past trauma or dissolve into guilt or make her talk out exactly why it’s not happening. She’s not sure how he is so confident and comfortable with her, how any man could be, but she’s forever thankful for it.

“Goodnight, Robin,” she whispers.

“Goodnight, love,” he answers, a faint, minty whisper over her hair as he snuggles into her.

She doesn’t think she’s ever felt as comfortable in her own skin as she has tonight. The last thought that she has before sleeps takes her is that going on this trip is one of the best decisions she’s made, and things might get rocky later, but for now, she’s going to soak in feeling accepted and loved by some of the best influences in her young life.

She’s so glad to have them back.