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Regina Mills never waits until the last minute to complete an assignment. Even if she wanted to, her mother would never allow it. Regina is to be the best at everything laid out before her. At first, Regina did it because she hoped it would entice her father to come home again. At the time, she'd been eight and Mary Margaret only six. Mags doesn't seem to remember Daddy very well, not compared to how Regina does. When Daddy left, Mother put even more emphasis on Regina being perfect, the best. Mags grew up as the pampered princess who was praised just for getting good grades, things that would get Regina grounded and lectured, sometimes even worse punishments. She just wants to be good enough for Daddy to come home again, that's all.

"Regina?"

The sound of Mother's voice sends a shiver down Regina's spine. Her heartrate speeds up almost instantly, heart thudding against her ribs. She closes her eyes and tries to regulate her breathing, but the sound of her mother's footsteps on the stairs just makes it worse. She can't let Mother find out about this assignment. With everything else that's happened recently, she doesn't have the strength to handle one of Mother's disappointed lectures. The notebook is hastily shoved into the top drawer of her desk, and she opens her French copy of Le Petit Prince and opens it to a random page to begin working on that assignment instead.

A single rap of knuckles on the door is her last warning of what's to come. "Regina," Mother says as she opens the door and steps into the room. "Didn't you hear me?"

Taking a deep breath, Regina turns to smile sheepishly at her. "I'm sorry, Mother, I've been working on my French homework. I must've gotten too caught up in it."

Mother steps closer and picks up the book. "Le Petit Prince? Haven't you already read this, Regina?"

Busted!

"Yes, ma'am, but it's been a bit, and I've always loved this story. It's one of the first ones I remember D-- Uh, one of the first I remember reading when I was younger." She barely conceals her wince. Bringing up Daddy in any way is a recipe for disaster.

"Regina, darling, I know you miss him, but he's not coming back. I'd rather you focus on your studies."

"Yes, Mother." Regina forces herself not to glance at the top drawer of her desk and the poetry assignment she's had for over a week now. "I won't let you down." I won't let you down again, Daddy. She takes the book back from her mother and licks her lips.

"Regina, what do you know of this rumor I've heard about your sister punching Keith Nottingham the night before last at the prom?"

Shit! She knew it would come up at some point. If Mother knows about that, what else does she know about? She begins to worry at her bottom lip. Mother can't find out what happened that night. It would mortify her, but she knows better than to lie.

"I came up after the fact, but apparently Keith made disparaging remarks to Mags and punched her date, David, in the face. By the time I got there, Mags had already landed three shots in defense of David, herself, and..." It still stuns her that spoiled princess Mags had stood up for her. Perhaps they had a chance at a decent relationship after all.

"And?"

"And me," she whispers. At Mother's raised eyebrow, she takes a deep breath. "She was also defending me, Mother. Keith made some rather derogatory remarks about me over the years, and used them to try to get Mags on his side against me." She can feel the tears burning in her eyes at the shame of what Keith had said, as well as the pride of Mags sticking up for her. It's easier to focus on than the disaster she'd learned in the process of Mags punching Keith.

"And what were you doing that you couldn't stand up for your sister?"

Because of course Regina still failed in her mother's eyes. She decides to give some of the truth, just enough to keep her mother from sensing there's more involved. "I'd been on the other side of the gym, dancing. You know people do that sort of thing at their senior prom, Mother."

"Don't you get smart with me, young lady," Mother growls, eyes narrowing. "And who were you dancing with? Do I know him? Please tell me it was a boy. No daughter of mine will be seen cavorting with deviant young women like that Malinda."

Regina lets out a soft sigh at the mention of Mal. Thankfully Mother doesn't know about Mal sending letters to Kat's house for her. It's the only way she can keep in touch with her one-time girlfriend. "No, Mother, it was a boy. But he's n-no one." She feels her cheeks heat up at the stuttered word. "He's just someone who lied to make himself something he's not. It was one dance and I'll likely never see him again."

Mother stares at her for a long moment or two. It makes her skin crawl, but she meets her mother's gaze evenly. "He won't be a distraction to your studies? The semester's almost over."

"He won't be, Mother, I swear it. I was accepted into every single Ivy League school, as well as receiving a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence. You know I've only ever wanted to go to Sarah Lawrence, Mother. I am not about to screw this up over some boy."

Again, Mother levels that heavy gaze on her. She fights the tears, promises herself a good cry once she's tucked into bed and can muffle her sobs in her pillow. And then, just when she thinks she's going to get a lecture, Mother surprises her by pulling her into a tight embrace. One arm holds her close, the other hand strokes through her long, damp curls.

"I am so proud of you, Regina. You're graduating at the top of your class and you're going to a top notch school, even if it's not the one I would prefer. You've survived your father's abandonment better than I ever expected. You are everything I could have ever wanted and more."

The tears spill down Regina's cheeks at this overt praise, ignoring her crumbling resolve, and she clings to her mother for the moment or two that the embrace continues. Mother presses a gentle kiss to her cheek before pulling back.

"Thank you, Mother. I--"

"Shh, darling, I know. Clean yourself up and finish your homework. Don't stay up too late tonight. Tomorrow is a school day, after all." When Regina nods and offers a small smile, Mother stands and cups her chin briefly. "If he causes you any more trouble, you let me deal with him."

*****

She manages to avoid seeing him most of the day. He's sent several messages today that she leaves unread, but can't seem to delete. In reality, he's been sending them since she stormed out of the prom Friday night, as well as leaving voicemails. Mags managed to intercept a bouquet of flowers he had delivered to the house while Mother was out at her bridge club on Saturday afternoon.

Kat's been doing her best today to keep Regina's spirits up, but it's not helping. Not even the sight of Keith with black eyes peeking out past his Raybans and a blatantly broken nose can make her smile. She just wants to go home and hide under the covers until graduation. Maybe even until the first day of college.

But, as she makes her way to her English class with Mr. Grump, Regina realizes that she can't avoid him forever. If she's honest with herself, she misses him. Terribly. She'd actually snuck down to the trash and pulled the flowers out, taking a picture of them on her phone before grabbing a single perfect peace rose bud that found its way into one of her books to be pressed and preserved. She'd also taken the ribbon that perfectly matched the pale blue dress she'd worn for prom, her favorite color.

Something makes her look up to see him standing at the far end of the hall. Robin Locksley. The troubled transfer that stole her heart for some cold, hard cash from Keith Nottingham, of all people. But did he really steal it? Can you truly steal something if it's been given to you? There's a sharp pain in her chest, like her heart wants to burst from her chest to get to him. He couldn't really have faked his feelings, could he?

The bell sounds and she scrambles to get into her class. She slips into her seat just before Mr. Grump comes in, forcing herself not to look at Robin, even as she can feel his eyes, hot and heavy, on her. "All right, I know I'm supposed to ask about your weekend, but I really don't give a damn, so let's just get started, shall we?" Grump turns around to face everyone as he gets to the front of the room and lets out a laugh as he sees Keith's miserable face. "Shaft! Lose the glasses."

Everyone lets out a laugh at that, as well as Keith's petulant, "I look and feel like shit."

"Don't care. Take 'em off or you're off to detention." When Keith takes them off, Grump allows a little more laughter before he claps his hands. "Okay, pipe down. Your poems are due today, so why don't we get this crapfest over with? Who's going first?"

The room goes absolutely dead quiet at those words. No one wanted this assignment in the first place… except for Regina. She'd been looking forward to it more than anything, had a notebook filled with ideas that she could play with for her poem. Well, until Robin and Keith's little bet came into the light. Before she realizes what she's doing, Regina's raising her hand and saying, "I'll go, Mr. Grump."

"Oh lord," he says, rolling his eyes. "Here we go. Come on up, Mills. Let's see what fresh hell you have for us peasants today."

Regina grabs her notebook and heads up to the front of the room. Setting the notebook on the podium, she flips through the pages, reliving every emotion scribbled across them in bold purple ink. Her eyes dart briefly to where Robin sits near the back of the room, two rows over and two seats behind her. The pained longing in his eyes, gone stormy blue, tugs at her heart and she has to fight back tears. Can't this just be over? Can't she get a redo of all of this hell? Can't she just have him back?

"We haven't got all day, Mills," Grump says.

"R-Right. Sorry, Mr. Grump," she says softly and flips to the last page, filled with the words that poured out last night after her impromptu chat with Mother. She stares at them for a handful of seconds before taking a deep breath and starting to speak, but resolutely won't look at Robin. If she does, it'll break her.

"I hate that Daddy left and Mother stayed
I hate that Mags is coddled and favored
I hate that my heart is the one betrayed
I hate my loyalty never wavered
I hate my life is planned, but not others'
I hate my school choice takes me far away
But it allows freedom Mother smothers
I hate that it isolates me one day

She hazards a glance up at Robin now, unable to stop herself from checking his reaction to her next words. She wants to see, has to know how he feels.

I hate that I so freely gave my heart
To someone who cared only for money
I could have seen us leaving, a fresh start
A new city, a new love, life sunny
But he was a liar, like other men
I don't know if I'll trust ever again

By the time she gets to the final words, the tears are falling freely and she feels raw and exposed. Without thought, she clutches her notebook to her chest and races out of the room. She can hear Keith and a few of his friends protesting something, as well as Mr. Grump calling her back, but she ignores it in the need to just get out of there. She runs down empty hallways, paying no heed to where she's going. She needs to find a place to hide, a place where she can just breathe and cry and let it all out.

"Regina!"

His voice is right there, right behind her. But how? She didn't hear him following her at all, but she can acknowledge that she's not really paid attention since fleeing the classroom.

"Regina, wait! Please!"

To her dying day, Regina will never know exactly how it happened or if it was just fate that she trip over her own feet -- Mother's voice in her ear hissing Why must you be so clumsy, Regina? -- and stumble to the floor. She can feel him coming closer, huddles in on herself as she lets the tears fall. They fall even harder when he suddenly wraps his arms around her and pulls her back into his chest.

"I'm sorry, Regina," he murmurs as he holds her close. His fingers tangle into the base of her loose braid, massaging her scalp gently. "Please let me explain what happened."

"You took his money," she whispers. "You lied to me."

"Yes, I took his money. He's a dick and deserved to be parted from as much money as I could get from him without arousing suspicions."

"But--"

"Regina, I kept none of it. Every penny he gave me was given to a family I know that's down on their luck. The mum died, the dad got laid off because one of the twins got real sickly."

She knows instantly who he's talking about. She spent time with Ava in the hospital as part of her volunteer work while Nick was in school. They've been struggling, and she has been helping tutor both of the twins to help them keep up with their studies.

"You gave it to the Tillmans?" she asks, voice hitching on a sob.

"I don't need the money, and they do. Why would I keep it?"

"But Keith said--"

"Keith is a bloody git who thinks he can control everyone because he's rich and does some modeling. He clearly needed to be parted from his ill-gotten gains and who am I to turn down the opportunity to help with that?" He licks his lips and offers her a soft smile. "Regina, everything I said to you, everything I shared with you, has been the truth. No, I didn't tell you about the deal with Keith because I didn't want to advertise that I was fleecing the wankstain and have it get back to him. Anything I bought for you was with my own money, I swear it."

She shifts to sit more comfortably in his lap, studying his face for a long moment as tears still slip down her cheeks. When he reaches up to wipe them away, she leans into his touch. "You mean it, don't you?" she finally asks, voice almost timid. "You gave them the money he gave you. You're like a regular Robin Hood, aren't you?"

Robin laughs and cups her cheek, thumb stroking her skin gently. "I guess I am. Before she died, my mum raised me on his stories and instilled a need to help those who need it but can't ask for it. I was smitten with you from the first time I saw you, and I was working up the courage to ask you out when Keith approached me. He gave me the perfect opportunity to honor my mum's wishes and find the courage to ask you out. It was a win-win for me." He takes a deep breath and bites his bottom lip briefly. "Regina, I'm sorry I lied to you about Keith's deal, but I'm not sorry about anything else I said or did. I-- Regina, I love you and I never meant to hurt you."

Tears slip down Regina's cheeks anew at his declaration. They've never said it yet, she never felt ready. But now? "I love you, too, Robin."

As one, they lean in closer for a gentle kiss, all lips and sweetness at first, but soon enough, it deepens. She's not sure whose tongue slips across whose lower lip first, all she knows is that the tension banding tightly around her heart eases with each passing second they kiss. She loves Robin, knew it fairly early on, but feared he'd be taken from her. Mother would never approve, but her grades never suffered when she was secretly dating him. And now? Now she has a chance to do this the right way.

"Come to dinner tomorrow night?" she asks, pulling back from the kiss. "I want you to meet Mother. I don't want to lie to her anymore."

A slow, easy smile brings out the dimples she loves so much. "Anything you wish, milady."