Regina holds Henry's hand as they impatiently make their way toward the crowded department store, all the while she's assuring him that Blue, his patchwork blanket and most treasured possession, will soon be safely recovered. Then, all would be right in his world.
He did a good job of keeping a tough upper lip—a quality she was proud to have instilled in her son—but as they approached the bench by the cash register where she'd stopped to tie Henry's shoe, she finds that the seat is empty. No blanket in sight. And what's worse—Henry notices it, too.
Looking down at her son, she watches as he hazel eyes water, his bottom lip quivering. "It's gone," he tells her—his last audible words before he's overcome with a heart wrenching sob.
She drops the bags she's holding and stoops down in front of him, pulling him into a tight embrace, gently rocking him in her arms as she eyes the bench. She was so sure that they'd find it there—after all, Henry had it at the check out and he'd had it when they sat down on the bench. She was positive of that. Where else could it have gone to?
"Hey, buddy, it's okay," she murmurs. "We are going to find Blue." Henry pulls back, his hazel eyes wide. "I promise we'll find him."
"But—" Regina sucks in a breath—at three-and-a-half he could see through her flimsy promise. Already, he'd learned to be skeptical. "What if he's scared?"
Henry nods, sniffling as he wipes his nose. "He's all alone."
Regina's heart aches as she momentarily looking for her son—perhaps they'll have some luck at customer service, she thinks, assuming she can figure out where that is.
"Maybe he's missing me," Henry adds. "Or worse… he thinks I left him."
Regina looks pointedly at her son—at three-and-a-half years old, he's had some hard life lessons to learn. And for that, she blamed his father.
Irrationally, she feels her shoulders tensing—and though she isn't sure how it's true, she blames Daniel for this. If anything, had he not left, she wouldn't be Christmas shopping with her toddler in an unfamiliar city where she didn't know a soul. And had she not had Henry shopping with her, his precious blanket would be safe and sound in his arms.
"Okay," she says, drawing in a breath. "Let's go and see if—"
"Uh, excuse me," comes a voice—soft, but unsure. "Are you, by chance, looking for this?"
Regina turns at the sound of the pleasant, but unfamiliar voice—and when she does, she finds herself standing eye-to-eye with a blue-eyed, dimple-cheeked stranger who had quite possibly the most charming smile she'd ever seen.
Henry rushes forward and grabs his blanket. "You found him! You found Blue!"
The man bends, his smiling warming as he comes down to Henry's level and holds out the blanket. "More like he found you."
Henry beams as he hugs his blanket to his chest, twisting back and forth, relishing in the sweet reunion.
"Thank you," Regina hears herself say. "I don't know where you found my son's blanket, but I can't thank you enough for returning it to us."
"I'm glad I picked it up," he tells her, rising back up, his smile suddenly a bit sheepish. "I just somehow knew that was a special blanket."
"It is special," Henry coos.
The man laughs, momentarily glancing at Henry before looking back to her and extending his hand. "Robin Locksley."
"Regina Mills," she returns, slowly reaching out to shake his hand—and as her fingers touch, she feels a little jolt and her heart skips a beat. "And, um… this is Henry," she tells him, her arm looping around her son as she pulls him back against her legs.
"And this is Blue!"
Robin smiles, a soft laugh escaping him. "Yes, Blue and I have already become quite well acquainted."
Their eyes meet again, this time locking, as they both smile nervously at the other—and again, her heart gives a little flutter.
Their London flat is tiny, but cozy—largely in part due to her penchant with organization. Everything in their world has its space, and because of that the small flat seems larger than it is.
Regina smiles contently as she rubs her hand gently over the swell of her stomach as she watches her son and husband stringing lights around the perimeter of the front window. Henry sits on Robin's shoulders, ensuring that he can attach the lights around the top of the window—and as they finish, they both turn to face her, beaming proudly as she admires their handiwork.
"Well done," she calls out, her eyes focused on Henry.
"Thank you," Robin says. "It was tougher than it looks." She rolls her eyes, but laughs as he lifts Henry off of his shoulders, setting him down on his own two feet. "What next," he asks.
A smirk edges over her lips as she considers the myriad of holiday-related tasks she wants to get done before her second son is born. "Being 37 weeks pregnant certainly has its perks."
"Can we decorate the tree?"
They both look to Henry—his hazel eyes are wide and hopeful, and though the tree has been a point of contention in their household, he's been completely oblivious to it all.
"I suppose so," Robin says, frowning at a box in the corner. "If we can really call that a tree."
"It is a tree," Regina says, rolling her eyes. "And given the circumstances," she says, reaching out to nudge him, "I'd really like to not come home from the hospital with a newborn in my arms only to find pine needles all over the floor and a twig standing upright in our window."
Robin sighs, pouting a bit. "Next year—"
"Next year you can have the biggest real tree you can fit in this tiny apartment."
Robin grins, then turns his attention back to Henry—and she watches as they open up the box and stack the three pieces of the tree on top of each other, connecting the plugs for the lights, and fluffing the branches. By the time the four-and-a-half foot tree is standing upright in the bay window, Robin looks exhausted.
"Hey, bud," Robin says, reaching for a shopping bag. "I've got a special project for you."
Robin nods, opening the bag and grinning as Henry leans up onto the tips of his toes to look inside. "See all these ornaments?" Henry nods. "Well," Robin murmurs as he reaches into the bottom of the bag, fishing for something. "I bought hooks—" He pauses and brandishes a little tree box. "Well, each of these ornaments needs a hook."
Henry nods as he takes the box and examines it. "Do you know how to put them on?"
"I've never done that before."
"Okay, I'll show you."
Regina watches as Robin and Henry sit down together in the bay window on opposite sides of their little tree. Henry holds an ornament in his hands as Robin opens the box of hooks and pulls one out to show Henry how to loop it through the top of the ornament. Henry giggles as Robin dangles the hooked ornament between them, and with his free hand, Robin reaches for another ornament, this time allowing Henry to attach the hook himself.
Henry works seriously, his hands moving deliberately—and Robin's eyes never leave him and when Henry holds up the ornament for Robin to inspect, she can't help but notice the pride in her husband's eyes. And it makes her heart flutter. She's lucky to have him—lucky to have them—and can't imagine a family more perfect than the one she and Robin are building together.
Regina grimaces as she hangs up the phone.
Roland will be six tomorrow, and his father won't be coming home.
It wasn't his fault—it never was—but at the same time, she can't help but feel anger swelling up inside of her. It was never supposed to be like this.
When they'd married, he'd been a student, still, and though it was a struggle making things work on just her income, they'd been happy. They'd been together.
For awhile, Robin bounced between jobs, and then, two years ago, he'd landed his dream job—a job that required him to travel between offices. He spent three days each week in an office that might as well have been on the other side of a the Earth, and then two days in the office nearby. Yet, even when he was home, it was like he was always preparing to leave.
It was hard on her, it was hard on their boys, and it was hard on Robin.
Or, at least, that's what she assumed.
They hadn't actually talked about it—there never seemed to be time—and when they were together, she tried to focus on that, not wanting to dwell any more than she had to on their always-pending separation.
Deep down, she knew it was more than that. If she wanted to make the time for that conversation, she could. They didn't even need to be together in the same house to have it. She could send him a text and ask him to call when had the time, and if she decided that being in the same space was absolutely essential, she could have a friend watch her sons, and drive up to meet him for dinner. But in truth, it was something she wanted to avoid—something, for a time, she need to avoid—because if she started that conversation, she might have to admit the things she'd been thinking about, she might have to admit that the fairytale she'd created in her head was simply—all in her head.
Eight years ago, they'd had a whirlwind love affair after meeting in a department store—she'd offered to buy him a cup of coffee to thank him for finding and returning Henry's lost blanket, and they'd ended up staying until the coffee shop closed. The next day he'd called to ask her and Henry on a date, and she couldn't believe her luck—she was already falling in love, she had been since the moment their eyes met at the department store.
By December of the next year, they were married—and by the following December, they'd welcomed a second son.
In her mind, their lives were perfect.
And then… she had no idea what happened. All she knew is that they weren't supposed to have ended up here...
Henry frowns as he looks up from his math homework. "He's not coming, is he? Not even for Roland's birthday?"
"He's stuck," she tells him. "It's snowing pretty heavily up there."
Henry nods, biting down at his lip as he looks at his little brother, sitting in front of the Christmas tree and trying on different colored party hats. Regina follows his gaze, her heart breaking—how is she supposed to tell him?
Regina's heart flutters as she slips into a chair by the window, the hot cup of coffee in her hands warming her. She'd splurged on a sugary coffee drink to quell her nerves and make her feel just a smidgen better—alas, was too nervous to drink it.
Her eyes settle on the clock—Robin's late, and somehow, that's so fitting. She wonders if he'll even come…
Just a few months before, they'd separated—and today, they'd either be discussing two things. The first, made her mildly nauseous. They'd be discussing how to split the boys during their holiday break from school, and of course, what that meant for the holidays. But it was the second subject she was truly dreading—they'd be discussing how to move forward with their relationship, or rather, how to end it.
Robin didn't know that second bit was coming—at least not today—but the writing had been on the wall for a long time. The fairytale was over.
A rush of cold air of cold air from the opening door catches her attention, and brings her into the present moment—and when she looks up, she sees Robin is standing there in the doorway. Their eyes lock, but he doesn't smile—he looks like death's warmed over. He offers an awkward smile before gesturing to the counter, and she watches as he stares at the menu. She scoffs and rolls her eyes. Like he doesn't know that he's going to order a blonde vanilla latte with almond milk.
When his coffee is ready, he grabs it hastily and makes his way across the coffeeshop, sitting down in the plush chair across from her.
"So, I'll make this quick. I'm sure you've got other things to do today," she tells him, her shoulders squaring as she looks vaguely in his direction, not daring to actually look into his eyes. "I think the best option is I keep the boys for the week of Christmas—they'll just have gotten out of school, so you won't lose a day there—but I'd have them for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Then you could take them the following week and have them for New Years Eve and New Years Day."
"No," he says, shaking his head. "I don't like that."
Regina sighs. "Fine, we'll reverse it. They have a half day of school on—"
"No. I don't like that either."
"I'm not giving them up for two weeks, Robin," she says, looking pointedly at him. "Unless you're quibbling about having to pick them up. Because in that case—"
"I could pick them up from school. That wouldn't be a problem."
Regina's eyes narrow. "So, you do want to reverse it. You want the boys for Christmas and then I'd have them for New Years."
He shakes his head. "No, that's… that isn't at all what I want."
"Again, you're not taking them for two—"
"No, no, no," he cuts in, reaching across the little table and placing his hand on her knee—his touch sending a jolt of emotion through her. "Regina, I… I don't want to spend the holidays separately. That's what I'm trying to tell you."
Slowly, her eyes fall to his hand, still touching her knee, and then slowly shift back up to meet his. "I… I don't understand," she tells him. "I don't understand what it is that you want."
"I want to fix this," he says. "I want to fix us."
"Oh," she murmurs—they've been down this road before over the course of the last year. "I know that being alone at the holidays is difficult, but—"
"I quit my job yesterday, Regina, and this morning, I sublet one of the apartments." He offers a sheepish little grin, like he knows that it could very likely be a case of too little, too late. "I, um… I have someone coming to look at my London apartment tomorrow."
She blinks and draws in a breath. "And that's… supposed to… just… make this all better? It's supposed to make the last few years just go away?"
"No," he's quick to say. "I know that I can't change anything, but I was… I was hoping that this could be a start." She leans back in her chair, watching as he watches his fingers fall away from her knee. "These last few months have been… miserable."
"Just these last few months?" she asks, swelling a hard lump that had formed in her throat, willing her tears to stay at bay. "It's just been the last few months that have been miserable for you?"
Robin shakes his head. "I've been unhappy for a long time," he admits. "And at first, I'll admit, I didn't understand why. I thought…" his voice trails off and his eyes press closed—and it's only then that she notices the dark circles under his eyes. He hasn't been sleeping well. "I've made a lot of mistakes, but I realize now that… you were right. All this time, you were right. I don't know how I didn't see if before, but…" His voice stops abruptly and he looks up at her, his blue eyes glistening. "Please tell me it isn't too late for us to fix this."
For a while, he just stares at him—shoulder back and her jaw squared. Fifteen minutes ago, she'd been preparing to ask him for a divorce, and now, as she sat across from him, she was imagining what it'd be like to spend Christmas as a family again. She wonders if it's really possible to simply undo it all, to fix all that's been broken.
"You… really quit your job?" she asks, still unable to process or fathom that detail. His job meant everything to him. "Just like that?"
He nods. "I have no idea what I'll do next, but—"
"You'll find something."
"I'm not worried about it," he tells her. "At least, not for the moment."
Robin draws in a breath. "I have the London flat still, so… don't feel like—"
"Like I have to take you back otherwise you'll be out on the streets?" He grins as her brow cocks. "I think we both know that wouldn't be the case, regardless of whether or not you find a renter tomorrow, so a guilt trip won't work."
"I'm not trying to guilt you."
"No," he murmurs softly as he eases back into his chair. "But I need to know if I'm too late. I need to know if…" Robin's voice trails off as their eyes meet—and then she watches as a little grin tugs up from the corner of his mouth. "I love you, Regina, and I miss the life that we used to have. I don't know how we got to this point or how things spun so wildly out of control, but I can't wrap my head around the notion that we can't go back or that we can't fix this."
"Why are you telling me this now?"
"Admitting you've screwed up is difficult, and simply admitting it isn't enough."
"I see," she murmurs before slowly taking a long sip of her coffee—and as their eyes meet again, she feels a little smile pulling onto her lips. "It's… not as simple as quitting your job, you know."
"I am very aware."
Their voice halt and their eyes lock—and as they sit together in silence, she finds herself thinking about what it'd be like to sit across from him at dinner again, what it'd be like to cuddle up on the couch as they watched whatever movie their sons had settled on, what it'd be like to fall asleep and wake up with him at her side, and what it'd be like to step back into the life she'd always imagined they'd have.
"I'll grovel, Regina. If that's what it takes, if that would sway your or—"
"You don't need to do that."
She watches as Robin draws in a breath. "Because you've already decided you want us to try again too, or… or because it won't make any difference and I'm too late?"
Again, she hesitates, and then a little smile stretches over her lips. "The first one," she tells him as she rises from the chair and holds out her hand, "And… I think the rest of this is a conversation I'd prefer to have at home rather in a crowded coffee shop."
For a moment, he just stares at her and she watches emotion swirls in his eyes. "At home," he repeats as he takes her hand. "That… sounds wonderful."
As her hand closes around his, she nods. "For the first time in a very long time, I think we've found something we agree on."