A/N: Longer chapter again, and I think it'll please most of you. ;) A lot happens that has its importance.
And don't forget you can still ask whatever comes into mind!
A reader asked: "What does Robin know about Jefferson?"
Not much, I dare say. We can imagine he's asked people about this strange man following the Mayor everywhere and learnt about his EF counterpart, but apart from that, not much. ;)
Addie asked: "Since you mentioned him, will we see more of Mowgli, or was that a one-time thing?"
We'll see more of him, since he'll definitely help the gang, or try to. ;)
17. Thirty-first dawn
It was quickly decided that teams of two would go to several strategic points near the town-line the following day to check if the strange creatures were still there.
They had all gathered in front of the Town Hall, and as Regina was putting her gloves on, Jefferson and Elsa arrived together, the Frozen Queen sporting a small smile on her lips. And to the smirk the Hatter was making, he wasn't stranger to that.
She smiled at the sight. Elsa deserved a little happiness. But she knew her. Opening her heart was as difficult for her as it once had been for Regina. She knew her friend would push the man away as soon as she understood his intentions.
But too early for that.
David arrived alongside his wife, who had retrieved her bow and quiver sometime along the line, and daughter, who was jumping up and down, a beanie low on her forehead as if she couldn't stand the cold.
"So... Who's gonna go with whom and where?"
Regina looked up and saw that everyone had a partner already – David and Snow, Emma and Hook, Rumpel and Tinkerbell, Jefferson and Elsa. Which left her with only one choice left.
She looked to the side and met Robin's eyes as he was notching an arrow on his crossbow. He raised a brow as if asking her if she agreed, and she sighed, her gaze turning back to the sheriff.
Rumpel cleared his throat. "The fairy and I will go to the main road leading south."
David nodded. "Snow and I take the path near the troll bridge."
Emma, her teeth shattering – which made Regina roll her eyes, truly, the fragile Princess could not take this? – raised her hand. "Killian and I take the beach."
Elsa and her companion shared a look, and Jefferson nodded at her before addressing the rest. "The Queen and I will go near my house. I know those parts as the back of my hand."
David nodded then turned to Regina. "Which leaves us the northern road near the Rabbit Hole."
Regina nodded. "We get it." She cleared her throat a little as her voice came out raspy, and Snow sent her an encouraging smile.
She walked to Regina and took her hands, smiling softly. "Everything's gonna be fine, Regina. Just breathe and don't think too much. And after this is done, you can come home and see your godson."
Regina smiled back. "I'd like that."
"He'll like that too." She released her and left the scene with her husband while the groups were already splitting up.
Regina was turning to her companion for the day – and while her heart ached at the thought of another day spent alone with him, she had to admit they made quite the team – Jefferson walked to her, placing a careful hand on her shoulder. "Are you going to be alright?"
She smiled a little and nodded. "I've been through worse."
He nodded, then pulled her to him, embracing her and placing a kiss on the top of her head.
Regina, facing the other way that where Robin was standing, dumbfounded, gasped. "What are you doing?"
Jefferson sighed. "Giving him a taste of his own medicine."
Regina smiled, a lone tear escaping her eyes, and she hugged him back. "Thank you."
When they parted, Jefferson smiled at her once more before he turned to Elsa and gestured her to open the way, sending one last glance in Regina's way before they left.
Robin cleared his throat and Regina's attention fell back to him.
His cheeks were a slight pink tint, as if the cold was much stinging than what she felt. He too wore gloves, and his leather jacket was, for once, buttoned up
She nodded. "We could take my car. It'd be quicker."
"Or you could poof us there. No need to pretend you don't have magic anymore."
There was coldness in his voice, and Regina met his blue eyes with determination.
But what she saw in his gaze wasn't anger or indifference, it was hurt. Hurt, pain, jealousy, and more hurt on top of it.
So she sighed before taking tentative steps over to him, before she outstretched a hand for him to take.
He looked down at her red-clad fingers and seemed to ponder the act he was about to do before his own hand came on top of hers, and their fingers entwined on their own volition.
Regina took a deep breath and closed her eyes, picturing the path they should appear on before both her and her archer disappeared in a whirl of smoke.
Down the street, a lone figure clad in blue and white had been witnessing the scene from a roof.
It cackled in a foreign and old language before jumping off it, landing on the ground as if it had been flying.
Regina and Robin walked along their line for hours before something actually happened.
So far, only the scarce customers of the close bar were passing by, enquiring on the mayor's presence, obviously defensive.
Leroy, being the subtle soul he was, even asked loudly enough so the whole woods heard him, if another bastard had fallen from the sky and needed a lesson in manners.
To what Robin, probably sensing Regina's patience wearing thin, asked him to let us do their job, which was at that moment merely checking if the town-line was still impossible to cross.
In times like those, Regina was glad that Robin knew her so well.
In others, she hated that fact like the plague.
They waited for two hours longer before their world shattered.
A figure fell from the sky and landed right before them both as if weightless, three others following and soon surrounding the duo.
Regina's eyes widened at the sight she was given.
A middle-height human-like being with coffee-skin, clad in light blue and white clothes – although it didn't cover much – a huge mask covering his face.
They were carrying weapons – cutlasses and spears – but did not look antagonizing.
Regina raised a hand as if showing her opponents she would not attack them. "Uh... Hello. I'm Regina Mills, mayor of this town. Who-who are you exactly?"
The figure facing her tilting its head and answered in a guttural language that neither Regina nor Robin understood. It seemed old. Old and powerful.
They exchanged a glance before the queen spoke again. "I'm sorry, I-I didn't understand that."
The figure let out an exclamation, and the one right behind Regina pushed her forward with its spear.
The queen was standing close to the masked figure, and when it reached for her hand, she caught a glimpse of golden bracelets around its ankles.
The figure continued speaking in hushed tones and in its strange language even as it scanned Regina's palm, as if reading the lines there.
Then suddenly, it pushed her roughly backwards and let out another cry, and the other three lifted their spears, now clearly aggressive.
Robin lifted his crossbow in defence, and as the leader gestured at Regina to follow them, he pushed himself in front of her.
"Leave her be."
The tone was as cold as ice, and Regina thought anyone would be frightened of this voice.
But the figure merely tilted its head again before whirling around and placing a hard shot of its foot right on Robin's ribcage, making him fall backwards and hit his head hard on a rock.
The figure advanced on Regina again, but this time, the Queen was ready.
The fireball hit the figure's mask, setting fire to it.
The other strangers yelped and hurried to their leader to help him out of his mask, and Regina only had the time to catch a glimpse of silver hair before all four disappeared in the trees again, leaving the remnants of the mask on the concrete.
Regina stopped thinking altogether when she caught the sight of Robin on the ground.
He had hit his head so hard he was unconscious, and blood was dripping on the side of his head.
She fell on her knees beside him and grabbed his shoulders, shaking him to he'd awake.
Tears began falling on her cheeks even as she leaned down. "Robin, please, don't die. Please... I couldn't live through this. Don't. Die. On. Me." She sobbed and sobbed, her hands cradling his face as she placed a small kiss on his lips. "I love you."
If True Love's Kiss could have been of any help, it'd have worked. But Robin's was injured, not cursed, so Regina was left with a faint breathing and a bleeding head for long minutes more.
She had placed her head on his chest, still sobbing, and didn't realise right then when Robin's eyes fluttered open until he let out a groan.
Her head shot up and she let out a sigh of relief, wiping the tears away.
Robin's eyes met hers and his hand went to her cheek. He smiled sadly. "I could open my eyes to that sight everyday and not grow tired of it..."
That sentence brought Regina back to the reality as harshly as a blow on the head.
She stumbled on her feet and watched as a confused Robin did the same, and went to the mask, picking it up.
She cleared her throat. "We-we should get back. Tell the others what happened."
She hadn't taken two paces forward when a hand closed around her wrist, pulling her carefully back into someone's chest.
Robin held her tight. Tight, so tight she could hear the frantic beating of his heart.
She froze. No, she would not let her heart – and soul – lead her ways. Her mind was set on being angry at him, so it would remain.
But as he held her still, her determination began to fade. Hands went up to his neck, nose nuzzled in his chest, inhaling the distinct scent of his.
His lips were on her ear, and it sent shivers up her spine to feel his warm breath there, as if it belonged.
It did. Oh God it did. And didn't at the same time. Because he wasn't hers. And would never be.
Those two words were as quiet as a breeze, and the kiss on her temple that followed was as soft as it.
And when Robin pulled away from her, Regina thought she had been in a dream.
Back that fateful evening when her walls had come crashing down at her feet and she had kissed him for the first time...
Except this time, instead of taking her back in his arms, Robin was walking away from her...