Daily bathes were a privilege that Regina now fully enjoyed. Robin didn't understand how could someone bathe so frequently, but he went with her nevertheless. Even if her survival skills were excellent, he didn't feel comfortable leaving her to roam alone in the woods. Besides, he liked spending time with Regina, since she would tell him about life in the Castle and the court, and then they would compare it to Robin's life when he was a knight. Unsurprisingly, attending to the court was not fun in any kingdom. Robin was glad, however, that the Merry Men's mischief were nothing but a headache to the King.
"What day is it today, Robin?" Regina asked as they walked back to the camp.
"Sunday is two days away," she pointed out and he tensed up at the reminder.
More than one week ago, when he and Will Scarlet had met the White Knights, he had told them that the King had one week to collect the hundred gold coins he would pay for his wife. Now Robin regretted not asking for more time.
"Maybe they won't come on Sunday," the thief said, "He knows I'll never hurt you."
"Does he?" Regina asked, stopping in her tracks. She wanted to believe that Leopold wouldn't come after her, but she knew she was his most precious possession. "He knows nothing. For all he knows, you and your men are nothing but bandits holding me for ransom."
Regina kept on talking, but Robin wasn't listening to her at all. Another sound had caught his attention. A sound that was foreign to the forest: the gallop of several horses, maybe three, maybe four. The thief looked around, trying to spot them. Out of the corner of his eye he saw four men behind the trees. His blood froze. They were White Knights. The beating of his heart was the only thing he could hear.
They were going to take Regina away, take her back to the castle, to her prison.
He was outnumbered. There was no chance in hell he would be able to defeat them. He couldn't not protect Regina, he could not keep his word.
The knights were still couple of miles away; he couldn't outrun them, but they could hide. Yes, hide. That's what he needed to do. He needed to think and act fast. He needed to protect the Queen. His Queen.
"Robin." Regina grabbed his forearm. "Are you even paying atte -,"
He didn't let her finish. He didn't even take the time to explain what was going on. He covered her mouth and pushed her to the ground, falling on top of her. Luckily they were not travelling on any road, and they had fell between some bushes that would hopefully cover them until the knights passed them, until they could seek a hiding place and he was sure that Leopold's men were not around. Robin felt Regina trying to move below him, to free herself, but he kept her anchored to the ground.
"Do not make a sound," he whispered against her ear in a way that made all her nerves combust. She nodded and he took his hand of her mouth.
"What on earth are you doing?" Regina murmured, but he didn't reply. He didn't move from above her either, keeping her pinned to the dirt. She wanted to repeat her question, but she knew Robin would only give her a scolding look, after all he had told her to keep quiet.
The Queen tried to lock gazes with the thief, trying to get a silent message from his blue eyes; but he was looking around, and not once did he look down at her. Then she heard the pace of horses, and the voices of men and it all became clear. They were looking for someone; no, not someone - for them. They were looking for the Merry Men and the Queen.
"They can't be too far away," one yelled. "When we were ambushed it was two miles ahead of this road."
"And McFayden said he found the two outlaws in this area too." They were Leopold's men, she realised.
Robin was scared and angry at the knights. He felt threatened and he didn't have to say anything to Regina for her to know and see that. She knew that the Merry Men were more than his colleagues - she knew they were his family, and she knew that he would kill anyone who was a danger to them. The Queen feared he would do something stupid. The knights kept on talking about the Merry Camp and the men that lived on it and how they would suffer the King's wrath.
Regina knew Robin's flight or fight instincts were kicking in - and not precisely to run away. She could feel Robin's heart beat faster and his muscles tensing around her. Regina did her best to try not to think about how fit Robin was, and how hot she suddenly felt.
Her mind travelled to the first time he had tackled her. It had not been as pleasant an experience as this one, but she remembered how safe she had felt in his arms; how safe she feels in his arms. She shook the thoughts away. This was not the time and the place and it would never be; maybe in another life, when she was not the Queen.
"Let's scatter and scour the area," Regina heard a third knight say. "We'll find the camp, take the Queen and burn it down to ashes. The King said that we didn't have to bring any prisoners, only Robin Hood."
Those words seemed to trigger something inside Robin's mind, because he tried to jump up, flexing his arms, ready to run towards the men, only to be stopped by the Queen. Regina had slid her arms around his ribcage. "Robin," she whispered in a way that made him look down at her, almost forgetting about everything else around them. She was so frightened by the situation. She didn't want Robin engaging a fight that he would most likely lose. She didn't want to lose him.
He relaxed and leaned a little bit against the Queen, to reassure her silently that he wouldn't go away, and she tightened her grip on him. If the knights found them in their current position, he would be killed on spot, but it was a risk he was willing to pay, just to be in Regina's arms for a few minutes. The star-crossed lovers lay like that for a while, even after the knights had galloped away, off to search other parts of the forest.
Neither one of them wanted to move so they just stared into each other's eyes wondering how different their lives would be if they could actually give in to the strange yet not unpleasant attraction. Maybe, Robin thought, they could give in, maybe they could let go of whatever excuse they were hanging onto. Maybe she was his true love, and maybe he was her happy ending. His gaze travelled from her eyes to her lips. He had never noticed how beautiful and perfect they were, how inviting they looked.
"We should," Regina cleared her throat and it made Robin lean a bit away from her. "We should get going and tell the Merry Men about the King's men."
Robin nodded and let out a breath. He couldn't help but feel disappointed at how the situation had ended. Maybe they were not ready to cross that line. Yet.
"We are not going back to the camp tonight," the thief said, "It's too risky with the knights wandering around, for us and for the rest of the Merry Men."
The outlaw stood up and extended a hand to help her, she took it without second thoughts. Robin pulled her up, with a little bit more strength than he needed to lift the Queen's light body; but when she ended with her hands against his chest, he realised that he had done it on purpose, and he wasn't a bit ashamed of his actions. Robin held Regina for couple of seconds and then let her go, not wanting to get used to her body pressed against his.
Silently, he reached for one of the arrows from the quiver that hung from his back and took a red ribbon out of his boot.
"What are you doing?" the Queen asked as she saw him tying the ribbon to the arrow's fletching.
"I'm sending a signal," he explained, "There's always someone in the treetops looking at the sky, so if any of the men find out about something or someone who could harm the Merry Camp, he shoots an arrow to the sky. That way we know about any threat."
Then, Robin Hood strung the arrow and shot it into the sky. "Now they'll be on high alert."
"And what about us?" Regina inquired, and for a while he thought she meant about what was going on between them.
Then he realised that she was wondering about what they would do if they couldn't go back to the camp. "We'll have to sleep in a tree."
"In a tree?" She arched an eyebrow. Well, this was completely new to her.
"Why yes, princess."
"I'm not a princess," the woman argued. "I'm a queen."
"So everyone keeps telling me," he smiled. "Now, let's find a tree."
They walked stopping every minute or so to hear if there was someone near them. Robin's paranoia had started to annoy Regina; but after he snapped at her and told her that if she would rather return to the castle with the guards than to stop every two minutes she could just scream for help, she decided to stay silent and do as he commanded.
Soon they reached a tree that seemed fitting for their purposes. One with thick, almost straight, branches and plenty of open spaces between the branches. He also made sure to pick a tree that was not bare of leaves because climbing a dead tree would be a deadly experience - literally.
"Do you know how to climb a tree?" he asked, taking his quiver off and giving it to Regina. He kept the rope he always carried with him wrapped around his torso.
Regina shook her head. "I've never climb a tree in my life."
"Seriously?" She shook her head again. "What a horrible childhood you must have had." He had meant it as a joke, but the way her face lost its brightness told him that he had hit a nerve. He didn't know what to say to make her feel better. He wanted to hug her, but he was afraid that touching her had become addictive, so he refrained from it. "I'll climb and tie a couple of knots in the rope to make it easier for you to climb," he proposed.
Regina nodded and stayed on the ground, watching him climb with ease. He probably did that every day. She wondered if Daniel knew how to climb trees. A part of her doubted it. He would have taught her if he knew, since he taught her everything he knew. Once Robin reached the branches where they would sleep, he tied the rope and threw it down. But he didn't stay in the tree, instead shinning down to help Regina.
"What if I fall?"
"Don't worry," Robin replied. "Monkeys sleep in trees, I'm sure we'll be fine."
"Monkeys sleep in trees," Regina repeated, shaking her head. "What is that supposed to mean? Horses sleep standing up, that doesn't mean we can do it," she argued.
"I heard once that there was a man in another realm who claims that we come from the monkeys."
That made statement made Regina laugh, like she hadn't laughed in a long time. Robin, however, didn't take pleasure in the Queen's laughter, he knew she was laughing at him. And he didn't like it when people laughed at him.
"Us? From monkeys?" she said between chuckles. "Are you out of your mind? What are you going to tell me next? That man will walk on the moon?"
"Well, there is a saying that the sky is the limit," Robin argued, not amused that she was now making fun of him.
"Alright, Robin," Regina calmed down from the burst of laughter. "Do show me how your ancestors slept in trees, please."
The thief explained how to climb a tree in great depth and detail, attempting to impart every ounce of knowledge he had on the subject in as short a space of time as possible. He climbed behind her, reassuring the Queen that he would catch her in case she missed a step. He doubted it, though; if she missed a step, they would both fall to their deaths, but there was no point in telling her that and putting more pressure on her.
They reached the branches by the time the sun was already hiding behind the Enchanted Forest Mountains. He used the little light they had left to tie Regina's waist and legs to the tree. He explained that it was a safety measure, otherwise one turn in her sleep and she would fall out of the tree. Neither the explanation, nor the rope around her waist made her feel any safer, but she trusted Robin, and she knew that he would never put her in unnecessary danger.
After securing Regina to the branch, he clambered to the branch above it. He didn't tie himself; firstly because he was used to sleeping in trees and secondly because the only rope he had was holding Regina to the tree. He didn't care, though. Her safety would always come before his.
With the last rays of sun, the coldness came. At least the leaves served as a shelter from the wind. He could hear Regina's teeth chattering and even if he was lying on his back and couldn't see her, he knew her lips must be turning blue by now.
"Are you cold?"
"No." She failed to speak without her voice trembling.
Robin smiled. "Why do you have to be so stubborn?"
"Why does it matter?" Regina retorted, "It's not like you can produce a blanket, can you?"
He didn't reply, but he took his shirt off and handled it to her. Regina didn't take it at first. "For God's sake, Regina! It's clean!"
"That's not what bothers me," the Queen answered, and he imagined her rolling her eyes. "You'll freeze."
"The cold doesn't bother me," Robin stated and shook his hand, prompting Regina to take his shirt and put it on top of her own clothes.
When Regina passed the shirt over her head, she could smell Robin's scent. It made her shiver. No, she scolded herself – she was shivering because she was cold. After tucking the hem of Robin's shirt into her pants, she laid down again. Robin's back was now visible to her, and it was by no means a terrible view. Her eyes paused at the scars, and she remembered the story of how he got them. He had told it to her the first time they met.
Once again, she found herself battling against the urge to touch him. But this time, emotions won over wisdom, and she reached out to caress the marks on Robin's skin. At first, he flinched due to her cold fingertips, but then he relaxed into her touch.
"Do they hurt?" Regina asked, feeling how his skin warmed her fingers.
"Not anymore," he replied. "Time heals all wounds."
Time heals all wounds, she repeated to herself. Those words weren't made for physical wounds, they were meant for heart breaks. She remembered how Robin's expression had changed when he had decided to leave his story unfinished. He had told her he had stayed to fight, even after he was tortured by his King. He had told her that he hadn't run away. And then he said that the rest of the story was for another time.
"I can feel you thinking," he interrupted her.
"I'm wondering," she replied, taking her fingers away from Robin's back.
He turned onto his front to face Regina. "About?" he was resting his head on one of his arms and the other one swung freely from the upper tree.
"You said you were a knight once," Regina said. "And that you refused to keep collecting taxes, and that's how you got the scars," the Queen continued. "Then I asked you if you left after that, and you said you didn't. Yet, you are here," she pointed out. "So ..."
"You were wondering how I got here, and why didn't I fight until I saw my plan through?" he finished for her, and Regina nodded.
There was silence between them. Robin was studying her, wondering if he was ready to tell that story. Regina held his gaze, curious.
"I was in love once," he started, and she wondered what it had to do with this story. "Her name was Marian, and we were meant for each other, or at least that's what I thought," Robin said, and Regina noticed how those words seemed to hurt him more than touching his scars had. "She was a noblewoman, and her father was part of the King's court," he continued. "When I told her about the King exploiting the countrymen she didn't believe it, so I took her to the country so she could see it with her own eyes."
Robin knew there was no stopping now. "She decided to join my cause, even after I was captured the first time she stayed by my side," he stopped and remembered Maid Marian. All the promises they had made, all the dreams they had shared. "It was when I was imprisoned for the second time that I understood something was not right. The King's men knew our plan, every single detail. I understood that someone had to be spying on us."
"It could have been anyone," Regina pointed out.
"It was only Little John, Will Scarlet and me back then," Robin replied. "And Marian. Some of the Merry Men were countrymen back then, they saw what happened, but were not part of it," he added. "We were incarcerated and charged for treason, our sentence was to hang in the main square." If Robin closed his eyes, he could still hear the crowd screaming in anger as he and his colleagues walked towards their death. "Before we were to be hanged, the King announced his blessing on the marriage of his eldest son and my Marian."
My Marian. His voice had faltered while he said those words out loud, and Regina could see that it still felt like a knife in the wound to talk about her.
"We almost didn't manage to escape." Robin's voice was dull, and he picked at a piece of bark next to his head. "I had no willpower to live anymore, but some of the countrymen, the ones that joined us after that event, had a plan. With their help we ran away from the castle and the kingdom, and we came here, to the woods."
He finished his story and kept quiet, wondering what Regina would make of it. Would she make fun of him, of his weakness after Marian had betrayed him? But when she spoke, she didn't make any comment regarding Robin's sad story.
"There were many times I wanted to do it, you know?" She was sitting now, with her legs still tied to the tree and her torso leaning backwards on her extended arms.
"Run away, to live like this, in the forest," she replied. "Wandering alone, stealing just to survive the day."
Robin smiled. Regina never ceased to amuse him. "Do enlighten me: what would you eat?"
"Pine needles, they have a high nutritional value."
"Did your friend also teach you that? The one that taught you how to survive in the forest?" She nodded. "Can you tell me about him?"
"His name was Daniel," she started, and a smile immediately lightened her face up. "He worked at out stables."
Regina continued, telling Robin about how Daniel taught her how to bond with and ride her horse, Rocinante. How he took her to the forest and taught her how to survive on her own. Their first kiss. How he taught her about love, and friendship and compassion. Robin couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy when she spoke so fondly about Daniel; Robin wanted Regina to speak in that manner about him. The Queen seemed more than happy to talk about Daniel, as if she hadn't remembered the good days she spent with him in a long time. And then, she went mute.
"So, what happened to him? Where is he now?" Robin asked, noticing she had stopped talking.
"He's dead," she replied. "My mother killed him in front of me."
Robin didn't know how to answer that. Never in his whole life had he imagined that she had to live through such a horrible experience. When he noticed a tear running down Regina's cheek he decided to move to her branch and sit behind her. She leaned back, and Robin hugged her and reclined his body against the trunk.
Regina didn't finish the story. Compared to Marian's betrayal of Robin, Snow's betrayal seemed small - almost insignificant. At least Regina knew that their love story, hers and Daniel's, was a real one; Robin didn't have that, he was betrayed by the one he loved.
And, did Snow really really destroyed Regina's happy ending. Yes, Regina had suffered a great deal with the King; but if it hadn't been for Snow White, she wouldn't have been traveling through the woods, and would never have met Robin. She was happy with Robin. Maybe it was time to let her anger dissipate.
But her happiness wouldn't last long, she recognised and she leaned even more into Robin's embrace. Eventually, Regina would have to return to the castle, to the Queen's duties, and to Snow White. Regina clenched her teeth; how foolish had she been to think she could ever forgive Snow White, to think she could actually forgive the girl and let go of her hate.
Snow White had ruined her life once. And when the time came, and Regina returned to the castle, Snow would be waiting for her with a big grin and a warm hug; and then she would be responsible for ruining Regina's life for a second time. She had to make Snow pay, for all the things she had done, for all the things she would do.
"What are you thinking about?" Robin's voice made her thoughts of vengeance disappear.
"Nothing," she lied and went back to being silent. This time her thoughts were not working on a scheme against Snow White, but they were wandering around Robin's arms around her body, and how good they made her feel. "Robin," Regina said after a while. "I have to go to the bathroom."
"Damn." Now that was something he hadn't prepared for.