Ten years later...
Her fingers glided through her daughter's hair, gently forming a braid down her back. She had beautiful brown hair, exactly like her father's color, but in curls that matched her mother's. Regina easily finished off the braid with a ponytail, admiring her work for a second before giving a smile of approval.
"Are you ready?"
The girl turned around and nodded, grinning widely. "Yes! Can I ride Luna again Dad?"
Robin went over and set his hands on her shoulders, pressing a kiss against her hair and grabbing a bridle from a shelf beside them.
"Of course, princess," he said, taking a moment to kiss his wife before taking his little girl's hand. They were at the stables, prepping for their weekly lesson, something they did together as a family.
Luna was one of the smaller hoses, a jet black mare with a patient personality. She reminded the couple so much of Nightshade.
"I can do it myself," Caroline pronounced, taking the bridle from her father and starting for Luna's stall. "Mom told me."
Regina smiled proudly as she watched the ten year old prepare the horse.
"You guys better hurry up!" Roland shouted towards them, already on his horse. It took him a few years to get as comfortable as he now was on a horse. Now fifteen, Roland Hood had completely recovered from his coma. He was tall, even taller than Regina, as adventitious and cocky as a fifteen year old boy could be.
Robin gave his son a minutes notice before heading towards his wife and daughter.
"Did you remember to fasten the saddle in the back?" Regina asked, giving her daughter an inquisitive look.
"Of course!" She chided, having to stand on the tips of her toes in order to put in Luna's bit.
"Alright Miss Caroline, you ready?" Robin asked, kneeling down next to the horse and assuming his position. "Now you know the rules. Don't do anything without thinking about it first. If anything doesn't feel right, you tell me."
"I'm not scared, Daddy. I'm brave." She replied, though it was hard believing her with her riding pants being a size too big and a riding helmet on top of her head.
He then hoisted her up onto the horse, making sure she was situated in the saddle properly before letting his guard down.
"That's my girl. Now let's get started, we don't want to keep your brother waiting."
Picking up the slackened reins, Robin guided Luna out of her stall.
"You're sure you'll be alright here?" He asked, turning towards Regina.
Sure, she wanted to ride. But watching her daughter learn and her family get along so nicely was equally as rewarding.
"Yeah, I'll be fine," she replied, sending her husband a smile, "you three have fun."
It was a beautiful fall afternoon the grass was still green, yet the trees had turned their leaves into marvelous colors, flurrying about in the wind. Regina hugged her jacket closer to her as she glanced around the empty stables, a few of the hoses sticking their heads out to say hello. For the longest time, she thought she could never enter the stables again, not after she had to say goodbye to Daniel for a final time. But there she was, Regina Mills, queen of nothing, a woman who had created her own destiny after letting go of her past, happier than ever before. Daniel's last words still hung in the air- then love again.
She was at peace.
"Well well," a voice came from behind, causing Regina to turn. She smiled when she saw who it was.
"Hello Rumple," she said, welcoming him to stand next to her as she watched Robin cheer their daughter on- she was following Roland in a trot across the field.
"I thought I'd find you here," he began, breaking the silence between them. He was about to say something, but soon became lost in the sight of the little girl- she was laughing about something Roland had said to her, looking bright and happy on her mare.
"She's growing up beautifully," Rumple finally spoke, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. "One day Caroline will be just as powerful and stubborn as you are- I don't think this town is ready."
Regina smiled, turning to face him with a delighted look on her face.
When did their relationship with each other get so easy?
"I'll take that as a compliment," she said, her attention turning back to her family. "She's still learning, but she's getting better. I don't even know how or when to tell her about the whole magic thing."
Rumple watched as Caroline broke Luna into a gallop, smiling with a passion that seemed strikingly familiar.
"She's still young, let her be careless."
Regina sighed, taking in the cool air around her. "Henry's still in Canada with his father... Roland's starting his Sophomore year. Having my daughter find out she's the product of true love is the last thing on my list right now."
"You'll figure it out. You're still the brightest student I had, after all. I... Know you've had a hard life, and I can't help but be the one to blame for that. You were a result of a spiteful vengeance, a child I manipulated to carry out my curse. I never expected you to find true happiness after the horrible life I gave you, with your mother, with the King... But you did it. You found light, and now you have this- a family. As for the life I forced you to have, I am truly sorry."
He recalled seeing Regina ride when she was young, her father teaching her with calm words. Never once did he think about how he was destroying her fragile life. For the longest time, she was only a pawn to him, a piece of the game he could move around to his liking. Even after the curse broke, he still meddled in their love life when he forced Robin to stay in the Enchanted Forest. He could have easily gotten anyone else to get his magic back, but he realized that he was jealous that she had such a deep, undying love- the dark one didn't want to accept the fact that his evil queen could find someone who loved her. It wasn't until she had begun to change that he realized how wrong he had been. Love was the strongest kind of magic, and anyone was capable of achieving it. Belle had taught him that. Even the bruised, even the sinful... Even the broken.
Regina didn't bother to wipe away her tears as she stood there, stunned, not giving herself a second thought as she wrapped her arms around him.
"Thank you," she whispered, so overcome with emotion she could barely think straight.
The man had stolen her innocence, showing her a form of magic he promised would let her out of her misery. She had hated him, she hated the fact that he knew everything and she knew nothing. Still, she always felt the need to make him proud, to show him that she truly was independent and powerful. Perhaps things simply worked out in their own ways.
"There's something else I wanted to say," Rumple said, causing Regina to draw back and give him her full attention. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out something heavy and round, an item she quickly knew to be her long lost set of skeleton keys.
"What are those for?" She asked, curiosity hitting her hard as she studied them.
Rumple smiled. "They're yours. Belle turned in her resignation letter this morning. The spot is yours, whenever you want it. I guess that means you're back to being Mayor Mills."
Taking the keys from him, Regina beamed- she missed all that power. She was more than excited to resume her duty as mayor, to serve as a leader to the people of Storybrooke. This time, however, she had her lionheart by her side, and three children who centered her world.
A queen and an outlaw; who knew.
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