Regina had never had a pet. Yes, she had Rocinante as a girl, but he wasn't really a pet. He served a specific purpose, as did all the horses in her family's stable. They were raised as a means of transportation. Aside from Daniel, Regina was the only person who ever visited the horses for anything other than necessity.
Oh, but how she had wanted one. A large, loyal dog that would trail after her in the castle and play fetch in the gardens. A fluffy, regal cat to pet during her studies in the library and snuggle with during long, lonely nights in the castle. Anything that would provide her with the companionship she desperate desired but never asked for aloud.
Of course, pets were absolutely out of the question in Cora Mills' home. One of Regina's earliest memories was of her mother tossing a stray puppy into a stream because "he was a nuisance not to be tolerated". Such a display of cruelty dashed Regina's hopes of ever having any kind of animal companion. And once she had grown and entered a forced marriage with Leopold, the thought of a pet was the furthest thing from her mind.
So when Henry had started begging her to let him have a dog, Regina's response was an absolute no. Anytime he bought up the subject, she had reacted as if the idea was preposterous. If she could go back in time, Regina would shake herself for disappointing him so. Now that she was cursed to never see her son again, the thought that she had denied him even the slightest joy made her stomach ache with regret.
The breaking dawn interrupted Regina's restless thoughts. Giving up on trying to get any sleep, she pulled on a traveling cloak and made her way into the gardens for a bit of fresh air. Thick frost coated the grass and a slight breeze brought a shiver down Regina's spine. She would have to remember to ask the servants to gather more firewood. Winter would be upon them soon.
Regina stopped to rest at the foot of her apple tree, where she spent countless hours of solitude. Lately, however, she had been greeted more often than not by a curious little visitor. Roland Hood, with his big brown eyes and dimpled cheeks, had charmed his way right into her heart without even trying. Never once had he been frightened of the infamous Evil Queen. Their first introduction had him toddling up to her and asking if she would play with him.
Likewise, Roland's dimple-cheeked father had also wormed his way into her heart. Not that she was willing to admit it. Even to herself, the thought was pushed away violently. That didn't mean her pulse had stopped racing every time he smiled at her as though she was something precious and good and beautiful. Regina knew better. But it was nice to bask in the fantasy.
A rustling noise near the edge of the forest alarmed her. Regina readied a fireball in her hand, but quickly extinguished it at the site of a pajama-clad Roland tumbling out of the brush.
"Roland?" She exclaimed. "What are you doing out here by yourself?"
"Gina!" He beamed at her. "I had to get up because I found something."
"Oh, really?" She raised an eyebrow. "Does your father know about this?"
"Papa's making breakfast with Uncle John over by the fire," He gestured toward the trail that led to the Merry Men's camp. "He knows I wanted to come visit you."
Regina felt ridiculous for the rush of gratitude and the sting of tears that flooded her eyes. Thankfully, Roland kept chattering on to spare her an attempt at talking around the lump in her throat.
"Look what I found, Gina!" Roland ran over toward her with a small black bundle in his arms. He promptly plopped his discovery in her lap.
Before Regina could be too startled, the lumps in her lap began to stir and meow. Roland had found two tiny black kittens.
"Kitties!" He screeched happily. "I couldn't find their mama. I looked all over for her like daddy taught me. I think they don't have a mama. Just like me." The happiness faded from his face and his bottom lip began to tremble.
"Well," Regina rubbed his little cheek with the back of her hand. "That just means these kittens are extra special."
"You think so?"
"Absolutely," Regina smiled, scratching one of the kittens behind an ear. It thanked her with rumbly little purring sounds. "These kittens are special just like you, Roland."
His eyes lit up. "Does that mean I can keep them?"
"We'll have to ask your Papa first," She hesitated.
"Ask Papa what?" Robin appeared from behind the treeline. Regina's breath caught in her throat at the site of him. His hair was damp, his eyes were bright and his tunic was opened all the way down to his waist. She could see his well-toned chest as well as a smattering of dark blond hair along his torso. Thoughts of licking her way down his body flooded into her mind before she could prevent them.
"Papa, I found kitties! Gina said I could keep them if I asked you. So can I, Papa? Can I?" Roland practically bounced on his toes in excitement.
Robin peered over at Regina, a warm smile on his face at the sight of her stroking both kittens absently. The fluffy little devils seemed to have immediately taken to her. Not that he could blame them. Robin knew extremely well what it was like to be utterly smitten with the beguiling queen.
"I don't see why not," Robin agreed. "As long as you take care of them, then the kittens are yours."
"Yay!" Roland cheered. He launched himself into Robin's arms for a hug before dashing over to do the same to Regina.
"Oh!" She nearly toppled over at the ferocity of the little boy's affection. "Don't squish the kittens!"
Roland apologized to the kittens before picking one up to go play with it in the grass. One kitten stayed contentedly curled up in Regina's lap.
Robin took a seat next to her. "Thank you for humoring him. He loves animals. I think this will be a nice opportunity to teach him responsibility."
"It's no trouble," Regina assured him. Their eyes met and that constant, simmering something between them was back again. Regina suddenly realized just how very close he was to her. She could smell the pine-scented soap he had used to wash that morning. It was intoxicating. Her lips parted and his eyes were instantly locked on them. Robin's head tilted in her direction, their faces just inches apart.
"Meow!" The kitten in Regina's lap squealed his displeasure that she had stopped petting him. Both of them looked down at the tiny creature before chuckling.
"I believe I might have some competition for your affection, milady," Robin smirked.
"You'll just have to work harder then, won't you?" She silently reveled in the deep, throaty laugh she received in response.
"I suppose so," He reached over to scratch the antsy little kitten. "After all, nothing worth having ever came easily. I would wait forever for you, Your Majesty."
Their eyes met again. Regina couldn't help herself this time. Even with his son playing just feet away, she was helpless to stop her actions. She grabbed a fistful of Robin's tunic and pulled him into a deep, bruising, toe-curling kiss.
Maybe having a pet around the castle wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.