Regina barely hid her smile as she saw the look of trepidation on Emma's face.
Emma followed Henry as he bounded over to his horse, sporting the same look she'd had when Henry had persuaded her to go through the Haunted Trail with them.
"Tell me again why I'm doing this?" Emma hissed in Regina's direction.
Regina shrugged innocently. "You wanted to go out, and here we are, out by the stables, doing something Henry enjoys as well. Two birds with one stone,"
Emma grumbled under breath but moved closer to the horse, carefully petting its flank.
"Emma, good to see you," Jerry said as he joined them.
Emma's horse was already saddled and he carried another saddle over to Regina who was standing beside her black mare.
"You two know each other?"
"Emma stopped by couple of days ago, told her she could ride anytime she wanted."
Regina took the saddle from Jerry and raised an eyebrow at Emma before turning and stepping onto a small box to put it on the horse. She knew exactly what she was doing, the movements ingrained into her mind since childhood.
"Yeah well, I just wanted to look at horses to be perfectly honest, not ride them," Emma said from somewhere behind her and Regina smiled.
Emma had been grumpy since the moment she'd told her what they were going to do. Certainly the blonde had hoped for something more romantic, or or at least a little more intimate setting. But Regina had had the brilliant idea to simply take Emma along for Henry's weekly riding lesson, therefore turning the date Emma had planned into something else entirely.
"Ready to go?" Jerry asked.
Emma shifted her weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably, still staring at the horse like it was going to bite her head off at any moment. Regina was still smirking as she pulled the last straps of her saddle tight and then grabbed the horn and the rear end of it to hoist herself up. She swung one leg over the horse and placed it securely into the stirrup, shifting until she found the perfect position. Emma was staring at her with her mouth slightly agape.
"Hey Emma, come on this is fun," Henry said as he brought his white horse to a halt next to her.
He was almost as good as Regina used to be when she was young. He'd taken to the horses immediately and loved riding every week. Regina shook her head, thinking that all the women would later flock to him in single file when he was smiling at them charmingly from atop his white stallion. She wasn't looking forward to it.
Emma nodded, but seemingly more to herself than to Henry. Regina saw that she was mumbling under her breath and she wondered what Emma could possibly be telling herself to boost her courage.
"You need some help?" Jerry asked.
"No, I'm good, I can do it."
Emma grabbed the saddle and jumped off the ground, trying to get onto the horse, but her leg was bent at an awkward angle and she didn't quite manage to get it all the way up. She lowered herself to the ground and tried again, this time groaning as she heaved half of her upper body onto the horse and then wriggled around until she could swing her leg over to the other side.
Regina rested her thumb and forefinger against her lips to stifle her laughter. She couldn't remember ever seeing something less graceful.
Emma eventually sat upright on her horse and took the reins into both hands.
"That was easier when I dreamed about it," she mumbled, but Regina still caught the words.
"Well I'm happy to help you fulfill your dreams then," she said with a tilt of her head.
Emma cleared her throat and looked down at her horse. She patted its neck awkwardly. "Thanks a lot."
"You're most welcome."
"I know you're enjoying this."
"I'm not sure what you're referring to."
Regina was smiling pleasantly as Emma shot her a quick dark look that suddenly turned into shock as the horse beneath her moved, taking a few steps forward and lowering its head to nibble on some hay.
"Hold the reins a little tighter, make sure the horse knows what you are trying to tell him," Regina instructed, easily guiding her mare to turn around.
Henry had already taken off again toward the riding trail and Regina followed him slowly, keeping an eye on Emma who sat stiffly atop her horse.
"Move with him not against him."
"I'm trying," Emma hissed, "and just so you know, when I fall off and break my neck I am holding you responsible, I hope we're clear."
"Perfectly. Now lean forward slightly and squeeze your thighs together."
Emma narrowed her eyes at Regina but did as she was told. She squealed quietly when the horse picked up speed but then relaxed again when Emma leaned back.
"Try not to scream."
"You could've told me that it makes him go faster," Emma said with accusing glare.
"Learning by doing dear, always the best method."
Regina smirked and turned her horse around so it would be behind Emma to catch up until they were side by side. "Here, watch my movements, you should try to be in sync with every step the horse takes."
Emma turned her head and gazed at Regina, her eyes travelling up from her feet to her thighs and that's where she got stuck.
"Focus Miss Swan."
Emma swallowed and blinked. She tore her eyes away and attempted to sit up straighter, lifting and raising her body with every movement of the powerful animal beneath her.
Regina licked her lips at the sight. The muscles of Emma's thighs flexed with every step, her slender hands holding the rains tightly while her blond hair gathered in a ponytail flopped back and forth.
"Who's not focusing now?" Emma teased.
"I'm merely making sure you're following my instructions correctly," Regina answered but didn't turn away. Instead she allowed her eyes to rake over Emma from head to toe.
Emma was beautiful. Her body was lean and perfectly muscled. There was strength in every part of her but at the same time no one had ever touched her more gently. She bit her lip as she thought back to that fateful night, like she'd done so many times over the past few months. It was almost ironic that she found Emma standing by the side of the road, and not some other random stranger who she would've just given a ride before disappearing again.
"You're doing great Emma," Henry complimented as he came riding toward them, a large smile on his face. "Isn't this so much fun?"
"Sure," Emma answered, still staring down at her horse with intense focus.
Regina had to admit that Emma was doing fairly well. She certainly had the physique to be an excellent rider and if she only got over her fear of falling she would be able to move with the horse, not against it.
It was more about trust than it was about being in control, but Emma had to believe that she could make the decisions for both herself and the horse before it would begin listening to her subtle hints.
Regina turned away and looked over the vast expanse of open field before them. The riding trail circled around the meadow and eventually led into the forest where it became broader and ended by the lake. It was a beautiful spot that only few people knew about and usually she and Henry were alone whenever they rode out there. This time they would stick to the meadow and even ground because Emma had to get used to riding before she could take on anything more difficult.
She was keeping it at a normal pace beside Emma while Henry rode ahead every once in a while before returning and circling them. Emma was getting better with every passing minute, but after about an hour of making their rounds, her face started to contort with pain. Regina had expected it. Emma's side hadn't completely healed yet and riding a horse for too long would only be making it worse.
She waved to Henry and turned to Emma to call it a day when Emma's horse suddenly stopped. Its eyes widened and it trampled nervously back and forth. It was clearly spooked and Emma, as inexperienced as she was, had no idea what to do. She pulled the reins tight and caused the horse to rear up before stomping back down and taking off.
Emma shrieked loudly and held on for dear life.
Regina's eyes widened and she didn't move for several seconds, trying to understand what exactly had just happened. Henry was still somewhere ahead of them and Emma was steadily gaining on him. She had absolutely no control over the panicked horse and clung to it with her entire body.
Regina clenched her jaw and tapped her boots against the horse's sides. "Hiyah, let's go!"
Her eyes trained on Emma she followed the sprinting horse as quickly as she could. Emma passed Henry on his horse and he quickly got off, standing beside the animal and holding the reins. Good boy.
"Get her mom," he called as she shot past him.
She was steadily gaining on Emma who looked like she could barely hold on anymore. She was still shrieking, unsuccessfully trying to stop the horse while it was heading toward the forest. Regina feared what could happen once they left the meadow behind. Emma could be knocked off by low hanging branch, sustaining god knew what injuries. She needed to get to her before it was too late. She pushed her own horse even further, leaning forward in the saddle.
"Take your feet out of the stirrups," she yelled, hoping Emma would hear her.
"Are you crazy?"
Emma looked back over her shoulder briefly, eyes wide and frantic. She was being bounced around like a doll on a mechanic bull.
"Do it, now," Regina called.
By the time she was riding beside her, Emma had followed her instructions and was halfway sliding off the animal without her feet secured in the stirrups. Regina knew she couldn't stop the horse, even if she got a hold of the reins it wasn't going to stop. She would only be pulled down herself. Regina cut her eyes back to the forest, raising her eyebrows at what she saw. Well it was better than risking Emma breaking her neck in between the trees.
Everything was happening in a matter of seconds although it seemed much longer to her. As soon as her decision was made, she freed her own boots from the stirrups and lifted one leg up and onto the saddle. She pushed herself off and forward, bumping right into Emma who screamed at the impact. She was in the air for only a split second before she collided with Emma and both of them tumbled into a large pile of hay. They were completely swallowed by the yellow sticks and Regina could barely see the sky through the mass of dry grass on top of her.
She realized she was on her back, her entire body feeling like she had just taken a spin in the dryer. Everything was a little unfocused as she turned her head to see Emma lying next to her on her side, facing away from her. She reached out a hand and rested it on Emma's shoulder, dragging it down her spine before dropping it into the hay. Her limbs felt heavy and she needed a moment to regain her senses before she could properly check on Emma.
The body next to her moved and Emma groaned loudly as she rolled onto her back.
"Ouch…that hurt. Are you okay?"
Regina blinked her eyes and nodded. "I think so."
Emma's head lolled around to look at her and she gasped as green-grayish eyes widened. "Shit you're bleeding."
"Language Miss Swan," Regina commented absently, reaching up to her forehead where it was beginning to throb. Her fingertips came away bloody.
"It's just a scratch."
Emma groaned again as she tried to sit up, clutching her side with both hands. "This is all my fault."
"And here I thought that you would hold me responsible for whatever accident you might get into."
Emma grimaced and held a hand out to Regina who grabbed it to be pulled up into a sitting position.
"In that case, yes, I'm blaming you. Plus you owe me a date, this so does not count."
Regina snorted quietly and reached out to pluck some errand piece of straw from Emma's hair. "You must've hit your head."
Emma smiled and for a single complete moment Regina simply sat there, staring at the woman beside her, surrounded by hay, her head starting to pound with a monstrous headache. But one beautiful smile from Emma made everything seem less harsh. The contours of her world softened around the edges just a fraction.
The moment was gone as soon as she heard Henry's frantic calls.
"Mom, are you okay, mom? Emma?"
"We're okay Henry," she called back and struggled to her feet.
Hay was sticking to her clothes and she was sure it was everywhere in her hair. She held a hand out to Emma and helped her get up as well. Emma winced as she tried to stand on her left leg and Regina looked down to see the front her pants were cut open right across her knee. Emma sighed and pushed strands of hair out of her face. She was about to say something when Regina cut her off.
"You've had worse, right?"
Emma smirked and tilted her head to the side. "How about you?"
"I'm used to falling off of horses, trust me."
Regina walked around to Emma's other side and wordlessly took her arm to sling it over her shoulders. Emma didn't protest and, with Regina's help, hobbled out of the huge pile of hay that they had significantly flattened.
Henry came running toward them and stopped abruptly to assess the damage. "Are you guys okay?"
"Yeah, just a couple of scratches kid, nothing to worry about."
Henry nodded and launched forward to wrap his arms around both of them.
"That looked really scary."
"I bet, but your mom was right there and saved me."
Emma rested a hand on Henry's shoulder and turned to look at Regina. She frowned slightly before a vulnerable expression flittered across her face.
"Thank you Regina. That was all kinds of dangerous, and I don't know –"
Regina silenced Emma by putting her hand atop the one resting on Henry's shoulder.
"It's okay. You would've done the same."
Emma lowered her eyes and then looked up through her lashes.
"Yeah, I would have even though I would've had no idea how to," she mumbled.
Regina walked back to the stables in silence, supporting half of Emma's weight with the arm that was slung over her shoulders. They'd driven to the stables in her car since Emma's death trap was still at the auto shop. Regina opened the passenger door of her car and sat Emma down. Jerry was beside them in the blink of an eye, worry etched across his pleasant features.
"Oh my… what happened? Is everyone alright?"
His eyes darted back and forth between them and over to where Henry was leading two of the three horses back to the stable. He tied the reins to a wooden post and joined them a moment later.
"Yes, we're fine. Cesar got spooked, I think it might've been a snake. He's grazing by the forest on the south side somewhere," Regina said.
Jerry nodded and lifted his cap to rub a hand across his balding head. "No worries I'll get him. As long as all of you are alright."
Regina smiled briefly at him and nodded before she turned to Henry. "I'll take you to Kathryn's and you can spend the afternoon with her while Miss Swan gets checked at the hospital."
"Emma has to go to the hospital?"
"What? No," Emma said.
"Yes she does. But only as a precaution, making sure that everything is fine, okay?"
Henry nodded while Emma shook her head.
"I don't need to go to the hospital."
"And yet I will take you there."
Regina shut off Emma's protests by simply closing the car door. Henry got into the backseat and Regina walked around to the driver's side.
"You sure you can drive?" Jerry asked, handing Regina a clean folded handkerchief and indicating his own forehead with his finger.
Regina raised the handkerchief to the gash and dabbed at it. "Yes, it'll be fine, thank you."
"No problem, I'll take care of the horses."
Regina smiled briefly at him and pocketed the soiled handkerchief before getting into the car.
"Mom, Emma still doesn't want to go to the hospital," Henry said.
Emma rolled her eyes and glared at him over her shoulder.
"This is not about what Miss Swan wants Henry, so don't worry, I'll take care of it."
Henry smirked and leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Traitor," Emma breathed as Regina backed out of the dusty driveway, her hands around the steering wheel slightly shaky.