Wiping her hands clean of the greasy salve was of little use, it clung to the cloth and her hands still. Grumbling in annoyance, Emma washed her hands once more, dirtying a second cloth in her efforts to clean off every last remnant of the stuff. It seemed to work, more or less. The sooner she didn’t have to use it the better.
“You know it’s for your own good.”
Emma grunted, and stretched up to put the jar away in a cabinet, wincing at the responding twinge the action sent down her arm. That would stop soon, if she kept working to strengthen it. Same with her leg. She made her way unsteadily back to her previous spot, ignoring the need to rest at the table.
“As is the walking stick.”
Emma mumbled beneath her breath, not looking up to Regina standing in the doorway.
She was right of course, to no one’s surprise.
“Won’t need either soon.” Was she sulking? Perhaps.
“As you keep saying.”
Emma jerked her head towards the loaf of bread on the side, brow lifting up as Regina drifted towards her. Spring was steadily passing, summer soon on its way.
“It actually worked this time.”
Regina hummed, breathing in the scent of baked bread as she stopped before it, quirking her brow. All of Emma’s previous attempts had either been too dense or had fallen apart. And there was one memorable occasion it had not only burnt, but seemingly caught fire.
Regina’s attempts had been far better, and now she surveyed Emma’s attempt with a raised brow, her lips pressed together tightly.
“Well…” She drew the word out, glancing to her with a raised chin. Emma lifted her brow, keeping her expression neutral as Regina teased her. “I suppose it will do.”
“It will do,” Emma snorted, “You should be impressed. I am.”
“Of course you are.” Emma crossed her arms, leaning back against the counter, Regina refused to meet her eyes straight on, no doubt because she would be unable to keep herself from smiling. “In fact I am fairly certain nearly anything would impress you.”
“Oh,” Emma drawled, taking a step closer, fingers brushing the top of the counter in case she needed to catch herself. She didn’t, thankfully. “Is that so?”
Regina hummed, still keeping her side to Emma. Her hair pulled back in a braid, a few loose strands escaping to hang down beside her face from her ride.
“Like a pig wearing a hat.”
Emma snorted, a hand on her hip, “Please, I’m not that easily affected.”
“That sounded unsurprisingly like a barely covered laugh.”
Emma’s lips pulled into a grin despite her best attempts to stop it, “Now you’re just imagining things.”
Regina finally looked to her, a smirk teasing the edges of her lips. It made her heart feel so light seeing the teasing tinkle in Regina’s eyes.
“Do you remember when Prince Anton tripped at the Summer Banquet?”
Emma burst into laughter, the memory clear – clearer still how she had not exactly been allowed to be there. “He had cream all over his face!” She sobered after a moment, grinning still. “He deserved it.”
“That is my uncle you’re laughing at.” Regina tried to mask her own amusement, but failed miserably in her attempt, her lips twitching up and her eyes shining.
Emma tilted her head, scoffing, “You never so much as shared a word.”
“Even so – ”
“It was stuck in his beard for the rest of the day.” Emma shook her head, her humour suddenly falling, seriousness settling swiftly. “Such a waste of food.”
Regina dropped her head, a bubble of laughter leaving her, “Idiot.”
Emma grinned and Regina leant closer, pressing a brief sweet kiss to her lips. Emma gestured to the bread knife left beside the bread, and Regina pulled away to cut off a piece to try. A mix of honey and heavy seeds had given it a sweet taste that still rested on Emma’s tongue.
It was as Regina put the knife down and lifted the slice of bread that Emma chuckled. She paused, glancing to Emma out of the corner of her eye, “See, easily impressed.”
“Ah, easily amused.” Emma lifted her hand, smile still in place, “Made the punishment for intruding easier.”
Regina frowned, bread held an inch from her lips, but Emma shrugged it off, smiling still.
Summer had brought with it warm days – far warmer days than Emma had ever thought possible in The Wealds. It almost made her feel a little terrible for all the time she had spent in the past cursing the place. She dragged the back of her arm across her brow, wiping the sweat away.
Cleaning out the stable took her back, sometimes good, sometimes not. She didn’t dwell on the memories, and instead basked in the sense of familiarity and comfort such work had always held.
Emma forked out another load of hay, almost dropping the fork when a mouse startled her by running out.
A flash of grey and Enric pounced on it. And that was the end of that.
Emma shrugged, difficult considering the weight she was carrying, and took her full fork to the compost heap.
Enric, as Regina had name him, had turned up one day. A grey, long furred beast of a thing. Neither of them had seen a cat like it – nor one so large. Regina had offered him food despite Emma’s protest, but he had darted away. It was a few days later when Emma found him eating a mouse in the stables.
He had been with them ever since. At least she thought he was a he. She hadn’t checked, and wasn’t about to try to.
She leant the fork against the outside of the stable ready to clean after, before seeking the broom to sweep up the loose strands of hay left lying around.
Enric hissed when she walked past, she jumped to avoid his bushy tail, twinging her bad leg. Regina had not been so lucky the first time, his claws had easily pieced through her dress and had left her with a nasty series of scratches. That had been early days, he was all over Regina now, curling up in her lap before the fire at night. Rubbing himself against her legs. She cast him a hard look, sure he was glaring back at her.
“Grumpy thing,” she muttered, frowning down at the beast, the mouse limp at his feet. She wiggled her leg, rubbed some feeling back into it as the pain faded. Better, she stood straight, shooting the cat a glare, “Don’t go leaving that as a gift.”
And she got back to work.
The deed was done by the time Regina and Rocinante returned. Enric and the mouse had disappeared – if she found that mouse in the house…
The beating of his hooves were clear against the grass. It wasn’t the easiest terrain to ride out here, or so Regina said, but it was better than what they had traversed in the past. Though Emma suspected she missed the wide open plains of home, Rocinante too, he couldn’t truly run without it.
Emma stepped out of the stable, blinking against the sunlight as Regina drew closer.
“You’ll have to let me teach you how to ride – properly – someday, Emma,” Regina said not for the first time as she stopped in front of her. Regina dismounted, and Emma admired her breeches, “You cannot keep doing – stop staring at my buttocks.”
Emma’s head snapped up and she said, perhaps too slowly, “I wasn’t.”
Regina peered at her over her shoulder, and then continued, “You cannot keep doing this. You aren’t a stablehand anymore.”
“I enjoy it.” Emma put the broom away, fetching a brush for Rocinante, Regina was quick to take it from her, taking the task of grooming her himself as Emma settled for checking him for any signs of injuries and removing his saddle. He was fine, of course.
Regina brushed across Rocinante’s neck, removing the dirt that clung to him, “Of course you do.”
She smiled, and Emma returned it, disappearing after a moment to check Rocinante’s food and water were topped up ready for him.
“Though you could do with a wash.”
“Take him to the stream then,” Emma said as she left the stable. Satisfied, Regina took Rocinante’s reins and led him into the stable.
Regina’s voice followed her, “I was talking about you.”
She paused, glancing over her shoulder, Regina smirked and disappeared out of sight. That was not going to stand.
She stabled Rocinante as quickly as she could – if they left him to wander he wouldn’t rest, he could come out later.
Regina was a short distance away, watching the stream trickle by into the pond, enjoying the sun and breeze. Emma dropped down beside her, tugging off one boot and then the other.
“What are you doing?”
“Aw, come on,” Emma said smiling, not looking up as she wouldn’t be able to contain herself, “The sun is shining, the breeze is gentle, and it’s as warm as it is likely ever to be!”
Regina rested one hand on her hip and raised an eyebrow, looking down at her. Grinning, Emma rolled her trousers up to the knee and stood. The grass tickled her bare feet, as she strode to the pond, the damp, smooth stones slippery underfoot.
“This won’t end well.”
“You would say that,” she called over her shoulder taking another step in the ankle deep water. She turned, a smirk on her lips, then kept going, the water rushing up to her as she slipped, her bad leg giving way when she tried to catch her balance with a mighty splash.
Scrambling and thrashing, she pushed herself up, coughing to try to rid her mouth of water.
“Goddamnit,” she grumbled, her hair sticking to her face as water dripped off her. This was a bad idea.
As the noise of splashing water faded, the beat of her heart in her ears calming, laughter broke out amongst the birds and the wind. Light and carefree, lifting her spirits enough she had to hide her smile.
“It’s not funny, you know,” she complained, sitting back on her knees in the water as she caught her breath. Regina was closer to the edge of the water now.
“I know,” Regina spluttered, cradling her stomach, “Are… you… alright?”
“Don’t you try to ask me if I’m alright when you can barely get the words out!”
Regina snorted – actually snorted – and it was so like Emma that she knelt there stunned as Regina’s hand jumped to her mouth.
Emma climbed to her feet, wobbling partway which finally cut Regina’s laughter off. She stepped closer, arms reaching towards her but nowhere close enough to help. Emma changed that.
“Emma?” Regina squeaked as Emma looped her arms around her waist. “You’re getting me wet.”
Emma laughed, cackled even, which had Regina tensing in her arms. Without a second thought or doubt, she spun around plunging back into the pond with Regina in her arms, squealing before another splash silenced it all.
They surfaced as one, Emma laughing at the shock on Regina’s face. Laughing hard when she smacked her shoulder with no really intention behind the action. It was enough for her to ignore the discomfort she felt being so deep in the water.
“What do you think… why did you…?”
“Well you said I needed a wash.”
“What has that got to do with pulling me in?”
“It’s only fair.”
“Only fair?” Regina’s voice rose, exasperated. The breeze catching Emma’s skin brought out goosebumps, but she did not move to warm herself. Regina shoved at her shoulder, barely nudging her really.
Emma wrapped her arms around her, her clothes sticking to her uncomfortably, Regina nuzzled into her. “I’m sorry.”
“No you’re not.” Regina’s words were muffled into her shoulder.
“No,” Emma admitted with a smile, “No I’m not.”
They headed to the bank, the sun warming them rapidly. They dropped down basking in the sun, the soft grass at their backs, hands threaded together. They untied their hair, letting it spread out. No one would bother them here, with the more time that passed, the more Emma felt herself believe that and the more comfortable she was. They were safe, for now, from what chased them. Hopefully they would be safe for the rest of their days.
Her tunic rode up as she stretched, Regina’s fingers quick to find the dark pink of her scars, brushing her fingers over her soothingly. She didn’t need to ask, her question clear and asked many times before.
“No,” Emma murmured, “It doesn’t hurt. Not anymore.”
Though even with the surprisingly warm days, the nights were certainly not, and at the first sign of the afternoon Regina sat. They had much to do before nightfall.
Regina gazed out at the pond, the stream trickling into it, the wildflowers in various colours on the other side.
Oh. Emma sat up, words leaving her in a rush, “I got you something – made it actually.”
Emma rushed off, into the cottage, seizing what she had left on the table and returning to Regina who promptly started scolding her for not being careful. Emma dropped to her knees, hands held behind her back. Regina fell silent at that, quirking an eyebrow.
She brought the gift from behind her back, watching Regina’s eyes light up as she took it.
“I’ve been practicing.”
“You made me a wreath?”
“Clearly.” Emma nodded, smiling widely. It had taken a lot of effort, and some instruction from Aurora when she had visited the castle a week ago – though the princess had said it was not normal to make one so early in the year. Regina turned the wreath in her hands, dotted with fresh white and blue flowers. Emma grinned at her. “Well?”
Regina clutched it tightly, leaning over to press a soft kiss to Emma’s cheek, it made all the worries melt away.
“It is far better than the last one I was given.”
That made Emma’s grin spread.
“But you still need a bath.”
Emma rolled her eyes, climbing to her feet and offering Regina her hand to pull her up to her own feet.
“Now I just need to find somewhere to keep it, before it fades.” Regina’s face fell at the thought, but Emma slipped her arm around her, guiding her across to the cottage – their boots abandoned by the pond.
“Don’t worry. When it goes, I’ll just make you another.”
Regina smiled at her, and Emma considered briefly if there was an enchantment that could preserve it – if anyone would be able to do that, Flora would. She didn’t dismiss the idea as they entered the cottage, Regina placing the wreath temporarily on the table.
As they headed to the cupboard, starting to prepare their dinner together, Emma couldn’t stop smiling. This was their life now, their continued future with any luck, and nothing was going to stand in their way again. Not those still seeking them. Not all of the worries still there in the backs of their minds. They could forget it all for now and hopefully forever.
Regina disappeared as Emma was cracking an egg into a bowl, Emma looked back to see her handing the wreath in the window, clear to see inside and out, before she returned to her side. She caught her hand briefly, a brief squeeze, and they continued preparing their dinner in a comfortable silence. Content in their now, and their forever.