A/N: Is… anyone still reading? I know it's been a long time since I last updated - 21 months to be exact. There was lots going on and I really didn't have the head to continue this fic. But thanks to my friend Anni here we are. She's wonderful. Same goes for my beta Alex who labeled this doc "RAR 2020". Now lets hope she won't have to label the next one "RAR 2021".
I hope you enjoy. Keep pestering me on Twitter, please. I found that really helped.
Please let me know what you think.
The next morning came packed with tension. Everyone felt like they had finally woken up from a horrible nightmare. To nobody's surprise, Keith was gone. After the brawl yesterday, he'd been sent home by production. They had told him they were willing to tolerate a lot on their show, but there was no place for violence. While a fight like this would spike the viewer numbers and would surely give the show better ratings, there had to be consequences. The other men were glad about Keith's departure and so was Regina. She never wanted to see him again, and she was thankful Gold had spared her the embarrassment of having her make him leave during the Night of the Roses. While Regina was nursing her bruised wrist, a few of the other men had their own injuries to tend to. Thankfully, no one had needed to go to the hospital but like everything in this business, the show had to go on.
It was early afternoon when a PA knocked on her door and asked her to please follow her to the living room. She'd declined Ruby's offer to give her a full once over and instead went with a light blue summer dress and a grey cardigan. Her hair was open, wavy, and unwashed but she didn't mind. The PA led her into one of the drawing rooms where a lovely little breakfast table was set. The camera team was ready and to Regina's surprise it was none other than Graham who was standing at the window. He looked nervous, making Regina wonder what all this was about.
"Hello Graham," Regina greeted him smiling.
Graham smiled back and stepped over to her. His eyes trailed over her face before they wandered down and stopped at her wrist. Slowly, he held out his hand, prompting her to reach for it. Regina was slightly confused with his behavior, especially as no one had told her about a one-on-one brunch date in the morning.
"I'm so glad you agreed to meet me, Regina. First of all, I'm sorry about what you had to witness yesterday."
"It's okay. It wasn't your fault, Graham. Are you alright? Any injuries?"
Graham shook his head, squeezing her hand softly. "I'm alright. Listen Regina, I asked you here for a reason, a reason that didn't become clear to me until late last night. I thought about it a lot and I hope you understand…"
"What is going on?" She asked nervously. He was still holding her hand but all she wanted was him to tell her what all of this was about.
"After we were told you have a son, I thought long and hard about what I want for the future. And while I am okay with marriage and everything, I don't think I am ready for a child just yet. Please don't get this wrong. I am sure you are a wonderful mother, Regina, and your son is the luckiest child in the world to have you care and fight for him. But I do not want to lead you on, and I think my journey here with you has now come to an end."
Suddenly it dawned on her what all of this was about. Graham wanted to leave - because of Henry. She stared at him openmouthed, repeating his words inside her head. He was not ready for a child and definitely not for a child which wasn't his own. Should she be mad or relieved? At least he was being honest about it. Never would she have guessed him of all people not being ready for a child. Perhaps it was good after all the fact she has a son had been revealed yesterday. It must have completely changed the game for some men.
"I appreciate your honesty, Graham. Thank you."
"You are an incredible woman, Regina," he smiled and squeezed her hand. "I'm so thankful I got to know you and be part of your journey here. And I wish you nothing but happiness. I hope you find it, but I'm afraid it is not going to be with me."
"I understand. Thank you for telling me." A wave of sadness overcame her at the prospect of him leaving because despite everything, she truly did like him. They'd had a great date and lots of fun together and if they'd met under different circumstances maybe things had been different.
They hugged goodbye and that was it. One more contestant gone. With two people leaving within 24 hours there surely would not be a Night of the Roses tonight. The thing was, she didn't even care. Seven men were left and one of them was Robin. As long as he was still here, things would be fine.
One of the cameras followed Graham outside while Regina was asked to describe her reaction to Graham's decision. She tried to be a neutral as possible:
"Of course, I was shocked Graham wants to leave but who am I to stop him? I appreciated his honesty. And while I'm sad to see him leave, everybody has to make decisions for themselves here and I understand that he is not ready for a child. It's a lot to ask of the men to accept my son into their lives especially when they have never met him. The revelation of Henry has changed the game for everyone involved. While I want to see who I can trust with my son, the guys need to decide for themselves whether they are willing to accept us both into their lives or not. Henry and I are a package deal, and none of the guys can change that."
"Aaaaand… cut!" was yelled from somewhere in front of her. Leroy put the camera down and walked off, while Ruby popped over to retouch her make-up.
"I'm so sorry, for the hectic day, Regina. I think everything was planned a bit differently. But production threw in the towel on the old plan. We have to go upstairs and get you ready."
"For what?" Regina asked tiredly, as she was dragged along to her room.
"Well, another date of course!" Ruby winked. Regina rolled her eyes and couldn't help but groan.
Today was one of those days where she felt sick and tired of the whole show. Was this even worth it? The emotional stress, the constant fake smile plastered on her face? Agreeing to not see her son for such a long time, while chasing the dream of Prince Charming? What had she been thinking when she'd agreed to this? She probably hadn't been. In the end, she just wished Tink would have been more honest with her about how draining this game would be. Ruby picked a nice red bikini with white polka dots, and an elegant summer dress with a beach hat and sunglasses for her to wear. She was informed by one of the PAs there was going to be a Night of the Roses tonight, however with two men dropping out, she was supposed to hand everyone a rose, so no one else would be leaving. Regina didn't mind, at least she didn't have to break one of the men's hearts tonight. Nonetheless, it meant there was a busy day ahead of her since she was now scheduled for a date with Killian around noon.
It has been… nice. Killian was nice. A bit full of himself and he liked to show off, but Regina figured it was the presence of the cameras mixed with lots of insecurity. They'd gone to San Francisco, where they'd had a little harbor trip with a picnic on a private yacht - which by the way belonged to Killian's father. She wondered whether there was some kind of advertisement deal involved with the show runners and Killian's dad, but in the end, it was none of her business. Talking about general nonsense had been nice. Killian told her more about the charity he was working for - hell, he even invited her and Henry to join one of the sailing trips scheduled for late summer, where they'd sail around the Gulf of Mexico with a few handpicked children with special needs.
It was a kind offer, especially when Killian insisted he would be there himself for the first time, as some of the guys had opened his eyes in regard to the topic in the past couple of days. Regina could see the change in him, could see honesty and the wish to help others slowly emerge. She was happy to have given him a chance to show his true self, which is why she'd gladly accepted the offer. Henry loved pirates. Spending two weeks on a boat, sailing across the ocean with other kids was an adventure he would surely like to experience.
After the date was over in the early evening hours, Killian was driven back to the men's hotel in St. Helena while she returned to Napa Valley, where she was informed she would spend one more night in her room at Arendelle. After the Night of the Roses, most of the men were going back to LA tonight. Not everyone though. Apparently, there was another date scheduled for the next day, but she wasn't told with whom or what it was.
When she walked outside to the beautifully decorated patio, she was met with tired smiles and curious gazes. Seven red roses were carefully draped in a vase. Everyone could do the math tonight which meant she didn't have to say a lot. There was just the issue of making what she said sound good for the cameras:
"The first thing I would like to do, is thank you. I know we are all still a bit scarred from last night. As you can see, it is just the seven of you left and with Keith and Graham gone now, I feel like the circle has gotten a lot smaller. This means though, there is more time we can spend together. You can get to know me better and I will be able to get to know you in return, which is something very important to me. I don't trust easily, and Keith's outburst last night has shown me that in order to make a decision, we need to show each other kindness. Honesty. Commitment. Love."
The men were quietly agreeing by nodding their heads and giving her tight smiles.
"So tonight, everyone will receive a rose as a sign of my trust in you. In us. In a potential future. So… Robin. Will you accept this first rose of the night?"
Their eyes met in an instant, his pools of blue shimmering with surprise. All of a sudden, the idea of a future together was in reach.
Finally! She's been allowed to slip away for once by herself in the early morning hours. Mary Margret's teacher had cancelled the piano lesson yesterday and rescheduled for this morning. On a normal Thursday, Regina was supposed to teach the girl riding on her horse which left little time to spend with Rocinante herself.
So, when the opportunity had come up, Regina had gotten permission to ride out by herself. Free. She'd felt so free and almost like she was flying while she galloped over the meadows far away from the stable and Storybrooke.
"Whoop whoop!" Regina yelled, her thighs pressed against the saddle and her upper body one line with the horse's neck. "Faster, Rocinante! Faster!"
The stallion didn't need to be asked twice. The tempo increased and Regina's hair flew in tangles against her face, lashing along with the ups and downs of the hills. It's been weeks since she was allowed to ride out by herself and could just let go. Back at the stables, Mary Margret is usually riding Rocinante because Leo wants her to get accustomed to large horses. Her stallion is kind and not easily scared, which is why he was hand-picked by Leo to be his daughter's training horse. If… and that's a big if they were allowed to go out, it was usually just a slow walk to Firefly Hill and back to the stables with Mary Margret on her eager pony and Regina trying to hold Rocinante back from storming off.
"Go, boy!" Regina urged, squeezing the last bits of strength from her horse which dashed on and on, its nostrils wheezing with exhaustion.
They made the last round when Regina slowly reigned Rocinante in to calm him down. The stallion was sweating under the saddle pad and along his chest, while Regina was just as exhausted from urging him along. If she could, she would go another round, but she's aware she's pushed her horse far enough for today.
"Well done, Rocinante," she said smiling, clapping his neck accordingly. The stallion snickered and turned his neck to look at her. A laugh escaped Regina as she searched her pocket for a treat, which he snatched away quickly. "You're such a silly, Rocinante."
They rode back to the stables, where she jumped off the horse with ease, pushing the switch under the flap. Rocinante waited patiently in front of the stable while Regina took off the saddle and bridle. His fur was curling where the saddle and girth had been, so she slipped on the halter and clicked it onto the chain next to the stable door. If she had to get a bucket with water, outside, it was better to make sure he wouldn't run off.
Regina was just about to turn around, when Rocinante's ears flattened.
"What's wrong, Ro? What did you hear? Hm?" Her hand reached up to pet his neck, assuring him he was fine, that nothing and no one was going to hurt him.
"Sorry, I think that was because of me," a voice at the stable doors answered, making Regina flinch in surprise. She quickly turned around, her heartbeat speeding up all of a sudden.
Now that Rocinante could see the intruder his ears were perked up with curiosity, especially, because Regina was running over to the man to hug him. Robin caught her in the air, twirling her around twice before setting her down. She pressed a quick kiss against his lips, her hands cupping his face.
"What are you doing here for heaven's sake?" she asked breathlessly. "What if anyone sees you?"
"I'm sure the horses won't mind," Robin grinned cheekily.
Regina's eyes dart around outside before she pulls him into the stable. She was so incredibly happy to see him here, especially because she hadn't managed to get away for the past two days. They were supposed to meet up tonight, but apparently Robin had taken matters into his own hands.
"You're an idiot."
"I missed you," Robin answered, as if that was an excuse for everything. He was still grinning at her and damn, who was she to be mad at him for surprising her?
"I missed you, too," she said instead, pressing another quick kiss to his lips. "You're lucky. I just came back from my ride."
Robin eyed the horse, carefully holding out his hand so Rocinante could sniff it. The stallion hesitated, wary of the stranger who'd scared him earlier, but he took a sniff and then nudged Robin's hand.
"So. That's my competition?"
Regina couldn't help but laugh, swatting Robin's shoulder with fake offense. "I can't believe you just said that!"
"Honestly, neither can I. That was one of my worse jokes."
"Agreed," Regina laughed, her head falling against his shoulder. "Still, I'm so glad you're here."
Robin nuzzled her hair and pressed a lingering kiss on top of it. Damn, he wished they'd have more time together. He missed her, missed her every minute of every day ever since he found her getting drunk in the bar in town. It was a crazy change to see her face light up and smile every time she saw him, as if for one small moment his presence would make things better for her. She didn't deserve what her mother and this dick ass of Leopold Blanchard were putting her through, no. She deserved all the good things… and he would make sure she'd get them. Soon.
"Give me a minute with Rocinante, will you? I need to wash off his back and put him back into the stable. Then I'm all yours."
"Can I help?" Robin asked. "I mean… I've never really worked with horses and I don't want to do anything wrong, but…"
"Of course, you can help. Who knows… maybe one day I'll let you ride."
"Who's making the cringe-y jokes now?"
Regina just laughed and went outside the stable to pick up a bucket with some water and a sponge. She was back within a minute and carefully dipped the sponge into the cool liquid.
"See here?" She asked, pointing at the area of the girth and saddle had been. "We just clean off this area with a little water to get rid of the sweat and debris. Here, take this." Regina handed him a soft brush. "You can groom his neck and chest while I'm cleaning off the rest over here. He loves it, so he'll hold still. Just make sure to always swipe in the right direction."
As they groomed Rocinante together, Regina told Robin about her ride and how she loved racing across the fields. Sometimes she wished there was someone other than Mary Margret who she could ride with, but on the other hand, this way she had some time to herself.
After she was done with the sponge, she cleared Rocinante's hooves and refilled the bucket of water so the horse could drink. Robin admired the way she handled the gentle giant and even though he'd never been one for horses, he found a strange sense of purpose and content in his actions.
Regina led the horse into its stable and closed the door. She handed Robin half a carrot and showed him how to properly feed the stallion by holding out a flat hand with the piece of carrot on top of it.
"He likes you," she stated happily, laughing, when Rocinante shoved his head against her and promptly pushed her into Robin's arms.
"Well, I don't think he's too bad either," Robin grinned back, before leaning down to kiss her. His hand wandered to her neck, cupping it gently from behind. Regina hummed and closed her eyes as she opened her lips for his sweet tongue. God, she wished every day could be like this. She giggled when she felt Rocinante wheezing warm breath into her from behind and even Robin couldn't help but laugh.
"We have an audience."
"Come on," she grinned and led him up the ladder to the haystack. She was the first to make it upstairs with Robin hot on her heels. He caught her in a kiss, but Regina had other ideas as she let herself fall backward and pulled him with her. They couldn't help but laugh as the soft hay dampened their fall. Dust swirled up around them, spreading the significant smell of hay around them.
Robin straddled her beneath him, smirking as he took off his shirt and leaned down to kiss her once again. She arched her hips against him but there was too much fabric between them for her to properly stimulate herself. A muffled sound of dissatisfaction escaped her throat, making Robin arch an eyebrow.
"Could you be any more impatient, Regina?"
"As if you didn't come here knowing fully well what you were doing, Mister," she sassed back as her skilled fingers were quickly unbuckling his belt.
"For the record, when I came here, I didn't expect to end up in a haystack," Robin mumbled while tugging at and unbuttoning her blouse. Regina's hands on his belt stilled as she raised a challenging eyebrow.
"Fine, I didn't expect to end up in a haystack with you, but I sure bloody well hoped to do s….aaah. Fuck." He looked down to see her hand cupped around his crotch. The smirk on her face was evil, purely evil as she let her fingernails teasingly scrape above him. His head fell back, eyes closed. Leave it up to her to play him like this. Just when one of her fingers was about to slip under the waistband of his shorts, Robin caught her wrist and pinned it over her head. Regina's eyes were dark, lustful, and twinkling.
She couldn't believe how easy being with Robin felt, how comfortable she was around him, despite being a bit sweaty and dirty from her ride earlier. Robin didn't mind, he never did. He told her she was beautiful in and out of clothes, sweaty or freshly showered. It didn't make a difference to him and the pure acceptance he gave her for any and every situation overwhelmed her with emotions.
"Let me do the honors first," he whispered against her ear, before kissing a trail down her neck toward her chest. He pulled one of her bra's cups aside to swirl his tongue across her already swollen nipple. Damn, he was good at this. Slowly, Robin continued his trail of kisses down her stomach, paying special attention to her navel, before unzipping her riding pants.
Regina lifted her hips so he could brush all fabric down and then bent her legs to the side so Robin could settle between them. It felt a bit awkward at first, her pants hanging down halfway across her boots, but in the hurry, she'd totally forgotten about taking them off. Anyway, as long as Robin didn't mind the position, she would leave everything the way it was.
"Beautiful," he mumbled, taking in her form beneath him. "You're so beautiful, Regina."
His face vanished between her thighs and his cool fingers carefully spread her. The tip of his tongue brushed over her clit, sending a shiver of pleasure down her spine. It took her everything to stay still and not push her hips into his face. Robin's tongue was teasing, brushing, flicking, but never quite sucking. It felt like the touch of a feather at times but never really enough to bring her even close to the edge. The bastard knew exactly what he was doing.
"Robin!" Regina moaned impatiently and felt him grin against her thighs. A languid swipe of his tongue from her entrance all the way up to her clit where he sucked once, flicked twice, shut her up. He continued the motion before he raised his head up and grinned at her, his tongue now licking his lips. Hot. He looked so hot, she gently grabbed him by his hair and pulled him up so he could kiss her.
Just when his tongue slipped into her mouth, two of his fingers slid between her slick folds while his thumb continued to work pressure on her clit. She was close now, close to come and fuck, fuck, she wanted him inside her, to feel him pound into her but Robin always, always has to have her come at least one time before he fucks her properly. Damn him. Damn him for…
Yes. Oh God. Regina arched her hips, rocked against his hand. Kissing Robin became an impossibility the way she was panting against him. The way he was looking down at her, the smug but caring expression on his face, damn, all she wanted to do was hit him and kiss him and…
"Regina?! Regiiiiiinaaaaaa! Are you here?"
Her eyes grew wide in shock as Robin stilled everything he was doing and pulled his hand away from her. The exhilarating need she'd just felt was completely gone, vanished and instead exchanged with shock. She stared at Robin, panic written all over her features as he scrambled to the side, eyes locked toward the end of the ladder.
They couldn't be seen up here, but there was the possibility Mary Margret would come up here to check.
"Shit. shit, shit!" Regina whispered, her body full of tension. She looked at Robin, complete helplessness embedded into her features as she pulled her pants up and hastily fixed the buttons on her shirt.
"Regina? Are you here? Hellooooo!"
Shit. What was she supposed to do? Her hair was a mess, picked with tiny bits of hay everywhere and damn, everything tasted and smelled like sex. Damn it, her fingers were shaking so hard she couldn't even fix the damn buttons! Robin came to her aid as quickly as he could.
"Regina, I heard something, are you hiding from me up there?"
"No! I'm coming. One second!" Regina yelled, her voice clearly on edge. There was nothing more she could do about her appearance, so she squeezed Robin's hand in silent thanks before she walked toward the end of the ladder. When she looked down, she found Mary Margret looking up at her suspiciously.
"What were you doing up there? Why didn't you answer?"
"I'm sorry, Mary. I was… There were… I thought I heard something up here. An owl or something, but I must have been mistaken," Regina explained hastily before descending down the ladder. "What are you doing here? I thought your piano teacher was supposed to come."
"The lesson ended an hour ago." Mary Margret continued to look up the ladder.
Regina's heart slipped down into her pants when the girl started climbing the ladder.
"Mary! What are you doing? Come down!"
"I want to see the owl, Regina," Mary Margret answered knowingly. Damn, damn, damn. The girl was suspecting something. Shit. If she found Robin, she would tell Leo and then he was surely going to kill her.
"Mary please, it's dangerous. I…"
"Mary Margret Blanchard! Come down there at once. What the hell is going on here, Regina?!"
Regina turned around at the familiar voice which usually sent a shudder down her spine. This was the first, and probably would be the only time in her life she was glad to see her mother. Cora Mills was standing in the entrance of the stables, features pinned in anger.
"But…" Mary Margret argued, but Cora would have none of it. If her mother was good at one thing, it was scaring the living life out of her own daughter and, well, everyone else.
"Now! I will not stand here and watch you break your neck. Regina. Why the hell didn't you stop her? And look at your hair! What on earth did you do?"
"I was just…"
"Shut your sorry mouth!" Cora hissed, slapping her across the cheek. Regina winced in pain but every slap across her face was better than her mother finding Robin up there.
"Back to the house. Both of you."
Mary Margret rolled her eyes at Cora before she hurried out of the barn. She knew perfectly well that Cora Mills would never raise a hand against her, not like she did with Regina.
Cora grabbed Regina's arm in a painful manner and dragged her daughter out of the stables. Regina threw one last glance at the top of the ladder where she knew Robin was hiding in the haystack somewhere. Hopefully, he wouldn't be seen when he slipped out later on.
The moment Ruby handed her the black riding pants and dressed her up in a white blouse and tartan colored riding jacket, Regina knew they were going to spend the day on horses. Still, when the van stopped on the estate with a large, very fancy looking riding stable attached to it, she was hit with a wave of nostalgia.
Daniel and Robin were already waiting for her, equally dressed up. Robin looked quite uncomfortable, his hands itching to pull at the riding pants which seemed to be eating up his ass. Regina couldn't hide her grin and when Robin caught her eyes, he knew exactly what she was grinning about.
The camera team was set and ready to go, so she walked over and greeted both men with a short hug and a kiss on the cheek. The trouble of the past days seemed to have been forgotten. Daniel was eager to pull her over to the three horses, which were saddled and ready for their little ride. Two gorgeous chestnut mares and one dapple-gray gelding. Someone had braided their manes beautifully.
"I was so excited to hear we were going out for a ride," Daniel explained. "I used to work at the local stables during the summers back in the day."
"So, you're a real stable boy then," Regina smiles, caressing the taller chestnut's neck.
"If you want to call it that way, yes. Have you ridden a horse before?"
Regina nodded, her hand stilling on the horse's neck. A sudden pang in her chest made it awfully hard to breathe. Memories of long rides with Rocinante and the feeling of wind in her hair washed over her, just as her eyes fell to Robin, who'd been holding a careful distance from the horses. She remembered giggles and hay in her hair. Soft touches and quiet moans and the sudden shock at the call of her name.
"I used to own one. A stallion," she finally told Daniel. Robin's head shot up in recognition. "He was the most elegant creature I've ever met. Kind and gentle, but he could be faster than the wind if you let him go."
Daniel was intently listening to every word she said. "That sounds incredible, Regina. Horses are such special creatures. Do you still ride him?"
"Ah… no. I'm afraid he was put down many years ago. I still miss him, though."
The use of her passive made Robin wonder but the look in her eyes confirmed his suspicions. Rocinante was put down, but not by choice. Once again, he wondered how cruel her mother and the sorry excuse for a man, Leo Blanchard must have been after the marriage. Blackmailing Regina at every turn, just to inflict emotional and physical pain upon her.
"I'm so sorry, Regina," Robin finally said, with Daniel adding his own condolences in agreement.
They were interrupted by a tall, quite good-looking muscular man with red hair held back by a headband. He was wearing riding pants as well as a shirt with the stable's logo in the middle.
"Hi everyone, nice to meet you. I'm Herc and I'm here to introduce you to your companions for the day. I'm also going to accompany you on the ride, just in case anyone has troubles with their horse. You must be Regina?" Hercules smiled and held out his hand for her to shake.
"Nice to meet you," Regina answered. "These are Robin and Daniel, my dates for the day. Thank you so much for letting us borrow your beautiful horses."
Hercules padded the gelding's back. "Are you guys excited?"
"Very," Daniel agreed.
"Now, here we have Pegasus." Hercules pointed at the dapple-gray gelding. "He's a character but lots of fun to be around. And these two ladies here are the beautiful Helena and Penelope – Penny for short. Now is there anyone who's never sat on a horse before?"
Robin raised his hand, feeling just a tad embarrassed. Well, nowhere in the application it said to have riding experience, did it? Why was he picked for this date anyway? Hercules registered his insecurity and dealt with it in a very professional manner.
"Don't you worry, pal. You should ride our lovely little Penny here then. She's quite gentle and used to beginners. What about the others? Any experience?"
While Daniel told Hercules all about his summer spent at the stables in his town and how he would love to ride Pegasus, Regina snuck a few steps over to Robin who was still looking quite unsure of the prospect to spend the day on horseback. He would probably not be even able to sit tomorrow, much less walk anywhere. Yup, he would look like a total fool.
"You ok?" Regina asked, leaning against him. If Daniel saw them, he didn't say anything.
"Not really. I've never sat on a horse. The only time I came close to one was when… Then."
"Rode other things in the meantime, huh?"
"Regina!" There was one thing he didn't need, and that was to get horny while wearing riding pants.
"The joke is still as bad as it used to be," she smirked. "Don't worry, you'll be fine."
He would be. She was sure Robin would manage the challenge as gracefully as possible. Indeed, she was now kind of looking forward to it.
Hercules helped her hop onto Helena just when Daniel swung his leg over Pegasus' back. Robin needed a little more help and if she were honest, it looked quite comical, the way he awkwardly swung his leg over the saddle and plopped down. The mare took a sudden step forward. A yelp escaped him as Robin leaned forward, desperate to hold onto something. Hercules calmed the nervous horse down and corrected Robin's feet.
"Easy, Robin. Calm down and loosen up. She can feel your tension, that's why she walked forward."
"Where can I hold onto?" Robin asked a bit desperately.
Regina couldn't help but laugh at Robin's face when Hercules handed him the reins.
"You're going to be fine. Regina, will you wait next to him while I go get my horse?"
"Sure." She made a noise and the horse walked toward Penny and Robin. She seemed to be at ease in the saddle, as if she'd come home. How did she do that, control the horse with a click of her tongue?
"Don't worry, Robin. It's like a walk in the park. You'll get the hang of it… eventually," Daniel encouraged him.
They took it slow. Two pickup trucks were following them, one with a camera team in the back and one with a cameraman standing on a seat and leaning out of the open rooftop. This way they could be filmed from the front as well as the back. The horses didn't seem to mind the cars much. Hercules explained that was because the stables were used as movie or TV-show sets from time to time, so the horses were used to cameras, many people and all that stuff.
They were led down a track between hedges before the scenery on front of them opened up to a wide meadow landscape, picked with scattered trees which allowed a rest in the cool shadow. Regina felt transported back to Firefly Hill which made it harder and harder to focus on the horse as well as the show. She could feel Daniel trying to catch her attention, but her mind was spiraling down into a sea of past memories.
Regina hadn't missed Rocinante in years, could still remember the feeling though, when Mary Margret had been carried in crying, her leg at an awkward ankle. All she had been able to make out were the words "horse" and "accident" from the paramedics around her. Leopold had been livid. It hadn't been Regina's fault, but he had made it so. Telling her Rocinante was a vicious beast for throwing off his daughter. The stallion would pay for what he'd done. And he did. With his life. Back then, it hadn't mattered that Mary told her father it had been her fault, that she shouldn't have taken him outside by herself, that the only thing responsible was the rabbit which had spooked the stallion. It had been the first eye-opener for Mary Margret back then. Unfortunately, it had come too late to save Regina's beloved horse.
"You seem quite distracted today," Daniel finally managed to catch her attention.
Regina's head shot up and she regarded him with a wary smile. "Just a little walk down memory lane."
"Hmm…" Daniel hummed. "What do you say? A little race to the birch tree over there?"
She looked toward where his finger was pointing and threw a look back toward Robin and Hercules who were mildly busy keeping Robin's mare in check, since he somehow couldn't quite manage to relax his muscles properly. It gave the mare all the wrong signals which constantly made her want to jump forward.
"Can we just do that?"
Daniel winked… and dashed off with a short: "Follow me!"
"Come on, Helena, let's show them who the champion is." Maybe it was time to just let go. Regina pressed her heels against the horse's sides, clicking her tongue. The mare made one jump and fell into an easy gallop, quickly catching up with Daniel's gelding. She lifted herself up and leaned forward in order to be one line with the horse's neck, her thighs pressed against the saddle.
There was a honk behind them, and she could hear the cars hitting the gas in order to follow them, but Regina didn't care. Flying across the meadows with a horse underneath her was a feeling Regina didn't know she'd missed until she had it again. Adrenalin poured through her body as she hurried the mare along.
The tree Daniel had pointed at earlier came into closer proximity. Their horses were neck on neck, speeding along so fast, the steady drum of the hooves aligned with Regina's heartbeat. One of the pickup trucks was chasing them, trying to get the best images of their race from behind.
"Faster, Helena, faster!" Regina urged on; hearing Daniel do the same to Pegasus.
In the end, they rushed past the tree so fast none of them could tell who won. Perhaps it was Daniel because his horse was a significant bit larger than hers, but Regina didn't care. She felt careless and free, incredibly happy. The race had lightened something inside her and in a weird sense, given her closure.
They reined the horses who came to a quick stop, nostrils blazing for air. She laughed because she couldn't believe how good she was feeling.
"What a race," Daniel cheered, playfully nudging her shoulder.
"It was incredible," Regina agreed, turning her head to shoot a smile at the camera which had finally caught up to them. It was then however, when her eyes trailed back toward where Robin and Hercules were supposed to be. Only it wasn't Robin and Hercules walking slowly toward them.
Robin's horse was way ahead of them, galloping toward them with Hercules and his horse chasing them. This… wasn't right. Robin was clutching to the horse's neck, barely holding on.
"Shit!" Regina yelled before urging on Helena, trying to catch up with him. "Robin hold on!"
If she thought she'd been fast before, now she was bolting like lightning toward the runaway horse. What the hell had happened? She'd been so busy racing Daniel… Damn it, she needed his horse to stop. If he fell, he could seriously injure himself.
Faster, faster, faster. Her horse was almost neck to neck with Robin's, who had now lost his footing as one foot had slipped out of the stirrup.
"Regina! Help!" Robin screamed frantically.
She grabbed for the reins, trying to rein the horse and slow it down while simultaneously reining her own horse. The presence of Helena must have calmed the other horse down, as she fell into a hurried trot and then finally, finally, came to a walk and stop.
Robin literally fell down over the side of the horse and landed in the grass on his back. He was breathing heavily, his whole body shaking. Regina got off her horse as well.
"Robin. Robin, are you okay?" She asked worried, immediately kneeling down next to him. Her hand cupped his cheek, caressing his skin with her thumb. He could have gotten badly hurt had she not managed to stop the horse in time.
"I prefer the other… riding," he huffed out, finally looking at her. Regina wanted to slap him and hug him and kiss him at the same time, however she was so glad he was alright, she just leaned down to kiss him. His hand entwined in her hair, keeping her in perfect place as she kissed him breathless. God, she wished they could stay this way forever.
"I don't want to interrupt, but are you okay, Robin?" Hercules asked.
The couple darted apart, realizing they weren't alone. The stable manager was holding the horses by the reins.
"Yeah. Uh… Just spooked, I think. I'm definitely not going to get back up there."
"What the hell happened?" Regina wondered.
Hercules rolled his eyes. "Well, you have to thank yourself and Daniel for that. When you darted off - which by the way, you just don't do when you have someone in the group who doesn't know how to ride - the film crew went wild. They honked and hit the gas, spooking poor Penny. Didn't help that Robin doesn't know what to do on a galloping horse."
Regina's heart slumped. She felt a mixture of angst and embarrassment having caused the incident in the first place. They shouldn't have ridden off like that, not without talking to Hercules first. Frankly, their actions had been quite reckless and just imagining he could have broken something… no.
"I'm so sorry, Robin. I… I didn't think."
"It's alright. I'm fine… Just… I don't think I'll be able to walk properly for a while."
The cars as well as Daniel finally arrived next to them. Hercules took a moment to dress the drivers down, who apologized to Robin. They really looked like they were sorry, probably because some of them would have lost her job had a candidate been injured because of their behavior.
Regina noticed Daniel being a bit off. Perhaps he'd seen the kiss they shared, but honestly, she didn't care. She told herself she would have worried about Daniel all the same had the roles been reserved. Hercules and herself helped Robin to get up. He groaned, pressing a hand against his back.
"Are you sure you don't want to go to a hospital?"
"I'm going to be okay, Regina. Just… not getting back on that horse," he declares, patting Penelope's back. "No offense, Penny."
In the end it was Leroy who broke the tension, when he obliviously suggested: "So. Picnic, anyone?"