Author's Note: And here it is... the final part.
A Mile in Her Shoes 7
Astrid shields her eyes from the glow beginning to grow between the two women. Eventually it encompasses them, shrouding them from her view for several seconds. When it finally fades, the two women stand exactly where they had before, and each woman still stares into the other's eyes.
There was a faint movement of clasped hands. Astrid ventures, "Regina?"
The brunette head turns. Regina Mills' familiar voice, a little throaty, a little brittle, responds, "What is it?"
The fairy smiles. "Emma?" she says.
The blonde head turns. Emma's green eyes are revealing a little shell shock. The fingers she is grasping flex against her own. She swallows. "Um, yeah. I... I guess I did it?"
Astrid circles her wand over both their heads once more. White appears over Emma's blond locks and purple swirls above Regina's dark head. She smiles. "Yes, you did."
Emma exhales, almost visibly deflating. She pulls her hand away from Regina and shoves both her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. "All right. OK." She looks at Regina who is frowning. "Um. Sorry, something still wrong? You're... you, right?"
"Yes, Miss Swan, I am definitely myself once more." Regina looks down at her attire, the mish-mash of clothing Emma had selected that morning. She tucks in the tail of her blouse. Resolving the uneven buttoning will simply have to wait until a more private moment.
"Astrid," Emma says. "Thank you for your help. Could you... wait over at the car for a minute? I... I'd like to talk to Regina for just a sec. 'K?"
Astrid nods and turns, walking away from the other two women, tucking her wand inside the folds of her cloak.
"OK. She's gone. What didn't you want to say in front of her?" Emma asks.
Regina says nothing for a long moment. She brushes her hair out of her eyes from the wind and crosses her arms in front of her chest, a guard against the breeze... and other things. Finally she says harshly, "It's the same thing you wouldn't say in front of her... Emma."
The use of her first name, something that had only happened very recently from Regina, serves as almost a physical blow and Emma withdraws a step. The brunette turns and walks briskly to the sheriff's cruiser. She stops next to Astrid at the passenger side of the vehicle. As Emma watches, both women slip inside the car.
Emma hangs her head, takes her hands out of her pockets, one holding the keys, and trudges back to the car. "All right. Back to the convent."
Watching Astrid walk away, up the path back to the convent, Emma asks Regina, "Are you sure we should let her go up alone?"
"She has had much more practice hiding her thoughts from Blue," Regina replies, her tone is dry and annoyed. She is turning away when Emma turns to look at her.
"Regina." Emma knows what they aren't talking about. She doesn't know how to begin either. Finally she shakes her head and puts the car in reverse. "So, where do you want to go?"
"I have to return home. And the sheriff has to take me. I was led away in handcuffs for questioning, remember?"
"But Cora -"
"Is my mother and you will not handle her for me in some misguided notion of your responsibility to save me, Emma Swan."
"I promised, Regina."
Emma stops the car. Thankfully they are at an intersection and a stop sign. Regina nevertheless is lurched forward, her hand slapping against the dash to protect herself. But Emma's hand, also, stretches across Regina's chest. The light touch of her forearm to Regina's breasts has them both breathing hard.
Green eyes search brown, and the tone is firm. "No. I promised you."
"Regina, wherever our minds went while we were switching back, we were both there, and you know I mean it."
Emma won't forget that hazy moment any time soon. She had recognized her mind wasn't in Regina's body, and it wasn't yet in her own. Then she'd felt the presence of Regina's mind, alongside hers. It had felt like eternity, and no time at all, in the same instant. Her magic, Rumpelstiltskin had told her, was about emotion. Her desire to protect. There'd been flashes of memories: saving Regina from the fire, pulling Whale away from her on the porch, picking her up off the floor of the cell when the wraith attacked, and pushing her out of the way when it would have taken her into the portal to the Enchanted Forest.
"I'd do it again," she murmurs, opening her eyes and finding Regina's wide and a little frightened.
"No buts," Emma replies. "You have a very nice ass, and I intend to continue saving it."
Regina blushes. Emma smiles.
"Did you really do... that while you were in my body?" Regina asks obliquely. She doesn't want or need to be specific. After all, Emma saw the thought, too.
Emma grins. "Yeah, I did."
Regina was quiet. Barely above a whisper, she finally says, "I've never done that."
"I'd be happy to show you how."
"Miss Swan!" Regina grasps Emma's forearm to push it away. Emma puts some resistance into the muscle, never taking her eyes off Regina.
"Emma," she insists. After a moment, she feels Regina relax and releases her arm. "I'll take you home, but if your mother says or does anything, I won't hesitate to take you away again."
Regina's head is down. Emma puts the car back in motion. When Regina still hasn't said anything, Emma says, "You're not alone. Not anymore."
The sheriff's cruiser pulls into the drive at the mansion and Regina looks around before reaching for the door handle. Emma's hand meets hers at the belt latch. She looks up to find green eyes slightly crinkled at the corners and pink lips tilted up in a faint smile.
"All right?" Emma asks. She squeezes Regina's hand and then releases it. "Let's go." Regina watches Emma push her way out of the car before more sedately, and collecting herself a bit more with every measured move, she also steps out. She rounds the front of the car, skirting around a bush. Emma is waiting for her on the other side.
A light hand falls to Regina's back as Emma walks behind her up the path to the small landing at the front of her home. Regina realizes Emma didn't grab her purse when she left that morning. The handcuffs would have made that difficult anyway, she remembers fumbling the metal rings onto her wrists. "I need my key."
Emma steps away from Regina, who watches in surprise as the blonde goes directly to a small rock, one among many in the garden, turns it over and retrieves the key.
"Henry told me about it," Emma says when she returns to Regina's side, holding it out.
"Thank you." Regina fits the key in the lock and pushes the door inward. She hesitates a step after entering, looking around the foyer space, tilting her head to listen for noises. "Mother?" she calls. "Mother, I'm home."
After asking Regina to stay put with just a small "down" gesture with her right hand, Emma strides quickly through the rooms of the first floor. She returns to Regina's side with her report. "Not here. Maybe she went out."
"She doesn't know Storybrooke, and she has a penchant for impersonating me," Regina says.
"We did tell her that Archie had been found. Maybe she went to confront Hook about letting him get away."
"I'll call my father, tell him to be on the lookout," Emma says, pulling out her phone. "David... Uh, yeah, Dad? I need you to set up some patrols. Cora's around loose. She could be masquerading as Regina." She pauses. "Yeah, I know. I'll get the reports later. It's not like the mayor will punish me."
Regina asks, "What are you going to do?"
Emma doesn't answer until she is off the line. Tucking the phone back into her pocket she finally says, "Well, since I have a little free time, I thought we'd share a little of what we learned."
Emma cups Regina's chin. "About each other." She searches the brown eyes for some indication that she will be rejected. While there is fear in the depths, there is a flicker of something else, too. Emma forms a slow smile.
"Back in the station," Emma begins, her lips moving millimeter by millimeter closer to Regina's. "The first time, I mean," she clarifies, pulling back slightly. Regina's pupils are already expanding. Emma can feel the hitch in the other woman's breathing as it passes across her chin. "I told my parents I could see you were changing." She catches and holds Regina's gaze for a beat with her own. "The look on your face - the expression - I understood what you were feeling. Even then."
"Now through a mishap of magic that lasted all of a day," Regina sighs, "You think you know me."
Tapping Regina's temple lightly, Emma nods and smiles. "I gotcha." Regina scoffs at the slang. "My parents may be idiots, but they really know how to do this true love thing." Emma kisses Regina on the cheek. "So... give me a chance to prove it?"
"My mother -"
Emma cuts off Regina's words with a soft kiss against the woman's quivering lip. "Your mother is a crafty old witch but, you know what? I'm a crafty bitch. And so are you. We're going to be able to figure out what she's really after, and we will stop her, Regina." Emma's hands slowly caressing Regina's face, Emma can see, are beginning to soothe the other woman a little.
She doesn't have to move in all the way this time either. Regina leans forward a little, Emma can feel where her body stretches, and meets Emma's lips. There's a little of bravado in the action, and a lot of plea that Emma is right. Sliding her hands into the short dark hair, Emma holds on tight and offers her promise of protection in a kiss as sincere as any she has ever given.