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-- (n) the journey of changing one's mind, heart, self, or way of life

-- (n) a place from which one's strength is drawn, where one feels at home; the place where you are your most authentic self

"I think perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion."
               -- Yohji Yamamoto



Glancing up at the curse coming from my kitchen, I save the document I'm drafting and head out of my office. Before I can step foot into the kitchen, her voice filters out into the foyer again.

"Gina, don't you dare come in he-- shit!"

"Please tell me you're not thoroughly destroying my kitchen, Emma," I call from where I stand. I want to go see what she's doing, but I promised not to ruin whatever surprise she has planned for me. Taking a deep breath, the scents of citrus and spicy peppers waft across my palate. There's something else, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

"Not destroying your kitchen, Madam Mayor," she calls out, undoubtedly with a broad smirk on her face. "Go back to what you were doing and I'll call you when it's ready. Shouldn't be too much longer."

Rolling my eyes, I head back to my office. Try as I might, I simply cannot focus on the document I'm drafting for Snow's perusal. This City Planner position that she's given me is strange. The duties are so similar to what I used to do as Mayor, just without the power involved. Everything I do must be scrutinized and verified by Snow and her little war council. I don't care that she doesn't call them that, they are all people who'd been on her actual war council in the Enchanted Forest and that has not been lost on me.

The worst part of this whole situation is that I have to submit to weekly sessions with both Doctor Hopper and Reul Ghorm. The former reports generically to Snow about my mental state, the latter very specifically about my magical state. Interestingly enough, my magical state is often a topic for discussion in my sessions with the former. I'm sure those meetings would be far more fascinating if I weren't the subject of scrutiny. Or perhaps not. I never enjoyed the town council meetings before, and I certainly don't enjoy them now.

Rubbing at my temples to try to quell the headache growing again only makes me hiss in pain as the tender contact points from Owen's little ECT sessions are inflamed once again. I've been told that the pain shouldn't still be happening, that it's clearly all in my head, but I know those idiots don't have a clue what they're talking about it. It's not like any of them have been on the receiving end of all that electricity, particularly those that possess any shred of magic in this tainted land. Then again, their medical degrees are nonexistent, so their lack of assistance to me is more than apparent.

I'm not even sure why I got up this morning. The nightmares were back again in full force, or so I've gathered from Emma's overly solicitous questions this morning after the alarm went off. One side effect of the electrical torture is that I don't remember my dreams any longer. I still don't know whether or not this is a good thing. How can I combat the nightmares, attempt any sort of directed dreaming, if I have absolutely no idea what it is that's happening or when it begins? When I explain that this is getting to be a more regular occurrence, I know that Archie Hopper will jump at the chance to delve into unconscious and repressed fears and motivations. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear he gets aroused by the conundrum that is my current situation. Then again, that would make him no better than Whale, and I'm not sure I can even contemplate that possibility.

Shaking my head, I attempt to quell the spasming pain in my temples by taking another sip of my lukewarm coffee. The report needs to be finished before I can truly call it a day. The war council won't stand for me to get any kind of slack for emotional pain and anguish. I know full well that they all prefer to see me debilitated and suffering. A mirthless chuckle escapes my lips at the thought of just how hypocritical they truly are, the sound morphing into a low moan that reverberates through my aching skull.

"Just a moment," I murmur to myself, eyes fluttering shut as I attempt a few deep breathing exercises to find my center. The pain has to recede. I can't have the distraction, not now when everything is hinging on my compliance to the demands of Snow and her war council.

Before I know it, a knock at the door startles me out of my reverie. Glancing up, my eyes are drawn to the sparkle in knowing green eyes as she asks, "Whatcha doing, babe?"

My eyes fall to the monitor, where the words haven't changed since before I'd walked away, then to the notepad on my desk. It's covered with doodles: limes, lemons, avocados, chilies, onions, shrimp, hearts. Not surprising, given what I'd so briefly smelled from the kitchen. Well, the hearts are a bit of an outlier, particularly the greater concentration of damaged ones. But it's the scribbled words that lure me in.

"Help me help myself."

"What was that?" Emma asks, taking a step into the room. She closes the door behind her and leans against it.

"Just something I apparently was doodling while waiting for you to finish destroying my kitchen. I suppose it'll be fascinating to Archie Hopper at our next appointment." I can't help the sarcasm lacing my voice. Better this than making her worry about pains that shouldn't exist any longer.

Emma chuckles softly and holds out a hand toward me. "Why don't you leave that for now and come get something to eat? You sound like your blood sugar's a little low. I made something really special for you. First time I've made it and it's really good."

Curiosity wins out, pushing me out of my chair. She grabs my hand, brushing a sweet kiss against my lips, then guides me toward the kitchen. As I cross the threshold from office to foyer, there's a lightness to my step that I haven't felt all day. I'm quite sure the tantalizing smells coming from the kitchen are helping, particularly when my stomach growls loudly. The blush on my face is probably visible from space, but Emma just grins at me over her shoulder and says nothing. As we near the kitchen, she turns to face me and licks her lips, almost a nervous gesture.

"Close your eyes, Gina. I want this to be a surprise." Before I can even register the request fully, she quickly adds, "I swear I won't let you walk into the doorframe or anything like that."

Eyes narrowing at the idea of being led into a wall, I search her face for any signs of duplicity. Finding none, my only reply is to close my eyes and squeeze her hand. She hesitates long enough to press a gentle kiss to my lips, then leads me into the kitchen. The spicy, citrusy aroma is much stronger now, making my mouth water in anticipation. Maybe that blood sugar assessment isn't so off the mark after all. Emma sets our combined hands on the back of one of the chairs at the island, an obvious cue to have a seat. Obliging, I settle and lace my fingers together, hands and forearms resting on the counter.

"All right, babe, one more request before you open your eyes." She clears her throat, then the delectable scent draws closer, and I know her request before she asks it. "Open up, please?"

Without hesitation, I open my mouth, hoping I don't drool too badly before she puts the food in my mouth. That scent gets closer, and an explosion of flavors coats my tongue. The heat of Thai chilies is offset by the tang of fresh lime juice. The tomato has just a hint of sweetness brought out by the mellow, buttery avocado. And then I focus on the stars of the dish: shrimp and calamari. Chewing slowly, the texture is incredible, perfectly blending with the various flavors. I swallow and lick my lips slowly, letting a small moan escape.

"Please tell me that's a good reaction and I didn't just give you food poisoning or something."

The traces of uncertainty in her voice warm my heart and remind me again why I fell in love with her. Her face comes into focus as my eyelids flutter open again, and I reach out to cup her cheek with a smile.

"Perhaps you should give me another taste," I reply, voice thick with emotions I can't -- or won't -- name just yet. "I definitely need a second exposure before I can give you a proper assessment."


Candlelight flickers, faintly illuminating the bathroom and making interesting patterns only sensed through my closed eyelids. Shifting slightly, I attempt to alleviate the crick in my neck before settling back against the inflated pillow cushioning my skull from the unforgiving porcelain of tub and tile. The scents of beeswax and lavender vie for my nose's attention, highlighting the mellow notes of lavender and honeysuckle in the glass of wine at my side. A slow, deep breath settles me further into myself as I let the soft sounds of rain and the ocean surf coming from my iPod calm and soothe me. The report's finally done and I can hand it off to Snow in the morning, which allows me the opportunity for this lovely soak in the tub.

"Hey, beautiful."

Her soft words bring me from the light trance I've fallen into. A smile curls up the corners of my lips at the welcome intrusion. "Hey yourself."

"Henry just turned in, so I thought I'd see how you're doing." She slips further into the room, leaving the door cracked open just slightly, and settles on the toilet next to me.

"He got his homework done then?" The husky, sleep-slurred quality of my voice further illustrates just how much I needed this solitary soak.

"He got as much research done as he could, but he was yawning his head off, so I told him to call it a night." She holds up a hand before I can even part my lips. "And yes, I know I shouldn't let him shirk his homework, but it's a summer school class and he's actually ahead of the rest of his class, so it seemed okay."

Her earnest expression makes me laugh, and I lazily raise a hand toward her. "It's fine, Emma. I happen to know that his teachers all fear his mother and adore his grandmother. I think he'll be fine. I've already promised him some time this weekend to work on the report itself."

"You're not that parent that does the work for the kid, are you?" she teases, a subtle smile playing across her lips.

I resist the urge to roll my eyes, and scoff, "If that was the case, the report would already be done, complete with a detailed appendix of resources used and several graphs and illustrations."

That makes her laugh loudly. The sound is music to my ears, even as it echoes off the walls and makes my temples ache just a bit. No matter what I'm feeling, she's able to bring out hope. "My savior," I murmur softly, eyes fluttering shut briefly. Her laughter dies off, replaced by the rustling of her clothes just before her fingers touch my hand.

"Hey, you okay?"

"Just tired, I guess." It's not exactly a lie. Ever since Owen -- Greg, whatever he wants to call himself -- tried to play catch the lightning with my body, I've been tired far more easily. "I'm sure Archie will be thrilled to delve into the intricacies of my sleep habits when we meet again later this week."

"You know he's only trying to help, right?" she asks and I can only shrug in reply. "Do you want some company in there? Or am I disturbing your alone time?"

Shaking my head, I'm startled by the sudden sting of tears in my eyes at the thought of being left alone again. "Don't go," I whisper as my hand turns to grip hers tightly, needing the reassurances yet again that this is real, that it's not some weird feedback loop of wishful thinking while Owen tortures me with more electricity coursing through my body. Her fingers twine with mine, squeezing back just as tightly, and I'm anchored again in the moment.

"Let me have my hand back, okay?" She smiles encouragingly when I open my eyes to stare at her. "I kinda need it to get undressed and join you. I mean, unless you want me to wear my clothes in the tub. That'll just mean a huge sodden mess to clean up later though."

A sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob escapes my lips as I release my death grip on her hand. My eyes avidly track hers as she stands up, close enough for me to reach out and touch her thigh for reassurance if I need it. That broad, encouraging smile doesn't falter and her eyes remain trained on mine as each layer of her clothing is discarded in a pile behind her. My eyes briefly leave hers repeatedly to take in each new swath of exposed skin until she's as naked as I am.

"Sit up, Gina," she says softly, waiting until I do to step into the tub behind me.

Once again I'm grateful for the way the curse was cast to give me this huge tub in the master bath. Settling behind me, she groans as the hot water caresses her skin much as it had done to me when I first stepped in. After a moment of acclimation, she reaches forward, hands resting gently against my stomach to pull me back against her chest. My head rests back on her shoulder, turning slightly so I can nuzzle at her neck. The scent of leather and Emma blends with the beeswax and lavender to soothe my frazzled nerves even more.

"Can we just stay here forever?" I whisper against her skin, arms settling happily over hers on my stomach.

She doesn't answer immediately, but I can feel the smile as she brushes her lips across my forehead. One hand gently rubs circles on my stomach as the other glides up to rest over my heart. A soft sigh escapes my lips as I can feel her heartbeat against my back, eyes fluttering shut again. We sit in silence for several moments, my anxiety ebbing with each crashing wave on the iPod. Sleep beckons with the oblivion of the rest I clearly need, but the unknown nightmares taunt me from the edges of consciousness.

"Shh, it's okay, Gina. You're safe. I'm right here and I'm never going to leave you alone to deal with any of this, I promise."