“Hey Emma,” Ruby says. There’s a second of hesitation, but she scurries around the counter and drags Emma into a hug. It’s awkward at first (Emma’s out of practice), but soon she settles into it, and rests her chin on Ruby’s round shoulder.
“I heard. I’m so sorry,” Ruby whispers.
“Yeah.” They weren’t dating or anything, so Emma doesn’t know why she’s getting all this sympathy. Maybe Mary Margaret was right; maybe it was always obvious to everyone except herself.
Ruby finally lets Emma go, smoothes her skirt, and slaps that wide, friendly smile back on her face where it belongs. “How about some lunch? It’s on the house. Anything you want. Pancakes, right? You like pancakes.”
“Any time of day,” Emma chokes out, forcing a smile that Ruby probably wasn’t even looking for.
“Coming right up.”
Emma’s going to miss this place. It’s nice having people who are happy to see you walk into a room. She’s never really had that before, at least, not with nice people. Loads of people have looked happy to see her, but they’ve usually been assholes with police records she’s about to bust.
It’s barely past noon, but it’s coming off a long night. She fell asleep in the waiting room, waking up hours later, long after everyone had given up and all the doctors and nurses from the last shift had gone home. She’s here in the diner for a quick lunch, and then it’s back to the apartment to pack.
Hopefully she can be gone before Mary Margaret gets home late this evening. She’s already written the note.
She’s done this before.
The bell over the door rings, but Emma barely hears it, and only realizes someone has entered when a body slides into the barstool next to her.
“I’d ask you if you had a rough night, but I already know the answer,” a voice says.
She looks up and sees Dr. Whale giving her a serious smirk. She nods. “Hey.”
“I saw you passed out on the bench on my way out this morning. Didn’t have the heart to wake you.”
“Yeah, I needed the rest. Thanks for everything you did last night.”
He hangs his head. “From the highest of highs… Just the other day, I was so pleased with myself about David getting out of that coma. And then this happens. I hate when it doesn’t work. I hate when there’s nothing I can do.”
“You did your best.” Emma doesn’t know why she’s trying to comfort him; she doesn’t even particularly like him—Emma’s loyal as a dog and even though things are better now, she’s still harboring vestiges of annoyance about his date with Mary Margaret awhile back—but he seems oddly broken up, in his own laid-back way. He shakes his head, and even though he’s usually super confident, he doesn’t look her in the eye, preferring to gaze wistfully into the middle distance.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like… I don’t know how to explain it. His heart was crushed.” He snaps his head around and stares at her, almost angry, like he’s used to winning and understanding and this is the first thing that has ever eluded him. “The kind of thing you only see when a tree’s fallen on someone’s chest or something. It was beyond me. Nothing’s ever been beyond me.” He slumps, like the anger has been popped just as effectively as his self-confidence (which probably needed to be taken down a peg anyway, she thinks). “And he was such a nice guy, too. We used to go hiking together in the woods around town.”
Emma never went hiking with Graham, but it’s nice to be reminded that other people will miss him, too, once she’s gone. “He really was.”
Ruby comes by with Emma’s pancakes. “Hey, doc. What are you in the mood for?”
Emma can tell he’s really tired, because he doesn’t even bother to check her out like he always does. “The usual. Thanks,” he mumbles. Ruby nods, understanding.
The doctor rouses himself from his stupor and looks at Emma. The bags under his eyes are full, and Emma knows he can’t have slept more than a few hours; he’d been working until almost the morning, trying to enact a miracle, but Emma knows more than most that there’s no such thing.
“What’s that?” he asks, pointing at the envelope sticking out of her jacket pocket. Emma pulls it out. Written across the front is Mary Margaret’s name.
“Don’t you guys live together? You really need to get a better system of communication,” he jokes.
Emma frowns, and isn’t sure how much she should say. But he watches her eyebrows and figures it out anyway.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you? And that’s your Dear John letter.”
He shrugs and reaches for the newspaper, and Emma wonders if he does it purposefully to make her feel small, especially when his next line is, “That’s dumb.”
It isn’t the word anyone’s ever used for any of her escapes in the past. Though, maybe that isn’t an accurate statement: she’s never stuck around long enough for anyone to express an opinion at all. “How is it dumb?”
He answers her absently, busy scanning the headlines, even though she knows he’s too tired and angry to digest any of it. “Running away because you lost something. Because things got real. I may not be at the center of the rumor mill, but as far as I’ve heard… Isn’t that exactly what Ms. Mills expects you to do?”
“You know about that?”
“That she hates your guts and wants you gone? It’s the worst-kept secret in town.” Dr. Whale closes the paper, having made his point. “Where are you going to go now?”
Emma hasn’t thought it out that far, and she isn’t used to people asking her about her plans. “I guess back to Boston. I was freelancing. I can probably get my old job back. I was good at it.” The sentences form themselves, but even as she speaks, she can feel the old emptiness creeping back. It’s the only thing she can do, but the more she thinks about it, the less appealing it sounds.
And then the doctor surprises her.
“You should stay.”
“Why?” She doesn’t understand why he, of all people, should care. They hardly know one another. If anyone, anyone at all in this town other than Henry, is going to miss her, it isn’t him.
“Because I believe in doing the unexpected whenever possible. Because this town finally started to get interesting when you came along. Regina expects you to leave and for things to go back to normal. That’s why you should stay.” He gives her a side-long smirk. “And because I like a good cat-fight.”
A smile cracks through, despite herself. “She punched me in the face yesterday.”
“Oh yeah?” He looks at her with new interest. “What did you do?”
“I punched her right back. What else?”
“Sounds hot. Wish I’d been there.” He grins through his tiredness and sadness. “Hey, let me buy you a drink.”
Emma immediately scoots her stool away. “Oh no you don’t. Girls talk. I know where this is headed, and I’ll tell you right now, it’s out of the question. She’s my roommate, for crying out loud.”
He chuckles into his coat collar. “Come on. I know I’m no Prince Charming, but I’m not that gross. You’ve had a rough time and you need a drink. Same goes for me. That’s all this is about. I swear.”
She studies him, reads him, and yeah, his hair is kind of greasy and his manners are a little on the douchey side, but he’s telling the truth. She can always tell; even when everything’s falling apart, at least she has that to fall back on. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions like that.”
“It’s okay. You’re hardly the first.”
Ruby comes over and even though it’s only lunchtime, Emma orders a double scotch. On the rocks. Dr. Whale gets the same. Ruby slides the glasses down the bar with a sympathetic shrug.
Emma rubs rings along the top of her glass and muses. “Prince Charming.”
“You said, ‘I know I’m no Prince Charming’. And you’re…” She thinks but doesn’t say, And you’re Mary Margaret’s rebound from David. “Have you been talking to Henry?”
“Regina’s kid?” He does a double take. “Oh wait, sorry. I mean, your kid, right?”
“Either way works. But yeah, him.”
“I see him around, of course. It’s not that big of a town. But I haven’t talked to him more than I’ve talked to any other kids. Why do you ask?”
“He’s got this theory…” she starts and then shakes her head. “Never mind. It’s crazy. I don’t know why I’m even talking to you about this.”
He shrugs. “I’ve got nowhere to be. Try me.”
He doesn’t ooze empathy and they aren’t friends, but there’s something about him that makes her want to talk, something about the way he sort of doesn’t give a shit that puts her at ease. Like he doesn’t care either way, so there’s nothing to lose; that’s something she’s always responded to. Emma can see why Mary Margaret opened up to him. The story’s halfway out before she realizes she’s started telling it. “He thinks we’re all characters from fairy tales. You know, like Disney stuff. Everyone except for me. Apparently Archie’s Jiminy Cricket and Mary Margaret is Snow White. He thinks his mom is the evil queen from the Snow White story. You know, the one with the apples. He thinks the two of us are destined to wage war or something.”
“Pitting one parent against another? Wow. That’s some classic Freudian stuff he’s got there.”
“Yeah, it’s completely nuts.” Emma shakes her head. Something about the way it just came out of her mouth, and something about Whale’s flippant response has brought it home in a way that talking very seriously about it with Archie and Regina and Mary Margaret hasn’t so far. “He’s crazy,” she whispers. “I have a crazy son.”
Dr. Whale doesn’t look sad or concerned or even surprised. He just takes it in stride. “Do you really think he’s crazy? ‘One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad,’” he says in a sing-song voice.
Henry’s a boy, so this has to be a quote or something. “What’s that from?”
“Did you ever read the Narnia books?”
“Those are kids’ books, right? I saw the trailer for the movie a few years ago.”
Whale shakes his head. “You’re joking, right?”
“What?” Emma says. “I read mostly non-fiction when I was a kid. Still do. I never saw the point of getting invested in fantasies. Talk about setting yourself up for a let-down.”
“Wow, I’m not even going to get into that. I can get you a referral for Archie Hopper if you want.”
“No thanks. I’m good. Anyway, what about these books?”
“Right. So, they’re about these kids. The first one goes through a wardrobe and winds up in a magic land. But when she comes back, no one believes her. And the professor guy whose house they’re staying in tells the girl’s siblings that there are only three logical options: either she’s lying, or she’s crazy, or she’s telling the truth. And since the kid never lies, and she doesn’t act crazy, the only viable option is that she’s telling the truth. So he tells them to just roll with the whole enchanted forest thing.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. From what little I’ve seen of Henry, well, he doesn’t seem crazy. He seems like a totally normal kid.”
Emma muses. “Mary Margaret says the same thing. And I’d know if he was lying; he isn’t.”
Whale combines an orchestral-looking flourish with a signal to Ruby for more drinks. “So therefore…”
“You don’t honestly believe that?”
“I’m a doctor. I like logic. I like narrowing down the possible diagnoses, the possible explanations. It works for everything else, so why not this?” He finishes his drink and winks at her mid-gulp. “And Regina has a hell of an apple orchard.”
Emma thought she’d never laugh again, but now she does. She laughs right into her drink, sending splashes up and over the sides. “She’s also a total bitch.”
“I wasn’t going to say it, but since you put it out there… I’d buy her as the Evil Queen.”
He tucks into his omelet, which has been getting cold, and Emma resumes work on her pancakes. They don’t go with the scotch, but now there’s something else, something friendly and fuzzy warming her insides, and she realizes she doesn’t need the drink anymore.
“Hey,” she says after a few minutes of silence. “Do those books count as fairy tales?”
“What, the Narnia ones? I don’t know. It’s a reach, but sure. Why?”
“Henry says I’ve been involved in some inter-dimensional wardrobe travel.”
“It apparently happened when I was a baby, so I don’t remember. It’s pretty random and specific. All the other stuff he says is pretty standard, so I’ve been wondering where the hell he got that one from.”
“I wonder who I am.”
“In Henry’s Enchanted Forest. If everyone’s got a role, it stands to reason I’ve got an alter-ego, too.”
Emma gives him the once over. When taken like this, like a game, Henry’s little obsession is actually kind of an enjoyable way of looking at the world (she’d never tell him that, though). Much as she didn’t want to admit it, it was freaky when Mary Margaret giving David CPR woke him up, and it was weird how Ashley had a mean step-mother and step-sisters. It’s pretty clever of the kid, she realizes, to be able to see all those connections and graft them onto something else. He may be nuts (or right, as Dr. Whale seems okay assuming), but he is smart.
So she stares at the doctor, trying to do what Henry’s so good at. However, as she just said, she isn’t very good with fairy tales. She doesn’t have knowledge of them at the tip of her fingers.
“Sorry,” she finally says. “I have no idea. What would you like to be?”
“Peter Pan,” he says without hesitation. “He had a pretty good time. Flying. Pirates. A hot fairy to take care of him. Life isn’t so bad for Peter Pan.”
“I think it would be lonely,” Emma says. “Everyone grows up and he stays the same.”
Dr. Whale thinks about it and scrunches his face. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
“I gotta head off to my shift.”
“Already? You were there all night.”
He flips his hands as if to say, ‘what can you do?’ and puts his jacket back on. Then he sticks out his hand.
“Well, I’m sorry to see you go. Good luck with everything.”
He leaves a twenty on the counter for Ruby and heads out. Emma watches him go, watches him collide with a rushed Mary Margaret in the doorway. They do the classic back and forth, who’s going first, trapped in a small space for no reason dance. He smiles, she smiles. It’s super awkward. Finally, she breaks free and rushes into the diner and he makes his way out.
“I’ve been looking all over for you!” Mary Margaret says to Emma just before she stops to catch her breath.
Emma grabs hold of her and steadies her. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”
This is really terrible timing. Crap.
“It’s lunchtime, so I popped out really quickly. I thought you’d be sleeping. I was going to bring you some lunch, but you weren’t there.”
She’s so sweet, she really is. Like a ball of cuteness such as Emma doesn’t think she deserves. She feels like even more of an asshole now.
“I needed some air,” she says lamely.
Mary Margaret pulls her into a hug, even more close and caring than Ruby’s. “Are you okay?”
Emma shrugs. “I don’t know.”
“I have to run back to class, but I’ll see you after school, okay? We’ll do something girly. Watch Notting Hill or something.”
Emma can’t lie. Not out loud. Not to Mary Margaret. So she nods.
She watches her scramble outside again and out of sight. It breaks her heart a little, again, some more.
She tells herself that Mary Margaret will get over it. Henry will get over it. No one’s ever missed her before. Why should they start now?
A little while later, she heads back to the apartment and takes a last look at it. Her absence won’t make much of a difference to Mary Margaret’s decorating. It’s not like she has much in there anyway. Packing only takes a few minutes, and soon she’s in the car.
The key’s in the ignition when there’s a rap on the window. Emma looks up to see Regina smirking triumphantly at her.
Emma rolls down the window.
“Going somewhere?” Regina asks.
“For a drive.”
“This is good, you know. This is what you’re supposed to do. Leave. Everything was better off before you came, and they’ll be better again once you’re gone. Everything can go back to the way it’s supposed to be. Everything can go back to making sense.”
“You mean to being boring?” Emma snaps back.
“Semantics. If life had remained boring, Graham would probably still be alive.”
At this Emma gets out of the car. She gets up close in Regina’s grill. Dangerously close. “Don’t you dare speak to me about him.”
Regina doesn’t flinch. “You wouldn’t be so defensive if you didn’t feel responsible.”
It’s ridiculous and immature and wholly inappropriate, but Emma can’t help herself. She spits in Regina’s face. Hocks a loogie and launches it.
It takes a lot to make her flinch, but this manages it. Regina shudders and steps back. She pulls out a handkerchief and wipes her face.
“You’ll regret that.”
“No matter what you do to me, that will have been worth it. Mark my words, it’s going to end some day. I don’t care if you’re the mayor or the Evil Queen or the goddamn genie. What you have going can’t last. Henry won’t be here forever.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No. A fact.”
Regina cracks an incredibly nasty smile. “Goodbye, Ms. Swan. I hope you find somewhere you belong out there in the world.”
She walks away, leaving Emma fuming in her wake.
She gets back in her cramped little car and starts driving. When she gets to the border, she stops.
In some ways, she understands what Graham was talking about, fever-induced as it clearly was. He had a wall. She has a wall. He had always been too scared to feel. She is, too.
And look what happened to him when he tried to change. If ever there was a cautionary tale, a fable of sorts, of what to expect… well, that’s it.
But there’s something about what the doctor said. Why should she do what the story tells her she should? Why should she do what everybody expects? It’s safe and it’s boring and it’ll leave her where Graham was before: stuck in an endless cycle of emptiness.
Plus, Regina has it coming.
In an uncharacteristic fit of romantic silliness underscored by more characteristic logic, she turns the car around.
It isn’t that big of a town, and she’s at the hospital within a few minutes. As deputy, she has free reign of the place, and sweeps by the nurses and patients.
She spots him, outfitted in his white lab coat again, looking like the walking dead. They work him too hard. Are there even any other doctors, she wonders. She waits until he’s between patients before clomping up to him.
He turns around in shock at the sound of her voice.
“That’s who you are. Taking from the rich, and then turning around and giving to the poor. Nobody expects that. And that’s your whole motto, isn’t it?”
“Does that even count as a fairy tale?” he says, apparently totally blasé about the fact that she’s still here.
“There’s a Disney movie of it. With cartoon foxes and stuff. In fact, I’m going to caveat my previous statement. You’re the Disney fox Robin Hood, not the regular one. It’s either that or Doc the Dwarf.”
He grins at her, wolfishly, foxishly. Actually, the more she thinks about it, the more right it feels.
“I’m not a Dwarf. Even if I do take in Mary Margaret when she’s sad and in trouble. But Robin Hood I could live with. I’m pretty good with a bow and arrow, too.”
Emma rocks in her boots, pleased with herself. “See? I’m good.”
“Wait, but wasn’t the Sheriff his enemy? Graham and I got along fine.”
Now that Whale’s gotten her to look at it just a little bit more seriously, she’s starting to get the hang of Henry’s logic. “Yeah, but he was only the Sheriff here in Storybrooke. That doesn’t count. Nottingham is probably someone else.”
He leans in close and whispers, “The head of the bank has it in for me.”
“So you’re staying?” he asks.
Emma looks over her shoulder; she may be giving in, but she doesn't want to make him too cocky. “Yeah. Leaving would be boring. Dumb.”
The smugness radiates off him, but she finds she doesn’t mind. “Thatta girl.”
Emma grins despite her resolve. Graham may be gone, but at least his death can mean something. It doesn't make it better, but it's something to hold on to. He stood up for himself, looked for his heart; she'll do the same.
On her way out, she says, “Next time I plan on decking Regina, I’ll call you first.”
“I’ll bring the popcorn.”
Snow White sees men coming from every direction, armed men wearing the Queen’s crest. The high tree branch she’s currently perched on is this close to giving way, and no matter how she looks at it, she’s screwed.
She used up her fairy dust on Charming last week so the only recourse she has left is the whistle the Huntsman gave her. She’s been saving it for only the most dire of emergencies. This looks like it might be the time.
Just as she’s making up her mind, there’s the ominous creak of wood splintering. One of the guards looks up and spots her. She puts the whistle to her lips and blows as she falls, blowing with all the air she’s got even as the men grab her.
Nothing happens. The men put her in irons and drag her onto a horse, with one of the bigger men as an escort.
It’s all over.
Snow doesn’t hold it against the Huntsman; he’s already saved her once, and that was already a lot. His magic whistle thing working would only have been a bonus, not something required.
They ride for a few minutes; the men don’t seem happy to be capturing her. She can tell they’re under orders, and are even more scared of the Evil Queen than she is. She almost feels sorry for them.
Just as she’s about to say as much, there’s a rustle in the trees, and then another and another. An arrow hits the helmet of the man escorting her. Then the man riding on the horse in front of her is taken out, too. They all look around them, but there’s nobody there. Nevertheless, guard after guard gets shot, with perfect precision, because there are very few weak spots in the armour they’re wearing.
Soon she’s alone in the road, gripping her horse tightly by the reins. The other horses, now riderless, have all run away.
A man drops down from one of the trees. He’s good-looking, in a way, though the fact that he knows it kind of dampens his attractiveness.
“Where’s the Huntsman?” he asks. “I gave him that whistle. I don’t understand what you’re doing with it.”
“He gave it to me. He said if I was ever in trouble, I should use it and help would come.”
The man stands akimbo, grinning smugly. “And it did. We made pretty work of them, if I say so myself.”
“You didn’t have to kill them.”
He tilts his head and studies her carefully. “This is a strange form of gratitude.”
Snow frowns. He offers her a hand to help her off her horse, but she refuses it, preferring to dismount on her own. He chuckles at her defiance.
Some other men, now leading the abandoned horses, return to the clearing.
“Not a bad haul, not at all,” he says, appraising each horse with a glance. “Whether or not you thank us, each of these horses is worth a substantial amount.”
“What will you do with them?”
“There are some poor farms in need. We’ll drop these off next week. The Queen will never look for them there.”
Snow White is confused. She has never encountered thieves who give their booty away. “I expected you to sell them.”
He winks at her. “Where would be the fun in that?”
Snow White brushes the dust from the fight off her cloak. “If it’s all right with you, I’ll be on my way. If you see the Huntsman, tell him I’m grateful.”
She’s about to take her leave when his hand on her arm holds her back.
“I wouldn’t go off on your own yet, if I were you.”
“The Queen’s entire army is transitioning from the winter palace to the summer palace today. We may have saved you from this lot, but you’ll run into them again. Stay with us, and we’ll make sure you’re safe. Then you can go wherever you please.”
Snow narrows her eyes. She hates that he’s right. However, he has a point. “Fine. Just one night, though. And then I head off on my own again.”
He shrugs. “That’s about as long as I ever let a woman camp with me and my men anyway. My name’s Robin Hood, by the way.”
“Snow White.” She deigns to shake his hand.
“Nice to meet you.”
“The pleasure’s all yours.”