When he wakes up, it’s still dark outside (which is weird because it’s been years since he couldn’t sleep through the whole night, years since he woke up feeling this alert, this anxious), but his mom is in the chair next to him and the odd feeling flits away. It’s the seat she sits in whenever she can’t sleep, and his heart does that odd thump against his ribs knowing she’s still there, still breathing, still alive.
He sighs. It’s not worth worrying over (because its fine, he fixed it, he got rid of the pen) but those breathless few moments stick stubbornly in his head, watching every breath his mom took make the red stain in her shirt spread, when all he could think about is how, how could it end like this, where will you go
Slipping out of bed, he creeps up next to seat, watches her for a moment. She is fine. She looks a little tired, but she’s alive. She’s okay. Sighing, he brushes her hair back from her face (so long now) and drops a quick morning kiss on her forehead. “Glad you’re okay, Mom.” he sighs, then stretches, cracking the small bones in his shoulders before leaving the room, wondering whether Emma is up yet, if she’s eaten the last pop tart yet.
The kitchen is cold and he shivers as he pads up to the cupboards, sneaking the last pop tart and ripping open the small package (it’s the low-fat original, the only one mom could be wagered into buying). He’s standing in front of the toaster wishing he grabbed socks when he hears a sound.
It’s quiet – like a small scraping sound – but the house is empty and everyone is still asleep so he shrugs and turns back to the small orange glow, watching the edges turn brown.
It happens again – the small scraping sound – but then it’s followed by the obvious sound of footsteps, bare feet on linoleum flooring. “Morning, Mom.” He hums, and doesn’t turn around, waiting for a kiss on the forehead or a brush of a hand (she wouldn’t scold him for the pop tart, he knows – not with the memory of his fear looking down at her).
The voice is familiar but not. It’s silver and darting like a dagger whipping through the air to press against his neck. Shivering, he turns around to see Emma, her face as clear and still as a frozen lake. Odd, but then again, she had to watch Mom die, too. It probably feels like a stone in her chest too.
So he smiles, “Hey Ma.” The toaster dings, and his pops tarts pop up. “You sleep well?”
“No.” She steps forward. “I didn’t sleep at all.”
“Oh.” He shifts back and presses back against the counter. “Sorry to – uh, hear that. I kinda slept weird too.”
Emma only hums, still watching him in the odd absent way people watch passing things from car windows, moving too quick to see clearly, like staring at nothing.
He can’t explain the odd flick in his stomach like the rabbit his elementary school class used to care for, scurrying away from the cage whenever anyone walked too close. He swallows, musters up another smile. “Uh, so, weird being here again, huh?” Emma stares blankly at him, waiting. “I – uh, don’t think I would have liked growing up in the forest. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, being a hero. Sounds kinda rough. Especially with ogres.”
“I’m not here to chat, Henry.” Emma says, sounding distant, blurry as though she’s standing from outside, talking through a foggy window
He blinks. “What?”
“I know its here.” she steps forward. “I can feel it.”
“What do you mean?”
Emma is still stepping closer, her eyes cool and grey like the glint of metal, like rushing water. “Does your Mom have it? Is she hiding it from me?”
“I don’t – I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ma.” he whispers, but his mind is reeling, working fast to put the pieces together. Because there is really nothing Emma would want – nothing that would have her looking like this, smiling like a cat, pressing him back against the counter in fear. Nothing feels right because Mom is safe and sleeping in the chair next to his bed and Emma should be smiling and happy like she was when they all returned, everyone back, everyone safe.
“It belongs to me.” she says, and Henry can’t step back any more, his back pressing hard against marble, but god he wishes he could. “It’s mine now, I won’t have you or Regina keeping it from me.” She steps closer, her voice like a hidden promise and Henry just wants everything to make sense again, for it to be like it had when they all came back, with Emma hugging him tight and looking over his shoulder to look at Regina and Robin – and though her smile started to look less of a smile and more like a squint, like the winter sun was too bright and she was just struggling to see through it – it made sense. Henry had understood her then. He had known exactly what she wanted.
“Step away from him, Emma.” Henry jumps and looks up to his Mom in the living room, holding a dagger.
She’s trembling, holding the hilt hard enough for the bones in her hand to press up harshly from her skin. Henry’s rabbit-heart jumps, wanting to say no don’t hurt her, don’t go backwards, we were so close, we're so close.
But there is something strange about the dagger, so familiar, and it clicks only a moment later when Emma slinks back a step, her limbs loose and graceful but the snarl on her face inhuman, harsh with hatred.
He doesn’t understand – they were safe, they were smiling, (it wasn’t perfect but it made sense). “Mom?”
“I’m sorry, Henry.” she gasps, and he can see the tremble in her hands, the havoc in her face. “I didn’t want this to happen – I didn’t want – I didn’t want it to be her.”
“You hardly stopped it.” Emma isn't smiling, but there is a curve to her mouth all the same. Henry shuffles away (he doesn’t look at the name on the dagger, he knows).
“You think I wanted this?” His mom rasps, voice sweeping high with grief. “You didn’t listen to me! It could have gone differently, you didn’t have to – damn it, Emma, it didn’t have to be you.” There is a watery thread in her voice, and she drowns in it.
“And what was I supposed to do.” Emma sneers, walking closer in that loose-limb, swaying way, like her bones moved differently now, in the starkly beautiful way water can destroy, sweeping over buildings and land, taking everything in its grip. “Let you suffer?” she tilts her head, “Darken yourself until you’re gone completely? What good would that do – with a heart already darkened by your choice, it would have taken you completely. You’d have been lost to it.”
Henry watches his mom’s face shift, turning soft and hard, the way love looks when there is fear and anger beneath it, the way skin covers bone. “And what is it like for you, Emma?” she whispers. “You’ve cornered our son in the kitchen. For what, exactly?”
“The dagger is mine.” Emma snarls, baring her teeth, “It belongs to me.” She must here the wildness in her tone because she tries to reclaim it, shifting back, clearing her throat. “Once I have it, I’ll go back. I'll be whoever you want me to be.”
“Whoever I want you to be?” His mom’s voice snaps painfully. “Emma, I didn’t want you like this at all.”
Henry swallows, recognizing the way Emma's shoulders stiffen, tightening in rejection. “Well, too bad.” She lifts her chin, her face wounded and defiant. “I’m all there is to Emma, now. All you have left.”
“We can still get you back.” his Mom whispers.
“I don’t want to go back.”
“Because that Emma you miss?” Emma tilts her head, a malicious cant to her features, “She was weak. Worse, she was miserable, just 'cause it was easier that way. To be miserable and have nothing while everyone pretended like she mattered.”
“You did matter.” his mom whispers, staring at Emma like she remembers the time when everything still seemed possible, when Robin was beginning to fade in memory and the hurt was softened by morning breakfast in Granny’s and game-night in the late evening, when it seemed like the choices were larger than the ones they’d talked about over the table, like there was a life they were building between conversation and it wasn’t the one they picked, but Henry thinks things really could have been good if it had been. (His mom looks at Emma like she knows it, too).
There must still be some part of Emma that is conscious, that remembers, too, because the tension between her shoulders starts to soften. Henry can see the few, subtle small steps Emma makes, to close some of the distance. “It – it doesn’t have to be all bad.” Emma whispers, her head directed to some point on the floor beside his Mom’s feet. She walks more gently now, clearing her throat in a way that makes Henry think of the soft sound of the rabbit in the cage again, scratching against the cage, wanting to get away. “I still care about you, that didn’t change at all. We can still be friends…or – well, we can still be family.”
“But you’re not…” His Mom’s eyes dart to him, hesitating, seeking the right words, what to say next, and not for the first time he wishes he had taken time to talk to the Evil Queen, to understand her when she was at her worst, under the curse, when she’d needed him and he had turned away. He might have been able to answer, then. To know exactly what to say.
But Emma seems to have made up her own ending of Regina’s sentence (perhaps the true one) and it curls her fingers, turns her harsh again. “Not what? Not the Savior? Not gentle or sweet?” There is a wet sound to her voice, like wet laundry snapping off its line. “Not so nice, I guess, having to live with this Emma, huh? I guess it’d be too difficult, too inconvenient.”
Emma is striding forward and his Mom is walking back and Henry can barely keep up, lungs aching in his chest. “Harder to love someone you actually have to know, I guess? Who won’t just sit down and accept whatever bull shit you give them just cause they want you around. Who gave up waiting for apologies, started giving them out instead just to have a single fucking relationship with someone.” Emma’s face is havoc, carrying the anger that wells in her voice, drowning in her chest.
“Emma.” His Mom’s voice wobbles, and Emma’s hands slam on the wall behind her on either side of her head.
“You were different.” Her voice is like a wasp, harsh and stinging. “You were – I thought you –.” her voice breaks and Henry wants to fall away, out of this world and into the one just a few hours ago – with breakfast in the morning and a card game between his mother’s – but he can’t leave Mom (not when the dagger is limp at her side, forgotten, heavy with her guilt)
He doesn’t want her to use it, doesn’t want to remind her that she has to – but he will because one of them needs to win this round and it has to be Mom. Even if it’s not fair, even if it breaks both their hearts.
He watches his mom lift a hand (the one with the dagger is still heavy at her side), her fingers trembling on Emma’s cheek. “I do, Emma.” she whispers. “I do understand.”
Henry’s bare feet are soundless on the floor as he moves around the couch. Here he stops, surprised, watching Emma’s uneven breathing, her head tilted close enough for Regina’s cheek to brush against hers, for their bodies to press together, momentarily, like an embrace (like one of the few he walked into late in the evening, hiding away in the kitchen – an empty bottle of wine somewhere – swaying together, low and gentle the way the wind worries the tree branches, locking together).
Emma’s hands start to sink, sliding off the wall to lay limp against her side and Henry almost lets out his breath. Because if they could just hug again, it could fix this, it could get better on its own. But her fingers are hesitant and subtle; they touch the hilt of the dagger in his Mom’s hand.
Henry sucks in a half-breath. “Mom, the dagger.”
Emma’s head snaps up, her eyes wide and betrayed, before her mouth curls and she’s gone – lunging forward to snag the dagger from his mom’s grip, using her entire body as leverage against the small griping fingers that hold its hilt, so small and dark.
The fight only lasts enough to clatter a few items off the top of the desk, long enough to make Henry breathlessly grab the old baseball bat from the closet and long enough for his Mom to catch it, her eyes widening dark and wet, and then struggling with Emma for an entirely different reason, pushing the dagger up between them, rasping out harshly. “Enough.”
Emma stills. Henry hefts out a breath, drops the bat graciously to his side.
“You’d use it against me?” her voice sounds like tinkling wine glasses, like late evening interrupted and winter light, squinting smiles.
Henry can see the turn in his mother’s mouth, wrinkling at the corners like it had all those years ago, her voice reduced to a hushed plea, No, don’t say that. But she doesn’t drop the dagger. “If I have to.” she says, and sighs, maybe at its necessity or the sadness that looks out of Emma like a long single compass pointing up to darkness, like the dagger pointing at Emma’s heart.
She whispers, “You’re just like the rest.”
Henry can hear the quiet rasp of his mom’s breath as she sucks it in, but it’s to an empty room that she exhales her words to, “I’m sorry.”
The silence is devastating and Henry wants to fill it with comfort, but at the expression on his mom’s face, he thinks better of it. She knows all the words he could possibly say; she’s said it to him in the wake of every disappointing turn in life, to death of a father to broken promises, and so he sits down instead, lets Emma’s absence remain unattached to promises. It surrounds them in the empty room, like the last of the evening, and Henry can't help but think of the last few hours, when everyone was back and happy and safe and Emma was squinting through winter light, struggling to smile.