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Once Upon a Dream

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When Emma Swan was six years old, she went to see the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Sword in the Stone with her foster mother and siblings. It hadn't been like when normal families go see movies. There was no popcorn, no candy, no drinks.

 

The woman and children she was with also weren't her foster family.

 

Not that her real foster parents ever realized she was gone. No, her foster parents had been at the bar next door, getting drunk. As usual.

 

She'd also managed to sneak a woman's candy bar out of her pocket without her even realizing. Apollo chocolate bar with peanuts in it. Her favorite!

 

Emma smiled as she settled down into the chair, clutching the Apollo bar as the movie began to play. She longed to be a hero like Arthur was, even if he seemed a little silly in the beginning. In fact, she got so into the movie, she almost forgot about the Apollo bar she'd been holding. She was about to open it when she heard someone clear her throat.

 

Innocent green eyes looked up, meeting those of a worker. Oh no. She was in for it now.

 

"Hello," the man said softly, as to not disturb those that were watching the movie.

 

"I'm sorry," she whimpered.

 

The man sank into the chair next to her. "Don't worry, you're not in trouble. What do you think of the movie?"

 

Emma, still frozen, shrugged, the half-open candy forgotten in her hand. "I… I like it."

 

"Wouldn't it be cool to be a hero like him?" the man asked.

 

She nodded, slowly. "I want to be a hero like him."

 

The man smiled. "You will be, Emma. One day, you will be the savior to many people," he said. "All you have to do is find the sword."

 

She frowned. "What do you mean?"

 

"You will be a hero, Emma. One day, you'll be just as great a hero as Arthur."

 

"I don't… I don't understand," she said softly. "Magic isn't real like in the movie." She might have been young, but she wasn't stupid. Magic wasn't real. There were no fairy godmothers that existed. Or wizards that were going to help someone become a great leader. Still, Emma like to think that it could. But most of her didn't believe in it.

 

She wasn't sure what to make of the man's face. Was it pity? Shock? Well, it wasn't like she hadn't seen those faces before.

 

"Why don't you believe in magic, Emma?" the man asked.

 

She was surprised no one else had asked them to be quiet at this point. Usually it only took two words and someone was turning around, a sour look on their face as they pressed their finger to their mouth as if begging someone to save them from the taste of a lemon.

 

She bit her lip and looked down at the candy. "Because no one wants me."

 

The man stiffened next to her. "What?"

 

"No one wants me," she said softly. "I'm six years old and I've been to three different foster homes. My parents didn't want me, and neither did anyone else. My new foster parents are next door."

 

"In the next theater?" He sounded almost hopeful.

 

"No. At the bar."

 

She turned to look at him as he frowned in concern. "I see," he said softly. "Well Emma, I bet if you believe in magic, and believe that you'll be a hero, your life will get better."

 

"How can I do that?"

 

He smiled. "Have you ever seen Peter Pan?"

 

She nodded slowly.

 

"Well, do you remember in Peter Pan when Tinker Bell is injured, and they have to believe in order to bring her back? That's what you can do with magic. Every time the world disapproves or disbelieves in magic, the more likely it is that magic will cease to exist. And then the fairies would die."

 

She didn't know why she was so entranced by this man's words, but she knew she hated the thought of anything dying, so she took a deep breath and looked at the man. "Okay," she said softly. "I'll believe."

 

The man smiled. "That a girl. Oh – and don't forget, Excalibur's twin can be yours one day."

 

She frowned. "Twin? What twin?"

 

He nodded at the screen, and Emma turned to it, seeing nothing more than Arthur and the knights at the round table. When she turned back to ask for clarification, the man was gone.

 

Emma's eyes were wide as she sank into her seat, confusion written on her face as she tried to focus on the movie.

 

As much as she wanted to think that things were impossible, just to protect herself against bad things happening to her, something told her to hold on to the hope like the man had been telling her to do.

 

One thing that gave Emma hope that something would be going right, was that, later on that night, Emma Swan was removed from the home, and placed with one that was safer.

 

----

 

And then, that night, when she was six years old, Emma Swan had a dream…

 

She was in a small town, but there was something wrong. Really, really wrong. She couldn't tell what it was but there was something… scary that felt wrong.

 

"Emma, please help us…" a woman's soft voice said. Emma looked around, eyes wide as she tried to find the source of the voice. "Please my darling…"

 

"Where are you? What can I do to help? I'm just a little girl…" Emma replied softly.

 

"No, Emma. You're so much more than that. You're our little girl," a second voice said. This time, it was a male voice. Like the woman, his voice was kind.

 

"No. That can't be true. My parents didn't want me," Emma said stubbornly.

 

"Emma, sweetheart… we love you. We know you'll save us," the woman said. She sounded sad, and slightly scared. If these people were in trouble, that was a bad thing. They sounded too nice to be in trouble.

 

Her eyes widened. This was her chance to be a hero, like Arthur in the movie! "What do I do?" she asked.

 

"Find us…" the man whispered. "Find us Emma…"

 

It was only then that Emma could see shadows, mere outlines of them, and she pouted. She wanted to see what these people looked like.

 

"How?" she asked. "How can I find you if I don't know where you are?"

 

"You will. We believe in you, Emma," the woman said. "You just have to have hope that you can do it. Wait – Regina – no!"

 

A third shadow became visible on the wall, silent, and deadly, and Emma screamed as the shadow waved her hand, and the three shadows disappeared in a burst of inky blackness.

 

"Emma? Emma, wake up!"

 

Her eyes snapped open, face clammy with a cold sweat as she stared into the eyes of her foster sister, Jane.

 

"What happened?" Jane whispered, sitting on the edge of the bed and pulling Emma into a hug.

 

"I – I it… it was a nightmare. People got hurt…" Emma stuttered. Or, she could only assume that the two nice people had been hurt. It didn't seem to end peacefully, that was for sure. "They were looking for me. They wanted me to find them."

 

Jane rubbed her back. "Don't worry Emma… it was just a dream. It can't hurt you."

 

"Just a dream," she whispered, her voice small. "It was just a dream."

 

Little did six year old Emma Swan know, this would not be the last time she dreamed of people asking for her help…

 

"It's just a dream," Lily would say ten years later after Emma had fallen asleep one day when they were hanging out together.

 

"It's just a dream," Neal would say a year after Lily, the day before he left her pregnant and arrested.

 

"It's just a dream," the guard in her Phoenix jail would say, the day after she gave birth and gave her son up for adoption.

 

"It's just a dream," she whispered to herself after waking up in Storybrooke, Maine, the day after her ten year old son showed up on her doorstep.

 

But after a meeting with a woman named Regina the night before, she couldn't shake the feeling that something in this town was wrong.

Chapter Text

Emma scrubbed her face in the small sink at Granny's, trying to get the feeling of wrongness off of her. It wasn't doing much to help, but at least she got her face scrubbed clean. Besides, having a nightmare the day after a major life event was normal. Or at least, she thought that's what she learned in her psychology class in high school.

 

But it was the same nightmare. The same shadows. The same encouragement. Well, mostly. This time they'd seemed thrilled that she ended up in Storybrooke (how had they even known she was in Storybrooke?), that she was close to something. But what that something was, Emma couldn't figure out.

 

"I must be going crazy," she whispered to herself. "Still… staying a week won't hurt anything. Maybe I had that dream because I'm worried about Henry. Maybe there's a reason I keep having these dreams, and that woman named Regina keeps hurting those people."

 

She heard a knock at the door and sighed. "Or maybe I'm just going crazy," she whispered, wiping her face with the towel before answering the door. She raised an eyebrow when she noticed the mayor standing there with a basket of apples.

 

"Uh… good morning Mayor Mills," she greeted.

 

"Good morning, Miss Swan. I thought I would bring you some freshly-picked apples for your trip home. Boston is quite a drive," the mayor said, holding an apple out to her. "Apples are one of the hardiest fruits out there. They'd make the journey no problem."

 

Emma blinked in surprise. "Uh. Thank you, but I've actually decided to stay for the week."

 

There was a smile on the mayor, but Emma could read her face – the woman was not happy to know that Henry's biological mother would be staying in Storybrooke this week, even if she didn't say anything.

 

"Have you, then?" Regina questioned, setting the basket of apples down.

 

She shrugged. "Yeah. I was just thinking that I needed to take a vacation, and I figured why not here?"

 

Regina's lips pressed into a thin line. "Of course. Storybrooke is, after all, like a fairy tale. But I caution you, Miss Swan. Henry is my son, and I do not want you standing in my way of parenting my son."

 

"Why would I want to stand in the way of you being a mother to Henry?" Emma asked, although there was a twinge of hurt in her gut as she spoke the words. "After all, I am the one that gave him up in a closed adoption.

 

Regina seemed genuinely pleased at that, as much as it was killing Emma to say. But Regina didn't have to know that Emma would be checking up on Henry.

 

"Of course, Miss Swan. Just know that if you get in my way… you have no idea what I am capable of in terms of getting you out of the way."

 

Emma raised an eyebrow. "Was that a threat?"

 

"Oh, don't think of that as a threat…" Regina said with a shrug. "Think of it as a promise."

 

With that, the mayor turned and walked back down the hallway as Emma scoffed and closed the door.

 

Emma hadn't wanted to be a threat to Regina when it came to Henry, but if this was how the mayor was going to behave toward her, what was her behavior like toward Henry? He was already in therapy for some reason or another. Emma wasn't sure if she liked that. So really, what harm was staying here for a week and just making sure he was okay?

 

She took one last glance at herself in the mirror as she pulled on her red leather jacket and took a deep breath. Here went nothing.

 

"Emma! You're front-page news… hey, you don't look so good," Henry remarked when he saw her at Granny's.

 

Emma scoffed and rolled her eyes at him as she could hear Ruby choking back  laughter from behind the  counter. She'd noticed that she was on the front page of the Daily Mirror. "Your mother teach you your tact? And… wait… shouldn't you be at school by now?"

 

"Walk me there. And of course she taught me my tact. She's the only one that raised me after all."

 

She rolled her eyes and slid off the stool, giving Ruby a grateful smile as she handed her a to-go cup of hot chocolate with cinnamon. If this was the only way he was going to get to school, fine, she would walk him to school.

 

Pulling out an apple Regina had given her, she went to take a bite when Henry stopped her.

 

"Where'd you get that?"

 

"Your mom gave it to – "

 

"Don't eat that!"

 

Henry grabbed the apple out of her hand and threw it over his shoulder, managing to get it into a trash can. Emma sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. So much for breakfast.

 

"Right. The Evil Queen thing," she said with a roll of her eyes.

 

"So I was thinking we call this Operation Cobra."

 

"Call what Operation Cobra?" Emma asked with a frown. This might have been getting out of hand now.

 

Henry's voice got low as the passed the Sheriff's station. "You breaking the curse of course! You're the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming after all. No one remembers who they are because they're cursed. It's your job to fix it."

 

She sighed. "Oh kid…"

 

He seemed convinced by this, and Emma frowned as they arrived in the schoolyard.

 

"BYE EMMA!" Henry yelled as he rushed off to join his friends.

 

"It's good to see his smile back," a woman's voice said. Emma looked over to find Henry's teacher, Mary-Margaret Blanchard, standing there with a small smile on her face.

 

Emma chuckled a little and looked at her. "Yeah. I guess so. He's really into the fairy tale thing, isn't he?"

 

Mary-Margaret's lips pressed together. "Henry was just… so lonely. He's so creative and smart. He's really special you know. I thought the book would help him. I didn't know he'd take it so far and end up bringing you to Storybrooke."

 

Emma shrugged. "I needed a vacation anyway. Guess it can't hurt to get to know my son, right? Even if he's obsessed with the fairy tales."

 

"I guess not. Henry seems to have everyone in Storybrooke identified as a character in that book."

 

"Who does he think you are?" Emma asked, lips quirked into a small smile. A mild mannered schoolteacher? This had to be good.

 

"Oh, it's silly," Mary-Margaret said, shaking her head slightly.

 

"I just got five minutes of silly. This can't be any worse," Emma said with a grin.

 

The teacher seemed embarrassed. "He thinks I'm Snow White," she said with a small chuckle.

 

Emma's heart stopped, and her face turned to one of shock. So according to Henry… this woman was her mother. His grandmother.

 

"Who does he think you are?" Mary-Margaret questioned.

 

It took Emma a moment to reply. "I – I'm not in the book." She was, according to Henry, but this was too much for her right now.

 

"Oh, well, I guess you were lucky enough not to be cursed," Mary-Margaret said with a grin.

 

Emma chuckled nervously, hoping it didn't show. The sound of the school bell ringing caused her immediate relief.

 

"Oh – there's the bell. It was nice to see you again, Emma," Mary-Margaret said as she hurried off to her classroom.

 

Emma exhaled and ran a hand through her hair as she left the schoolyard.  She would have to go eat breakfast, and after, she knew she would have to talk to someone about this dream  and the strange things that were happening to

 

Briefly, she thanked whatever  deity was up there that Henry had a therapist, so she took a deep breath and hurried over to Granny's to get some food in her  stomach before she went anywhere.

 

"You alright there?" Ruby asked as she set down a new mug of hot chocolate and pulled out her pad to take Emma's order.

 

"Ah – yeah, I'm alright," Emma replied with a weak smile. " I guess I just don't know what to do about Henry. I've just never been a mother before so it's still a little strange that the son I gave up for adoption suddenly showed up at my doorstep… on my birthday."

 

Ruby's eyes became wide. "Yesterday was your birthday?"

 

Emma nodded. "Yeah. I was alone too. Talk about luck that he showed up, right?"

 

Was it luck or was it not? She wasn't exactly sure, but Ruby seemed to think it was, because her face cracked into a wide smile as she nodded.

 

"Maybe something out there was telling you not to be alone."

 

Emma pressed her lips together. "Yeah. Maybe."

 

She took a deep breath as Ruby wandered off to put her order in. Maybe Ruby was right.

 

No – no that was crazy. The kid was really starting to get to her.

 

"Thank goodness, you're here," Emma said when Dr. Hopper opened the door to his office.

 

"Oh – well, of course I'd be here," he replied with a tilt of his head. "Is everything alright Miss? Did you want to discuss Henry?"

 

Emma hesitated for a moment, before nodding. "Swan. Emma Swan. And yes. Partially. I – also just need to talk to someone like you. For… reasons…" she trailed off. She wasn't sure why, but she didn't trust that someone wasn't watching and listening in.

 

Dr. Hopper furrowed his brow, frowning a little before stepping aside. "Come in then…" he said softly.

 

She nodded and flopped down on the sofa in the office and put her head in her hands.

 

"You seem stressed."

 

Emma pressed her lips together. "Yeah. I think that's a good word for how I feel," she said with a sigh.

 

"Tell me what's wrong."

 

She wasn't very good at this, and she knew it, but she sighed and ran a hand through her hair as she squirmed a little on the bed. "I've been having this recurring dream since I was a kid. I didn't think it was anything but I had it again last night. It starts off the same way. I'm standing in front of a wall and there are two shadows. They know who I am, and they're always trying to encourage me. And then a third shadow shows up and takes them away. I always wake up just at that moment," she explained.

 

Dr. Hopper frowned. "And when have you had these dreams? Have they been at significant moments in your life?"

 

Thinking back on it, Emma nodded a little. "Sort of, I guess. The first time I had it, I was moved to a better foster home. I had just seen The Sword in the Stone so I thought it was because of that but since I keep having it…"

 

Dr. Hopper nodded a little. "Well, dreams are often  indications of what will happen or what we wish will happen. Especially those that occur near major events in our lives."

 

Emma thought back to the days she had that dream, and she nodded a little, biting her lip. "Yes… I understand what you mean. I did have it nights when major things happened. I get that. But the weird thing is… the shadows keep changing. Like, when I gave up Henry they told me he would find me again because that's what happens with us. And last night… they told me I'd found home."

 

He tilted his head. "Emma… have you ever had a stable home?"

 

He was good, Emma had to admit.

 

"No. Two years is the most stable I had."

 

"Well, then maybe these dreams of yours are trying to steer you toward settling down and growing some roots. I know you aren't planning on staying in Storybrooke forever, but perhaps it wouldn't hurt to find a place to put your roots down."

 

"I – I don't know. What about Regina?"

 

Dr. Hopper frowned. "I didn't say it had to be Storybrooke…"

 

"No – I know, I know, but now that I'm involved in Henry's life – whether I want to be or not – I'm concerned about Regina."

 

The man nodded. "Yes, I suppose that's true. But one thing at a time, Emma. Just focus on finding a place to plant your roots. I can give you some things to help you get started on relaxation in the meantime."

 

Emma nodded as he began gathering some papers together. "That would be great, thank you." She already felt better just talking to Dr. Hopper about her own problems.

 

"Is it… healthy to encourage Henry's belief in a curse?" she asked as she took the envelope from him.

 

Dr. Hopper sighed a little. "Well, I personally do not see a harm in it. It makes him happy. But he needs to know what reality is as well. Maybe try to find a balance. Pushing him too far one way or the other will cause more harm than good."

 

She stood, ready to leave. "Thank you. For everything. That was very helpful."

 

He smiled. "It's my pleasure, Miss Swan. Let me know if you want to talk again."

 

Emma nodded as she opened the door to the office, making her way out of the office, not even noticing Sidney Glass watching her from a distance.

Chapter Text

A knock startled Emma as she looked up from the file Dr. Hopper had given her. She wasn't expecting anyone to visit her, and she certainly hadn't told Henry what room she was staying in.

The one person she didn't expect to see (not that she was expecting anyone but she at least thought maybe Henry would have managed to find a way to find her) was the sheriff standing there.

"Can I help you?" Emma asked, baffled as to why he would be here.

"I've received word from a source that you've left Dr. Hopper's office with a file on Henry Mills," Sheriff Graham said as he looked over at her bed. Emma could see him scrutinizing the papers she had scattered on the bed.

She scoffed. "I never took a file about Henry from the therapist," she replied, rolling her eyes and stepping back to let Graham in. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Granny at the end of the hall with a vacuum, pretending as if she was busy cleaning the already spotless area. "Those are personal files for me. Maybe I should have you arrested for looking at them," she said with a frown.

"I… apologize Miss Swan. I didn't know you were seeing Dr. Hopper for yourself," Graham replied. "My source must have been mistaken."

"Yeah," Emma said with a glare, already having a feeling she knew exactly who the source was. "Very mistaken."

"I'll… I'll be on my way then. My apologies, Miss Swan."

Emma crossed her arms and leaned against the wall as Graham left the room.

Granny made her way over to her as soon as Graham had disappeared down the stairs. "Are you alright, Miss Swan?" she asked.

Emma nodded slowly and dropped down in the desk chair. "I'm fine. Just didn't expect my personal business to be looked at by a stranger, you know?"

Granny could only nod in response. "I'm sorry about that. I had no idea that's what he wanted. If I'd known then – "

"No, he's the sheriff. I wouldn't expect you to turn him down on a stranger's behalf," she replied with a small shrug. "Besides, it's not the first run-in with police I've had in my life."

Granny raised an eyebrow at that.

"Juvenile. Records are sealed," Emma said. "When you don't have a home you learn to make do with what you have. Unfortunately that sometimes got in the way of the police. But I'm a bail bonds person now. I help catch people like I used to be."

The older woman smiled a little. "Well, you're turning your life around then. Good." She pressed her lips together. "Maybe there's hope for Ruby."

Emma recalled what had happened her second night in Storybrooke, how Ruby and Granny had been arguing over what Ruby wanted. Freedom.

"Well, listen, she's still young. She's just got to find what she wants," Emma said with a smile.

Granny sighed and leaned against the door. "Oh, yes I suppose so. I just wish it wasn't so hard…"

She tilted her head. "Hey… Granny, don't worry. It'll work out."

A smile, small as it was, appeared then, on Granny's face. "You have so much faith in us. I think I'd forgotten what that was like. Thanks Emma. Dinner tonight is on me, okay? Whatever you want to order will be on me."

She blinked, surprised. "Oh – Granny that's so kind of you. You don't have to do that…"

"Think nothing of it," Granny replied as she made her way back down the hallway.

Left alone now, Emma closed the door to her room and flopped back against the bed, her muscles relaxing as the tension began to ease.

She thought about who the source could have been that told Graham about the "files" she had on her after leaving Dr. Hopper's office, and only one person came into her mind. There was only one person that knew she was staying in town for a week aside from Granny and Ruby (and Emma had a feeling they needed all the visitors they could get).

Regina.

Emma exhaled deeply through her nostrils before sitting back up, anger boiling under the surface. She needed to do something, anything. Regina needed to… well, pay. Emma usually wasn't one for revenge but after what Regina had done, she didn't care about what she did or didn't usually do.

She'd been on the streets after all. She knew how to do things without getting caught.

As she looked around her room, Emma raised an eyebrow and smirked a little as she spotted the basket of apples in the corner. If Regina thought her apples were so precious to her, well, Emma knew exactly where to hit her.

Grabbing her wallet, Emma made her way to the hardware store she'd passed the night before when she was bringing Henry home.

The man at the hardware store had seemed startled when she came up to the counter with a chainsaw, but Emma shrugged.

"I forgot mine died back in Boston. I figured while I'm here I might as well stop and get one, right?" she asked with a carefully crafted innocent smile.

"Oh. Alright then. Have a good day Miss Swan," the man replied, handing her credit card back as he scanned it.

"You too. Thank you," Emma replied as she made her way out of the store.

Emma barely blinked as she drove to Regina's house and stalked over to the tree. She knew the woman was home, but Henry was still in school. That gave her plenty of time to do what she needed.

She focused as she began sawing through the branches in the tree haphazardly, delight running through her as she worked.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?!"

As if on cue, the mayor stormed into the yard and right up to Emma.

"I was doing a little pruning for you. I knew you wouldn't mind if I impeded on your personal business, since you clearly like to do in mine."

"What are you talking about?"

"Don't. I know exactly what kind of person you are, Madam Mayor. I know you're the one that wanted had Sheriff Graham come to my hotel room and look through my personal things. I know it's because you feel threatened by my presence. If there's one thing you need to learn, it's that the more people try to threaten me, the more I want to stay and make sure those I love are safe. And you, Madam Mayor, have no idea what I am capable of when someone gets in my way."

"Was that a threat?" Regina scoffed.

"Oh, don't think of it as a threat," Emma said coldly, thinking back to the words the mayor had said earlier that day. "Think of it as a promise."

Emma dropped the chainsaw to her side and began to walk out. "Have a good day, Madam Mayor."

Emma was satisfied she'd made her point known, but she also knew that she opened the door for another attack against her.

But that didn't matter. She would be ready.


 

Mary-Margaret Blanchard had woken up feeling quite strange today. She had started her routine as normal – a bowl of cereal and a mug of hot tea as she watched the sleepy Maine town out her front window.

The day before, she'd noticed the clock tower was actually moving, and wasn't stuck at 8:15 like it had been as long as she could remember. Though it was odd, it made her smile. It was about time the clock tower was fixed. Marco was growing old, and Mary-Margaret knew he wasn't as fast as he used to be, but still, she questioned why he didn't have extra help with fixing things. Still, she shrugged off the curiosity and had gotten ready for her new day of teaching. That day had gone by normally. She'd been able to speak to a new person as well - Henry's birth mother. Emma was a nice woman, and Mary-Margaret got the feeling that she'd met her before, strangely enough. But she didn't think of that. Maybe she and Emma would be friends one day. She hoped so, anyway. Whatever happened, Mary-Margaret got a good feeling about the woman.

On this day, however, gave her more of a feeling of something was wrong. The day, like any other, had started with the tea, the cereal, and the watching of the Storybrooke residents, but then she'd moved into the bathroom.

She'd noticed the blood in her underwear and frowned slightly. She was early – she was not supposed to have started her period for another couple of weeks. Still, she thought nothing of it as she got herself cleaned up and moved on with her day.

It was strange though, she found herself feeling a bit weak and not like herself. Still, she managed to soldier through her day, despite the worse and worse feeling she had. Once her last student was out the door, Mary-Margaret found herself slipping out after only five minutes when the bus left to take the students home.

"Miss Blanchard?" she heard a voice ask as she passed by the pawn shop. Mary-Margaret turned around and smiled as she saw Mr. Gold standing behind her.

"Oh, hello Mr. Gold. What can I do for you?"

"Are you okay? You look quite pale."

People feared Mr. Gold in Storybrooke, and Mary-Margaret didn't understand why. Sure he wasn't the most talkative man in ton, but he'd never been unkind to her, and she gave him a weak smile. "I'm doing okay. I've just been feeling a bit weak today…"

Things started getting fuzzy then, and Mary-Margaret didn't realize what was happening until she felt her knees hit the concrete, Mr. Gold's arm wrapping around her. She could hear his voice gradually becoming more muffled, but Mary-Margaret could hear exactly what it was he was saying as everything went black.


 

"Help! Someone call for an ambulance, this woman is ill!"

Rumpelstiltskin didn't know what was going on with Snow White. Surely Regina wouldn't have done something so stupid as to harm the woman before the curse was broken, but what he did know, is that this shouldn't be happening. Snow White was healthy last time he'd checked. He shouldn't be having to help her onto a stretcher and loading her into an ambulance.

While he wasn't exactly friendly with the royal couple, he couldn't help but be concerned with her health, and so he quickly closed up his shop, got into his car, and began driving, quickly, to the hospital.

He had expected things to change in Storybrooke once Emma Swan arrived to town, but this was not one of those things.

Chapter Text

"Dr. Whale to Emergency, Dr. Whale to Emergency!"

 

Emergency? That was a strange call. Though they had an emergency department at Storybrooke General Hospital, he rarely had to meet an ambulance for a call. For drunks, yes, and the occasional broken arm from kids, but this… seemed different. A lot had seemed different recently, and it left Dr. Whale with a strange feeling as he raced into the ambulance bay.

 

He was shocked to see young, healthy, innocent Mary-Margaret Blanchard being pulled out of the ambulance, unconscious on a stretcher.

 

"Jesus, what happened?!" he asked one of the paramedics as they raced inside.

 

"Not sure. The call said she just passed out," the woman replied. "Vitals are stable, but she's losing color rapidly."

 

"That's so strange, she doesn't have any visible wounds. She didn't get stabbed or shot or anything?" he asked. Not that he thought anyone would do such a thing to someone like Mary-Margaret Blanchard but still, he was a doctor. It was his job to figure out what was wrong.

 

"Not that we can tell," the paramedic said as they began hooking the teacher up to some monitors.

 

"Okay everyone, I want labs drawn up right now. Get a blood sample, urine, the works. I'm going to go see if there's anyone that saw what happened waiting outside," Whale said, shaken as he left the room.

 

Something was wrong.

 

When he got to the waiting room, the only one he saw was Mr. Gold.

 

"Mr. Gold, I didn't know you'd made an appointment with orthopedics," Whale said with a frown.

 

"I didn't. I came to see how Miss Blanchard was. I was the one that found her, after all."

 

Of course Mr. Gold was the one to be at the scene.

 

"Okay uh – did anything happen to her before she passed out? Did she get hurt or anything like that?" Whale asked.

 

Gold shook his head. "No, nothing like that. I noticed she looked pale and unsteady on her feet, but otherwise she seemed normal."

 

Whale frowned. "Okay. Thank you Mr. Gold. I'll try to contact one of her fellow teachers next. Maybe they noticed something."

 

"Might I suggest Miss Miller?"

 

Whale could only press his lips together. "Right."

 

"Dr. Whale? You're going to want to see this…" one of the nurses said. She looked pale herself, and he frowned deep in concern.

 

"I'll head back there, but I need you to get a hold of someone else that works at the elementary school. See if anything else had happened today with Mary-Margaret," Whale told the nurse, who nodded and rushed to the phone as he headed back to the emergency ward.

 

Just when the thought this couldn't get any stranger, he saw what could only be described as afterbirth sitting in a container.

 

"Is that – " he began to ask, his throat going dry.

 

"What we believe is the cause of the bleeding."

 

"Yeah. Sure looks like it. But where's the baby?"

 


 

 

Sheriff Graham stared at Dr. Whale. The man's words hadn't completely sunk in yet. What he was being asked to do seemed… outrageous. Immoral. Especially since it was Mary-Margaret, of all people, that was being questioned about this.

 

"You want me to what?"

 

"I know, I know it seems unlikely. But we just have to be sure.. Sheriff, please."

 

Graham held up his hand, already turning to leave. "Okay. Okay. I'll go look."

 

He couldn't believe Dr. Whale had asked him to look for an abandoned baby in, of all places, Mary-Margaret's apartment building.

 

He shook his head as he made his way to the squad car, pausing when he saw a very pretty blonde leaning against it.

 

"Miss Swan. What brings you here?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

"Everything alright? I usually don't see the sheriff in a hospital unless they've been hurt."

 

Graham couldn't help but laugh. "That's Boston talking. No, I'm fine. But I could use your help, actually. Dr. Whale needs me to investigate something. You're good at finding people, right?"

 

He noticed her spine straighten ever-so-slightly. "Yes. That's my job. Did Henry run off again?"

 

Graham shook his head. "No, no… at least as far as I'm aware he hasn't. We need to hurry though, so I'll explain on the way."

 

He watched her shrug a little before she got into the passenger's seat, Graham speeding off toward Mary-Margaret's apartment.

 

"So what's the emergency?"

 

He exhaled slowly through his teeth. "Mary-Margaret Blanchard is in the hospital with massive bleeding. They found evidence that she'd given birth recently… but no baby. So we're looking for the baby."

 

"What?!"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Mary-Margaret. The fourth grade teacher who looks like she couldn't kill a fly?"

 

"The very same."

 

"You realize this is insane."

 

"I do indeed, but I have to at least look. It's my job," Graham said with a heavy sigh as they pulled up to the apartment building. "Just… brace yourself for what we might find."

 

Emma snorted. "Right. Sure."

 

Leading the way inside, Graham carefully opened the door and stepped inside the apartment. Aside from breakfast dishes in the sink, it seemed clean. No sign of blood or anything being amiss.

 

"Are you sure you know what you're looking for?" Emma asked, raising an eyebrow.

 

"Yes. It just depends on if we're going to find it."

 

He noticed Emma rolling her eyes  as he walked through the kitchen. "You want to take upstairs?" he asked.

 

Emma shrugged and made her way to the staircase as Graham went to the trashcan. No sign of blood, or anything really, aside from some scraps of bread and fruit peels.

 

"Anything?" he called upstairs.

 

"Other than everything being neat and tidy, no. There's nothing suspicious about this place," Emma replied. "No sign of blood even on the sheets."

 

Graham frowned in concern. This was the strangest case he'd ever worked on.

 

"Okay… last place to check is the bathroom," he said with a small sigh.

 

Emma let out a snort. "You know what? I got the bathroom," she said.

 

Graham let out a sigh of relief. "Thank you Emma." He really wasn't looking forward to the idea of searching a woman's private bathroom.

 

The blonde shrugged, sauntering into the bathroom as if she too lived there. Graham could hear her rooting around in some of the cabinets as he waited, looking down at his phone as a text came in from Regina.

 

What's going on? Why are you outside Miss Blanchard's apartment building?

 

She's in the hospital. Massive bleeding. We're just checking out her apartment to make sure nothing's happened.

 

We? Who's "we"?

 

I asked Miss Swan for help.

 

There was no response after he sent that text, Emma coming back into the room, and Graham looked up at her hopefully.

 

"Anything?"

 

"Nothing out of the ordinary. There was only a tampon wrapper in the trash."

 

He wrinkled his nose.

 

"Oh, don't make that face. You're the one that asked me to help you."

 

He sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I know. I just don't get it. I know Mary-Margaret wouldn't be someone to harm a child. But why would there be something like… that at the hospital if she hasn't recently?"

 

Emma could only shrug. "I don't know. It's weird."

 

Graham frowned. "I'm going to head back to the hospital. See if Doctor Whale got in touch with any of her co-workers. They might know something."

 

Emma nodded. "Mind if I come with you? I don't like to leave a case unfinished."

 

Graham grinned and opened the door for her. "Ladies first."

 

They left the apartment, but Graham's heart was heavy. Mary-Margaret would make a wonderful mother. He hoped she got the opportunity to have a child one day. And he hoped, desperately, that this turned out to be some sort of misunderstanding, a mistake.

 

But Graham knew the doctors wouldn't make that sort of mistake.

 


 

 

Emma had been in situations that caused concern of course. As a bail bondsperson that came with the territory. She'd dealt with parents that hadn't paid child support, she'd grown up alone and unwanted by her parents. But this was something else. Never had she had to deal with a woman giving birth to the afterbirth and not the baby.

 

"You know," Graham said suddenly as they were stopped at one of the only red lights in town. "I could use a deputy."

 

She blinked in surprise and looked at him, her stomach twisted in a knot she couldn't understand. "I'm – I'm only staying for a week. Or however long it takes to figure out this mystery."

 

He seemed disappointed. She liked that.

 

"Well, if you ever come back to Storybrooke…"

 

She gave him a small smirk. "I'll find you?"

 

Graham shrugged, the light turning green. "I have a feeling you're good at that."

 

She laughed as they pulled up to the hospital. He was funny, she had to give him that. She would miss him when she went back to Boston.

 

"I'm sorry Henry, but even if you were a match for Miss Blanchard, you're too young to give blood," Emma heard Dr. Whale say when she and Graham made their way back toward the emergency ward.

 

"What's going on?" Emma asked, looking from Henry to the doctor.

 

Whale sighed. "Mary-Margaret needs a blood transfusion. The only problem is, she's AB negative, which is the rarest blood type a person can be, and unfortunately, we don't have that blood on hand."

 

Emma swallowed thickly, before questioning what sort of hospital this was. But still… "She can have my blood. That's… that's my blood type."

 

Whale stared at her. "Really?"

 

Emma nodded slowly, not noticing the scowl on Regina's face nor the beaming smile on Henry's.

 

"Very well Miss Swan, right this way. We'll get you set up and get the forms for you," Whale said, leading her into the room where Mary-Margaret was.

 

Emma was shocked. She couldn't help but stare at the unconscious woman. While she was naturally pale to begin with, the contrast between her dark hair and her pale skin, plus the white pillow behind her head, made her look almost corpse-like.

 

"Henry, where are you going?" she could hear Regina ask from the hallway.

 

"I want to see the John Doe that Miss Blanchard takes care of! She's not able to so I want to sit with him today," she could hear Henry reply, his voice growing louder as they passed the room.

 

"Here. You can fill out the forms in here while we get everything set up," Whale said. "And thanks for doing this. I know you're not a resident of the town or anything but… you're a hero."

 

She chuckled a little. "I'm not a hero. I'm just doing what anyone would do," she replied, taking her jacket off and draping it behind the chair as she began working on the paperwork..

 

"You'd be surprised how many people wouldn't," Whale muttered.

 

Emma frowned and leaned back in the chair as they began checking over her vital signs. "Will Mary-Margaret be okay?" she asked the nurse, a dark-haired woman with dark eyes.

 

She nodded. "Yes, as soon as the transfusion happens she should be just fine. It's still strange, what happened."

 

"What are you going to tell her?"

 

The nurse pressed her lips together as she put the cuff on Emma's arm. "I don't know."

 

Hours passed, but as the transfusion worked its way though, Emma could slowly see Mary-Margaret beginning to look more human, and she couldn't help but smile in relief.

 

Henry came in suddenly, brandishing his book. Emma blinked at him. "Hey kid. I thought you and your mom would have left hours ago."

 

"She wanted to. I wanted to stay," Henry replied casually as he held the book out to her. "But we're leaving now. Can you give this to Miss Blanchard when she wakes up?"

 

Emma tilted her head. "Sure. I'm surprised you want to give it to someone."

 

Henry shrugged. "I figured she could read it to Prince Charming."

 

"Prince Charming?" Her face fell a little. She was hoping it would be something sweet, since she was his teacher.

 

"Yeah. The John Doe in next room."

 

Emma closed her eyes and took a deep breath, opening her mouth to speak.

 

"Henry?"

 

Emma's mouth slammed shut as she stared over at the bed. Mary-Margaret's eyes were cracked just slightly, the color of her skin looking more natural and alive.

 

"Miss Blanchard!" Henry said in relief, pulling the book out of Emma's lap and setting it in the corner of her bed.

 

"What happened?" Mary-Margaret whispered. "Where am I?"

 

"You fainted. Mr. Gold called for an ambulance. You'll probably be here for a couple of days," Emma explained as best she could.

 

"I did…?" she asked. "I don't remember that.."

 

"Henry! We're going now!" Regina yelled into the room. Emma winced visibly, looking down at her hands.

 

Henry bit his lip and looked at Mary-Margaret. "You should read the Snow White story to John Doe," he whispered, before turning and following Regina out of the hospital.

 

Dr. Whale wandered into the room then. "It's good to see you awake, Mary-Margaret. How are you feeling."

 

"Better, I guess. More awake than I did this morning."

 

"Good. Good. Your vitals all look good, but we've got to keep you overnight just to be sure," Whale explained. "Miss Swan – "

 

"Emma, please call me Emma," she said with a weak smile. She'd been called 'Miss Swan' enough the last couple of days to last a lifetime.

 

"Emma, then. If you're feeling okay, you can head back to Granny's."

 

She nodded slowly, standing to leave after the nurse finished checking her over, clearing her to go.

 

"Dr. Whale?" she heard Mary-Margaret ask as Emma signed her discharge papers. "Do you mind if I… go read to our John Doe?"

 

"I don't see why that would be impossible," Whale replied with a smile. "We'll get you a wheelchair and take you down there when we're done making sure you're stable enough to move."

 

Emma Swan smiled as she pulled on her jacket, heading out of the hospital. She'd saved a life, and it felt damn good.

Chapter Text

No one would tell her what had caused her to pass out in Mr. Gold's arms, so Mary-Margaret was trying to take her mind off the worry that had begun to creep in. The only way she was allowed to do this, though, was by reading to the comatose John Doe. Not that she minded – she'd missed her volunteer hours today because of the whole passing out fiasco so she needed to make up for lost time.

 

"Hello John Doe. I know we haven't really been able to speak very often, but now I have plenty of time to keep you company," she said as she inched herself closer to him in her wheelchair. She didn't understand why she needed one, but she didn't say anything. "Would you like to hear a story?" she asked, flipping through the book. "My student Henry gave me a book of stories. I hope you don't mind if I read one to you."

 

Why would he? He was comatose.

 

"Oh, how about Snow White?" That was a classic.

 

Mary-Margaret looked at him. Handsome, with a small scar on his jaw. She wondered who could leave someone like him comatose and not inquire about him. How terrible.

 

"Okay," she whispered. "Once upon a time…"

 

It was nice, in a way, reading to this man. There was no one around to bother her, no one to judge her.

 

"'Like we shall do everything,' Snow White replied, 'together'," Mary-Margaret read.

 

What she didn't anticipate was John Doe's hand reaching out and taking hers. Mary-Margaret froze and stared at him. "John Doe?"

 

His fingers twitched against hers, and she took a deep breath. "Oh God."  What did she do? She knew, of course, the right thing to do would be tell Dr. Whale, but… Mary-Margaret felt protective over this man.

 

"Wake up, John Doe," she whispered, putting her other hand on his. "Wake up… you have people that need you. And I'm sure they'll find you."

                                                                                                                       

Quickly, she slipped his hand out of her grip and took a deep breath. "Nurse? I'm ready to head back to my room now," she called.

 

The nurse quickly entered the room, took hold of the back of her wheelchair, and rolled her back to her room, exhaustion creeping over her. She didn't think reading would take so much energy. Never again would she become annoyed with mild tiredness when she was in the middle of grading.

 

Closing her eyes, Mary-Margaret took a deep breath as she drifted off to sleep.

 


 

 

They will always find him. He liked the sound of that. But who would find him? Who was looking for him?

 

She was, of course. The woman from his dream. Dark hair, pale skin. She was beautiful. Kind. He was in love with her already. But… she was in trouble. So much trouble. He needed to help her. That was what he did. He helped her. Saved her. But she didn't always need saving. She could do it herself usually but now? Now he knew he needed to save her.

 

But where was she?

 

That didn't matter. He would find her. He would always find her.

 

Taking a deep breath, the man forced his eyes open and took in his surroundings. Where was he? Why was nothing in here familiar?

 

He frowned and swung his legs over the bed, wincing as the wires that were connected to him and in him were pulled with him. Slowly, he pulled them out, before heading out the back door that was in his room.

 

It was time to find her. Whoever she was.

 

The man wandered out the door. He didn't know where he was going, but he knew he would find her, come hell or high water.

 

It was cold and wet outside, but the man didn't care as his feet seeped into the cold mud of the forest floor.

 

Forest… he'd been in a forest before. Many times. Did he live in one? He must have. So why was he in that other place? Whatever that place was, with all of those machines. He shivered at the feeling of the mud and water between his feet.

 

Bridge. That was ringing in his head. A bridge. That was where he needed to meet her, because that's where they were holding her captive. Hopefully he wasn't too late.

 

"Snow, Snow, where are you?" he called as he stumbled through the woods. He didn't know where he was going but he needed to find Snow. He also didn't know who Snow was, but this had to be the girl he was looking for.

 

She was the girl – no, the woman – he was looking for. He knew it deep inside of him, but he couldn't place why he knew that was right. But it was the first thing that made sense to him in a while.

 

Well, since he woke up, which admittedly hadn't been very long at all. But still, since his head was so empty, he was clinging on to something that felt tangible and real, and he wasn't going to let that go.

 

"Snow? Where are you?" he called again, clinging onto a tree as his feet lost traction on the muddy ground. "I will find you!"

 

His head was beginning to throb, and he groaned, leaning against the tree. He needed to fight but everything was beginning to spin and hurt.

 

"Snow… I'll find you. I promise…" he whispered as his eyes closed and his body fell limp into the water, his world going black.

 

The next thing he was aware of, there were hands pressing against his chest, pumping it before lips pressed down against his. He opened his eyes and began coughing, water spilling from his mouth as he looked up at the woman that had saved him.

 

Short dark hair, kind green eyes. She looked familiar, and her touch felt familiar, but he couldn't place it, and he hated it.

 

"You found me," he coughed, residual water streaking down the corners of his mouth.

 

"Of course I did," she replied. "I wasn't going to stop until I found you. But don't worry, we're going to get you some help. The ambulance is already on its way."

 

"Ambulance?" he questioned. What the hell was that?

 

"Sir," a male's voice suddenly announced, a man with a badge on his hip appearing, a blonde woman with a child behind them. "Do you remember anything that happened?"

 

"I – what do you mean?" the man asked, frowning. "I woke up and decided to take a walk."

 

The blonde woman blinked, and he felt a stirring of familiarity with her too. "You… do know you've been in a coma, right?"

 

He sat up, wincing slightly. "A coma? How did…?"

 

There wasn't time for him to get an answer though, because the next thing he realized, he was being loaded onto something they called a stretcher, and placed into what he could only assume was the 'ambulance'.

 

He was brought back to the place he'd woken up in and brought back to what was most likely the most uncomfortable bed he'd ever been in, people fussing over him as if he was the most interesting thing their town had ever seen.

 

He despised it. He didn't want to be fussed over like this.

 

"Do you remember anything, sir?" the doctor asked him as a light was shined in his eyes, forcing him to wince and pull away.

 

"No. I don't even know who I am. Or where I am," he replied with a shrug.

 

"This is Storybrooke. Your home – or so we assume," the doctor said. "Well, good news, aside from some scrapes and bruises, you've come out of that little walk of yours unscathed."

 

"Joy," he replied flatly as he looked over at the woman that had found him – Mary-Margaret he'd learned. She looked familiar, and he yearned to figure out why that was. She didn't seem to have the same opinion of him, so it was strange that he thought she felt familiar.

 

"Your emergency contact should be here soon," Whale said. "Mary-Margaret, I'd like to get you back to your room and make sure you aren't bleeding again I think you should be able to go home in the morning…"

 

Bleeding? He frowned in concern, but no one seemed to want to answer his confused look.

 

"Goodnight, Mr. Doe," Whale said as he started making his way to the door.

 

He paused for a moment. "David," he replied.

 

Whale froze, looking at him. "What?"

 

"My name. I think it might be David. It sounds right in my head. Familiar."

 

Doctor Whale grinned at him. "David then. I'll update your card."

 

"DAVID!" a woman's voice shouted, the sound of two sets of heels clicking against the floor of the hospital drawing closer before a blonde burst into the room, a dark haired woman behind her.

 

"Oh! David! You're awake! I'm so relieved!" the blonde said, rushing over to the bed and throwing her arms around him. Out of reflex, David returned it, furrowing his brows in confusion as he looked up at Dr. Whale for help.

 

Whale wasn't much help though.

 

"I'm sorry," David said to her. "But… who are you?"

 

"I'm Kathryn. I'm your wife."

 

Wife?! He had a wife?

 

He blinked in surprise and wrapped his arms around the woman, looking over at the window at Mary-Margaret.

 

The look on her face broke his heart.

 


 

 

"If you want, Mary-Margaret, I can come visit you tomorrow," Emma said as she and the nurse helped the teacher back to her hospital room.

 

The teacher nodded, smiling a little, but Emma could see the heartbreak in her face. While she didn't know why the woman was so upset, Emma felt something in her gut that made her want to help this stranger. Maybe this was what Dr. Hopper was talking about – finding somewhere to call home, growing roots…

 

"I would like that a lot, Emma. Thank you," Mary-Margaret replied with a weak smile.

 

"Okay. I'll be back in the morning then," Emma replied, returning the smile as she made her way to the door to leave.

 

"Oh – Emma?"

 

She turned back around. "Yeah?"

 

"If you want a place to stay besides Granny's… I have a spare room you could crash in for however long you like."

 

Emma blinked in surprise, looking over at Mary-Margaret, who was smiling at her, a more genuine smile than she'd had when Kathryn Nolan had run into the John Doe's room. She wasn't expecting An offer to stay in this woman's apartment, and honestly, it was tempting. But she didn't make decisions like this quickly, so she took a deep breaeth and smiled instead.

 

"Thanks for the offer. I'll… I'll let you know tomorrow, okay?"

 

"Okay. Goodnight."

 

"If she's really his wife, what took her so long to find him?" Emma asked Graham as they were finally left alone outside the hospital.

 

"Emma – "

 

"No, I'm serious Graham. It doesn't take someone like me to figure it out," Emma replied. "If she was such a concerned wife, why the hell wasn't she there at his bedside from the beginning? Why did she wait until Mary-Margaret had to save him did she show up?" Emma didn't know why she was so angry about this, but she found herself furious. The look on Mary-Margaret's face was breaking her heart, and she knew without a doubt that Regina was lying to her. But she couldn't do anything about it except hope that David Doe – or Nolan – wasn't a complete idiot and realized something was wrong.

 

"Maybe there was something wrong in their marriage. This could be a second chance for them.  I wouldn't be too concerned about I," Graham said with a shrug. "Besides, it's not my business, nor is it yours. So it would be in your best interest to leave them be."

 

Emma knew that was true, but she couldn't just sit back and let Regina run the show. Something was wrong, and Emma was determined to find out what it was.

 

But for now, she would go back to her room at Granny's and get some sleep.

Chapter Text

Emma could feel her fingers shaking as she dialed the number. She'd never been so anxious to make a phone call in her life, but here she was. "Graham? It's Emma."

"Ah, good morning Emma. What's up?"

"You know that job offer you gave me yesterday?"

"Of course."

"Well, I did some thinking last night when I got back to Granny's and… I've decided to stay in Storybrooke. I'd be happy to take the job as your deputy."

"Really? Well, that's great Emma. Meet me at the station this afternoon and I'll we'll get everything set up," Graham replied. Emma could hear the smile through the phone, and her heart did a little flip at the thought.

"Yeah. Alright. I'll see you this afternoon," Emma replied with a small smile as she fiddled with the card he'd scrawled his number on the day before. "Bye."

Exhaling, she ran a hand through her hair as she looked around the small town that was only just beginning its day. No one was paying much attention to her, which felt odd considering she was a stranger in this town. At least in a city Boston's size, she could blend in. Here, she and the reliable yellow bug stuck out like a sore thumb.

It was early, Emma knew, but she needed to talk to Dr. Hopper. All of the talk of moving to Storybrooke and accepting a job as a sheriff's deputy was making her head spin and her flight urge to grow stronger. Dr. Hopper would help her, she knew it.

Rubbing her hands nervously together, Emma walked up to the secretary she hadn't noticed on her first visit.

"Hi, is Doctor Hopper available for an appointment right now?" she asked with a weak smile.

The woman, younger, blonde, with the name plate Renata in front of her, quickly typed into the computer and nodded. "Yes, you can go right in."

"Thank you," Emma said with relief as she made her way up what was quickly becoming a familiar set of stairs.

"Emma!" Archie greeted when she knocked on the door. "Good morning, is everything alright?"

"Do you mind listening to me rant again?" she joked with a nervous smile on her face.

Archie tilted his head and stepped aside. "Of course I don't. It's my job."

"Thanks," Emma whispered, taking a seat on the couch and sighing a little. "You know how we were talking about roots last time I was here?"

Archie nodded.

"Well… I decided to take a chance and find some roots… here. In Storybrooke," Emma said slowly.

Archie smiled. "You have? That's wonderful. But – why come to me?"

Emma's smile faded. "Well… even though I have all of these things, I still feel tempted to run back to Boston and everything I know there."

It was Archie's turn to lose his smile as he looked at her with a critical eye. "I see. Do you know what it is that makes you want to run?"

Emma pressed her lips together. "I – I don't know. Maybe I'm just afraid to let good things happen to me for some reason."

Archie nodded slowly, as if understanding. "I see. And why do you think you're afraid of that?"

"It just seems that… when something good happens to me, something else happens to try to push the good things away from me," Emma said with a sigh. "I guess that sounds ridiculous, huh?"

Archie shook his head. "No. That doesn't sound ridiculous at all. I think you've had a very hard life, Emma. And because of that, you have walls around you that you want to use as protection against it, so your natural instinct is to run and build the walls up more. Does that sound right?"

She nodded.

"Okay Emma. What I want you to do is learn to talk to someone. Learn to open up and break down those walls. It doesn't have to be right away but… I think it'll be for the best."

"So, what, I just… start babbling about my past? Tell everyone about my time in foster care and how horrible most of them were?" Emma snapped, regretting it immediately when she saw Archie cringe a little. "Sorry."

He shook his head. "Don't be. You certainly aren't the first patient to yell at me."

She knew it was supposed to make her feel better, but it didn't. "So what do you suggest then?"

"I mean start with the small things. Like your favorite food, your favorite drink… things like that. Start small until you feel more comfortable building up with the bigger things in your life," Archie said with a smile.

Oh. Of course. That made perfect sense. She could only smile a little and nod in agreement. "Yeah. That doesn't sound so hard. Mary-Margaret offered me a place to stay so… maybe I can start with her." She liked that plan. It sounded easy enough.

Archie smiled. "I think that's a great plan, Emma."

Emma returned the smile, before the clock caught her eye. "Shoot. I'm going to be late picking Mary-Margaret up from the hospital. Thanks for seeing me, Dr. Hopper."

"Call me Archie."

Emma took a deep breath as she stood up. "Archie then."

With that, Emma made her way back downstairs and to the hospital.


 

"You're my wife?" David asked, frowning a little. "And my name is David Nolan?"

David sounded right, but not Nolan, nor the fact that this woman was his wife.

"That's right," the woman – Kathryn – responded with a beaming smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "I am. I've been so worried about you, David. Do you remember anything that happened?"

He shook his head. "No. I just remember waking up here and feeling like I needed to find someone, and then the next thing I remember, that woman – Mary-Margaret – was doing CPR on me because I'd fallen into some water. "

"Oh sweetheart, you don't have to worry about that anymore, because from now on, I'm going to be taking care of you, " Kathryn replied with a small smile. "And then we'll restart our lives together. I'm so glad to have you back, David. "

"Restart our lives?" he asked. "What do you mean by that?" It didn't sound good.

She seemed uncomfortable by the question, squirming a little in the chair next to the bed. "Well… our marriage was a bit rocky, I'm not going to lie. There were some arguments and fights and then you left and… I didn't know where you were until Regina called me and told me you'd been found."

"You didn't look for me? I always thought that if you loved someone, you would always find them.'' That was what he'd been told… right? Or had that all been a dream too?

Kathryn frowned a little. "How much have you been able to think, David? You've been in a coma."

That was rude, and he scoffed. "You would be surprised, Kathryn." His tone was cool, and it was evident that he didn't particularly want to go home with this woman, wife or not.

A woman clearing her throat broke the tension in the room, the husband and wife looking up and spotting Mary-Margaret standing in the doorway.

"Um… I can come back if it's a bad time," she said quietly.

"No, no, it's fine. I should be getting to work now anyway," Kathryn replied, standing up and taking her purse off the small table next to his bed. "Have a good day, Mary-Margaret. I'll be back later, David."

His shoulders visibly relaxed when she disappeared down the hall, looking over at the woman that had saved his life. "How can I help you?"

"I've just received word that I'm being discharged. They say I can go to work tomorrow," Mary-Margaret replied.

David grinned. "That's great, Mary-Margaret. I'm so happy for you. Can I ask why you were even in here to begin with?"

She shifted a little, uncomfortable with the question. "All they told me was that there was a lot of bleeding. But there's more than that, I can tell."

The man could only frown. "Why wouldn't they tell you the full story? Wouldn't that kinda be important to someone that's in the hospital?" What sort of low-class hospital was this anyway?

Mary-Margaret shook her head. "I don't know. I would assume they would but… maybe they still have to do tests or something."

"They didn't tell you that?" This hospital got worse and worse the longer he stayed here.

She shook her head and sighed a little. "But, the good news is, I'm a volunteer here so, I'll be able to come visit to make your day a little brighter."

He couldn't help but smile, feeling relieved that he'd be able to see Mary-Margaret while he was still locked in the hospital. "I look forward to it then, Mary-Margaret," he said.

"Miss Blanchard, are you ready to go? Miss Swan is here to take you home," Dr. Whale said, sauntering into the room. David didn't understand how he could possibly look so cocky and yet claim to be a doctor that helped people.

"Oh – yes, I'm ready."

It was with a weak smile and a strangely heavy heart that David watched as Mary-Margaret was wheeled down the hallway toward freedom.


 

"You really didn't have to do any of this for me, Emma," Mary-Margaret remarked as she took a seat at the kitchen table. "Really."

"I wanted to, Mary-Margaret," she replied with a smile. She was glad to be out of the hospital, but she couldn't imagine how Mary-Margaret felt. "How are you feeling?"

"Much better than I did. But I still don't understand what it was that caused all of this trouble," she sighed, frowning a little as Emma looked around the kitchen. "What are you doing?"

Emma startled, suddenly realized she was probably looking like one of Mary-Margaret's students who got caught doing something they shouldn't be. "Oh. Well, I'm not much of a cook but I thought I'd treat you to some proper coffee now that you're out of the hospital. Where do you keep it?" Emma asked.

"Oh… I'm not really one for coffee. I usually drink tea. But I could go for some hot chocolate I suppose. I keep it in the tin next to the sugar," Mary-Margaret replied with a smile.

Hot chocolate. Well, she was a fan of that. "I can make hot chocolate, no problem."

"Thanks Emma."

Emma nodded and smiled, making two cups of hot chocolate. "Do you have whipped cream?"

"In the fridge. Can you add some to mine?"

Emma nodded and quickly added the whipped cream to both mugs, adding cinnamon to hers before handing Mary-Margaret's to her. As the teacher took a sip, she frowned and Emma did the same.

"What's the matter?"

"Oh, it's nothing Emma, I just usually prefer cinnamon with my hot chocolate. But I wouldn't expect you to know that."

Emma blinked several times and she could see worry in Mary-Margaret's face.

"Is that alright?" Mary-Margaret asked softly.

She nodded as she grabbed the cinnamon and added it to the other woman's mug. "Yeah, it's great… um… actually, hot chocolate with cinnamon is my favorite drink."

"I've never met anyone else that drank it," Mary-Margaret said with a smile.

Emma returned the smile, feeling her shoulders relax just slightly as she sipped her hot chocolate, before looking up at the clock.

"Hey, I've got to go meet Sheriff Graham. Are you going to be okay if I leave you here by yourself?"

Mary-Margaret nodded. "If I need anything I can just call Rachael. She's our neighbor downstairs."

Emma wasn't sure why she felt so overprotective of this woman, but she couldn't help but feel that way even as she nodded and grabbed her wallet and made her way to the sheriff's station.

"Ah, there you are Emma," Graham said when he spotted her. "Everything okay?"

She nodded. "Perfectly fine. I just needed to help Mary-Margaret get home and settled before I came back. I hope that's alright."

"Of course. How is she?"

"Tired, I think, but she's hiding it better than I can. Glad to be home though, same as anyone who gets out of the hospital."

He nodded. "Of course. I understand. So you'll be living with her then?"

"Yeah. I just have to call and get my stuff from Boston and Granny's, but yeah. I guess you could say I officially moved in this morning."

Graham smiled a little. "Well that's great, Emma. Now… I have something to give to you."

She raised an eyebrow as he gestured to the uniform on the desk.

"A tie? Really?" she sighed as she grabbed the top and held it to her body.

Graham shrugged casually. " What's wrong with the tie? It's a good way to get people to do what you want."

Emma scoffed and tossed the shirt back to him. "I'm getting you to do what I want right now."

He scoffed out a laugh and held out the badge. "Fine. No uniform. But at least wear the badge."

She smiled, taking the badge and clipped it to her belt.

"Welcome to the department, Deputy Swan."

Chapter Text

"COMING THROGH!"  nurse Daphne Chinook shouted as she pushed nineteen year old Ashley Boyd through the halls of Storybrooke General Hospital.

 

It seemed like everyone Emma talked to knew the story of Ashley Boyd – a poor maid who didn't get along with her family or her ex-boyfriend, the child's father (or, rather, the . There was also the fact that she made some sort of deal with Gold with the baby's life, which, quite frankly, disgusted Emma. Poor girl had no idea what she was getting into, according to Granny.

 

"Ashley, I swear to you, it'll be okay. You'll be able to keep your baby," she said as she followed them to the maternity ward.

 

"Deputy Swan, I'm afraid you'll have to step out," Doctor Whale said, blocking the entrance to the room. "Family and friends only."

 

Emma nodded and watched as Ashley was wheeled to a bed, exhaling shakily as she leaned against the wall. She needed to do something to make sure Ashley could stay with the baby.

 

Ashley didn't have anything in terms of family – neither had Emma. She also didn't have anything in terms of a partner. Neither had Emma. Ashley was only nineteen. Emma had turned nineteen a month after she gave birth to Henry. She hadn't felt ready to be a mother, but Ashley was different.

 

Emma would be damned if Ashley had to suffer the same fate she had with Henry. She would do whatever she could in order to be sure that a woman that wanted to be a mother got the opportunity to be one.

 

"Ah, there's my hero," a voice said. A voice that sent shivers down Emma's spine.

 

Gold.

 

"I am not your hero," she said, crossing her arms. She didn't mind the thought of being a hero, but the thought of being Gold's hero had her stomach twisting in an uncomfortable knot.

 

"Oh, but you are, Miss Swan. You got my merchandise back for me. And just in time, too," Gold said with a smirk that raised bigger alarm bells than Regina's had. "That is the mark of a true hero in my eyes."

 

"You have a fucked up perception of heroism then," Emma replied with a frown. "If that's what a hero is to you I would have given her the keys to my apartment in Boston to escape you."

 

He only chuckled. "I like you Miss Swan, and because I like you, and because I've seen your skills, I'll let the girl out of the deal, on one condition."

 

Emma frowned. "And what condition is that?"

 

"When the time comes, you'll owe me a favor. And whatever it is I need, you'll do it for me whenever I call on you."

 

"That could sound vaguely sexual if you aren't careful, Gold."

 

Gold scoffed. "Flattered, but no, that's not what I'm talking about."

 

"Then what are you talking about?"

 

"As you seem so talented at finding people, perhaps it'll involve finding someone. Someone who has been hiding from me for years."

 

Emma frowned. "If you want me to find someone for you, why not have me find them now?" Everyone that had ever had her find someone had asked her to do it as soon as possible, not that she could blame them in the slightest. She had looked for her parents for years, and she knew how it could be to be so desperate.

 

Gold was giving her the same freaky look he gave her when he asked her to find his property as Renata went running by toward the labor and delivery ward.

 

Property. The fact that Gold was considering that poor baby property made her stomach twist in disgust.

 

"Fine, Gold. I'll take your deal. As long as you swear Ashley can keep her baby."

 

"You have my word, Miss Swan."

 

"Deal."

 

"Excellent. Farewell Miss Swan."

 

She watched as he hobbled away, Henry passing him by as he came back from the bathroom. She couldn't hear what they were saying, but Henry seemed comfortable around Gold, judging by the smile on his face.

 

It set her more at ease, but only just slightly.

 

"Hey Emma! Did she have the baby yet?" Henry asked as he walked over to her.

 

"Not that I've heard, kid," she said, frowning a little as she saw Sean Herman running over to the ward. "Is that – "

 

"That's Sean. Ashley's boyfriend," Henry confirmed, beaming. "Looks like whatever you said got through to him."

 

"Yeah," she said with a nod, slightly relieved that Sean seemed to have second thoughts about listening to his father. Ashley wouldn't be alone when it came to raising the baby. "Hey, do you want to get some ice cream?" she questioned. It was the least she could do for the kid after subjecting him to the horrors of labor, even if it had only been for ten minutes.

 

"Do I? You didn't even have to ask!" Henry replied with a wide smile. "Any Given Sundae is the best."

 

"Oh yeah? And what fairy tale character owns that?" she asked with an amused grin.

 

Henry though, frowned, which had Emma frowning.

 

"Did I say something wrong?" she asked.

 

Henry shook his head. "No, you didn't say anything wrong. I just don't know who the woman that owns it is. All I know is, her name is Sarah. But that doesn't mean anything. She could just be someone who lived in a kingdom and got caught up in the curse."

 

Of course she was.

 

Emma could only nod, wrapping an arm around him and leading him toward the door before Renata's voice called out for them.

 

"I'm so glad I caught you guys! Ashley had the baby," she said with a smile that lit up the hospital hallway.

 

"Really? What did she have?" Henry asked.

 

"A girl. Alexandra," Renata replied. "I just wanted to thank you for helping her get here. I haven't been a very good stepsister to her and when I saw you and her in your car together… I realized that whatever happened between us in the past no longer matters. So I called Sean and told him what was going on… looks like Ashley is going to get the ever after she hoped for."

 

Emma noticed that Renata looked a bit upset at the thought of an ever after, so she focused on what would probably be the easiest thing to talk about."I didn't know you were her stepsister," Emma remarked.

 

"Well, it's not something either of us talked about," Renata shrugged. "Anyway, thanks again for helping her."

 

"No problem. Come on Henry, let's go get that ice cream."

 

Giving Renata another small wave, she led him out of the hospital.

 

"See?" Henry said as she drove to the ice cream shop. "You're starting to bring back the happy endings. Renata is Anastasia Tremaine – Cinderella's stepsister."

 

Emma laughed slightly. "Oh kid…" While she liked the fact that she'd helped this poor girl out, and that the boyfriend and stepsister had decided to come back and actually help this girl out, she certainly didn't feel like it was her that had brought back a happy ending.

 

"You don't believe me yet. But you will," Henry said with a smile.

 

"And you still haven't warmed up to Pumpkin being my codename. And you won't even tell me the name you picked for me," Emma said with a grin.

 

"Because Pumpkin isn't a good nickname and you're not ready for the one I want to use for you," Henry said as they stopped in front of the ice cream shop. Henry was out the door before Emma had even put the car in park.

 

"Oh, well, hello Henry," Emma heard a woman say as the door swung shut behind the boy, and she froze in place, recognizing it instantly. There was no way.

 

Hesitantly Emma stepped up to the door and pushed it open.

 

And there stood Ingrid.

 

"Emma… oh my darling Emma. Look at how beautiful you are!" Ingrid said with a smile that lit up the room. "At last, we're in the same town again."

 

"What… the hell… are you doing here, Ingrid?" Emma asked dangerously. Memories of being shoved in front of the car came flooding back, the hurt and the betrayal that she'd felt was clear on her face. "Henry, get behind me."

 

The ten year old seemed confused as he slowly got behind her, looking between the two women. "Emma, do you know her?" he asked.

 

"She was one of my foster mothers. It didn't end well," she said simply. "Not someone I would expect to be running an ice cream shop in a small town in Maine. Last I checked, she had been running a foster home in Minnesota."

 

"I got tired of that. So I decided to retire that life and move to Maine to run a shop for one of my favorite things."

 

Ingrid always had been a fan of ice cream, Emma had to admit. But still, she didn't like the fact that she was here in Storybrooke.

 

"I have homemade rocky road," Ingrid offered.

 

Damn. Rocky road was her favorite.

 

Emma frowned, before looking at Henry, who seemed eager at the thought of the treat. "Fine," she said with a scowl. "I'll get a pint of rocky road. Henry, what do you want?"

 

"Mint chocolate chip, in a cone please," Henry replied with the same beaming smile that seemed to charm everyone he came into contact with – so much like Neal.

 

Oh, Neal…

 

"Coming right up," Ingrid said with a small smile. "So Henry, how is that book your teacher got for you?"

 

"It's great!"

 

Emma stood wearily by the cash register, watching Ingrid like a hawk as she got the frozen treats, Henry chattering on about the day's events. She didn't trust that Ingrid was here. Not to mention the fact that Ingrid… didn't look like she'd aged at all in the decade that had passed between the incident with the car and today. But she didn't say anything about her suspicions. Not yet. Henry was in the room, and she didn't want to expose him to anything dangerous or stupid.

 

Seeing Ashley almost give birth in her car was probably enough for a ten year old.

 

"I'm so glad you're in Storybrooke Emma. This curse that we're under really needs to be broken, and you're the only one who can do it," Ingrid said, scooping Henry's ice cream into a cone.

 

She could only roll her eyes, hoping Ingrid was playing along with the wild tale Henry had spun to get her to Storybrooke to begin with.

 

"Yeah. The curse." Now she knew this curse was bullshit considering she knew Ingrid ten years ago and this curse was supposedly around for twenty-eight years. "I haven't figured out how to deal with it yet," she said, continuing to stare at her. Not that she ever would, because curses didn't exist.

 

"Oh I'm sure you'll think of something, Emma. You always do," Ingrid replied, humming a little as she handed over the ice cream.

 

"Right. I always do," Emma repeated, handing over the money. "Henry, why don't you go out to the car? I'll meet you there in a second."

 

Henry nodded happily leaving the shop, blissfully unaware of the discomfort Emma had at being in the same room as Ingrid.

 

"Listen, if you try anything, and I mean anything while I'm here, I swear to God I'm telling Graham what happened and getting you arrested for child abuse, understand?" Emma said, staring at Ingrid. "And if you try to hurt anyone I care about, I will make sure you are thrown in prison so fast your head will spin."

 

Ingrid looked mortified that Emma would dare say such a thing to her. "Emma, I would never do such a thing, you know that. You know me. I will never hurt anyone you care about," she said softly. "And what happened back then… I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

 

She could only shake her head. "You tried to murder me, Ingrid. I'm letting you off this time, because Henry said he loves your ice cream, but one more mistake and you're gone."

 

It was with shaking hands that Emma made her way back to the car, the two pints of rocky road clutched in her hands.

 

"Emma… are you okay?" Henry asked quietly.

 

She nodded slowly. "One day, when you're older, I'll tell you what happened. For now, you need to get home before your mom kills me. Then you. Then me again," she said. "Don't worry. I made Ingrid promise that she won't hurt you."

 

"Did she hurt you?" Henry asked.

 

Emma pressed her lips together as they left Any Given Sundae behind. "Not today she didn't."

 

The car ride was quiet until Emma pulled up in front of Regina's house, taking a deep breath and looking over at the boy next to her.

 

"Hey… don't worry about Ingrid, okay? Think about all of the good things we did today. We're heroes to Ashley. We saved her," Emma said with a small smile. "And I need your help if I'm going to be the savior and save everyone, right?"

 

Henry's face slowly grew into a smile as he got out of the car. "Right!"

 

She made to pull away, before something stopped her, and she called back to him. "Hey – Henry?"

 

He looked confused as he turned back around.

 

"What you said… about me being able to leave town?"

 

"Yeah?" Henry replied, nervousness creeping into the tone.

 

Emma smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow."

 

The smile that Henry gave her in return was something she would never forget.

 

----------

 

Of course his machine would decide to die before he was able to get to the bed and breakfast. Stupid old thing had never been reliable, which is why he decided to live in a city where there was decent public transportation – he'd been an idiot to think that it would last a five hour drive from New York City to Storybrooke.

 

"Come on you…" he muttered as he waved some of  the smoke that was pouring out of his engine.

 

"Problem with your car?" he heard a voice ask from next to him. Neal nearly banged his head on the hood as he pulled his head out and looked over, spotting a kid no older than ten.

 

"Is it that obvious?" he joked, slamming the hood back down. "Sorry for the disruption."

 

The kid shrugged. "That's okay. You know, we never get visitors here. So why are you here?"

 

"Cut right to the point. I like that," he said with a grin as he wiped his face off with the sleeve of his jacket. "I'm here to look for my father."

 

The kid's eyes widened. He seemed really excited at this. "Your father? Who's your father?"

 

That question was like a punch in the gut. "I… I actually don't know what he goes by anymore. It's been so long that…"

 

"Did he give you up?"

 

He raised an eyebrow. "You could say that."

 

"I was given up too. My birth mom gave me up for my best chance."

 

He could only give the kid a weak smile. At least this kid seemed to be happy "You were one of the lucky ones then. Didn't have to deal with foster care or anything like that. Not everyone gets to avoid that."

 

"Henry!" a woman called. The man looked up to find a dark-haired woman that he knew must have been the boy's mother. They looked similar enough to be biological family, really. "What did I tell you about talking to strangers?"

 

"Sorry Mom," Henry muttered, looking down. The man noticed the demeanor change right away.

 

"And just who are you?" the woman asked, now turning to him as she took in the smoke billowing from his engine.

 

"I'm sorry. I'm just visiting town for photography and my ride broke down before I got to the hotel," he replied, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.

 

He noticed her shoulders visibly relaxing at his words. "Ah… yes, I can tell," she said, digging through her purse and pulling out a card. "Here's a number for Marine Garage. It's the best one in town. Tell them the mayor sent you and you'll get the best service."

 

"Oh – you're the mayor? Then I'm double sorry for the car breaking down in front of your house," he said with a nervous laugh.

 

"It's no trouble Mister…"

 

"Cassidy. Neal Cassidy."

Chapter Text

"Mister Cassidy then. It was nice to meet you," the mayor said, holding out a hand for him to shake. "I'm Regina. If you need anything else while you're here don't hesitate to come find me. Come on Henry, we're going to be late to Dr. Hopper's if we don't get going."

 

"Thank you again for the phone number," Neal said with a smile, reaching for his phone as the mother and son started heading down the street. "It was nice to meet you, Regina, Henry."

 

It didn't take long for the mechanic to show up, thank goodness. He didn't have time to waste when it came to getting out of here. While he was here for his father, he wasn't sure when he would be willing to confront his father.

 

He just knew he needed to get here before August did.

 

"Hello sir," the tow truck driver said as he stepped out of the truck. "My name's Billy. How can I help you?"

 

"I think I'm out of coolant but I can't be sure. This thing's so beat up who knows what it could be," Neal said with a sigh as Billy popped the hood and frowned, letting out a low whistle. Neal had a feeling that probably wasn't a good sign.

 

"Wow, I'm surprised you made it a mile with this thing," Billy said, slamming the hood shut. "I'm afraid we're going to have to order you a whole new engine. I'm not sure how long it'll take to get here."

 

Well, it wasn't like Neal planned on going back to New York any time soon.

 

"That's fine. I'm on a sabbatical from work to take pictures of the coast so the longer I can stay the better," he said with a small smile.

 

It wasn't a complete lie – he had taken a sabbatical from work, but he had no plans to leave Storybrooke now that he was here.

 

But no one needed to know that.

 

"Are you a photographer?" Billy asked as he began hooking up the car to the truck.

 

"Yeah, in New York," he replied with a smile, filling out the paperwork Billy gave to him. "But I got a little tired of all of the noise and traffic so I decided to photograph some of the coast."

 

"Here, I'll get you to Granny's. How did you find Storybrooke?"

 

Neal shrugged casually, getting into the truck. "Just driving around.  It took a long while to find a place that really spoke to me. Once you find a place like that… you just know. It's a gut instinct."

 

Billy was quiet the rest of the ride to the bed and breakfast, and Neal smiled gratefully when he saw an old woman standing behind a desk.

 

"Hi… I'd like a room. Do you have any available?"

 

The woman seemed surprised that he was there, dropping the pen she was holding. "Oh – oh of course, of course we have rooms. You can have your pick of forest or square."

 

"Uh… square is fine I guess," Neal shifted a little with a shrug.

 

"Oh – that's a bit more. Is that alright?" the old woman asked. She seemed nervous, jumpy. Neal frowned in concern.

 

He nodded. "So, do you have any recommendations for food or something?" he asked gently.

 

"Oh sure. The Diner. I own it too. There's some other places, but the Diner is the best in my opinion." The woman winked a little as she handed over the keys to his room. "Welcome to - "

 

As Neal reached for the key, the ground began to shake. He grabbed the front desk, holding himself up as he looked around with wide eyes as he looked at the woman he could only assume was Granny, who looked quite pale as the ground slowly ceased shaking.

 

"Are you alright?" he asked, looking around the room to make sure nothing had fallen off the walls and broken. "Has anything like that ever happened?"

 

"Yes, yes I'm okay. That's… that's never happened before. Not since I've lived here anyway."

 

He grinned. "Guess I picked a good day to come to town huh?"

 

She snorted. "I suppose so. Welcome to Storybrooke."

 

"Yes, you enjoy yourself here," a voice, bone-chillingly familiar.

 

Steeling his nerves, Neal turned, trying to make his face appear stoic as he faced the one person he had been trying to avoid for years.

 

His father. Looking human, with long, straight hair and an immaculate suit, but the same glint in his eye that had sent him spiraling down the path of looking for dark magic for help in saving his father.

 

"Uh – thanks," he replied. "I'm looking forward to it."

 

Granny's arm suddenly shot out in front of him, holding a wad of cash. "That's it for the diner. All of it," she said.

 

So his father finally had the power and control he had been longing for when Neal had been growing up.

 

Figured his father would have a cushy life in this world.

 

"Thank you Mrs. Lucas. Looks like you'll be able to sell frozen lasagnas for another month," his father said with a small sneer that in Neal's opinion, didn't seem to be all that genuine. Strangely enough.

 

"Hey. So what if her lasagna is frozen? I'm sure it's hard to cook for so many people," Neal said. His father might not know who he was at the moment, but that didn't mean Neal was going to let him walk all over the people in this town.

 

His father looked surprised at his words, before scoffing. "That's very brave of you. Not many people are willing to stand up to me. Especially a stranger."

 

Neal only shrugged. "Well… sometimes it's good to do the right thing for strangers."

 

His father seemed perplexed. "Regardless. You enjoy your stay. I'm sure we'll be seeing plenty of each other while you're here."

 

"I look forward to it."

 

"As do I."

 

----------

 

"Nurse Ratched! I need your help upstairs checking on the other patients!" Dr. Whale's voice rang out from the end of the hallway.

 

The woman locked in Cell 10-6 lifted her head in curiosity.

 

"You're lucky I finished checking on mine! What happened anyway?!" the nurse shouted back as she made her way down the hall.

 

"Some sort of earthquake. I sent Mary-Margaret to go see what happened. She should be back soon. I heard the sheriff's car pass the hospital about ten minutes ago," Whale responded.

 

The faint sound of a door slamming at the end of the hall was her cue to move. The woman snuck over to the door and got up on her toes. No one who worked in this part of the hospital realized there was a small hole that she could see out of. Or, if they did notice, no one had fixed it or moved her yet. No one allowed them the privilege of looking outside at the world, so she had to take what she could – the windows were too high up for anyone to see out of.

 

Except the little hole in her door.

 

The hallway was empty, and she sighed with relief before moving over to the vent in her cell and kneeling down.

 

"Hey… hey! Are you alright?" she whispered into it.

 

She heard shuffling as her neighbor moved over to the vent in their cell – no, hers – the woman knew her neighbor was a woman, like her – the tone of voice and the softer footfalls were an obvious key.

 

"H-hello? W-who's there?" her neighbors voice, shaky and terrified asked as it wafted through the vent.

 

"I'm in the cell next to you. It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you," she said, smiling although she knew the woman couldn't see it. "Are you alright? That earthquake was weird, huh?"

 

"Y-yes. Very weird. I'm alright… a-are you alright?"

 

"I'm fine. Don't worry, we aren't going to get in trouble. The nurse had to go upstairs to help with the other patients, so we're alone now. What's your name?"

 

There was a pause – longer than one imagine after asking someone's name – before the woman finally responded.

 

"I… I can't remember what my name is."

 

Curious. That was very curious.

 

"Alright. What should I call you then?" she asked. "If we're going to be stuck here I'd like to be able to call you something."

 

Another long pause. She pictured the other woman wracking her brain, trying to think of a word.

 

"Belle. You can call me Belle."

 

She smiled. "Belle it is. You can call me Alice."

 

"Hello Alice."

 

"Hello Belle," Alice said with a smile, glad to have someone to talk to while she was locked in here. But it wasn't enough. She wasn't supposed to be locked in here – and she doubted Belle was supposed to be here either.

 

"What did you do to get locked away in here?" Belle asked.

 

Well, that was a good question, wasn't it? Quite honestly, Alice wasn't sure why she was here. One day she'd been at home and the next thing she knew, she was here.

 

"I don't know," Alice responded honestly. "I think I blocked it out. I was so upset when I was brought here…"

 

"I understand," Belle said. "We have each other, right?"

 

"That's right. So Belle… how are we going to escape?"

 

Yet another pause, before Belle spoke again, this time, her voice was quieter than it had been before.

 

"Escape?"

 

"Well… yeah. I don't belong here, and I don't think you do either. So are you in?"

 

Alice was getting very tired of the pauses between she and Belle, and she exhaled in relief when the woman finally replied.

 

"Yes. I'm in."

 

----------

 

"Mom, I don't need to see a doctor," Henry protested as his mother guided him to the car after his adventure in the mines. While he hadn't figured out the reason for the earthquake, finding pieces of Snow White's glass coffin was just as good – because it showed that the curse was real. It had restored his faith in breaking it.

 

And as soon as he was able to see Emma again, he was going to prove it to her.

 

"Henry, don't be silly, of course you do. You were down in that filthy mine for much too long. I'm sure this will just be a quick check up."

 

Henry rolled his eyes. He was already exhausted and slightly sore from the adventure. He just wanted to take a shower and go to bed.

 

"And if you're good through this… I'll buy you a new video game," his mother said as they walked up to the desk. As his mother signed him in, Henry looked around the waiting room, sighing a little. This hospital gave him the creeps. When he was here with Miss Blanchard or Emma, he felt okay, but being here with his mother… well, that was a different story. The atmosphere was strange. He couldn't explain it, but he didn't like it.

 

A shadow – two of them actually – caught his eye just then. He could make out the distinct forms of two people, crouched behind the wall. It looked like they had come from the restricted part of the hospital his mother never let him go to.

 

Well now… that was interesting.

 

Henry's eyes flickered up to his mother, noticing she was distracted by talking with the nurse who was anxious about the earlier earthquake.

 

Good. She was distracted.

 

Henry moved over to a chair in the waiting room – Regina only looked over once, seeing where he was, and turned back to the nurse. The chair provided a much better view of what was going on.

 

One of the shadows (now young women, he could tell) in particular caught his eye as she darted down a far hallway, the other woman right behind her.

 

The blonde stared right at him with blonde hair, a blue hospital gown, and her hair tied back with a black bow, before scooting out of his line of sight.

 

Henry didn't need to look in his book for her identity.

 

That was Alice in Wonderland.

Chapter Text

A knock on the door of the station startled Emma as she looked up at the visitor.

 

"Oh – Kathryn, right?" she was terrible with names. Plus Mary-Margaret didn't seem too fond of the woman so Emma tried to ignore who she was. "Is everything alright?" If she had to go looking for David again she was going to rip her hair out.

 

Kathryn seemed to realize what it looked like to walk into a sheriff's station unannounced looked like. "Oh gosh, I'm sorry. This must look strange. Yes, everything is fine. Perfect actually. Dr. Whale said David can come home today, and I'm throwing a welcome home party for him. I'd love to invite you and Sheriff Graham and Mary-Margaret."

 

Emma smiled, relief flooding her as her shoulders relaxed. "Oh well, thanks Kathryn. That sounds really nice. I'll tell Mary-Margaret about it but I think Graham might be stuck on night duty tonight. But I'll double check with him."

 

"Oh great. It starts at six and you don't have to worry about bringing anything, okay?"

 

"Okay. I'll be there," Emma said with a smile. "What time?"

 

"It starts at six."

 

"I'll be sure to be there right on time," Emma joked. She wasn't sure what it was Mary-Margaret disliked about this woman – Emma thought she was nice.

 

Kathryn laughed and smiled. "Well thank you. My father always says punctuality is the golden rule!"

 

Emma snorted and grinned. "Right. Got it. I'll see you tonight."

 

Kathryn turned to leave, before pausing and looking back. "Oh – by the way… David and I were wondering if you'd found out the cause of the earthquake? I asked the mayor last night but she didn't have an answer."

 

"Well… I hate to disappoint you but I'm actually not sure. I think it was maybe something in the mines. I wasn't looking too hard frankly. I was more concerned with getting Henry and Archie out of harm's way."

 

"Oh, of course. Right. It's still so weird though. We've never had an earthquake in Storybrooke. At least, as far as I can remember. Well, I'll see you tonight!"

 

"Yeah…" Emma said with a small frown. "See you tonight."

 

It was so strange. Every time she asked someone about something that happened in Storybrooke, they never seemed to know the answer. Or if they gave her an answer, it was 'as long as I can remember'. Why did no one remember these things? Once, she'd asked Mary-Margaret something simple: When was Regina elected as mayor? And Mary-Margaret had offered the same response Kathryn had. "As long as I can remember".

 

Something was off about this town.

 

"Deputy Swan."

 

Emma looked up to find Regina standing in the doorway. Speak of the devil herself.

 

"Can I help you?" Emma asked, quirking an eyebrow. As usual, she looked generally annoyed, but Emma could see something else in her eyes. Almost like fear.

 

"There's an emergency that I want to keep quiet from the town. No one can know about this except for you and Graham, understand?"

 

Yep. It was fear.

 

"What's wrong?" she said with a frown, leaning her elbows on the desk.

 

"There was an… escape from the hospital," Regina said, her voice low. "Two patients from the lower ward."

 

"Lower… ward?" Emma asked slowly. "What's the lower ward?"

 

"An asylum."

 

Those words were the last things she expected to hear from the mayor. An asylum. Which meant there were unstable people running around that were a little… unstable.

 

"Regina, are you insane? You want me to keep escaped mental patients quiet from the rest of the town? These people could be dangerous!"

 

Regina sighed heavily. "No. Trust me. The two of them won't harm anyone. And I want it kept quiet because you're supposedly good at finding people quickly and efficiently."

 

"You know this how?"

 

"I just do."

 

"You do know that we're going to need more information than that if you want us to catch these escapees, right Regina?" Graham suddenly said from the doorway. "So who are the ones that we're looking for?"

 

"Neither of them have names. But here are their pictures," Regina said, pulling a file out of her coat and sliding it across the table. "Only start asking around if you feel like you must. Graham, I trust your judgment."

 

Emma rolled her eyes as she looked down at the case file. Both of the women were younger than she was – neither could have been over the age of twenty-five or so. And neither woman looked like they could ever harm a fly.

 

"You're kidding, Regina. Why were these girls even in the asylum to begin with?" Graham asked with a frown.

 

"I already said. I don't know. They don't have any records."

 

That didn't sound right to Emma.

 

"Why don't they have any records?" Graham asked, frowning.

 

"Seriously. My records are sealed but there's still a record of my hospital stay when I gave birth to Henry." If someone didn't have a record for being in someplace like an asylum, where they weren't free to leave, then someone was seriously wrong.

 

And Emma was going to find out what that was.

 


 

 

David had never felt more uncomfortable in his life.

 

Or, well… he didn't think he had. But regardless of whether or not he had or hadn't, David was incredibly uncomfortable. Most of the people here seemed to be more friendly with Kathryn than they were with him. The smiles seemed false, or at least, not as genuine as they should have been considering he was supposedly in a coma for years.

 

Maybe they had started divorce proceedings.

 

David rubbed the back of his neck as one of Kathryn's friends, Jim – someone that David did not get a good feeling about – walked off, exhaling in relief when he got the chance to breathe. This night was turning out to be longer than any night in the hospital. It was only made worse by the fact that it didn't appear that Mary-Margaret was here yet. If she was coming at all.

 

A sinking feeling in his stomach told him she wasn't.

 

Looking up, David sighed in relief when he spotted Henry Mills and Emma Swan, and quickly made his way over to them.

 

"It's so good to see some familiar faces," he said, with a relief-filled voice.

 

"You look a little nervous about being here," Emma remarked. "Are you alright?"

 

"Ah, yeah. It's just a little hard to be here when I don't exactly remember these people. I was hoping that Mary-Margaret would be here. Is she not coming?" David asked with a frown.

 

Emma looked vaguely uncomfortable at the question. "No. She's busy doing some grading for work. She says she's glad you're out of the hospital though."

 

David could tell she was lying. Well, mostly. Still, he didn't want to cause a fuss, especially in front of Henry, so he dropped it.

 

"Did you know that you have a scar on your chin, Mr. Nolan?" Henry asked.

 

David blinked in surprise, a hand automatically moving to his chin and giving the boy a weak smile when he felt it. "Is it that obvious? I was hoping using Kathryn's concealer would have stopped you from noticing."

 

Laughter erupted from both Henry and Emma.

 

"You probably got it from a rock. Maybe Miss Blanchard hit you over the head with it," Henry said, his dark eyes wide with a childish innocence that seemed mixed with something David couldn't tell.

 

"Henry!" Emma snapped, staring at him.

 

David blinked in surprise at the boy's words. This kid had some imagination, he wouldn't deny that. "It's okay Emma. Henry, I don't know if I'd go that far. Besides I'd never met Mary-Margaret until she found me in the woods," he said with a small smile.

 

"What about a sword? Have you ever used one of those before?" he asked.

 

The man could only chuckle. "No, I haven't. But it sounds like a fun thing to try." Too bad he couldn't think of a way to be able to use a sword in his life.

 

"Maybe you used to."

 

"Henry, I think that's enough questions for Mr. Nolan," Emma said. "Sorry about him, David."

 

He laughed. "It's okay Emma, really. He's a kid, he's bound to have questions. I just feel bad that I can't give him the answers."

 

"You'll be able to one day," Henry put in.

 

David smiled at him. "I hope so Henry. I think I need to get some air. I'll talk to you guys later."

 

"Bye David!"

 

David left the house and took a deep breath of fresh air, glad to be away from the party. He knew he had no right to complain – he didn't have his memories of before the accident that had caused his coma, and Kathryn was only trying to help. It was hard to argue with their marriage license but… there was still something that felt wrong about it.

 

Shaking his head, David made his way down the street, where he saw a familiar figure by a tree.

 

"Mary-Margaret. I thought you were working on grading papers tonight," he said softly. "That's what Emma told me."

 

Mary-Margaret seemed startled. "David. I thought you'd be inside enjoying your party. Kathryn worked really hard on it."

 

"I needed some air, and you're avoiding the question."

 

She exhaled. "I just get the feeling that Kathryn doesn't exactly like me much, so even if she invited me, I wouldn't have wanted to cause any awkwardness. The party is a happy occasion. I wouldn't have wanted to make anyone feel awkward by showing up. Why did you need some air?"

 

"Because I wasn't comfortable in there. I get the feeling some people aren't happy with me for some reason," David said, shaking his head slightly.

 

"Oh. I'm sorry."

 

"It's not your fault. I… I want to see you again even though I'm out of the hospital. And you're the only one that feels right in this place. Is that okay?"

 

She took a deep breath. "Of course David."

 

He felt a weight lift off his shoulders. "Great. I'll see you soon."

 

She nodded. "See you."

 

David felt more relaxed as he made his way back home, slipping back into the party.

 

"David! There you are. I was wondering why you'd disappeared," Kathryn said with a wide smile. "Is everything alright?"

 

People stared at him as he instinctively reached to wrap an arm around his wife. "Yes, of course. It was just getting a bit warm in here so I wanted to get some air."

 

"You should have told me. I would have opened some of the windows…" Kathryn said.

 

David smiled at her. "You were enjoying some time with your friends. I didn't want to interrupt that after you've spent so much time working with me trying to get my memories back. You deserved to have a night off, same as me."

 

"Oh David… you're such a Prince Charming. How lucky am I to have someone like you?"

 

Prince Charming. Yes… that sounded about right. But not when it came to Kathryn.

 

But still, it was a clue, and David was going to hold onto that.

 

Later that night, before David went up to bed, he flipped through a box of items Kathryn had brought out for him in order to help jog his memory. Maybe doing it by himself, without the help of Kathryn or Mary-Margaret hovering over him would help.

 

He leaned back against the couch, looking at a photograph of he and Kathryn and the dog – where was that dog anyway? That was something he'd have to ask her in the morning.

 

He closed one of the photo albums and made his way over to the bookshelf to grab one of the other boxes Kathryn had brought to the hospital, hoping there would be something in there that would jog something in his mind. When he lifted it up, he heard something slip off the back of it and reached to catch it before it got stuck, forgotten, behind the other things on the shelf.

 

He went back to the couch and took a seat, deciding to look at the piece of paper he'd caught. It was probably nothing – a list of things to do today, notes from a phone call…

 

What David didn't expect it to be was a love letter, written by Jim to Kathryn, dated before David's accident.

 

Which meant Kathryn had been cheating on him before the accident.

 

That explained why he'd been so close to the town line. Why he'd crashed his car.

 

He looked up at the clock – it was too late to confront her about it now, so David laid back on the couch, the letter tucked under the pillow as he fell into a restless sleep.

 

"He tried to poison me!"

 

"What happened?"

 

It was Mary-Margaret he was looking at. But with longer hair, her face tired and battle-weary. She was wearing what he could only describe as a costume.

 

"One of his soldiers kidnapped me and brought me to his palace. He offered me something to drink but I didn't trust it. So I pretended. It was an infertility potion."

 

His fists clenched. "Oh Gods. I'll kill that bastard. After what he did to you and what he did to my mother – "

 

A gentle hand was placed on his shoulder. "No son. That's not the right way."

 

"But mother – "

 

"No. You have to be the bigger person here, David. George did terrible, evil deeds, but being a benevolent ruler is something the people in the kingdom need after years of terrible rule by him. You know that as well as I do. Perhaps what he needs is the opportunity to see what doing the dirty work is like," the woman – his mother? – said.

 

"I like her," another voice – gruff and low (was that the janitor from the hospital?) said with a wide grin. "We could use some help in the mines."

 

He looked at the raven-haired woman. "Snow, what do you think?"

 

"Well Charming… I don't think we can argue with your mother. We avoid his death if we can."

 

He sighed. "Very well. If possible, we avoid his death."

 

"Hey – Snow? There's a woman out there. She says she's a friend of the prince but I wasn't sure," another woman said. He turned to find Ruby, the waitress from the local diner dressed in period clothing.

 

What the hell was going on here?

 

"What's the woman's name?" he asked.

 

"Abigail."

 

"Bring her in."

 

He shot up off the couch when he saw Kathryn and Jim walk into the tent.

 

Breathing heavily, David put a hand on his chest as the scene in the forest faded into nothing more than a memory. But it had felt so real, so right. Like it truly was meant to be a memory, and not just a memory of a dream.

 

"David? Are you alright?"

 

He looked up to see Kathryn – dressed in normal attire and not the weird, costume-looking thing the people in the dream were wearing.

 

"I'm – I'm fine Kathryn. It was just a strange dream. Can I… can I talk to you about something?" he asked with a small frown.

 

"Of course you can. I'm your wife, aren't I?"

 

"I don't know. Are you?"

 

"What are you talking about? Of course I am."

 

David pulled out the letter he'd found the night before, and Kathryn went white.. "I found this last night before I went to bed. It's dated before I had my accident."

 

"Oh… that… yes. It's true. I was having an affair before the accident. But I realized while you were gone that I loved you and missed you desperately!"

 

"Then why did I lay in a hospital labeled as a John Doe for two years?"

 

Kathryn didn't respond, so David stood and quickly made his way upstairs, pulling out a suitcase he'd found under the bed.

 

"David wait! Where are you going?!"

 

"I'm going to find a room at Granny's. I can't stay here, Kathryn."

 

"David, please, let's talk about this!"

 

He didn't say anything as he passed by her and made his way downstairs and to Granny's Bed and Breakfast, his heart heavy.

Chapter Text

Emma was disgusted. Working in the animal shelter indeed. But no, there Graham was, climbing out Regina's window, spouting some bullshit about how he wanted to protect Henry and not want him to know. It disgusted her. Just when she thought she maybe was having feelings for him. She couldn't believe she'd ever found him attractive.

 

And the previous two nights had gone so well. She and Henry had enjoyed themselves at David's welcome home party, she'd met the people that owned the bakery, and Regina was leaving her alone to find the people that had broken out of the asylum.

 

Then she'd had to go and find Graham sneaking out of Regina's window, and he'd kissed her that night, mumbling something about wanting to feel and being heartless. Which was completely ridiculous.

 

She burst into the apartment and flopped down on the couch, silently hoping she hadn't woken her roommate.

 

What the hell was she going to do? Her gut told her to run like hell, but how stupid was that? It exposed corruption. Plus… Henry. The kid had wormed his way into her heart and she didn't exactly want to leave him in a lurch.

 

Emma lifted up a pillow and pressed it against her face as she groaned in frustration.

 

Exhaling, Emma curled up on the couch and closed her eyes, hoping the next morning would be easier to deal with.

 

"It's not like you to sleep on the couch," Mary-Margaret said the next morning as the two of them sat at the table eating breakfast.

 

"Sorry. I got back really late last night and I didn't want to disturb you," Emma sighed, running a hand through her hair. "I didn't… did I?"

 

"No," Mary-Margaret replied, although Emma could see she was a bit distracted with her bag. "Are you sure you're okay?"

 

Emma practically choked on her cereal. "What? Yeah of course I am. I'm totally fine. Why wouldn't I be?"

 

Mary-Margaret simply tilted her head.

 

"Graham kissed me last night when I was coming home from Granny's," Emma said, looking down into the nearly soggy cereal. "He was babbling about feelings and hearts and he just… kissed me."

 

"He what?!" Mary-Margaret gasped. "Oh Emma – "

 

"Yeah but I caught him coming out of Regina's house the night before last. What was I supposed to do? I can't exactly drop my walls because of him if I caught him sneaking out of the mayor's house. So I pushed him away."

 

The teacher only sighed, shaking her head as her face twisted into sympathetic disgust. "I don't know Emma. I think you did the right thing, pushing him away. Anyway, I should go. I'll be late to work otherwise. I'll see you tonight," Mary-Margaret said. Emma could hear her humming softly as she grabbed her bag and left the apartment.

 

Emma sighed and looked into her bowl. She really didn't want to go to work today. Maybe she could get out of actually being in the office somehow…

 

Like she could go looking for the missing people from the hospital. Perfect. And she wouldn't have to see Graham either.

 

Emma stood, putting her bowl and mug in the sink, grabbed her leather jacket and made her way to her car to start her day.

 

She was out on the streets before. If she was someone who had escaped and didn't want to be found… where would she go?

 

The woods. Anywhere away from a population of people, of course. Emma parked her car outside the small Storybrooke park and quickly made her way into the woods… and immediately, she felt out of her element.

 

She was used to tracking people in the cities, people who had left some sort of paper trail behind. These women, as far as she knew, had no paper trail for some ridiculous reason. If the hospital was so good on losing patient records, maybe David would be lucky enough to not have to pay for his hospital stay.

 

It'd be a lucky break for him.

 

"What is it with my finding our police department out in the woods?"

 

Emma jumped, turning to find Mr. Gold standing behind her with a shovel.

 

Well, that wasn't shady at all.

 

"Mr. Gold. What are you doing here?"

 

"I could ask you the same thing, Miss Swan. Don't tell me you're looking for a wolf like Sheriff Graham was," Mr. Gold said.

 

She blinked in confusion, noting how he ignored her question. "Wolf? No, I'm not looking for a wolf. There was… an incident in the hospital and Regina's asked us to figure out what happened."

 

"And that requires you to be in the woods?"

 

"Tell me if you broke out of a hospital, where would you go if you didn't want to be found?" Emma asked, digging the toe of her boot into the dirt. "Have you seen anything suspicious? I mean, besides yourself."

 

Mr. Gold scoffed. "There's nothing suspicious about a man walking around in the woods with a shovel. I was simply making sure something private stays private. Is that a crime?"

 

"That depends on if you broke the law or not," Emma frowned. "So you didn't see anything or anyone?"

 

"You're  being so vague about what you're wishing I've seen that I don't know whether or not I saw anything suspicious."

 

That was a fair point.

 

"There was a breakout from the hospital. I'm trying to find them. Did you see anyone out here besides Graham?" Emma asked.

 

"No. I'm sorry I can't be of any help, but I really do need to get back to my shop," Mr. Gold replied with a small smile. "Best of luck though, Miss Swan, I know you can figure out where they are."

 

"Thanks…" Emma said as she watched Mr. Gold make his way toward the town, most likely to do something that appeared shady but that no one could actually prove to be shady. He was perhaps the most confusing man she'd ever met – and in her line of work, she'd met a lot of shady, confusing people.

 

Although, as she ventured deeper into the woods, Emma was struck by a house that seemed to be sitting far away from any sort of civilization.

 

Just the sort of place someone who didn't want to be found would go.

 

She felt her cell phone buzz in her pocket as she made her way up to the door and shook her head. Whoever was trying to get a hold of her could wait – Emma had a good feeling about this lead. And by good she meant bad, because this was a creepy house in the middle of the woods and she really shouldn't be doing this alone, but the last thing she wanted to do was work with Graham today. Instead, she knocked on the door and was quickly greeted by a nervous-looking man with dark hair.

 

"Er… hi. I'm Emma Swan, the new deputy sheriff. I'm sorry to bother you but have you seen anything strange around here lately? There was an incident at the hospital and a couple of patients are missing."

 

He looked at her, blinking way too casually for her liking. "No, I haven't officer. I'm terribly sorry about that."

 

Emma nodded slowly, but his eyes were slightly glazed over, and there was something off about him. He had to be lying to her about something. "I see. Um. Is everything alright? You seem a little off…"

 

"Yes, of course I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be fine?"

 

She could hear a sigh from inside the house, before a woman's voice spoke. "Jefferson, you don't have to cover for me. I'm a big girl, I know how to handle police."

 

"Alice – "

 

"It's fine."

 

One of the young women from the information Regina gave her came out from another room, looking Emma straight in the eyes. "Neither of us need to be there. We're both perfectly sane."

 

Emma sighed and shook her head. "Look, I'm sorry about all of this, but I'm only doing what the mayor asked of me. And technically, you did break out of the hospital."

 

"We broke out of a place where we were unjustly imprisoned for years," the girl – apparently named Alice – said. "I only just found out that Jefferson lived here, otherwise I would have asked him for help in freeing me much earlier."

 

"Is Jefferson a family member?" she asked as whom she could only presume was the second woman who escaped the hospital slowly crept into the room, looking nervously at Emma.

 

"My mother is dead, my father disowned me. I don't know if I have grandparents out there or anything. Jefferson is as good as I've got to family," Alice explained. "Please… don't make Belle and I go back there."

 

Emma hesitated. What did she do in this situation? This woman didn't look like she needed to be in a psych ward, and she certainly didn't speak like she needed to be there. But still… if she was wrong, that could mean danger for the town.

 

She sighed. "Okay. Here's what we'll do. I'll go get Dr. Hopper. He's a psychiatrist. If anyone can decide who is sane and who isn't, it's him. If he says you're free, you're free. If not… you have to go back to the hospital. How does that sound?"

 

The two women looked at each other, and Emma could see the silent conversation between their gazes.

 

"That sounds fair," the other woman – the one Alice had called Belle said – said in a soft, nervous voice.

 

"Right. Okay then. I'll be back later," Emma said, looking at the two women. "If it's any comfort… you guys don't seem like you should be in the hospital. But you know how the mayor is."

 

"Insane. Right," Jefferson cut in. "Thank you Deputy Swan. We will be anxiously awaiting your return."

 

Emma nodded, turning to leave, but she had a feeling Jefferson didn't particularly like her, but honestly, she was just trying to help them. If she was a doctor, she wouldn't let the women be locked back up in the asylum, especially considering the fact that there were no records for either of the women was very, very suspicious.

 

She took careful note of how she got back to town so she could remember how to get back to Jefferson's home with Archie.

 

"Emma!"

 

She groaned mentally. Just the person she didn't want to see.

 

She forced herself to turn around and face Graham, who was standing behind her with wild-looking eyes.

 

"What's wrong?" she asked with a small frown.

 

"I know what's wrong. I finally understand why I haven't been able to feel anything. I didn't realize anything was wrong until you came to town and now… now I know my heart is gone," he explained, not making any sense whatsoever.

 

"Graham. You have a heart," Emma said with a small sigh, taking his hand and putting it against his chest. "And it's here. I think you've been too stressed over the last couple of days that you aren't thinking straight."

 

"No. I spoke to Henry. I'm in the book, and Regina… she stole my heart. That's why I've been doing what she wants. Because she's controlling me."

 

God. Of course he spoke to Henry. Now she'd never hear the end of this curse crap. "You do know how ridiculous this sounds, don't you?" Emma said, rolling her eyes. "Graham, it's not possible for someone to steal someone's heart and have control over another. This isn't a movie or a TV show."

 

Graham opened his mouth to speak, before both of them jumped at the sound of a growl. Turning, Emma stared in horror as a wolf came padding up to them, sitting patiently at Graham's feet.

 

The red eye told her all she needed to know. That was the wolf she'd almost hit back when she'd attempted to leave town after dropping Henry off. The wolf that had caused her accident. Now here it was, acting like it was Graham's pet.

 

What the hell. What the actual hell was going on here?

 

"You know where my heart is?" Graham asked, as if the wolf was actually going to respond. And it did. Sort of.

 

It stood up and started making its way down the street, back toward the woods Emma had just come from. Shaking her head in disbelief, Emma followed the wolf and Graham into the cemetery with a frown.

 

"Why are we here?" she asked as they approached a mausoleum with the word "MILLS" written on it. Regina's family vault? Why did they need to be here.

 

"Yes, why are you here?"

 

Of course Regina would be there.

 

"Regina. I was looking for something that belongs to me," Graham replied.

 

"And you think it's in my family crypt?" Regina scoffed. "And what a surprise. You bring the criminal deputy with you. I thought I asked you to find the people that broke out of the hospital. Or do you not care that they could bring harm to Henry?"

 

"Regina, don't. Emma's been nothing but helpful to the town since she got here," Graham sighed.

 

"Oh, so now you're taking her side? I made you, Graham. I helped you build your reputation as a sheriff. I opened my home to you when you didn't have one. Allowed you to be the father my son didn't have. And now you're just throwing that all away for her and choosing her?"

 

"I'm not choosing her. I'm choosing me."

 

"Oh please."

 

Emma exhaled and stepped in front of Graham. "You know what, Regina? You keep trying to control everything and everyone around you, and it's not done anything positive for you. So why don't you just let the people in your life live the way they want to live and stop pushing them away… for me? Henry, now Graham. It's almost like they prefer me to you."

 

Emma couldn't even blink before Regina's punch landed, pain building in her head, but she didn't hesitate to swing back, clocking the mayor in the jaw. They couldn't do much more before Graham was forcing them apart.

 

"Regina, we'll discuss this tomorrow. Goodbye," Graham said, glaring as he helped guide Emma back toward the town.

 

"I'm sorry. I went too far," she said as Graham helped her sit down in one of the chairs in the station. "I just – I hate that she brought up my past."

 

"You're feelings are valid. I wish I could remember what that's like."

 

Emma scoffed slightly. "Sometimes I wish I could turn off my feelings."

 

"No you don't. If you did you wouldn't have helped me. And I can't thank you enough for helping me out considering I must sound crazy."

 

"Graham…"

 

"I'm serious Emma. But… I think I do have one feeling."

 

"Oh yeah?" Emma asked, smiling a little, glad they seemed to be moving on from this crap. "What feeling is that?"

 

Graham said nothing, instead leaning down and pressing his lips against hers. Emma was stunned, but she couldn't help but feel butterflies begin to explode in her stomach. He pulled away so they could both breathe, and smiled.

 

"Emma. I remember. Thank you," he whispered against her lips, looking into her eyes.

 

"Remember? Remember what?" she asked with a frown.

 

"The curse. The cur – "

 

"Graham?"

 

He gasped, clutching his chest as his eyes rolled back before they closed, his body going limp.

 

"GRAHAM!"

Chapter Text

The events of the last two weeks had not been something Rumplestiltskin ever foresaw. He knew, of course, that the queen had retained all of her memories throughout the curse, but he never imagined that she would kill someone so soon. But, he supposed, that was the downside to the curse. The hole in her heart would never be filled. Not fully. Not even with sex with the sheriff.

 

Graham's death was the least of his worries though, because that man, Neal Cassidy, was combating him at every turn. He knew exactly what buttons to push in order to get Rumplestiltskin to back off, which amazed, infuriated, and confused him all at the same time. But the man wouldn't say who he was. And it was driving Rumplestiltskin insane trying to think, because the man was familiar, but he had not met him in the Enchanted Forest… or anywhere he'd traveled. Had he?

 

"Mr. Gold?"

 

Looking up from the box of things from Graham's house, he smiled a little when he saw the former prince of the Enchanted Forest walking into the shop, looking sad and confused. The poor man. Rumplestiltskin felt somewhat bad for him. But in another way, he was jealous – at least this man didn't have twenty-eight years of fake memories in his head. But he realized Charming was waiting for him to respond so he broke from his thoughts and smiled at the man.

 

"Mr. Nolan, I'm sorry about that. I guess I'm a little distracted from the whole… incident with the sheriff. What can I help you with?" he asked.

 

"It's okay, I understand. A clue. I'm just… looking for a clue to help unlock my memories. Do you have anything that belonged to me at one point?" the man asked.

 

His cursed memories told him there was a lawn ornament that belonged to the Nolans, but Rumplestiltskin knew he couldn't risk Charming getting cursed memories too. So instead, he tried to think of something that had belonged to  him in the Enchanted Forest. He reached to grab a necklace he knew Charming had once bought for Snow White, before he blinked as Charming went to the unicorn mobile hanging next to the counter.

 

"Charming, isn't it?" he asked the man.

 

"Yeah… and familiar," Charming responded, his voice quiet, almost as if he was in a trance as he reached for one of the delicate, glass unicorns. As soon as his finger brushed it, Rumplestiltskin watched the man's knees beginning to buckle, rushing over to him to keep him steady.

 

"Easy, Mr. Nolan…" he said as Charming scrambled to grip the counter, holding himself up as he blinked rapidly. "Mr. Nolan, are you alright?"

 

"That's not my name…" the man rasped. "My name is David, King of The Enchanted Forest."

 

"Oh I know that, your majesty. But you didn't until a minute ago," Rumplestiltskin replied with a small smirk. "Sit down, dearie, you look a little pale."

 

"Rumplestiltskin… it's you. You're human."

 

"Well I wasn't always a beast. Now come sit down. You look like you need some tea. And a chair," Rumplestiltskin said, guiding the man to the back room and helping him into a chair before hearing the bell above the shop door ring, signaling another customer.

 

"I'll be right back, your majesty," he said softly before making his way back to the front of the store.

 

Miss Swan. Just the woman he wanted to see.

 

"Miss Swan. What can I do for you?"

 

"I'm sorry to intrude I just… wanted somewhere quiet to think," Emma sighed, running a hand through her long hair. "Everything that's happened has been really hard on Henry and I don't know how to make it better."

 

He nodded in understanding. "Sheriff Graham was the only male influence Regina allowed him to have. Not even I was allowed to get too close to the boy."

 

Rumplestiltskin saw the frown of concern, and his heart felt a twinge of sadness. He could see Miss Swan was struggling with having given him up for adoption.

 

"I understand, Miss Swan. But, I have an idea. As Sheriff Graham had no family, I was the one to inherit his belongings. I found these walkie-talkies among them, a pair of his boots, and his jacket. Perhaps you'd like some of his things? You could share the walkie-talkies with Henry."

 

Emma sighed and shrugged. "I don't know…"

 

"I insist. Maybe Henry can help you while you're being the sheriff, hm?"

 

"I… I'm not going to be sheriff. Regina has already appointed Sidney in Graham's place," Emma responded, looking down at the tile floor of the shop.

 

"A journalist? As the town sheriff? When there are two people on the loose from the hospital?" He noticed a visible wince from her, and forced a smirk back. "Tell you what, Miss Swan. I'll offer you a deal. I'll help you out in a bid for sheriff, and you help me find out some information on someone I want found."

 

She frowned. "Why would you help me?"

 

"It's like I said before. I like you Miss Swan. Not to mention, I dislike Sidney Glass and I don't think he should be sheriff."

 

She sighed, and he could see the conflict in her face. "Well… who do you want information on?"

 

He smirked a little. "A man named Neal Cassidy. He's new in this town and well, he's being quite secretive with me."

 

She paled. She was trying not to, he could see, but she did.

 

"Do you know him?" Oh this was delicious.

 

"You could say that."

 

"Mm. What a coincidence." Delicious, delicious coincidence. He was only very grateful that Sidney Glass left his shop alone. "What can you tell me about him?"

 

"Why don't you ask me yourself instead of dragging Emma into this?"

 

He looked over, startled. He hadn't noticed Mr. Cassidy and Henry entering the shop.

 

Miss Swan looked pale, trapped, and Rumplestiltskin couldn't help but be curious as to why.

 

"Emma, what's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost," Henry asked, looking up at the woman with a frown.

 

"I – uh – it's… it's nothing Henry."

 

"No it's not, Emma," Henry said, now looking upset. "Whatever you have to say is okay. I'm sure I'm old enough to hear it."

 

He watched calmly as there was clear conflict written on Emma's face. He noticed her take a deep breath and nod before she turned to him.

 

"Gold," she said. "Can we go somewhere private to talk, please?"

 

Obvious relief flooded her as he nodded. "Come. I have two back rooms. Mr. Nolan is already recovering in one though, so we'll have to use the other one."

 

"Recovering from what?" Henry piped up as they made their way into the back rooms.

 

David looked up at the question. "Well, let's just say when memories come back, it causes a heck of a headache."

 

"Wait. Memories? You remember?!" Henry asked, running over to the man.

 

"Hey Henry, why don't you keep Mr. Nolan company while the three of us talk, does that sound okay? We'll come get you in a bit," Rumplestiltskin suggested. It would be good to have the boy avoid what he assumed was going to be a not-so good story about Mr. Cassidy and Miss Swan's past together. Besides, he knew Regina had him in therapy and was trying to repress his belief in the curse. The boy deserved to know his grandfather after all.

 

"Sure!"

 

Henry quickly plopped down next to David with a wide smile, pulling out the book and opening it as Rumplestiltskin quickly led Emma and Mr. Cassidy into the other room and closed the door behind them.

 

As he turned back to face them, he saw Mr. Cassidy staring at the spinning wheel.

 

"Beautiful, isn't it? They don't make them like that anymore," he said, looking at the man curiously.

 

"No they don't. I can't believe you kept it after all this time."

 

He frowned now. "What do you mean?"

 

Mr. Cassidy looked up at him. "You haven't figured it out yet, Papa?"

 

Papa.

 

Papa.

 

Shock rocketed through him, and he stumbled back against the bookcase, his cane clattering to the floor, ignored.

 

"Bae?" he whispered.

 

The man nodded slowly, and Rumplestiltskin was beginning to see the similarities. The dark hair, dark eyes. The small birth mark on his left cheek, just barely visible from beneath the scruff of hair. Yes. This was his son. His Baelfire had come home at last.

 

"Wait. That's your father? The one you ran away from? What are you doing here then? I thought you were afraid of him." Emma suddenly asked. Rumplestiltskin had almost forgotten she was there.

 

Baelfire cleared his throat and nodded. "I was. You're right. But then I just thought… why should I let fear get the best of me? I'm not a child anymore. He doesn't have any control or power over me anymore. Besides… it's like I told you in Portland. When you find a place to call home, you just miss it once you leave."

 

"Yes, how is it that you two know each other?" Rumplestiltskin asked, finally snapping back into reality. His son was here, yes, but he and Emma Swan had a past.

 

Miss Swan shifted in obvious discomfort. "We met in Portland. We clicked instantly. Your son turned into a coward – " there was a visible wince from both men "– and left me holding the bag of stolen merchandise. That's how I ended up in jail."

 

Baelfire was rubbing his face in discomfort. "For what it's worth, I wasn't the one that called the cops on you. I was hoping you would be able to pawn the watch you had and get yourself some money, plus the money I left you. I wanted you to be able to build your life."

 

She looked confused. "What money?"

 

Balefire blanched. "The twenty-grand I got from the other watches."

 

"Neal… I don't know what happened with that money… but I didn't get it. If I had maybe then I would've kept Henry."

 

"Henry? Wait – you're Henry's birth mother? The one that gave him up for his best chance?" Balefire asked, his voice shaky.

 

"Yes."

 

"He's ten."

 

Miss Swan nodded, tears brimming at the corners of her eyes as realization struck both he and his son.

 

"Emma… is Henry my son?"

 

Rumplestiltskin stood with bated breath, still leaning against the bookcase.

 

"Yes," she finally whispered. "Henry is your son."

 

Rumplestiltskin was very, very glad he was leaning against something study, otherwise he was certain he would have fallen to his knees, much like his son had done.

 

"I'll go get him. He needs to know the truth," Rumplestiltskin said, reaching shakily for his cane and hobbling out of the room.

 


 

 

Adults were annoyingly secretive, Henry decided. He'd wanted to know what was going on with Emma and Neal, but instead he'd been distracted by Mr. Nolan getting his memories back. Though, what memories they were, Henry didn't know.

 

"What's that you've got there, Henry?" David asked. Henry noticed that he was looking at him in awe, like he'd never seen anything like him before.

 

"It's a book of fairy tales. My mom doesn't think they're worth anything. But she's wrong," Henry said, opening the book to a random story. "Everything in this book actually happened."

 

"Indeed they did… how did you get something like this?" David asked, in awe as he took the book into his hands.

 

"Miss Blanchard gave it to me. She said it – wait. You agreed with me that these stories are real," Henry said, his eyes wide. "When you said you remembered… did you mean – "

 

"That I remember my life in the Enchanted Forest."

 

Henry's face broke into a wide smile. "That means you're my grandpa. How did you remember?"

 

"You know that unicorn mobile that's in the shop?"

 

Henry nodded.

 

"It was supposed to hang above your mom's crib. We'd picked it out in honor of a friend of ours."

 

Henry smiled. He liked that story. Especially coming from his grandpa. It showed that Henry had been right – that Emma had been wanted by her parents. Not that unwanted and left on the side of the road story she always talked about. "Who was your friend?" he asked curiously.

 

David opened his mouth to answer, before Mr. Gold walked back into the room, looking a little shaken.

 

"Mr. Gold, are you okay?" David asked in alarm.

 

"Yes. I'm alright. Henry, Emma wants to talk to you now," he replied, looking at Henry with the same awe David had been giving him earlier.

 

Henry smiled. Finally, he would find out why Emma was being so odd. "You can keep the book for now, Grandpa David," he said with a smile as he rushed into the back room, halting in alarm when he saw Mr. Cassidy with his hands pressed against his mouth, staring at him, yet again, with awe in his gaze.

 

"Henry. I know you're just getting used to having me around, but there's someone else I want you to meet. Mr. Cassidy – Neal – he's your father," Emma said, her voice shaky and thin.

 

Henry stared between them, before looking at Neal. "You're… my dad?"

 

"It appears so, buddy," Neal replied, giving him a weak smile. "Sorry I took so long."

 

Henry ran to him and hugged him. "It's okay. I'm just glad you're here now."

 

He felt Neal chuckling as he returned the hug. "There's someone else that's your biological family, Henry. Mr. Gold is my father."

 

A father and two grandfathers in one day. How lucky could a kid get? And the fact that it was Mr. Gold, the most influential man in town? This was amazing. Henry could only smile. "Hi Grandpa Gold. Boy, will my mom be shocked to find this out!"

 

Emma gasped suddenly. "The sheriff's election. I need to go tell Regina I intend to run against Sidney. I'll be back later kid," she said, running out of the room and the shop.

 

"Running? Why isn't she just automatically sheriff?" Henry asked with a frown as he looked at his newly-discovered grandfather.

 

"It appears your mother isn't going to make things easy for her. She appointed Sidney Glass to the job instead. By voicing her intent to run, the whole town will have a say in who our sheriff is. Err. The adults in the town of course."

 

He must have noticed Henry had been looking eager at the thought of being able to vote.

 

"You know, kids usually have a better sense of who wants to actually do good for a society," Henry said with a small frown. "Why can't we vote?"

 

"Ah, don't worry about it buddy. It's the law in the whole country, not just Storybrooke," his dad said with a smile. "But don't worry. We'll make sure Emma wins sheriff."

 

"How?"

 

"Because good always wins, Henry. You've read the stories," David suddenly said as he appeared in the back room. "This curse is a setback, but every hero goes through a struggle. In the end, good wins. And we'll make sure she does." The king then looked up at Neal. "Oh, hello. I don't believe we've met. I'm David."

 

"Neal Cassidy. Nice to meet you David."

 

"Neal's my dad!" Henry said with a grin.

 

David did not seem to match Henry's enthusiasm, his smile dropping as his eyes narrowed slightly. "Oh really now?"

 

"He's also my son and we can discuss his transgressions with your daughter later," Mr. Gold said, stepping slightly in front of Neal. "Right now, we need to get some things in order. One, your majesty, you cannot let it slip to anyone – especially Regina – that you have your memories of the Enchanted Forest back. She's already suspicious of you because of the stunt you pulled with Abigail. And two, we need to get your daughter to be sheriff, because I certainly will not allow a journalist to be a sheriff."

 

"So how do we do that?" Henry asked, tilting his head.

 

"Just leave it to me," Mr. Gold replied, a small, knowing smile on his face. "But for now, I suggest you all get home – especially you, Henry. You don't want to get your mother suspicious now do you?"

 

Henry looked up at the clock, feeling his heart stop when he realized how long they'd been here. "Dinner's in twenty minutes! I need to get home!"

 

"Right. Right. She knows I was taking you out to watch me photograph some stuff. I can say time got the best of us," his dad said as the two of them rushed out of the shop.

 

"Henry, you're cutting it close today," his mother said as they raced into the house just as the clock chimed with the five o'clock hour. She raised an eyebrow, looking at Neal with distrust.

 

"I'm really sorry about that Regina," Neal said as he rubbed the back of his neck. Henry wondered how practiced he was in lying. "Henry just showed me a great spot at the beach and we just… kept talking and taking pictures. I didn't think it was so late. You were right, Regina. Storybrooke is just like a fairy tale."

 

His mother smiled as Henry slipped into the dining room for dinner, still able to hear the conversation.

 

"It's quite alright, Mr. Cassidy. I'm glad Henry seems to be taking a shining to you. He really needs it, especially since Graham's death."

 

"I'm sure that wasn't easy for anyone. I'm glad to be of some help to him if he needs it," Neal replied. "If it's okay with you, I'd like to take him out again tomorrow. Kid's got a really great eye for finding places to photograph."

 

Henry rested his chin in his hand as his mother spoke again.

 

"No, of course I don't mind. Just have him home a bit earlier than you did tonight."

 

"I'll be sure to. Goodnight, Regina."

 

"Goodnight, Mr. Cassidy."

 

His mother's heels clicked against the tile floor before she appeared in the dining room, a small, polished smile on her face as she took a seat across from him.

 

"Well, how was it with Mr. Cassidy today?" she asked, clearly not believing that he had enjoyed his time with the man.

 

Henry smiled. "It was great! I can't wait to see him tomorrow."

 

"Well, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you look at him like a father figure."

 

Henry could only smile. If only she knew.

Chapter Text

"You've done well so far, Emma."

 

Oh God, not this again. Emma had hoped they were done with this dream crap. But it didn't look like this was going to end soon, so she figured she had no choice but to listen to whatever the shadows had to say this time.

 

A third figure had joined the two familiar ones. Just as tall as the man, but with less hair – or perhaps, just a different style of hair. She couldn't tell.

 

Regardless, she was annoyed.

 

"Are you actually going to tell me what's going on or are you just keep being vague as you always are?" she asked with a sigh.

 

"Oh sweetheart. We wish we didn't have to be, but your belief isn't strong enough for you to see who we are clearly," the woman said. She sounded heartbroken. Emma was confused as to why.

 

"My belief in what? Myself?" She thought she believed in herself quite enough.

 

"In Henry."

 

She frowned. "How do you know about Henry?" she asked. She wasn't sure why she was bothering to ask that question of them – of course they would know about Henry. This was her dream, and she knew the kid. Why wouldn't they know who Henry was? She was the one in charge of the dream.

 

"We know Henry because he's your son. He has the truest believer's heart," the man that was usually there said.

 

She couldn't argue that Henry had a huge heart full of belief. Certainly, that was no thanks to Regina.

 

"He's a special kid, that's for sure," she said with a wry smile. She wasn't sure why she was playing into her own dream like this.

 

"Listen to him Emma… he knows more than you believe," the new man said. His voice sounded familiar. All of their voices did, but Emma didn't believe the woman was Mary-Margaret and the one man was David Nolan. That was nonsense. The third man was a mystery though. "Find the sword. It will all be clear then."

 

The sword? Wait. That was familiar. Really familiar.

 

"You're the guy from the movies when I was a kid," she said with wide eyes. Why the hell was she dreaming about some random usher from the movies when she was six years old?

 

"Yes Emma! I am! Listen to your heart. It will lead you to the truth!" the man said. There was pride in his voice.

 

"Who are you? What do you want?" she asked, glaring now. This was ridiculous.

 

"My name is – "

 

"Oh no you don't," the fourth shadow, the evil one said as she rose up above the other three.

 

She sounded like Regina, Emma realized with horror.

 

"Regina please, no!" the woman screamed as, as always, the shadows were whisked away and Emma was sitting up in bed.

 

"Emma!"

 

She was drenched in sweat this time, she noticed as she jumped back at her roommate's voice.

 

"Oh God. Mary-Margaret. I'm so sorry. Did I wake you up?" she asked with a sigh as her heart slowed to a normal rhythm. The dream had really shaken her this time.

 

Her roommate shook her head, giving her a small smile. "No, you didn't. I was just making some tea and you started crying out in your sleep. I was just making sure you were okay…"

 

She shrugged. "Yeah. I'm fine. I just… have this recurring dream and it came back last night. I wasn't expecting it, is all."

 

Mary-Margaret didn't seem to be convinced by this. "Are you sure?"

 

She nodded slowly. "Yeah. I'm sure. Thanks for the concern though. I really appreciate it. What time is it?"

 

"It's 7:00."

 

"Oh God. That late already? I need to get up then," she said, shaking her head to try to get rid of the remnants of the dream that clung to her.

 

Mary-Margaret nodded. "I need to head to the school early so I'll be taking my tea to go. I'll leave the box out if you want to make yourself some."

 

Emma nodded. Normally she didn't drink tea, but after the dream she'd had, she had a feeling the caffeine in coffee or hot chocolate would only make the anxiousness worse. "Thanks Mary-Margaret," she said, hoisting her legs over the side of her bed and standing up, going to her drawers to find something to wear.

 

"You don't look so good," Henry said with a frown as she slipped into the booth next to him that morning.

 

"Sorry. Rough night," she said with a sigh. "Bad dream."

 

"Oh. I'm sorry," he responded, quickly putting his hand over something on the table next to him. When she looked over, she was able to see the unmistakable backdrop of a police mug shot set-up, and her heart sank.

 

"Henry… what do you have there?" she asked.

 

He shrugged, slipping his arm off part of the headline of the newspaper, and she stared. The records were leaked. Her juvenile records were leaked, and plastered all over the front page of the paper. God.

 

"Is it true? Was I born in jail?" he questioned softly.

 

She could only take a deep breath and nod slowly, her voice quiet as she spoke. "Yes. Neither of us knew that I was pregnant when… the incidents happened. I found out when I was serving my time. By that time I had no idea where your dad was. This… doesn't scar you for life or anything, does it?"

 

"Nah."

 

"Good," she said with a smile as she began sliding out of the booth to walk Henry to school. "Now come on. Let's go get our news from somewhere more reliable. Like the Internet."

 

He smiled, looking up at her. "So… Dad's here now too."

 

She nodded, not wanting to have this discussion today. "Yeah."

 

"How do you feel about that?" Henry asked, his dark eyes (and God, they looked so much like Neal's) looking up at her in curiosity.

 

She frowned and looked at him. "I… I don't know what to think just yet, Henry. But I'm… glad you're happy he's here." Even if she was still reeling from Neal's appearance, and felt all of the anger and betrayal of the past, something about Henry's smile… made her feel calmer about Neal being in town and in Henry's life.

 

As they rounded the corner to the school, Emma looked over at Henry. "You seem quiet. Is everything okay?"

 

"I… dunno. I'm worried about the election. Evil never plays fair. I don't think you can win," Henry said. "First with Graham, now this… I think we should stop Operation Cobra. I don't want to upset the Evil Queen anymore."

 

"Henry…" Emma said with a frown as she knelt down in front of him and took his hands. His words were heartbreaking. "Don't say that. She can't prevent me from winning something like an election."

 

"Please, Emma…"

 

She sighed. "If it will make you happy to stop Operation Cobra… I guess we can stop it." Not that she had any idea what Operation Cobra was but it meant a lot to Henry and the fact that he wanted to stop it, well, concerned her.

 

Henry nodded as they started walking toward the school.

 

"I'll see you later," Henry said as he took off toward the building.

 

There was anger in Emma's veins as she watched the ten year old go into the school with his head low and his shoulders sagging, and a conviction became locked in her heart. She would beat Regina at whatever sick, twisted game she was playing, and she would do it the right way.

 

But first, she needed some answers. She needed to know how anyone – much less Sidney Glass of all people – got those records.

 

"Hello? Is anyone still in here?" she called as she entered City Hall, overwhelmed with the smell of smoke.

 

She followed the sound of coughing toward one of the offices, bursting into it with wide eyes. "Regina!"

 

The mayor was laying under what had been one of the decorative pillars in the office, her leg trapped underneath the rubble. Emma had to admit, she was tempted to leave the woman behind considering the hell she had been making her life since she got here, but she knew that wouldn't be good for Henry.

 

"Help…" the mayor groaned weakly, reaching out for Emma. "I don't know what happened. Please help."

 

Emma bent down next to the pillar. "Do you have the strength to pull your leg out when I lift this up?" she asked.

 

Regina nodded, pulling her leg free as Emma just barely managed to lift the pillar off the other woman's leg.

 

"Come on. Let's get out of here," Emma said as she helped the woman stand on her good leg. The smoke was starting to pour into the office, burning Emma's eyes. She could see the flames flickering near the front door  and backed away. "We need to go out the window," she said, hearing sirens outside.

 

"Out the window? The latch doesn't work!" Regina replied, grimacing in pain. "It doesn't open more than a couple of inches."

 

Emma stared at her, before shaking her head. "Alright, we do this the messy way then. Here. Go lean against something. I gotta grab a chair."

 

"Wait – what?" Regina asked.

 

Emma paid her no attention, grabbing a nearby wooden chair and throwing it against the window, watching as the glass shattered spectacularly. Carefully, she brushed some of the broken pieces off the ledge. "Okay let's go!" she called to the mayor, who stumbled over.

 

"You're lucky I'm not going to make you pay for the window, Miss Swan," she grunted as she pulled her good leg outside, dragging the injured one along with her as an explosion rattled the building, nearly knocking Emma into the ledge, glass digging into her palms as she tried to remain upright.

 

The pain was intense, and she found she couldn't put enough weight on her arms to push her up into the fresh air. She swore under her breath as someone raced over, pulling her through the shattered window and away from the quick-moving flames that were rushing into the room. It took her only a moment to realize who it was.

 

"Neal…" she whispered.

 

He smiled slightly. The same damn smile that had captured her a decade ago. "You alright?"

                                  

"I – yeah. Thanks Neal."

 

There were so many things they needed to say to each other.

 

"She saved my life. Of course I am grateful to her," she could hear Regina say, breaking her from her thoughts. Looking over, Emma saw her surrounded by firefighters, paramedics and reporters before rolling her eyes.

 

"Miss Swan, what do you have to say about your heroic rescue of Mayor Mills?" Sidney asked, shoving a tape recorder in her face.

 

Emma coughed into the sleeve of her jacket. "It was the right thing to do. No one deserves to be trapped in something like that."

 

"Are you implying that – "

 

"SIDNEY! For God's sake get away from her," one of the paramedics shouted as they rushed over to Emma with oxygen and other medical tools. "Oh dear. We need to get you to the hospital, Miss Swan. Dr. Whale will need to take a look at your hands and make sure all of the glass gets removed."

 

"You can't do it here?"

 

She shook her head. "No. There are better tools at the hospital. I don't think it'll take long though. This isn't something like Boston where the ER is constantly busy, after all."

 

Emma could only scoff, but nod in agreement. "Alright then… to the hospital it is." She was spending far too much time in that place lately. She climbed into the ambulance and got on the gurney as they sped off to the hospital.

 

"Are you sure you don't want to go home and rest?" Mary-Margaret asked with a worried look as they sat in the emergency room waiting for Emma to be discharged. "You've had a really long day and – "

 

"I appreciate the concern, Mary-Margaret, but I need to get ready for the debate," she replied with a sigh. She had no idea what she was going to say, especially since the news about the circumstances of Henry's birth, and her records, had become public. There was no way the town would vote for her for sheriff, but she had to try, right? She wouldn't allow someone as inexperienced as Sidney Glass to become sheriff.

 

Mary-Margaret didn't seem to agree, but she didn't say anything, only nodding slightly in agreement. "Well, alright then… do you want me to help you with anything?"

 

She shook her head. "I think this is something I need to do on my own. But you'll be there tonight for moral support right?"

 

"Of course I will. I'll see you tonight," her roommate replied, squeezing Emma's arm as they left the hospital, Emma heading back toward City Hall.

 

For the most part, the building was standing, but Emma could see caution tape outside the building and frowned. How was she supposed to do this the right way, without getting into trouble with the fire department?

 

Swearing under her breath as she approached the building, Emma peeked in a window the firefighters had broken in order to put out the fire. Emma could see in the distance a rag, balled up in the corner, singed with smoke. Mr. Gold's voice rang in her head, and she realized with horror what some of his words meant. He'd do anything to see her win. Even go so far as to attempt to kill the mayor? She didn't have proof, but there were some thoughts beginning to dance in her head that probably shouldn't have been. Some dread filled her as her phone buzzed – Mary-Margaret, reminding her that she needed to be at the debate site.

 

Taking a deep breath, Emma rushed over.

 

"Oh! There you are Emma. I brought you a change of clothes if you want to change," Mary-Margaret said. Emma smiled gratefully and nodded as she went to change clothes. It helped her feel refreshed, and she was glad that she had her leather jacket – her shield – but she was still nervous about the debate. Sidney was coached by the Regina. She… wasn't necessarily coached by Mr. Gold but still.

 

As she walked out onto the stage, she looked at Sidney as he did his speech. Composed and cool, just like Emma had expected.

 

"Miss Swan, the floor is yours," Archie said with a small, encouraging smile.

 

Emma nodded and took a deep breath as she stared out into the audience. Mary-Margaret and David were sitting together, as were Regina and Henry. She could see Neal sitting next to nurse Daphne from the hospital.

 

"I'm Emma Swan, and I'm the deputy here in Storybrooke. I know that I have a bit of a rough past – that's kind of been broadcast pretty well in town," she said, to a small wave of chuckling from the audience. Well, that was a good sound, wasn't it? "And the truth is, I really do want to be the sheriff of Storybrooke. This place is a great place. I've enjoyed being the deputy of town. But I don't want to win at the expense of someone getting hurt, and Mr. Gold has been working with me, and I believe he's the one who sabotaged City Hall."

 

The hall erupted in murmurs, and Emma held up her hand to quiet it. "I can't win like this. I want to win a fair fight, and it's not fair to Sidney if I win simply because my partner decided to sabotage City Hall. Storybrooke deserves better than that. You all do." She took a shaking breath as she looked out at the audience. "Thank you for your time."

 

Stepping back from the microphone, Emma turned and fled from the building, finding herself inside of Granny's before she knew it.

 

"Need someone to drink with?"

 

She turned and frowned. "Neal. How did you know I'd be here?"

 

"You're not the only one that turns to alcohol after a rough day you know," he said, gesturing for Granny to get him a shot. "That was brave of you to stand up to him like that you know."

 

"Neal, I'm really not in the mood."

 

"Okay."

 

They sat in silence over their drinks, before the door opened and Henry darted in, followed by Regina, Sidney and Mary-Margaret. Emma was baffled as she stared at them.

 

"The election is over?" she asked, wondering how long she and Neal had been there. "Come to gloat then?" She noticed the badge in Regina's hand.

 

"Oh, no, never. We've come to congratulate you," Sidney said, looking more than a little relieved. "The people really responded to your speech, Emma, and – "

 

"- and you won the election. Congratulations… Sheriff Swan," Regina finished as she set the badge down on the counter with a barely concealed scowl.

 

Emma took the badge with shock as the rest of the people began to disperse to other booths and tables as Regina leaned in closer.

 

"I know Mr. Gold made you think that he's a good ally to him, Miss Swan. But I warn you, he makes an even more dangerous enemy. Make sure you know which battle to pick."

 

"Think I've got that figured out, actually," Emma said.

 

Regina's nostrils flared. "Enjoy your victory."

 

With that, she strode out of the diner, leaving Emma to shake her head. "See Henry?" she asked, looking down at the boy. "I told you good could win."

 

Henry returned the smile. "Operation Cobra is back on."

Chapter Text

"I want information on him, Sidney," Regina said, pacing her office one afternoon a couple of weeks after the sheriff's election. There was something suspicious going on with Emma Swan and Neal Cassidy, and she needed to know why.

 

"Are you sure this is a good idea, Regina? Henry loves the man. If I dig too deep and  he finds out that we're behind this… he might not want anything to do with you," Sidney replied, a concerned look on his face that Regina ignored.

 

"Of course I'm sure. I need to protect my son from harm, and if by doing that he pushes me away because he thinks I'm wrong, well, that's the problem with being a parent. Sometimes you have to do what your children don't want in order to protect them. Now find me that information I need on Mr. Cassidy."

 

Regina hadn't wanted it to come to this, because she did admire the way Neal had started to bring her son out of his shell, but after seeing him with Emma Swan, Regina was concerned that they could possibly be working together in order to steal her son from her.

 

"I will do what I can, Regina. I promise," Sidney said.

 

"I know you will, Sidney," Regina said as she dropped into her chair. "You always do."

 

She watched him as he left, exhaling sharply through her nose. It was a shame, really, that she had to be suspicious of Neal Cassidy. He was a nice man, Henry cared about him and he cared about Henry, but… such was life.

 

Flipping through her paperwork, she frowned a little as she came across the emergency contact form from the hospital for Charming. That was odd. She hadn't seen much of him since she caught him sitting next to his wife from the Enchanted Forest. She hoped that was a good thing – she certainly would hate to get her hands dirty again, especially after she spent so long getting the curse to be cast to begin with.

 

Perhaps she should call Kathryn and get everything straightened out. Yes, that wasn't getting her hands dirty at all. That was simply asking someone how their life was going, right?

 

As she sat up to reach for her cell phone, the device started ringing. She frowned as she looked at the screen, having expected the number to the school, or Dr. Hopper's office, or even the hospital (although that would've been terrifying). No, instead, she didn't even recognize the number.

 

"Mayor Mills? This is Tom Clark from Dark Star Pharmacy. I'm afraid there's been an incident with your son."

 

Her heart dropped into her stomach. "What is it? Is he okay?"

 

"Physically, yes, he's fine Mayor Mills but, well.. it seems that he's decided to take some things without paying."

 

Henry? Her Henry? Stealing things from a pharmacy? Why, that was silly. It couldn't be possible, and Regina frowned deeply. "Thank you for letting me know, Mr. Clark. I'm on my way."


She would get this all straightened out.

 

"Thank you Mayor Mills. I've already alerted Sheriff Swan. She's on her way too." There was a distinctive, muffled sneeze that reminded Regina of exactly who "Tom Clark" was.

 

It didn't take long to get to the pharmacy from her office and as Regina pushed the door open, she saw Emma Swan pulling up behind her.

 

"What took you so long?" she snapped.

 

"I had other business I needed to take care of," she replied, narrowing her eyes as the two stepped into the pharmacy. "So what seems to be the problem, Mr. Clark?"

 

"Well, I found some food and toiletries in Henry's backpack," the pharmacist explained, gesturing to the counter where a pile of goods lay scattered haphazardly. When she saw the disgusting Apollo candy bar, she scowled.

 

"Henry didn't steal that stuff. I don't allow him to eat sweets," Regina said as she spotted two children that looked around Henry's age looking wide-eyed and fearful. "Perhaps they had something to do with it."

 

The children in question froze as her gaze hardened on them. Hansel and Gretel. She should expect nothing less from the two children who turned down the opportunity to live with her in a palace. She just hated that the brats stole from her son of all people.

 

"Sheriff Swan, I expect you to deal with this in the proper way," Regina said, putting a hand on Henry's shoulder. "Come on Henry. Let's get out of here before they falsely accuse you of something else."

 

Guiding her son out of the pharmacy, Regina frowned when she noticed how sad he looked.

 

"Cheer up, Henry… those children weren't good for you if they attempted to get you in trouble for stealing," Regina said as the boy silently got into her car. She frowned and got into the driver's seat. "Henry…"

 

"Can we just go home?"

 

Regina nodes. "Of course we can, Henry." She hated seeing her son so upset. "Hey, after we finish with your homework, why don't we go visit Mr. Cassidy? I'm sure he'd love to see you."

 

Henry though, shook his head, which alarmed Regina greatly considering how much the boy had enjoyed spending time with the man, despite Regina's growing distrust.

 

"He said he's really busy today. Something about work," Henry mumbled into the backpack cradled on his lap.

 

"Work?" she asked, before realizing that yes, it did make sense. The man was on sabbatical from work, he was bound to have to have meetings and whatnot even over the phone in order to keep his job, right? "Ah… perhaps later then Henry."

 

"Yeah. Maybe," came another mumble from her son. Normally, she would admonish him for his behavior but today, she would forgive it because she was certain that was traumatizing on her son.

 

She would have to talk to Archie about how to help Henry with this.

 

Henry was quick to go upstairs into his room when they got home, and she winced as the door slammed behind him. There had to be something she could do to help him.

 


 

 

"If these kids are going to be put into the system, they're going to be used as nothing more than meal tickets to whatever family they're placed with. Trust me, I know. I can't let that happen," Emma whispered anxiously, looking at Mary-Margaret with uncertain eyes.

 

Mary-Margaret looked just as nervous. "Neither of them are in my class, but I've heard from their teachers. They're good kids. I didn't realize they were stealing and living on their own or I would have helped them."

 

"Don't blame yourself. You didn't know." Although, that was the tragedy of kids in her situation. The good people never saw

 

Emma let out a sigh, crossing her arms as she looked at the two kids sitting at Mary-Margaret's counter. Obviously, there was a lot she sympathized with. Stealing food, not having a family, finding shelter anywhere they could. But on the other hand, Emma was the sheriff of the town. She had to do her job – the people had put her trust in her and she couldn't break that trust.

 

Leaning against the wall, Emma watched as the girl fiddled with something in her pocket. There had to be something she could do…

 

Her eyes glanced around the apartment, before they paused on her bedroom. Her baby blanket. That was it! That was the perfect.

 

"Do you guys have anything from your father?" she asked as she came back downstairs.

 

The kids seemed stunned that she was speaking to her.

 

"What do you mean?" the girl asked. Emma noticed her hand had pulled from her pocket and was resting against her knee.

 

"See this?" Emma asked as she pulled out the blanket. "This is my baby blanket. It's the one thing I have from my birth parents… it's the one thing that connects me to them, you know? So… do you guys have anything like that? Maybe I can use it to help find your dad."

 

The girl frowned. "You would help us? You aren't going to just dump us into foster care?"

 

"Of course not," Emma said. "Now c'mon. What's that you have here?"

 

The young girl relented, pulling a compass out of her picket. "This belonged to our father, according to our mother. Please. It's the only thing we have of his. It's broken but our mother always said when we find him, it'll point north."

 

Emma nodded in understanding as she grabbed her jacket and threw it on. "Just stay here. Miss Blanchard will keep you company until I get back. I'll go looking for information about your dad." With a wave at her roommate, Emma quickly darted out the door. She knew there was only one place she could get information about something like this in Storybrooke.

 

Gold's shop.

 

She pushed the door open and looked around. "Gold? You in here?"

 

"Ah, Miss Swan. What can I help you with?" the man asked with a small smile, leaning against his cane.

 

"This compass. I need to know who bought it," she replied, taking the compass out of her pocket and showing it to the man. "It's for a case."

 

Gold looked at it curiously, taking it into his hands gently. "Ah, yes… I know who bought it." Hobbling over to a box on the counter, the man quickly flipped through it and pulled out an index card. "Michael Tillman. The owner of the garage in town. I believe you have met him before when you crashed into the sign your first night here."

 

Emma cleared her throat and rubbed the back of her neck. "Yeah… that. Thanks Gold. You've been a big help."

 

"Of course, dearie."

 

Grabbing the compass off the counter, Emma quickly made her way to the garage.

 

Where she was surprised to run into Neal.

 

"Neal… what are you doing here?" she questioned with a small frown. God, it was still so awkward to be around him.

 

"Picking up my car. What are you doing here?"

 

"I'm on a case… do you happen to know where Michael Tillman is?" she asked, then added in a low murmur, "his kids are looking for him. If he doesn't take them they go…"

 

One look at Neal's face told her she didn't need to finish the sentence. "He's in his office getting the last of the paperwork for me to sign. He should be back in a second," Neal replied through a barely-concealed mix of horror and anger. "Let me guess who's forcing the issue."

 

"I don't blame her for pressing it. They did try to blame Henry for a pharmacy robbery earlier."

 

Anger was threatening to push through Neal's normally calm façade. "I should call him. Ask him if he's okay."

 

Emma could only nod slowly.

 

"Mr. Cassidy, I have your paperwork – oh! Sheriff Swan! What can I do for you?" the man she could only assume was Michael Tillman asked with a smile. He seemed nice enough. Which was good, if he was going to be taking custody of two kids.

 

"Well, Mr. Tillman, I'm actually here to talk to you about something," Emma said with a small sigh, pulling the compass out of her pocket and showing it to him. "Do you know what this is?"

 

He blanched at the compass. "I… gave that to an old girlfriend of mine…" he said quietly as Neal silently filled out the paperwork for the car, his back to Emma and Michael Tillman. Emma had a feeling she knew what he was doing, and if she was right, she was grateful.

 

"Well… I'm sorry to have to tell you this but… she passed away a few months back," she said slowly. "She left this in the care of your children."

 

"My – my what?" the man whispered, his eyes wide, face going slightly more pale. "There must be some mistake Sheriff Swan…"

 

Emma could only shake her head. "I'm sorry. I know this is all surprising and confusing but… as their mother is now deceased, they'll be going to foster care unless someone takes them in. The first person they look for is the other parent."

 

"I – no. I'm sorry Sheriff, but I can't. I can barely keep up with the demands of this place, much less be able to afford taking care of two kids."

 

Emma's heart sank. She knew that was a possibility but it still stung to hear it.

 

"Listen, Mr. Tillman… I'm afraid that if you don't step up to the plate, these kids are going to be shipped off to Boston and placed in foster care. Most likely, they'll be separated from each other, and the chances of them ever seeing each other again are slim to none. Do you really want to do that to your children?" she asked softly.

 

She could tell he was backed into a corner, and Emma hadn't wanted to do that, but she also wanted to prevent those kids from being separated from each other. They were all the other had in this world. She knew what it was like to lose the one person you had in the world.

 

"I'm sorry Sheriff Swan… but I can't," the man finally whispered, his shoulders slumped. "One day I'll try to get them back…"

 

"There's nothing I can do to change your mind?" Emma asked quietly, calmly. But he shook his head, so Emma shoved the compass back into her pocket and turned to make her way out.

 

"Uh – Sheriff Swan? You dropped something," she heard Neal say from behind her. She froze at the words and turned, finding a tightly folded piece of paper behind her.

 

Nodding a little, she picked it up. "Thank you, Mr. Cassidy."

 

She hadn't dropped that paper and Neal knew it. That was the phrase they'd used in the past when they were robbing places and didn't want the employees to realize they were working together. Why would Neal write her a note?

 

Looking around as she got into the squad car, she made sure no one was around as she unfolded the paper.

 

Sidney Glass has been following me around all day. I think Regina is getting suspicious about who I am. Be on your guard.

 

Emma clenched the letter tight in her fists. She knew they couldn't keep this secret forever, but she'd been hoping that they would have more time to plan or… something before Regina found out.

 

But as much as Emma wanted to dwell on it, she knew she couldn't. She needed to get home and tell the kids the bad news about their dad… as much as she really didn't want to have to give them bad news.

 

Running a hand through her hair, she frowned as she pulled up to the apartment building, spotting Regina's car in the next space over, and her heart sank.

 

"Regina…" she said with a warning tone as she approached the woman. "I told you I was taking care of it."

 

"I gave you a strict deadline, Miss Swan. If someone doesn't claim them before eight o'clock, they're going to Augusta for foster care. I've already made all the arrangements. And since you've come back alone… I'm going to assume you failed in finding a suitable parent for them."

 

Emma's nostrils flared. "I found their father. That's all I'm telling you."

 

Regina smirked. "If you did… why isn't he here to collect them?"

 

She hated the smug smirk on her face. "He'll come for them."

 

"Well. He has until eight o'clock then," Regina said with a disgusted sneer as she walked back to her car.

 

Emma wondered what the hell the woman could possibly have against these kids if she was in such a rush to get them shipped out of town.

 

Taking the compass out of her pocket, Emma let out a sigh as she pushed the door to the apartment open, bracing herself for what was coming.

 

"Emma! You're back early. I was just making dinner…" Mary-Margaret said from the kitchen. Emma could see Ava and Nicholas still seated on the stools.

 

"Did you find our dad?" Ava asked, her blue eyes wide with fear.

 

Emma could only nod slowly. "I found him. He… says he has some decisions to make." She hated lying to them. "If he doesn't decide by eight… I'm sorry. I'll have no choice but to take you to Augusta. But I swear I'll make sure you guys are kept together if it comes to that."

 

Naturally, the kids didn't seem thrilled to hear that, and their faces dropped into the same look Emma saw time and time again when she was in foster care. She'd sworn when she was eighteen to never be the cause of that face… and now here they were.

 

But she knew people that worked in the system. She could get these kids to stay together, right?

 

Of course she could.

 

"I'm sorry," Emma whispered again, unable to meet the kids' eyes.

 

There was an ache in her chest that she knew was more than from empathizing with them. It was the ache a mother felt whenever a child was in pain. But she knew she shouldn't be feeling that way. She wasn't Henry's mother.

 

The hours ticked by slowly, and out the window, Emma could see Regina's car parked at the end of the street, just waiting for her to come out with the kids to take them to Augusta. Mary-Margaret was quietly washing the dishes – not that any of them had eaten much for dinner –  while the kids huddled together on the couch.

 

But then, something caught her eye. A figure running across the street and toward the apartment. A moment later, the knocking began.

 

"Sheriff Swan? Sheriff Swan please tell me you're still home!" Michael Tillman's voice came from the hallway.

 

She saw glimmers of hope in the kids' eyes (noting the compass clutched in Ava's grip) as she crossed to the door and pulled it open.

 

"You're still here. You haven't taken them?"

 

She shook her head. "We were about to."

 

"Don't. Please. I'll take them."

 

Emma's eyes widened. "You will?"

 

"Yes. I can't lose the only family I have left," he said softly, not even looking at her as he peered toward the couch.

 

"Okay then… Ava, Nicholas. Your dad's here," Emma said, smiling at the kids, who were standing and staring bewilderedly at the man at the door. "You're going home. Together."

 

"Thank you Sheriff Swan…" Ava said, hugging her tight. "We promise we'll make it up to Henry. We didn't mean to get him into trouble."

 

Emma shook her head. "Don't apologize to me. It's Regina you should tell this to. But apology accepted, if it helps," she said with a small smile as she waved the family off. "Have a good night."

 

As she closed the door behind them, Mary-Margaret dropped the pan she'd been holding and rushed over to Emma, hugging her tight. "You did it! You saved them from being separated!" she practically squealed. "I knew you could do it."

 

Emma laughed a little and grinned. "Yeah, I did."

 

"So does it make you maybe want to… start looking for your own family again?"

 

Emma frowned a little and shrugged. "According to Henry I already did."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Well… according to his book I'm the daughter of Snow White."

 

Mary-Margaret scoffed a little and smiled. "Snow White has a kid. You'd think I'd remember that."

 

Emma forced a smile, trying not to remember why Mary-Margaret had been hospitalized. A vanished child. "Yeah."

 

The woman shrugged, going back to the sink. "You do kind of have my chin."

 

Emma could only laugh.

 


 

 

"Sidney. What did I tell you about following me back home?" Regina asked, raising an eyebrow as she saw the reporter standing at the corner of her street. Sheriff Swan had managed to win again, and Regina was growing tired of it.

 

"I'm sorry, Regina, but I thought this was important to tell you in person," Sidney replied, following her into the house and dropping his voice. "I have information on Mr. Cassidy."

 

She quirked an eyebrow at her. "Okay…"

 

"I found… that Neal Cassidy is Mr. Gold's son."

Chapter Text

Mary-Margaret sipped at her morning tea slowly, watching the sun come up over the horizon and let out a sigh. It was Saturday, so she didn't know why she was awake so early.

 

Well, at least she could get ahead of her grading.

 

Leaning against the window, Mary-Margaret gazed out at the small town she'd called home for her entire life. She'd nearly left once, to get her teaching degree, but as soon as her father had died, her cousin had asked her to come home and take care of things, so she'd ended up getting her degree online. Then she'd found the job at the elementary school, and Storybrooke had chained her in.

 

Shaking her head, Mary-Margaret took another sip at her tea. She didn't know why she'd started thinking about that again. There were better things she could dream of. Like the fact that she actually had a roommate that seemed like she wanted to be around her. And she had a boyfriend – maybe. Mary-Margaret wasn't sure where she and David stood since he kept trying to be secretive about it.

 

There was a familiar thump outside her door – the newspaper. At least that was still delivered right on time. Lifting the paper up from where it had been left, Mary-Margaret felt her eyes widen when she read the headline.

 

"Huh," she remarked as she closed the door behind her.

 

"What's up?" Emma's voice suddenly came from the refrigerator.

 

"Oh! Emma. I didn't know you were awake. Sorry, it's just the headline for the newspaper today. I didn't realize Mr. Gold had a son." She remembered Henry talking to her about the man, but she'd never suspected that the man was Mr. Gold's son.

 

Something clattered to the floor in the direction Emma was in, and when Mary-Margaret looked up, Emma was standing frozen in front of the fridge.

 

"Emma? What is it? What's wrong?"

 

She didn't say anything.

 

"Emma?"

 

"We need more eggs," the sheriff finally croaked as she stepped away from the fridge. It was then that Mary-Margaret saw the carton of shattered eggs on the floor.

 

"It's okay, Emma. Just tell me what happened. Do you know Mr. Gold's son?"

 

"You could say that."

 

"Who is he, Emma? You can tell me."

 

Emma swallowed visibly and sank down into a chair, her head in her hands. "He's been here for a few weeks now."

 

"Yes, I know that. Henry's spoken very highly of him. But your face says something else," Mary-Margaret

Emma took a deep breath – Mary-Margaret could see her hands shaking as they clenched on top of the table. "He's Henry's father. We were keeping it quiet from Regina for… obvious reasons."

 

Mary-Margaret could only stare. Henry's father. Which meant Mr. Gold was Henry's grandfather. Of course she understood why Emma and Neal would want to keep something like that a secret from Regina. And she did find it a little disturbing that Sidney Glass somehow managed to find out that secret so suddenly.

 

"I'm so sorry, Emma. I know this must be hard for you both," she said softly.

 

Emma shrugged. "She was bound to find out eventually. This is her town after all."

 

"She didn't have to do it like that!" Mary-Margaret suddenly snapped. "I mean – sure you should have told her the truth but I'm sure you all were just trying to get used to everything before you told her, but still, she shouldn't have done that!"

 

Emma stared at her. "Whoa, Mary-Margaret, where did that come from?"

 

"I… I don't know. Sorry. I don't know what came over me. But… I don't think Regina realizes what she's done."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Emma, there's a reason people in this town fear Mr. Gold. No one dares to cross him. If this was supposed to be a secret between the three – "

 

"Four. Henry knows the truth."

 

There was a bit of comfort in learning that Henry knew the truth, at least. "The four of you then… then… well, I wouldn't want to be Regina or Sidney Glass."

 

"Why?"

 

Mary-Margaret shrugged. "Like I said… people are afraid of him for a reason. If I were a parent and someone splashed their face across a newspaper without their knowledge well… I'd be very angry. I can't imagine what Mr. Gold is feeling."

 

It was odd. She felt overly protective of Emma in that regard.

 

Emma could only nod slowly at her words. "Yeah. I think I get what you're saying… I should probably go check on Neal. Thanks Mary-Margaret. I promise I'll get some eggs on the way home."

 

"Take a pop tart to go at least," Mary-Margaret replied with a soft smile.

 

Emma grinned back as she grabbed one out of the box. "Thanks… Mom." The word was dripping with sarcasm but somehow, it still struck Mary-Margaret hard.

 

The teacher could only wave to her roommate as she left the apartment before letting out a sigh. What a strange feeling she had about the word 'mom'. Shaking her head, Mary-Margaret rose from her seat and went over to the sink with her dishes. It was time to start her day and not think silly thoughts like that.

 

Wincing in disgust, Mary-Margaret scrubbed her hands in the sink after cleaning up the last of the broken eggs. No matter how hard she scrubbed, she still felt angry that Emma had to go through this. Anger wasn't something normal with her but God, she was so angry.

 

Exhaling through her nose quickly, the woman moved to dry her hands off as a spot of purple caught her eye. Emma must have forgotten to put her blanket away after the events of the previous night. Well, it couldn't hurt to fold it up and put it on her bed, could it? She didn't think Emma would mind, especially since it seemed like today was going to be a stressful day on her.

 

Lifting the delicate blanket into her hands, Mary-Margaret hesitated for a moment. It felt… familiar. It was ridiculous since she'd held blankets before but this one was just pulling at her incessantly.

 

Without even thinking, Mary-Margaret lifted the blanket to her nose and inhaled.

 

And instantly, a vision began swimming in her mind, clear as day.

 

"Snow, you must tell us if you're having a boy or a girl!" Guinevere said as they sat at the table. "Arthur simply will not let it go."

 

She laughed softly as she looked at her cousin. "Really now? I'm surprised that he's so invested in my pregnancy."

 

"Well, why wouldn't I be? It's a miracle child that we didn't think our family would have… between my battle with the Apprentice and yours with Regina," her cousin replied with a slight scoff.

 

"I know, I know," Snow laughed as she rose from her seat, going over to where Granny had left the half-finished blanket and handing it to Guinevere.

 

"Emma…" the queen of Camelot said softly as she traced the purple letters delicately. "What a beautiful name."

 

Mary-Margaret gasped and dropped the blanket as the… vision or whatever it was… ended.

 

"What the hell was that?"

 


 

 

"Papa, no," Neal said firmly as he stared at his father. He knew he should've found a way to hide all of the copies of the paper in town before his papa woke up. He knew this was coming. Sidney Glass had been following him around all day the day before.

 

He just wish he would have been able to stop it.

 

"They cannot get away with this, Baelfire. You know that," his father replied with a snarl that took Neal right back to the Enchanted Forest when he was a teenager.

 

Neal exhaled through his nostrils slowly as he looked at his father. "Papa, please. This isn't the Enchanted Forest anymore. And the curse is still in effect. You don't want to make Regina suspicious that you remember."

 

Though, she probably already did. Still, there was no reason to give her more suspicions.

 

"But Baelfire – "

 

"No, Papa. I caused his mess by coming here. I'm going to be the one to make things right," he replied with a firm shake of his head.

 

"How are you going to make things right when the story is out there already?"

 

Neal shrugged. "I tell her the truth."

 

"What sort of truth?"

 

"Whatever I need to tell her."

 

The door burst open suddenly, a disheveled Emma standing in the doorway.

 

"I take it you saw the paper," he said. "Come on, let's go in the back and talk."

 

She nodded and followed him into the back room.

 

"So she knows I'm Rump – Gold's son," Neal said with a heavy sigh. "You know it's only a matter of time until she finds out about Henry."

 

"I know," Emma whispered. "I just thought we would have had more time with him without her knowing. It's silly considering he's not our son but…"

 

Neal nodded and swallowed thickly. He had no custodial rights to Henry. Hell, he didn't even know if he was on Henry's birth certificate. Probably not, considering the circumstances. "I know Emma. But there's nothing we can do now. She has to know the truth, or she'll expose it like this again… or something worse. I don't want you to be run out of town by this woman."

 

"She could never run me out of this town," Emma said in that same tone of voice that had captured his heart all those years ago. The determination she had had always been attractive. "I'm more worried about you."

 

"Whatever it is she wants to do to me is nothing I haven't dealt with before," he replied. "You've seen my dad in action before. Nothing Regina does can be worse than what I had to deal with growing up." At least there wasn't magic here to ruin things. "Besides, I have Henry to think about now. I can't be selfish like I was back in Portland."

 

"Yeah, what exactly happened there again?"

 

Neal opened his mouth to speak, before hearing a loud cry of "Papa!" from the front of the store. They exchanged confused glances.

 

"I didn't know you had a sibling," Emma said with a raised eyebrow.

 

He looked at her, pale. "I don't."

 

Stepping into the front shop with Emma on his heels, Neal felt his blood grow cold as he took in the man at the counter pretending to be him.

 

"August," he spat the name as if it were poison.

 

The other man looked up in disbelief. "Hey… Neal… what the hell are you doing here? I thought I told you – "

 

"Why should I listen to you after you lied to me and told me you gave Emma the money?" Neal snapped. He wouldn't dare say anything about Henry to August.

 

"Neal… who is this?" his father asked.

 

Neal could feel his eyes turn to ice as he looked at the other man, his father and Emma staring between them in confusion. "This is August Booth. When I met him in Portland he told me he was your guardian angel, Emma."

 

Emma snorted. "I've never seen this guy before in my life."

 

"He also stole the money I left for you when I left."

 

"You mean the money I could have used to start a new life after my jail stay, instead of having to resort back to being a thief and almost go to jail again?" Emma asked.

 

August looked humiliated.

 

Good.

 

"Why were you pretending to be my son?" his father asked, turning his attention to the other man.

 

"I… was hoping you could help me. It's my leg. I was hoping your expertise would be able to fix it," August explained, looking at his father with wide eyes. Now that Neal was getting a good look at the man… he realized that August looked absolutely terrible. Pale, slightly sweaty despite the early hour, and his leg looked unnaturally straight. Almost… stiff. Wooden.

 

His father raised an eyebrow at the man. "Yes… I think I have some extra canes or whatnot in the back. I'll show you."

 

Neal shook his head. He couldn't believe August was going to pretend to be him in order to fool his father.

 

"Right… that was weird," Emma said as the two men retreated into the back of the shop. "Back to what we were saying… you sure you'll be okay with Regina?"

 

"I've got this, don't worry. But if she asks about Henry… or if she hints that she suspects it can I…"

 

"What choice would we have at that point? I trust you know what you're doing when it comes to that."

 

He looked at her with wide eyes. "You trust me? Even after everything?"

 

"Henry trusts you. I trust you for his sake. Nothing more."

 

Neal nodded slowly in understanding, before he caught a glint of something against her neck. "I think part of you still trusts me, Emma. Otherwise, why would you still wear that necklace?"

 

She paused, her hand coming up to clasp the key chain around her neck. "Just go take care of Regina," she said curtly.

 

He didn't push the situation, simply nodding at her and leaving his father's shop with an ache in his chest. But he couldn't let that cloud his thoughts now. Not when he needed to talk to Regina about what she'd done.

 

He didn't even wait for Regina's answer before he pulled the door opened.

 

"Mr. Cassidy. To what do I owe the honor?" she asked, not even looking surprised as he tried desperately to keep his composure.

 

"I think you know what this is about."

 

She smirked a little. "Have a seat, Mr. Cassidy."

 

He did so, keeping eye contact with her the entire time. "What is it you want, Regina? What was so important that you sent a newspaper reporter to spy on me instead of asking me yourself?"

 

Regina shrugged. "I wanted to get to know you and you seemed so busy that I felt that was the only option."

 

He knew she was lying, but he didn't want to call her on it just yet. "Well you have my eyes and ears now. What do you want to know?"

 

"The truth. Why are you in Storybrooke?"

 

"I was tired of running and wanted to see my father."

 

"What is your relationship with Emma Swan?"

 

"We were together in Portland."

 

Regina raised an eyebrow. Neal could see the wheels in her head turning the information over. Between the information she had on him and the stuff she'd learned about Emma, Neal knew she might be able to put everything together very quickly.

 

"How long were you together?" she asked, a sense of dread beginning to creep into the tone of her voice.

 

"A little under a year. Long enough for the relationship to turn romantic."

 

Her nostrils flared. "And if you had a child with her, how old would that child be?"

 

"Ten years old… a student in elementary school. Probably adopted by a small-town mayor in Maine," Neal said as casually as if they were discussing the weather.

 

"You're Henry's birth father."

 

He nodded. "I am indeed. Just found out about that about a week ago actually."

 

Her eyes narrowed. "And let me guess. You're going to want him back since you didn't know about him until now. That's why you're been so chummy with me, isn't it?!"

 

His eyes widened. "What? No Regina! I mean – of course I'm glad to know that Henry is my son, but I know that you are the one who has raised him for his entire life. I wouldn't fight you for custody of him unless something terrible happened. I just want to continue to get to know him and be there for him as a father. Like… co-parents."

 

She leaned back in her chair slightly. "So… you aren't plotting with your father against me?"

 

He blinked in confusion."God no. My dad was a bit of a snake when I was growing up. I'd never work with him to take Henry away from you. But I just want you to know that the next time you want information about me, you come to me directly instead of making Sidney Glass do your dirty work for you. Do we have an understanding?"

 

Regina looked almost offended, but she nodded. "Very well, Mr. Cassidy."

 

"Good," Neal replied sharply as he turned and walked out of the room.

 


 

 

"Mary-Margaret, you okay?" Charming asked as he waved a hand in front of the woman's eyes. Ever since they'd gotten to their little hideaway in the woods, his wife (who didn't know she was his wife) had been acting sort of distant. Not in the way she was when she was angry, but in the way she was when she was contemplating something.

 

"Hm? Oh, yes, I'm okay David. I just… you know what? It's silly. Never mind."

 

He frowned in concern. "I'm sure it's not silly. If there's something bothering you, I'd like to know," he said. He needed to tread lightly with her, as much as it killed him. She didn't know who she really was, what they'd been through.

 

"I…" she sighed and nodded a little. "I was cleaning up the apartment earlier this morning and I was folding up something of Emma's… and it triggered something in me. Something crazy."

 

"I'm sure it wasn't crazy. What was it?" he asked, feeling his heart beginning to beat faster against his chest.

 

"I… was pregnant. I looked like some sort of princess or something. I had the blanket… and it was for my daughter. I dreamed that I was pregnant with Emma."

 

Charming inhaled sharply, looking at the woman with steady eyes. His wife was starting to remember. "I don't think it's crazy," he said. "What did it feel like when it came through?"

 

"It felt so right, David. But it can't be. Emma and I are the same age. I can't be her… her mother. No matter what Henry's book says. That's just not how this world works."

 

He took her hands in his gently, squeezing them in the way he'd often done in the Enchanted Forest when she was anxious about something. He hoped it was another familiar feeling to her. The sooner the curse broke the better.

 

"That… feels familiar too… oh David, what is going on with me?" she whispered.

 

"Mary-Margaret, I learned while my memories were lost that if there's something that feels familiar, you need to run and embrace it instead of being scared," he said softly. "So… as crazy as it sounds, if that… vision you had felt familiar, embrace it. Don't shy away from it."

 

Mary-Margaret let out a shaky breath. "I'll try."

 

He smiled softly, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead. "I'm here for you, no matter what."

 

But as the two sat together in their serenity, something began stirring beneath the Storybrooke streets.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Emma, not that I don't believe you, it's just that… I don't believe that this place is actually where sane people would go," Archie said as they stumbled through the woods, tracing the path back to Jefferson's house. Emma had been so busy with Neal and Henry and that mess that she'd completely forgotten about her promise to the two escaped mental patients. Hopefully they'd enjoyed their time being free while she'd been preoccupied.

 

Hopefully they hadn't run.

 

"I know it all sounds insane, Archie, but I really feel like they were illegally put in there. I mean, they don't even have files at the hospital saying why they were in there to begin with."

 

The psychologist nodded in agreement. "It does sound strange, I'll tell you that. Well, I'll trust your judgment until I see something wrong."

 

"Thank you Archie," Emma said in relief as Jefferson's house came into view. "That's it, right there."

 

Archie seemed surprised, watching as the blonde woman – Alice – took down holiday decorations. Emma looked at him, forcing back a triumphant smile.

 

"Hey Alice," she called quietly.

 

The woman looked over, eyes wide.

 

"Sheriff Swan. I thought you'd forgotten about us," she replied, getting off the step stool.

 

"I'm surprised you're still here after a couple of weeks. You guys could have been on your way to New York or Boston or something."

 

Alice shook her head. "You're giving us a fair chance. Why would we want to throw that away by running?"

 

Well, they were better people than Emma had been when she was in trouble with the law. Especially that incident when she'd returned to Maine after having Henry.

 

She still felt awful for nearly leading Cleo to her death. But now wasn't the time to think about that.

 

"Right, okay. Alice, this is Dr. Hopper, the psychologist I told you about," Emma said, gesturing to Archie, who was still looking at the woman curiously.

 

"Hi Dr. Hopper," the woman replied, but Emma could hear a nervous waver in her voice.

 

"Hello Alice. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?"

 

Alice shook her head. "Not – not at all sir."

 

Archie nodded. "Okay then. Now Alice, can you tell me what was it that caused you to be put away in the asylum?"

 

The woman took a deep breath as she looked at Archie. "I'm not going to lie to you, Doctor Hopper. I don't know why I was put in there."

 

Archie frowned at that. "What do you mean by that?"

 

"My mother… she passed away when I was a little girl. To cope I guess I…. created my own Wonderland. You know, a play on my name and all."

 

Alice in Wonderland, in a place Henry said was full of cursed fairy tale characters? What a funny coincidence.

 

So why did she get a sinking feeling in her stomach when she was trying to be amused?

 

No. God, Henry was getting into her head again. She really needed to talk to him about this.

 

Archie though, only nodded. "I see. And your father didn't… seem to respect this coping strategy?"

 

"Yes. Exactly right. He was always too busy with work to be with me so I needed to do something to cope with what happened," Alice explained. "The only person I could count on was me. And then we moved here for my father's work so I didn't have any friends that could understand or help me except for Jefferson."

 

"A parent's death and a move is a lot to place on a child," Archie murmured with a small frown. "And you kept yourself busy with… Wonderland I assume?"

 

Alice nodded. "It was all I do to keep myself sane. But I guess to my father… I wasn't sane at all. All I remember is that one day, he brought me to the hospital and I was locked away in that basement until the earthquake made it possible for Belle and I to escape. I'm sorry Dr. Hopper. I didn't mean to make you come out all this way for me."

 

The man shook his head. "You don't have to apologize for that, Alice. I believe you've gone through some horrible experiences and you never truly got the help you needed. You shouldn't have been sent away just because you didn't have a healthy coping strategy. If you'd like, I'll be happy to help you."

 

Alice blinked, surprised at the offer. "Thank you Dr. Hopper but… there's no way I'd be able to pay you for your kindness. I'm a runaway psych patient after all."

 

"You don't have to worry about paying me. I just want to help you get well."

 

Emma couldn't help but smile as she watched the two, glad that she had been right in her hunch about Alice not needing to be locked up, although Emma hadn't expected that she had a shit father like that.

 

"Okay. Thank you," Alice replied. "Did you… want to speak to Belle also? I'm – I'm not sure how much you'll be able to get out of her. She doesn't seem to remember anything. She didn't even know her name when we escaped."

 

"I see. Do you mind if we go inside and speak?"

 

"Not at all."

 

Alice led them inside the large house, and Emma felt an immediate sense of unease. She didn't know why – there were no obvious signs of anything being wrong. There were paintings on the wall, a lit fireplace keeping out the chilly Maine winter air… but she couldn't shake the feeling that something was off inside the house.

 

"Jefferson, Belle… this is Dr. Hopper. The man Sheriff Swan told us about."

 

The dark-haired woman seemed uncertain, and the man in the room was giving her a very strange look.

 

"Hi Dr. Hopper. Thank you for agreeing to help us," the dark-haired woman greeted with a nervous smile. "My name is Belle. I think."

 

"You think?"

 

Belle nodded. "Yes. The only thing I remember is Alice speaking to me through the wall after the earthquake happened. Otherwise… every day was the same, day in and day out."

 

Alice and Belle. Two classic Disney characters locked in an asylum in a town supposedly filled with fairy tale character.

 

No. God Emma, stop it. You're starting to sound like the one that needs an asylum.

 

Archie frowned as he took a seat. "Do you… happen to remember how long you were there? Were you able to take any marks on the walls or anything?"

 

"Yes! I was there for around three years," she said. "There was a pen under the bed when I got there. I used it to mark each day I was there."

 

"Three years… and you never knew why you were locked up in an asylum?" Archie said with a deep frown. "And neither of you have any records indicating why so… I have no choice but to declare both of you competent enough to be out in public. But I would like to work with both of you in order to help you recover from your traumas."

 

Both women nodded eagerly, looks of relief flooding their faces. Emma suspected they must have felt like she had the day she'd been released from jail.

 

"Well… now that we have everything taken care of, Archie and I will make our way back to town to let the mayor know the good news," Emma said with a smile as she and Archie made their way to the door.

 

Although she doubted Regina would be happy about that. For some reason she really seemed to want those two locked up. But if that was the case, there should have been evidence to prove that they needed to be away from society.

 

"What did you tell them?" Jefferson murmured to Alice when the two of them were alone in the room.

 

"What they needed to hear to prevent me from being locked up again. Now. How do we get the savior to believe?" Alice explained, steady eyes watching as Archie and Emma's heads disappeared into the trees.

 

"Don't worry. We'll come up with something. The safety of Wonderland depends on it."

 

 

"You people did what?!" Regina growled as Emma and Archie stood in front of her desk in the Mayor's office.

 

"I gave those two escapees a clean bill of psychological health," Archie replied. Emma noticed his back was straighter as he looked Regina right in the eyes, defiant. He'd come a long way from the timid man she'd met the night of her birthday when she first came to town.

 

"Dr. Hopper, I can't believe you would be so irresponsible to allow two patients who escaped from a psychiatric ward to run free like that!" the woman snapped.

 

"And I can't believe that neither of those women had any medical history detailing why they were there in the first place. In my personal and professional view, those women deserve to be free."

 

Regina's eyes narrowed again. "Fine. Get out of my office."

 

"With pleasure," Emma replied. "Come on Archie."

 

Archie exhaled shakily as they left the office, the calm veneer he'd shown only moments ago slipping away. "I don't know what came over me. I'm usually not that assertive. Especially with Regina."

 

Emma smiled and squeezed his shoulder. "Archie, you saved those women from being put back into an asylum. Just because Regina disagreed doesn't mean you weren't right in your diagnosis. You fought for them as any good doctor would. If she can't accept that, that's her problem."

 

Archie smiled a little. "Thanks Emma. I guess even psychologists need some help with self-esteem once in a while."

 

"Well, standing up to Regina would take courage for anyone," she laughed. "I'll see you later Archie."

 

With that, she smiled at the doctor and started making her way down the busy Storybrooke street.

 

But the uneasy feeling she'd had in Jefferson's home still wouldn't leave.

 


 

 

"You in here?" Charming called as he entered the increasingly-familiar pawn shop, his heart pounding against his ribs in a mix of dread and excitement. Big changes were happening, and he didn't know what it meant – but he knew it was something different from this curse and that had to be good.

 

"Yes, yes. Coming dearie," the imp said with a sigh as he slowly emerged from the back room. "Your majesty, what brings you here today?"

 

Charming looked around nervously, as if Regina might pop out at any second and realize he remembered everything. "I… I think Snow might be starting to break through the curse. We were out having a picnic and she told me that… she picked up Emma's baby blanket and saw herself visiting with Arthur and Guinevere while she was pregnant with Snow. She told me how real it felt."

 

Rumplestiltskin blinked, taken aback at the words. "You don't say? I would have thought…" he shook his head slightly. "I would have thought the curse would be hardest to break on her than it would be on anyone else in town… but I suppose things have been collapsing for a while now. But you must know that Regina will be more suspicious of everything involving this town now that things have started… shifting. Your wife – and your daughter – may be in danger if Emma doesn't believe soon."

 

Charming felt his blood begin to run cold. "Danger? What could she possibly do to them now?"

 

"I don't know. But you know as well as I do that Regina will do anything she can in order to protect the curse," Rumplestiltskin replied.

 

"If Regina is so worried about Snow and Emma… she could also be after your son. I know she already exposed that he was your son but… who knows what else she could do to him."

 

"Indeed."

 

An awkward silence fell over the room as Charming gazed around the store. "So these things belonged to people back… home?"

 

"Yes. Some of them were given in deals… but most of them landed here with the curse. I suppose it's a way to try to get people's identities to stir. Like yours did when you saw the mobile."

 

Charming looked into a small case and frowned as he spotted a necklace glittering in the lights. "That's Snow's. It was her mother's and she wore it every day of the war."

 

"It is hers. Why don't you take it with you and give it to her? If I remember correctly, her birthday is coming up," Rumplestiltskin suggested.

 

He shook his head. "I can't. Snow was never a fan of her birthday."

 

"Because of what happened to her mother. I know. But what happened to her mother in the Enchanted Forest didn't necessarily happen in Storybrooke. Mary-Margaret might hate her birthday because she always spent it alone. Or… maybe her birthday was so traumatic in the Enchanted Forest it might bring some more memories back."

 

Charming hesitated, before nodding slightly. "Yes… perhaps that would work…" he said as the door opened and Emma walked into the shop.

 

"Miss Swan. What brings you here?" Rumplestiltskin asked, smoothly slipping back into the mask of a proprietor of a pawn shop rather than one of the most powerful sorcerers in all the known realms.

 

"I just thought I'd come… browse. I don't know. I had kind of a rough day. Thought this was the best place to clear my head…" she muttered, glancing around the room nervously.

 

"Regina getting to you again?" Rumplestiltskin asked as he placed the necklace in a box. Charming was pretending not to look too invested in his daughter's answer.

 

"You could say that. She's trying to control everything in town. It's like we're a damn Sims game or something," Emma sighed. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. She was rightfully elected mayor so I shouldn't complain. I'm still just a stranger here…" she replied.

 

Rumplestiltskin laughed a little under his breath. "If only you knew how accurate your observation was, Miss Swan."

 

Emma frowned. "What is that supposed to mean?"

 

Charming cleared his throat. "It's my opinion that she sees this as a game. Like she wants to keep people miserable and trapped in their bubbles."

 

The blonde smirked a little at him. "Like a curse?"

 

He could only shrug casually and gave her a small smile. "Hey, you never know. This is a crazy world after all."

 

She laughed.

 

Charming realized it was the first time he'd made his daughter laugh.

 

"Sure David. Crazier things have happened I guess. Like August pretending he was my guardian angel growing up when he actually stole money from Neal and I."

 

David tried not to react too harshly, instead managing to contain it to a widened pair of eyes. "That… sounds horrible."

 

She shrugged. "Maybe it was fate, or destiny."

 

"Yeah. Maybe. Oh hey – I just wanted to let you know that Mary-Margaret's birthday is on Friday if you wanted to do something special for her," David said as he turned to head out.

 

"Is that why you were here? Were you getting her something?" she asked with a small smile.

 

He nodded. "Yeah. You wanna see?"

 

She smiled. "Yeah, sure."

 

Charming smiled and opened the box, revealing the necklace to her.

 

"Oh wow… it's beautiful. I don't know if she has anything like that. You must really love her, huh?" Emma asked.

 

"I do. More than I can say."

 

"Then… maybe you and I can plan something for her together."

 

He'd be a fool to turn down the chance to work with his daughter on something for her mother.

 

"Sure Emma. But, just to let you know, she's never been a fan of her birthday."

 

"Huh. How about that. Guess she and I have that in common. But don't worry. We can help her enjoy her birthday like Henry helped me."

 

"Thanks Emma. I really appreciate it. I know Mary-Margaret and I haven't been dating long but I still want to make her happy," Charming said as they exited the shop.

 

"Well of course," Emma replied. "First birthday together after becoming official. It's a lot of pressure on someone. But I wouldn't make too big of a fuss, you know? She's not someone that likes a lot of extravagance. Especially if she wasn't a fan of her birthday before."

 

Charming produced a small smile, eager to learn more about his daughter's past. "You sound like you speak from experience."

 

The look she gave him was a mix of sadness and distrust. "Let's just say that the best birthday I had was with Neal. It was just me and him and a cupcake with a blue star candle I'd managed to steal on it. We didn't have much but I loved him and so… it made it so special."

 

Stealing. She was so much like her mother… even if that wasn't the best thing to have in common with a parent.

 

"It sounds to me like you still really care for Neal despite what happened between you guys," he remarked. Charming really needed to have a conversation with him about that once the curse was broken.

 

"It's complicated," was the simple reply from Emma, and Charming could see the tension building in her face.

 

"Er. Okay, so let's talk about Mary-Margaret's birthday instead," he stammered before things could get more awkward for them.

 

She visibly relaxed at that. "Right. So something small, of course. So how about just Granny and Ruby, her cousin and his wife, you and I?"

 

"Gold?" he suggested.

 

She shrugged. "Sure. And Neal too I guess. And Henry if Regina will let him go."

 

He nodded. "That sounds good to me. Anyone else you think should be invited?"

 

"No. I think that sounds good. What should we do for food?"

 

"We could get some pizzas and soda. Keep it casual. And… we are going to tell her about this, right? If she hates her birthday this much it wouldn't be fair to give her a surprise party," Charming said.

 

"You're right. I'll tell her when I get home."

 

Surprisingly enough, Snow had agreed to the small birthday party. Charming hadn't been sure whether or not she would, but there they were, in the cozy apartment her cursed self had been calling home for twenty-eight years.

 

"I can't believe you and Emma did this for me, David. Thank you so much. My birthdays always used to be so lonely," Mary-Margaret said with a wide smile. "I don't even remember the last time Alaric and Rosalind came to celebrate my birthday."

 

"Well, come on Mary-Margaret, you deserve to have a happy birthday the same as anyone else," Charming replied.

 

"Not since my father passed away I haven't. Alaric started pulling away from me at that point," she said softly.

 

He gently cupped her cheek. "Hey… don't think about that right now. It's your birthday and you're surrounded by people that care about you. Enjoy it…"

 

She nodded. "Yeah…"

 

"Hey, lovebirds! We gotta sing to the birthday girl!" Ruby called, waving them over as Emma set the cake on the table.

 

As the small group gathered around the table, Charming could only watch with complete joy as his wife enjoyed her birthday for the first time in years.

Chapter Text

Emma Swan had won Sheriff. Prince Charming had woken up. Her two hostages had broken out of the asylum. The cricket was starting to talk back to her. And she could sense Maleficent and Zelena beginning to stir in their respective prisons. Henry's father was here. Gold was acting… well, like Rumplestiltskin. Even her idiot stepdaughter had started to become more like Snow White again, rather than the meek Mary-Margaret.

 

But she could have ignored most of that – after all, the curse still had a firm hold on most of the citizens of Storybrooke. The final straw had come for Regina early that morning when, after waking from a terrible nightmare where she'd been killed, she'd found something very disturbing.

 

Her apple tree was dying. The apple tree that had been her pride and joy and a beacon to her that her curse was in fact, sturdy and in place. The apple she'd picked this morning had started becoming rotten – a black spot on the meaty fruit that reminded her of a black spot on the heart of one of her victims.

 

Or of her own.

 

And that was when she knew the curse was at its weakest point.

 

Storming into the pawn shop, she huffed. "GOLD!"

 

"Yes yes, I'm coming," he sighed, leaning against the cane and coming out from the back room. "What is it, Regina?"

 

"My tree is dying. Why?"

 

Gold shrugged, looking uninterested in her apple. "Perhaps it's your fertilizer."

 

She scoffed. "Perhaps it's the curse starting to break."

 

He gave her an amused look. "A curse? You're sounding an awful lot like young Henry, Regina. Are you sure you do not need to speak to Dr. Hopper yourself? There is no magic in this world."

 

"Save it!" she snapped. "Who are you?"

 

He blinked, seemingly confused. "I'm Mr. Gold, Regina. You know that. Father to Neal and proprietor of this shop."

 

She snarled. "Enough games, Rumplestiltskin."

 

"I'm not the one playing games, Regina. And quite frankly, you're lucky there is no magic in this world or you would be nothing more than a snail right now after what you've done to my son. And I'm quite sure I'm not the only one who has the potential to be out for your blood when the curse breaks," Gold said. "Especially the parents you separated from their children."

 

She knew exactly who she meant, and she smirked. "If Snow and Charming couldn't kill me in the Enchanted Forest, what makes you think they'd be able to kill me here?"

 

"I'm not sure that would be Snow's call."

 

Regina's nostrils flared. "How long have you had your memories?"

 

"Long enough to enjoy the fact that I had a grandson before you sent the mirror to spy on my son. Now get out of my shop."

 

Clearly, she wasn't going to get any help in disposing with Emma Swan with him.

 

Stalking into her office, she pulled out a pack of playing cards before sending off

 

Desperate times called for desperate measures.

 

Normally, she wouldn't bother with Jefferson of all people, but he and his hat were the only things she could think of to use in times like these.

 

She paced her office nervously, each tick of the clock setting her more on edge before finally, mercifully, Jefferson burst into the room, clutching the card she'd sent him and looking dreadfully unhappy to see her – not that Regina blamed him.

 

"Well, you got my attention," he said, staring straight at her. "What is it?"

 

She took a deep breath. "I need your help And you’re the only one who has that particular skill."

 

"What are you talking about?"

 

She pulled out the hat box she'd kept since their adventure in Wonderland and placed it in front of him with a smirk.

 

Jefferson's eyebrow raised slowly. "Go on."

 

"I need your help to get to the past, Jefferson. I need to retrieve something."

 

He scoffed. "That's impossible, Regina. You can't go back in time. It's one of the three laws of magic."

 

"I'm not going back in time to change anything," Regina said, rolling her eyebrows – although she desperately wished she could. She would change so many things… But no. Now was not the time to think about that. "I merely want to grab something that I can use here that no longer exists."

 

"What is that?"

 

"You'll see…"

 

"I haven't agreed to do anything for you. What will you give me in return?"

 

She gave him a small smirk. "I can re-write your story. Give you and Paige – "

 

"Grace," Jefferson sharply corrected.

 

Unimportant, but Regina nodded. "Grace – a fresh start in the Enchanted Forest… I can erase yours memories of this place and you can pick up where you left off before the curse was cast."

 

Surprisingly, Jefferson seemed almost conflicted. "I – want my memories of Storybrooke. But do it for Grace. Please."

 

Regina frowned in confusion, but nodded. "Very well… that will be your prize if you get me exactly what I need. And once Miss Swan is out of the way."

 

"Fine."

 

"Good. Then come with me. We don't have much time."

 

They made their way to the crypt, down into the vault where she kept her hearts.

 

"Well, this place isn't creepy at all," Jefferson scoffed as she set that hat box down.

 

She let the remark roll off her back and withdrew a vial. "This is a Land Without Magic, but in this vial contains the last bit of magic I have. Hopefully it will be enough."

 

Jefferson nodded slowly as Regina dropped the potion into the hat, watching as the purple mist began to seep out of the hat as it began to spin and spin…

 


 

 

Emma let out a small sigh as she dug through her box of mementos. There was information she needed out of him about her past, and since he was supposedly her guardian angel growing up, he had the answers.

 

And… as much as she hated to admit it, Neal also had some answers that she still needed about the past. So what better way to get all of her answers than by having both of them over at the same time. It might have been a bad idea, Emma knew. Clearly there had been some anger between Neal and August about what had happened in the past, but the past needed to be discussed.

 

Thankfully, Mary-Margaret was out with Alaric and wouldn't be home until late that night.

 

Letting out a triumphant 'aha!' as she found what she was looking for, she pulled out the old newspaper clipping about the day she'd been found before going over to her phone and dialing Neal's number.

 

"What's up Emma?"

 

She exhaled. "We need to talk. About everything. Can you come over to my place?"

 

"I'll be there in fifteen."

 

"Thanks," she replied, hanging up before dialing Granny's and asking to speak to August.

 

"August. It's Emma Swan," she said as the man picked up. "I'm ready to talk about what happened. Can you meet me over at my place?"

 

"Of course, Emma," August said on the other end of the line. Emma noted a very relieved tone in his voice. "I'll be right there."

 

Emma hung up the phone and sighed. Now it to see who showed up first.

 

As it turned out, it was Neal, who was clutching a box of…

 

"Donuts?" she asked with the tiniest of smiles. "You didn't have to do that."

 

He shrugged as she let him into the apartment. "You called me when I was right next to the bakery so I thought I'd pick you up a couple of bear claws."

 

"And let me guess. Jelly-filled for you?"

 

"Well, with what we're going to be discussing, a sweet treat might be what we need to keep ourselves sane," he said with a sad look her way. "And it's too early to be drinking right now."

 

He had a good point on that one.

 

"Well… at least you brought bear claws," she said with a smile. "Can't believe you remembered that."

 

Neal shrugged again, setting the box down on the table in front of them. "So… where did you want to start?"

 

She took a deep breath and clasped her hands together as she thought. "I invited August over too. I think both of us need answers out of him. So I want your side of the story. Who is he?"

 

"He didn't tell me much about himself," Neal began. "But the night you went in to get the watches from the train station, he cornered me in the alley. He knew who I was and threatened to expose me unless I did what he said."

 

Emma frowned. "So… blackmail?"

 

He nodded slowly. "Yeah, you could call it that. I wasn't ready to go home at that time. You've been here for a while now – you know what my dad can be like. He was worse years ago. So… I agreed. But he swore he was going to watch out for you afterword. That why I left the money for you. I thought you were going to get it."

 

"The only thing I got were the keys to the bug…" she said softly. "So he… he failed me."

 

"I failed you, Emma. I never should have left I never would have left if I knew he was going to do that to you. We would have gone to Vancouver to fence the watches and make everything legit and we could have made it to Tallahassee."

 

Emma sat in silence as she listened, before a question started gnawing at her enough to speak. "How did August know who you were?"

 

Neal shrugged, fidgeting with a donut. "I still haven't figured that out."

 

"Huh. Okay. So let me ask you something else. It doesn't have anything to do with the past or anything."

 

"What is it?"

 

"What do you think about Henry's book? How he believes that this town is under a curse and that my parents are my roommate and her boyfriend?"

 

Neal's face contorted into something that vaguely resembled a deer in headlights trying not to act surprised. "What makes you bring that up?" he asked.

 

She let out a sigh, dragging her hand down her face as she looked at him. "Do you remember that nightmare I had when we were together? The one where shadows were talking to me about helping them?"

 

"Yeah… do you think that had something to do with Henry's story book?" he asked quietly.

 

She frowned and looked down at the half-eaten bear claw in her hand. "It sounds ridiculous… but I can't help but wonder. The shadows sound so much like Mary-Margaret and David… and the evil one sounds like Regina. I can't shake the feeling that something is wrong."

 

He leaned closer. "Talk to me."

 

She rubbed at her eyes. "That nightmare keeps happening here. It just won't stop, Neal. And it just… it keeps eating at me. So… if you were from the fairy tale world in Henry's book, what would your story be?"

 

He froze in a way she'd never seen before, and she realized with a sense of dread that she'd caught him in something. Not a lie, but… something else.

 

"You don't have to tell me."

 

Relief was clear on his face. "Thanks…"

 

She nodded slowly. "But what if it is all real?"

 

"Then… we're living in a pretty cool place, wouldn't you say?"

 

She shrugged as a knock interrupted their conversation. "That must be August," she said as she stood and made her way to the door.

 

She blinked in surprise when it was Regina instead.

 

"What brings you here?" she asked with a frown, noting the container in her hands.

 

"I just thought I would stop by and drop off one of my famous apple tarts," she said with a small smile. There was something sinister about it that Emma tried to ignore.

 

"Really?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at her.

 

"Of course. I'm not a monster. And besides, you are Henry's birth mother. Consider it a peace offering," Regina said with a small chuckle. "Enjoy it, Miss Swan."

 

She blinked in confusion as Regina turned and started heading back down the stairs. "Okay… thanks."

 

Turning back to Neal as she shut the door, she noticed him staring at the container with a suspicious look. "What is it?"

 

"I just think it's weird that she's choosing now to send you a peace offering," he replied.

 

She grinned in amusement, setting the turnover on the counter as she looked at him. "What, do you think it's made from a poisoned apple?"

 

Neal's face didn't show any amusement as there was another knock on the door.

 

"Okay… now that has to be August," she remarked, going to the door and pulling it open…

 

Only to be met with Henry, panting and sweaty, as if he'd been running.

 

"Kid, what are you doing here?" she asked, eyes wide with concern. "What's the matter?"

 

He said nothing as he pushed by her and rushed over to the turnover, dropping his backpack in front of him. "Where did you get this?" he finally asked, eyes wide with pure fear.

 

"Your mom just brought it over. Didn't you see her on your way up?" Emma replied as she stared at him. "What's wrong with it?"

 

"You can't eat it! It's poisoned!" Henry cried, ripping the container open and taking it into his hand.

 

"Henry…" she said, her tone taking on one of warning as Neal stepped closer to him. "Come on.. you need to relax. I know you truly believe in this curse but you have to understand that it's not real. So why don't you and Neal split that turnover, okay? I'm not a fan of apples and I know Mary-Margaret isn't either."

 

Henry stared at her, a fierce determination on his face. "You may not believe in the curse, or in me. But I believe in you."

 

He lifted the turnover to his mouth and took a bite.

 

Emma smiled softly. "See? Now let's get you some ice cream or some – "

 

But her words were cut off as Henry's eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell to the ground, unmoving.

 

"HENRY!" she and Neal screamed, running over to their son.

 

Emma was shaking as she turned him over and leaned down to listen to his breathing as Neal called the hospital. It was faint, but there. "Oh my God. It's all my fault…" she whispered. "Regina was trying to poison me and Henry took the bait."

 

"Don't blame yourself. Not yet. Not until we know our son is okay," Neal said, looking at Emma. "But… no poison has ever worked that fast. Not that I know of."

 

"I know, I know," she moaned. She was shaking as she crawled over to the turnover and lifting it into her hands, she stared at it, before standing up and striding over to a cabinet, shoving the turnover inside as Neal lifted Henry up, both of them rushing out the door and into her patrol car. Lights and sirens blazing, she sped to the hospital with Henry and Neal in the back seat.

 

"Tell me what happened," Whale said as they raced Henry into the emergency room.

 

"He took one bite of this and passed out!" Emma said, shoving the turnover in the man's face. "It happened so quick I don't think either of us really processed it until he fell over.

 

Whale frowned as Nurse Daphne began taking the vitals. "No poison works that quickly. At least, that I've seen… but of course we'll do whatever we can to figure out what happened."

 

"It was almost like… like magic."

 

The turnover dropped from her hands as she stared at the backpack. "Oh no. Oh no, no, no…" Without thinking, she yanked the book from the backpack and felt a surge of something as she was thrown into another world. She saw brief flashes of what she could only assume was her just seconds after being born before finally…

 

"Snow… look. She's found us."

 

She was in the place she always went to in her dreams. Those nightmares with the shadows. But they weren't shadows. Not anymore. Instead it was Mary-Margaret and David… no. Snow White and Prince Charming.

 

"You did it. We knew you could. Now go save your son."

 

"Wait – that third man… where is he?"

 

"We'll tell you later. Just save Henry and break the curse!" Snow White cried as Emma was thrust back into the hospital.

 

"HENRY!" came another cry. This one familiar and Emma's eyes darkened, narrowing as she turned to face the source of it.

 

"You did this…" she hissed, grabbing Regina and dragging her out of the room into a small utility closet.

 

Regina struggled against her grip, but Emma didn't relent. "Miss Swan! Unhand me now. I need to go see my son!"

 

"You were trying to kill me, weren't you? That apple turnover you made? HE ATE IT!" she shouted. "It's true! The curse, this town. It's all true, isn't it? ISN'T IT?!"

 

The woman froze in her grip, finally slumping in her arms. "Yes. It's true."

 

She inhaled shakily. "So… all of it? Even my – my parents?"

 

"Yes. All of it."

 

Emma released Regina and crossed her arms. "Okay then, Miss Evil Queen. Break the curse you put on Henry."

 

"I can't. Magic isn't supposed to be in this world. I don't even know how it worked. You were supposed to eat it! Not him! How could you be so irresponsible?"

 

"Excuse me? You're the one who cursed an apple turnover with no way of knowing how to break it!" Emma shot back, narrowing her eyes.

 

The door creaked open slowly, breaking the women from their argument as she stared at the man in the doorway.

 

"Gold?" For a brief moment, she was confused, until she realized Neal must have called him. Gold was Henry's grandfather after all.

 

"Do my eyes deceive me or is that the face of a believer?" he asked, his face unreadable.

 

"What?" she asked, blinking in surprise.

 

"The curse, of course. You finally understand that this is all real," Gold said. It was then that Emma noticed he had something in his hand other than his cane. "But it appears that Regina was too blind to see what a bad idea a sleeping curse was in a land without magic. Luckily, I put aside something for a rainy day just like this."

 

"What is it and where is it?" she asked sharply, flexing her fingers.

 

He smirked a little. "I kept it hidden in a very special place. It's a golden egg. I hid it in the one place I knew Regina wouldn't be able to get to… or want to get to."

 

Regina went slightly pale. "You hid it with her?"

 

"Oh no. Not with her. In her."

 

Emma did not like where he was going with this.

 

"In who?" she asked, eyes wide as she followed Gold out of the room.

 

"Oh… an old acquaintance of your parents'. She's been locked under the library since the curse started, and if I'm not mistaken, she's been the cause of all the tremors we've had recently," Gold explained as Regina ran into Henry's hospital room. "You may need this in order to get it out of her."

 

"What is it?"

 

"You'll see…" Gold replied as she was led to the boarded up building in the center of town. He used the back end of the case to smash the lock open as the door creaked with age. Hobbling over to a desk – what must have been an old reference desk – and opened the case.

 

She felt the color drain from her face as she recognized the sword laying in it, glinting in the reflection of the light outside.

 

"Is that – "

 

"Your father's sword."

 

Father. Her father. Prince Charming. Right.

 

She lifted the sword up with a shaking hand.

 

"I'm sure you would have been a great swordsman like he is had they been able to raise you," Gold said softly. "I know that isn't any consolation."

 

She nodded slowly, staring at the sword. "So what do I need to do?"

 

Gold led her over to an ancient-looking elevator. "This elevator requires one person to stay up here, so it is up to you alone to get the egg I need."

 

"Right. Okay. So I'll know this person when I see her, right?"

 

"Oh trust me," Gold replied as she stepped into the creaky elevator, "you will know."

 

Emma shuddered as she descended down the deep, dark shaft, finding herself in the mines where she'd rescued Henry what seemed like a lifetime ago. Before curses, before Neal, before she realized who her parents were.

 

She let out a nervous breath as she stepped into the open, no idea what – or who – she was looking for.

 

Her foot brushed against something glass, and, frowning, Emma leaned over to see what it was, before leaping back in horror as she spotted what remained of a glass coffin.

 

"Your mother's glass coffin," she told herself, stumbling back, before paling as she felt herself brush against something scaly and warm.

 

And the dragon roared.

Chapter Text

 

Emma paled and scrambled behind a rock away from the flames as the dragon let them burst forth. There was a dragon in front of her. A real, actual giant dragon that breathed fire. Something that she only ever saw in cartoons.

 

"Cartoons…" she whispered, peeking out from behind a rock as she took in the dragon's form. Black as night, but there was a glowing spot on her stomach that reminded her of a dragon from a very familiar movie.

 

"MALEFICENT!" she shouted. "Please! I don't want to hurt you!"

 

In her, Gold's voice echoed in her mind. Whatever it was she needed to get, it was inside of her. There had to be a way for her to get the… whatever out of her without having to hurt her, right?

 

The dragon growled a little as it hovered over her, seemingly interested in what she had to say.

 

"I need the thing inside of you. Whatever it was Rumplestiltskin wanted you to keep safe!" she called. "It may be the only way to save my son!"

 

Then the dragon paused… and began to cough, trying to hack up the thing inside of her.

 

She winced as something eventually clattered to the ground, and peeked out from behind her safe stone. On the ground in front of her lay a golden egg. How could that have survived inside a dragon for God knows how long?

 

Maleficent let out a soft growl, falling to her knees and, to Emma's horror, beginning to shrink. No, Emma realized suddenly. She was changing forms, and suddenly there was a very human-looking Maleficent laying on the cavern floor, groaning.

 

"Are… are you okay?" Emma asked as she slowly came out from behind her hiding spot and lifted the egg up before going over to the dragon.

 

"Yes… I – I think so. I just haven't had my human form since Regina cast her curse. I just feel a bit weak," the woman replied, grabbing on to Emma's hand and slowly pulling herself up, looking at Emma curiously. "You're their daughter."

 

Emma wrapped an arm around Maleficent's side, helping her as they walked back to the elevator. "What? Who?" she asked.

 

"Snow and David, of course… you're heroic, just like them. Even though I'm supposed to be a villain, you still helped me… and even wanted to get that egg out of me without harming me." the woman said. "Besides, you have your mother's chin."

 

Emma's grip tightened on her. "Yeah. That."

 

Maleficent frowned. "Oh, I see. You don't believe it."

 

"I do," Emma said as the elevator started going up. "It's just a lot to process considering my son is currently laying in a hospital room possibly dying and I just had to go get a golden egg out of a dragon."

 

"What happened to your son?"

 

She sighed. "He was poisoned. Or cursed. Ate an apple turnover and passed out."

 

"A sleeping curse."

 

Emma nodded. "Yes."

 

"Well… were you doing down there for?" Maleficent asked, frowning in confusion. "Not that I'm ungrateful that you saved me. The only way to break a sleeping curse is true love's kiss. I don't know who sent you down there but – "

 

The elevator stopped, and Gold stood on the other side of the gate.

 

"Oh. Of course. Hello Rumplestiltskin."

 

"Maleficent. You're still alive. How impressive."

 

"Oh let's be honest, Rumplestiltskin. If you really wanted me dead, you wouldn't have sent Snow and David's daughter to retrieve that egg inside of me. You called her The Savior for a reason."

 

Emma, meanwhile, could only stare between the two childhood characters. Maleficent knew her parents. And Rumplestiltskin was Neal's father. Which meant… Neal was… Neal was from that place too.

 

She closed her eyes, trying to process what was happening. She was fairy tale royalty, and her son's father was the son of Rumplestiltskin. Okay. Right.

 

"I need… I need to get back to the hospital," Emma stammered, leaving the library and taking a deep breath.

 

Henry was still in the hospital, possibly dying because of some sort of poison… or curse. Something the doctor's couldn't seem to figure out. But Maleficent had. Immediately. True love's kiss. It was desperate but apparently this curse was real and there may have been no other way to save Henry.

 

Bursting into the room, she felt sick all over again, seeing the ten year old hooked up to wires and machines that were beeping menacingly. Regina and Neal were in the room of course, but she couldn't bring herself to look at them yet as she bent down next to her son.

 

"God… Henry, I'm so sorry it took me so long, but I did it. I believe you. You were right all along and instead of celebrating, you're under this curse… well, I think I know how to break it. And if I'm wrong… oh God if I'm wrong then I'm so sorry. And I hope you know how much I – I love you Henry," she whispered, pressing a kiss to his temple.

 

A burst of light exploded from the pair of them and there was one beat… then two… and then Henry finally opened his eyes and took a deep breath, sitting up on the bed.

 

"Henry!" she cried in relief, tears pouring down her face.

 

"You did it. You actually did it…" Regina said, stunned as she slowly made her way to the bed.

 

"If I were you, your majesty, I'd find a place to hide," Dr. Whale said, his eyes narrowed slightly. "I'm sure there are lots of people that'll be interested in your head on a platter."

 

Regina's nostrils flared, and Emma could see the Evil Queen persona beginning to shine through as Daphne stepped closer. "Some of you should thank me. Especially you, Miss Gale. Because I, unlike you, actually have my sister contained," Regina sneered before turning to Henry. "Henry… no matter what anyone may say, I do love you…"

 

And with that, Regina fled from the room.

 

Emma took a deep breath as Neal rushed over to the bed and pulled the ten year old close.

 

"So… what was it that Regina meant by containing her sister?" Emma asked Daphne with a frown.

 

"In this world she's known as the Wicked Witch of the West. We've been trying to take her down for years. I didn't realize Regina had managed to trap her during the curse," Daphne replied as she ran out of the room.

 

Emma blinked. "O-kay… okay c'mon kid, let's get out of here."

 

She hated hospitals.

 

Henry nodded and climbed off the bed as Neal tossed him his clothes, and the trio was on their way into town, where chaos seemed to be running wild.

 

"What's going on?" Emma asked, her eyes wide.

 

"Everyone's trying to find their families," Neal replied as they rounded a corner.

 

"So what do we do now?" she heard Ruby say.

 

"Now… now I find my daughter."

 

Emma froze at the voice. It was Mary-Margaret but… it was different. More confident and sure of what needed to be done.

 

"So it's true," she managed to say as she stared in awe of her parents. Her parents.

 

They turned and stared in awe of her, and Emma saw written on their faces the look she had been waiting twenty-eight years to see. The face of love and devotion… and yet there was pain. The pain of everything they'd missed – more so on her mother than on her father.

 

"You found us…" her mother choked out, cupping Emma's face with delicate fingers before pulling her close. She felt her father join in the hug, cupping the back of her head gently and Emma felt the dam break, letting out her own flood of tears. Tears of joy, of pain, of relief, of shock. She'd found her parents, and they'd loved her from the beginning. Had wanted her.

 

"I just can't believe it was all real," she sobbed. She hadn't allowed herself to cry like this in years, and now she could cry to her parents and they wouldn't hat her for it.

 

She pulled away, looking between them. "Sorry. I just…"

 

Mary-Margaret shook her head. "You have nothing to apologize for."

 

"Grandpa?" came Henry's small voice from behind her.

 

"Yes Henry?" her father asked. Emma realized he sounded way too casual with being called a grandfather.

 

"Are you gonna tell them how long you've known for?"

 

Mary-Margaret frowned. "What? Charming, what is he talking about?"

 

He sighed, looking between the two women. "I've actually had my memories back since – "

 

Emma stared as she realized. "The day I told Neal about Henry being his son. You were sitting in the back room resting because your memories had come back. But it was your memories of your fairy tale life."

 

He nodded slowly. "Yes."

 

"Huh. I can't imagine how hard that was for you…"

 

David smiled a little and wrapped an arm around Mary-Margaret's shoulder as the group began walking down the street. "It was worth it."

 

"YOUR MAJESTIES!" Archie suddenly cried, running up to them nervously. "Your majesties I hate to bother you but there's a group going after Regina. They – they say they're going to kill her!"

 

"Great," Leroy grumbled. "Let's watch."

 

"No, we are not going to watch," Emma said sharply. "She still owes us answers and there's no way we can get those answers if she's dead."

 

"And she's still my mom," Henry added. "I know she did all of those bad things but – "

 

"Fine," Leroy sighed as everyone began running toward Regina's house, a large group of angry citizens standing in front of the door, led by Whale. Regina was pinned to the front door.

 

"Hey – hey! No! We are not doing this!" Emma shouted, pushing her way forward with Henry and her parents. "We are not killing her!"

 

"We don't belong in this land. We shouldn't have to listen to you," Whale snarled.

 

"Yeah well while you're in it, I'm still the sheriff here. We are not killing her."

 

The crowd began to grumble their discontent with the answer, and her mother stepped forward.

 

"Listen up! There are still answers we need, and the most important should be how to get back to our land. Instead of killing her, she needs to be locked up. For her safety, but more importantly for ours," she said in a tone that Emma had never heard from the meek schoolteacher. "We will take her away. Kingdom leaders, meet us at the Town Hall in an hour. We'll hold a meeting at six for everyone else. In the meantime… find your friends and loved ones. Reunite with them. We'll see you later."

 

Emma pulled out her handcuffs and secured them around Regina's wrists as David started leading her away from the mansion, the angry mob beginning to disperse.

 

"So I'm a prisoner now?" Regina sneered as the heavy jail door closed behind her. "You should remember how well that worked out for you last time."

 

"The curse is broken. Why didn't we go back?" her father asked sharply.

 

"There was nothing built into the curse about taking us back to the Enchanted Forest," Regina said. "And I wasn't strong enough to alter it beyond the cursed personas you had. But perhaps it's for the best that we aren't back there."

 

"Why?" Emma asked with a frown.

 

Regina sighed, slumping onto the bed. "Because… there is a group of dark magic users there that want to reverse the laws of magic. And they're working together to try to achieve it. If we go back there that means the group will be restored, and all of the magical devices that Rumplestiltskin has in his shop can be used against you… well – us. I turned them down when they asked me to join."

 

"Why would you do that?"

 

The woman scoffed. "Because I know a losing battle when I see it. Besides… I thought the curse would be enough to contain her."

 

"Maleficent?"

 

"No. Zelena. My sister. She's… I guess you could call her the leader of this merry band of dark magic users. But she started stirring the prison I set up for her here before the curse broke." Regina looked a bit rattled at the mention of it. "I'm just glad there's no magic here or we'd be in real trouble."

 

"I hate to be a downer but… we might be in trouble," Neal suddenly said from the doorway. "There's purple smoke heading this way."

 

Regina's eyes widened and she leaned toward the window to see. "Your father has no idea what he's unleashing, Mr. Cassidy."

 

But Neal shook his head and stepped toward Henry as the smoke blew closer to the station. "Actually Regina… I think he knows exactly what he's doing."

 

They huddled together as the smoke began to creep into the room, surrounding them with a breeze that felt unnatural. But as quickly as it came, it was gone, and nothing appeared out of the ordinary.

 

She caught Regina's eyes, seeing a slight bit of a smirk on her face as the former queen looked at Mary-Margaret and David.

 

"Well Snow, Charming. Looks like you both finally caught me. I guess you'd better get to your meeting with the other kingdom rulers," Regina said, far too casually as she sat regally on the prison bed.

 

David didn't seem to buy it. "What was that smoke?"

 

"Nothing you need to worry about," Regina said with a shrug.

 

"It was magic," Neal answered. "Trust me, I've been around it enough to know what the air feels like with it buzzing in the air. My father brought magic back."

 

Mary-Margaret paled, David tensed, his hand tightening on his wife's back as both looked at Regina.

 

Henry suddenly seemed to understand what was going on, eyes turning to his mother.

 

"Mom… don't."

 

Regina's eyes widened. "Don't what, Henry?"

 

"Don't hurt anyone just because you have magic back. Don't turn back into the Evil Queen. Please…" he asked, his dark eyes wide with concern.

 

Regina let out a sigh. "Henry, I don't want to hurt anyone, but you are my son and – "

 

"And I'm also Emma and Neal's son… Mary-Margaret and David's grandson. That's not an excuse to use your magic for evil. Please… don't hurt anyone in Storybrooke just because you have magic again," Henry said, biting his lip.

 

The mayor looked at him, conflict reading clear in her gaze. "Okay Henry. I promise I won't hurt anyone."

 

The boy smiled. "Thank you."

 

"Now go. All of you. I imagine the town is in a state of panic over the smoke."

 

Neal looked toward the others. "I'll meet you guys at the Town Hall. I'm going to go talk to my father. God knows he won't show up without me telling him to."

 

"Thank you Neal," David said. "Come on…"

 

Emma glanced back at Neal once before following her parents and Henry out of the station.

 


 

 

"Come on Papa… pick up," Neal muttered under his breath as he held his phone to his ear as people filed into the town hall for the meeting. He had no idea where his father could have gone, having been searching for an hour. He wasn't in any of his usual hiding spots, which was a cause of concern.

 

"Bae, there you are. Shall we go inside for the meeting?" his father asked from behind him.

 

"Uh… yeah. You actually showed up without me asking you to?" Neal replied, dumbfounded.

 

Slight laughter escaped his father. "Yes. Of course I did. Why wouldn't I be here? The people need an explanation as to what happened, don't they?"

 

Neal blinked in confusion. "You want to actually help people figure out what's going on?" Who was this man and what had he done with his father?

 

His father only shrugged. "With what those people are planning, I wouldn't dare keep it hidden for even the sweetest of deals. Even though most of this town fears me, I wouldn't wish these things on anyone. Even Regina."

 

Neal frowned as they were led inside the town hall for the meeting. "Regina told us about them. What have you seen, Papa?"

 

"The final battle," his father explained, stepping up to the podium during the meeting after King Arthur asked the same question. I don't know how it will end but it will lead to the downfall of either the Dark Royals or… for the rest of us."

 

The color drained from Neal's face, the air leaving the room as the people of Storybrooke tried to process the answer.

 

"So – so what do we do? Regina said there's a group of magic users out there trying to do whatever it is they're planning, but there aren't many magic users in Storybrooke, are there? How can we protect the town?" Snow asked, shaken.

 

Rumplestiltskin nodded. "This is true, dearie. But there are other magic users out in the world that can help that managed to find other ways here. Ways that I was not allowed to use. But there is hope out there… we just need to find them."

 

"How?" Snow pressed.

 

"If I recall, our town sheriff was once someone who knew how to find people…"

 

Emma nodded slowly, squirming under the eyes of the entire town trained on her. "Okay – uh. If anyone can think of someone that might be out there somewhere let me know and I'll do my best to find them."

 

The smile on his father's face jolted him back to his childhood, and he wasn't sure he liked it. "Thank you Miss Swan. This is me cashing in on the favor you owe me."

 

"What do you suggest for the rest of the town then, Rumplestiltskin?" Prince Thomas then asked.

 

"For now… all I can suggest is to find your loved ones and keep living your life as we have been. We have a bit of time before the battle reaches its fever pitch. I'm afraid that is all I know," his father replied, giving the room an apologetic glance.

 

Nervous murmurs erupted from the audience, but the majority were nodding in agreement. Neal wasn't sure what to make of the news himself as his father stepped down from the podium. He had to admit, he was proud of his father for doing this instead of just leaving people to be caught by surprise.

 

"Bae, my boy. You should go be with your son," his father said as he hobbled back over to him. "We don't know how long we – "

 

"Rumple, is there really a chance that we could die?" a woman's voice asked.

 

Neal blinked, seeing a younger woman – probably around his physical age actually – standing behind  him. She was looking at his father like she was in love with him, and it was baffling to him.

 

"Yes Belle, I'm afraid so. But we have each other. And there's someone I want you to meet. Belle… this is Baelfire. My son. Bae, this is Belle. She was my housekeeper in the Enchanted Forest."

 

"More than that," the woman replied, patting his shoulder and smiling at Neal. "It's so nice to meet you Baelfire. You father had told me so much about you."

 

He looked at the way the woman was leaning into his father, his arm wrapped protectively around Belle's waist. His gaze was softer, and Neal realized with alarm that his father must have been in love with this woman.

 

Neal exhaled. "You're my father's girlfriend," he finally said.

 

"I suppose that's a fair assumption," the woman said in agreement, shrugging at him casually.

 

Neal sighed. "Okay. Guess we have to go tell Henry about another new family member."

 

They found Henry with the Charmings in the small apartment above the bookstore. Snow and Charming had known of Belle – Charming hadn't lived too far from their castle and Snow had been acquainted with the family long before curses and deals and Evil Queens.

 

The awkward family was just sitting down to dinner when there was another knock on the door. Neal inwardly groaned, hoping that it wasn't another wayward family member coming to find them.

 

Instead, it was Maleficent.

 

"I have someone I want you to find," the woman explained as Emma opened the door. "My daughter. Lily."

 

Emma let Maleficent in and nodded. "Okay. You lost her when you were a baby, right? That's what Henry's book said. So it's going to be hard without any identifying marks or – "

 

"But she has one. She has a star on her wrist. It was a mark she was born with - it's meant to symbolize how she'll always find home."

 

Neal saw Emma blanch and frowned. "Emma… what's wrong?"

 

"I know your daughter," Emma whispered, looking at Maleficent. "I know exactly who she is."

 

"You do? Where is she?"

 

"I – I don't know. I haven't seen her in about twelve years, but I promise, she'll be the first person I track down once I get more people to find."

 

"Cruella and Ursula too," her father said. "They made it here too, right?"

 

Maleficent nodded. "Yes. They had. I was the only one that didn't."

 

The look on Emma's face was twisting into disbelief and discomfort, so Neal stood. "Hey Emma – I left something in my car that I meant to give to you when I got here earlier. With all the excitement I'd completely forgotten about it. Why don't we go get it?"

 

He noted the look of relief on her face as they made their way outside.

 

"You alright?" he asked.

 

"I'm just overwhelmed with… well, everything. It doesn't seem to be stopping. Now I have to go find a bunch of magical people? And not only that, but the two people I considered to be my closest friends and first love in my life are also from this fairy tale world?" Emma said.

 

He nodded slowly. "I know. I'm sorry. I wanted to tell you before. You're the first person I trusted in this world too. But I couldn't. You wouldn't have believed me."

 

She smiled with a scoff. "True. I wouldn't have."

 

"I really am sorry, Emma. For everything."

 

"I know… and I forgive you. But there's one thing that's still bothering me."

 

"What's that?"

 

"Where's August? I didn't see him at the town meeting and he'd said he would be here before everything kinda… exploded."

 

Neal inhaled sharply. "I think I know where he is. Come with me."

 

He drove quickly to the bed and breakfast, and the duo rushed up to August's room.

 

"August? You in there?" Emma called.

 

"Emma… yes, I'm in here," came August's voice.

 

Neal wiggled the door handle, finding it locked. "Unlock the door, August."

 

"I can't."

 

Neal paled as Emma brought her foot up to break down the door, and as they entered the room, they saw the answer to their questions.

 

August, half-sitting up on the bed, was made almost entirely of wood.

 

Emma caught on immediately. "Pinocchio."

Chapter Text

August was a giant wooden puppet. August was Pinocchio. Her parents had sent Pinocchio with her to guard her. Well, no wonder that had ended up being a disaster. She wondered why her parents would allow a child to go with her instead of one of them though… it seemed strange that her parents, as much as they had wanted and loved her, would choose someone around her age to attend to her in this world.

But she needed to break out of that thought for now and come back to reality.

Her very, very messed up reality.

"Thank you for breaking the curse before this completely covered me. I'm sorry I couldn't explain earlier… the magic worked too fast," August explained as Neal helped to sit him up against the headboard.

Emma shook her head, still in a bit of shock over what she was seeing. "Don't worry about it. I – I understand. We were just worried when you didn't show up and then the shit hit the fan and – "

"You have nothing to apologize for, Emma. This is on me. Not you."

She bit her lip, one question weighing on her mind as she tried to come to terms with what was happening. "So… why did my parents choose you to go with me in the wardrobe instead of one of them?"

August hesitated, the color draining from his face before hanging his head. "They didn't choose me. My father did. Your parents thought there was only room for one person. You. Your parents don't know I came with you."

The words hit her like a truck. Her parents could have gone together had she not come early. Or… at least one of them could have gone with her if she did come early.

It made her sick.

"And you left me alone in this world. You told Neal to leave me and then… when he tried to make sure I had something to help me start my life after my jail sentence – the first person to do so in my life, by the way – you stole twenty thousand dollars from me while I had to fight and claw my way back to a decent standing in life. How could you do such a thing?"

"I was stupid and selfish. Nothing I can do will ever be able to make it up to you. I was supposed to take care of you and I failed. That's why I'm like this. All of those selfish deeds caught up with me."

"Good," Emma hissed, unsure if she really meant it. "I'm glad it all caught up with you."

August, surprisingly enough, nodded in agreement. "Yeah. But I don't know how I'll ever face my father."

"You're going to have to. He was putting up missing posters after the meeting," Neal said. "Besides… he's your dad. He'll forgive you. He just wants to see you. It's been twenty-eight years."

Emma nodded, barely able to contain the anger she felt bubbling beneath the surface as she stared at the man. "Neal's right. Don't be a coward this time, August. Face your father like you couldn't face me."

The puppet winced. "Okay. Fine. You're right. Neal, hand me my phone. It's on the table."

She held up her hand as Neal handed the phone over to August. "One last thing. Neal deserves an answer as to how you knew who he was and why the hell you thought it was a good idea for him to leave me."

"I… I met this man in Portland. He said I needed to find you and make sure you were on your path to Storybrooke so you could find Excalibur's twin and vanquish the darkness. He told me you'd be with the Dark One's son, Baelfire, in the same city. So when I saw you with Neal… I knew," August explained, squirming a little.

Emma felt her stomach drop. The same man from her dreams… and the same one from the movie theater that day when she was six. Who the hell was he and what did he want with her?

"So… he didn't tell you to make sure I was alone?" Emma asked.

"No. He just wanted to make sure you were on your way to Storybrooke."

Neal narrowed his eyes. "You know, since you talked to me about the curse and everything, if you hadn't been so damn adamant that I leave her alone, I would have gotten Emma to Storybrooke myself. With Henry."

"We could have been a family," Emma whispered, more than one way going through her head.

Suddenly, visions of her being raised by her parents, meeting Neal, and raising Henry together swirled in her mind. A normal, happy family, with her parents, and then she'd meet Neal, fall in love… she could have helped him adjust to having people that loved him… and then they'd have had Henry. Henry would have grown up with the love of his birth parents and his grandparents. And then one day they all would have come here to save everyone.

It could have been bliss.

But instead, she'd ended up in hell.

"I'm gonna go," Emma croaked, swiftly making her way outside. She didn't need Neal to take her home. She didn't want to go home yet – she wasn't sure if she could face everyone while she was still so angry. Even if it wasn't anger directed at anyone in the apartment, she wanted to make sure she didn't snap at someone unfairly.

She could see Marco racing toward Granny's out of the corner of her eye, and it took all of her energy to keep walking forward instead of turning around and snapping at him too. She had no destination in mind, but eventually, she found herself at the beach, sitting in the castle Henry had brought her to her second day here.

Closing her eyes , Emma breathed in the salty air around her and she felt her shoulders relax slightly. Just a bit of time here… and then she'd go home, pack for her little road trip out to find the magical people in this world, and find them so that they could protect themselves from whatever nightmare it was the Dark Royals wanted to implement on the world.

Emma had just found her family. She would not be losing it again.

And since she'd just found her family, how could she leave them again for God only knew how long in order to find all of these magical people that were out there?

Watching the waves, Emma couldn't help but be reminded of Tallahassee, and smiled softly to herself. Of course, it was much warmer in Tallahassee, but still, it was nice. No wonder Henry liked to come here and think.

She still felt overwhelmed with everything that had happened, and especially with what happened with August. Knowing that had she waited just a little longer to be born, her parents could have come with her to this world and everything that meant… it was a lot to take in. But out of all the things that were weighing heavily on her mind, one thing stuck out the most.

The man from her dreams had been real, and had found August. So… who was he, and where was he?

Whatever was happening with him, Emma needed to find him – and fast. So when she felt like she wouldn't punch the first person she saw, Emma stood and ran back to the apartment, and was relieved when she realized it was only Mary-Margaret, David, Henry, and Maleficent in the room.

"Emma, there you are!" the dark-haired woman exclaimed, running over to her and pulling her into a hug. "We were so worried about you. Are you okay?"

She nodded slowly, feeling comfortable in her mother's arms. "I'm okay. I'm fine. I just needed to get some answers. And now I need some more. When I was six years old, I met a man when I was at the movies… and he started showing up in my dreams too. He was talking about how I would become a great hero and how I would find Excalibur's twin to do it. Do you guys know – "

"Merlin," Mary-Margaret said immediately, looking taken off-guard. "It was Merlin."

How did Emma not get that? The man had been talking about Excalibur and its apparent twin, while she was watching The Sword in the Stone. Of course it was Merlin.

"That's really helpful. Now where is he?"

The other woman's face crumbled into something that had Emma's heart leaping into her throat. "Emma… no one has seen Merlin since Arthur was eighteen and took over Camelot. He's presumed dead."

"So I guess he's not going to be one of the people I try to find then… which brings me to another problem. I don't know if I'm comfortable leaving Storybrooke now since apparently there are a bunch of people that want to attack us. Do you guys know of any ways to contact them otherwise?"

"Birds!" Mary-Margaret chirped. "And I know just which ones to use."

Her mother was a bird whisperer. Because this day couldn't resist getting weirder.

Letting out a sigh, Emma gestured to the door, allowing her mother to lead the way to find some birds.


 

Anastasia looked at herself in the mirror the morning after the curse broke, letting out a soft sigh. If the Dark Royals were out there again, if Zelena somehow managed to free herself from her prison, then she was in trouble. Much had changed since the first time Zelena had come to Wonderland asking Anastasia to join she and Jafar in an attempt to change things. But Anastasia wasn't like that. Not anymore.

Right?

No. She wasn't. She had learned better than that.

The curse had helped with certain things – Renata had slowly started re-connecting with Ashley, which, Ana hoped, would make it easier for her to reunite with Cinderella.

Then there was Will. Renata had been friendly toward Alec, Will's cursed, baker's self, and he'd returned her advances. Considering how their relationship ended in Wonderland, she knew that was going to be quite difficult to achieve.

Finally… there was Alice. Anastasia had seen the blonde at the crowded town meeting, but had hidden herself against the wall of the Town Hall so Alice didn't see her. She had no idea what she was going to say to her. After everything that had happened between the two of them, how could Alice possibly want anything to do with her? How could Anastasia possibly make up for everything she'd done?

But as she looked at herself in the mirror, she couldn't find Anastasia Tremaine in there, nor could she see Renata Monroe.

All she could see was the Red Queen.

"What have I become?" she whispered, taking a ragged breath as tears clouded her eyes. She didn't want to think of what her heart must have looked like if someone ripped it out.

But, she thought bitterly, that was Cora's gig in Wonderland, not mine.

God, where did she start in her redemption?

A knock on her door startled her from her thoughts. Going over to it, she peeked out the window and felt her eyes widen when she saw Will standing there in his usual leather jacket, clutching a metal box.

"Will…" she whispered as she pulled the door open. "What are you doing here?"

Well, it looked like she was starting with Will Scarlet.

"Hello Anastasia. Do you mind if I come in?"

Her mouth was dry as she shook her head and pulled the door open, gesturing for him to enter her apartment and make himself comfortable, which he did, plopping himself down on the sofa and looking at her with the same bewildered look she must have been giving him. She sat down in a chair opposite him.

"So."

"So."

"Glad to see we're both lost for words," Will said, scratching at the back of his neck. "So… you haven't shouted at me and thrown me out of the apartment yet. That's a good sign, right?"

She nodded slowly. "Will… there's nothing I can say that could ever make you forgive me for what I've done. But I want you to know that… I'm so sorry. I wanted to find you but Cora told me you'd gone back to the Enchanted Forest."

He frowned then. "What? No Anastasia… I didn't go back there. I – I was working for Cora. For the most part anyway. But then Alice helped me escape her. She got my heart back for me and everything."

It was her turn to frown then. "Your… heart back? What do you mean Alice got your heart back, Will?" Her own heart was beginning to thud uncomfortably against her chest, already dreading the words he'd say.

"I asked Cora to take my heart out when she told me you never wanted to see me and you weren't going home to the Enchanted Forest with me. She told me you didn't love me. So I agreed to work for her after she took my heart. And then I met Alice and you've heard the rest."

Anastasia wasn't sure if it was the Renata part of her or some long-buried part of herself that reacted, but she found herself standing and going over to Will and taking his hand.

"I'm so sorry. Will, I'm so, so sorry. If I'd known that being a queen would have led to all of this I never would have done any of this."

Will looked at her carefully, studying her face, her eyes, in a way he'd never done before. But Anastasia understood why. It'd be ridiculous not to, of course – a sudden flip in her old personality was bound to look strange.

"Why the sudden change?" he finally asked.

"It wasn't sudden," she admitted. "Cora told me you left Wonderland and hated me for what I'd become. That's what the trigger was… it felt like it was Mother all over again, but I still couldn't help but love you. Cora lied to both of us in order to get what she wanted. And now the Dark Royals are running around."

"What does that have to do with you?"

She exhaled slowly, looking at him. "Because they came to me and asked me to join up with them after Jafar and I captured Cyrus. But I turned them down because I didn't see a point in doing it. I realized if I wanted to apologize to you I needed to do it myself. Not because magic was a crutch."

Will was still looking at her like she was turning into a toad. "Really? You wanted to apologize to me? Then why didn't you before the curse was cast?"

Anastasia rubbed her palms nervously against her thighs. "I was going to. I found the White Rabbit and he took me to the Enchanted Forest. But as soon as he vanished back to Wonderland… the curse hit where we'd landed and I was too late."

He sighed softly, looking down at the box in his lap. "Do you know what's in this box, Anastasia?"

She looked at it with trepidation. "I have a hunch. It's your heart, isn't it?"

"It is. I wanted to be able to hear you out without the emotions getting in the way first. And now that I've heard you out… I want you to put it back in my chest. Have you ever – "

Anastasia inhaled sharply as she looked between Will and the box. "I have. Are you sure?"

He nodded slowly.

She moved to take the box into her hands, opening it with a bit of hesitation and taking the pulsing heart into her hand. "Last chance. You're ready?"

"Yes."

Taking a deep breath, Anastasia steadied her nerves and plunged her hand into his chest, setting the heart back into place.

"Thank you," Will whispered, putting a hand on hers just as there was a knock on the door. And she frowned as she pulled the door open.

And then she paled when she saw Zelena standing on the other side.

"What are you doing here?" Anastasia whispered, her heart pounding uncomfortably against her chest. "How did you find me?"

The woman brushed passed her with no permission to enter the apartment. "I just thought I would check in on you and give you another opportunity to join the Dark Royals since my little sister's curse is now broken and everyone who knows you knows who you are. Remember… we can help you get Will Scarlet's love again."

Oh yes, Anastasia knew that.

But, as Zelena moved further into the apartment, Anastasia realized that Will, along with the box his heart had been in, was gone.

"So quiet, aren't we dear?" Zelena said with a small smirk. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing," Anastasia replied, clearing her throat. "But my answer remains the same as last time, Zelena. I don't want to join your group."

Where the hell had Will gone, and how had he managed to escape so quickly?

Zelena frowned. "No? But we need your power, Anastasia. Don't you know how powerful you are inside?"

She narrowed her eyes at the woman. "You sound so much like Cora when she was training me."

"Don't you dare compare me to that woman!" Zelena snapped, holding out her hand.

Anastasia gasped, feeling her throat beginning to constrict. She'd hit a nerve with Zelena, and she was going to pay dearly for it if she didn't do anything, and fast.

Reaching her own hand out, Anastasia meant to conjure up a fireball to scare the woman off – or burn her, which ever worked – but with magic working differently in this world and Anastasia slowly losing her ability to breathe, all she could manage was a puff of smoke, which had Zelena cackling in amusement.

"Nice try, dear. Now… will you work with us?"

"N-ever…" Anastasia choked out, glaring at the woman.

She felt Zelena's grip tighten, before the wicked witch suddenly collapsed in front of her, unconscious.

Anastasia fell to her knees, holding her neck and gasping in the sweet air. "What the - ?"

"You okay?" Will asked, holding a frying pan in front of him.

"Yeah… so what do we do with her?" she whispered, looking at the unconscious witch.

"I already called the sheriff. She's on her way."

Being the small town that Storybrooke was, it didn't take long for Emma to arrive at the apartment, followed by Snow White and Prince David.

"So Zelena's broken out of the prison cell Regina made for her," Snow White said, shivering as they gazed at the witch on the ground. "That's not good, right?"

"No. It's very bad," Anastasia said. "Especially since the Dark Royals are still trying to find a way to get what they want."

"What is it they want?" David asked.

"They want to break the laws of magic. And in order to do it they need not only their own strength, but the strength of a genie and of a man named Merlin – who is rumored to be the most powerful of them all."

Snow White lost what little color she had in her already pale face. "They… they already have Merlin," she said. "They've had him for a long time."

Anastasia bit her lip. "They have a genie too. So that's why they've been so adamant about me joining. Because power is the last thing they need. And once they get that power… there's no telling what could be changed."

"So we go break the genie and Merlin out. Where are they?" Emma asked with a frown.

"I couldn't tell you where Merlin is being held – Jafar never showed me that. But I do know that Cyrus is in my palace in Wonderland."

"Wonderland?" Emma groaned. "Seriously?"

Chapter Text

"So my sister managed to escape from her cell. This was the exact thing I warned you about!" Regina snapped, staring at the group that had appeared in the sheriff's station. "Where is Henry? Is he okay?"

Emma could tell what the other woman was thinking: If her sister had hurt him, this whole town would burn.

"Relax," Emma said with a frown as she gazed at the former queen. "He's with Neal and Belle and Rumplestiltskin. He's fine. And your sister is in the asylum being guarded by Dorothy and the dwarves."

Regina bristled as she looked at Emma, but remained quiet about that particular subject. "So what do you people want now?" she asked.

"If you had a magical wizard held hostage and you didn't want anyone to find him, where would you hide him if you were your sister?" Mary-Margaret asked.

"That is the weirdest question I have ever heard come out of your mouth. And I had to suffer through you going through puberty."

"Funny, because that's something I wish I could have helped my daughter through," her mother snapped back.

Emma flinched. Of all the things she thought about missing out on with her mother, puberty had been the furthest thing from her mind. But her mother was right. She had missed out on puberty… and it probably would have made things much easier on her when she was growing up. No one had given her a heads up as to periods, for example.

"Maybe you shouldn't have thrown her in a tree and shipped her off to Maine. What kind of mother does that?"

"The kind of mother that was worried that her stepmother was going to murder her newborn infant and only sent her away so she could survive and have her best chance!" her mother shouted. Emma saw twenty-eight years of anger and pain in her eyes. Part of her didn't want to stop the woman, but the other part of her knew that there would be plenty of time to yell at each other after they got the answers they needed and stopped the Dark Royals from destroying everything.

"Okay, okay!" Emma cried, stepping between the two women as Regina produced a tiny fireball in her hand. "Clearly there is a lot here that needs to be talked about but right now is not the time. We need to figure out where Zelena would be keeping Merlin so we can rescue him and the genie. Now answer the question, Regina."

Regina narrowed her eyes, her lips turning down into a frown. "If I know my sister, she'd hide someone like that in a palace. Deep underground somewhere only I could get into. Or… since our dear mother, Cora met a tragic end – "

"Tragic end? What are you talking about?" Anastasia suddenly asked. "Your mother is still alive."

The color drained from Regina's face as she stared at the other woman. "What? What do you mean she's still alive? I sent a pirate captain to kill her! I saw her body!"

"She was faking it, Regina. I watched her leave Wonderland very much alive with the captain you hired to kill her," Anastasia said. "And trust me, I looked at every inch of Cora's castle after she left me the sole queen of Wonderland. There was no hidden sorcerer."

Regina leaned against the bars heavily. "Forget about the sorcerer for a moment. You know as well as I do how dangerous my mother is. If she is still alive then… she could provide the power that the Dark Royals need to try to break the laws of magic. They don't need you, or me, or Rumplestiltskin at all."

"Mmm…" Anastasia hummed, "I don't know about that. Your sister didn't seem too amused when I compared her to Cora. I don't know if she would willingly work with her."

"Maybe not. But Zelena would want the chance to confront my mother, I'm certain."

"Confront her or kill her? Because the way she reacted to me it seems like she harbors a deep resentment toward her." Anastasia said, shivering a little.

Regina's lips pressed together into a thin line. "Well… either is possible. But she probably isn't aware that our mother is still alive. She couldn't be – she was in my dungeon when I had the pirate bring in my mother's body, and news travelled fast in my castle. And she came with me when I cast the curse. She couldn't have had the chance to see my mother."

"So you don't know where these captives could be hidden?" her father finally asked, getting back to the topic that had brought them here in the first place.

"No. But… it's possible that he is here somewhere. I'm not entirely sure how many people from other worlds were brought here. If he was hidden in some other world, it's possible he was brought here. It's a small chance but it's a chance," Regina replied with a helpless looking shrug.

Emma sighed. "Well, we tried. I guess we'll have to dig deeper into where Merlin or Cyrus could be. Thanks, Regina."

The mayor seemed shocked. "Er. You're welcome."

Her parents were clutching at each other as they made their way out of the station, her father still trying to calm her mother down from her outburst.

"Mary-Margaret, David… you guys okay?" Emma asked, looking at them with worry.

Her father swallowed thickly before nodding. "Yes. I think a lot of anger is just coming up to the surface that we tried to keep down."

She frowned. "You guys shouldn't be keeping that inside. Why do you?"

"Because we're heroes," her mother said softly as the group rounded the corner and started heading in the direction of Granny's, where they were due to meet Henry for dinner. "Heroes aren't supposed to complain."

"It's not healthy," Emma said. "Just because you guys are heroes doesn't mean you don't suffer. Look at all the crap you went through! If people have a problem with you venting or being upset then… they're weaker than they admit."

But her parents shook their heads. "Not now. Not when there's such a horrible evil out there. We need to be prepared. We can't lose you again," her mother said.

Emma could see the anxiety in their faces, familiar to the anxiety that had been reflected in hers all her life, and yet different because it was someone actually worried about her, and she finally nodded. "Okay."

There was no use in arguing with them about something so trivial at this time.

"If it's possible that Merlin is here, then it's possible that Cyrus could be here too," Anastasia said quietly with a frown. "But I don't know where Alice is. She was the one that supposedly escaped from the asylum, right?"

Emma blinked in surprise before her eyes closed. "Oh crap. I think I know where Alice is."

Anastasia hesitated. "You should talk to her without me. I don't think she'll be thrilled to see me… seeing as I was the one that kidnapped Cyrus… as soon as he'd proposed to her."

There was a visible wince from her parents.

"Yes, I think it would be best if you stayed behind," her mother said.

"Actually… I think it might be best if I go alone. She already knows who I am and trusts me. Why don't you guys go meet Henry? I promise I'll be there as soon as I'm done talking to Alice," Emma suggested awkwardly.

Her parents nodded reluctantly, and Emma made her way through the forest, following the now-familiar pathway to Jefferson's manor. Now that the curse was broken – and confirmed to be real – Emma wondered who he was.

"Jefferson!" she called as the large manor came into view. "Are you home?"

There was no response, and she frowned. They must have gone into town to look for loved ones. Well shit. Now how was she going to find answers?

"Sheriff Swan," Alice called from the entryway. "What brings you here?"

As Emma made her way over to the younger woman, she frowned when she noticed the woman looked like she'd been crying, her eyes tinted with red and her blonde hair a mess.

"Alice… what's the matter?" she asked with a frown. "There's something I need to talk to you about."

The blonde nodded and stepped aside. "It's nothing. Come in."

Emma knew instantly she was lying. Not just because of her "superpower", but because, well, whenever someone looked like that, it was clear that there was something wrong. Anyone could pick up on that.

"Okay so…" Emma said, taking a seat on one of the chairs as Alice put a tissue box back on the table and sat down herself. "I know you're Alice from Alice in Wonderland. I also know that you have someone that you're missing. A man named Cyrus?"

Alice's eyes shot up in surprise. "Yes. He was my fiancé. But The Red Queen killed him and sent me back to a place where I was treated as if I was insane."

"Cyrus is alive."

Alice was quiet for a moment, her eyes going wide as Emma's words clicked in her consciousness. "What?!"

"Anastasia was nearly killed by a witch named Zelena. She told us that Cyrus was being held hostage in her palace in Wonderland… but when we spoke to Regina, she told us there was a chance that he could have been brought here with the curse. If he's not, do you know of any way to get to Wonderland?"

"Cyrus is alive? But that's impossible."

Emma shook her head. "I'm not entirely sure what's going on with this but… they need him alive. They need his power. They can't do what they need yet though because they aren't strong enough. So there's still a chance to save him. We're going to look for him tonight or tomorrow. Would you like to come with us?"

She couldn't believe she was saying that.

"Yes. Yes of course I do! I – I can't believe that he's alive…" Alice whispered.

Emma put a gentle hand on her shoulder, which the woman took as a cue to pull her into a tight hug. "Thank you, Emma. Thank you so much."

Emma was frozen for a moment in shock before returning the hug and smiling. "Finding people is my specialty. We'll find him and save him from the Dark Royals. I promise, Alice. Now come on. Why don't I introduce you to the rest of my – my family and treat you to dinner?"

Alice nodded a little and rose from her seat. "I would like that."


 

The man groaned softly against the hard floor he'd been forced to use as a bad, before frowning.

It felt too comfortable.

Snapping his eyes open, Cyrus sat up and looked around, confusion flooding him as he took in his surroundings. This wasn't right. He squinted at the little window above the bed, bright sunlight from a setting sun blinding him almost instantly.

Exhaling a little, he got up and started moving over to the door, trying the handle and sighing when it didn't budge. Of course, it was locked. With no other option, Cyrus banged loudly on the metal door. Where the hell was he? This wasn't the Red Queen's palace, and from what little he could see outside this cell, he wasn't in Wonderland anymore either, which he normally would have celebrated had he not been locked in this prison.

How was anyone supposed to know that he was here?! There was a chance that Jafar or The Red Queen would be the one to find him, but if it got him out of this room, it was a chance he was willing to take.

He looked through the little window in the door, frantic, his fists still meeting the metal his magic was too weak to break through. "Hello?! Is anyone out there?! Please help me!"

Finally, mercifully, he heard a faint yell from down the hall.

"Red, where are you going?!" a woman called.

"Someone is calling for help Dorothy!" came another woman's response. "Do you have the key to unlock the rooms?"

"Yeah but – "

"I'm in here!" Cyrus called again when he saw the shadows of the two women drawing closer to his cell. "Please hurry!"

Two dark-haired women arrived, one holding the key out and unlocking the door as soon as she saw the frantic look on his face.

"Have you been down here during the entire curse?" the woman with the key asked, tilting her head curiously.

He frowned in confusion. "Curse? What curse? All I remember is that I was asleep in my prison in Wonderland and then I woke up here…"

The two women exchanged worried glances with each other before turning their attention back to him. This time, the woman in the red shorts spoke.

"Okay, Dorothy and I will make sure to get you to the check-in point. Is there anyone we should try to find? Your parents or a sibling or…"

"Alice. Is she here? My fiancée," he said eagerly. There was a chance that Alice was here? This was incredible. "Oh… but wait. She might think I'm dead." Last time he had seen her, he had just been thrown from a cliff, which wasn't exactly something that people usually survived.

The one with the keys eyes widened. "If she's the same Alice I'm thinking of, then yes, she's here. I think she was the one with Emma. Where were they, Red?"

"Granny's, last I checked they were still having dinner. I'll take him. You stay here and guard Zelena."

"Zelena?" Cyrus asked as the woman named Red started leading him out of the dungeon that he was trapped in.

Red nodded. "Yes… she's a dangerous witch who is part of a group who want to bend the laws of magic."

Cyrus felt the color drain from his face. "I was just a prisoner of theirs! Are you telling me they're in this world too?" This was awful.

The woman nodded again. "Yes, that's right. Supposedly they need a genie's strength and the strength of Merlin, the most powerful magic-user that has ever been. And then the power of evil or something. I'm not really sure, I don't have magic like that so…"

He frowned. "But I'm free now… away from them. But if they're still here they can still do what they want. So how can they be stopped?" Cyrus asked.

"We're still trying to figure that out but for now… let's get you back to your fiancée, yeah?" Red told him with a kind smile. "Dorothy's fought against Zelena since she was a child. She knows how to handle her if something happens."

The words were supposed to be comforting, and he knew that, but he still couldn't help but feel very uncomfortable at the thought of Zelena and possibly Jafar being in this town with him and knowing what they were working for… it made him uncomfortable.

"Hey," Red murmured softly as she led him outside and he squinted against the bright sunlight. "It's okay to be scared. But there are a lot of great people that can fight back against anyone that tries to harm this town. Even if it is a little chaotic right now with the curse just being broken."

"Yes, that reminds me… what curse was that?" Cyrus asked. He'd heard so much about this curse in the last five minutes than he'd heard in the year he'd been trapped in the Red Queen's palace.

"Queen Regina's curse. It brought everyone from the Enchanted Forest to this place. The Land Without Magic. Or – actually, it's supposed to be without magic. We didn't know who we were until earlier today when my best friend's daughter broke it. And then Rumplestiltskin brought magic back to this world, but it's still weak."

"That sounds very complicated. But why didn't I realize I had been brought here in a curse?" Cyrus wondered.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Red replied, frowning. "Maybe it's because of your genie magic or something?"

Cyrus nodded, his lips pressed together in a concerned line as he observed the horseless carriages that moved down the street. What a strange place this world was. "I suppose that could be. It is just odd that I didn't know what was happening."

She nodded in agreement. "It's very strange. Here we are. Granny's Diner. Oh! And Emma's still inside! Go on… your fiancée is in there," Red told him with a warm smile before slipping a green piece of paper in his hand. "It's money, for you to get something to eat."

"Thank you, Red. You and Dorothy have been immensely helpful," he told her, pushing the door open and stepping inside, his eyes trained on Alice.

"Alice…" he said as he walked up to her. "I'm so glad you're safe."

She whipped around, her eyes wide. "Cyrus! You are here!"

He nodded, pulling her close as she pulled him into a tight hug, exhaling in relief against her shoulder. "Yes… I'm not quite sure how I got here but two very nice women heard my cries and saved me from that metal room I was in. It's alright Alice," he said softly as he felt her begin to shake in his arms. "I'm here now. We're both safe."

Alice nodded, pulling away and beaming. "Come join us for dinner. Henry taught me about this sandwich called a hamburger. It's quite good."

Cyrus smiled as a dark-haired man pulled over another chair for him, and a brown-haired woman carefully cleared a small section of the table for him. "Alice, I'll do whatever it is you ask of me," he said as he observed the faces of joy around him, and glad that Alice seemed to have allies here.

If the Dark Royals were around, they would need all the help they could get in defeating them.

But for now, Cyrus would enjoy the hamburger and iced tea that had been recommended to him and relish in the feeling of joy of being reunited with his beloved Alice.


 

"The genie is gone!" Jafar roared as he stormed into the destroyed throne room that had once belonged to Queen Regina. Instead, her mother sat lazily on the throne, looking at him with a wicked grin. "He somehow escaped when we were moving here!"

"Relax Jafar… we know exactly where he's gone. And once Hook gets back with the water from Lake Nostos, we'll be on our way to getting him back," Cora replied coolly, standing up from her throne and stepping over to him. "Then all of the chess pieces will be in play."

He furrowed his brow. "What about Merlin?"

Cora chuckled darkly and clicked her tongue. "Those fools don't even realize that Merlin is right under their noses. Which means when we get to the Land Without Magic, we'll need to work quickly."

"We can get Zelena back with us too," Jafar replied. "And perhaps your other daughter. Since the curse is broken and they presumably have their memories back, I'm sure she isn't exactly the town's best resident. She'll be… vulnerable."

"Not vulnerable. Pliable," Cora replied with a small smile. "Just as she was long ago. And I hope Zelena is in the same state."

"They'll both need you, and each other. The only family they have left," Jafar smirked. "And grand promises of revenge that will actually stick."

"Regina did react too quickly when it came to that curse. She should have known that the curse would be broken eventually. But our plans cannot be undone so easily," Cora smirked, moving over to the chessboard in the middle of the room. "Can you believe it, Jafar? Soon, everything we've been working towards will be ours."

"Sooner rather than later, m'lady," Captain Hook said as he sauntered in from the snowy outdoors. "I've returned with the required water from Lake Nostos."

Jafar regarded him with a raised eyebrow. "And some un-required marks on your neck. How did you escape from the Siren?"

Hook looked at him, smug. "That's my business, Jafar."

"Enough," Cora snapped, holding the dried bean in her hand and swiftly making her way to the door. "Let's get to Hook's ship before our giant friend escapes."

"It won't work!" the giant cried as they stood on the deck of the Jolly Roger, Cora at the bow with the bean and the water from Lake Nostos in her hands, and the giant, now shrunk to the size of a normal man, trapped in a cage. "That bean has been dry for thirty years!"

Jafar grinned at him in amusement. "Just because you don't want something to fail doesn't mean it will, dear Anton. Watch and see. The water from Lake Nostos is some of the most powerful water in the world. Much more powerful than anything I can do. If anything can bring a bean back… it can."

As he spoke, Cora poured the water on the bean, and with delight, laughed as it was restored to its clear, firm hue before it glowed blue when she threw it into the water. Without warning, the ship was pulled through the portal, and it took Jafar all of his strength to not cry out at the intensity of it all as he clung to a rope.

When everything calmed, Jafar opened his eyes and looked around, spotting the word 'Storybrooke' painted on the wall of a building, illuminated by some sort of light

"Well well… hello Storybrooke," he said with a smirk.

Such a quaint little town. It looked like it could use a little chaos.