Someone raps sharply at Regina’s front door, the sound persistent and echoing, bouncing off her brain and adding to her headache. She ignores it, pressing fingers to her temples, but it doesn’t stop, so she stands, shaking off dizziness, and stalks from study to hall.
“Back again, Snow?” she asks, flinging the door open.
But it’s not Snow. “Mom?” Henry stands on the doorstep, fist poised to knock again.
“Henry?” she asks. Her arms itch at her sides, desperate to reach out and pull her baby boy close to her, hold him tight and never let him go. They aren’t there yet though. He still doesn’t trust her. He had gone with Emma when Mother had died, leaving her to mourn alone—in a house much too large for her, lost in the torrents and raging waters of grief—and then in a mausoleum that only served to remind her of everything she had lost.
“You have to help,” he says, his voice high and quick and desperate. “Please.”
“What is it?” Only yesterday, he had tried to destroy magic, to blow up the well to stop her from cursing him to love her (and what a word ‘curse’ is in that instance, because it has become abundantly clear that anyone who loves her is cursed). She had seen the anguish in his eyes, his horror at the woman who’d raised him and loved him and broken his heart.
Still, he was coming to her, for the first time ever since his head was had been filled with stories of the Evil Queen and Snow White, of the Savior and curses. She couldn’t help but feel satisfaction at this.
“It’s Emma,” Henry says and she feels her heart sink, and her head pounds with “get away from my son” and “magic isn’t the problem, kid. It’s her” and salt sprinkled on wounds so fresh that they still weep blood. “She didn’t wake up this morning. She’s in a coma. No one knows what to do.”
She bites back a snide comment, a muscle in her jaw flexing. When she speaks, though, it is gently. “I’m hardly a doctor, Henry.”
He stands his ground. “Whale says there’s nothing wrong with her, that it’s some by-product of the incident at the well. Of magic.” ‘Your magic’ remains unspoken, but it’s there, dancing beneath the surface of his words.
“Ask Rumplestiltskin,” she says. “I’m sure he’d be more than happy to assist.” She can’t avoid the bitterness lacing her voice, the words acid on her tongue.
Henry shuffles, clenches his jaw. “I don’t trust him,” he says.
“And you trust me?”
For a moment, Henry looks like he might run. Then he steels himself, pushing back his shoulders, jutting out his strong chin. “More than him,” he says. It isn’t a lot but in that moment, it feels like everything.
“Let me get my purse.”
Henry flings himself forward before she can move, wrapping his arms around her waist like he used to when he was hurt or sad or had missed her while she was at work, and she feels the harsh, aching gulp of a sob threaten to force its way from her throat. She stiffens and he pushes away, tensing and twisting in that awkward pre-teen way. “Quickly,” he says.
When she returns with her coat and handbag and stockinged feet armored in high-heeled pumps, he is sitting in the passenger seat of her car, belted in and ready to go. “Did you walk here?” she asks and, at his nod, says, “They should be keeping a better eye on you.”
“It’s not their fault,” he says, kicking at the dashboard, and she barks out a laugh because she knows all too well the difficulties of keeping track of Henry when he wants to escape.
“Do they know I’m coming?” she asks. “I doubt your grandmother wants to see me.” Any more than I want to see her.
“Grandma’s at the loft,” he says. She looks over at him and he’s frowning, hunched in the seat. The hood of his jacket obscures a good part of his face. “Grandpa says she’s sick but it’s not, like, vomiting sick, is it?”
Regina remembers Snow on her doorstep the previous afternoon, twisted and torn in her selfish grief, remembers that desperate need for Regina to end her suffering. “No,” she says, and turns into the hospital parking lot.
“Is it because she killed your mother?” he asks. She can feel his eyes on her and a shudder runs through her body. “This would have been enough,” echoes in through her skull.
“We’re here,” she says, pulling into a park near the entrance and braking sharply. “Lead the way, Henry.”
The old Henry—her curious baby boy who had a million questions for every hour of the day ( why is the sky blue? Why isn’t it funny to laugh at farts even when they make a really loud noise? Why do I not have a daddy like everyone else in school?) —would have questioned her further. However, this older, quieter child just looks at her for one long moment before leading her up the stairs and down a corridor of the hospital to Emma’s room. David sits in a chair at the bedside, twirling his cell phone in his hands, his body comically large in the small hospital chair. He looks up at the snick of the door opening.
“Henry!” he leaps up. “What’s she doing here?” His hand goes, as ever, to his side, even though he doesn’t have a sword.
“Relax, Charming,” Regina says and she can’t help but sneer. “I’m here to help.”
“We don’t need your help,” he says. “Gold…”
“No,” Henry says and that mulish look is back on his face: jaw squared, lips firming, eyes narrowed with intent. “I want Mom to help.”
Regina can’t help but smile across at David, teeth bared. “Why don’t you get a cup of coffee, dear? I promise your darling daughter will remain unharmed.” She darts a glance at the hospital bed. “Well, no more harmed than she is presently.”
It takes some persuading on Henry’s part. Regina simply stands in wait, fingers tapping against her thigh, but he leaves, glowering at her. “If one hair on her head is hurt…”
“Yes,” Regina says, hand curling into a fist, magic crackling from her heart to the tips of her fingers. She counts to five, slows her breathing. “Please, do continue making threats at me in front of my son.”
Henry settles himself into David’s chair. Regina steps forward, the sound of her heels preternaturally loud against the linoleum, and looks down at Emma Swan, lying on the hospital bed and hooked up to machines. Her skin is pale—Emma has always been pale but not this sickly, almost translucent gray—and those golden princess curls that had always irritated Regina are lank and oily. Regina finds she is relieved to see the slight rise and fall of Emma’s chest beneath the thin fabric of the hospital gown, though her fingers clench and twist at the feeling. Emma Swan does not deserve her relief. There are enough people to mourn her loss, enough people to worry about their precious Savior.
She shakes her head, clearing it, and looks over at Henry, who nods his permission. Spreading her hand, she scans it across Emma’s body. She can feel the clash and fizz of magic against her palm. Whale is right about one thing; this is magic. But it’s not a magic she recognizes, not hers, or Gold’s, or even Mother’s. Her own magic is telling her one thing. This is not Emma, but a shell. Emma—her consciousness, what makes her who she is—is elsewhere.
“Well?” Henry asks, twisting his red and gray scarf between his fingers. “Can you save her?”
She sighs and drags a second chair around to position herself next to Henry, close enough that the arm of her chair touches his. She keeps her distance though, leaning back. “I don’t know. I need you to tell me everything you know.”
“She was fine when we got home,” Henry says. “Grumpy at me for running off. Then she complained about a headache at dinner. She took two Advil and went to bed really early.” His voice shakes. “When I tried to get her up because I was going to school and she was going to be late for work, she wouldn’t wake up.”
“And you were immediately certain that she wasn’t malingering?” At Henry’s puzzled look, she adds, “being lazy.”
“It wasn’t normal,” Henry says. “David came in. He couldn’t make her wake up either and he seemed really scared about it and called an ambulance. Her heartbeat was really slow and she was barely breathing by the time we got here.” He shakes and her heart stutters at the sound of Henry trying to contain his sobs.
“Henry, look at me,” she says. He turns and looks at her, complexion pallid, eyes wet. “We will bring Miss Swan back. I promise.”
“How can you promise that?” he asks, voice on the precipice of yelling. “You don’t even like her.”
“I know you have little reason to trust me,” she says, “but I would shift the moon for you, Henry.”
He giggles at that, the sound wet but gleeful. “That’s stupid,” he says. “Why would you want to do that?”
“There you go.” She shucks him under the chin. “Now, I need to consult with Gold.” She raises a hand as he opens his mouth to protest. “I’ve been a puppet in the affairs of the past days. I don’t know enough.”
“Fine,” he says.
“Stay here. Do not go anywhere, unless it’s with David.”
She waits until she sees him nod before whirling away in a cloud of purple, landing in Gold’s shop. It’s empty and she drifts her fingers through the crystal unicorns of a mobile, hearing the tinkle as they crash together echo in the dusty silence. “Ah, Your Majesty,” Gold says, leaning heavily on his cane as he appears from the back room. He is not yet fully recovered. There is a hoarse quality to his voice and a slump in his shoulders. He seems older. “What an unexpected pleasure.”
“Quite,” she says, curt. She’s already doing something that goes deeply against everything she feels. The last thing she needs is Gold attempting to draw out this whole business. “Please explain to me why the Savior is lying in a hospital bed, barely breathing.”
“Straight to the point,” he says, nodding. His lips curve into a smile, gold tooth glinting. “I’m afraid I had nothing to do it, dearie.”
She scowls, frustrated to see that this just amuses him, if the glint of gold tooth and twisted glint in his eye is any indication. “Don’t play with me,” she snaps. “Tell me what you know.”
“And what do I get in return for my information?” Gold asks.
“A modicum more trust from your grandson,” she says.
“Henry doesn’t trust me?” he asks and he seems surprised, almost hurt.
“He came to me first.” She can’t help but sound smug at this.
Gold rests his cane against the counter and stretches, grabbing a book from the shelf behind the counter and flicking it open. “You know magic is sentient,” he says. She nods, impatient. “Henry’s little threat yesterday may have had unintended consequences. The magic at the well felt threatened.”
“So it attacked?” she asks.
“Not precisely.” He scans a page with his finger and reads. “ Raw magic will attach itself to a powerful source when it perceives a threat .”
“And it chose Miss Swan. Why?” She can’t help but be genuinely curious; there’s no doubt that Emma’s magic is powerful, but it’s unpredictable and utterly useless unless she has someone to protect.
Gold smiles. “Miss Swan is untrained,” he says. “Unlike you. Your magic knows to protect itself.” He begins flicking through the book. “At any rate, as a defense mechanism, the magic will splinter off into various alternate realities.”
“Alternate realities?” Her headache, which had dissipated during her brief time with Henry, is back with a vengeance.
“ Two roads diverged in a yellow wood ,” Gold says. “Robert Frost.”
“I know the poem,” she says. “Get to the point, Gold.”
“Emma’s consciousness has been split across a series of alternate universes, roads less taken, that sort of thing. I’ve seen it before, but never to someone with her degree of magical power. Normally people die as the magic pulls them to pieces.” He shrugs. “She’s strong.”
“Miss Swan cannot die,” Regina says.
Gold’s mouth quirks up at one corner and his hand falls onto the pages of the book. “Such fond feelings for the Savior?”
“Henry will never forgive me,” she says.
He stares incredulously at her for a moment, but then nods, as though understanding. She wonders if he does. She wonders what he would do for Baelfire if it came to this. “You could retrieve her,” he says and limps over to a shelf, finding a small bottle, glowing green, and shakes it at her. “Add a drop of her blood to the vial and this will allow you to track her.”
“I have to go inside Miss Swan’s consciousness?” she asks, aghast. She spends enough time forced into close quarters with Emma Swan. She doesn’t need to get even closer to her, though she imagines Emma’s consciousness is a very simple affair, too many thoughts about pastry and a whole section of her mind dedicated to How to Piss Off the Mother of the Son You Gave Up at Birth.
“Not precisely,” he says. “These universes are all realities of sorts. They’re not formed by Emma. You would need to jump between them, retrieving the missing pieces of Emma. Only if you think you can handle it, of course.”
She snatches the bottle from him. “Of course I can handle it,” she snaps.
“Remember, dearie,” he says, as she readies herself to return to the hospital. “All magic comes with a price.” She scowls at him and disappears.
David has returned to the room with Henry when she appears. He lets out a yelp at the purple smoke, leaping up. “Oh, relax,” she says, rolling her eyes.
“Can you save her?” Henry asks, moving to stand beside the bed. He tucks his hand around Emma’s hand and it hurts her heart when Emma remains motionless, her hand limp.
She turns away for a moment, slinging her coat over the back of the empty chair, before holding the potion between thumb and forefinger, and eyeing it dubiously. “If Gold was telling the truth,” she says, “Emma is spread across a multitude of alternate universes. I only have to break her free from them.” She pulls a needle from the air, pricking Emma’s finger and squeezing so a drop of blood falls into the vial.
“Only,” David says, doubt in his voice. “Why would you do this for us?”
“I wouldn’t,” she says. “This is all for Henry.” One hand curves against the soft skin of his cheek, stroking his face with her thumb. “I love you, darling.”
Henry’s lips part, but he says nothing. His hand comes up and grabs Regina’s, and so it is with Henry’s hand clasped in her own that she knocks back the potion. The liquid burns fire and acid down her throat and she feels herself slip away, feels her body crash to the floor, hears Henry’s panicked screech.
Gold had implied she would be physically travelling, the bastard. I’m sorry, Henry , she thinks, and then the blackness fades into a dimly-lit room that smells of horses and manure, and she’s being kissed quite thoroughly in the center of it.