Chapter 1: Happy Birthday Mom
Happy Birthday Mom
Thud. The satisfying sound of the apartment door slamming shut behind her triggered the sudden release of the tension that always settled on her shoulders when she was hunting her marks. It also triggered-
“MOM! MOM! DID YOU GET HIM? DID YOU GET HIM? OF COURSE YOU DID! HOW’D YOU DO IT? WHAT WAS THE LOOK ON HIS FACE? DID HE-”
“Easy kid,” Emma couldn’t help the beaming smile that split her face as she called out to her son, who was making his appearance. He barrelled around the corner from the kitchen in his socks, slamming into the opposite wall in his haste, before he slid to an ungainly stop before her, bouncing on his toes, anxious as ever to hear her battle stories.
His eyes sparked in the hallway light. Just to test his patience, she gave him a small smirk before focusing on her ridiculous shoes, slipping the heel strap off and savoring the sudden loss in height as her bare foot landed flat on the cool hardwood flooring, easing the cramp that had built in the arch of her foot. She proceeded to take off the other, watching as Henry’s bouncing increased in speed, and when he suddenly stopped, she smiled.
“MOooooOOOOOooooOOm,” he whined and she let out a laugh as she bent over to pick her shoes up by the straps.
“Ok ok, Yes I got him. He tried to run, flipped the table over and spilled a delicious glass of Cab on my dress.” She gestured to the dark stain that now marred her work dress.
Henry let out a gasp and Emma was reminded of yet another thing she loved about her son. He was a perfect listener, emotionally invested in the story to the very end and ready to gasp and cheer or ask questions in all the right places. She couldn’t help herself and reached out to smooth down his hair before dropping her hand to his shoulder and leading him back into the kitchen, while he stared up at her, riveted to her every word..
“Yeah but I had already planned for that and I-” she cut off sharply when she caught sight of the kitchen counter. On it sat a single cupcake, a small glittering blue star candle jutting up from its center and her heart clenched in her chest.
At her pause, Henry broke out into a quiet smile, seeming to savor the myriad of emotions that she could feel crossing her face.
“Happy Birthday Mom.”
She looked down at him, her boy, with his sweet smile and knowing eyes, and she didn’t have words for how much she loved her son. So she pulled him to her, and he went willingly, arms wrapping around her waist as she held him fiercely, pressing a kiss to the top of his head, trying to tell him all the things she didn’t have words for.
And as he always had, he seemed to understand the things she couldn’t say, because he squeezed her more tightly, small fingers digging into her back as he mumbled against her dress, “I love you too Mom.”
She closed her eyes at his words, sucking in a breath, feeling the same sense of deep satisfaction settle in her bones she always did when he said those words to her. Because he wasn’t simply using the words. She knew he meant it each and every time they came out of his mouth, and that was all she had ever wanted her whole life was to have someone say the words and mean it. And her son, her beautiful boy, always did.
They remained like that for a long moment, before Henry seemed to decide that the moment was over and to pull away. She pressed one more kiss to the crown of his head, then released him, stepping back.
“So what happened after he tried to run?” His eyes had regained their sparkle, and she gave a soft laugh as they both resumed their walk to the kitchen counter.
“Yeah he tried to run kid, but I knew he would so I had his car booted. And then he tried to go on about paying me to let him go.”
“Yeah. And then her tried to tell me I didn’t know anything about loving a family, and the thought that someone could think I didn’t love you made me really mad. So I smashed his face into the steering wheel.”
“YEAH GO MOM WHOO!” Henry pumped his fist in the air and gave his customary victory jig, an adorable shoulder and shuffle deal that he had started when he was still a toddler, and since he always managed to get her to laugh when he did it, it seemed to have just stuck.
She let out another laugh as she tossed her shoes to the floor by the couch and turned to regard the cupcake before her and Henry’s beaming face.
“Alright, shall we dig into this beautiful feast we have before us?” she teased him, drawing an eye roll reminiscent of one of her own.
“Just make sure you don’t waste your wish.”
“Of course I wouldn’t,” she chuckled before she bent over the counter, crossing her arms and resting her chin on them as she contemplated the tiny dancing flame.
It had been a tradition since she had given birth to him. Every year on her birthday, she would blow out a single candle, and make a wish. Always the same wish.
She closed her eyes and blew out the candle.
May Henry always have what I never did.
Then a knock sounded.
Chapter 2: A Letter to...
She opened her eyes in surprise, shooting upright at the sound, casting a glance at Henry, who looked equally as puzzled. With raised eyebrow, she walked back out of the kitchen and down the hall, kicking her shoes against the wall as she go to the door.
She looked through the peephole, and was shocked to see a UPS man standing outside with an expression of nervous anticipation. She heard shuffling and turned to see Henry pop his head around the corner and she shot him a look of utter confusion, before she unchained and unbolted the door.
As it pulled open, she watched the posture of the delivery guy straighten up, though he couldn’t conceal the sheen of sweat on his face.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Uh, ar-are you Emma Swan?” he stuttered, eyes flicking down to her dress for half a moment before quickly shooting back up to her face as a red flush suffused his cheeks, like he hadn’t meant to look down.
“I, uh, I have a package for you,” he held out a thin envelope as he spoke, as if trying to provide proof of the validity of his explanation.
Emma nodded, “They have you guys out on delivery at- what time is it?”
She was surprised then when his face turned even more red and he looked down before he mumbled something unintelligible to the carpet.
She took in his posture, hunched over while he kicked slightly at the carpet. He was probably only twenty or twenty-one, so she decided to bite her tongue against the sarcastic remark that was just begging to pop out.
Instead, she simply said lightly, “Sorry, I missed that.”
His head snapped up as if he didn’t realize he had mumbled. He straightened up again, as if summoning his courage to confess some grievous sin. He cleared his throat.
“I - ah I was supposed to have delivered this this afternoon, but it slipped between the seats. And I would have brought it tomorrow but we got this in a month a go with directions to specifically deliver it to this address today. So I had to make sure you got it.”
Emma blinked in surprise and she heard Henry make a noise of interest from his eavesdropping spot. “Oh, ok.”
He seemed shocked that she wasn’t yelling at him, and instantly relaxed. “So yeah, if you could just sign for it here,” dropping his hand to pull his digital skew reader, quickly scanning the barcode on the shipping envelope, then offering the bottom to her to sign.
She reached forward and signed for it, offering him a tight lipped smile, which he returned with a relieved nod of his head. He then offered up the envelope again.
Emma took it cautiously, and once it was free of his hand, the delivery guy all but bolted back down the corridor, with a “Have a nice evening!” tossed over his shoulder as he went. The movement was so similar to what Henry sometimes did that she couldn’t help the little smile that worked its way onto her lips as she shook her head, turning back into her apartment.
She looked to Henry a she closed the door, watching as the rest of his body followed his mop of hair around the corner before he trotted up to her.
“So what is it?” he asked.
“Dunno kid,” she shrugged. “Let’s find out?”
Henry beamed as he nodded, excitement overtaking his puzzlement. Emma couldn’t help the answering smile a she looked back down at the envelope. At which point the smile died on her face when she saw who it was addressed to.
She vaguely heard Henry calling her, "Mom, mom?" but she couldn't seem to process anything beyond what was written on the envelope. "MOM!"
She started out of her haze to look up at the worried face of her son.
"Are you ok Mom? What's wrong? What is it?"
And suddenly she was overwhelmed. "I need a minute."
Then she all but sprinted back through the apartment to the bathroom, shutting the door behind her, closing her eyes and trying to will away the words on the envelope in her hand. But when she opened her eyes and looked down at the international postage, the return address in Ireland, she couldn't deny what was there.
To: Emma Swan, Our Daughter
Chapter 3: The Choice
Three months. Three months since that damned letter had arrived. And she still hadn’t made up her mind.
She had tried to put it out of her mind, to forget the words that were irreversibly seared into her memory. But everywhere she looked, something triggered a thought that eventually led back to it- she had parents.
And they wanted to see her.
And she wasn’t sure whether or not she wanted that.
The thought alone made her feel guilty and ungrateful for this seeming second chance. But then she would remember that they were the ones who gave her up and damned her to a life without a home and then she’d get angry for feeling guilty. Which she would then feel guilty about.
When she had looked down at the letter in her hand that night, a whole host of warring emotions welled up in her, and when Henry had asked, “Hey Mom, so what is it?” she had become overwhelmed.
“Give me a second, kid.” And then she had fled to the bathroom, clicking the door shut behind her, trying to stave off what felt like the beginnings of a panic attack. Once she had a barrier between herself and the world, she could no longer suppress the shaking.
Her knees started to give out and she had to brace herself against the sink and door, a wave of vertigo making her eyes haze over and her blood roar for a few moments. She realized that her whole body was being wracked with tremors and her blood roaring.
Her parents. Her parents.
She was on the brink of sliding into a full blown panic attack when there was a soft and tentative tap on the door, “Mom?”
And just like that, her mind pulled itself into focus, picking up Henry’s shaky breath through the wood and the nervous tapping from where he had evidently left his hand on the door. Her son needed her, and nothing nothing would come before him.
She was screaming. She wasn’t even sure why anymore she was just begging to make the pain stop. But then, with one last crest, it was, and suddenly it was not her cries of agony that filled the room but the cries of a squalling baby taking its first healthy breath. And the world faded away as a figure in white bore her babe to her.
“Perfectly healthy. Eight pounds, nine ounces, all ten fingers and toes. Congratulations, Ms. Swan. You have a perfect baby boy.”
And then he was in her arms, face furrowed in consternation at the discomfort of being in the world for the first time. And as she gazed down at her child, she made an oath, a promise to any deity left, that her son would be her everything. She would give him everything. And she would make sure he stayed just as he was- perfect.
Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she straightened and opened the door, looking on the concerned face of her son.
She gave a small smile, reaching out to cup his face, smoothing out the furrow between his brows that echoed hers a little too closely. “I’m alright kid. Just got some unexpected news.”
“Is it bad?”
She hesitated, “I’m not sure.”
And so now she was here, staring down at the letter in one hand and a file in the other, and tried not to see the twists of fate or poetic irony in the situation she now found herself in. Henry was in the other room, hollering loudly at the TV his usual litany of accusations.
“That’s cheating! The game can’t do that! You can’t do that! Mom, the game is cheating!!”
And while he endeavored to become a level thirty six wizard, she had to make a choice. Because today, her handler, Cleo, had given her an assignment that could change everything.
She had been called into her boss’s office, looking forward to getting a new assignment, but as soon as she stepped through the door, the expression on the other woman’s face alerted her that this was not going to be a run of the mill assignment.
“Swan, good. Close the door and take a seat.”
“Yeah, sure boss,” she murmured as she pushed the door closed with a soft click then treading over to one of the two plush leather seats in front of Cleo’s desk. Once she was settled, she broke the silence, “So what’s up boss?”
Cleo looked at her, before sighing, “You know that we mostly deal with bail skippers and the like, right? Well occasionally, we also delve into more…. personal… issues. Finding people, and even more rarely, finding things.”
She nodded to confirm that she was following, despite the confusion she felt.
“Well, I have an assignment unlike anything you’ve dealt with before. Call it a personal favor for an old friend. I need someone to track down and locate a rather unusual item for me.”
“Ok,” she said slowly, “so what’s the item?”
Cleo leaned back before she answered, “It’s not only the item that is unique. It’s also where you’ll need to be looking.” She paused again before delivering words that had the blood draining from her face. “The assignment is in Ireland. On an island call Inis Oiche.”
Even after she had reviewed all the details and double checked the absolutely obscene amount of zeros the bounty was listed for, she was still hesitating. There was no way that her perfect little bubble of paradise would remain if she went. She would never be able to regain the hard earned peace she had made with her lot and her life, content to live with the only person who mattered to her.
But she had promised, from his first breath, that she would give Henry everything. And now she could give him the one gift she never thought she’d be able to- a family. She could give him someone to talk about on grandparents day at school, instead of having him coming home in tears to demand why she was hiding them and having to explain to her son, at the tender age of just six years old, that she could not hide what she did not have.
It was on that day, as he stood there with snot running down his nose and the errant thought of being as ugly a crier as his mom running through her mind, that she made another promise to him that she would never break. She would never lie to him.
She had had her trust shattered too many times, and knew just how lies poisoned even the easiest of relationships.
How what was an easy relationship with Walsh had crumbled to dust as she caught him in lie after lie until she caught him in another woman’s bed. Henry had wrapped her in his favorite blanket and pushed his favorite stuffed animal, a seal they had got at the aquarium years before, and then hurried as fast as his little legs could carry him to bring her a mug full of milk and hot chocolate powder sitting on top.
And it was the sight of her son, staring at her with eyes she had once cursed and wished to forget, his slightly milky hands from trying to pour from the jug resting on her cheek, and a cherubic smile on his face, with unmixed hot chocolate and his favorite toy, that she realized she didn’t need anything else. Just this.
Henry deserved everything, regardless of whether or not she was ready for it. That was what being a parent was after all. Providing for the life that you chose to create because once the choice was made, it was your obligation. But more than that, it should be given because you want them to have better, be better, live better than you.
And with that,she made up her mind, standing up and making her way out into the living room to where her son was standing up and and bobbing left and right a he tried to get his character to dodge with his controller. The sight made her smile, and she held onto that glow as she spoke up.
“Hey kid, pause that.”
“Noooo hold on mom can it wait like two minutes? I’m almost about to defeat dark wizard Zicore!”
“Henry Michael, turn off the game.”
The screen went silent instantly as he turned toward her with wide eyes. She never used his full name. But when he saw that she didn’t seem to be mad, he relaxed. She gave another sigh as she walked up and plopped down on the couch, patting the cushion next to her.
“Come here, kid. We need to have a talk.”
His gulp was audible as he slowly lowered himself down, his back rigid and his posture perfect, in full listening mode. But she needed him for this, needed to feel the heartbeat she helped create and the breathing she helped protect and the fidgeting she had most definitely passed on. So she spread her arms, and Henry’s posture immediately melted and he cuddled up to her side, like he had when he was young. She breathed him in for a moment, holding him to her, before she took the jump.
“Henry, you know I don’t have any parents, that I grew up without a family.” He nodded against her shirt. She ran a hand through his hair. “And you know that I have to travel for work a lot right?” He nodded again. “Well, some things have come up. I got a special job from Aunt Cleo that she needs me to do for her, and it’s very far away.”
At her words, Henry gave a slight whine and tightened his hold on her, “I hate it when you are gone.”
Her whole body warmed and her muscles relaxed at his words. She pressed another kiss to his hair. “Yeah well about that. See, do you remember the letter I got a few months ago, on my birthday?”
Now he pulled back from her to look her in the face. Despite having his father’s eye color and shape, his eyes were hers through and through. They traced over her expression and quickly darted to her hand before coming back up to her face. She could see every razor sharp thought clearly, his eyes picking up every detail with unerring perception for a child his age. He saw the same way she did.
And now she looked steadily into those eyes. “Well the letter is an invitation to the same place that my case is going to be, and you were included in the invitation.”
His brow furrowed, and she could see him working out the answer even as he asked her the question, “Who invited us Mom?”
She offered him the letter, and as he took it, she managed to get out the words, “My parents.”
Chapter 4: Our Dearest Emma
Our Dearest Emma
Our Dearest Emma,
We can’t believe that we finally found you. After all these years, we finally managed to track you down. But, our darling girl, you probably want to know how. And while this should probably wait to be said in person, you deserve to know.
Our names are Mary-Margaret and David. We met and fell in love our freshman year of high school. We kept our relationship secret, because my step-mother, Regina, did not approve of David. See, his mother, Ruth, moved to the states from Ireland after his father died, and Regina did not approve of a single mother raising a child. The fact that she was a “foreigner” just amplified the issue.
I found out I was pregnant right after graduation, and as a requirement to get into college, I had to take a physical exam. I was not yet eighteen at the time, and so my step-mother managed to get her hands on my medical records and found out. Not that I would have been able to hide it for long. At first she tried to get me to terminate the pregnancy early, but when Ruth found out from David, she marched right up to my step-mother and said words to her I still don’t know the meaning of. Needless to say, Regina yielded to Ruth’s objections and I carried to term. But in the months leading up to your birth, she managed to plant enough doubts into both our heads that when they asked if we wanted to keep you, we decided to let you go, so you would have your best chance.
We regretted that decision as soon as we made it, but with both of us being so young, Regina stepped in yet again to handle the adoption, and without telling us, ensured that it was closed, so we couldn’t try to get you back.
We tried desperately that first year, but we were both in college and working and it became less of a desperate act and more of a looming shadow that haunted our quiet moments. David proposed the day after graduation, and I accepted. We had a courthouse wedding three days later, much to Regina’s consternation. We went to the same graduate school, David for Criminal justice and myself for Child Psychology and Teaching.
And when we moved back home, me teaching and David working in the Sheriff's department, life just seemed to slide by and before we knew it, fifteen years had passed since your birth. We still set out a single cupcake on your birthday, trying to celebrate with you somewhere out in the world, in any way we could. But we gave you up as lost to us forever.
Three years later, Ruth became extremely ill, and once she recovered enough to travel, begged us to take her back home. And so we did, back to a little island of the western coast, where her home was still vacant, the few townspeople somehow knowing that one day it would be needed again. We tried to convince her to stay on the mainland, with easy access to medical care, but she was absolute in her choice to go back. She seemed to recover, and for a year, we were happy. David managed to make friends with the Gaurdi on the island, just one young man who would be about your age. David took to him like a son. I managed to get myself employed as both a teacher and school administrator, although there are only about thirty children on the island. We were even discussing moving back to the States.
But one night, a horrible storm came up that lasted for days. And the bitter winds, snow, and violent seas made it impossible to resupply in food, medicine, or fuel for the fires. Ruth got pneumonia. The next two and a half years were a downward slide as she would recover slightly and then slide down into even an even worse situation. By the time Ruth died, we could not afford to move back, and nine months later, we found out I was pregnant with Leo. Leo Patrick. We couldn’t name him Ruth, but her zodiac sign was Leo, which she held with as much importance as her warnings of not stepping into faerie circles or trying to kick the sea.
Shortly after his birth, Regina reached out to us. It turns out that she had become mayor of our old town, and while in office, met the man she married and was in the process of adopting his child, a sweet boy named Roland. Because of the proceedings, she realized what her actions had done to us all those years ago, and with her offer of help we spent the last seven and a half years searching for you. Until she finally had a run in with an old acquaintance who knew of you, and from there, Regina was able to pull some strings and find out where you lived.
Then we spent the next five months divided over whether or not we should even try to get in contact with you. But with Regina’s, and the island's support, we decided. So we sent out this letter with explicit instructions to be delivered on your birthday.
So now you know the whole story. We desperately want to meet you. As our birthday gift to you, we arranged for you to travel to come meet us. You’ll have to wait a few months, because no one will ferry you across the straits until after the last of the winter storms have passed. We hope we weren’t too presumptuous, but we arranged for travel for two. We would love to meet the man in your life.
We desperately hope to hear from you, and if you do decide to come, email firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know you are coming, so he can prepare.
We have loved you since the day you were born,
Mom and Dad