Author: Insane. Certifiably PM
A swan in a cage will simply wither away and castle walls serve just as well as iron bars.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Family - Emma S. & Henry Mills - Words: 5,568 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 4 - Published: 10-16-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8616877
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
So, I was trying to get this out before the new season started, but obviously that didn't happen. It's probably the longest thing I've ever written, but it was fun writing and it just kept getting longer and longer, which is why it's coming out when it is.
I still own no rights to Once Upon A Time.
Emma stood near the wall, watching the whirling dresses and fancy suits, sipping at the glass of punch in her hand. She adjusted her weight and scowled into her glass as the corset tied around her chest dug uncomfortably into her side and the hoops on the wide skirt skittered to the side.
"Excuse me?" asked a voice.
She turned to see a man, probably another of the nobles. "Yes?" she asked.
"May I have this dance?" he requested, extending a hand in a gentlemanly fashion.
Emma eyed the appendage as though it was a poisonous snake. "I don't dance," she replied shortly before turning back to watch the floor.
"Please, Princess, I insist," the man persisted, "such a fair lady as you should not be left on the sidelines."
That title was another thing that bugged her about this place. She was no princess, but she was trying, so she set her punch on the nearest table and took his hand. "Fine," she agreed.
He led her out on the dance floor, and she caught a smile from Snow, and that gave her the courage she needed not to bolt off the floor and seek out a corner to hide.
He took one of her hands and set the other on her waist, and she rested her free hand on his shoulder. That much she could do without embarrassing herself. She'd always had two left feet in heels, especially while dancing.
The music started, and they began to move. Perhaps because she'd said she couldn't dance, he kept the steps simple enough that she didn't stumble through them too badly.
Just as she was beginning to think she might get through this with her dignity intact, he swept her in a way she didn't expect. One of her heels caught on the stupid dress that she hadn't wanted to wear in the first place and she was tumbling down.
She fell into him and knocked her dance partner backward into a waiter, who fumbled his tray and dropped it on the man's head, splattering drinks everywhere.
Emma slowly picked herself up, feeling every eye in the place on her. She opened her mouth to say something, but no words came, so she did the only thing she'd ever been good at.
Tucked the skirts around her and fled to her room. Once there, she stripped off the dress, angrily tearing the laces when they wouldn't come undone. She ripped open the wardrobe and selected something at random.
It turned out to be another dress almost as fancy as the one she'd just gotten out of. She hurled it back in the wardrobe and fumbled through until she found something resembling sleepwear. It was nothing like the tank top and shorts she'd worn in the other world, but it was something.
Just as she was finishing changing, a knock sounded on her door.
"Come in," she called.
Henry poked his head around the door tentatively. "Mom?" he asked, "what happened?"
"Henry," she opened her arms and he crawled up to sit next to her on the bed, leaning into her. Emma stroked his hair in a comforting motion, though who it was comforting, she really couldn't say.
"I'm not a fairytale character," she told him, "I don't belong here."
"But you broke the curse," her son insisted, "Snow White and Prince Charming are your parents, you're a princess!"
She laughed and kissed the top of his head. "I know kid, but I don't behave like one."
"You're just not used to it," Henry told her, "everyone makes mistakes sometimes."
She smiled wryly, but didn't say anything.
"He's right," Snow remarked from the doorway.
Emma glanced up. "Shouldn't you be supervising the ball?" she questioned.
The dark-haired woman waved the concern off. "James can handle things for a while. You made quite a stir with the Ambassador from Seaborn."
The blonde buried her face in her hands. "Out of all the men who could've asked me, it had to be some important ambassador," she groaned.
"Look on the bright side," Henry piped up, "at least no one will ask you dance anymore."
She snorted, not carrying that that was not considered proper behavior for a princess and the woman teaching Henry etiquette would have a heart attack if she saw the princess behaving in such a fashion.
"Only you kid," she told him, "would see the good side in all this."
Henry flashed her a beaming grin. "That's why you have me," he assured her, "to see the bright side."
The blonde ruffled his hair, laughing as he made a face and tried to fix it. "It is," she agreed, "but it's bedtime for you, narrator."
He scowled, but hugged her quickly and slid of the bed.
"Good night Mom," he called back.
Emma got up and walked across the room to shut the door her son had left hanging half-open. Whens he turned around, Snow had her head in her hands.
"Mom?" she asked, "what's really wrong?"
"The treaty isn't going well," the queen replied, "we keep getting set back and now they want you to get married to the crown prince."
"What?!" she asked, not quite able to believe her ears.
Snow shushed her. "It's okay Emma, we're not going to marry you off unless you love him," she assured the other woman. She sighed, "but it doesn't help that they're on our backs for everything and now the ambassador is sure to be even more of a pain than he was before."
"I'm sorry," the blonde said quietly, "I didn't mean to make a mess."
"Oh Emma," Snow hopped off the bed and crossed over to wrap her daughter in a hug, "your father and I love you no matter what," she said, "and nothing you do will ever, ever change that."
"Thanks Mom," Emma whispered.
They stayed like that for a while, until Snow had to go back down to the ball or someone would think they needed to send out search parties.
There was only one princess in all the kingdoms who would warrant being spoken about in that tone of voice, and that was her. Emma stopped before she rounded the corner, craning her ears for more of the conversation.
"Personally, I'm amazed they even allow her to show her face," one said to the other. They both sounded like men, earning them the labels One and Two rather than he and she.
"Did you see the mess she made with the Seaborn ambassador?" Two asked, "that will put Everland back weeks in their treaty."
"She's a disgrace to her country is what she is," One replied, "I'd have her thrown out if one of my servants behaved in such a fashion."
Two clicked his tongue in an understanding manner. "I get it completely. No sense of dignity, no poise. No prince will ever want to marry her. She's a political hurricane just waiting to happen."
One laughed. "Then here's to Princess Emma, and Lord help us all if she reigns," he mocked. Two gave a little cheer and she could hear the clatter of canteens being knocked together.
Emma pulled back and leaned against the wall, strength suddenly gone form her legs. Neither of the men had lied the whole time they were talking, which meant they believed, at least in part, what they were saying. And if two men could voice it so blatantly when they though there was no one to overhear them, it had to be being whispered in more civilized circles.
She took a deep breath, pushed away from the wall, straightened her spine, and stalked over to her room, yanking open the door and closing it quietly behind her. If it hadn't been the middle of the night, she would have slammed it, but she didn't want anyone to wake up and try to change her mind. She needed to do this now, before she lost her nerve.
She dug in her closet for something that hadn't seen the light of day since she'd hung it up after coming here. Soon, the blonde yanked out her red leather jacket and pulled it on. It still fit perfectly, far better than any of the overly glamorous dresses, and she bustled around, throwing on some other clothes and pulling a quill out of her desk.
"Emma?" Henry called, rapping harder on the door in front of him, "Emma, wake up!"
There was no response from the chamber within. He tried the handle and, to his surprise, found it unlocked. Emma treasured her sleep and kept the door locked while she was asleep. It didn't stop Henry from begging the court sorcerer to teach him an unlocking spell and practicing it on her door. It only worked half the time, but that meant half the time he was able to go in and bounce on her bed to wake her up. Emma complained when he did it, but she did so in that only-pretending-to-be-angry voice that only made him do it more.
"Mom?" he called, stepping slowly into the room.
Silence and an empty room stretched back at him. Her bed was neatly made, which was completely unlike her, and the room was still, far too still. Fighting back the awful feeling growing in the pit of his stomach, he called her name again, half-hoping she would be hiding behind the door ready to spring out and scare him.
Something on her table caught his eye and Henry hurried toward it. The desk, which Emma had put next to the window so she could look out over the lands while she worked on whatever, was clear except for a small piece of paper left neatly in the center.
With shaking hands, Henry picked it up and began to read.
I'm not a princess, I'm a political nightmare just waiting to happen. I'm no diplomat. I could barely keep my own finances together in the old world, I have no business running an entire country.
I can't promise I'll be back right away, I need some time to myself. To sort things out. I'll be back, but I just need to escape for a while.
I'm sorry I couldn't say goodbye in person, but you would talk me out of it and I need this.
"She's not coming back," Henry said miserably from where he was seated on the window ledge with a thick book of magic open in his lap. In the time since Emma left, the moon had been full and waned back to a sliver and he'd taken to sitting at the edge while Snow and James held open session, a practice they encouraged, as it taught him how to deal with different situations. Currently, he was ignoring the pages and staring out at the land that could be seen from this side of the castle.
Snow and James looked at each other and had a brief but silent argument. The king lost and crossed the room to sit next to Henry.
"She's coming back," he told the boy, "family always finds each other."
Henry shifted to look at his grandfather. "What if she doesn't?" he asked.
James' answer was cut short by the arrival of a messenger. "Your Majesties," he called, "you have a guest."
Snow straightened up, slipping back into queen mode and turning her attention to the messenger. "Who is it?" she asked.
The man shrugged. "She claims to be the Swan Princess," he said, "but she doesn't look like one of the Enchanted Folk. Doesn't really look like any sort of folk I know."
A figure strode in before the footman could announce her.
"Mom!" Henry cried, scrambling off the seat. The magic book went tumbling to the floor and only some swift action by James prevented the old book from meeting an undignified end.
Emma crouched down to hug her son around the shoulders. "Hey kid," she greeted, "how've you been?"
"I thought you weren't going to come back," he confided, "I was worried about you."
"I could hardly miss my favorite kid's birthday," the blonde teased.
"Emma!" the queen called.
Mother and son looked up, ear-to-ear matching grins on their faces, and Snow was struck by how very alive her daughter looked. Freed from all the palace finery and etiquette, that red jacket she'd always worn in the other world still present against the persistent chill, hair wind-blown, and skin tanned from her travels, she was much more than she'd ever been within the palace walls.
"Welcome home," she finished.
Henry tugged her sleeve, diverting her attention back to him. "Look what I learned!" he told her and mumbled the words under his breath.
A cloud of smoke streamed out of his fingertips, coalescing into a vaguely ovular form in front of him.
Emma raised her eyebrows. "Impressive," she commented.
Henry smiled sheepishly. "It's supposed to make a person," she told her.
"I have something for you too," the princess said suddenly, swinging the satchel she had looped over one shoulder down to fish through. She rooted around until with an "ah ha!" she sat back on her heels, offering Henry a feather.
It was long, but solid, brilliant red at the edges brightening to gold in the center, glowing with a soft light and looking like flashing fire in the sun streaming in from Henry's recently vacated window.
"What is it?" he asked, taking the gift and holding it up to examine.
She smiled. "A phoenix feather,"
Henry threw his arms around her again. "I love it," he told her.
There was a feast in the hall that night, to celebrate both their crown princess's return and their little prince's birthday. The halls rang with laughter and merriment and Henry stayed up so late he started nodding off in his cake and James had to carry him up to bed with frosting in his hair.
"Where's Emma?" Ella asked. The king and queen of Ebonshire were on an official visit to celebrate their daughter's first birthday, and the crown princess had excused herself a while ago.
"I'll find her," Red volunteered, getting up from the floor where she had been helping little Alexandra to stand up.
She found Everland's princess sitting in the hollow for the window that had broken in the latest storm, facing out over the sea. The brunette sat down across from her and studied her for a long moment. Emma had been back at the castle for nearly two months now, and it was stating to show.
Emma started, glancing up as if she'd just now realized that she wasn't alone. "What?" she asked, sounding dazed. She shook it off quickly, returning form whatever daydream she'd been immersed in. "I can't, Henry needs me."
Red sighed and shifted closer. "Henry needs you to be happy. You're going crazy in these walls. Believe me, I know the feeling of being trapped," a memory of shuttered windows slipped into her mind and she shuddered and pushed it away, drawing the folds of her crimson cloak tighter, "and the only way to shake that feeling is to go."
"You sound like you have first-hand experience," the blonde remarked.
Now it was Red's turn to look away, though she studied the clouds coating the sky above rather than the churning waves. "The wolf doesn't like being confined," she confided after a pause, "but I've never been brave enough to go alone."
"Then come with me," Emma urged, "Back in Storybrooke, when you were just Ruby, I saw something stronger in you. You just need to let it out."
Brown eyes met green, and neither blinked. "What if that something stronger is the wolf?" the wolf-woman asked softly.
"Then you learn to control it," the princess replied.
Red considered a moment longer, then nodded. "I'll come with you."
They were waiting in the throne room when Snow came in, teasing each other in a manner much reminiscent of how she and Red had been and she couldn't help the smile that pulled at the corners of her mouth. She treasured every one of these returns where she could know Emma was still alive and happy.
"Oh, his face," Red laughed, "how do you think they'd react?"
"React to what?" Snow asked, crossing her arms and tapping her foot.
Both women jumped, obviously having not seen her there, so engrossed had they been in their conversation. they wheeled around to fix her with nervous eyes, darting glances at each other as they had a silent argument. The effect was so like what she'd hoped Emma would be like with the sisters she never had that Snow couldn't hold in a laugh.
"Where have you been?" the queen asked finally when it became evident that neither was going to say anything.
"We went to to Trighton's kingdom," Red answered quickly, "Emma couldn't swim. A fisherman had to teach her, and now she's better at it than me."
"Well maybe if you'd actually paid attention, instead of getting distracted, you'd be as good as I am," the princess shot back.
"He reeked of fish," the brunette insisted, "my nose is still plugged up just from a week spent near that town. At least with the underwater kingdom I couldn't actually smell anything."
"It's good to hear you had fun," Snow put in, knowing that they wold continue like this all afternoon if she let the, "but you might want to change into something that doesn't smell like it was made underwater if you want to say hello to Henry."
Emma snapped back to the ground. "Is something wrong with him?" she asked.
Her daughter never ceased to amaze her. How could she have once insisted that she would never make a good mother, when anyone with eyes could see she cared for Henry?
"He's caught a cold," Snow assured her, "it's just something that's been going around, but in the meantime, his sense of smell is on overdrive."
The blonde didn't need another word, making a beeline for the stairs that led to the family's quarters.
It really shouldn't have surprised her. Two and a half weeks after she'd gotten back from the expedition with Red, a negotiating party arrived. When she learned that their crown prince was unmarried, roughly the same age as her, she should have expected that the first thing they'd ask for was her hand, to 'unite the kingdoms'.
Her suspicions were only confirmed when the minister of foreign policy asked to speak with her.
"Your Highness, please think about this," the minister pleaded.
"I have thought about it," Emma retorted, getting up and beginning to pace the length of the room, "and I will not marry. I don't care if he's the prince of Spakra, I'm not getting married. To him, or anyone else for that matter."
"But, we must have a heir," the man insisted.
"Snow and James are going to have more children," the princess shot back, "and even if they don't, there's Henry." She stalked back to the table and planted her palms atop it, leaning over the wood, studying the knots and grain of it rather than meeting his eyes.
"Have you ever been in love, Clint?" she asked, tone suddenly gentle.
The minister gulped, more frightened by this focused and serious Emma than the stubbornly resistant person she'd been only two seconds earlier.
"Yes," he answered, "my wife, Natasha."
"Imagine this," the blonde continued, voice still quiet, "you haven't known Natasha for long, but you're just starting to love her." Green eyes flickered up to meet his, "you get to kiss her only once that really counts and just as you go to kiss her again, she dies in your arms. Think on that and tell me if you would be so eager to marry someone else after that."
She moved back and strode to the exit, pausing with one hand on the handle. "His name was Graham," she told the speechless room, "he was a Huntsman and I will never love another." The door slammed shut behind her.
She was gone by the morning.
"Henry," Snow poked her head in the room to see her grandson still perched on the balcony, staring fixedly out across the landscape that was starting to cover with yet another layer of snow.
"Henry, you're supposed to be in bed," the queen chided, "Nick won't come if you aren't asleep."
"She promised she was going to be here," he replied.
It took her a moment to realize he was talking about Emma. "Oh Henry," she whispered, taking a seat next to him and pulling him into her arms, "I'm sure she was just held up. She'll be here."
He shook his head. "She promised she was going to be here for Christmas," the boy told her stomach, "but she forgot. She abandoned me."
"She'll be here," Snow told him again, "I know she will."
"Mother's intuition," she replied.
"Maybe Nick will bring her," James added. The pair on the balcony jumped at his silent entrance, but the king continued, "he'd try to stuff her in a sack, but Emma would beat him off and steal his sleigh. Or you could try trapping him yourself."
Henry giggled at the mental image, while Snow glared at her husband over her grandson's head. "Charming, don't give him ideas," she admonished.
"It's rite of passage," he assured her, "every little kid has to try and trap Nick at least once. It keeps him on his toes."
Snow looked firmly at him until the king relented and Henry was put to bed.
"Child, you aren't supposed to be up," said a voice from behind him.
As soon as his grandparents had left for their room, he'd crept out of bed again to sit on the floor and watch the outside for a sign that Emma would be back.
Henry turned and his eyes widened. The man before him was portly, without being disgustingly overweight, with a neatly trimmed beard and hair both in the color of newly-fallen snow. His clothes were furs, meant to keep out the chill of the winds up high. He had kind features, the sort you expect to find on someone's kindly grandfather.
"Santa?" he asked.
The man chuckled and crossed the room to sit down next to the prince on the floor just inside the doors that lead to the platform outside. "That's a new one," he commented,"I prefer Nick, Nicholas if you must be formal about it."
"So child, why are you up and worrying, from the looks of it?" Nick asked.
Henry looked away, focusing on the world outside the window, where white flakes where continuing to drift down. "My mom," he answered, "I thought she'd be here for Christmas, but she's not."
Nick nodded sagely, his eyes shining bright and kind from the half-shadows thrown across his face. "I can't bring you your mother for Winter Solstice," he said, "people like her need to come on their own."
"Why can't she just stay?" the boy asked. His voice nearly broke on the last bit, but he bit his lip and calmed himself. In all the fairytales, princes didn't cry, not even when their loved ones were taken from them.
The answer smile was almost sad. "Henry, do you know what happens if you put a wild bird in a cage and never let it out?"
Henry shook his head, and Nick continued. "No matter how pretty or natural-looking the cage, the bird wastes away for want of freedom. Sometimes, we need to let go of the ones we love, because when we hold too tight, they find it to be a stranglehold."
The man clapped his hands together and hoisted himself to his feet, groaning slightly as he moved. "I'm getting too old for this," he muttered, "and you, young man, need to go to sleep. Christmas can't come if you're holding up the spell!"
"I don't understand..." was as far as he got before a wave of tiredness crashed over him and he surrendered to the encompassing blackness.
Thunk. Thunk. Thun-thunk. Henry woke to the sound of someone practicing archery. He rubbed his eyes and rolled out of bed, bare feet hitting the cold stone and went to the balcony.
A blonde figure was standing in snow in the courtyard below, shooting a bow at a target on the other side of the yard.
"Hello?" he called down.
She looked up and grinned at him. "Hey kid," Emma greeted.
Henry could not get dressed fast enough. He took the stairs two at a time and hurtled out the kitchen door to make it there faster.
"Mom!" he yelled, nearly tackling her, "you're here!
Emma managed to catch him, dropping the bow to the ground.
"Where did you go?" he asked excitedly, "and where did you learn to shoot like that?" He'd caught a glimpse of the target over her shoulder and every arrow was within the center ring.
She laughed, and he cherished the sound. "You should see the man who taught me to do that," she told him, "he'd say I still need work."
"Henry?" Snow called from upstairs.
Emma set him down and smiled up at the balcony. "Hi Mom," she said.
"Emma?" the queen breathed, then quickly, "I'll be right down."
She vanished back inside, and Henry has his mother's undivided attention again.
"You came back," he breathed, still not quite able to believe it.
"Couldn't exactly miss Christmas with my favorite kid, now could I?" she asked teasingly, ruffling his hair affectionately. Henry pulled away and smoothed it back down as best he could.
He liked her better like this, just back from a trip where there were no walls to contain her. She was more alive now than she would be in a fortnight or so when she rebelled against the constraining stone walls.
A whine from the edge of the courtyard drew his gaze there and he involuntarily backed up a step. There was a giant white wolf, big enough to give Red a run for her money; that had blended into the snow so well he hadn't noticed it until it called attention to itself.
"It's alright," Emma soothed, seeing his reaction, "she won't hurt you."
"What's her name?" he asked.
The wayward princess made a barking sound high in her throat that turned into a growl at the end. "But she prefers to be called Frost-fang if you can't manage that."
"Emma! You're back and- that's a big wolf," Snow said, leaning on the doorframe for support.
Now that Frost-fang was on her paws, it was easy to see why Snow was worried. The wolf came up to Emma's shoulder and was longer than she was tall, easily seven feet. She stretched out, opening her mouth in a yawn and displaying rows of sharp teeth.
The princess laughed and rubbed the fur behind the wolf's ears. Frost-fang leaned into the caress, one hind paw twitching. "She was the runt of the litter," she confided, "you should have seen her parents."
Comforted by her daughter's assurances, the queen approached the wolf, hand held out in front of her. The white wolf lowered her head to delicately sniff the appendage, then suffered the fur atop her head to be rubbed.
"What's all this commotion about?" James asked, appearing in the courtyard doorframe. He did a double take when he saw the creature standing next to Emma and his wife standing on the other side.
"What is a giant wolf doing in my castle?" he asked.
"Your castle?" Snow challenged.
"Our castle," the king corrected quickly.
"Mom, how'd you get her?" Henry asked.
Both wolf and woman bristled up in a nearly identical manner. Frost-fang growled and Emma's tone, when she replied, was colder than the air flowing into their lungs. "I did not get her," she answered, "she got me."
"I was up on Agnoracc," she explained, "The island that never unfreezes, and I stumbled across her while exploring. She was the runt of the litter, so her parents had set her out to die. I kept her safe and she's traveled with me ever since."
James gaped at the wolf. "She was the runt?" he asked.
Snow rolled her eyes, shifting her attention to the other side of the great wolf's head, "Yes. Agnoracc wolves are renowned for their size and..." she hesitated, glancing from canine to her daughter.
"The quality of their pelts," the blonde finished harshly, "Each one can be made into cloaks for an entire family that keep out the chill like nothing else. They're worth their weight in gold. Hunters from all over come in the few months the sea around the island is unfrozen to try their luck. Very few succeed, but each year the population gets smaller." A melancholy look settled over her face and the drying turned into stroking Frost-fang's fur. "She was the only one of family to survive the season."
"We should set Red on them," Henry mused.
"That's one of the reasons I came back," Emma replied, "the main one being to spend Christmas with my family, this being one, and there's one more." She pulled in a steadying breath, then looked up to fix her father with piercing eyes. "I want to remove myself from the line of succession."
Before anyone could argue, she hurried on. "I'm no use ruling a kingdom and it's unfair to everyone involved for me to even be anywhere near the throne."
Snow and James shared a long look, then she sighed. "The nobles have been pressuring us to remove you as crown princess for some time now," the queen confided.
"We weren't going to if you wanted to rule," James continued, "but now that we know, we can make the necessary arrangements."
Henry looked back and forth between the adults. "Does this mean you can't keep visiting anymore?" he asked.
Emma sunk to her knees in the snow, embracing him tightly. "Listen to me, kid. If a curse couldn't keep us apart, what makes you think some stuffy nobles ever will? I will always come back. Someday, I might even take you with me. We'll call it a diplomatic mission."
Frost-fang yelped softly, nosing in between the blonde and her son, causing Snow to laugh. "Looks like someone's hungry," she commented, and the grin only broadened when Henry's stomach gave an answering gurgle. "Breakfast, then you can see what Nick brought you."
She stayed only a few days, participating in the joy that was Christmas, before she had to hit the road again.
"Why do you have to leave so soon?" Henry asked, not whined, but asked. Crown princes did not whine and as of yesterday, he was officially next in line for the throne.
"I have to tell them about the new edict," his mother explained, "to make sure Frost-fang and her kin stay safe."
Emma swung up to straddle the wolf's shoulders, sitting with the grace Henry was only beginning to learn on his horse. She looked down at him and leaned over to ruffle his hair one more time. "Don't look so sad kid," she told him, "I'll be back before you even know it. New Years at the latest."
And with that, she leaned low over the white pelt and they were off, cloak and blonde curls streaming out behind her, seeming to meld into one creature.
Emma Swan was no princess. She would never bloom behind castle walls. While she was restrained, she would only wither away. Her family understood that and they loved her too much to force her into that fate.
So they set her free.
They say if you love something, set it free. If comes back to you it's meant to be.