"I am trying to save him! You know why he went in in the first place, don't you? Because you made him feel like he had something to prove!"
I cannot believe this woman! Henry is in there, he might be injured, he might be unconscious, he might be lying on the cold ground with rats swarming around him and he might feel like he is closer to one of those preposterously overrated and badly drawn cartoon characters they call the 'X-Men', while the only thing he's getting closer to is a supposedly sagacious, all-encompassing old man in a cloudy castle; and the only thing she's capable of is to blame me. "And why does he think he has anything to prove? Who's encouraging him?"
"Do not put this on me."
I should have expected as much from a… who even is this woman, this Emma Swan? The bitterness speaks to me and all of a sudden it feels like we've met before. Somehow, somewhere, there's a connection, even if it's brief and frail like a cobweb in the very mine Henry is trapped in. Our entire existence is a never-ending series of threads, new knots forming where new connections are made and old ones loosened, executed by the guillotine of time. An idea crosses my mind that maybe he really is in there with the aforementioned web.
I have to cut it, shred it to pieces. I've always favored the power of reason over determinism.
"Please, lecture me until his oxygen runs out!"
I'm not running, but I am close to the point of no return. It's far beyond my reach. My only hope of ever even getting to see it is as far away from me as the web itself, and there's no guarantee it will ever return. My only hope of rekindling lost hope are Mary Margaret's birdhouses, which I detest for their weak heart-wrenching pathos and complete lack of purposefulness. Paradoxical, isn't it?
I rub my forehead in exasperation. I'm starting to get a raging headache because of her and the two voices I can't ignore, an ear-piercing cry and a swan song, both screaming for my attention at once, even though somewhere deep down, I know the two of them are the same. Her stubbornness, her compassion, her pretty little necklace and Henry—ugh. It hurts.
She approaches me and when she speaks, she seems as calm and collected as she was when Henry hopped past me and upstairs to his bedroom and I turned to her for the first time. "We have to stop this. Arguing won't accomplish anything."
Or when she almost cut down my tree. Or when we met in the hospital. Or when I stood in the garden at night, terrified for the first time in years because I didn't have all the answers. Yet I can't bring myself to not respond and hate this person, because as long as Henry is trapped, truth is on her side. "No, it won't," I reply and look into her eyes.
"What do you want me to do?"
What I see doesn't surprise me. The quality seems to be always present in her gaze, no matter the circumstances: determination with a spice of hope to soften it enough for her to go from the thieving Jean Valjean to Oliver Twist. It's the same look I get from Henry every time someone as much as utters the names of Hansel and Gretel. She reminds me of him too much. He reminds me of her too much. It all makes for a hundred responses forming in my head, some more reasonable than others. A part of me wants her gone. A part of me wants her right where she is, right in front of me. A little part of me wants her to take a step forward.
I haven't had to do math this simple for many years, and thus, by definition, I fail. I've spent too much time deriving and counting square roots to remember I should multiply before adding 108 to the equation. "Help me," I answer, because that is the most fitting reply I can give her, summarizing all those that came before it into one.
And Emma nods.
She takes a quick look around to make sure everyone is tending to their own business and puts her hand on my lower back, gently pushing me forward and away from the whole scene in a silent request. I take the hint; she wants to talk in private.
Then we stop and the tiniest, microscopic portion of me wants to feel the cold steel of the ring on her neck in my palm in contrast to the heartbeat underneath. That part has been numb since the Dark Ages; that part needs to reassure itself it can still feel warmth and then suffocate it with ice. It refuses to accept the logic and basic physics of the fact that if I hold the ring, it will absorb what warmth is left in me.
Then again, that means there's some left, doesn't it?
"...best we can. The tunnels might be connected to—"
And if a part of me wants something, however small, however foolish – it will take it.
I didn't even realize she was talking to me and now the ring is in my grasp in all its simplicity, and the beat with it, slow and steady and not too pronounced; the one thing about her that will never be able to change.
There is warmth in me after all. I can feel it trickling down my cheeks, but I don't understand why, why now, why here, after all these years of winter. It's just two small dots, but it's all I've felt in a lifetime.
And suddenly I don't need to reach out so far because her arms are wrapped around me and I stand frozen, still clutching the ring in my fist. So cold it burns.
"It's gonna be fine," she says and the whisper is loud enough to make angels cry. Not that I'm implying there's as much as a speck of ethereal nature in me. I can't possibly drown the voice because I'm gripping her jacket with my head buried in the crook of her neck, and it feels warm.
She tenderly kisses my forehead. "It's gonna be fine."
Now that the tiniest part of me has got what it wanted, the rest doesn't seem all that important at all.