Author's Note: This story is insane. You have been warned. I'm also trying not to make too many official side characters make an appearance until I'm sure about their fairytale identity, as I want this (and all my other OUAT fics, for that matter) to be as canon-friendly as possible. Mmm what to add. OUAT doesn't belong to me. Emma and Regina are divorced parents who still love each other with all their heart and are in extreme denial. The whole show is a subtextual gay love explosion and brings me back to the times when Xena rocked TV in all her lesbianism. I want to touch the ring Emma wears around her neck for Christmas. Or those glorious, strong arms of hers. Scratch that, I want Emma for Christmas. Also, English is not my native language. (I need to get a new catch phrase for this... It's getting old.)
Prelude: What's Still Unwritten
Blonde locks rested peacefully on her shoulders, and the image almost visibly collided with an inner struggle hidden behind emerald eyes. "Is this the only way?"
"The one and only, dearie! For as we are all well aware, all magic comes with a price—and you can only erase what's still unwritten!"
She shifted her weight from one leg to the other with a frown. She had been trying to reason with the man behind the bars for what felt like an eternity and was close to her destination; except now, as she neared it, she started to doubt she truly wanted to reach it. "So you can send me into the past, to a time before the curse happens."
"Past, present, future—don't bother me with such petty things! What does it matter? They're all there, in the nick of a moment, tied, untied, and they will all happen, one curse at a time!"
"You're not making any sense!"
"Sense! Sense is an optional quality of words, my dear, quite insignificant; a drone in the nest serving the Queen of Purpose!"
With a sigh, the blonde woman reached out and pulled herself closer to the cage, gripping the bars so tightly her knuckles went pale. "I can't go back. There can't be two of us at the same time."
Mr. Gold – or Rumpelstiltskin, a name Emma took great pride in calling him ever since she had discovered his true identity – beamed with a smile that would so often be seen on his face; the deceiving smile of a trickster. "Very true. How would Miss Swan feel watching a pure, unscarred version of herself grow up alongside those she loved most?" He watched, content, as Emma's jaw clenched and she glared at him, but remained essentially silent. "No need for melodrama, dearie. I'm merely stating the facts and the facts don't work in your favor. I cannot send you to a time before you left in the first place; as I've said, rewriting fate is not my domain. I can only make you appear after your initial disappearance, which, in general terms, is not going to the past, merely proceeding forward to a future in the past. There is only one thing I need from you."
Emma leaned in so that her face was mere inches away from the cold steel, her gaze never straying from Rumplestiltskin's eyes. "What is it?" she asked, though the warning tone of her voice didn't imply a question but a demand that best be obeyed. She didn't flinch when she noticed the twinkle in his eyes. She didn't flinch when he let the arms that had been crossed over his chest hang loosely at his sides. She didn't even flinch when a hand closed itself around her throat in an iron grip, nails digging into the back of her head, and swiftly pulled her closer so that she and her mortal enemy were breathing the same air. The thought made her sick.
"You would bring power to the Unknown with your presence in the Forest. Emma cannot be erased; you need a name. I will give you the freedom of choosing a name that will shape your future."
The blonde gripped his wrists in both her hands to attain some control over the situation, but on the inside, she panicked; she knew what would happen if Rumpelstiltskin found out her name again. She also knew what would happen if he didn't.
Her heart beat like a drum at the thought of one final night of freedom, but there was no time to waste. At last, her voice broke. "What about Henry?"
"The boy will be fine… if you return."
"And if I don't?"
"None of this will have happened outside of your head."
If she ever were to write a memoir, it would no doubt spark much interest among the world's first class psychiatrists. She tried to gulp down the lump in her throat but couldn't. Emma stood still, reflecting on the consequences, her time with Henry, operation Cobra and the heartache of this screwed up future.
"Just call me the Seventh Swan."
She snapped from his grip and stumbled a few steps back, rubbing her neck. The last moment of her life was possibly playing out before her and she was spending it in jail, alone and longing for the comfort of a good sitcom – because the word 'fairytale' had become associated only with raging hatred, viciousness and cruelty. The moment was being stolen from her and there was nothing she could do to prevent it.
"The Forgotten One? The second sister to the six swan brothers? And here I thought you weren't one for big family reunions," Gold replied, smirking in all his smugness.
She gave him a cynical smile in return. "Touché. I'm the innocent bystander who was never freed. That way, I'll never forget about my curse. As for you," she hesitated, "nothing will change, will it?"
Rumpelstiltskin's laugh resonated throughout the prison – his, hers, ours. "I look forward to bargaining with you again, Swan."
And just like that, just when there was no time left for second thoughts that were bound to come sooner or later, just when there was no way to look over her shoulder and see the sheriff standing dumbfounded in the doorway, just when she was no longer able to bid this world farewell, she saw the infamous, dying white light in all its glory, collapsed to the ground and then farther into a universe of empty unconsciousness.
Reality whizzed past, mingling with illusions and disillusions of mankind, and the pressure dropped her to her knees. Colors faded in and out and in again, blindingly saturated at one point, mundanely dimmed the next. Closing her eyes didn't help the least bit. She was so dizzy her stomach performed a barrel roll and had there been any contents in it, they would have surely gotten out the same way they got in. But this was a new beginning, and at least now she knew there was one good point to it.
Cold seeped upward through her fingertips and the palms of her hands and when she opened her eyes again, she found herself lying on the floor. As soon as it stopped spinning, she looked up and around at the walls entrapping her. They were all staring at her, distant and judging as if they were screaming 'What have you done?' It felt as if she got any closer, a mere touch would freeze her heart. And they went on and on, forever forming one of thousands of endless hallways in Prince Charming's castle.
The Evil Queen. The sole reasoning behind her presence here. She only had one chance, and she wasn't about to waste it. As she got up on her feet, she felt a slight weight on her back pulling her down. She reached for the object, and there it was – a plain, slim recurve bow made of black walnut with two layers of sinew backing, perfectly designed for its purpose – to shoot in motion at a sure target within a range not too long and deliver the one critical blow before you run for your life.
"Where are we going?"
The terrified voice she recognized as Mary Margaret's echoed through the corridor and reminded her of her own and only purpose here.
Emma didn't waste another second. With the bow in hand, she stormed off towards the hidden voices, reaching for an arrow in the quiver on her back. It was a mistake, a terrible déjà vu, when the glass shattered to pieces, like it had happened before – and it had, she just wasn't there to witness it, yet a part of her told her otherwise – and she knew there was no time – she pulled the bowstring back, the compression making her muscles tense, and let go of the arrow.
The next thing she saw was the face of evil, enraged evil cutting a hole as deep as a bottomless basin in her gut, knowing its plan had been crushed to pieces just like the glass. Before the arrow had a chance to tear through her, the Evil Queen howled and vanished in a puff of black smoke. Its original target nowhere to be found, wood met wood in the door of the magical wardrobe.
Emma cursed under her breath and rushed over to help Snow White up, but the other woman shook her head, cradling her lover in her lap. Snow looked up at her with a tear-stained face. "Who are you?" she said raggedly through wails and sobs, but something new was in her words – something the forest hadn't seen in a long time. Hope.
She rubbed the bridge of her nose. She had failed in completing the one task she was born to finish. She was born here, twenty eight years ago, but the name… the name, she couldn't grasp. It was there at the back of her mind, playing hide and seek with her, but she was clueless. She was born to this world as someone… to do something important. Now that the Queen had escaped, the war had just begun. She was the hunter and she was the hunted.
"The—the Swan," she uttered, confusing herself with the words that came out of her mouth. She ran a hand through her hair and nodded, evading Snow White's gaze. She was cursed. "The Seventh Swan."
Without another word, she turned on her heel and headed towards the giant stairway, ignoring Snow White's pleas, for that was the purpose of a recurve bow – first you shoot and then you run for your life.