Title: moments after i have dreamed
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. The title is a reference to an e.e. cumming's poem (it is at moments after i have dreamed of the rare entertainment of your eyes…)
Summary: Henry discovers Emma isn't the only one with powers in Storybrooke. (Henry centric; side of Regina/Emma)
Note: This is my attempt at a Gay!Parent Trap one-shot, so it probably makes no sense at all. It should really be called: what the fuck was in the brownies at my family's holiday party.
Henry wakes up on a soft couch, a heavy weight pushing down on his chest that makes it nearly impossible to breathe.
"Wake up!" Hot puffs of air hit his face with each word, and his eyes flutter open at the unfamiliar voice. Henry finds himself staring at large, unblinking hazel eyes.
"Hi." The small girl grins impishly at him, blonde ringlets bouncing as she sits back onto his chest. He winces when she drops onto his diaphragm forcing air to blast out painfully from his lungs. "You've been th-leeping too long." The 's' comes out as a whistle through her missing front teeth.
"Hi," Henry responds cautiously, studying the familiar curve of the girl's nose, the line of her jaw, and the shape of her eyes. Henry knows her, or at least, he thinks he knows her, but his head still feels thick with sleep, making it difficult to connect the dots. "Who are you?"
She frowns at him – eyes narrowed into slits and mouth pressed into a thin line – and again, he's struck at the familiarity of the downward slope of her mouth that forms the scowl. It's a familiar expression he wishes he could place. "Not funny." She jabs a chubby finger into his ribs to drive her point; Henry has to hide a smile at the show of melodramatic fury from such a small thing.
"Didn't I call you two for dinner ten minutes ago?" The sound of his Mom's voice startles Henry into action. He scrambles off the couch in such surprising hurry that the little girl falls onto the hardwood floor with a resounding thud that throws the stillness of the living room into chaos.
"Ow!" The girl's face crumples, large tears rolling down her round cheeks as she hiccups through her sobs. Henry freezes, paralyzed at the jarring sound of pitiful cries and Emma's own startled reaction at the turn of events.
"Dani, hey, hey it's okay. It was an accident." His Mom – or not-quite-Mom – hurries to the girl's side, shooting Henry a concerned look, as he watches, wide-eyed and a slightly terrified.
Emma looks older, new wrinkles around her eyes and laugh lines more pronounced, than when Henry saw her just minutes ago at the quarry. She crouches down to the ground to collect the little girl into her arms, murmuring in quiet tones so Henry can't quite make out the words. The worn and faded tee shirt and not-skinny jeans seem out of place on Emma. But, it is nice because this is how he had pictured her – warm, casual, and comfortable – before he had jumped on that dirty Greyhound bus to Boston.
"You okay, kid?" She turns to face him with the teary-eyed girl balanced on her hip, and stretches out a free hand to press against his forehead. "You're a little pale and clammy."
He realizes, a beat later, he stands taller than Emma, and his head snaps down to examine long unfamiliar limbs and an odd outfit of faded jeans torn at the knees and a print screen tee shirt.
Oh. He thinks with a stab of nervous anxiety, as he wonders where this fits in the larger scheme of the curse.
Maybe he never escaped the mine with Archie. Or, maybe the mine triggered his release from the curse.
Henry forces a bright smile – white teeth flashing under the fluorescence of the living room light. "I'm fine." His deep rumbling voice (he wonders how old he is in this life) comes out self-assured, even if he's anything but.
He has always believed in a reality beyond Storybrooke, beyond the cold confines of the too-big-for-two mansion, beyond life with the Mayor that has begun to feel like Groundhog's Day as the town moves in circles around a hazy time frame.
Is this it?
"You sure?" Emma stares him down, eyes raking over Henry with laser focus.
"Yup." His lips smack together as he pops the 'p', mouth still set in that wide grin that hurts the muscles of his cheeks.
After a second, the lines on Emma's face smooth over and she sighs out, "okay, dinner's getting cold." When she turns to march the three of them out the living room, Henry is met with a petulant glare from the young girl, her chin resting on Emma's shoulder and a thumb stuck in her mouth nearly two knuckles deep. His mouth quirks into apologetic grin that only goes ignored.
He takes in the narrow hallway, colored a warm pastel yellow, the coat rack which holds a number of jackets in various shades of gray and black, and the pile of shoes by the front door, including brightly colored rain boots and sandals. Henry stares at the photographs along the wall, a mishmash of black and white and color prints with beaming faces of Henry as a teenager and the girl (Dani, he reminds himself)as a toddler. The happiness, evident on their faces, eases the growing tension that had earlier coiled in his belly until he hits the sixth photo down the line - he bristles, tension seeping back in at lightning speed. His throat becomes painfully dry as if he swallowed the sharp spine of a fish, and he rubs both eyes using two closed fists, pressing them firmly over closed lids until he begins to see white spots. Blinking, he studies the photo again, only to find it still the same – an older version of himself standing behind two smiling women sitting on a bench, Emma and –
Henry's head snaps up in the direction of the now open front door only to find the same woman in the photo filling up the doorway clad in a black pencil skirt, a gray button-up, and a blazer thrown casually over her shoulder. The briefcase in her hand is the same one from Storybrooke – worn in brown leather with her initials: RM.
He suppresses the frown that threatens to break across his face and schools it into a blank expression, suddenly more unnerved about the situation.
His stomach twists violently as she approaches with noisy heels smacking against the hardwood. "I'm home." He echoes uneasily when the Mayor finally reaches him. The contents of his stomach churn like sloppy waves at sea during a hurricane.
"I don't think you're allowed to go back, young man," Regina jokes, pulling him down for a tight hug that Henry reciprocates awkwardly, unsure of the meaning behind her words and feeling suddenly panicked.
Is he trapped here in this strange new world?
"Do you really need a college education?"
College? He thinks, mouth pulling down into a frown.
"I already tried to bribe him earlier!" Emma yells from down the hall. "And, for the last time, dinner's getting cold!"
Regina rolls her eyes, stepping out of the embrace, and yells out a response, flat and dripping with derision, "Yes, dear." But, the corners of her mouth tug upward to form a small grin she shares with Henry, an amused expression which looks so out of place on the Mayor's face that Henry's jaw drops slightly in surprise.
It takes him three seconds to gather his bearings and follow after her to the next room. Feeling more interloper than family, he lingers at the entrance.
"I see your ability to order Chinese remains in perfect form." Regina surveys the take-out cartons scattered across the kitchen island as she deposits her bag and blazer on the only remaining empty corner of the island. The light in her eyes belies her prim and curt tone, and the curl of her smirk widens at the hard gaze Emma pins on her.
"Some of us don't have the luxury of sitting behind a desk all day." Emma huffs, though she hands the Mayor a container of lo mein, chopsticks already jutting out of the box ready for use. Their hands linger longer than necessary, and their mutual expressions of mild distaste and aloof amusement transform into soft, easy smiles that reminds Henry of fairy tale endings.
He watches, dumbstruck, at the domesticity on display, one more appropriate for a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover than his life. Over the Mayor's shoulder, Emma's stare meets his wide eyes and her brow dips down in concern.
"Are you sure you're okay?" She asks again, teeth passing over her lower lip in thought.
Regina whirls to pin him with her own look, while Dani frowns at him from the table, chin resting on her hand in thought.
Henry squirms under the scrutiny of three pairs of eyes, "Yeah." But, the word comes out slurred and incoherent because his tongue feels thick – two sizes too big. The room suddenly lurches off its axis, swaying to and fro like a boat at sea. His fingers curl tight around the edge of the kitchen counter nearest him, knuckles turning white at the strength of his grip.
"Henry?" The Mayor's voice sounds muffled and distorted, even when she moves to stand a half foot away. Her fingers tangle in his hair, brushing back unruly strands while the other hand rubs his back in a soothing pattern. His head throbs, pulsates in an awful way, and it feels like his brain has been laid on the asphalt flattened by a semi, squeezed into mush that drips out of his nose. A dark red spot stains the counter below him, marring the white ceramic tile. Henry stares at it dully – four more appear in succession – with rising panic that matches the frantic beat of his heart thundering a quick stilted rhythm in his chest.
Darkness threatens his vision, clawing from the corners and swarming towards the middle, as Emma holds a towel to his nose. (His mother continues to rub his back, running her hand up and down and side to side, and he sinks into the touch despite his suspicions this might all be a curse) The last image he sees before darkness wins is the Mayor's dark eyes, full of panic that Henry imagines mirrors his own.
Dead silence and pitch blackness follows, and then, "Henry?" His mother's voice filters through the void.
"Henry, we're home."
He blinks, sleepily, at his surroundings, finding himself strapped to the leather passenger seat of the Mayor's car and staring out at the mansion: its large, dark windows and dimly lit driveway. His backpack from the quarry rests at his feet, dusty still from his adventure.
'"Oh." He breathes out only partially relieved, pressing the red button to unbuckle himself.
For the next three nights, Henry dreams about a cozy three bedroom house with pastel yellow walls and a rowdy family of four that argues incessantly while living out their own version of happily ever after, all frayed around the edges and uniquely theirs.
Each dream ends with a violent headache that threatens to split his head in two.
The sound of a phone ringing shrilly from a distance wakes Henry from sleep in an unfamiliar apartment. He stares blearily at the ceiling fan overhead, shaking as it spins in place. Outside his window, Manhattan sprawls out in an endless sea of gray and silver with windows glinting under the shine of the afternoon sun.
He throws long legs over the side of the bed and runs a hand down his face unsure of what it is that's happening. The soft mattress dips under his weight, and his fists curl around crisp white sheets as the sharp pain in his head intensifies.
It's Henry, leave a message. A gruff voice filters into the room from outside the doorway. After a sharp beep, a girl's voice follows:
"Hey butthead, it's me – Dani, which in case you forgot would be your favorite little sister currently being driven mad by your crazy mothers. Can you please call them before Mama sends the militia after you –not the real world kind of militia if you catch my drift…" In the two second pause after the angry monologue, Henry hears something wrinkling over the receiver and a muffled shout (hang on, Mom!).
"Or, at least, call me, you idiot," the voice hisses testily before the line clicks dead.
Henry falls back onto the queen bed, cushion sinking to conform to his lanky physique. The headache builds to an uncomfortable level, and he presses the pads of his index and middle finger into the side of his head, dragging them in slow circles to ease the tension.
When darkness threatens to take hold, he lets it.
Within minutes, he's back on checkered blue sheets in his room with a view of a clock tower.
"Are you ready for Mr. Nolan's party?" His mother opens the door without warning, and sighs at his drowsy, disheveled appearance. "We're leaving in five minutes, Henry."
He catalogs what he remembers one afternoon, filling the margins of his loose-leaf paper that should have been used for homework. His messy scrawl notes downwhat he remembers about Dani – tiny, blonde, hazel eyes and two missing front teeth – and the urgent tone in her message about Mama and the not-from-this-world militia sounding much older than the kid in the first few dreams.
At the sound of the doorbell, Henry crumples up the piece of paper and hurls it at his trash can, feeling nervous and foolish over his latest obsession. He rushes out the door and down the staircase, landing onto the ground floor with a bang as he jumps from the penultimate step.
Yanking open the heavy door, he frowns at the Sheriff on the other side looking pale and nervous. "My Mom isn't home right now," he tries to explain.
The Sheriff's skittish movements and darting eyes make Henry all the more nervous until Graham asks about the fairy tales, and Henry brightens, remembering that it's the Mayor's curse that's real - not his dreams.
A torch burns five feet away, crackling in its intensity though throwing the rest of the path into obscurity, blanketed by the shadows. The pungent smell in the air hangs so dense Henry thinks he can taste it in his mouth, which causes bile to climb halfway up his throat.
"Why did you kill him?"
"Is that a rhetorical question, dear, or do you want me to answer that?"
Henry listens intently to the voices down the passageway. The sounds echo against the cold stonewall, and he takes a hesitant step towards the dark, recognizing the cool, smooth tone of the woman's voice. He makes it four steps down the corridor when a hand grabs him from behind, gripping his arm too tight. Before he can let out a yelp of surprise, a hand is pressed against his mouth, silencing the sound.
"You shouldn't be here, Henry." David Nolan whispers, releasing Henry from his hold. He glances furtively in the direction of the now muffled voices before turning his attention back to the boy.
"My Mom-" Henry stammers out, tripping over his own words as he tries to settle his tattered nerves.
"The Queen, or Emma?" David asks, not unkindly.
Henry pauses at the reference, finally taking the time to run his eyes over David's eccentric outfit. It resembles a costume from medieval times, complete with a belt around his waist that includes a holster for a sword. Henry gulps down air at the epiphany.
"We're in a castle." Henry processes out loud, head snapping around to observe his location as something close to fear sinks in his stomach. "The Queen is… in a dungeon." He frowns at the smell with the sudden realization that the stench is death and the rotting flesh of prisoners; he wants to empty his stomach until it stops tossing about viciously.
David studies him for a moment with an unreadable expression. "Temporarily," David (or James, Henry recalls) confirms in a soothing tone. Henry thinks this isn't their first conversation about the Queen or the dungeon with the way David almost sighs at the word and throws an arm over the boy's shoulder, leading him in the opposite direction – away from the Mayor. "You should be in bed, Henry. Mary's going to have our heads if she finds out you were here this late."
When the telltale signs of a headache begin to flare, Henry leans against David's side, cheek pressed against the velvet material of David's tailcoat.
"Henry?" Worry fills David's voice that sounds as distant as the disembodied voices in the darkness just moments ago.
Henry squeezes his eyes shut, biting the inside of his right cheek to keep from screaming in pain. He tastes the blood in his mouth, metallic and salty, before he falls back into that void between the dreams and his reality.
When he opens his eyes again, the Huntsman's portrait stares up at him, fairy tale book under his head as a makeshift pillow.
The Mayor breaks the news about the Sheriff's death the following day.
Regret coils in his belly like a spring compressed and waiting for an explosive release. The image of the corridor leading to the dungeon rattles in his head as he studies the Mayor's teary countenance and listens to her mournful tone.
When she hugs him (and he lets her), his mind swims of the yellow cottage, like a lit candle in the shadows guiding him towards something.He breathes in, lungs expanding with air, and tries to smell chocolate chip cookies and Chinese food and roses that had filled his dreams. Instead, he smells the Mayor's expensive perfume.
Henry knows the dots are there, waiting to be connected; he just doesn't know how.
"You're messing it up!" The girl tells him impatiently, both hands on her hips.
Henry frowns, "What are you talking about?"
Her long blonde hair swishes from side to side with the shake of her head. "You're supposed to be helping them, not driving them apart." She jabs a finger into his chest, and he blinks at the familiar gesture. "You're doing it all wrong."
"Dani?" He stumbles over the name, staring at the teenager with wide eyes. He tries to work his jaw to string words together into a sentence, but his mouth moves without making a sound.
"Focus! He said you would be difficult, I didn't realize you would be this difficult." Her hands wave in agitated gestures as she talks, motioning vaguely at the nothingness around them.
"Who?" But, all his monosyllabic responses are ignored as the girl paces in front of him bursting at the seams with frenzied energy.
"You need to keep the future from breaking further, got it?" She barely waits for his response. "You need them to work together, not against each other."
"Who's them?" Henry tries again.
She waves him off with a scowl. "I can't tell you!"
His indignant protest dies in his throat with the look she shoots him, a carbon copy of the Mayor's reprimanding glower on a face that looks too much like a younger Emma. He swallows, "what can you tell me?"
"Nothing!" She sighs in defeat, shoulders sagging under an invisible weight. "And, those are your rules, not mine." She follows her words with another sigh and an eye roll.
Henry chews on his bottom lip. "My rules?"
She clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth. "Yeah. And, god, you are such a geek at this age." The agitation melts into a cheeky grin. A hand reaches out to pinch his cheeks roughly which elicits an offended yelp from Henry, who rubs at the spot that smarts from the pinch with the heel of his palm.
"I'm so glad Mom is around to keep things real. Can you imagine me in a pea coat?" She tugs at the collar of his jacket affectionately.
"The Mayor would think you dress like a hooligan." He retorts, staring pointedly at her black leather jacket, skin tight jeans, and knee-high leather boots.
She straightens up at that, and then laughs in his face – great big peals of laughter that has her gasping for air and near tears. She leans against him for support, a hand on his shoulder as her body trembles with hilarity that is lost on Henry. "Hooligan?" She wheezes out. "Did you just- hooligan?" She swipes at her eyes and clutches her stomach. "Oh my god, wait until I see my idiot brother."
Henry pouts while she continues to chuckle mumbling hooligan under her breath with such a happy smile and an amused shake of her head.
He holds onto the image when she begins to disappear, the scene slowly slipping away like grains of sand through his fingers.
He wakes up to an overcast day and a funeral.
When the bell rings to signal the end of the day, Henry stays in his seat staring dully at the worksheet in front of him. His classmates rush out the room, their shoes squeaking against the linoleum. The door swings shut when the last boy yells "see you tomorrow, Ms. Blanchard" over his shoulder, leaving just Henry and his teacher in the classroom.
"Ms. Blanchard," he finally asks when Mary Margaret Blanchard approaches, "do you think dreams are real?"
He no longer attends his therapy session with Archie (the Mayor had reasoned it wasn't working- two days after the incident at the mine; Henry knows the truth), which leaves him with Ms. Blanchard and Emma as confidantes.
Ms. Blanchard's brow knits together as she mulls the question over. "What do you mean?"
"I think my dreams are real." He breathes out quietly, looking around to ensure no one is listening to their conversation.
"I think it has something to do with the fairy tales." He continues. "Don't you believe me, now? Especially after Graham…" His voice trails off at the weight in his chest, thinking of the Huntsman, the Sheriff and the dungeon with the Evil Queen.
"Graham was very sick that day, Henry." Ms. Blanchard says in a soothing tone, settling into the seat beside him. The wooden chair, unaccustomed to an adult, creaks under the weight. She presses a finger to the back of his hand in a comforting gesture that just leaves Henry frustrated.
He voices the frustration with a strangled groan from the back of his throat. "Ms. Blanchard, you're Snow White, please believe me. I know you do, you have to." He stares at the kindness in her eyes for five seconds before his chest tightens unexpectedly and his lower lip quivers. He bites down on it to keep from crying in front of his teacher.
He needs someone to believe him (to believe in him), the way Graham had with such certainty that afternoon.
Finding only sympathy in Mary's eyes, he stuffs his worksheet into backpack, pushes his chair back noisily and bids his teacher goodbye.
"Henry," she calls after him, and he pauses at the door, "I think dreams could be windows to another universe."
His mouth tugs at the corners as he turns the knob. "Me too."
He makes it back to the yellow house, and wakes up on the couch, where it had all began, a soft blanket draped over him and the light of the television casting shadows across the room. He listens to the soft drone of a news anchor reporting late night news, and the sounds of old floorboards shifting, expanding, and settling under years of strain.
When the front door opens with a rattle, Henry almost bolts up out of the couch in search for a bat until he hears them whispering and giggling to each other.
"You're going to wake up the kids, Swan," is hissed and panted followed by lips smacking soundly together.
"Guys, I'm awake!" Henry yells out weakly through his shock. He lifts his head to peer over the back of the couch, watching an embarrassed and flushed Emma strut into the living room.
"Hey," She sighs, traces of frustration creeping into her voice, as she runs a shaky hand through blonde hair.
"Hey," Henry echoes back, still working through the shock.
When the Mayor finally appears, Henry feels secondhand embarrassment at her slightly disheveled hair, rumpled shirt and cherry red cheeks.
He wants to disappear, or bleach out his brain.
"Hey." The Mayor tries to grin through her mortification. She passes Emma on her way to the couch; her hand grazes the curve of Emma's back and settles for a second on the blonde's hip while they share a meaningful look that Henry can't decipher.
Not that he wants to after what he has heard.
"So, no lecture this time?" Emma asks after a beat, following a half-step behind the Mayor.
Henry looks aghast at the implication that he has caught them more than once and the women chuckle at his horrified expression.
"Anything good on TV?" The Mayor sits herself at the end of the couch, and Henry shifts into a sitting position, the blanket bundled in his lap, to give her space. Emma takes up the empty spot on his other side, and reaches over to rescue the remote from the space between the cushions.
"No." Henry allows himself to settle comfortably between these women, who are worlds apart from the women in his reality.
"How was your sister?"
"Uh, not bad," he lies.
At Regina's slight smile, Henry wonders if she knows he's an imposter, a different Henry who isn't quite her son. But, he shakes off the thought and turns his attention to the screen as Emma flicks through the channels quickly, before settling on The Food Network. The blonde grins triumphantly when the Mayor rolls her eyes and complains about Emma's terrible decision making skills.
"Henry, tell your mother I know they're terrible since I chose her."
His mother huffs at that, and reaches across him to flick Emma's ear.
Before he falls back into the void, he catches the Mayor staring at him, eyes soft and unguarded.
There's a part of him that wants to stay here longer than the few minutes the dreams allow, nestled between them in a body that doesn't quite belong to him.
From inside the car, Henry watches the Mayor and Emma argue in the middle of the empty street that currently serves as the backdrop to their latest battle of wits. Their voices pierce the normal quiet of Main Street while the streetlight shines brightly above them.
Henry has a theory, but it's too impossible to believe.
He tries to picture his mom and his mother in a cluttered house with yellow walls, but can't conjure up the image, not with this Emma and this Regina who detest each other so openly.
And, not with the latest casualty to die at the hand of the Evil Queen.
He can picture the dungeon more clearly, and that corridor leading to the belly of the beast.
Maybe this Queen deserves that.
"Go, already! I'm not stopping you!"
A door slams shut with a violent crash that shakes the floorboards of his room. Outside, an engine roars to life followed by the squeal of tires spinning too quickly against the asphalt without gaining traction. Henry lifts his head off his pillow in time to catch the Mayor's black sports car pull out into the street, leaving a plume of gray smoke and angry tire marks on the driveway.
He frowns, sleepily, at the image, and pushes himself away from the warmth of his bed to pad downstairs to investigate. His clock reads 6:47AM in red block font; he bites back a groan.
Dream or not, he still feels exhausted.
A blonde head pops out from the door across his room, frown marring her face. "Henry?" She stretches out his name in a tired voice still thick with sleep.
He yawns in response, rubbing a closed fist over his right eye. "Go back to bed, Dani, I've got it."
She thinks it over for a moment and then mumbles out an okay with half-closed lids. Henry stands for a moment to watch the pre-teen through the open door. She drags her feet along the carpet as she moves to the twin bed in the middle of the room, and crawls underneath the bright pink comforter, body bouncing on the mattress after she drops heavily on top of it. He moves along after he sees the steady rise and fall of the blanket, certain she's fallen back to sleep.
When he reaches the staircase, the wooden boards groan under his weight, alerting Emma, who is perched on the last step, to his presence. He forces a smile when she turns to look at him, eyes red and a little swollen. She runs the back of her hand across her face before he reaches her.
"Sorry," she mutters miserably, "we didn't mean to wake you up."
He nods and tries to be understanding as he sits quietly on the step above her, but what tumbles out of his mouth instead of "don't worry about it" is a tactless question: "Did you guys just break up?" He scowls at his own childish display of curiosity that contradicts the almost grown-up body he inhabits.
The laughter that bubbles up and out of Emma quickly turns into a sharp sob she tries to suppress by burying her face back into her hands. Henry watches helplessly, wishing (not for the first time) he knew more about this reality.
"You're not my Henry, are you?" Emma croaks out.
The emotion thick in her voice drops something heavy in Henry's chest: anxiety and concern among other things. Emma, his Emma, keeps him at shoulder's length even if she does love him (and he knows she does), sometimes wavering on the precipice of detachment and love. But, this one-
Henry freezes with wide-eyes and a slack jaw as he finally grasps the question. "Wha- I—what?"
"I mean, you are Henry. Just not - not this Henry, not yet." Emma turns her body to face him and tugs at his hand, staring pointedly at the spot beside her. "And, to answer your question, no, couples fight, sometimes. We just… we tend to fight loudly."
He runs his tongue across the back of his teeth, hesitant to move, but Emma only pulls harder until he finally acquiesces, half toppling into the seat.
"Do you know how old you are here?" Emma nudges him, mouth flickering into a sort of sad smile, when he settles beside her.
Henry shakes his head and avoid Emma's insistent gaze by smoothing out a wrinkle in his sweats with a sweaty palm.
"Twenty-two. You just graduated college, trying to look for work now while you slum it at home, but we kind of like you here."
He studies the grain on the wood used in the banister as the facts begin to settle. He tries to picture the long twelve years it took to get Emma here, on this staircase wearing her emotions on her sleeve for him to see. His heart twists at how much he wants this – right now in his own life.
"This is real, you know." Emma sighs, taking his hand and lacing their fingers together. It reminds Henry of the quarry the night Emma saved him, when she smiled shyly in the dark and admitted he had scared her with his rash behavior.
"Henry—the older you," She clarifies, reaching up to fix the strands of his hair that have stuck up from sleep. "He told me you thought this was just a dream or an alternate universe, but it's…" Emma's voice trails off, her eyes landing on the Mayor's bag resting casually on the bench in the entryway.
"It's what?" Henry prods, breath on pause as he waits for the answer he's been digging for like a needle in a haystack.
She gives his hand a squeeze. "It's a possible future, kid. Just one of the many. But, it can disappear, if you—we're not careful." Emma lets out a strangled laugh. "I'm a little attached to this future, kid, so try to work for this one, in particular."
Henry shakes his head, vehemently. He knows Regina in this reality, the glimpses of her he's been allowed at least, and she isn't his Mayor."She killed Graham. The Mayor in my life killed Graham. She isn't your wife."
Her eyes snap to study him at the statement, and he squirms under her scrutiny, almost hoping to tumble into the void to end the conversation.
"The world isn't split into heroes and villains, kid." She tells him gently. Her thumb rubs out a pattern against his wrist. "Life would be so much easier if that were true. She… she killed Graham twelve years ago, and I've never forgotten that, but she's—we've saved each other over and over again since. And, she saved Dani before Dani was hers to save, if that means anything to you."
He opens his mouth to protest, but stops when his head begins to pulsate, a familiar heavy pressure pushing down on his brain. He fights to stay here longer, to stay in this moment sitting next to his mom waiting for his mother to return while his younger sister sleeps upstairs because he's not so sure it's possible in his own time.
The night in the quarry, when Emma had been so happy to see him alive, had clutched him tightly to her in the mine shaft as they were hoisted up, he let himself believe she was ready to be his mom.
But, it's this version of Emma, older and a little less broken, he has longed for all his life.
It's this version he needs—desperately.
"You're headed back, aren't you?" Emma notes, watching the discomfort flicker across his eyes.
He nods before his eyes fall shut, because traveling is easier with his eyes closed instead of watching the room spin like a tilt-a-whirl, a trick he's learned over the past two months.
He feels Emma wrap him in a warm hug. "Please give us a chance." She whispers softly as the void pulls at him, but he struggles to stay conscious for his mom, for just a few more seconds in her arms. "I lo-"
He wakes up with hot tears in his eyes and a sob caught in his throat, buried under the sheets of his bed in Storybrooke, ten years old again and knowing too much.
Before he can pull himself together, sirens slice through the dead of night. Fire trucks rumble past his street; his ceiling flashes blood red with the lights.
From his bed, he can see thick, black smoke billowing from two blocks away.
He moves without thinking, heart lurching in his chest before it booms in double-time.
City Hall is on fire.
Ms. Blanchard keeps him from rushing the building, one arm wrapped tight around his front to fix him to her.
His heart hasn't stopped its driving rhythm since he rushed out of the mansion, shoes barely tied and jacket unbuttoned, to chase down the trucks to City Hall. His belly twists when the fire roars and hisses before them with its angry orange hue bulging out of the windows upstairs. He can feel the intensity of its heat, and fear lodges itself into his throat, a hard lump to swallow.
"They're going to be fine." Ms. Blanchard assures him for the sixteenth time.
He thinks of the yellow house, Dani with her wide-hazel eyes, blonde hair, and frenetic energy as a sardonic teenager, the older Emma pleading for a chance, and Regina's hug at his return from college.
His hand curls into fists, chest too tight to breathe properly – the future can break, Emma had warned him, so is he watching it unravel into extinction, now?
Now that he wants to fight for a future after the curse, after Storybrooke. Now that he has a reason – a concrete reason – to dismantle this world before putting it back together again in the form of a home that holds their clutter of shoes and coats and trash bags full of take-out.
When he sees their shadowy figures hobbling out of the smoky entrance – Regina limping and clutching onto Emma, he darts out of Ms. Blanchard's grip, past the noisy fire trucks and firemen, before anyone can stop him, and launches himself at the pair.
He's too old to cry openly in front of so many people, so he bites his lip and grips tight onto the both of them, collecting a fistful their jackets into his hand.
"Henry, hey, it's okay, we're fine," one of them shouts over the loud chaos around them.
And, he knows that because he has them now – both of them—wrapped up tight, but Emma's voice, older and more maternal, has echoed like a record on repeat for the past twenty minutes (it can disappear) in his head and he needs to reassure himself for just a little while longer that he still has a chance at a life beyond this mess.
Maybe there are no heroes to save him from villains the way he had always fantasized.
There is his family, though.
And, it's enough to fight for.