It was all part of some cleverly devised plan with the goal of robbing her of her sanity somehow, Emma was sure of it. She couldn't think of any other valid reason for why Regina would show up at her doorstep (knowing Mary wasn't home for the week, no less), and when the merciless, always disciplined and a whole new meaning of detached Mayor said the I word with the same empty gaze she had thrown her way when Emma asked if she loved Henry, she knew Regina was lying. Worst of all was knowing that although the truth was as plain as the nose on her face, she would try to hide it anyway, pretending it was some kind of herculean feat that she managed to lie so convincingly. Almost as if she were proud of this ability of hers.

Feeling sick to her stomach, Emma rolled over to face the back of the couch. Not that she made an effort out of trying to keep her eyes open, anyway. If she fell asleep, she wouldn't have to deal with Regina anymore. She wouldn't have to see her like everyone else in her life. She would sleep through it at peace. What more was there to wish for?

When she closed her eyes, she thought about Henry and what he would say if he saw the two of them arguing like this. Would he agree with Emma and take her side? Would the situation help ignite a spark of long lost love for Regina in him and unite them against her? Would he cry? Would his chin quiver as he runs away, slamming the door behind him? Strangely enough, none of these scenarios playing out in her head seemed to end well. Except maybe for Regina, because Regina didn't care about anyone else's feelings and emotions. That much was clear.


She didn't know where Madam Mayor was at the moment and neither did she care, but she hated having to let it be known that she was still awake. That damned flu. It wasn't exactly helping her reach her destination in Neverland, along with those unpleasant thoughts, which she needed to stop, but didn't know how. They just kept pouring in. Lying with her head buried up to her ears under the quilt, she wished she had heard a lullaby in her life so that she could sing it in her mind and listen to it rather than her maternal instincts babbling on nonsense. Henry was home. Safe and sound.

Emma was soon floating in a black void. Somewhere above, in the distance, there was a bright light… somewhere far away. And just then, she remembered that Henry was home alone, but it was too late to reach the surface. For a hundredth of a moment, she panicked, but the deeper she sank, the more numb she became, engulfed by the darkness of sleep.

"Henry–" she hissed, jerking awake. He's home alone and it must have been evening already and Regina was… was… pressing a wet towel to her forehead?

"If you're going to complain some more, do it without moving, or I'll super glue it to your head."

The momentary shock passed quickly as she remembered the reason she was up. "You need to go home. Henry, he's–"

"He's fine, dear." Emma shuddered at that. The first time she had heard those exact words, Henry had been everything but fine. "He's a well-behaved young man and he knows better than to light candles, mess with the stove, run on the stairs…"

The blonde woman zoned out while Regina continued to recite the many things Henry would never do, half of which she knew he had already done, and that didn't reassure her in the slightest.

"…bury corpses in the backyard, bring home stray animals and people alike—oh, wait," she finished, smirking at Emma in all her holier-than-thou smugness.

"I doubt that. You're not setting a good example since you're looking after a stray yourself. Here I thought you were the protective one."

Regina froze, holding the towel to Emma's forehead – now that she'd lain down again – and put on a mask, contemplating the best response, apparently. It was a mere moment of hesitation, but Emma had seen enough of those to recognize it and the fact it came bundled with – that the person wearing it had something to hide.

"Touché," the Mayor finally spoke.

Emma had heard enough of those sighs that people let out when there's a burden on their shoulders. The sigh is as far as they ever go to sharing it with the world. And she was right, because the next words spoken were "Go back to sleep. The last thing you need is to worry for no reason."

Silence. Tick-tock, creak, sniffle. Sharing a look is off limits.

"Hey, Regina?"

Just close your eyes.

"If you want to say something, Miss Swan, be straightforward with me."

You'll be alright.


She was already dozing off again and didn't see the expression on Regina's face. She didn't see the corners of her mouth curl upwards ever so slightly. But even half asleep, she did feel the touch of something much softer than a towel on her temple; she felt it linger, feather-light and gentle, and she smiled to herself when it left her. Nope, she didn't need lullabies.

"I… did not expect this."

Emma opened one eye lazily to find Mary Margaret standing in the doorway with her eyebrows a few feet higher on the ceiling and gulped, recalling a clear image of her personal CSI-and-candy convention she never got the chance to clean up after.

"I thought I would come home to the house burnt down and you… actually didn't do anything," Mary said, her voice rising up a notch towards the end of the sentence as if in question.

"I didn't?" Emma sat up and then cleared her throat, "I didn't," she repeated, this time sounding much more convinced. She looked around and indeed, all traces of her get-better party were gone.

Everything except for an old, worn book lying on the table.

"What's that?" Mary inquired, tilting her chin towards it as she started unpacking.

"Just some fairytales I borrowed from the library," Emma lied.

"I see Henry's gotten through to you, hasn't he?"

The blonde took the book in her hands and noticed a piece of paper sticking out from between page 108 and 109. Out of curiosity, she peeked in and saw that some tale about an ugly duckling began at that point.

Read this one, stray, the note said.

Emma shook her head with a smile, careful not to laugh out loud and attract Mary's attention. "Yeah. Henry."