CHAPTER 2

(but she's the sun, slipped through the clouds)


1.

(a precious warmth against my back)

Emma is a hero.

Oh, she certainly doesn't think so – she would never indulge herself in such petty little fantasies. Fantasies distract from the cold reality of what her life is, what it was, what it will always be.

But Emma is a hero, and will always be a hero.

Only a hero – only a friend – only the truest of the true – would stand beside an adulterer like Emma does.

Only a hero would walk Mary Margaret to school and home again, arm around her shoulders, staring down passer-by who dare to say a word, one single word, that might hurt her.

Only a hero would leap up in the dead of night at the sound of shattering glass and jeering calls, and charge straight outside, gun in hand and shouting back.

Only a hero would stay, night after night, with her back pressed to Mary's, without saying a single word.

What words are truly needed? For Mary has Emma's back, Emma's arm, Emma's very reputation shielding her from the weight of the whole world.

Emma is a hero. And Mary wishes she deserved her.


2.

(then let us crack apart the locks)

The hospital staff doesn't want Mary there, of course. Not after her reputation has so thoroughly been ruined. What will it say to patients' families if the staff lets an adulteress visit their sick relatives?

But Emma doesn't take no for an answer. And Emma has a fist like Thor's hammer, a mouth made of steel, and eyes that drill holes into skulls.

No one says anything when Emma brings Mary Margaret to visit patients like she used to. But no one looks at Mary, either.

If Emma could punch all their accusing eyes straight back into their heads, she would. But her fist is not a god's hammer, not really, and even a hero can only do so much.

Mary does not speak to the patients. She sits with them and tries to smile for them, a small watery smile that makes Emma's heart hurt.

If Emma could say anything, she would scream, It's not her fault. She wanted to be honest. She wanted to. It's all him and his lies and his betrayal. Blame him. But leave her alone.

But Emma cannot say those words aloud; and even if she did, it wouldn't help.

She stands with Mary, a silent guardian, and watches as Mary moves from patient to patient, flowers in hand and eyes dark with thoughts she will not share.

They stay hours. Mary is still silent, but her shoulders have relaxed a little, and her jaw isn't clenching quite so tight. She even holds a patient's hand for awhile, and smiles a real smile.

When they go to leave, it's very dark. The hospital is quite still, as if anticipating something. And there is a door open, a door with a keypad and a long, ugly hall.

Regina is walking away from that hall, heels clicking as she walks. And the door is slowly closing.

Something shivers in the air around Emma. And then she's running to the door, pushing it back open, Mary behind her calling her name.

Blood pounds in her ears as she walks slowly down the hall. Incautious, Emma always has been – but never like this. Something is calling her. The air is still around her and the whole world has stopped spinning, waiting. The earth draws in a breath and holds it, and the only sound in the entire universe is Emma's boots hitting like heartbeats on the cold hospital floor.

A nurse rises from her station as Emma walks past. She is shouting something, but Emma is in a daze. Something is calling her. Something. Someone.

Behind her, Mary Margaret is coming, footsteps an echo of Emma's, presence warm against Emma's back. Seven nights and Emma's back still remembers, will never stop remembering.

And somewhere behind Mary, the clack of heels and a chill...

The nurse is saying something to Mary, and Emma is still walking, turning down the twisting hallways that are empty. Is this a labyrinth, then, a labyrinth like Henry's book holds? Is there a minotaur waiting at the center? A goblin king? A grail?

She turns, and there in front of her is a door.

The door is metal and firm, and it speaks her name as though it has been waiting for her all this time.

She steps up to the door, slowly, and opens up the little window.


3.

(and from the window, a tremulous ray of sun)

The window opens, and Belle lifts her eyes.

She expects that Evil has returned to taunt her, just as Evil has been doing day after day now – frantic, it seems, so very frantic.

But it is not evil that greets her. Instead, she beholds the sun.

Oh, Hell has become radiant. Hell is flooded with light, golden, burning, beating at its door. And from the center of the sun, Hope looks out.

Hope is so very, very beautiful.

Belle rises and stumbles forward, hand outstretched. She falls against the metal door – cold, so cold, like Hell always is – and she whispers through the glass:

"I have waited so long for you."