Author's Note: Fine, fine, fic, stop nagging, yes you are getting another chapter, get off! Phew. I'm officially this fic's bitch, for lack of a better term. Sometimes they just grow on you. I still haven't decided whether this is the last chapter or not. Granted, it's not as tragic as the other two. Pinky swear. :)
Chapter 3: The Lullaby
It's been twelve months since the shooting – which I refuse to refer to in any other way – and we're coping. Henry's back and I might even believe he doesn't resent me as much as I thought he no doubt would. The process is taking its time, but he's starting to forgive me. For everything. Maybe it's because I'm trying now. To speed it up, we visit Emma's grave every Sunday at precisely 3 PM before I have to attend to other duties. I would never go, but he insisted we make this a routine obligation.
When we get there, he always has a speech prepared about the events of the week. About who stole his lunch, how I got back at them, how he's made a new friend in school, how he's not doing well in physics but Emma would be proud of the rest of his results. Even if I believed the dead could hear, I wouldn't say anything. I have nothing to say. Still, when he's done, he has a bothersome habit of glaring at me until I break and share a sentence or two. I never make it complicated; I say simple things like "Hope they have a special cloud for meaningless, moronic self-sacrifices," or "Aren't you getting bored of comparing heroic deeds with the other angels?" Henry smiles. He thinks it's good enough and it's all I can do not to roll my eyes. I stay mute for the rest of the visit.
I haven't seen or been paying attention to Mary Margaret or David (I decided these names evoke less pain than their alternatives) in ages – I don't exactly go looking around for them and Henry doesn't make me, that much is certain – so it comes as a surprise when I hear Mary's given birth to a baby. Well, that didn't take long. Apparently, I'm also invited to some sort of party as soon as she's released from the hospital. I have no illusions about what's behind said invitation; I'm sure no one wanted me there, but Mary insisted I couldn't be left out, being blinded by the pain that I might describe as our common ground if I were drunk enough – but I'm not going down that road again.
I don't speak with anyone or as much as mutter a half-hearted greeting throughout the evening, until the mother herself appears, holding a bundle of white and purple covers close to her chest. It's sleeping and she lets us all see it. I have no intention of swooning over her next drooling spawn until she speaks.
"We named her Emma, after her big sister," she says with a sad smile.
It feels like my entire skeleton has turned to stone, my fists clench and my mouth goes dry. The sky darkens outside the window and a wave of thick black clouds nears the house in a raging hurricane, just like it did when I enacted the curse that took everything from me the first time, fueled by whatever it was that I locked up and tied down when it happened. People panic. Red clings to her grandma like a sick child. Ella grows so pale even Mary doesn't stand a chance. Nothing has changed in this town. Somewhere in the distance, Henry screams, but I can't hear. Cracks appear in the glass of the windows and in the ceiling, one by one.
"How dare you," I say and the growl is punctuated by a particularly loud thunder. Can't say I didn't plan that.
To be completely honest, I had no idea I was doing that, but when a moment occurs in which I register anything else besides terrifying, obliterating anger, I see I've managed to freeze everyone on the spot. Not the natural way when something bad is happening and you can't urge your body to move, but the magical way, so they can only stare, frightened, as I take a step towards the infant, and then another, with the sole intention to murder it. It wakes up when it senses my plan. Everyone can see. Everyone knows exactly what I'm about to do. And I couldn't care less.
It's its eyes. The same bluish green that suggests a rainy pine tree forest in fall and reminds me I made an unbreakable promise.
Past all caring and completely disregarding the consequences, I storm out, not calm by a longshot but still regal, and then I run. Run until my feet bleed and never, ever look back.
I run as far as my legs can take me, planning my next move. By the time I reach a clearing in the woods, it's settled. I waste no time; it takes all that's left of my being but I close my eyes, mutter a few incantations, and when I open them again, I'm standing in the shadow of a leafy tree crown in the middle of a tiny island in a pond of water lilies. I've subconsciously created an apple tree, I see. No matter. There will be no room for sentiment once I'm done, I think as my fingers claw and dig deep into my own chest until they come out ensnaring the pulsating ball of muscles that is my heart, the only thing that still holds something precious to me. I don't need one, anyway.
I destroy it, crush it like so many others that went still by my hands, and let it burn in a cursed fire. This one is not as strong, but then again, this time I aim to curse only myself. For that purpose, it works remarkably well.
I respect Emma enough not to waste what she's given me, but I can't make any use of it here and now. I will wait, frozen in time forever if I have to, and begin anew, when the present has turned to dust and ashes. I'm already growing lethargic and my only goal becomes to wait. So I do.
At first there's emptiness as if something were missing, a piece of a puzzle; over time, even that anxiety fades and all that's left is a shell. Minutes turn to hours, hours to days, days to months and months to years. I've been drawing lines on the tree bark for each day I've spent here. It stopped being just a way to mark my life several years ago, when I realized I was drawing a picture. Now, if I circle the tree, the lines and dots seem to be forming some kind of animal. An elegant bird with large wings folded along the length of its body, long neck in the shape of an S and black eyes like buttons on a winter cloak. I've never seen anything like it. I go back to sleep, awaiting another day. The water the bird is swimming in needs more detailed ripples.
"Nice place you got here, though I expected something more… pompous. Glossy. The stuff castles are made of."
I raise my head and stand up to face a young woman with blonde wavy hair and the posture of a street thug, hands in pockets and hunched forward ever so slightly.
I doubt I still remember how to speak but I try. "Who are you?"
"My name is Emma," she says, raising her hands in a gesture to show me she is unarmed. I see why that would be necessary; she hasn't given me a reason to hurt her yet. Neither has she given me a reason not to.
"I hear someone needs a curse-breaker around these parts. Got any idea where I might find them?" she asks with a playful smile decorating her face.
Suddenly, the name rings a bell somewhere deep down. "Emma." The connection between her and birds becomes clear. She's like a phoenix and she's risen from the ashes. How do I deal with such a flaw in my plan? What am I even waiting for?
We stand there, just looking at each other as I take in those endlessly familiar bluish emerald eyes. The reason I can't come up with a suitable reaction is because something old and forgotten is awakening inside of me and I don't know how to handle it. It reminds me of when I was a little girl and I was trying to transform a golden cup into a butterfly. Instead the spell backfired and I created a scorpion, and it stung me.
Eventually, after what feels like a century, the wall crumbles. "I thought you were gone."
"Well, yeah, I was, but a funny thing happened; when I flew up to the gates of heaven and I met this guy – Saint Peter I think it was – I changed my mind and I said 'You know what, screw this. I'm going home.'"
The odd high-pitched, desultory sound that comes out of my throat startles me at first, but then I realize that the unthinkable has happened. I laughed. For possibly the first time in decades. "Shoot first, think second, right, Miss Swan? You could have at least asked for directions or a map first. Maybe you wouldn't have taken so long."
"That was twenty eight years ago. Yeah, for a second I was worried I wouldn't find you in time. Especially when you looked like you were about to strangle me on the spot."
And I'm broken. I'm a broken piece of clockwork. The next thing I know, I'm a sobbing mess in her arms, clinging to her crimson jacket for dear life and mumbling her name over and over and over for all the times in the past twenty eight years I should have said it but couldn't make a sound, and then for all the time before that that I did, and then for all the times Henry did in his sleep. By the time I'm done, there's not a speck of past left in me. Good. One less thing to trouble my conscience.
Gently stroking my hair, she takes a deep breath. "Wow. I have a hunch someone's missed me a lot." She sounds genuinely impressed.
"You're not entirely disposable, but don't flatter yourself."
I can feel her chuckle vibrate behind my ear because we both know she has every right to flatter herself. I think of how she must have crossed the pond to get to me but there are no traces of water on her clothes. And then I reflect on what lies behind the water. "I'm sorry," comes the broken whisper.
"Hey, don't apologize to me. I think Henry's still a little grumpy. Speaking of which, Grumpy's a member of the council now. Please let me know before you go on a killing spree so I can take precautions."
My brain only registers one word. "Henry?"
"Let's just say you're going to find out how my mom felt." She pauses. "Without wishing to spoil the moment, there's something I need to do."
I pull away just enough to be able to look her in the eye, confused. Since I can't imagine what could possibly be more important than to breathe the same air right now, her point eludes me and her smile is baffling. I only begin to understand when the reason I've waited here all this time comes true; she's kissing me. Fifty six years summed up in one kiss people are already labeling, but this is not good and evil. This is not past and present. This is not love and hate. I'm back in Storybrooke, back in the moment when I put both of us to sleep. Her lips graze with tenderness that implies the caress of a swan's feather and plant an irrational, oxymoronic fear that I might shatter in my mind. However, I stay intact – perhaps more complete than ever – and I don't pull away either because I've figured out what she's doing.
She's finally breaking the curse. She's waking us up.
Come morning light,
you and I'll be safe