Annie distractedly pulled her medium length, light brown hair into a high ponytail as she waited for the woman behind the counter to make the coffees. She had interned for Mayor Mills since she was sixteen and had been hired as her assistant fresh out of high school. She'd now held the position for three years. Young and eager to work in such a privileged position, she lived willingly with the burden of serving such an intimidating and sometimes all-out terrifying boss. Regina was a demanding employer, and although many feared her – and how could they be blamed? Annie herself was among them – she'd always seen the mayor as a role model. She hadn't had much of one growing up as she'd been raised by Lisa, a woman whose sanity was in question. She had taken her in as a small child after her parents had died, and Lisa was controlling and paranoid, never allowing the girl to do anything. In the mayor, Annie saw a woman who knew what she wanted and was not afraid to go after it; granted, sometimes her methods colored outside the lines. She was grateful not to have anything to do with that portion of the mayor's activities. That was what Sidney Glass was for.
On that particular afternoon, like every other afternoon, Annie had stopped by the coffee shop after lunch on her way back to the office; one coffee for her and one for the mayor. Today, however, there would most likely be no mayor in the office waiting for coffee because, unlike every other afternoon, Regina's son Henry was in the hospital in a deep coma.
Arriving back at the office, she set the coffees on her desk and started in on the last pile of paperwork that needed to be filed. There wasn't much work to be done in Regina's absence, so when she finished only fifteen minutes later, she stared at the coffee, deep in thought. She could stop by the hospital to offer moral support and see Henry. She had grown quite attached to the boy, having known him for half his life. He always came in with a smile and they'd chat while he waited for his mom to finish a phone call or meeting. A few weeks ago, his face had suddenly grown quite serious for such a young child, and he'd leaned in close:
"We're friends, right Annie?"
"Of course, Henry."
"If I tell you a really big secret, will you promise not to tell my mom?"
"Cross my heart."
"It's something I've named Operation Cobra…"
Since that day, Henry had been regaling her with tales from his book, ideas he had about Storybrooke and its residents.
Grabbing the coffee, Annie stood up, heading outside, her decision made. She needed to see Henry and keep Regina company. It was as her car door slammed shut that the wave hit her and she had to grab the steering wheel to steady herself as everything came crashing back. Memories of another life: a tower, long golden hair, a witch, joyous escape, and the Evil Queen.
Emma and Henry held each other tightly as the purple storm clouds filled the space around them and everyone cried out and crouched low to the ground. Wind whipped at their hair and tossed paperwork around the room.
Panicking, Emma tried desperately to inhale but the clouds were so thick, she may as well have been underwater. Her skin felt as if it were being pricked by thousands of needles. She tried to cry out in pain, but without air there was no sound. Just as she felt herself on the edge of consciousness, oxygen slowly returned. As the last of the purple clouds receded, they seemed to brush her skin, causing a slight tingle.
Everyone looked around at each other, grateful the terrifying experience was over.
Emma wasn't enjoying the silence. "If that's what magic feels like, I can already tell you, I'm not a fan." People looked at her curiously but Henry smiled, which was enough to make her feel slightly better, and she jumped into action. "Alright, kid, let's get you some real clothes. Then we're gonna figure out what's next."
Rapunzel sat in the tower slowly brushing out every section of her endlessly long hair. She hated her hair. It was as much a punishment as being locked up; the ball and chain keeping her from moving around too much. The brush was set aside when she heard the witch's call and she slowly lowered her hair.
"No news of note today, my dear," Elise reported, reaching the top. She was not an ugly woman. Quite the opposite: she had graceful features, a tall, thin figure, and glossy-smooth red hair. Today it was twisted elegantly onto her head and she wore a regal, emerald green gown. "Snow White still eludes the Queen, but I've no doubt she will soon be found." She waved her arms and, as it did every afternoon, a tea tray appeared.
"I don't believe Snow deserves the punishment awaiting her," Rapunzel responded, picking at her dress, a pale blue that made her dark eyes shine.
"Of course she does! She committed treason and murder! Regina's right to place a price on her head." In the silence, Elise glanced at the full plate of food sitting in the corner. "You haven't touched your meal."
"I'm not hungry."
"You must eat. You're looking positively frail."
"Perhaps it's a lack of exercise. If you would let me out-"
"Absolutely not! There's a reason I built this tower with no staircase and no door. You're never to leave this room!"
"Why? Why must I stay in this prison?"
Elise set her teacup on the saucer with enough force for it to clatter. "We have this discussion every day and I grow weary of it. I've told you before, my dear. It's for your protection. The world out there is not a safe place, especially with people like Snow running about. It's my job to protect you."
"It was my parents' job to protect me."
"They died." The words were harsh. "Your mother in giving birth to you, and your father from the grief of it. I cared for you in their place."
Rapunzel kept quiet on this. She hadn't told Elise she knew these were lies. Sometimes, at night, she dreamt of her parents. In daylight, she knew these dreams to be memories. They were from when she was very young, but they had become more and more vivid over the years. She suspected her parents' death had not been natural at all and feared the truth was much more sinister.
"Well, my dear, I must take my leave; Regina and I are meeting tonight. Things are especially tense now that she and Maleficent have stopped speaking. I never met the woman myself, but she sounds like more trouble than she's worth." Elise began clearing everything away as she spoke. "The queen and I talked about you the other night. I only mentioned your ability hoping to cheer her up, but she has taken immense interest in the subject now. I'm sure she will ask about you again this evening. I don't wish to tell her of your refusal to eat. You really must stop this nonsense; you only punish yourself."
"Why is the queen so interested in my ability? Surely she has enough power of her own to keep her occupied."
"Yes, well, this glowing golden hair is quite different from most magic, and it's so distinguishing. You can see why I keep you here; there is no way to disguise you. It glows more brightly with each passing year and if the wrong person found out about it, you'd be killed for its power." She studied Rapunzel for a moment. "You truly have an unmatched beauty." Elise put her hand on the side of the girl's head, pushing back the hair to reveal a small, crescent shaped scar. "Flawless, save this one imperfection. Well," she dropped her hand back to her side. "I'll be back tomorrow, my dear. Eat."
After Elise had gone, Rapunzel was not alone long before her thoughts were interrupted by a child's voice.
"Hello? Hello? Is there anyone up there?"
Rapunzel leaned her head out and looked down. Sure enough, there, at the base of the tower, was a young boy, staring up at her with innocent curiosity.
"So there is someone up there! I was right! The other children said I was mad. How do I get up there? There's no door."
The boy stared in wonder as Rapunzel lowered her hair to the ground. "Climb," she instructed him.
When he reached the top, he pulled himself up and stood in front of her.
"I'm Rapunzel," she told him, holding out her hand.