Thank-you withabrandnewname for the great cover! Check her out on Tumblr: post/48468890026/once-upon-a-crooked-path-by-dayks trel-complete

xxxxxxxxx

A/N: If the opening to this story feels familiar to you, there's a good reason for that. When I wrote "Leaving Storybrooke" last fall I had originally envisioned a much longer story. But I didn't have the time to tackle it, so I re-worked the outline to be significantly shorter. And very different.

But the idea wouldn't leave me alone, so here it is. It's moved slowly (I'm about two months behind where I was hoping to be), however it's mostly complete and the updates will come quickly.

So this will start off very much the same as "Leaving Storybrooke", but will quickly take a different turn. This is what I had in mind originally, so I hope you'll forgive the overlap in this first chapter.

Also, please note that this splits off from the show at the 2012 winter break, after episode 2x9 "Queen of Hearts".

Enjoy!

-DK


January in Maine. It's been twenty-nine years and Regina still finds herself surprised by the weather.

Their old land had winter to be sure, but something in the magic, or perhaps in the will of the fairies who turned the seasons, must have tempered winter's strength. Snow in that land had fallen softly, mostly at night, covering the ground in gentle waves of brilliant whiteness. Yes the wind blew at times, but it was more likely to bring fairy dust than frostbite.

Here in Storybrooke, on the coast of Maine, winter means extremes. Two days ago it had been well above freezing, with torrents of heavy, stinging rain driven off the ocean and onto land by a relentless, howling wind. Then overnight the temperature had dropped, leaving behind sheets of ice in the streets and walkways. The roads were virtually impossible to drive safely on, and the ice falling from roofs and overhead wires was a hazard to anyone on foot.

And then a blanket of snow had fallen, covering the ice and leaving behind roads even more treacherous than before.

There is something about the January weather in Maine that is strangely appealing. Relentless and unpredictable, Regina glories in the power of nature and the inconveniences it places on others. She herself has no set schedule these days, and so when the boy who used to shovel her driveway and front walk doesn't show, she simply laces up her boots and walks into town.

Earlier today a series of wispy, high clouds had dropped about a quarter inch of dry snow, tiny ice crystals that have gathered in the cracks in the sidewalk and around the bases of buildings, lamp posts, and around the tires of the few scattered vehicles parked out on the streets.

Then sometime in the late afternoon the clouds had moved off, leaving behind a clear night sky.

Regina stands stiffly on the sidewalk across the street from Granny's diner, insignificant under the black heavens above. Her booted feet are placed precariously on the mixture of snow, ice, salt and gravel scattered about the street. If she was still the mayor she would have given her maintenance department an earful. But she's not the mayor. Not anymore.

The air is cold, cold enough to cause an ache in her lungs and so she breathes carefully, shallowly, a warm scarf wound tightly around her neck and ears. Above her the stars shine, bright and crystalline in this small coastal town with so little light pollution.

While the weather may be different in this land, the stars have always been the same. When she'd first arrived Regina had wondered at that, wondered if the stars were the same in all worlds, and it had brought her a measure of comfort, one thing at least that was familiar in this strange new place.

She'd considered asking Jefferson about it once, asking if all lands fell under the same heavens, but she never did ask. The stars have always been her private friends.

Above hew now shines the constellation Orion, the hunter of winter. Two bears, foraging for food. Cassiopeia the queen, whom Regina had despised in person but found much more tolerable after she had been transformed into a series of quiet, cold stars.

And perhaps brightest of all shine the Pleiades, a cluster of light known for granting knowledge, both magical and esoteric. These stars in particular are ones a younger Regina had spent many hours gazing upon, searching for strength and knowledge.

Tonight however her eyes are focused forward, not up, and the Pleiades shine unnoticed above. Across the road, the windows of Granny's are fogged with moisture, the thin film blurring its occupants into blobs of color and composition. Yet there is no mistaking the four figures in the booth nearest the door.

Henry sits with his back to the entrance, his shirt sleeve occasionally brushing against the condensation on the window, leaving behind streaks of water droplets and a clear view of his elbow and side. He's wearing a blue plaid shirt, not one that she picked out for him but one that looks annoyingly like a shirt that David Nolan would wear. Prince Charming. His grandfather.

The very man who is currently sitting across from his grandson wearing a shirt of the same kind.

Beside Henry is a blur of red and blue, blonde hair and brown boots, a garish mash of colors that can only belong to the town's sheriff. And across from the sheriff is an indistinct figure in light, fluffy pink, a nauseating hue that causes Regina's lip to curl involuntarily.

The Charming family, reunited at last.

Studiously ignoring the other three people at the table, Regina focuses solely on her son. Her dark eyes watch him with a hunger she would never show in the light of day. Her baby, her little boy. Not so little anymore, but still hers.

Or at least he was hers...

And she's tried, she's tried so hard. Yes, she's had moments of connection, moments where her son will meet her eyes or ask her a question, or even give her a small smile. Brief moments of sunshine in her otherwise grey life. Because it seems that as soon as a Charming appears, any one of them, her son is gone. He slips from her grasp as if he never truly belonged to her.

And perhaps he never did. There is no blood to bind them. Only years of shared mealtimes. Of changing diapers and bandaging scraped knees. Of holidays and bed times and homework. Clearly it isn't enough. It will never be enough.

For a moment her gaze strays over her son's head to his birth mother. The sheriff is telling a story. Her hands dance broadly enough for Regina to see the gestures through the condensation on the window, and Regina feels a mix of emotions rise in her chest. Frustration and irritation. A tiny, undesirable flash of affection that is quickly squashed by the sense of unfairness, of hurt and anger.

For Emma Swan has won what Regina has lost: Henry. Snow White. A loving father.

Happiness.

If circumstances were different they could have been allies. Both headstrong, she has no doubt that they would both fight to the death to save their son. Except that Emma was the one who had done the saving, while Regina had inadvertently done the poisoning. The lying. The hurting.

The memory stings.

A stray gust of wind picks up some of the tiny ice crystals and whips them into her face, cold and rough on her cheeks. She barely notices.

As she stands in the dirty snow, shivering and alone, she can hear the muffled sound of joyful laughter floating on the winter wind. The Charming family. After twenty-eight years where the only happiness Regina had permitted was her own, the sound now rings painfully in her ears. It echoes in her hollow chest, smothering her heart.

She finds these recent changes alarming, completely out of her control. And she knows that she has lost. Nothing will bring back the way things were. Nothing will bring back her son.

Her mind made up, Regina nods faintly under the stars. She takes one last lingering look at Henry, a blur of blue and white and brown, and then squares her shoulders. She strides carefully through the dark streets, puffs of condensation from her breath trailing behind her to glint in the starlight.

She bypasses her front door and heads straight to the garage where her black Mercedes is waiting. It takes three turns of the key before the engine finally hums to life. The cold of the steering wheel seeps through her leather gloves and she cranks the heat up as high as it will go, as if the engine could somehow warm her frozen soul.

She puts the car in gear and gingerly eases out of the garage, into her snowy driveway. The tires spin momentarily before catching and then she's moving forward, out into the street. She takes a left, her black car prowling quietly through the dark night.

As she drives she finds her mind wandering, thinking back over the past weeks and months.

She thinks of Henry's death and his miraculous, magical return to life. She remembers the empty, panicked feeling when she'd realized that her magic had not returned, and she remembers the moment Emma Swan had laid a hand on her arm, the magic flowing warm and easy between them.

As she remembers this moment, as her thoughts rest on the blonde sheriff, a familiar, aching feeling fills her chest. She thinks of what might have been. What never could have been.

She drives faster, her tires crunching softly on the packed, dirty snow.

She thinks then of Emma and Snow White, lost to another land, her problem neatly solved. And yet not solved, for her son had blamed her for their disappearance and demanded that she get them back. Which she had done, absorbing the magic designed to kill anyone coming through the portal. And what had she gotten for her trouble?

A simple thank-you. And then the cold shoulder as her son had turned his back on her, drawn away with the Charmings. Leaving her behind, yet again, without a thought.

Her fingers tighten on the steering wheel.

On the seat beside her is a map, yellow highlighting marking a route and a destination. A piece of paper with the address of a previously unseen apartment. A bank account number. A thick stack of twenty dollar bills, neatly folded. And a sealed envelope with a list of instructions, written to herself.

She smiles faintly. The pain will soon be over. She will be able to start fresh. No magic. No thoughts of Daniel, dead twice now, once by her mother's hand and once by her own. No curse, no evil queen, no Henry and certainly no Emma Swan. She will be born anew.

Her headlights flash on a sign, glaringly bright in the dark night.

Leaving Storybrooke.

xxx

Emma is rifling through an assorted pile of papers when Henry comes bursting into her office. While her father – David, James, or whoever the heck he is – had taken on the title of sheriff in her absence, his focus had clearly been elsewhere. Her office is a mess, which is nothing new, but this time it's a mess not of her own making. She can't find the keys to the cruiser, and she's accumulating a rather alarming stack of unanswered phone messages and requests for assistance.

She sighs at the discovery another unfiled report. Her son's interruption is timely, and very welcome.

The smile, her natural reaction to the sight of her son, falters as she takes in the panicked look on his face. He's gulping for breath, leaning heavily on the door frame, cheeks pink and dark hair mussed.

"Henry, what's wrong?" She rises from her chair, the paperwork falling forgotten to the desk.

"Emma!" he pants. "Emma, have you seen my mom?"

"Sure kid. Yesterday, or the day before. Or... sometime." She frowns. When was the last time she had seen Regina? "Why do you ask?"

"Because," Henry's face falls. "She's gone."