Chapter One Hundred and Fifteen
"Emma is asking around about you," Graham tells her, and he can see Zelena's eyes flash with anger just for a brief moment.
"I think Regina asked her," he admits, and she grins at his obvious pain at having to tell her anything at all. "Because she asked me the same thing. Apparently she felt something was off about you when you talked to her at Granny's."
Zelena scowls, and he finds himself enjoying that. It also tells him that this woman has a weakness. For all her plans, she is terrible at waiting in the shadows. She needs to be noticed, to be seen. That's a weakness. Weaknesses can be exploited.
"That's unfortunate," Zelena says after a moment, composing herself. "I suppose it's time we step up this little... game, then. I got a house visit to make, and you... You have a job to do."
It takes a little asking around at Granny's to find out that Zelena apparently lives at a farmhouse by the edge of the forest, and so, Emma impulsive decides to head there. She isn't sure what to even do when she gets there, but she feels an increasing need to get out of the town.
She feels watched. She can't even figure out why, because the only thing she catches in the corner of her eye are shadows, who vanish the moment she looks properly. It's just there, the growing feeling of being observed, watched, even... hunted?
Perhaps it's just paranoia, but she's lived too long on gut feelings to shake it.
So she leaves a brief message for Regina, just stating that she's heading to Zelena's farmhouse to check things out, and drives off.
It doesn't change the feeling of being watched. It intensifies it. It makes her skin itch and her fingers prickle, and a growing cold sense of fear settle in her bones. She's afraid, she realizes, and it makes her breath start to catch.
What is happening to her? She can't... She...
This is all wrong, she thinks dimly. All wrong. It feels like a nightmare, only she is awake... Isn't she?
She steps on the breaks hard, her car coming to an abrupt halt. Hands shaking, she reaches for her phone without thinking, dialing on instinct more than anything.
Her mother answers on the third ring. "Emma?"
"Mommy," Emma gasps, her voice thin even to her, sounding like a child's. "Mom, there's someone here, they're following me, they're..."
"Where are you?" her mother asks, voice thick with worry, but Emma can barely breathe, fumbling out of the car, wanting to run, run, run... "Emma?"
"It's no good," the voice says, and Emma spins around, finding herself almost face to face with a hood figure, leaning calming against a tree. "You know what always happens, Emma. They let you go. They always let you go."
"Emma?!" her mother voice's frantically calls on the phone.
"Please find me," Emma says quietly, and then the lines goes dead. It falls from her hand to the ground, as she looks up at the one thing she always learned to fear as she grew up. The apologetic face of her social worker, come to tell her that she won't be adopted this time either, or come to take her away the one time she thought she might get adopted – only for them to send her back after they got their own kid.
"Hello Emma," Miss Coller says pleasantly.
"No," Emma says desperately. "You're not real. This isn't real. I'm..."
"You're little Emma Swan," Miss Coller says, and smiles sadly. "The orphan. Always the orphan."
And despite herself, Emma finds herself nodding. Always the orphan. This isn't a nightmare, her mind tells her firmly, harshly. This is real after all, and everything here in Storybrooke has simply been a dream.
The dream of a family. What she always wanted so desperately. What she never got.
"Come on," Ms Coller goes on, holding out her hand. "It's time to go back where you belong."
Mutely, Emma takes the hand like she did so many times in the past, and lets herself be lead away.
Neal answers the door groggily, finding Zelena smiling at him, holding two cups of coffee and a bag that smells of fresh pastries.
"Breakfast?" she offers, and he opens the door enough to allow her inside. "I thought you might like some company."
"Thank you," he says, leading her into the kitchen. "I'm afraid I can't do lunch today, though. I'm meeting my father and Belle."
"Sounds like you two have started to mend fences," Zelena says pleasantly, and he finds himself nodding.
"He's really making an effort this time," he comments, taking a sip of the coffe she offers him, and Zelena's smile widens. "He's really trying to show me that I'm more important to him than anything else."
"Even power?" Zelena says silkily, and he feels a moment of uneasiness wash over him. "I'm sorry, but everyone in this town knows how important power is to the Dark One. Some even say nothing matters more to him."
"I do," Neal says icily, and Zelena pats his arm softly.
"Sorry. I'm just looking out for you. I feel like we've become such close friends. I just want to make sure he doesn't hurt you again, that he's all... sweet words and no action."
"He's not," Neal says irritably. "He even..."
He stops at the expectant grin that Zelena gives him, feeling as if he just stepped into a trap.
"He even gave you the dagger," Zelena says pleasantly, and smiles widely. "Be a good little boy and get it for me, why don't you?"
"I can't," Neal says, gritting his teeth, fighting an obviously magically need to obey her. Has she "I... He's my father. I can't... betray him, I can't..."
Zelena sighs, then reaches into his chest and yanks at his heart. He can feel the tug, hard and painful, and gasps sharply. Then she tugs again, and again, and...
"He's put a protection spell on your heart," Zelena hisses, and Neal feels a moment of strange joy. His father protecting him. Of course he would.
"He's not a fool," Neal manages to say, and Zelena scowls at him.
"He's not," she admits, sounding frustrated. "I wanted you to do this willingly, but that idiot of my sister is suspicious of me already, and I won't risk her stumbling onto the truth when I'm this close. Give me the dagger. I know you want to."
"No," he repeats again, glaring at her, fighting against the urge to do as she says with every fiber of his being. "I won't. He's my father. I won't."
Zelena sighs, letting go of her grip on his heart, and Neal slumps forward, gasping. "Then I guess we'll have to do this the hard way."
He feels the force of her magic as she lifts him up, then smashes him downwards, and then the force of the floor hitting him makes everything blessedly, blessedly dark.
Emma isn't sure how long they've been walking. It feels like forever, Mr Coller's hand in hers, leading her away, every step like a painful stab to her heart.
She's done this so many times.
"It's better like this, Emma," Miss Coller says pleasantly. "When you don't have a family, you don't have to be afraid of them leaving you."
She finds herself nodding. She's told herself that many times, after all. It became almost like a mantra after a while. She lived her life by that, until...
She shudders, and halts. Henry. This is... Henry.
"Emma?" Miss Coller says.
"Henry found me," Emma says slowly, her voice thin and hesitant even to her.
"Only to have you be the Savior," Miss Coller says gently, her voice like a sword, cutting into her. "You know that. He just wanted you to save everyone, so he could have his real family, with his real parents. The parents that gave you up."
"No," Emma says, feeling hot tears on her cheeks. "That's not true."
"You know it is," she hears herself saying, but it's not coming from her lips. It's... Miss Coller, but not Miss Coller anymore. It's herself, or a shadow of herself, grinning darkly at her.
"Who are you?" Emma finds herself asking, stumbling backwards.
"I'm you, of course," her shadow self taunts. "I'm every fear you have, Emma Swan, and you're full of them. You've lived your life by them. So afraid to be abandoned again that you stopped giving anyone a chance and just left them first."
Emma swallows, and swallows again, but can't find it in herself to deny it. It is true, after all. After all those families, after all those crushed hopes, after Neal... She stopped trying.
"You were me," she corrects, closing her eyes for a moment, then opening them again. "I'm not just the sum of my fears."
"You're not?" her shadow self mocks her, tossing her backwards, and Emma finds herself stumbling onto her knees. "Look at you. You have everything right now. Parents, a son, a boyfriend... a family like you always wanted.. and you're still scared."
"Yes," she whispers, feeling the truth of it. She is. Oh, she is... But...
"You'll always be afraid," her shadow self goes on.
"Maybe I will be," Emma admits, lifting her chin. "But I won't let that stop me. I'll brave it."
"You'll brave it," her other self says. "A lifetime of braving your fears of being abandoned, Emma Swan? You really think you can manage that?"
"Yes," Emma hisses, raising to her feet. "Because they make me want to be brave. Henry. Mom. Dad. Graham. I love them. They love me."
"Do they?" her shadow self asks, almost sweetly.
"Yes," Emma hisses, advancing, and this time, it's the other her that steps backwards. "Henry loves me, Graham loves me. Mom and dad love me. They loved me before I was born."
"You don't know that," her shadow self hisses, stumbling.
"I do," Emma says, thinking of her baby blanket. For the longest time, she used to hope that blanket meant someone actually had loved her, and now she knows that hope was true. She is loved. She was always, always loved.
She looks down at her hands, and finds the blanket is actually there, glowing slightly.
"No!" her shadow self hisses, lunging at her. Without thinking, Emma lifts her baby blanket, and everything goes bright just as she hears distant voices calling her name.
His head hurts, Neal registers, blinking as his vision begins to return to him. He's lying on the floor of his kitchen, he realizes, and...
Zelena, he thinks, and stumbles to his feet. She was here. She was demanding to be handed the dagger. He refused, but...
With a sinking feeling, he hurries into the living room. Everything around him is trashed, torn apart viciously, and for a moment she has hope that maybe, maybe all this destruction is proof that Zelena couldn't find what she was looking for and took out her frustration on his belongings.
Then he sees the the scarf on the floor. The scarf his father made him out of wool he's pun himself, the scarf he wore when he wen through the portal alone, the scarf he always wanted to burn in anger but never did. The scarf that proved his father had loved him, just not enough.
The scarf he told Zelena about over dinner, while she smiled sympathetically at him.
The scarf he wrapped the dagger in, for sentimental reasons.
The scarf that means his father will now be in the power of Zelena, he realizes with dawning horror.
"We love you," someone murmurs, and Emma blinks and then opens her eyes to feel her mother stroking her hair gently.
"Mom," she murmurs weakly, and her mother smiles down at her through tears. They're in a hospital room, she realizes, hearing the steady sound of a heartbeat monitor somewhere close.
"You scared us," another voice says, and she tilts her head slightly to see her father on the other side, clutching her hand in his as if it's the most precious thing in the world. Henry is by him, looking distressed.
She swallows. Her mouth feels dry, and she can barely think. "I... What happened?"
"You called us," her mother says softly. "Told us you were being followed. We found your car at the side of the road."
"Your mother tracked you," her father says, smiling at her mother affectionately. "She is the expert tracker in the family, after all. We found you out cold in the forest."
"Oh," she says, closing her eyes for a moment. They found her. Of course they did. Of course.
In a rush, it all comes back to her. The fear, the figure, the mocking words, the determination to fight her fears...
"Emma?" her mother asks softly. "Who was following you?"
"My fears," she mutters dizzily, and without opening her eyes, she can still tell her parents are exchanging worried and confused glances. She's not quite sure what is going on herself, but she's going to find out. She has to.
She can't lose her family – but she fears someone is determined to make sure she will.