Since You've Been Gone

Should have taken the bug, Emma thought for the fourth time in the hour she'd been driving. Gold's Caddy was a friggin' boat; a smoother ride than the Beetle but less dexterous on winding forest roads. It didn't help that it was Gold's car. At least he'd opted for the backseat this timel. It made her feel like a chauffeur it was preferable to playing at friendliness. After what had happened in New York she was even less inclined to make an attempt at small talk.

"Do you think anything happened while we were gone?" Henry broke the silence with an uncharacteristically small voice. It was the first time he'd spoken since they'd turned off the freeway and the first time either of them had approached the subject of what might have gone on in Storybrooke during their absence.

Emma glanced in the rear-view mirror before answering; Gold was staring out the window and didn't appear to be paying attention.

"I'm sure Mary Margaret and David would have called kid," she replied. Unless they couldn't.

She didn't want to think about that. She hadn't had any problems with cellphone service while in Storybrooke, but apparently dialing into the town was a different matter. None of the numbers she had for Snow or David would connect; neither would Ruby's cell and even the sheriff's station routed to an error message. Henry had tried Regina with similar results. When they'd asked, Rumplestiltskin confirmed that the remaining part of the curse which prevented people from leaving with their memories intact was probably also the culprit for their communication problems. That was of course, before the incident with the mugger which had left him with only his memories as Mr. Gold.

"Do you think they told my mom about Archie?"

"I asked Mary Margaret to."

Who, in retrospect, was maybe not the best choice of messengers, but there hadn't been time to find Regina or anyone else to ask; not with Rumplestiltskin breathing down their necks, tossing out threats like beads at Mardi Gras.

"Yeah, but do you think she did?"

The kid was entirely too sharp. Emma huffed and tried to think of a reply that was honest and optimistic.

"She promised she would."

They'd been gone nearly three weeks. Any scenario in which Regina still believed they thought her guilty of murdering Archie was unthinkable.

Henry sighed and resumed looking out his window. They were nearing Storybrooke now. Any minute they'd cross over the town boundary. It felt good to be going home, despite what may or may not have happened in their absence. It felt good to have a home to go to. At least this time Henry had been with her. The constant ache, like a missing limb, that she'd felt in the Enchanted Forest gone for this trip. Thinking of that awful awareness of being without brought on a fresh wave of guilt. As if falsely accusing the woman of murder when she desperately needed someone to believe her wasn't a big enough mistake, Emma had followed it up directly by skipping town with their son in tow. Regina would be out for her blood for leaving without so much as a word. But with the revelation that Cora was in town Emma had figured the further away from Storybrooke Henry was the safer he'd be. Emma would make the same choice again, but she didn't relish facing the fallout that was drawing nearer with every mile marker.

If it hadn't been for the timing and the constant worry over what was going on at home it would have been a nice vacation. Gold had put them up at the Marriott on Times Square and when she wasn't putting her bounty hunting skills to work Emma had shown Henry the city. New York wasn't one of the places she'd spent a great deal of time in, and experiencing the tourist and family friendly sights with him made it completely new. He hadn't had time to be amazed by Boston but he'd had plenty of wonder for Manhattan.

She'd learned more about Henry during this trip than she could ever have imagined learning when they were at home because for once they talked about normal things that didn't involve curses or fairy tales or ogres; just normal stuff that didn't still make her head spin if she thought about it too much. Like who would win in a fight: Darth Vader or Lord Voldemort? Emma won that debate –provided lightsabers could block spells.

They'd gone skating at Rockefeller Plaza and taken a carriage ride through Central Park. One night they'd gone to the movies at the biggest multiplex Emma herself had ever been in and had dinner while they watched The Hobbit, which Henry had proclaimed the coolest thing ever.

The night she'd finally tracked down Baelfire she took Henry to a Knicks game and in a rare moment Emma had told him about a foster brother she'd had who had lived for basketball and how he'd taught her how to dribble and shoot and taken her to play pickup games at the park.

Henry's enthusiasm for everything was refreshing and in that setting it didn't freak her out so much to think of herself as a mother. She had pictures on her cell phone of him dancing on the giant piano at FAO Schwarz and it hit her as she was taking them and planning to have them printed to give to Snow that for the first time she felt like a real mom. Like she could actually, maybe be good at this.

The one thing they didn't talk about –that she supposed they should have but she'd been afraid to muck up a good thing- was Regina. Emma told herself they could figure that out when they got home, even as she thought about texting pictures of Henry to his other mother before remembering that they wouldn't go through. And then she'd wondered if that wasn't for the best. She doubted Regina would appreciate seeing what she was missing, there was no need to rub salt in festering wounds.

"We'll drop Gold off, and then we gotta find your mom," she decided out loud as they passed the 'Welcome to Storybrooke' sign and the need to find Regina and apologize for so many things pressed on her like a physical weight.

Henry didn't say anything, but from the corner of her eye she could see him nod and sit up straighter in his seat.

As they passed the new park on the outskirts of town they both looked and were relieved to see that it was crowded with children and adults –typical for a Saturday and a good sign that nothing catastrophic had occurred since they'd left. The trees thinned and they passed Stablebrooke, the farm that housed the livery and riding school.

"Hey! That's my horse!"

Emma glanced away from the road to where Henry pointed and saw the hind quarters of dappled horse galloping away from them with a female rider on its back.

"Your horse?" Emma prodded, she was pretty sure David would have told her if he'd actually given the kid a pet. She glanced again, but couldn't get a better view of the animal in question. "You sure kid? You can't even see anything but its tail?"

"Positive; that's Apollo," he replied confidently.

"What happened to your knight lessons?" She asked since the subject had been brought up, sort of, and it was a safe enough conversation to have in front of Gold, whom she doubted was as oblivious as he was pretending to be.

Henry shrugged, "We were kinda busy trying to get you and Grandma home I guess."

"Think it's about time to start back up?" She still wasn't sure how they were going to define normal after four solid months of constant upheaval.

"Sure! You should too! You're going to need them just as much as I do," he said.

"Like sword fighting and stuff?"

"Yeah! And horseback riding, I bet Gramps will get you a horse too."

"We'll see," she said as the highway became Main Street and she braked in front of Gold's shop. "Home again, home again, jiggity jig."

They couldn't see much of town but it looked more or less the same as she remembered.

"There's a new sign over Michael's garage."

Well, maybe less than more.

"Yep, over the Gas 'n' Go too," Emma noticed. Her skin tingled with goose bumps and not in a good way. It didn't look like Cora had rained the apocalypse down on them. But everything looked just a little too pristine, as if Main Street and all the buildings along it had gotten a deep spring cleaning.

"If you're finished staring," Gold interrupted their visual search of the town. "I'd like to wrap up this little adventure."

"Of course," Emma tossed the keys at him without any warning. He managed to catch them, but only just, and he leveled a chilly glare at her as he straightened up. She popped the trunk and slammed the driver's side door. "Get your stuff Henry, we'll pick up the bug and go look for your mom."

Henry pulled his backpack and rolling suitcase from the trunk without a word. Emma followed suit, tugging her duffle bag out before she slammed the trunk shut too.

"Goodbye Mr. Gold," she said stiffly.

They left the man on the sidewalk, Emma didn't need to look back she could feel his eyes on them and knew he was staring impassively after them. As far as she was concerned he could figure out his own problems from here on out. She didn't owe him any more favors.

It wasn't a long walk from Gold's Pawn Shop to the converted warehouse that housed Mary Margaret's apartment. They waved to several people on the street, but none Emma was familiar with. She still had the feeling that something wasn't quite right, and the noticeably new signs and paint on the storefronts they passed wasn't doing anything to assuage it.

"They couldn't have cleaned up already if something had happened right?"

"Not without…" Henry trailed off.

"Magic." They said together and picked up their pace.

No one answered when they knocked on the locked door of the apartment so Emma dug her keys out and opened it. Once inside they dropped their bags and gawked in the doorway.

The apartment had been completely renovated; except for the basic floor plan it was unrecognizable. The exposed beams that had formerly been painted white and distressed were now stained a dark honey color. The iron staircase and loft rails were now polished nickel. Behind the stairs, Mary Margaret's study and bedroom had been converted to a den. Black bookshelves and a desk were arranged directly to their left and a leather couch and oversized chair occupied the space where the bed had been. In place of the armoire there was a flat screen TV mounted over a modern looking entertainment center.

The kitchen table was ten feet in front of them instead of off to their right and the kitchen itself had been refinished. The cabinets had been painted black and new butcher block counter tops, fixtures, and stainless steel appliances had replaced the ancient ones Emma remembered.

To their right a wall of nickel and smoky glass blocked off the area that had been the living room. Henry promptly went over to investigate.

"It's a bedroom," he announced after sliding the door open enough to look inside.

Emma came up behind him to see for herself, taking in the queen sized bed with a white duvet that dominated the area. Her iPod dock rested on the bedside table and she recognized more of her stuff on the shelves. A doorway on the left led to a closet and then through to the bathroom which had remained in place but also featured new décor.

It was all much less Mary Margaret and much more…Emma.


Emma hadn't noticed Henry leave to explore the upper level. She went back out into the living area to find him hanging over the railing of the upper loft.

"There's a room for me up here! Come see!"

She climbed the steps to find that her old room had been converted into the perfect dwelling for a boy Henry's age, though the shelves and desk were pretty bare. She could only assume that was because he hadn't had many things there to begin with.

"This is awesome!"

"Yeah." Her voice wavered around the word. She was verklempt. Totally and completely overwhelmed.

What was going on?

"I think we better go find your mom now." She pivoted abruptly to descend the stairs.

"Where do you think Grandma and Gramps are?" Henry asked as he bounced after her.

"Work maybe? David's probably at the police station, maybe Snow is with him? She used to volunteer at the hospital on Saturdays, she could be there too."

"Maybe we should find them first?"

"No, your mom is already gonna kill me for taking you outta town without talking to her first. If we go looking for Snow and David before you see her she'll probably dig me up, hex me, and then kill me again."

A deep frown settled on Henry's face.

"I'm kidding," Emma assured him. "But seriously, doncha think I've made enough mistakes where your mom is concerned? I don't wanna start all over again now that we're back."

He didn't answer right away and seeing such conflict apparent on his face made her chest hurt.

"Am I gonna live with you all the time?" He asked, because that was as good a question to start with as any.

Emma sighed, and stooped to level with him. She didn't have to crouch as much as she did when he'd found her a year ago. He'd grown so much in the months since the curse had broken and even more in the weeks they'd been gone. Regina was going to kill her. And she deserved it.

"We need to talk, all three of us, about what's gonna happen from here on out. If your mom and I have one thing in common it's that you are our number one priority. And we're both going to be better about doing what's best for you."

"She's the Evil Queen! You're the White Knight! How can what's best for me be to stay with her?"

"She's your mom Henry, she was your mom when I couldn't be, and if she's still trying as hard to be your mom as she was before we left then it's time to give her a chance to be someone other than the Evil Queen." Emma was determined not to make the same mistake she now recognized she'd made outside the diner on the night of the welcome home party.

"But you can be my mom now."

"We need to talk to her," Emma repeated firmly. "I'm not sure how we're gonna work this all out. But I do know that she loves you, and I know that we're both gonna need her. We'll figure out what's best for all of us okay?"

He was rolling it over in his head, with an expression identical to the one Emma had seen on Regina's face during countless council meetings and it reaffirmed her words. He finally nodded.

"For all of us," he repeated.

She ruffled his hair before ushering him towards the door. "Let's go."

She locked the apartment behind them and they found the bug parked where she'd left it, looking exactly like she'd left it, which was a relief in contrast to the subtle changes around the rest of town.

Regina's house looked pretty much the same as well, Emma noticed as they stopped in front of it.

"Ready or not, here we come," she muttered and was pleased to see Henry crack a smile before he exited the bug.

They strode up the front walk side by side and Emma tried not to think about the last time she'd been here. She shoved it from her mind. She couldn't move forward if she didn't.

They knocked. Then rang the bell. Henry was about to open the door and just walk inside –it was, after all, still his house- when the door finally opened. He took a breath and stepped forward. Maybe his mom wouldn't actually kill Emma if she saw him first.

Snow White flew through the door. Snow White gathered them both in her arms.

"You're back!"

Emma and Henry stood frozen in her embrace wearing identical shocked expressions. Henry was the first to recover and hug his grandmother back. When Emma had gathered her wits she stepped back and away.

"Snow! What's going on? What are you doing here?"

"Where's my mom?" Henry added.

Snow laughed. "Um, I live here? Were you gone so long you forgot?"

Henry and Emma looked at each other then back to Snow.

"Since when? Where's Regina?"


"My mom! Where's my mom?"

It wasn't funny anymore.

"Snow, what's going on?"

"What do you mean what's going on?" Snow asked. "Is this a joke? Come on inside? How was your trip?"

"Snow –Mom- where is Regina?"

"Regina who?"

"Regina Mills? The woman who lives here?"

"What are you talking about Emma?"

"The mayor! Your ex-step-mother? The Evil Queen? Is any of this ringing a bell?"

"I'm the mayor," Snow insisted. "I have been since your broke the curse and I don't have a step mother, ex or otherwise. Seriously Em, what's going on with you; you both look like you've seen a ghost."

"Sorry Grams we gotta go!"

Henry grabbed Emma's hand and hauled her back down the walk. He practically jumped into the bug while Emma went around to her side on auto-pilot.

"What's going on?" They asked each other at the same time.

"I dunno, do you think it's the curse? Could it have come back since we were gone?"

"I don't think it works that way kid. Besides, she answered to Snow, not Mary Margaret."

"Let's go!"

"Go where?"

"The cemetery." Henry gestured at the ignition because Emma wasn't moving fast enough.

"What's at the cemetery?"

"My mom's vault. She's gotta be there."

Emma wasn't sure she had as many pieces to this puzzle as Henry did, but she didn't have a better idea so she gunned the engine and drove toward the Mills' mausoleum. She hadn't even stopped the car all the way when Henry jumped out and ran towards the tomb. She threw the car into park in a red zone–who was going to arrest her anyway- and caught up with him.

"It's locked."

Emma didn't have her lock picks; they were in her duffel bag back at the apartment.

"Stand back," she decided. Since Regina was going to kill her anyway, adding to her list of transgressions wasn't going to hurt. She planted her left foot and kicked forward with her right, hitting the door just to the side of the lock. There was a crack and the door swung open slightly.


"Glad you're impressed kid."

She followed him into the dim tomb and ran into his back when Henry stopped suddenly.

"What's up?"

"There's two coffins."


When Emma had been there with Graham there had definitely only been one coffin.

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. SHIT!

The one on the left still said 'Henry Mills Sr. Beloved Father.' And the one on the right?

"Cora Mills," Henry read.

Emma didn't know whether to sigh in relief or start freaking out because apparently Cora had come to town and was now deceased.

"Help me!" Henry's plea jump started Emma and she moved to his side at Henry Sr.'s coffin, which he was trying to push. She shoved too and was mildly surprised when it slid aside to reveal stone steps.

"Your mom has a vault?" She asked dumbly. "How did you know your mom has a vault?!"

Henry rolled his eyes and descended the steps. He loved his birth mother, but sometimes she seriously underestimated what he was capable of.

Sconces on the walls flared to life when they reached the bottom of the staircase, dimly lighting the network of corridors that obviously extended for some distance beneath the Storybrooke Cemetery. Emma gaped at Henry didn't pause on the landing and instead marched confidently down one of the hallways.

"Do you know where you're going?" She asked as she caught up with him.

"Not exactly," Henry admitted. "I got in a little bit of trouble last time I was here."

The last time he was- Before Emma could ask for the details on that revelation the hallway opened into a chamber full of shelves which were full of trunks and boxes of various sizes, shapes and colors. One trunk the size of a paper box sat in the exact middle of the room. On top was a manila envelope labeled 'Emma.'

Henry handed Emma the envelope and set about opening the trunk, figuring his mom wouldn't have left a steamer trunk full of snakes or anything; even if she was going to kill Emma.

"Hey, maybe you should…wait," Emma's words trailed off as she pulled the contents of the envelope out and saw that they were legal documents. A quick scan confirmed that they granted Emma full custody of Henry and effectively reversed his adoption. What the hell?

She checked for a note, for any explanation at all. Regina wouldn't have given up Henry without a fight. The almost healed bruises on Emma's ass were a testament to that.

A whimper tore her attention from the papers in her hands and she looked at Henry to find him kneeling In front of the now- open trunk, clutching a letter with tears in his eyes. He looked forlornly back at her.

"She's gone."

Back                         Home                              Once Upon a Time Main Page                          Next

Your Name or Alias:      Your E-mail (optional):

Please type your review below. Only positive reviews and constructive criticism will be posted!