1. The fifth time they meet, it is because she seeks him out at the Royal castle. It is several weeks after he allowed her to escape from the Dark One’s dungeon, and she has recovered fully from her wounds. She tries to tell herself to let that be their final interaction – he had the opportunity to end her life, but chose not to, which means he’s moving on from thoughts of vengeance. She should lie low and permit him to walk that path without having to deal with her - the person he blames.
2. She should also be making the most of her second chance, moving on from her old life and family. And yet, if there is one thing she can’t do, it is to let go of her son completely. Facing an existence without seeing him is even harder when another version is so close. So, against her better judgement, she finds herself one evening pushing her dinner to one side, taking a deep breath and allowing her magic to transport her away.
3. She reappears next to a bench set amongst some rose bushes. It is a small, private side-garden, accessible only to those who know both where the door is hidden and also have the key. The bushes look cared for, so she can tell at least someone tends the plants inside. Her instincts told her to come her, so she settles on the bench and waits. A long time passes, her fingers becoming cold from the breeze. Her wounds may be healed but her body is still more tired and sensitive than before.
4. Finally, when the last of the daylight has vanished and the stars have made their appearance, she hears the sound of a key in the lock. Someone enters, closing the door behind them, and then footsteps near. She waits patiently as the person approaches, letting herself smirk slightly when the feet come to an abrupt halt. ‘We’ve spoken before without guards,’ she pushes, when the silence lingers. Henry – King Henry, as she always has to tell herself – moves into view.
5. ‘How do you even know about this place?’ he asks, a curious expression on his face instead of exhibiting fear or hatred. She supposes that is definitely a step in the right direction. ‘I gather you read that book back to front several times?’ she replies, already knowing the answer. He nods, choosing to lean against a statue rather than join her on the bench. He’s dressed in typical night robes for this land – not something her Henry would be seen dead in. She smiles at the thought.
6. ‘Well, when we had that year where we were all sent from Storybrooke back to the Enchanted Forest, and I was separated from my Henry-’ she breaks off, pain in her heart at the similar situations. And yet this time, there is no Snow or David or even Belle around her. ‘We stayed in our version of this castle – the entire pathetic group of people. I would come here every night, just to have some peace, and think about Henry without Snow asking me every five minutes if I was alright.’
7. She almost bites her tongue when she realizes she’s mentioned Snow’s name. The death of his grandparents and disappearance of his mother is of course all on her head in his eyes – even if she wasn’t the version to actually perform those acts. Henry crosses his arms, but appears to contemplate what she says. ‘If what is written in the book is true,’ he begins slowly, ‘And I’m not saying that I believe it - it could just be your way of trying to trick me.’
8. He glances sideways at this, and she knows he’s lying – he does believe the book, at least somewhat. ‘If it were true though, you two ended up being close then? You and Grandma?’ She smiles sadly at him, and nods. ‘We forgave each other, and became family. She was always giving me ridiculous hope speeches. Emma became a dear friend too. I miss them.’ He bites his lip, clearly turning something over in his mind. ‘If it was so difficult during that year, why did you leave again? Leave Henry?’
9. ‘It’s all there in the book, Henry,’ she says gently. ‘I didn’t have a choice about leaving. And I miss him, every single day.’ Silence falls for a moment. Her hands are getting colder, and she rubs them together slightly. ‘I’m not him,’ Henry blurts out suddenly. ‘I’m not your son. I have no memories of growing up with you, or living in that world.’ She remembers then – remembers mistaking him for her Henry when she lay dying. Maybe that is what made him believe in the book.
10. ‘I know you aren’t my son,’ she admits, twisting her fingers together. ‘That doesn’t mean you aren’t like my Henry in many ways though. You’re him if he had had a very different upbringing, is all.’ He snorts at this, rubbing a toe into the dirt. He looks very much like a teenager in this moment, and nothing like a King. ‘I’m not trying to replace my son,’ she continues, watching his face closely. ‘And if you want, I can leave and you’ll never have to see me or think about me ever again.’
11. He becomes quiet again at this offer, and the silence stretches on so long that she makes a move to stand up and transport herself away. If that is his choice, then she will respect it. But as soon as she’s standing, he holds out a hand. ‘I have to welcome all the nobles in the Kingdom to the castle next week,’ he tells her, in an odd shift in topic. ‘I’m slightly terrified that they won’t take me seriously, considering the fact that they’re all at least two decades older than me.’
12. ‘Overwhelm them with polite steeliness,’ she advises him with a twitch of her lips. ‘I became Queen at a rather young age myself, and found if you’re polite but don’t let them get away with anything, the old curmudgeons learn to respect you quite quickly.’ He nods, and at last smiles back. ‘I know, I read the books,’ he tells her. At her confused expression, he elaborates. ‘Our history books, about your reign. When you weren’t trying to track Grandma down, you were a pretty good ruler.’
13. She laughs slightly, and shrugs her shoulders. ‘Helped that a lot of them were scared of me,’ she admits, pursing her lips. ‘Not a prudent route for you to take.’ He drops his chin in agreement. ‘Most of my advisors are terrible,’ he confides with a wince. ‘Half of them don’t know what they’re talking about, and the other half want to run the kingdom themselves.’ She knows that feeling well, and extends a hand out, letting it hang in the air between them for a moment in a gesture of peace.
14. ‘I understand that, I do,’ she tells him seriously. ‘If you ever
need another person’s opinion, I’m always available.’ She feels stupid
at the offer, but there is a flicker of relief in his eyes, or so she
chooses to see. ‘I come to this garden every night myself,’ he informs
her. ‘None of my guards are allowed to disturb me here.’ They stare at
each other for a moment, with new-found understanding. ‘Good night,
Henry,’ she says, and she sees him smile before she transports herself