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Redbreast in a Cage

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Breaking the news to her parents wasn’t as hard as Emma might have imagined. No, she and Neal wouldn’t be rescheduling the wedding, and no, it wasn’t a temporary break.

“But you love Neal,” David said, uncomprehending, as if there was no other logic to be considered.

“I know,” she only answered, calmly.

Her mother didn’t say how shocked she was or – for that matter – look shocked at all. Holding her hand firmly into hers, her dark doe eyes wiser than her young years.

Emma felt the meaning of that look, deeper than any words she could have spoken.

I’ll love you, no matter what you’re becoming.

Emma was grateful for that pledge, and was very patient in bearing with her father’s questions. She left the house to Neal and spent the night at her parents. That sounded a little radical – as if just spending one more night inside that bubble of domestic lie would be unbearable.

Emma could take it, could probably take worse.

But she had no desire to even see that house again –

To be greeted when she stepped in by that mirror painted with red lipstick, letters scrawled by the hand of her inescapable tormentor (‘WELCOME!’ my sweet into the Darkness). How could she teach her heart not to wait for the ring of the telephone, how could she even look at those woods through the window and not know from the deepest of her soul that her mind would be haunted forever?

Neal could keep the house, and he could keep Emma’s ghost along with it, if he cared to domesticate it.

Emma, herself, was done with that – wanted to lighten her soul as best as she could, before starting her new life.

It won’t be completely new, Killian’s voice whispered in her head.

Emma pictured him, now, a little like a Gothic vampire, willing to chase her through the ages. After she’d broken his heart, after she’d left him, it was the least he could do to avenge himself.

And Emma found herself hoping, there’d never come a day when he decided to take his revenge to the next step.

This was enough of a punishment. Perpetual madness. Their cycle in hell. Part of them would always be haunting each other, no matter how strongly their minds and bodies decided against it.

Emma accepted this, didn’t really see it as a fatality.

It was the price to pay for that glimpse of infinity she’d tasted on his lips.

 

 

She visited Graham at the hospital, the day after she was questioned by the police. It had been strange to settle in her parents’ house, to sleep in her old room, which was littered with the evidence of an old, forgotten self. Teenage Emma. Posters and memories pinned to the pastel walls, books she used to love forgotten in dusty shelves, pictures of Neal, but also of herself, alone, smiling eagerly at the world in defiance, at the height of her fifteen years.

Emma didn’t feel any more nostalgic than she imagined a snake would, looking at the smoldering remains of its shed skin.

What she did feel, was curiosity, expectance, as she lay in patient wait.

I’m ready to face the truth, to become who I really am.

When she saw Graham, somewhat maintaining his dignity and his strange aloofness intact, despite being dressed in a hospital shirt and visibly weakened, Emma was still in that state of quiet acceptance.

So it was difficult to answer, when he asked, calmly enough – apparently not taking it personally that he’d been shot in the chest, made collateral damage by the man who still whispered in her brain.

“Do you wish it back?” He said. Just like that, simple, calling for an honest answer. “All that’s happened with Killian Jones? Do you wish you’d never stepped foot inside that prison?”

“No.”

Emma didn’t sound embarrassed by this, and Graham didn’t look offended.

“I can’t,” she admitted. “Part of me wishes I did, out of affection for the naïve college girl who was happily engaged.” A smile wandered about her lips. “It was because I loved Neal, and my life, that this girl was so hard to leave behind. But in the end, I guess it was best for her to end like this – better than being buried alive.”

Graham didn’t nod or signify agreement. He just looked at her, very much earnest, and unjudgmental.

“So,” he said after a moment, “I take it you’re not getting married.”

An odd, pleasant blush reddened her cheeks at the remembrance of their exchange in the woods, before Killian took her.

“No.”

Graham waited for a few minutes. Sighed, though it was visibly an effort – wincing at the pain of his freshly sutured skin. “Well,” he said, “this is going to sound crazy.”

“I don’t think crazy scares me,” she answered.

“It’s just getting shot puts a lot of things in perspective.”

“I suppose.”

“And I was thinking I might leave Storybrooke, Emma – for a little while.”

The last part of his sentence, she knew, was misleading. Graham’s eyes were dark with lucidity and it was clear to her he was done with this town. Done, for that matter, with Regina Mills. If he returned, it would be as a visitor – he wouldn’t be an insider ever again.

Emma didn’t feign surprise at his statement, or make him be any clearer. No mock look of disappointment or I might miss you, Graham.

She knew what he was asking.

“And you want me to come with you,” she said.

“I think it could be interesting.”

So did she.

In the past few months, Emma had seen Graham only in brief flashes of momentary relief, interludes in her obsessive chase with Killian, there had been no leisure to ask.

Now, they had all the time in the world.

“Graham,” she said, “what did you like about me so in high school?”

There was no look of exposure on his face, no flashing desire to deny his old fondness.

“We barely knew each other,” she went on. “I wasn’t mean to you – but I rarely said more than hello.”

“It wasn’t what you said. Or what you didn’t say.” He tilted his head sideways instead of shrugging his shoulders, which would have no doubt been too abrupt for his injury. “There was always something peculiar about you, Emma. Something out-of-worldly.”

The young woman smiled, remembered the day Graham had called her a strange bird.

“You were popular at school for sure,” he admitted, “never to be seen without your flock of girlfriends, and then there was Neal. True, you were never overtly strange, like me. It just always felt that even though you fooled a great deal of people, possibly yourself, you didn’t quite belong here – you know what I mean?”

Emma realized it was also what she had liked about Graham, from the start. His strangeness. How unashamed he was to be different. That day when he’d brought a mouse to school, when the students had started breaking out in shrill shrieks, Emma had been laughing with genuine joy and secret fascination.

Silence between them was free from embarrassment. Emma sat musingly for a moment, searching his face for the traces of the teenager he used to be – even then, to Emma’s mind, he had been quite handsome, though her girlfriends would have never considered him boyfriend material. And Emma wasn’t looking for a boyfriend now, or any pre-defined relationship.

“Well,” she answered, “I do think most people around us will find it crazy. But I don’t.”

Emma’s chair was close enough to the hospital bed that she could touch him if she reached out for him.

“Where would you want to go?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere different.”

That sounded like a good plan. “How about this,” she said. “You start planning ahead. You don’t have to wait for me – you can leave town, and I’ll join you. When I’m ready.” She added, with a soft smile. “There are things I need to take care of.”

He didn’t ask what or how long she would be.

The smile on his lips was peaceful – almost like he was dreaming.

He said in a sunny voice, “We could go by the sea.”

 

 

Killian didn’t plan to remain perpetually lost at sea, just long enough to lose the police, for them to safely think he had left Storybrooke and the state of Maine, and was no longer an immediate danger.

If Emma had been there, with him, it might have been different, he might have wanted to linger; but, as things were, the vast blueness of the ocean was a merciless reminder of his solitary kingdom.

There was a tiny rescue boat (barely big enough for one, but they would have made it work for two) tied to the back of Killian’s ship. When he was far enough down the Atlantic Ocean, maybe an hour’s sailing away from the Bahamas, Killian sabotaged his own boat – not too obvious, it should smell of accident rather than suicide – and rowed patiently towards Nassau.

Killian’s efforts to be subtle in staging his boat’s destruction were probably pointless. The police would probably so happy to be rid of him, they’d not scrape so much as an inch below the surface. Manhunts were stressful for the population and expensive for the government. No more curfews, no more sensational articles in the press that made the investigators sound like fools, puppets in the game of a mastermind-killer. Say what you will about murderers being monsters, the age of the antihero was on the rise. No more Ripper.

Emma wouldn’t believe it, but it would be convenient for her to pretend she did, for the sake of preserving her loved ones and their peace of mind.

Nassau was a good place to lie low and be forgotten for a while. Killian didn’t make waves, found low-paid but easy employment, even found surprising peace if not pleasure in working long days in the sun, menial chores preventing too strong a return from his obsession.

It did not chase Emma from his mind, of course, but enabled him some reprieve during the day, when the thought of her was only sweet, not intoxicating, mild and not maddening.

The nights, then, were the worst, the most distracted hours Killian experienced. As weeks turned into months, Killian followed Emma’s struggle for justice – or was it still a quest to liberate her identity from the clutches of darkness? – through the news. Not that some local scandal in Storybrooke would have made it to television in Nassau, but Killian had access to a computer in the public library, where he spent a great deal of his spare time. Watching, drinking in the sight of the young woman who filled his nights with sleepless desire, her golden hair like an angel’s, her dark eyes like two pieces of moonless sky, reverberating echoes from bottomless abysses.

In the three months after Killian had parted with her on that harbor, Emma had been busy – maybe it helped chasing the demons of restlessness nights.

(Darling, how well I understand that)

Connecting with the few people in Storybrooke who worked in the press, Emma started collecting stories from the inmates of Adam Gold’s penitentiary. Killian was impressed, though not exactly surprised, that Emma found the courage to return to the prison where they had first set eyes on each other. It must have felt to her like stepping inside a house full of ghosts.

Could she feel him there as she walked past those gates, the hot lick of his eyes on her skin, could she feel the heat of the cauldron where their unspeakable bond had been born?

As it turned out, a lot of the inmates had stories to share about the warden. Tales of blackmail that fitted perfectly with Emma’s own account. Which she put in, yessir – brave of her, he thought, and still, he wasn’t surprised.

To have to bear journalists’ stabbing questions –

Emma Swan, did you strike a deal with Adam Gold to catch the Ripper?

Is it true you had an agreement with him when he authorized your interviews with the inmate?

Mr. Gold’s fall was far from pretty. They rarely are – when very powerful men are taken down, they don’t shy away from taking their adversary down that river of shame, and Killian would have been surprised if Gold, on having his private business investigated by the press and by the police, even thought of fighting fair or giving up his throne with dignity.

He had been, after all, the unofficial master of Storybrooke. The questions Emma asked, leading people to stir the soft earth over not-so-well-buried secrets, didn’t stop outside of Gold’s penitentiary. The testimonies of inmates would have caused a scandal, but after all, the word of a hundred cons couldn’t outbalance the warden’s. Emma took her enquiries elsewhere – really, anywhere. The baker’s, the butcher’s, the librarian’s. It turned out a great majority of the people in town had a story to share about Adam Gold.

Just how Emma got them to share it, the press didn’t say.

Killian could imagine just fine, remembered how persuasive Emma could be.

You can’t win, Killian.

The sound of her voice, cutting into his breast as they stood on this harbor, so close to eternity, so close to freedom. Whispers from the past that haunted Killian still.

And he didn’t mind. He was at peace with it.

Better for her to haunt me than for her to leave me completely.

Killian took so much pleasure in watching Gold’s undoing, it was almost as if Emma were doing it for him. The town that had shaken at Adam Gold’s mere approach, that had treated him nearly like a monarch, had finally realized the obvious truth of every autocracy. The rulers are few, the people are many.

It was fitting, he thought, that Emma should be the one to lead the town to freedom. It wouldn’t have been easy, to make them stand against Gold – it would have meant making them willing to face whatever intimate secrets Gold used to make them into his puppets, and facing yourself is never an easy thing. Emma must have known, by then, how ashamed people could be of their own darkness, how reluctant to acknowledge it as part of themselves.

She herself appeared unembarrassed by the rumors Gold spread about her, trying to discredit her as well as to take his revenge for the inconveniences she was causing him.

“You know,” he told the press, the first time they interviewed him, “I’ve seen a lot of women – yes, they’re generally women – becoming hopelessly smitten with convicted felons. I haven’t been interested enough in the subject to try and understand just why that was – my theory is that the danger in them, the power, arouses their unspoken need for domination. I wouldn’t venture to say Emma Swan is of this type. But I will tell you she was very much fascinated with Killian Jones – infatuated, even, I would say. Not only was this plain from their first interview, it’s also the only reason I can think of to explain why she would be so determined to spread vicious lies about me.” His perennial smile widened when he said this, filling Killian’s soul with fire, even through the computer screen. “Killian Jones never liked me.”

Killian was careful to examine Emma’s face, after this, in interviews or pictures that were taken of her by the press. But it was as if the slander only succeeded in making her more dignified, wearing the stigma – her scarlet letter – like a badge of honor.

She denied having been in love with him, and Killian couldn’t blame her. He, too, would have spared himself the trouble of explaining the nameless passions that bounded them to each other. And, whenever journalists wanted to know more about what had happened when Killian had taken her, on her wedding day, Emma was always very clear, refusing to broach the subject.

Why shouldn’t she? These moments were only hers – and his.

The evidence against Gold – blackmail, coercion and psychological torture – was overwhelming, and he was unanimously convicted to serve some time in the very prison where he had been called warden.

After that, Killian didn’t see much of Emma. She disappeared from the news, slipped through the net holes like a handful of fairy dust. The press was disappointed, but Killian understood; Emma wasn’t the sort of woman you keep a hold on.

Another few months wore on, and still there wasn’t so much as a Facebook update from Emma. Killian knew all waiting was vain, knew she was done with the world, that she had done the last thing that really mattered to her before she could break free and come soaring into the sky. A bird that’s been locked in a cage for so long, but that will never be a prisoner again.

“Neither will I,” Killian whispered to himself, to her, in the middle of the night. “Neither will I.”

Unless, of course, if he should think that Emma Swan was his new prison walls.