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Gone.

Such a simple word for the enormity of what happened. How do you explain it to another person without sounding completely off your rocker? Even someone with knowledge of magic and how it works would have a hard time believing it. I have a hard time believing it and I was there. Thankfully Archie Hopper doesn't judge or ridicule what I tell him, nor does he condone my self-flagellation over the whole situation.

***

The second time it happened was harder to explain away. I saw the letters forming on the mirror this time. Just my name again, but I swear I felt her there with me so strongly, like I could reach through the mirror and pull her back to safety. I hadn't felt anything so keenly since Mother died. No, that's not right. The last time I felt that strongly, she and Henry left us, ostensibly for good.

She'd been gone for a month by then. Everyone in town had determined that I keep the dagger, as the most powerful magic user. Especially since Reul Ghorm had flat out refused to touch the thing and Rumpel was still in his magically induced coma. Oh the blue bug was still working to help me reverse what happened, but she couldn't touch the damned thing if her life depended on it. And in a way, it had. We had no idea what to expect from the new Dark One, so everyone was either walking around on tenterhooks or blithely ignoring the reality of our lives. It shouldn't take much to figure out which one the Charmings and the one-handed wonder were partaking of.

No amount of summoning would bring Emma to us. The glaring truth of the black letters on that silvered blade was the only indication that she still lived. And yet, she wouldn't follow the rules of the Dark One curse and magic. Maybe it wasn't a surprise that she never showed. She's never exactly been one for following the rules.

***

The third time it happened, she'd been gone for three months, and I'd been attempting to summon her daily. It was almost Henry's birthday, and my dreams had been filled with her ever since the last appearance. That overwhelming presence surrounding me. I could smell her shampoo as I watched my name appear in the foggy mirror. But then the strangest thing happened: the glass fell over and rolled off the bathroom counter, shattering against the tile floor. Before I could do more than let out a startled shriek, the pieces were in the trash and the word "Sorry" was written under my name on the mirror's surface.

Upon hearing my story, Archie gave me that sad, knowing smile that has always felt like pity in the past. But it wasn't pity, not from him. He set aside his notepad and moved to sit next to me on the couch, taking my hands in his. The tears felt cool on my overheated cheeks; I always seemed to cry when talking to him about what happened that fateful night and in its aftermath. He offered his handkerchief and asked if I knew why she was haunting both dreams and waking hours. When I started to bring up that damnable curse, he stopped me and told me to look deeper.

And then the dam broke loose. All of the sordid details of my denial of what had been in front of me for the last few years. Every bit of my cowardice and refusal to trust in what Mother always called the greatest weakness to mankind was laid bare. At some point in my verbal diarrhea, the details of other incidents came out that I'd previously taken to be coincidental and a product of my exhaustion. A shift to the placement of the picture of Henry and Emma on my desk; my keys left in odd places; strange gibberish in open files on my computer; dead air phone calls; the list was long and varied. The more things I listed off to him in barely recognizable, tear-filled words, the more I realized they would always happen relatively soon after a summoning attempt.

***

The fourth time it happened was later that same day after my session with Archie. I couldn't wait any longer to test out my newfound theory. I let the shower run with the hottest possible water for thirty minutes, allowing the steam to build up in the room. I took a deep breath and held up the dagger and made one more attempt to summon the Dark One to me. I did my best to stay positive that it would work, knowing I'd need an emergency session with Archie if it didn't. It took several minutes, which felt like centuries to me, but it happened. My name appeared on the fogged mirror and the scent of Emma's shampoo surrounded me in the enclosed room. I called out to her, told her I knew she was there, that she was trying to come to me, and apologized for not realizing it sooner.

And then the words slipped out of my mouth without thought. Words I'd only uttered twice before to people that weren't Henry. I expected to feel mortified, but I was more relieved than anything else. I didn't even care initially if she felt the same way or not. I had to believe in myself, believe in us, or I'd never save her from the Dark One's curse. She always said we weren't strong enough alone, but we could conquer anything together. Of course, I'd been going about this in all the wrong ways, feeling the sting of abandonment once again. I repeated the words again, adding my apologies for not trusting in the power of us.

The scent of her shampoo grew even stronger. I barely registered it when I felt arms wrap around me from behind, one hand surrounding mine on the dagger. The full body embrace filled me with more hope than I'd felt since my True Love's Kiss with Henry. I didn't want to turn around for fear that she'd disappear, that this would all be some feverish nightmare. I focused on the hand wrapped around mine, willed it to be real. And then she murmured in my ear, face close enough that I could feel her breath ghosting across my skin. I was incapable of denying her request, so turned around to face her, the dagger now between us and clutched in my white-knuckled grip.

Tears filled my eyes at the sight of her. Her eyes swirled in a dizzying blend of black and green, the two halves fighting for dominance of her body and soul still. She smiled and thanked me for finally acknowledging her weak indicators for what they were. And for admitting my buried feelings, allowing her the chance to finally manifest in the flesh. I cut off her words then, kissing her sloppily to hide the burn of my shame and cowardice up to that point.

I vowed that I would never let her out of my sight again if I could control it. Together, we could find a solution to the Dark One curse and restoring her Savior's heart. I didn't care what it took. I never wanted to be parted from her again.