Chapter Twenty-Three: Good Days and Bad
Emma did not trust her and Mary Margaret agreed, but even Gold had had to admit that Cora had been strangely quiet. He still didn't trust her, of course, but according to Neal he'd grown a little less agitated whenever she was brought up. Oh, the magic lessons were still on and he grew nervous when he hadn't heard from Belle in a few hours, but he'd gone back to the shop and things seemed to be settling back into something like normal, or at least whatever passed for it in a town populated entirely by people from - or descended from - an enchanted land. The Home Office - whatever it really was - hadn't come crashing down around Storybrooke, Tamara was still locked up, Captain Hook remained tucked away and might have even sailed back to the Enchanted Forest by this point, and Anton and the dwarves had set to growing magic beans that could potentially take everyone else there as well. All in all, it was as normal as it got.
"You're freaking out."
"I'm not freaking out, I'm just worried," Emma shot back, backing her words up with a significant glare across the table at her son's father. He should be worried too.
"Henry'll be fine. Regina's with him. You know she won't let anything happen to him."
"What if Cora tricks her?"
"You really don't give her enough credit."
"When did you join team Regina?"
Neal snorted. "When she cast the spell that sent me home to you and Henry and Papa."
She couldn't counter that one. It was still weird to think that Neal had lived all of this - though when she pressed him for it, he had told her that his being there must have changed things because things weren't lining up with what he'd experienced anymore - and that he'd crossed the barriers of time to get back to them and to save them. That could have been part of the reason why she'd finally given in and was having lunch with him. Oh, he'd asked before - many times - but something always seemed to conveniently get in the way. This time, though, her parents were out at the beans field, Henry was with Regina meeting his 'grandmother,' and Gold and Belle were having what Neal had said looked like a picnic in the pawn shop, and his papa had said that if anyone interrupted them that it should be for nothing less than that someone he cared about was dying or the messenger might find themselves turned into something rather unpleasant.
"So," Emma said, intentionally changing the subject and hoping that her thoughts followed, "how's magic training going?"
"That really makes it sound weird when you say it like that."
"Because it's not?"
"Yeah, it is, but you don't have to say it like that," Neal said with a grin and Emma found herself echoing it. That's how he was. When Neal smiled, he had the ability to make everyone else follow behind. It was a gift or maybe it was his own brand of magic that he'd always dealt in. Whatever the case, Emma always felt the same small stir deep within her chest when she saw it and she'd been fighting it for longer than she liked to think about. There was no reason to fight it anymore, but habits were hard to break, and self preservation was one of the stronger habits that she clung to.
"Hey," he said, nudging her hand with his own, but not quite holding it. "Earth to Emma?"
"Sorry," she mumbled. "I just think that I don't know what to do with things going right, you know? I've always been on the run, and then when I came here something was always going crazy. Regina was trying to run me out or a wraith was destroying the town or-"
"You enjoy it."
"Those few moments when things go right," Neal clarified. "You enjoy them."
"But I have to be ready for the next... Whatever. I'm the savior, right? That's kind of my job."
"You want a cape and mask or something?"
She rolled her eyes and took a playful swing at him. When he dodged she tossed a half eaten fry at him, hitting Neal square in the nose and leaving catchup behind to mark her victory.
"C'mon, kids, play nice," Ruby teased as she refilled their glasses.
"You saw that," Neal argued, but he couldn't keep himself from grinning.
Emma snorted. "Yeah, because you wear the innocent face so well."
"I do, actually. That's why I was always the one bailing us out of trouble."
The bell announced the door to the diner opening and Emma's eyes flickered over. "Well, here's your chance to get us out of it again," she said and Neal turned in the booth.
The head nun/ fairy entered the diner with her usual air of superiority. While Emma had had no particular dislike if her upon arrival, Blue's insistence on butting into her private life hit on nearly every one of her nerves. She'd gone over the story in painful detail with Neal - though August apparently had all but locked himself in his dad's wood shop and she hadn't seen him except in passing since she'd tossed him out of the apartment a few weeks before - and he'd told her about how he was separated from his father and the details involved in that. All together, Emma was sure that the fairy would do more 'good' by minding her own damn business.
They'd spoken on the prophecy that might or might not still be looming in the distance for them, but she was inclined to agree with her son's father. He knew Gold as well as - and probably a little more honestly than - Belle and between the two of them they knew him best. If Neal said Gold was willing to do anything to protect Henry, she believed him. He'd shown no inclination otherwise.
"Have you talked to her?" Neal asked, turning back around even as Emma scooted further into the booth and sank just low enough that she hoped she wasn't as visible, but didn't look like she was trying to avoid being seen.
"She came by the sheriff's station a couple of weeks ago. Mary Margaret jumped in the middle of it before I could tell her exactly how I feel, but she got the picture I think. She hasn't been back since."
"She hasn't even tried to approach me again. I don't think she wants to get any closer to Papa than she has to."
Emma chuckled. "She's sneaker than Mary Margaret wants to admit though. I don't think she's given up. You don't think she'll try to convince Henry your dad is after him, do you?"
Neal shrugged. "I'd hate to be her if she did. I haven't told Pop all of this, but Henry would."
The blonde smirked at the idea. "After telling her off."
"Well, he is our son."
Blue risked a glance in their direction, but as soon as her eyes met Emma's she turned around again. The savior cracked a wide smile. "Looks like we did something right."
Neal joined in with a grin. "Definitely."
Henry trusted Regina, but her mother was an entirely different story. He hadn't met Cora yet, but he'd heard enough about her to give him the creeps. His Grandpa Gold didn't like her while Grandma Snow and Emma didn't trust her. The adults hadn't been as forthcoming with information as he would have preferred, but that never stopped him from following where curiosity led.
Cora had been a miller's daughter that had married a prince, that much Regina had divulged. The prince was Henry's grandfather and he'd been named after him, but he'd apparently passed away before the curse was cast. She'd learned magic from Rumplestiltskin and had been a rather... difficult mother. That was all Henry's own mother would tell him when he asked. He had gone on to find that she had been pushed through a looking glass and banished to Wonderland, had become the Queen of Hearts, and had made a place for herself in Wonderland. Somewhere before the Dark Curse was put into play, Cora had gone back to the Enchanted Forest, but no one seemed to know how or why. That, or they just weren't telling him. He thought that was a good possibility.
Henry shifted his bag to the opposite shoulder, feeling his book lean with it inside. There was nothing about Cora in there either. That had probably been more disconcerting than the fact that none of the adults wanted to tell him the whole story.
"Well hello, dear."
The boy turned, his eyes wide and coming to focus on his adopted grandmother. Her pantsuit reminded Henry of something Regina might have worn and her hair was down, framing her face. He'd seen what he thought was an old photo in a locket his mother kept where Cora's hair had been swept up in a fancy style that didn't quite fit in with modern Storybrooke. Here, though, she looked like she might have been there since the beginning for all the ease she seemed to fit in. "Hi," he said at last, eying her carefully. "My mom said to come on by after school."
"She wasn't expecting you for another hour," Cora said and for some reason she sounded concerned.
"I usually go to math tutoring on Tuesdays, but I… uh… didn't have it today." He peered around the woman to see if Regina might be coming up the way, but when he didn't see her he felt a strange sort of anxiousness grow. "Where's my mom?"
The door opened as if on cue and Regina followed it. "Henry, what are you doing here so early?"
Relief flooded through him and the terrible ideas of what Cora might have done to her were brushed aside. He swung his bag around and pulled a crumpled paper from inside, frowned at it, and then straightened it so that she could see. "I got an A on my math test. My teacher said I didn't need to go to tutoring this week."
When he'd been little, Henry could remember Regina lighting up at just about anything that excited him too, but as he'd gotten older that had faded away and she'd grown stricter and stricter as time went on, finding faults even in his success. Now, though, her eyes brightened and she took the wadded test from his hands. "That's wonderful, Henry!" she announced and shot him a knowing look. "All that work paid off, didn't it?"
"Might have," her son agreed reluctantly and she wrapped an arm around him. He had to admit he missed her. If things had been different, if Cora had never come, he'd probably be bouncing between three houses by this point: Emma, Baelfire, and Regina's homes. They were all his parents, and his adopted mother, no matter what terrible things she might have done in her past, was working very hard to be better. "Kind of like you," he said after a moment.
Regina blinked at him. "What do you mean?"
"You've been working hard too. To be better," he said and she smiled and kissed the top of his head.
"Only for you, my prince," she said softly, the old nickname making him grin. "Mother, why don't we go inside so you can get to know Henry?"
Henry started chattering away about everything that had been happening at school and anything that he thought he could say about either of his other parents and grandparents without it being something they wouldn't want Cora to know. Regina listened and Cora stood back. Finally, Henry ran out of things he thought he could say. He had been spending some time over at Grandpa Gold's house afterall, and Grandpa Gold was pretty much off limits if he was talking around Cora.
"I saw a form cross my desk this morning," Regina said as she set a mug of hot chocolate down - with cinnamon! She was really trying today - and took a seat on the couch herself. "Looks like Belle is just about ready to get the library open."
Henry beamed. "Yeah, and we're taking a field trip there as soon as it opens!"
"I'll have to make sure that it gets approved right away then," his mother answered.
"Belle?" Cora asked, the name the first word to leave her lips since they'd come inside. "That's Rumple's little flower, isn't it?"
Regina's lips pulled down just a little, but she nodded, taking a sip from her coffee mug so that she didn't have to answer aloud.
"Hmm," the elder woman hummed thoughtfully. "Such an interesting little thing. She runs the library then? I hardly see what it is that Rumple sees in her."
"Belle's brave and smart," Henry defended immediately. "Grandpa Gold loves her."
"Grandpa Gold?" Cora chuckled. "That's precious. Who would have thought the Dark One would play the part of the doting grandfather?"
"Family changes people," Regina said sternly.
"Apparently so. I never would have thought that I would see the day when you would let what Snow White did to you go, though I do suppose the fact that she is your son's grandmother makes the difference these days. Bravo, dear," she cheered, but she hardly sounded like she meant it. "Now, Henry, tell me more about this library visit. I understand you're quite the reader."
Henry risked a glance to Regina and saw the way his mother's expression was carefully masked. She gave a reassuring nod, though and he took a deep breath. "Yeah, I love to read. The library's been closed down all my life - probably since Storybrooke was formed - so I'm really excited to see it all put together."
"I'm sure Belle's been very hard at work, though when we go back to the Enchanted Forest I'll show you Regina's childhood home. There was a library there like you've never seen-"
"What do you mean when we go back?" Henry asked, startled by the phrasing.
"Well, surely we won't stay here forever," Cora drawled, sipping daintily from her mug. "Why else would they have that giant growing magic beans?"
"That giant has a name, you know. It's Anton." He turned his attention on his mother. "You told her about the beans?"
Regina looked a little offended at his tone. "Of course I told her, Henry. If we all go back we can't leave her behind. Anyway, nothing has been decided yet. Emma doesn't seem sold on it and we know that if she doesn't go neither will her parents or your dad."
"I won't go either if my parents both stay," the eleven-year-old said firmly. He wouldn't choose between them. He wouldn't let Regina make him.
"I know, sweetie. No one is going to make you."
"Well I think that's a bit premature," Cora said and her daughter shot her a look. Henry felt like he was being bounced around and used to strike blows. He didn't like it, and he was pretty sure he didn't like Cora either.
The conversation continued in the same fashion and by the time Henry finally found an excuse to step out he felt like he'd been through a very subtle - and sometimes not so subtle - interrogation. Grandpa Gold, Mom, and Grandma Snow were all right: Cora wasn't trustworthy. He really wanted to talk to Regina about it, but he didn't dare try to do it when Cora was in the same house. No, he'd have to find another way to get his adopted mother away from her and see if she felt the same.
She'd been locked up in the little cell for weeks. It was enough to drive anyone a little mad, even if they weren't trapped in a town run by the Evil Queen and a blonde sheriff that thought she could get away with holding her without trial. These people were in for a surprise. She hadn't had time to find everything out, but Tamara had managed to send at least some of what she'd found back to her contact at the Home Office. They'd be coming for her, and when they did everyone in this nutcase of a town was going to regret what happened. From little miss Snow White to that lunatic that Neal called a father, the Home Office would find a place for them. Emma Swan thought she was being clever by hiding her away until she talked, but she really had no idea. Each one of those magical creatures that the Home Office found useful would be locked away behind a glass door to be studied and understood. Then, when they gleaned all they could from them, their existence would be ended. It was only a matter of time.
Tamara leaned back against the wall, satisfied to think on that for a bit. They'd get what was coming to them and she'd be able to watch. They couldn't deny her a front row seat after Greg had been killed right before her eyes. She wanted to see them pay.
Up until that day, Emma had been by almost like clockwork with a few exceptions. She would bring by a coffee from Granny's or once she even brought a couple of beers and handed one to Tamara through the bars before pulling up a chair and proceeding to question her for the next hour as to the Home Office and what their mission was. She was rarely rude and more times than not she was as friendly as a person might be that had been threatened by the person on the other side of the bars, but Tamara was no fool. If she was one of them, she wasn't to be trusted.
She hadn't been in yet that day, so when she heard the steady footsteps coming down the hall Tamara assumed that it was her daily visitor. She didn't bother to open her eyes as she leaned her head back against the wall behind her, huffing a sigh out in a frustrated manner. "You could at least send Neal or someone else. I'm not going to tell you anything."
"Someone's a bit testy, aren't they?"
Tamara blinked her eyes open, startle by the young, male voice that most certainly did not belong to Emma Swan. A boy stood at the entrance of the sheriff's office. He was a young teen, lanky and with a mop of blond hair and a mischievous smile that quirked at the edges like he knew a secret that she wasn't even aware that she didn't know yet. "I'm sorry, but who are you?"
The smile widened and he pulled a small device from his belt. "I'm the Home Office."
The woman in the cell snorted. "You're just a kid. Is this some sort of joke?"
Tamara stood slowly, inching towards the bars and wrapping her fingers around them to lean closer. "Did they send you to rescue me?" she asked hesitantly, hoping beyond hope his answer was no.
He shrugged. "Don't think you've quite earned that, have you? One job. You had one real job to fulfill here and you failed in it."
"It wasn't our fault," she argued, somehow feeling like she needed to explain herself to this boy. "Neal's dad - Rumplestiltskin - he killed Greg and-"
The teen tutted, moving forward and for the first time Tamara realized that his shadow didn't quite move with him. It was about a step behind and as he stopped at the bars and an impish grin spread across his face, it detached itself entirely and made a motion like it was mocking her, fluttering about the dimming room. She'd seen many things since she'd started to work for the Home Office, but nothing like that. "What the hell is that thing?" she managed.
"That? Just my shadow. He thinks you're funny."
"Your shadow thinks I'm funny?"
"Yes he does," the teen answered and there was something not quite right about his eyes as he leaned closer. "You should have brought the boy straight to me and at least you could have lived."
"What?" Tamara managed before the shadow leapt forward and a pain like she'd never felt before spread through her body. A sound, a bit like something being ripped apart, filled the sheriff's office and she screamed, her whole world going black.
Late lunch had turned into a long talk, even after the Blue Fairy had left the diner. A long talk had then turned into a walk. Bae wasn't entirely sure when they'd decided to get up, or if it had even been verbalized, but now they were walking towards the woods and away from the town. It was quiet, peaceful, and he pulled a breath in and revelled in the fact that Emma wasn't pitching a fit over the fact that he'd inched closer and closer as they walked. It was silly, but she made him feel that way sometimes. He was over three hundred years old and this woman still made him feel like a schoolboy.
"What's that goofy smile for?"
He blinked, pulled from his thoughts. "Say what?"
"Uh-huh, and there's that fake innocent face. You know, I never thought about it before, but your dad makes that face too whenever someone calls him on his lie."
Bae chuckled. "Pop rarely outright lies. You have to listen quick and listen carefully, but usually the truth is wrapped somewhere up in what he's said."
"And you?" she asked, her voice sounding smaller than it usually did. It sounded younger, like when they'd first met and she'd just begun to let her guard down around him.
"And me what?" he asked, stopping and turning to look at her.
"Can I trust you, Neal?"
The question was so open and honest that it hit him hard and he couldn't respond for a moment. His breath caught and his heart was pounding in his ears. "Yes," he breathed. "Emma, I know I screwed up, and I know… If I could take it back I would."
"Would you?" she asked and tilted her head to the side. "Because you could have gone back to that moment, couldn't you? You could have gone back with all that knowledge and told August no, but you didn't. Why?"
Bae grimaced. "Because Regina cast the spell. It wasn't something I could do and… I promised to help her fix things with Henry. If I'd gone back to the alley we would have kept Henry. Together. You know we would have. Regina never would have known him and I couldn't do that to her. Not after she risked her life to help me get back to you."
He watched his love carefully and Emma nodded slowly. "You're a good guy, you know that?"
A smile perked the corners of his lips and he stepped forward, one hand on the side of her face and his fingers tangled in loose, blonde hair. "I love you, Emma. I won't leave you again, I swear it. Just… Please give me a chance to prove it?"
She leaned in and he knew he'd finally done something right as he moved to kiss her. The sharp ringing of her cell phone caused them both to jerk back, though, and Bae instantly knew what he could use for targeting practice the next time that his papa wanted him to try to conjure an offensive spell up. That phone's days were numbered.
Emma growled as she fished it out of her pocket. "What?" she demanded a little sharper than she might have otherwise. Bae loosed a long breath out of his nose. Well, at least she was as put out by it as he was. "Slow down. Of course someone's there. Why wouldn't-" She pulled the phone away from her ear and rolled her eyes as the voice on the other end chattered endlessly. "Okay," she said at last. "I'll go take a look."
"Of all the timing," Bae sighed.
"I swear if we get there and Tamara's just pitching a fit I'm going to gag her," Emma swore as she started towards town. "Someone heard something out of the usual over at the station and automatically it's the worse possible scenario."
The complaining didn't stop as they moved quickly towards the Town Hall. Bae didn't mind, really, and he reached out on a whim, fingers touching hers. Emma didn't dodge as he took hold of her hand. She rolled her eyes good naturedly and grumbled something or another, but she didn't pull away. If they were lucky, this would be a quick check of the grounds and they could get back to what he was confident enough to call their date.
Luck was rarely on their side though, and the first thing that Bae and Emma noticed was that no one seemed to be in the town hall, either on the mayor's side or the sheriff's. The dwarves were supposed to be taking turns guarding Tamara, but when they walked into the video room they found Sleepy doing what he did best, leaned back in the chair and snoring softly.
Emma reached forward without a word and tugged at the chair, the dwarf startling awake with a cry and the sensation that he was falling. "Emma?" he asked sleepily. "What'd you do that for?"
"You fell asleep again," Emma answered with an irritated look crossing her face. Bae almost felt bad for Sleepy. The narcoleptic dwarf really should never be put on watch duty. They all knew that.
"I didn't miss anything! See?" He motioned back to the screens and his eyes went wide as he finally saw the way the screen was fuzzed out. "What happened?"
"Something cut the connection," Bae said evenly, though nothing about the situation sat well with him.
"I haven't heard anything," Sleepy argued.
"Funny, we're here because someone heard a scream," Emma countered irritably and started out the door, checking her gun as she did. Bae followed immediately after with Sleepy a few steps behind.
They made their way up from the basement video room and to the sheriff's office. The lights in the hall were on as they always were, but the office itself was dark. Bae tried to crush down the uncomfortable feeling that was clawing at him as they moved closer and closer, his mind rolling through the lessons he and his papa had been going over.
The room was silent and Emma flipped the overhead light on. Nothing happened and the room remained dim, the setting sun doing little to help. Emma let out a frustrated growl as she stumbled forward for the light in a desk. It clicked on, casting long shadows across the office, and Bae's eyes went immediately to the cell.
Tamara lay crumpled on the floor against the cot. Her head was bent at an odd angle and one arm was pinned uncomfortably behind her as if she'd fallen on it. He started forward, dark eyes fixated. "You have the keys?"
"Here," Emma answered as she tossed them to him.
The cell door swung open easily enough and Bae bent down. If there'd been any question before it was done away with when he reached forward to check for a pulse in both her wrist and neck. The bones were bent and broken, like someone had beaten her to death, yet there wasn't a mark on her, but that wasn't what caught Baelfire's attention as he stood slowly.
"What the hell did that to her?" Emma murmured. "And why now?"
"Look," Bae said carefully and Emma stepped closer.
"Yeah, I see, Neal. That doesn't explain-"
"Yes it does. Look."
One glance at her told him she didn't understand, and only then did he remind himself that this Emma had never been to Neverland. He pulled in a steadying breath and motioned to the floor, his voice low as he spoke. "She doesn't have a shadow."
The day had been a good one. In fact, though he was hesitant to admit it even to himself lest he jinx it, it had been a good collection of days. Bae's lessons were going well, Cora had been surprisingly quiet, and he and Belle seemed to have managed to put the bickering away for the time being. He'd even managed to start in on the Milah story in small pieces here and there. Belle hadn't run, and that was most certainly a start.
She was trying to put together the finishing touched on the library that evening to make sure it was ready to open as soon as it was approved. It had been all she could talk about over lunch and he'd been happy to listen. Seeing her happy put him as close to peace as he thought he might be able to get under his curse. She'd rattled on about how she was going to line up field trips for the kids and reading day. Henry was acting as her own personal laissant and was loving every moment of it.
Rumplestiltskin sighed as he took a seat at his work desk in the back office of his shop. This could certainly be filed away as a good day.
"Hello, laddie. Been a while."
The shop owner spun around, nearly knocking the stool he'd been seated on off balance in his haste. Perhaps he'd filed it away too soon. The day didn't appear quite over. "You. How did you get here?"
His visitor grinned, all boyish charm and not an ounce of innocence. Rumplestiltskin knew better. "Is that any way to greet family, Rumple?"
"You're not family," the Dark One growled.
"That's right, I suppose you've found yourself a better substitute. Saw Baelfire is in town. How did you manage to patch things with your son?"
"That's none of your concern. You stay away from him."
"Touchy," the teen laughed. "And I came here to do you a favour."
"I want no favours from you," the younger man - because he was younger, no matter how much of a child the other appeared on the outside - said with a glare. He hadn't seen him in centuries, then he just shows up with a cryptic offer. Nothing about this could go well. Rumplestiltskin needed to protect his family, and Peter Pan was no family of his. He hadn't been in a very long time.
"Even if it will save your life?"
The Dark One paused, stiffening at the words and he hated himself for it. That nasty habit of self preservation had been a weak point that Pan had always known to attack. The smirk he wore said that he knew he'd gained Rumple's attention.
"There's a prophecy that you were once told by a seer that you sought out."
"I suppose you may be a bit behind on all of this, but I make prophecies now," Rumplestiltskin growled.
"I'm sure you do, laddie. Back to the point: the prophecy stated that you'd find your son and that a boy would lead you to him."
A chill swept through him. "And that the boy would be my undoing," he whispered. He hadn't thought on that old prophecy in some time now, not even when Baelfire came to him. Bae had decided on his own to seek him out without anyone leading him there.
"Exactly. I'm going to take the boy out of the picture. I need him and you need him gone. Everyone wins."
"There is no boy," Rumplestiltskin snapped. "Bae was not brought here by-"
"Didn't he come looking for his son?"
The chill turned to ice and for a moment he thought that his whole world might come crashing in around him. His curse, as unhelpful as it could be at times, pushed all the pieces of the puzzle together in a way that left him feeling physically ill. He sank back down to the stool. "Henry," he whispered. "Why would you need Henry?"
"Why I need him is none of your concern, laddie. All you need to know is that I'm doing away with that pesky problem for you. You're welcome."
Pan walked past him towards the back exit of the office, leaving Rumplestiltskin to sit numbly behind. His grandson was the boy from the prophecy. Henry was going to be his undoing. His life was finally starting to come around and he wasn't ready for it to end just yet. He had to protect his family, after all, but how did he protect his family when Henry's very life meant the end of his? As dread rooted him in his place, Rumplestiltskin decided that this was likely one of the worst days yet.
Notes: A bit longer chapter for the weekend. I do hope that the SwanFire in this chapter helps to make up for at least a little of what I put everyone through with the whole WoodenSwan bit at the beginning (I still have trouble with that ship name...). Honestly, if Bae weren't in the picture and August hadn't been so involved in screwing everything up, I might ship August and Emma, but alas, poor August. He makes a lot of bad decisions. A lot.
Next time - Chapter Twenty-Four: Nasty Habits, in which Rumplestiltskin must choose between family and that nasty habit of his, and Pan makes a go for Henry.