This is the end! Thanks for sticking with it (if you're still around), and I apologize for the long wait for this last chapter. Some of you have asked that I continue this past the curse being broken, but I simply don't have the time or energy to keep it going, so you'll have to fill in the blanks yourself. Hopefully this final chapter answers all of the lingering questions from previous chapters - if not, chalk it up to author error and feel free to let me know in your reviews.
PART EIGHT: The End
They are the only ones at the toll bridge. It is warm morning (it'll be a hot afternoon), and the water trickling merrily across the pebbled river looks cool and refreshing.
But the water is the last thing on David's mind. He is standing on the bridge with his back to the water, arms crossed across his chest, waiting for answers from two women who obviously have no idea how to explain whatever it is they need to explain. They keep looking at each other as if hoping the other will start talking first, and David is nearly dancing with anticipation and frustration—all he knows is that everything is about to change, and he wants it to change now before he goes completely mad.
"So," he finally says. "Can I at least get a name now?" Emma and the other woman exchange yet another look, and he sighs. "It doesn't even have to be your real one if you don't trust me with…"
"It's Snow," the woman blurts suddenly. She looks fiercely at Emma, who just lifts her shoulders in a shrug as if to say your funeral. "My name is Snow."
"Snow?" David whispers, because whether it's her real name or not (and he suspects that it is), it is tickling something deep inside him and he thinks he might love this woman, though of course that can't be right. "Okay. Good."
"Does that…mean anything to you?" Snow asks tentatively. She is watching him with narrowed eyes as if waiting for him to break into song or explode or throw himself off the bridge. "Anything at all?"
"Mom, it doesn't work like that…"
"Okay, first of all, yes, it does, though I have no idea why, and second, Mom? Explain that one."
Snow's face breaks out into the biggest smile he has seen on her lips yet, and he cannot help but return it despite the absolute madness of the whole situation.
"David, does this place…does this place mean anything to you?" she asks. It's a very blatant dodge of his question, and he shakes his head.
"Uh uh. Nope. You're not getting out of it. How are you her mother? And yes, I like this place. I come out here all the time. I live here. It's nice. Peaceful. Quiet. I feel safe here, like nothing else really matters. How are you her mom?"
Snow turns to toss a strangely triumphant look at Emma, who is looking a strangled mixture of pleased, hopeful, and exasperated.
"Well, I gave birth to her," Snow says. David crosses his arms across his chest.
"That's usually how it works. You don't look a day older than she is."
"I age well?"
He wants to laugh, because she has an absolutely awful poker face. He settles for a slow grin. "Not buying it."
"Do you believe in magic?" This comes, unexpectedly, from Emma. Snow closes her eyes, and she presses her lips together subtly.
"Well done, Emma."
"Maybe it's time to stop dancing around," Emma says. David agrees with her 100%, but he isn't sure how to respond to her question.
"Magic? I don't know." He pauses. "If you'd asked me a few years ago, a few months ago, maybe a few weeks ago, I would have said no. Now?" he shakes his head slowly. His head feels full of cotton, all foggy and confused, but there's something niggling in the back of his brain that is trying desperately to cast a shaft of light through the haze and make everything clear and real. "Maybe. Probably."
"Good. Then will you do something for me?" Emma asks, stepping around Snow to stand just a foot or two from David, close enough that he could reach out and touch her if he wanted to. He realizes suddenly that for all of the times he thinks he can remember meeting her (how many times has he met her? He doesn't know, and a great ache of sadness swells inside him—he's starting to get emotional whiplash), he has never touched her.
"Anything," he responds automatically. She smiles softly.
"Listen to me. And don't interrupt. Everything will make sense, I promise. Can you do that for me?"
He brings a hand to his lips, zips them closed, and tosses the key over the bridge. Snow's hands are clasped in front of her, and her eyes are bright and hot—she seems on the verge of tears, and he is more than willing to listen to anything and everything if only it means all of this will be explained.
And so Emma starts to talk. And her words slip into his ears and down into his chest and heart and soul, and even though she's talking about magical curses and evil queens and fairy tales and princesses and saviors, he believes it all. With his whole heart he believes it, even though his head is screaming at him to call the sheriff and get these two loonies locked away in the bin.
Emma pauses once, when she is in the middle of explaining something about Snow White (and-the-seven-dwarfs Snow White?) and asks, "Are you okay? You look a little…overwhelmed."
"No, I'm good," he says, though he is anything but. "Can I ask a question?"
"Sure." Emma looks apprehensive, but she folds her arms across her chest in a mirror of his and waits.
"Snow White went through a magical wardrobe to this world."
"And she took her daughter with her."
"And she left her Prince Charming behind?"
He stops, because the pieces are clicking, and he kind of wants to laugh and kind of wants to cry, and kind of wants to sit down and curl into a ball, because his head is pounding and his chest is aching and he feels about to split in two.
"Your name is Snow."
Snow bites her lip. "Yes?"
"And Emma is your daughter."
"And you called me "Charming" back at the Mayor's house…who is actually Mrs. Evil Queen."
"I didn't mean to let that slip," Snow cries, looking charmingly distressed. "It was an accident!"
He lifts his hand to the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes, trying to massage his headache away and failing miserably.
"So, if I'm following you," he says slowly, "you're saying that you…" he points at Snow, "are Snow White of the Disney hall of fame, and you…" he points at Emma, "are the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, who is…" he points his finger at his own chest, finding himself unable to finish the sentence.
"You're following me," Emma says, looking almost as if she wishes he weren't. "Are you okay? Can I keep going?"
"One more question." She looks nervous now, but nods. "How are you her daughter? And yes, I know how it all works, but…but how are you two the same age?"
"Rumplestiltskin," Snow interjects. Until this point she has been mostly silent, alternately watching him with those big brown eyes and leaning over the edge of the bridge, staring down at the water with her hands clenched in front of her. "He gave me a spell to keep me the same age. Just for the duration of the curse. Or, until the curse can be broken. Which is today. Today I start aging again."
This makes all sorts of no sense at all, but he supposes it fits with the rest of what he's hearing. "That's like an elixir for…eternal life. That's pretty powerful stuff."
"Well, all magic comes with a price," she says, and a shadow crosses her face. "And the more powerful the magic, the more expensive the price."
"And what did you pay for your 28 years of youth?" He cannot believe those words have come out of his mouth in a 100% serious question, but he supposes he should just go with it.
"I had to give you up," she whispers, and now tears are prickling in the corners of her eyes, and it is as if someone has stabbed him in the chest. He wants nothing more than to take the few steps to her side and gather her up in his arms, but he is frozen to the wooden bridge beneath his feet, completely at a loss, and his head is pounding feverishly.
"How do we break the curse?" he asks. Emma blinks at him. She has gripped Snow's hand gently in hers, and they exchange another look, this one full of almost comical shock. "What," he grins. "Didn't think I'd believe you?"
"Well, I didn't expect it to be so easy to convince a grown man that magic is real, he's married to Snow White, and has a 28 year old daughter thanks to a curse cast by an evil queen masquerading as the mayor of Storybrooke, Maine," Emma says.
David laughs out loud. "Actually, that last part is easiest to believe," he teases. "Never been too fond of Regina. And honestly, if you could be inside my head right now, you'd believe anything that could explain everything that's happened in the last few years too. This is just about the only thing that even begins to make sense. You make sense."
Emma smiles, and now she's got tears in her eyes too, and he feels that he is standing on the edge of a precipice, about to tumble off the edge of his world.
"True love's kiss," she whispers. He looks automatically at Snow, and Emma half laughs, half sobs. "No, it's got to be me," she says. "I'm the Savior. But don't worry, I'll give the two of you plenty of alone time after this is all over."
"Looking forward to it," he says, and winks at Snow, who laughs through the tears now making their way liberally down her cheeks.
"Okay. Are you ready?"
"What, here?" He glances around at the trees and the bridge and the water trickling underneath them. "It's that easy, huh?"
"Well, this is where you two met," Emma says, nodding her head at Snow, who is now standing slightly behind her as Emma moves even closer to David. "We figured maybe this would be a good place for the two of you to meet for the first time again."
"Poetic. I like it."
"Thought so." Emma's lips quirk into a twisted little smile, and she looks even more nervous than he feels. "So. Ready?"
And so she leans up, very carefully, and as her lips press warm and soft against his cheek, he closes his eyes and feels the world shake underneath his feet. There is a great rush of wind, and a thundering white noise pounding in his ears, and he feels the ground spinning, and then images and sounds and smells and feelings are pouring into his head. He cannot see, cannot hear, cannot feel anything but Emma's lips still warm against his cheek, and he wants to lift his hands to his head but cannot move, and there is an enormous pressure in his chest, a great weight that is going to crush him down, down, down…
And then it all melts away as if it has never been, and he is standing there on the toll bridge with a beautiful young woman standing anxiously in front of him, and the sun is shining above and the water is still burbling merrily beneath his feet.
He remembers everything. All the pain, all the anguish, all the heartbreak, the horror of sending his sweetheart and child through a magical wardrobe to another land, and he remembers kissing them and holding them and loving them, and he is whole.
He cannot speak, does not trust himself to speak, and so he simply reaches out and pulls his daughter, his wonderful, beautiful, incredible daughter, into his arms for the first time.
"You did it," he whispers around the lump in his throat. "You did it. Oh, Emma. Emma."
Her arms are so tight around his chest that he cannot breathe, and she is breathing hiccupping little sobs into his neck, but he doesn't care because this is his daughter, this is Emma, and he is a father, and he remembers everything so clearly and so painfully and so vividly that he cannot believe that he could have ever forgotten her.
And as soon as this thought crosses his mind, he opens his eyes and sees her. He does not want to let Emma go, but almost as if she has read his mind or felt his arms tense around her, she lets him go and steps back, out of the way, her eyes still bright and sparkling with tears.
She still fits in his arms like she was never meant to be anywhere else, and her hands are warm and familiar and right on his cheeks, and her kiss is worlds better than he could have possibly remembered. He will never, he decides right then and there, stop kissing her. His heart is nearly bursting out of his chest, and he gathers her tighter into his arms and loses himself in the feel of her, the smell of her, the reality of her, and it is only when she begins to laugh against his mouth that he pulls away just far enough to look her in the eyes.
"What?" he asks. "That bad?"
She shakes her head. "Emma."
"Hey, I don't mind," Emma says, but her voice is oddly distant, and he turns to see her standing several feet away with her back to them, staring determinedly at the water. "Don't let me interrupt."
He throws back his head and laughs, and he has never, ever been happier than he is right now. He presses another quick, soft kiss to Snow's lips that promises many, many more to come, and then together they join Emma at the railing. He holds Snow tightly to his side with one arm around her waist, and places his other hand at the small of Emma's back.
"You found me," he says. "You both found me."
Snow laughs, and Emma grins up at him and rolls her eyes. "She said you'd say that. That's pretty cheesy, Dad."
Dad. The word warms him to the very center of his chest. "Hey. I'm your father," he says. "Cheese comes with the package." And, because he can't help himself, he says it again. "I'm your father."
Snow smiles, and Emma tucks her head into his shoulder. David brushes his lips against Snow's upturned face and pulls Emma in tighter against him, and everything in his world finally, finally, makes sense.
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