DISCLAIMER: I do not dare claim any ownership for the fabulous characters, situations, plots and/or spins on old stories that ABC's geniuses have given us on Once Upon a Time.
This is a what-if story: The way I figure, something DID jog his memory that night in the pawn shop…but it wasn't the windmill…Boy is that summary OLD!...but oddly enough, it still fits because Aaaaaaaaaall of this, is what I believe WOULD have happened if James hadn't seen that damn windmill!
In the shadow of the toll bridge
Diamonds in the Rough
Emma broke into a run, rushing toward her father as the brilliant green light behind him faded. Hot tears still prickled her eyes as James quickly overcame his own shock at seeing his daughter and parted his arms as she approached. She reached for him, ready to throw her arms around his neck as if she were a 12-year-old in pigtails coming home from school. James started jogging too, but when they finally reached each other and Emma lunged forward, she yelped as she felt herself pass right through him.
James gasped and spun around, Emma now stumbling and catching her fall behind him. She whipped her head around, jaw dropped. "H-hey," she said, "what just—"
James cast a confused glance around the forest then looked down at his hand. He was still holding the green speckled egg. And it was still glowing. "Damn," he muttered, then closed it tightly in his palm, knowing now how important it was that he not let go.
"Dad?" Emma peered at him, cautiously approaching again as she reached out her hand.
James gulped, stepping toward her as he also put up his palm and inched his hand closer to hers. His breath hitched in his throat as they tried once more to touch; sadly – though he felt a slight tingling in his palm as she tried to press her hand against his – he also felt, or rather didn't feel, the terrible emptiness of their fingers once more passing through each other. "I guess a hug is out of the question," he muttered. Still, nothing could quite suppress the elation of seeing her, for the moment, safe and out of Regina's grasp.
Emma lowered her hand with a frown; the knot that had been coiling in her stomach since discovering her son's disappearance tightened even further upon realizing that she couldn't embrace her father. "H-how…how long do you think we have?" she asked, not wanting to waste any time. It was clear her father was somehow sharing her vision, and it was so good to see him that she didn't really care at the moment how or why it was possible.
James lowered his arm to his side. "You would know better than me," he said. "How long do your visions usually last?"
Emma glanced back at the now fading images of her vision-self helping Eric and Ariel by the wishing well. "It…depends," she stammered, embarrassed by how much she still didn't understand about her own power. "Sometimes it feels like only a few minutes. Or it's like I'm here for hours. I don't—" she looked down sheepishly. "I can't really control it."
James looked beyond his daughter to the wishing well, still fading, then back to Emma and grinned. "Well, maybe you can now. It's obvious your power is growing."
Her head shot up. "Why do you say that?"
He nodded past her. "That was some pretty impressive magic, Emma. Creating a portal? Pulling Eric through?"
Emma blushed and shuffled her feet. Her father, with that unmistakable tone of parental pride, hadn't seemed to notice (or was simply kind enough not to point out) that Snow and Aladdin had been running the show during the vision, not her.
"And you're seeing the future now," James added. Emma gasped and looked up again as her father flashed another proud smile. "At least I'm pretty sureit's the future, since as far as I know, Eric is still with me in the dungeon."
On instinct, Emma reached to grasp his wrist, forgetting where they were, and her hand passed through again. "You're with Eric?!"
He nodded. "And Belle and Aurora. We've been captured by Regina."
"Where?" she asked at once. "Where's she keeping you?"
But her father shook his head. "Not sure. All I know is we're underground."
"Damn!" Emma spat, her hands coming to her hips. For a split second, she was actually mad at him. If her 'long-lost' father was going to all the trouble to share her vision, one would think he'd at least bring along some useful information for her to rescue him!
James gulped, finding himself at a loss. "Emma," he tried quietly. "It's…gonna be all right."
"How?" she turned back to him. "How is this gonna be all right?"
"It's been two days since Regina took my son, and I'm no closer to finding him. According to Rumple-shitskin, I have to find and wake up all these—" she flung her hand carelessly toward the faded vision— "these guardians and—"
"—which apparently I have to do by opening some sort of door in the world—"
"Sweetheart, calm down—"
"Oh and by the way," Emma continued, starting to pace, "I have to do all of this by 6:00pm tonight because otherwise Regina will give me another body to bury next to Graham's!"
"EMMA!" James bellowed, his heart breaking as he watched his daughter unravel. At the same time, his own mind was spinning: Henry still missing? Waking up guardians?…Graham dead instead of Abigail? In the short time since he'd been captured, his girl had obviously been through hell. He had to reassure her somehow, but the New Gaian prince was running low on platitudes. "Slow down," he said finally, commanding her attention. She sighed and met his gaze, her eyes swimming with the stress and worry of a woman shouldering burden of the world. In that moment, she reminded him so much of Snow, he could barely speak. "Start…from the beginning," he managed.
She shook her head. "We don't have time, Dad. I have no idea—"
"Your initial vision is over, Emma," he spread his arms out wide. "And we're still here. We have all the time in the world. Start…at the beginning."
Emma huffed, wondering what exactly had given her father that idea. There was no guarantee they had all the time in the world. Emma certainly had no idea how to control having a vision let alone its length. But at the same time, she felt strangely like the only way to ensure that it would last was to keep talking. So that's what she did. She talked. And through it all, her father listened – soaking up the information like a sponge, committing to memory facts that would be vital later, info relevant to the part he knew he must eventually play. Emma launched into more than a dozen stories: her trip to 'Stiltskin's shop, finding Michael Tillman, being rescued by Granny and Red, Graham's death and burial, the reunion of the royals from Seven Gales, the seven dwarfs, Aladdin and Jasmine, Lucas and Philip, the news that Maleficent was in fact a double-agent and Christopher's chilling prediction regarding the guardians and their "something precious."
The fact that James and Belle had been right about the reason they were being held with the others was little comfort in the midst of such grim portents. Regina planned to permanently cripple the balance of magic in their world by using the guardians' loved ones to coerce them into giving up control. Terrific. And from everything Emma related to him, James whole-heartedly agreed with King Christopher – Regina couldn't possibly understand the magic she was exploiting, but her ignorance didn't make her any less dangerous – in fact, it made her more-so.
"Which brings us to Ariel and Eric," Emma said with a heavy sigh, having at last caught her father all the way up to the present. She'd told him everything…well, almost everything. Conveniently, she left out the part about Philip (granted, she was still new to the father-daughter thing, but she was pretty sure French-kissing one of your dad's friends was a major faux pas no matter what world you were in).
"Which brings us here," James nodded, glancing again at the wishing well.
Emma let out another sigh. "If only we knew where here is. Or at least when this is. Not to mention how I'm supposed to do that." She waved her hand impatiently toward the spot where they'd seen future-Emma create and pull Eric through a portal. The contents of her original vision had by now completely faded and Emma felt suddenly rushed, as if any moment her newfound 'superpower' would cut her off from her father like bad cell reception.
James took a few steps past her, arms folded over his chest. He played the images over again in his own mind, striving to move past his own jaw-dropping awe at having seen Emma work such powerful magic. There was a detail that had stuck with him. A detail he knew was playing a significant role in this very meeting. He sighed and turned back to his daughter. "Well, I can't say for sure, but I think it's a safe bet that this has something to do with it."
He brought forth the green stone, still glowing so brightly beneath his fingers that Emma couldn't believe she only just noticed it. When James opened his palm and she got a good look, she nearly shrieked, for that was when she realized…she was still holding hers. "Another soulodestone," she whispered, presenting the blue egg in her own hand. Was that it? Was that how he was sharing her vision?
"Sou-loh-destone," said James, eyeing them both. "That's what it's called. Grumpy once told me how they—"
"Ran across them in their battle to retake your kingdom," Emma recalled suddenly. Then, in response to the shock on her dad's face, she mumbled, "or…or whatever."
James beamed. "That's… right," he said, trying hard not to grin from ear-to-ear. His daughter was talking about his kingdom. Their kingdom.
Emma shrugged. "Grumpy said it's…some kind of…communication device," she glanced back at hers and frowned again, "but he—he didn't—" she looked up at him again, pointing rapidly between the two of them— "he failed to mention this."
"Well, he wouldn't," James smiled, hatching the same theory in his head that his daughter had. "As far as I know, soulodestones are for talking telepathically. Two souls who share an already strong connection can link their minds through the stones and channel their thoughts back and forth."
Emma looked to the stone again. "Link their minds," she murmured, turning the stone over and over in her hands. "But that," she struggled, shaking her head. "Then that still doesn't explain how I can see you. Or how you can see—"
"I think it does."
James took a deep breath, preparing himself for the embarrassed grimace he knew would come. "You're a seer, Emma. And I know you don't like to hear it, but you're incredibly powerful." As he predicted, his daughter rolled her eyes, and James suppressed another grin. "The soulodestone is a product of magic. But so are you. Obviously your gift allows you to channel more than just your thoughts through the stone. You're actually…channeling your magic."
Again, Emma gulped. She wasn't sure she liked the sound of that. In fact, the more she found out about this power of hers, the less of it she wanted. "Channeling it so much, I'm apparently gonna pull a whole person through?" she snapped, glancing back in the direction of the original vision.
"How the hell am I supposed to figure out how to do that?" she huffed, stalking past him. "Especially since you aren't really here!"
"Aladdin will know," he offered. "And if what you've told me about Maleficent is true, then I'm willing to bet this 'Maeve' person can help you too. The soulodestone is her design—"
"And how will any of this help me find Henry. Or help me stop whoever Regina decides to kill next?" she cried, hating herself for growing hysterical again, but she couldn't help it. Every time the very thought of Regina's 24-hour ultimatum resurfaced, she grew queasy. "I can't be in three places at once, Dad: I can't wake up guardians and restore…balance or whatever to magic AND turn myself into Regina before tonight AND find my son!"
James sighed, wishing for the millionth time that he could fold his arms around her and hold her close. He could certainly relate to what she was feeling: Once upon a time, the toughest challenge he faced was convincing his mother to plant closer to the river to improve the next harvest. In a matter of hours, he was donned in armor, betrothed to a stranger and headed up a mountain to take on a dragon. Now, here they were, 30 years later: Emma Swan had been a bail-bondsman, a loner with few responsibilities and no roots. In a matter of months she was a daughter, a mother, and destined to save an entire world.
"Emma, I know none of this has been easy for you. And I can't tell you how much I wish sometimes that…" he sighed, looking down. "Part of me wishes we'd never sent you through that wardrobe. That we could somehow have…spared you all of this."
"That's not what—"
"But another part of me," he interrupted, his voice calm and steadying, "couldn't be prouder."
Emma's heart dropped to her stomach as she gulped back tears. What on earth did he have to be proud of?
"The woman you've become," James answered as if she'd asked it out loud. "The strength you have, the way you've dealt with burdens no one should be expected to bear…the way you are with Henry—"
"Please stop," she whispered, looking down.
"—what more could a father want for his daughter?"
Tears finally escaped her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. "Dad I…" she sniffled, trying to stave off full-on waterworks, "I can't do this—"
"Emma, look at me," James stepped right in front of her, willing her to look up since he couldn't actually reach for her. "I can't promise it's gonna be easy to defeat Regina or – or open this 'door' of Rumpelstiltskin's. Hell, I can't even promise it won't get worse. But if anyone can do it, it's you."
She took a deep, shaky breath, finally meeting his gaze. "Why are you so sure of that?" she rasped.
James chuckled. "Well, you are your mother's daughter."
Emma scoffed. "I'm hardly—"
"And you're also mine," he stressed with a grin. "And in my family…good doesn't lose."
His smile was infectious, and even through blurry eyes she couldn't help but snort at her father's ridiculous optimism – particularly when he was, at the moment, being held in an underground dungeon. "Well," she half chuckled-half sniffled. "When you put it that way…"
"Hey," he continued, "you've got a lot of people back there helping you. And now," he held up the soulodestone, "you have me."
Emma clutched her own stone close and nodded.
"Trust yourself, Emma. And don't lose faith."
She opened her mouth to reply but the finality of James's tone seemed to have triggered a change in their surroundings. The forest as a whole started to blur, and the familiar tugging at her stomach warned her that she was about to, at last, be pulled from the vision. "Hold on to the stone," she said, her tone hurried. "And stay close to Eric."
"I will," he nodded.
The nauseating feeling returned, and Emma felt herself being ripped away from him. "And Dad?" she called as his image began to fade. "I will find you. I promise!"
James gripped the stone close to his heart as his own voice cracked. "I have no doubt."
Emma braced herself as she flew through her vortex and surged backward. With a slight jolt, she rocked forward, back on her own two feet, and the soulodestone fell out of her hand, landing with a soft plop on the snow-covered ground.
"Emma?" Snow cried out for the second time as her daughter seemed to have jolted back to consciousness. It was different this time – a bit longer, maybe a full minute – and there was a sort of soft blue glow about her as she experienced what was clearly a vision. Her head, which had jerked back at first, now rolled forward as she reoriented herself to her mother's voice. Snow watched as Emma's eyes fluttered open, then stepped back as the girl stooped to the ground and recovered the stone as if she was afraid to lose it. "Emma," Snow said again, placing her palm on her back. "Are you all right?"
Emma's gaze juddered around the group, and it took a moment to remember exactly what they had been talking about. All eyes were on her of course, but this time no one had to guess what she'd just been through.
"Did she have a vision?"
"Emma?" she heard her mother's voice again in the cacophony of voices and, finally, her breathing returned to normal and she looked up. "Emma, what was it?" asked Snow. "Past or future?"
"Future," Emma said, straightening up as the mood in the group shifted from confusion to anticipation.
"What did you see?" Aladdin asked, stepping forward.
"I saw," she gulped, glancing between the street rat and Jasmine, then back to Snow. "I saw us, helping Ariel and Eric…get their happy ending."
"The sixth guardian!" Grumpy punched his fist triumphantly in the air.
"Finally, some good news," added Granny as Red grasped for and squeezed her hand.
"When? Where?" asked Philip, who'd come to Emma's side as soon as she'd dropped the stone on the ground.
"O-over there," said Emma, pointing with her still shaking hand. "At your wishing well. We…" she stammered, struggling to form words. Communication with her father in the ether had been so effortless, it now felt like extra work to be battling the harsh cold of the real forest. "We pulled Eric through a…a portal."
Aladdin lurched forward, eyes wide. "A portal?"
She nodded. "Using this," she added, holding up the soulodestone.
Philip reached for it, but Emma snatched her hand back, an almost violent motion that caught everyone off guard. Aladdin hesitated, then pressed on, sensing how vital every shred of this vision was to their getting home. "How?"
Emma's eyes narrowed toward the thief, almost accusing. She didn't like one bit that the apparent mastermind of the plan didn't immediately have an answer for it himself. "He said you would know," she replied, then looked to Philip. "And Maeve…or, Maleficent."
"Me?" Aladdin answered, glancing between Emma and his wife.
"Yeah," Emma replied, "He said talk to Aladdin. That he'll know how to—"
"How to use a stone to open a portal?" Aladdin scoffed, but Snow interrupted.
"Who said, Emma?" she asked. "Who told you to talk to Aladdin?"
Emma closed her eyes, squeezing the precious device tightly in her hand as if willing herself to hear his voice again. "Dad," she said quietly, looking back at Snow.
Snow gasped as did many others around her. "You…you saw your father? You saw James?!" she rasped, clutching her hand over her heart.
"I didn't just see him, Mom. I talked to him. He was," she paused and looked over at Grumpy. "He was sharing my vision."
"That's impossible," grunted the dwarf. "James ain't a seer—"
"No, but Emma is," offered Philip, looking between both princesses of New Gaia. "And the soulodestone channels the mind. There's no reason it can't channel magic controlled by the mind."
Emma started, really looking into his eyes for the first time since their kiss. "That's…" she managed, "yeah that's what James thought too."
Philip cracked a small smile before Emma managed to look away again. He turned to Snow. "Not surprised. For a shepherd, he always did have a knack for understanding—"
"For a shepherd?" asked Grumpy and Happy at the exact same time.
Snow glared at Philip and quickly changed the subject. "Never mind that now," she waved her hand impatiently. "Where is he, Emma? Is he safe? Can we reach him?"
"He doesn't know exactly," she sighed. "All he knows is he's underground. Regina's got him, along with Aurora, Belle…and Eric."
"Seems Christopher was right, then," said Archie who'd remained quiet for much of this little confab while he'd absorbed as much information as he could. All heads turned to the wise cricket. "James, Aurora, Eric and Belle – aren't they all… 'something precious'?"
The group fell silent, many looking down or glancing at each other sideways. It was Marco, at last, who finally broke the ice. "Well at least they're together," he said gently, "and whatever Regina's got planned for them she hasn't done yet, so—" he paused and looked to Snow whose eyes were betraying so many conflicting emotions that he felt a rather paternal urge to reach out and give her shoulder a squeeze— "there's still time."
Grumpy opened his mouth to respond – no doubt to argue up a storm from the expression on his face – but a loud, throaty cry suddenly bellowed through the forest, heralding from the entrance of the caverns. The entire group broke into a run, tearing back toward the cottage, fearing the worst. Emma's heart raced as she sprinted ahead of them, wondering what else had gone wrong, but as the lot of them rounded the bend and arrived at the entrance, they all skidded to a halt with a collective gasp, an astonishing sight before them. At the mouth of the cavern, pinned against the wall of vines, stood Michael Tillman, trembling in fright as he stared directly into the fierce eyes…of Graham's wolf.
Henry kept his head low to the sink as he slapped soap on a rusty pan and scraped the crusted glop off the side. It was after breakfast at the boys' home and Henry had been assigned to work with Nibs and Gretel on kitchen-clean up. Captain Hook was pacing slowly behind them, a fierce glint in his eye each time he passed by Henry. The boy took a deep breath, concentrating on the menial task before him as they waited for Hook to leave. The door creaked open and Henry resisted turning to look at who had entered. Captain Hook had continued keeping a close eye on Henry, but he seemed even more on edge today than he was before. The boys, consequently, had subdued their raucous behavior considerably, not at all wanting a repeat of yesterday's lunch, for they could tell something was brewing. Something big. Something bad.
It was Rufio who had entered the kitchen, carrying the now emptied breakfast platter from Hook's den. He too kept his head low, walking right by the captain as he made his way to the three giant, metal sinks where Henry, Gretel and Nibs stood. Eventually, Hook tired and grunted, scratching his hook along the doorframe as he at last retreated to his office. Henry checked behind him, watched the door latch shut, and then let out a huge sigh.
"He knows something is up," Nibs hissed, as if picking up an earlier conversation right where he'd left it. "He hasn't watched us this closely since we arrived here decades ago!"
"He's only watchin' this close cuz of Henry," Gretel argued, plucking a plate from Henry's hand and drying it with a worn-out rag. "He watched me and Hansel just as much when we first got here too, remember?"
"It's not the same thing," argued Nibs.
"Guys—" Henry tried.
"Nibs is right," said Rufio, letting the platter and breakfast tins clatter loudly in the sink to cover up their conversation. "This is different. It's even different from yesterday," he glanced back at the door. "Hook's…worried about something."
"It's only cuz Henry just gothere," Gretel insisted, getting right in Rufio's face. "After a few days, he'll have gotten used to it and—"
"You don't think it's a little more than coincidence that on the very day Henry starts talkin' about an escape plan, a real escape plan, Hook tightens up security?" Nibs hissed.
"You two haven't been here that long," added Rufio, staring down his female rival. "Hook's never had us eating in shifts before. It took hours to get through breakfast cuz he only let us out of our rooms five at a time!"
"Which means he musta heard us last night," said Nibs, turning back to Henry. "And if he already knows we're gonna try to escape—"
"He doesn't knowNibs!" Henry spat, throwing his damp rag back into the sink. "He doesn't know a thing, trust me!"
"You can't be sure of that—"
"Yes I can—"
"Because I knowwhat Hook is worried about! It's what I've been trying to tell you all morning if you'd let me get a word in!"
Both lost boys took a step back, eyeing their newcomer dubiously, and the doubt in their eyes certainly stung – Henry was after all, the son of the savior! Then again, he supposed these boys had no reason to believe what he'd told them about his mom, that there really was a savior to begin with. They'd been cooped up here for so long, this place was all they knew, which made Henry little more than "just another lost boy." Thank goodness for Hansel and Gretel, to whom Henry would forever be "the boy with the answers." His outburst earned him a grin from the young girl and she stepped up behind him, placing a supportive hand on his shoulder.
"Tell us, Henry," she encouraged him, a remark that earned her a slightly jealous grunt from Rufio.
"Yeah, do tell Henry," he mocked.
Henry took a deep breath. "Hook couldn't possibly know what we're up to because while we were upstairs planning last night, he was in his office, glued to his mirror."
"His mirror?!" Nibs scoffed, disbelievingly.
"With that face?" added Rufio.
"Shh! Let 'im finish!" spat Gretel.
"He wasn't lookin' at himself," Henry continued. "He was talking to Regina."
"Yes," he nodded. "It's how the queen communicates. I read about it in the book. She's got a genie trapped in a magic mirror and through him, she can turn any reflective surface into her own personal window. She sent out some message last night about my mom," Henry gulped, remembering how queasy he felt upon hearing the queen's ultimatum. Hopefully Emma wouldn't do something stupid like actually turn herself in to his evil adoptive mother. It was all the more reason he needed to convince the boys that the plan would work. They needed to get out of here so he could get back to his family. They needed him! "The queen's gonna start crushing hearts unless Emma turns herself in. She broadcast it to the whole town! After that, Regina contacted Hook for an update on me. They argued for like a half hour about what to do with all of us if stuff goes wrong in Storybrooke."
"How do you know?" demanded Nibs, "You were upstairs with us!"
"Mick told me!" he said, proudly resting his hands on his hips. "I sent him down to Hook's office to spy on 'im."
Nibs sighed as Rufio rolled his eyes and turned to brace his hands on the edge of the sink. "Oh Mick told you. You mean the talking mouse we're all supposed to believe is off delivering your message right now?"
"Hey!" Gretel admonished them both. "Are you forgetting that Henry woke up Pinocchio? If he says he can talk to animals—"
"Mick will get our message through. The plan will work," Henry took a confident step toward Nibs, spurred on by the same unwavering certainty that he had when he first boarded that bus to Boston. "But not unless you're all with me," he said earnestly. Since his brilliant epiphany yesterday, Henry had no doubts that he and his new friends could prevail over the villainous Captain Hook, that they would escape this terrible prison with Peter Pan in tow. But last evening's shared optimism among the head lost boys had been severely diffused by Hook's behavior this morning. On the one hand, Henry couldn't blame them. After all, it had been almost 30 years of unsuccessful attempts. On the other hand – "You just can't lose faith," he implored them. "Not with so much riding on fairy dust and happy thoughts. Hook doesn't know anything, I promise. If all goes well, we'll be outta here by lunchtime."
Nibs and Rufio glared at each other, weighing the odds. It was a brilliant plan. In fact, Nibs was slightly irked that he hadn't come up with it himself – on the surface it was so simple. It did however depend entirely on Henry's "critter" friends coming through, and they would only have one shot. If they failed…Nibs shuddered, thinking of Tootles. He didn't want to think what Hook would do if they failed. "Henry—" Nibs sighed, clearly about to voice another concern, but Henry stopped him.
"Look, I know I'm new here," he said, "and I know it's dangerous, but—" he stammered, floundering, searching for something really inspiring, trying to think of what Pops would say.
"But do you really want to spend another 28 years playing it safe?" Gretel finished for him with a wink. Henry grinned and turned back to the boys.
Rufio glanced between Gretel and the young prince. It had been decades since the boys had waged true war on Hook – not since Peter had been young and Hook still ran this place like he was aboard the Jolly Roger. In fact, the last boy he'd seen looking so confident, so sure of himself and his plan…was Peter. He glanced over at Nibs, knowing Pan's second-in-command was thinking the same thing, and sighed. "All right Hank. You win."
"Yeah," Nibs said, with a resigned grin. "We better get upstairs." He glanced around at the others, nodding in agreement. "We got work to do."
Graham's wolf, thought Emma with a gasp as she caught her mother's eye. Snow recognized him too, and took a step toward the beast.
"G-get back," called Michael, and no one was quite sure if the woodsman was warning the others or pleading with the animal. He'd grown restless just waiting down below. Still nursing his injured leg, he'd trudged up the stone stairwell to discover what was taking so long and came face to face with the creature.
"It's all right, Michael," said Snow softly, and at the sound of her voice, the wolf's head turned. Emma came to her mother's side, as did Red, and the rest of the group watched in awe as the three women approached the wolf with near reverence.
Emma's heart leapt to her throat as the beast turned his eyes on her, one red, one gray, just as she'd seen that night – that night when the sheriff had sent him away. The night that…she'd awoken Graham.
"You have a message?" Snow spoke, barely above a whisper as she crouched before the magnificent canine.
The wolf bowed his head, turned his snout toward Red and paused, apparently sensing their shared inclinations. Red hadn't the gift of talking to all animals like Snow, but wolves…wolves Red understood.
"He's hurt," Red murmured as she knelt beside her friend, holding out her hand, beseeching the animal. The wolf nodded, and raised his paw to her palm. Snow frowned as she assessed the nasty gash on its leg, caressing her hand slowly over the injury. He only allowed a moment's fussing though because he had far more important matters to attend to.
"Umm," Michael cleared his throat, finally recovering from his shock since it appeared after all that the wolf would not be eating him today. "Anyone wanna clue me in here? Where've you all been and what's—" he gestured down at the three women seemingly speaking to the wolf, but Grumpy cut him off.
"Can it, will ya?" grunted the dwarf, who was immediately elbowed in the ribs by Granny.
"In a moment, Kurtis," she added in a far less chiding tone than her dwarf companion. The two turned back to watch the scene unfold, Grumpy having learned long ago to trust in Snow's gift with animals, Granny trusting in her own kin.
Snow lifted her palm to caress the wolf's cheek then gently reached around to scratch behind his ear. The wolf's eyes closed in gratitude. "Thank you," his voice murmured inside her head, "it's been a long journey" and Snow gasped, for the wolf's voice sounded an awful lot like Graham's.
"What news do you bring, friend?"
"I have done as I was asked. I have found the young ones."
Snow let out a small cry. "You've found Henry?!" She whipped her head around as Emma stumbled forward, grasping on to her mother's shoulder for support.
"Where is he?" Emma begged the creature, "Where?!"
"Emma, be patient," Red hissed.
"But that's exactly what he was supposed to do! Graham sent him after the place where the Zimmers were taken. That must be where Henry is!" The words spilled from her mouth only half-coherently for it seemed as if it'd been days since they'd had any good news.
"She speaks the truth," replied the wolf as it turned back to Snow. "I have found…all of the children. Or rather…they found me."
Snow started. "All the children? What do you—I mean, how many—" But before the wolf could even respond, Snow's gasped as a rush of memories, not unlike the moment James first woke her up, surged through her…
…"Miss Blanchard, how come the clock never moves?"
Mary Margaret's hand paused in the middle of scribbling parts of speech on the chalkboard. Summoning her patience, she placed the chalk on the tray, folded her hands tightly, and turned to face her class. "Harry, we've been over this before—"
"He's right, Miss B. The clock's always stuck at 8:15 and no one seems to know—"
"Jasen, please sit down in your seats. I've already explained it's a maintenance problem and—"
"Pfft, sure. Maintenance problem, that's what the old man at the fix-it shop told me too."
Mary Margaret stamped her foot and stared crossly at Danny Bosco, hanging – as usual – to the rear of the room. "Danny, that 'Old Man' has a name. It's Marco Collodi. Mister Collodi to you. And if he says it's a maintenance problem, young man, well—"
"He ain't a young man!" cried another boy in the far left corner, who leapt to his feet, shoved his desk out of the way and hopped up on the back of his chair as if he were a monkey. "And neither am I."
"Jeremy, sit down—"
"I won't grow up, Miss B. None of us will!" He turned to the rest of the children and Mary Margaret watched hopelessly as her students sat mesmerized by his exuberance and charisma. Why it looked like any moment, the boy might launch himself off the back of that chair…and fly. "Don't you see?" He spread his arms apart, planted a foot on his seat and rose to address them like a king (or a court jester). "Someone evil's cast his spell and frozen time for all who dwell in good ol' fashioned Storybrooke – whose spell you say? Why J.S. Hook!"
Several of the more vocal boys burst into woops and hollers, and Mary Margaret's heart started pounding. She'd never lost control of her class before, never allowed them to digress so far off topic. "Jeremy! Sit down!" she cried again, but to no avail. Why, they appeared ready to mutiny like…just like the Lost—
"Mr. Summers that is enough!" bellowed a stern voice from the hallway. The class gasped and Jeremy fell back in his seat as a severe, yellow-eyed woman strode through the door. She was tall and thin, sporting a large over-sized black turtleneck sweater stretched over black and white striped leggings and red stilettos. Her neck was draped with a blood-red fur scarf and her jet black hair was streaked white which heightened the impression upon the children of being stared down not by an old woman, but some sort of vicious, beady-eyed marsupial.
"M-mrs. DeVil. What a pleasant—"
"Pleasant surprise Miss Blanchard?" the woman's raspy voice snapped at her. "Yes, I'd expect you'd call it pleasant since I've come to take these problems off your hands."
Mary Margaret glanced from her children to her colleague. "P-problems?"
"Yes, it seems the school has finally wizened up to the fact that you cannot control your classroom, Miss Blanchard. So I've come to make your life…" she paused and swung her gaze back to the children, "easier."
"Mrs. DeVil, I assure you that's not—"
"Jeremy Summers?" DeVil ignored her, pulling a folded up card from her pocket and reading off a list of names: "Harry Eden, Isaiah Robinson, Jasen Fisher and Danny Bosco." The boys rose nervously in their chairs as each was called. DeVil flashed a devilish smile and gently replaced the card back into her over-sized pocket. "You students have been transferred to my class across the hall. Gather your things and say good-bye to Miss Blanchard."
"But Miss D—"
"NOW Jeremy. And bring your boys!"…
… "Your boys," Snow whispered. "Jeremy." Her eyes felt heavy with the weight of more memories she couldn't believe she was only now remembering. "Peter," she amended.
"Peter?" said Red.
Granny broke from the rest of the group and stood behind her granddaughter. "Peter Pan?"
Snow nodded, still staring at the wolf who, in her head, confirmed her memory. "And the Lost Boys. They were here. In Storybrooke. They were in my class." She glanced up at Emma. "How could I have forgotten that?"
Emma shrugged, lost for words, save for – "the curse?"
"Regina's curse reached as far as NeverLand?" spat Grumpy. He turned to Philip and Aladdin with shared grimaces. "Well, ain't that peachy!"
"Quiet," Emma shushed him, turning back to the wolf. "Is. Henry. With them."
The wolf turned his gaze fully on the savior, and an image came to mind – not a vision this time, just a plain old memory. She remembered a few nights ago, watching Graham crouch before his friend, watching the beautiful canine slip his paw into Graham's palm just as she'd seen him do with Red a few moments ago. The animal's gaze was penetrating and Emma swallowed hard, unsure now whether she wanted to know the answer.
"It's all right, Emma," said Snow who glanced up at her and held out her own palm, beckoning her daughter to join her. "He has something to share with you."
Emma's gaze darted between mother and wolf, and briefly she thought about asking what exactly "it" was that the beast wanted to share. But if he had even a shred of information about Henry, she knew she must hear it. See it. Emma fell to her knees as the wolf cantered over and sat directly in front of her, resting on his haunches and leveling his gaze. He lifted his paw, his red iris glowing just as brightly in the morning as she remembered it glowing at night. Emma took a deep breath, lifted her hand and, just as Graham had several nights ago, closed her fingers tightly around his paw.
The group looked on, waiting on tenterhooks as Emma's eyes fell closed and her head jerked upwards. She was having another vision, that much was certain. But Philip and Aladdin especially were starting to worry at the frequency of these psychic connections she kept making. Yesterday, Aladdin had seen what he now understood to have been her failed attempt to learn anything useful from Rumpelstiltskin back at the shop. Instead 'Stiltskin's touch seemed to have triggered even more questions about the imp's past. Philip had inadvertently shown her way more information about his own past than he'd ever intended and filled the savior's mind with more confusions about witches and sorceresses and storybooks and kings. Now, after what they could only assume was a rather emotional reunion with her father, Emma was actively seeking a vision from a wolf, one that would no doubt show her son in imminent danger and prompt her to be further burdened.
So it was with a measure of suspense and just a hint of worry as they waited for the seer to see what she needed. But when Emma opened her eyes, she made no sudden movements, demonstrated no sense of being thrown back into the present or jostled awake as they'd seen previously. In fact, Emma Swan looked…calm. Almost regal…like the wolf. She stood up and they watched her rise, turn, and look over the group that was anxiously gathered before her.
Emma's eyes passed over Snow, Granny, Red. Philip and Trent. Happy and Grumpy, Aladdin, Jasmine…and finally Michael, Marco and Archie. "I've seen them," she said quietly, her gaze fixed intensely upon Michael especially.
Michael sprung forward from his place by the wall of the cavern. "Them, you mean the kids? You've seen my kids?"
Emma nodded and the group broke into hushed murmurs of excitement. "Your kids, mine…" she glanced at Marco. "All our kids."
Marco tore the cap from his head and held it to his heart as Archie clapped a hand on his shoulder. "M-my boy…I mean… 'Geppetto's boy'?"
Again she nodded, then addressed the rest of the crowd. "Regina's got them under lock and key in the forest in some kind of…old boarding school or something." Her eyes rested on Snow's. "You were right – Peter Pan, the Lost Boys…dozens of kids all missing from the town."
Snow nodded, having been told as much by the wolf herself.
"Well what are we waiting for?" cried Michael, stumbling toward the animal. In his haste he almost fell forward, but Red caught him mid stride and helped him back up. "Can he lead us to them?" Michael asked, easing himself off of Red's shoulders.
Emma gulped. The wolf had shown her everything – everything that had happened, everything that would happen. It was a brilliant plan, concocted by none other than the head of Operation Cobra himself – what a joy to see her son not only safe for the moment, but standing before a half-dozen older boys all pledging in him their faith and trust. If only Emma could place that much faith and trust in herself—
"Trust your gut" a voice echoed in her head. Emma started, an image bursting forth in her mind. Again, not a vision, just a memory: back at the library, Graham's life fading away in her arms. "Follow the wolf…Trust your gut…Love your family" – the sheriff's parting words. Follow the wolf, she thought with a frown. But it wouldn't be Emma who would follow the wolf. No, she knew that now. For that wasn't her fate. There was so much to do. Too much to do. And though she was only just starting to understand it all, though she'd only been granted bits and pieces, she knew enough. And if she was truly to become this savior—
Another image flashed before her, her father: You've got a lot of people back there helping you…and now, you have me…trust yourself Emma, and don't lose faith. She glanced around at the entire group before her and took a deep breath. Yes, it was finally making sense. It had taken the serenity of Graham's wolf and a pep talk from her own father to know it, but she could finally see: she couldn't be in three places at once…but she had an army of people before her, ready to fight for their world, ready to save those they loved. It was time to get to work…now.
"Michael?" she said at last. "You are gonna follow him. In fact, you're gonna leave right now. The kids are counting on it. They're mounting an escape and they need someone on the outside for their plan to work." Snow stood up, watching intently as her daughter continued. "Red," Emma went on, looking to her new friend. "You can understand the wolf, can't you?" she asked, but it wasn't really a question.
Red nodded. "I'm a little rusty, but yes."
"Good, you and Michael follow him through the forest. He'll let you know what needs to be done."
"What about me, Miss Swan?" Marco stepped forward, his eyes brimming with tears upon hearing the news that all the children were to be rescued. "I-if there's even a chance that…that m-my boy…that I could remember—"
"Yes, they'll need you too," Emma replied.
"In that case, count me in," said Archie, standing firmly behind Marco.
"No my friend, you should stay—"
Archie just laughed. "If you think I'm gonna let you go looking for Pinocchio without Jiminy Cricket? I should prescribe you some more therapy—"
"Gentlemen," huffed Emma, impatiently. In truth, she hadn't seen Archie or Marco in her vision, but she knew the boys would need all the help she could send them. "Go, and be careful."
"We should stock up on weapons below, to be safe," said Red. The rest of her party nodded and followed her back into the caverns. Emma turned to those who were left.
"Jasmine," she said next, and the princess nodded, stepping forward. Emma glanced at the passageway behind her. "Go and get Ella and then head for this…Ugly…Duckling…place. Find Ariel – or 'Marina' or whatever. Stick close to her and try to explain about the curse."
"There's no way she'll believe us," Jasmine argued, jamming her thumb back toward Aladdin. "I didn't even believe him until I was beating up Honest John."
"I know, but your," she waved an appraising hand at the princess, "your Kung-fu butt-kicking stuff is why I want you there. Ariel's probably the most at risk next to Adam right now for giving into Regina since they already have Eric. I want us to find her before they do. Protect her, even if she resists, until we can get everything ready to wake her."
Jasmine nodded, suppressing a smirk at having her wealth of combat training referred to as 'Kung-fu butt-kicking stuff'. She disappeared into the cavern.
"I'll go with her," said Aladdin who also started forward. But Emma's hand flew up to stop him.
"No," she said. "You, I need with me."
"The portal, the one I'm supposed to open with this?" she reached into her pocket and pulled out the soulodestone. "My father told me you would know how."
Aladdin sighed, "I'm sorry Emma. I already said, I have no idea what a soulodestone has to do with—"
"Yeah, but I'm betting a guy, who spent a lot of time with a genie and a magic lamp, knows a thing or two about portals. So we're gonna pay a little visit to the person who made these," she palmed the stone again, "and find out how the two go together."
"In that case, you should take me too, Emma," said Philip stepping forward. "I know old Effie better than anyone here."
Aladdin glanced between the two of them and stifled a laugh as Emma blushed and pointedly ignored the rather smug grin on the young king's face. Actually, she had planned on Philip joining them for just that reason…but she wasn't about to tell him that. "All right, you and Trent will go with us to the hospital." She was about to turn to Snow, but paused and glanced back. "That is where we'll find her right?"
Philip nodded. "Before the curse hit, she said she'd somehow make sure Aurora and I would know who she was. It's probably why she's a nurse at a hospital, since I ended up a medic and Aurora's an OB. Which means 'Maeve' will make sure she's where we think she'll be."
Emma blinked, a little delayed in grasping Philip's logic, but nodded at last and replied, "I'll take that as a yes. Trent? Are you with us?"
She looked past the king to the still-cursed duke whose expression by the minute had grown more and more dizzying. On the other hand, this was the face of 'Matt Clancy' before him who, jealousy aside, was still his partner and had been since…well, since as long as he could remember.
"What the hell," Trent threw his hands up in the air and nodded. "You can't all be crazy."
"Will you also be counting me on this little party of yours, dear?" said Granny with a grin, clearing her throat and patting her crossbow like older women normally pet cats. Emma practically snorted at the sight of it – had she had that thing up here the entire time?
"Actually, Granny, someone's gotta stay here with Christopher to look after Thomas and Mo. Not to mention the baby. Ella told me you watch her a lot?"
"Indeed I do," said the woman proudly, and without another word, grabbed Grumpy by the arm and dragged the dwarf downstairs, arguing all the way that Princess Emma hadn't actually given him an assignment yet. Happy followed soon after, chuckling behind them.
That left Snow and the wolf, still standing by the vine-covered opening to the caverns. Philip cleared his throat and nodded the other men toward the cottage. "We'll head down and grab a few things too, Emma. Meet you back up here."
Emma nodded gratefully as they started down the stone staircase, leaving her alone with her mother, a woman now beaming almost brighter than a blue corn moon. The young deputy glanced down and shuffled her feet, startled upon seeing the wolf still sitting there. She cleared her throat, glancing between him and Snow. "Does he um…" she rasped. "Do you think he knows?"
Snow offered a sad smile. "About Graham? Yes. I told him."
Emma nodded again, wondering why she suddenly felt embarrassed. Maybe it was because Snow was staring at her with the same look in her eyes that James had had. And maybe she just hoped she'd finally put on a good show of strength for the woman whose own strength was ten times her own.
Snow was indeed bursting with pride, but she'd learned not to overwhelm her daughter with maternal sentiment – not just yet anyway. "Well your Highness?" she said with a teasing grin. "Where do you want me?"
Emma sighed in relief, unable to hide her grin. Taking one last deep breath, she explained the rest to Snow. "You said when you were at Gold's yesterday, you recognized a lot of those trinkets and stuff he'd collected."
Snow nodded. "Even more in his back room than he had out front."
"Do you remember seeing," Emma paused, closing her eyes and going back to her original vision – "do you remember some kind of shell? A golden shell on a chain?"
Snow glanced upwards, chewing thoughtfully on her bottom lip as she recalled the wall behind the front counter in Gold's shop. "Yes!" she said at last, remembering it vividly.
Emma smiled again. "Good. I think it's something…or at least it seemed important to Ariel. I'm pretty sure we're gonna need it to wake them both up."
Snow smirked, wrinkling her nose and pulling her parka up around her neck. "I'll take Grumpy and some of the other boys. Their itching for something to do."
Emma nodded in agreement and the two of them stood there as a sudden chill had them shivering; both finally seemed to realize they'd been standing out in the cold for at least a half hour now. In the silence, Emma looked back at the wolf, wondering if he felt pain, if he felt grief. She remembered Graham telling her that his 'wolf name' meant Last Son and thought it likely that the wolf's heart was breaking for both of them.
"Emma," Snow spoke, again just above a whisper. Emma met her gaze. "I'm so proud of you."
She shook her head and looked away. Just like Dad, she thought. Not yet. Please not yet. She hadn't done anything yet. "For what?" she managed.
"I know how much it's killing you that you aren't the one going after Henry."
Emma's gaze darted back up. How did she—but one look in her mother's knowing eyes was answer enough. Of course Snow could sense that. She was her mother. "Yeah well," she scuffed her boots against the frozen ground. "Regina's not calling for Michael Tillman's head on a platter. She wants me. Can't risk not being here."
"Can't be in three places at once?" Snow countered, taking another step forward.
Again, Emma started. Sheesh, was it just animal minds Snow could read? Or was she reading hers? "Something like that."
"Your father would be proud of you too," Snow added, now standing before her. Cautiously, she placed her hands on her daughter's shoulders.
"Yeah," Emma laughed nervously. "He is actually. At least, that's what he told me."
Snow grinned. "I'm not surprised."
They stood there a moment more, and then Emma finally broke first, folding the two of them into a tight hug. "I promised I'd find him, Mom," she whispered.
Snow squeezed her eyes shut, staying the tears as she held her sweet girl close. "And you will."
"What if I can't, though?" she pulled back. "What if we're too late?"
Snow shook her head, her heart full of faith, and suddenly knew what it was like to be James – this is what he'dbeen showing her all along. That never-wavering optimism that sometimes bordered on annoying when Snow would express doubt or worry– Snow had never understood until this moment where he always summoned such conviction. But she knew now, and sweet Gods above, it was wonderful. "If there's one thing us 'Charmings' are good at, Emma, it's finding each other. It's what we do. It's what you were born to do." Emma nodded, still holding tightly to her mother's arms as Snow gave her a final squeeze. "Now come on," she said, nodding toward the cavern. "Let's get to work."
Michael Tillman wasn't about to let a sore leg stand in the way of finally being able to locate his kids – kids whom, granted, he'd only seen pictures of, but they were his kids, nonetheless – kids whose photos had saved him from insanity down in that basement library dungeon and spurred him and his new friends on toward their first stop.
"You ok?" the young woman asked beside him, a beautiful young woman in fact whom he remembered from Granny's diner back in town. 'Ruby', he thought it was back then. Of course, everyone here called her Red.
"I'm fine. Quit asking me," he grumbled, wincing as he climbed over a downed tree.
Red huffed, withdrawing her hand from Michael's shoulder. "Sure," she retorted. "Whatever you say."
She started to walk away when Michael stopped her. "Sorry," he said quickly. She turned and faced him as Marco and Archie emerged from the caverns, donned in some warmer clothing and each carrying an assortment of pick axes and shovels. "I didn't…I'm sorry I snapped."
Red instantly softened. "It's fine, Kurtis," she smiled, returning to his side. "I know how much you wanna get moving."
"Kurtis," Michael grunted. "Why do you and Granny keep calling me that?"
"Oh," Red looked down, embarrassed. "Sorry, that's just…your name. Granny and I have known you for years."
His head shot up as Marco and Archie joined them and Archie handed him a walking stick he'd found on the path. "You have?"
Red surveyed the rest of the group, only just realizing she was the only one (save for the wolf of course) who was actually awake from the curse. Oh boy, she thought as she took a deep breath. "All of you, actually." She turned back to Michael. "You and your kids were frequent visitors to our inn. Your Gretel would help Granny in the kitchen every fall with the pear harvest while you taught Hansel how to clip and trim the trees and hedges. And you," she turned to Archie, "well, you were a bit…smaller back then," she smirked as Archie blushed beneath his wire-rimmed glasses. "But every bit as wise. You and Geppetto – or um, Marco – were part of New Gaia's war council. We met," she paused and looked away, remembering those final weeks. "We met frequently during the days leading up to the curse." She glanced back at Geppetto and offered another small smile. "You never came to a meeting without Pinocchio. He was always by your side."
The three men stood before her, all suppressing some degree of embarrassment. Archie and Marco had both gotten somewhat more used to others sharing recollections of 'Jiminy' and 'Geppetto', but it was no less unsettling for them than it was for Michael to know there were still whole chapters of their lives they were missing. Red, seeming to sense this collective discomfort, took another deep breath. "Look, I know I'm just 'Ruby' to you right now, and you have no idea what the heck I'm talking about—"
"Oh no dear, it's not that," Marco tried, fearing he'd appeared ungrateful.
"But to me, you haven't changed a bit. You're still fiercely devoted to finding your kids," she pointed at Michael, "however this world made you act toward them at first, you're still 100% committed despite the doubts you have right that you'll make a good father."
Michael gaped. "How did you—"
"And you," she turned to Archie, "in 62 years haven't once left Geppetto's side."
Archie's jaw dropped. "62 years?"
"And Geppetto?" she grinned at the old man, "Your love for your son was powerful enough to turn a puppet into a real boy. Emma may be powerful, but everyone here has magic." Her speech did the trick, and everyone straightened up with a nod, ready to work. "Akela!" she called to the wolf who was still perched beside the entrance with Emma. The two of them headed over and the wolf trotted in front of her. "Ready?" she asked him. He blinked at her in agreement, their communication somewhat different from Snow's since Red actually had to tap into the wolf inside her to understand Akela's reply.
"Akela?" Emma turned to her as the men started toward the forest after him.
Red nodded. "The closest translation, here," she replied. "It means…Lone Wolf."
Emma gulped. "Lone wolf," she sighed. The very last of his pack now that Graham was gone.
Red placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "He's ok, Emma," she said. "Wolves…they grieve differently than we do. Trust me, he can't wait to fulfill this mission because it's what Graham wanted him to do. Completing that task is the best way for him to…honor the loss."
Emma sighed and gave her a nod. "You know where you're going right? What you have to do?"
Red rolled her eyes in a good-natured sort of way. "Stop worrying. We've got this, Emma. Head to the first wishing well—"
"The one that returns what's lost," Emma confirmed.
The girl smiled, "Yes, the one that returns what's lost. It's the only way we'll get through the barrier without forgetting who or where we are."
Another patient smile. "Then it's on to Operation Cobra," she said.
Emma looked away, toward the deeper end of the forest where the men and Akela were already a good 50 feet off.
"Emma," Red said softly, giving her another reassuring squeeze. "That boy of yours is a tough kid. He's gonna be fine. And we're gonna bring him back…I promise."
The savior, at last, knew she must let go, for Aladdin, Trent and Philip were re-emerging from the caverns themselves. She had her own mission now, and neither could afford to lose any more time. "Good luck Red," she managed. "And…thanks."
She shook her head as she adjusted her red cloak about her shoulders. "Thank you."
Emma started to turn then remembered something. "Oh!" she spun back around. "Do you have that…the other thing?"
Red flashed her that spunky grin Emma was already getting to know well. "Right here," she said, opening her cloak to reveal a rather large, leather satchel hooked inside. "Snow knew right where it was."
"Emma," she heard, and jumped as Philip appeared beside her, holding out her coat. She blinked for a moment, then remembered, shrugging Philip's jacket off her shoulders and exchanging it for her own. "Ready?" he asked, holding out her gun and holster once she'd bundled back up.
Emma nodded as she slipped the gun belt around her waist and glanced back at Red. "Be careful," she called after her.
Red couldn't help but let out a little chuckle as their groups headed in opposite directions. "You too," she winked, nodding toward Philip.
Emma rolled her eyes…and they were off.
Ordinarily, Snow disliked the sound of arguing, but she had to admit that it warmed her soul upon re-entering the cottage to find Christopher insisting that Ella stay with his son rather than leave him. They were speaking in hushed but fierce whispers as Jasmine waited impatiently by the door, tapping her foot up and down on the stone landing. "What's the problem?" Snow muttered to the Arabian princess.
Jasmine rolled her eyes, nodding toward the bed in the far corner. "Christopher's…not happy."
Snow sighed and walked over to two dwarf beds that had been pushed together where, she had to admit, lay a sight far too precious to want to part from. Exhausted, no doubt, from having been almost killed by Jafar, having watched his wife attacked by her stepsisters, saved his daughter from being kidnapped, and turned Rodmilla into shish kebab, Thomas was sound asleep, stirring not once as the cottage filled with those retrieving supplies and hurrying off again.
The prince's head was propped up on a pile of old pillows, and his left arm was wrapped again in bandages, held to his side by a sling. Wrapped in his right arm, however, lay Alexandra, also sleeping peacefully, little fistfuls of his tee-shirt clasped in her tiny hands. With every deep breath, little Alex rose and fell on her daddy's chest, and Snow's eyes nearly welled with tears at the sight of it.
"You said yourself you just got this family back together," Christopher was saying as she drew closer. "Stay here with Thomas and let me go with Jasmine.
"Jasmine and I know Ariel, your Majesty—"
"We've both met her and stand a better chance of getting through to her than you do."
"Besides," Ella continued as she slipped her coat over her shoulders, "Thomas needs you here to help Granny look after the Alex and the cottage." She placed her hands in his and squeezed tight. "I need you down here. If you're here with Thomas and the baby, I know you're all safe, and it makes my job that much easier."
"She's right, Christopher," Snow offered, gripping the bed post as she came around its corner to join them. "We all work better when our loved ones are with those we trust."
Christopher sighed. "No offense, Snow, but your daughter sent Ella on the most dangerous mission of all!" he hissed so loud, Alex stirred. "Emma's right. Ariel is the most at risk for capture right now if she hasn't been already and—"
"She won't be alone, Christopher," said Jasmine, trying to mask her impatience with reason. "She'll have all the back up she needs, I assure you."
Again, Christopher scoffed his retort. "Jasmine, your combat knowledge is, of course, well known but if Regina sends an army to capture Ariel then—"
"They won't be alone," Snow grabbed his shoulder and turned him toward her. "Listen. Ella and Jasmine must leave now. As you said, they may already be too late. But if there's a chance of getting to her before they do, who better than your daughter-in-law to show her the way, Christopher? Think about her own journey, her own awakening." Christopher sighed, glancing down at his son's wife. "No one understands the fear, the uncertainty 'Marina Andersen' is feeling right now more than Ella. But she's right," Snow flashed Ella a smile which her friend returned with immense gratitude. "She'll only be of use to Ariel if she knows you're here, looking after her family."
The king shook his head, glancing between the three women and knowing he'd already lost. Guardians of magic indeed…Helios had chosen well. "What do I tell him when he wakes up?"
Ella sighed as she stepped back toward her husband, smiled and bent down to place a soft kiss on his forehead. "Tell him…I went for a walk."
It was a much shorter walk back to the library than Emma had anticipated, given how long it seemed they'd been away from the center of Storybrooke. Since the hospital was clear across town, in the total opposite direction of the forest, Philip had suggested they return to the lot where both his truck and Emma's buggy were hopefully still parked. Philip could retrieve the tools and makeshift weaponry he still had in his fire gear, and Emma would have access to the rest of her ammo (and the second gun she had stashed in her trunk). It was a relatively quiet walk for the most part, with Aladdin up ahead trying as best he could to answer Trent's many questions without freaking the poor guy out too much more. Emma and Philip trailed behind.
"You think Maeve will know how to use these like I…" Emma paused as Philip caught her gaze. "How to use these…the way I saw in my vision?" she finished, looking down at the stone in her hand.
He shrugged. "Like you said, they're her design," he reminded her. "If anyone will know, she will." When Emma didn't respond, Philip's brow furrowed. "It's a good plan, Emma."
"You think we'll…run into more trouble?" she asked after a few more awkward beats. "Like we did with Whale?"
"Not if I can help it, we won't," he said, looking starkly ahead of them.
Emma glanced back up at him. "You don't…need to protect me, you know."
Philip's head shot down. "What?!"
His tone only put her further on the defensive. "I'm not a…damsel in distress, or something. I'm not a princess in a tower."
Philip stopped in his tracks and held her back, letting Aladdin and Trent get further away. "You really think I don't know that?"
"I don't know what you're thinking, Philip," she hissed, placing the stone back into her pocket (she definitely didn't want to chance her father hearing the rest of this conversation). "I don't know what I was thinking, frankly."
"When?" he countered. "When you kissed me?"
"When you kissed me," she corrected him.
The conviction with which she made this distinction was so forced, he actually laughed. "You know, you've been glaring at me like that ever since I woke up, and I can only think of two reasons why. One, you didn't like kissing me – " he paused and flashed her a grin so charming, it almost weakened her knees – "and I think we both know that's not true, or two – " he paused again, and this time his smile faded – "you're scared."
Emma turned sharply away and resumed her walk. "I am not scared."
"Aren't you?" he rushed after her, falling into step. "True love's kiss, Emma. That's kind of a big deal."
"Maybe not," she said hurriedly.
"Maybe it wasn't true love's kiss. Or maybe it was for 'Matt Clancy' and now—"
"And now what?" he stopped her again, his voice loud enough to make Aladdin and Trent stop. "Keep going!" he yelled, glaring at his friend. "We'll catch up!" Aladdin rolled his eyes, taking the hint. The king turned back to the savior. "Now that I'm Philip again, I don't love you anymore?"
Emma shrugged out of his grasp and stood her ground. "Will you listen to yourself?" she said, determined to keep her head in control this time instead of her heart. "Love me? You just met me two days ago. You stopped me from shooting someone yesterday. You helped me bury the sheriff—"
"And your parents fell in love killing a clan of trolls, Emma. Stranger things have happened."
"Stranger things?" she scoffed, backing away from him and shaking her head. She really didn't want to have this conversation. There wasn't time for it. There wasn't time for it then when she'd caved to the pressure of her own vision. And this certainly wasn't the place now. "I'm in…I…I kissed one of my father's friends. That's not strange enough for you?"
Philip sighed. Yes, there was that. "Ok," he conceded, "I admit. That part is...weird. But—"
"And I'm sorry," she went on, wiping her palm across her forehead, "but…you are…actually married to Aurora right? She's…your queen?"
Philip swallowed hard, his smile fading completely. "That's…not fair," he rasped, his voice suddenly so penetrating that Emma's heart jumped. "You know my marriage is a sham."
"What I know is that you agreed to keep Lucas's secret," she said, advancing on him, hating that she sounded so judgmental. After all, Philip had been forced into the deception. But she couldn't help it. He had agreed to it. And from the moment he'd awoken, it had been gnawing at her – she'd already made the mistake once in her life of falling for a married man. And here she was making the same mistake. "You tricked that poor girl into thinking you were the one who loved her and—"
Philip outright guffawed at her retort. "Poor girl?" he laughed, cutting her off. "The 'poor girl' who put her entire kingdom at risk on the off chance that her infamously evil aunt wasn't really evil, just to avoid an arranged marriage? That poor girl?"
Emma's eyebrows flew up on her forehead. How could he be making light of this? After everything she knew? "But she—"
"Emma," he said patiently, trying not to sound too condescending. "What exactly…did you see?"
She gulped, studiously avoiding his, once again, intense gaze. "I saw…I saw Lucas tell you about his family, about his parents."
"And he made you swear never to tell Aurora," she thought back to her vision, now several visions ago and blurring together with the others. "He…woke her up with true love's kiss and then you took his place. Convinced her that it was you all along…that you had a wedding to finish."
"And that's it?" he smiled. Why the hell was he smiling?
"Well, yeah," she said. "The…the vision ended. The story was…over?"
Philip sighed, dropping his forehead into his palm. "Well," he sucked in a breath and resumed his walk. "I guess seers don'tsee everything."
For some reason, Emma felt like she'd just been slapped. "What is that supposed to mean?" she called after him, her tone demanding that he explain himself.
And he did. "I did convince her we had a wedding to finish," he replied, stalking back to her. "And she agreed. We went back to the courtyard, we got married, signed the deal, secured the treaty for our kingdoms, rode back to Braemar," he swept his hand behind him, as if gesturing to his now very faraway kingdom. "And when we got there…" he sighed and took a deep breath, "I told her everything."
Emma's face went numb. "What?!"
He shook his head, urging her to fall in step so they could catch up to Aladdin. "I told her the truth, Emma. I told her about Lucas and his family, about the kiss, all of it."
"You broke your promise to Lucas?"
"It was better than breaking his heart," he said gravely, and something inside Emma's own heart melted to pieces. "I wasn't about to…" he struggled, shoving his hands inside his pockets, "I couldn't…live with her as husband and wife, knowing what I knew."
Emma looked away, her breath hitching in her throat. "What…um…what'd she say?"
At this he chuckled. "Oh gods, she was furious. Slapped me in the face."
Emma snorted. "She did?!"
"Mmm hmm," he said, almost fondly. "Tore down the stairs, ran to the stables, stole my horse…and rode all the way to Glowerhaven that night."
"Did she find him?"
Philip shook his head. "Lucas knew me too well even then. I think deep down he knew I wouldn't keep my promise, but he was betting I would keep it long enough…for him to disappear. And he was right. The duke never returned to Glowerhaven after that, Emma," he said softly, for they were catching up to Aladdin and 'Trent'. "The gentry informed Aurora that he'd taken…" he glanced over at 'Trent' and sighed, "an indefinite leave of absence."
Emma swallowed the enormous lump in her throat, her too looking at Trent - oblivious to this rather epic romance he had no idea he was at the center of. "What'd she do?"
The king sighed as they neared the edge of the forest. "Eventually she came back to Braemar, agreed to continue the charade for the sakes of our kingdoms. We ruled together…but separately. As friends. After a few months, Doc helped us circulate a story about how she was medically unable to have children so people wouldn't…wonder."
"Doc?" Emma gaped at him. "Doc knows about all of this?"
He grinned. "Not all of it. But you'd be surprised how seriously that little dwarf respects doctor-patient confidentiality."
Emma shook her head, in awe of how much more there was to these stories. So much more than her visions revealed…eons more than there was in Henry's book. She felt like she needed to…apologize, or…something, but as she turned to speak, Aladdin jogged over and cleared his throat.
"Still wanna take both cars?" he asked, a sly smirk on his face that told Emma that Storybrooke's resident thief had a pretty good idea of what they were talking about.
"Yes," Philip answered, then turned to her with one of his disarming grins. "And I'll take Trent in my truck. I've talked Miss Swan's ear off enough already." He looked back at Aladdin. "Be good," he warned his old Arabian friend. Then he winked at Emma, and before she could object, he was crossing the lot.
Aladdin offered to drive, but after the day Emma had had, she was desperately in need of doing something familiar, and the prospect of settling behind the wheel of her good ol' yellow buggy felt nothing short of cathartic.
Philip had said there was a back way to the hospital that was less likely to be watched by Regina's eyes and ears about town. The street rat sitting beside her had remained annoyingly silent as Philip pulled his truck out of his space and she followed behind them. Finally, Emma snapped.
"Why are you just…sitting there…chuckling to yourself?"
Aladdin feigned ignorance. "I'm not chuckling. I'm just…wondering about something."
"Yeah well, enlighten me," she said as she turned onto the dirt road behind Philip' truck.
"Well," Aladdin harrumphed, folding his arms over his chest. "If you can just…wake people up by touching them on the shoulder, why didn't you wake up Trent before we left?"
Emma turned and glared at him.
"You know, take those gloves off? Give 'im a high five? I mean…since that's how you woke up Philip, of course."
Emma sighed and rolled her eyes, remembering now how adamantly Aladdin had insisted even back in the woods that she'd been stretching the truth. It did bring to mind why Emma had wanted Aladdin with her on this particular leg of the mission in the first place. She shrugged and figured she might as well get to it. "So how did you know?"
"Oh knock it off!" she griped. "How did you know that I …that Philip…didn't wake up the way you did."
Aladdin grinned. "I didn't until a few seconds ago…at least not for sure anyway." She shot him a look and then he did chuckle. "Call it a hunch, ok? I've seen women look at Philip the way you do." Emma blushed and turned back to the road, shaking her head as she reached inside her pocket. "Although," he added, "I've never actually seen Philip looking the same way, so…you must have done something right."
"Aladdin," she huffed impatiently, "I know it wasn't a hunch and I know it wasn't me and Philip making…making goo-goo eyes at each other, ok? Jasmine said back at the wishing well that you'd had a theory," she spared him a glance from the road, glaring at him pointedly. "And I'm betting that theory has everything to do with why my fatherthinks you are the one who knows how to turn this," she pulled the soulodestone from her pocket, "into a portal. Now enough jokes," she ordered him. "Tell me what you know."
Aladdin took a deep breath, knowing he could no longer put it off, but not entirely sure the savior was ready for yet another revelation of this magnitude. After all, what he knew, or at least, what he thought he knew…changed everything. "It is just a theory," he stressed, "and it honestly has way more to do with you and me than it does with Philip."
Emma started. "You and me?"
He sighed. "I think you were able to wake me so much easier than the others…because of what I believe you and I have in common."
Emma cocked an eyebrow, throwing him another sideways glance as she turned down Main Street. "Which is?"
Aladdin turned sideways in his seat and braced his hand on the dashboard. "A shared destiny."
Emma's head started pounding and she shook her head. "A shared destiny. Great. Why do I feel like this has some sort of massive back story?"
Aladdin laughed. He liked this girl. "Doesn't everything?"
"A shared destiny," she repeated. "So…what, you and I are both destined to break the curse?"
"That's," he said cautiously, "not…actually…your destiny."
Emma slammed on the breaks so hard, Aladdin bumped his head on the windshield. "Ow!" he snapped as Philip's truck slowed down in front of them. "Keep going," he waved her forward, "he's gonna think something's wrong—"
"That's NOT my destiny?!" she practically screamed at him.
"Theory! I said it's a theory—"
"After all the shit that's happened, you're telling me—"
"Emma please, keep driving. I promise I'll explain, but we need to get to the hospital, and that's not gonna happen if Philip is stopping every two seconds to see why we're pulling over."
Emma jammed the gear back into drive and vroomed forward, signaling Philip to continue on. "Spill," she said, "Now."
Aladdin took another deep breath – yep, he definitely should have insisted he drive. "I'm sorry," he said. "Let me start again. Of course, you have to break the curse. And you're so close to it now with only one guardian to go, but 'Stiltskin…well, whether he didn't know or just didn't mention it because he's 'Stiltskin, the imp didn't give you the whole picture."
"Well that doesn't surprise me," she snorted, and he relaxed.
"Me either," he agreed and began again. "How much…do you know about…my story."
She sighed, impatiently. "I dunno. The gist of it, I guess. I know how you ended up in Agrabah, how Philip helped pardon you, your deal with Jasmine, how she fought for her throne."
"What do you know about…Genie? And the lamp?"
Emma frowned. She was of course familiar with the cartoon she'd seen as a kid, and had assumed there was some measure of truth to it since Rumpelstiltskin had given him a lamp back at the police station. But frankly, she'd stopped reading the actual book before she got to that part. Henry's voice flashed in her mind: just read the stupid book! She sighed. "Not much."
"Well," Aladdin chuckled, "get ready for your back story."
Emma rolled her eyes, "Oh, just give me the cliff notes will ya? I don't know how much more information I can take right now."
He smiled, "I'll do my best." Aladdin launched into as abbreviated a version as he could about what had happened just before Jasmine's final ascension challenge was to commence with Razoul. He'd been approached by Jafar, the sultan's royal vizier and, at the time, little more than an annoying nobleman to the renowned street rat. The ghoulish looking advisor had expressed a desire for Aladdin's 'help' in procuring something very special that he had lost in the desert. "He said he'd needed a 'young, able-bodied man' for heavy lifting," Aladdin told her as he rolled his eyes, remembering his foolish naiveté. "I figured it couldn't hurt my case any if I helped out the sultan's top advisor so I went along…It wasn't until we arrived at the Cave of Wonders that I knew what he was really after."
"The Cave of Wonders?"
Aladdin explained: Every Arabian child knew about the Cave of Wonders – a place of temptation, of sorcery, of treasures and secrets. Mothers, Aladdin's included, mostly told stories about the Cave of Wonders to warn little boys off from the temptations of falling in with Agrabah's many criminal gangs. But as with most tall tales, Aladdin had always assumed it was a myth…that is until Jafar brought him to its doorstep.
Jafar had explained that he wanted a lamp, a magic lamp that could unleash the most powerful magical being known to man: a genie. "When I told him to get it himself, he said he couldn't," Aladdin went on. "He wasn't worthy or something; it wasn't his destiny. I told him I didn't care – that I wouldn't get mixed up in something like that. But Jafar…" Aladdin paused and looked down, clenching his fists. "Jafar had somehow found out about me and Jasmine…and I wasn't about to let him use meagainst her. Not when she was so close to earning her right to rule. So," he shook his head, remembering his stupidity, his moment of weakness, "I agreed to enter the cave. And that's when he told me…what I was. What I am. And now I'm telling you," he added, causing her again to slow down the car and glance over warily.
"Diamonds," he said, "in the rough."
Emma's eyes widened as she mocked him in disbelief, "Diamonds in the rough?"
"At least that's what my people call them. I've heard other terms: Chosen One, Child of Destiny, Gatekeeper—"
"What is it?" she implored.
Another deep breath: "One person, born into every generation…destined to affect magic beyond his own realm, and to open doors between worlds." He spoke slowly, letting every word sink in as he watched her face screw up in frustration. "I'm my generation's chosen one," he added softly. "And you're next in line."
She shook her head. "These are not…cliff notes."
Aladdin chuckled. "I know, it's a lot, but think about what 'Stiltskin said back the shop. The third wishing well, the one that can open a door?" he reminded her.
Emma followed his reasoning, remembering now the bits of that conversation she'd actually been hoping to clear up. She gripped the steering wheel a little tighter and concentrated. "It's supposed to rise when we wake the sixth guardian…the third realm."
"Right, and that's where the door will be. The door you are destined to open. The one that will lead everyone back from this world, to ours."
Emma was quiet for a few moments, trying yet again to process another piece of this extraordinarily complex puzzle. Strangely though, she wasn't quite as frustrated as she'd been in the past. No, this time…she wanted more. She needed to know everything.
"So the door that you were supposed to open, that was the Cave of Wonders?"
Aladdin winced. It was a good guess, but— "No," he said.
"Uhhhhgh!" Emma threw her hands up and rolled her eyes.
"You're close though," he said, supportively. "The Cave only knows who the diamond in the rough is. The door I can open? That, Emma, is the lamp."
Emma let out another sigh as she followed Philip's lead down a side street and made another turn. "More back story?" she quipped.
He grinned. "More back story. See, the lamp isn't a vessel," he explained. "No genie actually lives in there. The lamp is just the doorway…to the genie world. And that is what Jafar wanted to get his hands on."
"How could he do that though, if you're the diamond in the rough?"
Aladdin grimaced, remembering just how artful he discovered the sultan's advisor to be. "Jafar was a very powerful sorcerer. And he was obsessed with genie magic. He'd devoted his whole life to harnessing their power and had devised a way to transfer control of the genie to the one who possessed the lamp. Once the door was opened, power could reside with anyone who actually held the lamp."
"And…the genie world?" Emma asked, trying to stay with him.
He sighed. "The ultimate prize. See, I eventually learned from my genie what Jafar had spent his life studying. Centuries ago, genies reigned over our world just like the gods and goddesses of old. Helios, Circe, Poseidon, Zeus – they were no more or less powerful than genies. Magic as a result was rampant, and both sides were interested in helping mankind learn to function and share that kind of power."
"Right," Emma said, this part sounding familiar. "But like 'Stiltskin said, mortals starting abusing their power and the balance between good and dark magic—"
"Could no longer be maintained, exactly."
"Which is why they came up with the guardians in the first place and left your world, right?" she went on, constructing more of the puzzle.
Aladdin nodded, watching her almost like James had an hour ago – impressed by how much she really had learned. In fact, the savior knew and understood much more than she gave herself credit for. He didn't have to be the girl's father to see that.
"So," she asked cautiously, "what does that have to do with the genies?"
"With the gods. Genies liked our world. They liked mankind. They liked the culture, the music…the women. Plus, genies were notorious tricksters. They enjoyed empowering men with too much magic and then watching to see how they might pit one against the other."
"I take it that didn't go over well with Helios and friends?"
"No," Aladdin said gravely, remembering when Genie first told him the story. "It didn't. The genies refused to leave our world – said that mankind would be able to control its magic eventually and they just had to be patient. They felt that creating guardians, forcing a system of checks and balances on magic, was a horrible idea, and they refused to be a part of it. And if the genies weren't gonna play along, what was the point?"
"So what happened?"
Aladdin shrugged, turning back to the road as the hospital drew near. "What you might expect. They argued about it for years and then eventually went to war. Obviously the gods won and were going to force the remaining genies to join them in leaving our world behind. But out of respect for the centuries of friendship they'd enjoyed beforehand, they reached a compromise."
"The lamp?" Emma guessed.
He nodded. "And their world. The gods and goddesses helped the genies construct a separate world within our own, with the caveat that only those who were…truly worthy could open the door."
"Diamonds in the rough," she arched an eyebrow.
Aladdin smiled. "Diamonds in the rough. That's the world Jafar tried to control. And I'm pretty sure that's why Rumpelstiltskin just gave me the lamp and then sent Honest John after me once he knew I'd awoken from the curse."
Emma gasped, her mind almost refusing to allow this ancient story to collide with the present. "You think 'Stiltskin is after the genies now like Jafar was then?"
"Almost positive. It's the only power the Dark One hasn't been able to harness. That's his endgame Emma. Not just 'going home,'" he scoffed, using air quotes, "but going back with enough power to rule the entire world."
Emma felt the blood in her veins run cold. Going home. She knew it couldn't be that simple. Not with 'Stiltskin. Even if she somehow managed to find her father, defeat Regina, break the curse, reunite with Henry – how in the hell was she supposed to stop Rumpelstiltskin from doing exactly what it seemed he'd been orchestrating from day one? Especially since…she realized with another gulp…she still owed him a favor? "Why umm…" Emma grasped at straws, searching for some sort of flaw in Aladdin's theory, something that would render this newest piece to the puzzle slightly less…distressing. "Why would 'Stiltskin need genie magic in the first place? Can't he already cross between worlds? I mean, he's struck deals everywhere hasn't he? In New Gaia, in Agrabah—"
"Those are realms, Emma, not worlds. Not even the Dark One has the power to traverse between worlds."
Emma blinked as they turned into the back parking lot of the hospital. "There's a difference?" she asked, then – remembering their earlier talk of witches and sorceresses – "of course there's a difference."
Aladdin gave her a light pat on the shoulder, almost feeling sorry for her. After all, the woman was practically getting a crash course here on the history of magic itself. "There are lands, there are realms, and there are worlds," he explained patiently. "Lands are like…kingdoms, regions, cities. Here, you call them states."
"Uh huh," Emma muttered, slightly dazed but still following.
"Realms are a collection of those lands, governed by the same rules, the same laws so-to-speak of magic. The way magic works, or in some cases doesn't work, determines the boundaries of that realm. It's why someone like Rumpelstiltskin is so feared because The Dark One's magic works beyond his own realm. It's why Regina needs a whole council of rogues from different realms to enact her curse. You with me so far?"
Emma nodded her head, pulling into a parking spot, but she wasn't quite sure she meant it.
"This world, Emma? The one she forced us into? As far as I can tell, it's actually only one realm. One set of rules – you call it physics. But it's made up of thousands of lands. It's why I think Regina picked this world – not because there's no magic here but because…it's just…big enough for all of us. But our world? The one we're trying to get back to?" She nodded again, urging him to continue. "Three realms, made of only a few dozen lands. Our destiny is to open doors between worlds. In doing so, you can restore our world to its rightful place, restore our lands to their respective realms, and bring order and magic back through the enchanted forest where it belongs."
Emma slowly clicked the gear shift into park and turned off the engine, staring blankly ahead of her as she watched Philip and Trent get out of the truck and head over to meet them.
"Emma?" said Aladdin nervously. "You ok?"
She heaved a sigh then placed her hands back firmly on the steering wheel. "Maybe," she said, her tone a bit meeker than she'd intended, "maybe you shoulda just…stuck with the goo-goo eyes thing."
Aladdin laughed as Philip came up to his door and rapped on the window, gesturing for them to get a move on. "Well, like I said," he unlocked the door and removed his seatbelt. "It is just a theory."
"Right," said Emma, zipping up her coat and slipping the soulodestone back in her pocket. "And I'm just a bail bondsman."
"I consider myself a reasonable merman," Triton growled at his daughter as he glided into the hidden chamber. Ariel's heart raced with panic, but she seemed unable to reply as the pulsing glow from her father's trident lit up his menacing gaze. "I set certain rules, and I expect those rules to be obeyed!"
Ariel tightened her grip around her coral satchel and her knuckles turned white. Oh, why had she been so late? Why hadn't she kept better track of the time? She'd stayed with the handsome stranger, the one his people called Eric, until almost sunrise, laying, singing, breathing beside him, praying he would awaken. She'd missed the jubilee completely and had the entire kingdom scurrying about looking for her. Of course, when she appeared hours later, descending from the surface and immediately detained by a legion of the palace guard, coming up with a convincing story seemed a futile effort. "Dad, I—"
"Is it true you rescued a human from drowning?"
The little mermaid gasped, then gulped. How had he found out about that part? "H-he would have died and—"
Triton rolled his eyes toward the ceiling of his daughter's mutinous treasure trove. "One less human to worry about!"
"You don't even know who he—"
"Know him? I don't have to know him!" Triton bellowed.
"Daddy, please listen to me," Ariel begged him, taking a deep breath as she sorted through the events of the night. "The man I saved," she started, remembering the moment just as Eric's beautiful blue eyes had finally fluttered open, the moment they were interrupted by the white, shaggy dog and the elderly gentleman from the boat. "I think…I think he was – is the new prince of Lochmere," she tried to explain, desperately appealing to what she hoped might be a remnant of the cooperative, diplomatic king he'd once been. "I thought if I—"
"Prince? Pauper? WHALER, Ariel? They're all the same! Mindless, savage, harpooning fish eaters!" his voice roared in unspeakable fury and Ariel gaped in horror at his eyes glowed red, the way they did just before he activated Poseidon's relic. "Incapable of any feeling of—"
"Daddy I love him!" she screamed, then immediately slapped her hand over her mouth and shrank back, afraid of the volatile reaction she anticipated. What she'd just pronounced was admittedly insane. But crazy as it was, Ariel knew without a shred of doubt, it was true.
"No," Triton replied in a fierce whisper, though Ariel noticed her declaration had stunned him enough to at least dim the glow of the trident. "Have you lost your senses completely?!" he cried, gripping the handle of his weapon now almost in fear.
"No Daddy, he—" she swallowed hard again, swimming tentatively before him. She waited for him to at least meet her gaze, for she was desperate that he believe her. "He knows…my song."
Triton's jaw dropped, and the color of flushed anger drained from his face, replaced by sheet-white bafflement. "He…he what?!"
Ariel swished her tail, propelling herself a few feet closer, and even hazarded a small smile. "He knows my song, Daddy," she implored him. Surely such mind-blowing information might at least bridge some understanding.
"He…" Triton stammered, "He s-sang for you?"
Ariel bit her bottom lip, looking down. "Well, n-no, not exactly, but—"
"Oh Ariel," her father dropped his head into his hand and shook it sadly, almost as if the anger inside him evaporated, leaving only exasperation in its wake.
"He played it, Daddy," she insisted, swimming after him as he'd begun to turn away. "On some sort of instrument that I've…never…seenbeforeDaddystop!" she slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow and forced him to face her. "Please, you must believe me," she begged him, her eyes wide and pleading. "It was a kind of…flute I suppose, though it was shaped more like a seashell and—"
"A seashell?!" Triton started, almost jerking out of her grasp at the description.
"Yes," she said. "H-he stood on the deck of his ship, Daddy. So…so sad and alone. But when he started to play, I felt—"
"Was this a golden seashell?!" her father demanded.
"Y-yes?" she said, her nerves shot. How could that possibly matter?
"So this boy's careless and inexperienced captaining of his vessel not only put you in harm's way, but he's managed to steal himself one of our ocean's most sacred relics?!"
Ariel staggered back. "What?! What are you—"
"The instrument, Ariel. The flute?!" Triton's majestic tail swished furiously as he paced the small area of the hidden grotto, muttering to himself. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you don't know your own history when you obviously spend all your time—" he made a gesture in disgust to the human artifacts adorning the shelves along her wall— "studying theirs."
"But Dad I—"
"That instrument is the Ocarina of Waves, Ariel! The most beloved treasure of Amphitrite. Wife of Poseidon! She lost it in the war waged between the gods and genies. Our kind has searched for it for centuries. It's as old as this—" he growled, showing her his trident and gripping its handle so hard it started to glow again— "and you're telling me it's in the hands of a human?"
"Marlin!" Triton bellowed and before Ariel knew what was happening, her father's captain of the guard sailed in through the small portal of her grotto and saluted the sea king. "Take a legion of your best swimmers to the surface."
Marlin gaped. "Th-the surface milord?"
"Yes, the surface. It seems the new prince of Lochmere has laid claim to a sacred artifact that most certainly does not belong to him. The Ocarina of Waves."
Marlin's eyes widened to the size of blowfish and nodded. "Y-Yes, your Majesty. And, when we find it?"
Triton glowered at his captain. "Take it. Back."
"Daddy!" Ariel tugged on his arm, "Stop it! Please think about what you are doing!"
Triton whirled on his daughter as Marlin retreated from the grotto. "Ariel, how many times must we go through this!?" he implored her. "Contact between the human world and the mer-world is strictly forbidden! You know that. Everyone knows that!"
"For how much longer!?" she barked at him now, jerking herself away and glowering so suddenly and so intently that it caught him off guard. "Contact is forbidden under your say-so. Not anyone else's," she argued, seized by an inexplicable urge to defend a complete stranger. "And other sea-kingdoms follow your lead since you're the descendent of Poseidon! How much longer are you going to punish an entire species of beings for the mistakes of one man!"
"Don't you take that tone of voice with me, young lady!" her father brushed her off as he normally did when his daughter was making sense. "As long you live under my ocean, you'll obey my rules!"
"But if you would just listen—" she begged him, but even she could tell that the brief window of opportunity to deal with the king rationally had come and gone.
"So help me Ariel, I am going to get through to you. And if this is the only way? SO BE IT!"
Before the little mermaid could take another gulp, white hot rage swept through her father's soul and into his trident, and in one swift, brilliant flash of light, the entire contents of her precious treasure trove were eradicated from the ocean floor…
…Marina threw the shell away from her so quickly that Ella shrieked for fear of it shattering against the bar railing. Jasmine, however, was quick to pluck it from the air and palmed it carefully as the lounge singer caught her breath.
"What the hell was that?" cried the red-head, taking in huge gulps of air which were just as quickly expelled in uneven, spastic puffs.
"We…" Ella looked to Jasmine and gulped, "don't know. What did you see?"
"Something crazy, that's for damn sure!" the girl muttered and jerked away from them…but even that movement reminded her of the way she'd – no, the mermaid, Ariel– had jerked away from her father. The memory stilled her, refusing to ebb from her mind.
"It's a memory, Ariel," said Jasmine with a hint of impatience. "We've all had them in some way or another – small flashes of a life we don't recognize until we get our—"
"Whadid you call me?!" Marina cried, her jaw dropping like an anvil.
Jasmine pursed her lips together and stepped toward her with the shell. "Ariel," she said.
Marina gasped. How did she know? How could she possibly have guessed that name? Were they somehow doing this to her?
"Jasmine," Ella muttered under her breath, holding the Arabian princess back. "Easy."
But Jasmine shook her head. "We don't have time for easy anymore, Ella." It had taken long enough to track down the seashell, locate the Ugly Duckling and convince the young woman to unlock the doors to the club despite the fact that it wasn't supposed to open for hours. The shell had had the exact effect they'd hoped it would on the former mermaid, and it was certainly a good stepping stone toward convincing Ariel to come with them. But Jasmine had the distinct feeling they were running out of time, and though Ella's patience and quiet manner had been instrumental in getting them this far with her, the sultana-to-be was growing restless with the 'little mermaid'. She turned right back to Ariel, slapped her hand on the surface of the bar and once more held out the shell in the other. "Look, we know you saw something. And we know," she gestured toward the mirrors behind the bar, "what you must've seen here last night in those mirrors."
Again, the singer gasped. Ineptly, she glanced around the room, as if the familiar surroundings of The Ugly Duckling held some sort of cosmic answer to these insane questions. "H-how could that," she returned to the shell after a moment, taking another step back, "have been a-a memory. I was speaking underwater for god's sakes!"
But this proclamation had the opposite effect than she expected, for at the word 'underwater' both women lit up in brilliant, hopeful smiles, glancing between each other and sharing those knowing grins. For some reason, this didn't make Marina feel any better. She opened her mouth to say as much when a violent crash outside stunned them, and all three women turned to face the doorway.
"There she is, boys," cackled a deep, shrill voice as a buxom woman with grey-white hair marched in through the glass double doors, two huge men flanking behind her. "Oh and look at that," the woman's red eyes blazed through an otherwise human veneer. "She's brought friends!"
"Madame Nerine!" Marina exclaimed as her boss and owner of The Ugly Duckling stood in the doorway with two of the night bouncers. "Jay? And Sam, what're you doing here so—"
But the woman ignored her as she turned to her henchmen, "Flotsam? Jetsam? Let's make sure we can do what pitiful old Tremaine could not, eh?"
The two bulky men lunged toward the bar, and both Ella and Marina shrieked as two pairs of arms came at them in a blur of motion. The bouncers were caught off guard, however, when Jasmine expertly hooked her ankle around Jay's– or, Jetsam's – and tripped him up, staggering him backwards into his partner. Both men fell, though Flotsam's hand had already seized around Marina's arm.
"Ariel!" Ella cried, as Marina tumbled over with Flotsam, landing sprawled between them and clambering to get up. Ella kicked and punched at Flotsam's arm, but couldn't affect his grip, and soon 'Madame Nerine' (whoever she really was, though Ella thought it a pretty safe bet this was Ursula) had circled around her and yanked her back by the neck.
"Is it true your little hubby drove a fire poker through your step mother's gut? Gosh I woulda loved to see that," cackled the sea witch as she glanced down and saw Jetsam still tousling with Jasmine, not at all in doubt that her trusted henchman would soon best the overrated Arabian princess.
"Let me go!" Ella seethed through gritted teeth, batting and clawing at the woman's other arm, but she was far too large, and her fat fingers had such a tight grip that Ella feared what might happen if she jerked the wrong way. Ella glanced down at Ariel who was similarly struggling with Flotsam, and soon all three princesses were standing with their backs flush against those who had attacked them, each with arms pinned behind their waists and their stomachs pressed against the Ugly Duckling bar.
"Where is little Tommy now, hmm?" taunted Ursula as she crushed Ella's chest against the railing, her haughty gaze laughing at her as their eyes met in the mirror behind the bar. Ella made a show of jerking to and fro against the railing, grunting and pulling against the woman's massive size. To the right of their reflection, Ella could see Ariel's frightened eyes peeking out from above the bouncer's dirtied hand which was tightly clamped over the red-head's mouth. The princess of Seven Gales so wished she could offer some sort of reassurance to the little mermaid, but for now she could say nothing. "Did his Royal Bratness really send the two of youhere alone to fetch a woman who wouldn't know you from Eve?" Ursula continued, and Ella growled in frustration as the rough, scratchy feeling of rope pulled over her wrists.
Ella looked to her left and saw Jasmine twisting and writhing in Jetsam's grasp. In her struggle, however, Jasmine caught Ella's eye and managed a slight nod. Ella smiled and stilled. "Actually?" Jasmine rasped as Jetsam's grip closed around her neck. "No."
And no sooner had Ursula noted the smug look in both princesses' eyes than all six exit doors of her ritzy club were flung or kicked open, and a familiar grating voice sounded behind her. "You've got six pick axes and an arrow all pointed at your gut, sea witch," Snow White's voice boomed through the club as Ursula slowly turned with her hostage and glared at the princess of New Gaia. "And trust me," added Snow. "Their aim is better than mine."
Ursula grimaced. She had, during her time in Storybrooke, seen Mary Margaret Blanchard around town, but she much preferred the mousy school teacher to this archer bursting through her doorway, bow taught, arrow made ready on her string. Her eyes darted around, noting what she must assume were six of Snow's legendary dwarf henchmen, poised at every exit. "Veeeeery clever, dearie," said the sea witch, tightening her hold on Ella as Flotsam and Jetsam also turned their hostages front, converting each princess to a human shield. "Though I highly doubt any of you will actually make a move at the risk of inadvertently breaking one of these," she paused and ran her other palm up Ella's neck, placing one hand over the princess's forehead and the other at her throat, "beautiful necks."
Snow gulped and glanced down at Grumpy who stood by her side, but he nodded, gripping his axe tighter, and her aim held firm.
"All I have to do is…twist you know. And pop!" she punctuated her p's and mimicked the very slight motion it would take to snap Ella's neck.
"You talk a good game, Ursula, but you're forgetting one thing," said Snow, inching forward. The dwarfs followed suit.
"Uh, boss?" Jetsam hissed, looking to his queen for direction as they closed in.
"Shut up," Ursula muttered. "What's that, your highness?"
Snow stopped a few more feet into the club and smirked. "Your back door."
Ursula instantly seized her grip on Ella, but she was too late. Dopey, who had made it his mission to master the art of stealth after losing his eighth brother, leapt out from behind the bar and slammed the blunt end of his axe into the back of Ursula's head, knocking her unconscious. In the confusion, Jasmine easily slipped from Jetsam's grasp, twisted his arm over itself and flipped him over, sending him crashing into one of the club's round cabaret tables. Flotsam, seeing himself completely outnumbered, shoved Ariel into the two dwarfs coming at him from the left. Ariel shrieked as she stumbled into Happy and Sneezy, both of whom were happy to break her fall as Flotsam vaulted over the back of the bar and headed for the exit…just as Snow's arrow came spearing toward him and thwacked right into the doorframe, inches away from his head. Flotsam froze and spun around, hands in the air as Grumpy and Happy flanked him and shoved him to the floor.
Snow swept one more look over the room and decided it was secure. She gave the dwarfs a satisfied nod as she shouldered her bow and went instantly with Doc to Ella's side. "You all right, Ella?"
The blonde patted herself down, brushing the grime of Ursula's grip from her neck and arms. "Fine, thank you," she said sweetly.
"Cutting it a little close, Snow?" said Jasmine, who finished tying up a dazed Jetsam with the rope Doc had just handed her.
"Nah," Snow grinned. "We had plenty of time to spare—"
"Excuse me!" said the red-head, shaking herself free of the well-intentioned little men fussing over her. "Will someone please explain why my boss and bouncers just tried to kill us?"
Jasmine sighed and shook her head, sympathizing of course with her confusion, but no less impatient than before. "It's actually quite simple, princess," she said, stepping over the unconscious sea witch to reach her 'sleeping' friend. "Your boss is actually Ursula, the Atlantian sea witch."
Marina's jaw dropped to the floor as she stared at Nerine, looking in horror at what seemed to be octopus-like tentacles slithering out from beneath her cloak. Snow gasped too as whatever glamor spell the witch had obviously cast on herself faded with her loss of consciousness. Obviously, the curse was weakening since more of Storybrooke facades were breaking down.
"That's…that's not possible," Marina whispered, though she couldn't deny what she was seeing with her own eyes any longer than she could continue to deny what apparently wasn't a dream last night in the mirror.
"I'm afraid it is, Ariel. Which makes you the 'Little Mermaid,'" Ella added, coming up behind her, clasping a supportive hand over her wrist. This time Marina didn't shrug away, merely gulped.
"And…" she glanced up at the third woman who had come to her rescue, the raven-haired school teacher she'd known from the many fairs and picnics and town events she'd sung over the years. "A-and you?"
Snow grinned broadly as her comrades gathered around her, holding their pick axes proudly over their shoulders. "Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs," she said, "at your service."
***GODS AND DEMONS that was a bear of a chapter – my longest in a while, I know, but once again, there just wasn't a good halfway point at which to split. Besides, I know it's been a while, so hopefully you'll appreciate a nice long, juicy update.
My goal was to update at least one more time before the start of the third season. And I'm done with 9 minutes to spare! Now for some credits:
'Storybrooke' names of lost boys, as you might have guessed already, are either slightly altered or taken verbatim from cast lists of various film adaptations of Peter Pan.
Marlin, captain of the guard for Triton…well, I hope you can guess who that's based on, given the fact that Ariel's handmaiden was Dory in the last chapter!
I also borrowed some more names of Greek gods and goddesses from various mythologies as well as a Jungle Book reference in finally naming Graham's wolf, Akela.
Thank you for your…wow, years of dedication to this story, for your continued favorites, reviews, recommendations to new readers and so on and so forth. Shout out to my girl, The Pris, to sgcycle, to KayleeThePete, Haley Renee, Lady Eagle, Insane. Certifiably (see I knew I shouldn't have started this…it's like an Emmy award acceptance speech…I'm gonna leave someone out!), Maiqu, LadyWeasley, emilycambron9, HJS-NS-23, Amanda, Helena Hermione, Duchessduchie, quoththeraven, David Knight and a BUNCH of others out there still sending me great comments and great ideas. I owe you big time!
Hope you enjoyed! Happy Season 3!***