So here we are, the final chapter.
I'd like to thank every single person who read, reviewed, followed and favourited this story; this has been the most-reviewed and -followed fic I have ever done, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
And now on with the chapter.
Happily Ever After
"Mom, can I go hunting with Graham?"
"No hunting until you're eighteen."
"Can I practice archery with Graham?"
"No archery until you're eighteen."
"Can I go riding with Graham?"
"Can Graham ride a horse?"
"Well no, but see, I could teach him and-"
"No. Why don't you go sit in the garden with your Grandmother?"
"Grandma, not Grandmother."
"Oh, I do apologise."
"No you don't, you're just saying that to-"
"Hey, Mom, Henry wants to help you with your roses!"
"No I don't, I want to-"
"Oh, Henry, that's so sweet of you. Come on out and we'll get started," Snow called in, and Henry could hear the delight in her voice.
It had been nearly three weeks since the battle, and life was finally beginning to return to normal for the residents of Storybrooke, Maine.
Or, at least, as normal as it had been twenty-eight years ago.
For Emma and Henry, life differed between amazing and annoying with every new discovery.
The lack of plumbing, however, had left both dumb-founded.
Exchanges such as before between Emma and Henry became the norm, with Henry ready to become the best knight in the kingdom and Emma wanting to hold onto that title just a little longer.
For Snow and Charming, it was regaining what they should have had in the first place.
For Emma in particular, it was having a real family for the first time in her life.
Scowling at his smirking mother, Henry went out to join Snow, his face brightening when he saw her despite the less than exciting task of pruning the rose garden.
Inside, Emma laughed, ignoring the nudge in the ribs Graham gave her.
"You're cruel, Princess," he murmured, a smile forming on his lips.
"I'm a mother, Huntsman. He's not even eleven yet, I don't want him growing up with a sword in one hand and a bow in the other."
"Last I checked, a bow is a two-handed weapon."
"Oh shut up," she muttered, leaning her head against his shoulder, his arm wrapping around her waist.
"How's your father?" he asked quietly.
"Good, I think. I mean, there's no real medicine here, and for the first few days I was convinced he was going to end up with an infection and die of blood poisoning."
"Ever the optimist," Graham muttered, but she was already gone, lost in her own mind, something she was prone to doing lately, ever since the battle.
She had stayed by her father's bedside the first week, his hand locked in hers as she talked endlessly, her voice growing hoarse, her throat raw, sleeping only for a few minutes at a time, telling him about the weather or how she couldn't wait to see more of the kingdom, though once he had grown stronger and more stable she had progressed onto the fallout of the battle, and had even told him the full details of what had transpired between her and Regina, something she decided only her parents and Graham needed to know.
However, instead of the judgement she expected he had kissed her hand and told her how proud he was, as well as offering to speak to Henry about it, something Emma had so far refrained from doing, the expression on her son's face whenever his adoptive mother's name was mentioned always putting her off.
It was only after she'd passed out in her chair that she had been forced into a bed on Doc's orders and told to stay there until she didn't feel like she was dying; she slept for almost three days, emerging with wild hair and near starvation, and being plied with more food than she could eat in a week, clean clothes and a brush, as well as another order to take a bath.
Hence how she learnt that the plumbing was not to her usual standard.
Her mother had then told her kindly but firmly that she could visit her father daily, but was not under any circumstances allowed to stay at his beside all day, every day, because other people wanted to visit him and she needed to get some fresh air.
She had agreed grudgingly.
The next time she saw him-which was the same day when her mother was conveniently elsewhere and wouldn't kick her out into the garden-he told her to give her sword a name, which apparently was the thing to do.
She still hadn't come up with one, the only ideas she had being 'Sunlight' because whenever she thought of that day she remembered the flash of her sword, and 'Lightning' for the same reason, which were apparently not good enough for her father who had paled visibly at her suggestions, asking incredulously, "Do you really want to stab someone with Sunlight?"
"But then I could have Sunlight and Starlight," she had replied, enjoying how startled he looked at the idea.
"No. Just no. You'll find the right name, and it will have nothing to do with light."
And so she went back to telling him about why she had chosen Starlight as a horse's name when she was a child, and how he had found wandering about the battlefield and safely returned to her.
She had nearly jumped out of her skin when her mother had entered the room, but she only said something tearfully about going full circle, and so Emma had hugged her comfortingly, pulling a face at her Dad over her shoulder.
That was also the day she learnt not to make him laugh when he was supposed to be avoiding anything strenuous, which resulted in his stitches bursting open and Snow scowling furiously at the two of them from her place beside the bed as he was sewn back up.
She felt Graham brush his lips against her jaw, and was startled back into the present.
She smiled, letting go of her trail of thoughts and focusing on him, bringing his free hand to her own lips.
"And now I have to go."
Graham groaned, burying his head in her neck.
"Stay," he murmured, his lips against her skin, and it was all she could do not to drag him upstairs.
"No," she said sternly, talking to herself as much as him. "I have princess duties to attend to."
He snorted, releasing her as she rose to her feet, squeezing his hand lightly and turning to leave.
Her memories of her enchanted sleep had also returned, the words of her father and Graham striking her somewhere she didn't even think existed within her, and she knew she would never forget them, would treasure them always.
She also knew that Graham would never be an orator, something she intended to keep in mind if she ever became Queen; it would clearly be her who would have to address the kingdom, something which no longer filled her with terror and doubt.
Her life was better here, even if she was a Princess who was on speaking terms with Rumplestiltskin-who had disappeared as soon as the curse had broken, much to the relief of everyone, she had found-Cinderella and the Blue Fairy.
And apparently had Little Red Riding Hood as a godmother despite the lack of a christening-her mother didn't seem to care too much about that-but thinking about that hurt her head, because she was almost certain that she was actually older than Red, and had been more of a mentor than a goddaughter to her in Storybrooke, so she pushed the thoughts away abruptly and never mentioned it to anyone.
So maybe Emma looked upon her as more of a cousin than a godmother; either way Red didn't seem to mind.
As she opened the door to the hall, Graham's wolf slid in, barely glancing up at her balefully as he made his way to his brother.
"Well hello to you too," she muttered, rolling her eyes.
He was no longer an 'it', not after he had saved her life, and helped to defeat Regina, something Graham never let her forget. She still wasn't sure if he had a name, so she tried not to talk to him at all.
Which was rather easy as he was-after all-a wolf.
He was also a badly behaved wolf, though Graham swore it was just because he missed the freedom of the woods.
"I miss my TV," she had replied hotly, "But you don't see me climbing into other people's baths."
She frowned at the memory, still not seeing the funny side as Henry had promised she would in the future.
If this was her happily ever after, she'd take it, demonic wolf and all.
But there were still two things bothering her: that damn ring, and August.
The former would require a talk with her mother, who was currently keeping Henry from shooting stuff, so that could wait.
The latter, however, could not.
And that was her princess duty of the day.
After climbing three flights of stairs and making a left instead of a right, she eventually found the right door, and knocked quickly, taking a deep breath to steel herself.
A moment later, it opened; it came as a shock to her not seeing August in his customary leather jacket.
He was instead dressed in a loose white shirt, tucked into plain black trousers, with black leather boots.
Basically the male equivalent of her outfit, but she didn't focus on that; the castle's dressmaker already went on at her enough about wearing dresses, she just chose not to listen.
"Princess," August said stiffly, bowing his head ever so slightly.
She shifted uncomfortably, as she always did when people bowed and curtsied to her; she sometimes wondered if she'd ever get used to it.
"August. Hi. Can I talk to you?"
"I'm busy. We're-"
"Leaving, I know," she interrupted. "That's why I just wanted to say…I don't even know. Thank you, I'm sorry, goodbye? Take your pick."
"You have no need to thank me. I didn't do anything," he said quietly, and she knew it wasn't from humbleness, but shame.
"Then I can at least apologise. That day in the woods, I didn't believe a word you said, and I'm sorry. I was distracted with Henry and Regina, and you were asking me to believe in magic, believe that my roommate was my mom and the guy I questioned for murder was my dad. It was too much for me then. I'm sorry," she repeated.
He smiled, glancing down at the floor.
"I forgive you. You did all this, how can I not?"
She nodded, suddenly fighting back tears.
As much as she had fought against him, August had been something solid in Storybrooke; her ally, her adviser, her friend.
He was a part of her past that was tangible, had been her saviour before she became the Saviour, even if she couldn't remember him.
And yes, he'd left her, let her become lost in the system, but he had come back, even if it was too late and perhaps a little self-serving.
He had believed in her when no one else did, and he was definitely one of the first.
"I've never been good at goodbyes," he muttered, and Emma saw tears in his own eyes.
It was silent for a moment, before August cleared his throat, leaning back.
"I need to get ready, and tell my father to hurry up, and…stuff."
She nodded again, turning to leave.
"Good luck, Emma," he said quietly. "And for what it's worth, I'm sorry too. I let you down badly."
She had always run away, always avoided saying it, but this time she needed to, needed the closure it would bring her.
"Goodbye," she murmured, before smiling at him one last time and walking away, making her way to her mother.
It looked like Henry was going to end up shooting stuff after all.
"Go on then, tell me what's bothering you. It must be important if you let him run off with Graham," Snow said with a chuckle, watching as Henry did just that, bow already in hand.
Emma sat beside her mother in one of her numerous gardens, watching as Snow delicately began to make a bouquet, no doubt for Emma's room; she already had seventeen vases dotted about the place.
"I know you're the golden rose, but I'm afraid I can't grow them," her mother had told her when she'd delivered the first one, a gold bow tied around the vase. "So I used white and yellow ones instead."
She had since progressed onto other colours and flowers, giving Emma the impression that she had moved into a florist's whenever she entered her room.
But sitting like this-as she had taken to doing whenever she needed quiet and time to think-was oddly comforting to her, reminding her of when she and Mary Margaret had talked over folded laundry.
"Yeah. I needed to-I-"
"You took something of Regina's," Snow said evenly, and Emma heard no judgement in her voice.
"Yeah…a ring," she said softly, glancing up at her every so often. "It was stupid of me. It sounds crazy after everything she did but I feel…bad about it. But I wanted to ask you, is it your father's?"
Snow frowned in confusion, her hands pausing over the vase.
"I don't think so. As far as I know she took her wedding ring off as soon as my father was dead. May I see it?"
Emma pulled it out of her pocket obligingly, resting it in Snow's open palm.
"No, this isn't his," she said after a moment, though she continued to examine it. "Perhaps it was her father's."
"Maybe. Could be her mother's."
Snow suddenly stiffened, her voice cutting off abruptly as her fingers closed tightly around the ring.
"I think I know whose it is," she said in a strangled voice, her already pale face whitening.
"I think…I think it might be Daniel's," she murmured, a strange expression on her face.
"Daniel?" Emma asked, shifting slightly to face her mother, watching her concernedly.
"Regina's true love."
Snow suddenly rose to her feet, spare flowers falling from her lap.
"Did you want to keep this?" she asked Emma, her tone sharp.
"No," Emma answered immediately, but all she could think was, Regina had a true love? Really? Regina?
But the more she thought about it, the more Regina's behaviour began to make sense.
Snow nodded once, before hurrying towards the courtyard.
"Where are you going?" Emma called, jumping to her feet and following her, avoiding the scattered flowers; she had been warned the moment she first entered one of Snow's gardens that if she crushed any of her mother's flowers she would have to plant new ones, and she really hated gardening.
"After Regina was ki-died, I took care of her body, found her a grave. I buried her with Daniel by her old home. I think this ring should have the same resting place."
"Can I come with you?" Emma asked, surprising herself as much as Snow.
She looked at her daughter appraisingly, her expression unfathomable.
"Yes. Yes I think you should," she said slowly. "It will be good for you."
And after leaving a message with a passing servant for James, they rode.
Regina's old house was long gone, but Snow found the grave easily, dismounting at the top of the hill.
Emma followed suit, standing before the grave at her mother's side. Silently, Snow passed the ring back to her.
With a sigh, she knelt, digging her fingers into the cool earth until she had made a small hole.
"She must have really loved you," Emma said quietly, dropping the ring into it and pressing the dirt back over to fill it. "She tore the world apart for you."
Still not saying a word, Snow laid her hand lightly on Emma's hair, and Emma felt her guilt lift at her mother's touch.
After a while, she moved, offering her hand to Emma with a smile.
"Come on," she said softly, her eyes warm as they met Emma's. "Let's go home."
"You know," Snow said thoughtfully as she stood out on her balcony later that evening, James laying awkwardly on the bed in his bandages, his pout in place; he still had another week of bed rest left, something he had protested vehemently that he didn't need. Doc had disagreed. "Regina was right about one thing."
"And what might that be?" James asked, as though he thought she was talking complete nonsense, which in his opinion she was.
He fidgeted slightly, trying to find a way he could lie comfortable, clearly not paying too much attention to his wife.
"She said that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. But she was wrong about it too."
"How so?" he asked distractedly, wriggling lower down the bed and huffing indignantly when he realised it was worse.
"She meant Emma was like me. But she's not. She's so much like you, it's incredible. And I'm proud, I'm proud of you both. My warrior husband and my warrior daughter."
He froze, lying almost flat on his back, staring at Snow in disbelief.
"She's not like me. She's just like you."
"No…you don't see her the way I do. It's a mother's thing. You kept each other alive, you made each other better."
"Technically, Graham made her better," he interrupted, but Snow ignored him as she made her way over to the bed.
"Emma was thrown into this life, just like you. She didn't want it, she didn't ask for it. But look at how she flourishes in it, how well she is loved. She went to war to protect her son, you died to protect her. When I found you after the battle and she was already there telling you stories…oh, Charming. She kept you alive, I don't know how words can do that, but hers did. She has your stubbornness too," Snow added, smiling at him sweetly as she sat beside him, kissing him gently on the cheek.
"Oh, I believe she inherited that from you, dearest wife," he murmured, attempting to sit up so as to kiss her properly.
She laid a stern hand on his chest, effectively pinning him to the bed.
"Do be quiet, dearest husband. I think I hear our beloved daughter shouting at the wolf again."
"What did he do this time?"
Snow was quiet for a moment, listening to the yells echoing up towards them.
"Knocked a serving girl over. Apparently he wanted some chicken," Snow answered with a laugh, and James soon joined in.
"How long do think it will be before she realises the three of them plan these little accidents?" he asked, his voice full of amusement.
"A while yet; I don't think she believes a wolf can be so devious of its own accord."
It was quiet for a moment, before James said softly, "She visits everyday."
"I know," Snow said in a low voice, disapproval clear in her tone. "I told her she could but I hoped she wouldn't. Not in a horrible way…I want her to get used to this life, to walk about the castle, get to know everyone properly."
"I know. I do too," James said gently.
"I also know that she can't wait until you're up and about again. She said she'd like to go riding, just the three of us once you're better."
"She did," Snow echoed, her smile becoming a grin at his delighted expression.
They were interrupted by a knock on the door, Snow throwing a glare at her husband as he attempted to sit up again, pressing down harder on his chest.
"Come in," she called, still keeping a watchful eye on him.
"Hi," she heard, looking up to see Emma waiting shyly at the door.
"Hello," James said cheerfully, and the pout was gone, disappearing as quickly as it always did when Emma was around him.
"I was wondering if you'd like to come downstairs for dinner today."
"Your father-" Snow started but Emma cut her off quickly.
"I know, he can't entertain the kingdom at dinner," she said wearily, and James wondered how many times Snow had told her those exact words. "But it's just me, Henry and Graham. And the wolf," she added, her eyes narrowing slightly.
James' lips twitched, but he forced his face to remain impassive.
"That sounds great. We'll be right there."
Snow's glare returned in full force.
"Doc said you needed bed rest."
"Doc also said that Emma was going to be a boy. Doc is obviously not the be all and end all of medical advice."
"Fine, fine. But if you can't get back up the stairs don't come crying to me," Snow muttered, ignoring Emma's laugh.
"Alright, alright, will you just come on before there's nothing left? That wolf already ate a whole chicken, right as the poor girl put it down."
"Well imagine that," Snow said vaguely, deliberately not meeting James' eye.
"I know. I don't see why he has to eat with us; he is actually a wolf, something Graham refuses to acknowledge."
"Well, I suppose to him he's not," Snow said with a smile. "He is his wolf-brother."
Emma pulled a face.
"And that is why I don't kick him out. Anyway, I was told by Graham and Henry that I have my mother's temper and my father's scowl because of it, so that's not so bad."
"Really?" Snow asked, sounding utterly thrilled by the comments.
"Yeah, I suppose they're right."
"You do?" James asked, clearly baffled; he wouldn't wish Snow's temper on anyone.
"Sure. It's like that old saying, you know, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree? Guess it makes sense."
And with that she was gone, leaving her stunned parents behind.
"Are you coming?" she called a second later, and with a shake of the head, they roused themselves.
"We did good, don't you think?" James asked, tilting his head in Emma's direction.
Snow smiled, taking his hand and helping him sit up slowly, hoping that Emma was waiting at the top of the staircase for them.
"Yes, Charming. We did good. But she still gets her stubbornness from you."