Sorry this took me so long to finish, but I struggled for a long time about how to end things. I tried to include one last moment with each of Emma's family members. Enjoy!
PS: You may want to reread the last chapter—or the whole fic, your choice ;)—to remind yourself of where we are in the story.
"Finally!" James exclaimed as they walked through the door. He threw his arms around his daughter, mindful not to accidentally enclose the injured wrist in his embrace. Over Emma's shoulder, he took in his wife's appearance, his brow creasing with concern when he noticed the peculiar expression on her face.
Noticing his sudden preoccupation, Emma pulled back from the embrace and followed his line of vision, her eyes landing on Snow. As James watched, a silent communication passed between the two women, and Snow quickly composed her features. For a moment, the air hung thick with tension as Emma and Snow tried unsuccessfully to pretend that they weren't keeping something from James.
"You must be hungry after missing dinner," Snow said in an effort to break the uncomfortable silence. As if on cue, Emma's stomach growled loudly, and the trio laughed, the momentary tension alleviated by the comedic moment. James was still curious as to the interaction that had just passed between his wife and daughter, but he trusted that they would tell him when the time was right.
While Snow headed into the kitchen, James ushered Emma over to the couch, pulling the coffee table closer and gesturing for her to prop her feet up. Emma eased onto the comfortable couch, and felt all the muscles in her body simultaneously relax. It had been an incredibly long day, and it felt nice to finally be at home and resting. She closed her eyes and exhaled heavily.
James noticed the sigh, mistaking it for one of discomfort. "Are you in pain?" he asked worriedly.
"No, they gave me some pain pills at the hospital," Emma shrugged.
"Good. Is there anything else I can get you? Are you thirsty? Cold?" He retrieved Emma's baby blanket from the mattress on the floor and began to drape it over his daughter's lap.
"James!" Emma laughed, too amused to be angry that he was treating her like a child. "I'm perfectly capable of walking; I injured my wrist, not my legs. Seriously, I'm fine, and unless you know some sort of spell that can magically heal my wrist, there's nothing more you can do."
"Right," he scoffed, embarrassedly running a hand through his hair. "Deep down, I know that. But my instinct is to do everything in my power to take away your pain, no matter how small that pain may be. I know you're no longer a child, but in my eyes, you'll always be someone that I need to protect. That's just what fathers do," he finished with a shrug, glad that he had not upset her with his overbearing behavior. Logically, he knew he still had many experiences to look forward to with his daughter, but there were so many little moments he'd never get back—the joy of Emma's first steps, the pride of watching her learn to read, the dread of her bringing home her first boyfriend—and he felt an intense need to overcompensate for lost time. "Look, I'm sorry if I'm coming across too strongly; I'll try to take it down a notch. It's just that it's hard enough to learn how to be a father, but there aren't any parenting books out there that tell you how to behave when you're the same age as your daughter. "
"You mean you didn't get your copy of Frozen in Time: A Post-Curse Guide to Reuniting with Your Adult Daughter?" Emma cracked, earning a loud laugh from the man.
"I'm afraid they were all sold out," he joked back. "But I'm doing my best, so I hope you'll bear with me."
"Eh, you're not so bad," Emma said nudging his arm with her elbow. She almost felt bad as she watched a giant grin light up his face; it took so little from her to make him happy, and yet she rarely gave him even that.
Snow felt a tiny twinge of envy as she listened to her daughter and husband's playful banter. She would never trade her relationship with Emma—especially after all the progress they'd made tonight—but she couldn't help but feel slightly jealous about how uncomplicated their bond seemed to be. She knew a big part of that was due to the fact that Emma was still guarded around James, relying on humor and superficial small-talk rather than truly opening up, as she did with Snow; it would just be nice to talk to Emma without always wondering about the hidden subtext and emotional implications of the conversation. Patience had never been one of her strengths, and she found herself wishing that she could somehow fast forward in time to the point in their relationship when they were able to find a comfortable balance between being family and being friends. But, of course, speeding up time would also mean missing even more time with her daughter—something she could never truly wish for.
The sound of the microwave buzzer startled her from her reverie. Setting the plate of reheated lasagna on the table, she gestured to Emma that her dinner was ready.
"Can I eat it over here?" Emma asked with a mock pleading expression. "I am injured after all," she added teasingly. She was far too comfortable to leave her place on the couch, and if her parents were going to insist on hovering over her, she might as well take advantage of it.
Snow rolled her eyes good-naturedly and brought the plate of leftovers to her daughter. James vacated his place on the couch in order to allow his wife to sit next to Emma, and took a seat on the coffee table, facing the pair.
Emma tried to ignore the feeling of their eyes on her—a sensation that was becoming all too familiar. "How's Henry?" she asked, as she uncoordinatedly tried to maneuver a forkful of lasagna to her mouth with her left hand. She already felt like enough of a child in front on her parents; the last thing she needed was to spill her food on herself.
"He was pretty wound up. He wanted to stay up and wait for you, but I finally convinced him to lie down, and he fell asleep almost immediately. I think your 'adventure' this afternoon wore him out," James answered.
"He's not the only one," Emma joked wryly. "Speaking of which, I'm guessing I probably have few frantic voicemails to delete from my phone." She set her fork down and pulled her cellphone from her jacket pocket for the first time that night. "Wow! Ten missed calls and seven voicemails?!" she exclaimed as she entered her voicemail password.
"I was worried, ok?" Snow blushed, snatching the device from Emma's hand. She began deleting the voicemails, not wanting to make Emma listen to the increasingly panicked messages.
"Maybe you should start carrying your phone in your pants pocket, or buy a case that you can clip to your jeans. That way you'll always have it with you," James suggested in a tone that implied that it was less of a request and more of a demand. He was aware that he'd just promised to be less overbearing, but the mention of Snow's frantic calls reminded him of how anxious he'd felt earlier as he raced around town and through the woods searching for his daughter and grandson.
Emma opened her mouth—intending to remind him that forgetting her phone had been an accident and point out that she probably wouldn't have had signal in the woods anyway—but something about the expressions on her parents' faces stopped her. For a brief moment, she allowed herself to think about what it would've been like to grow up with the pair. James was usually a very easy-going guy, but she had no doubt he could be quite stern when the situation called for it, and she'd gotten a taste of Snow's temper earlier this evening. She definitely would've been scared to be a teenager caught sneaking out of the castle under their watch. Of course, as a princess with loving family, perhaps she would not have gone through a "rebellious teenager" phase. Princess…it was still so hard to envision the person she might now be had she been raised as fairytale royalty. She immediately nixed the idea of frilly dresses and fancy balls; after all, from what she knew about Snow, the woman was hardly your typical damsel-in-distress Disney princess, so she had no reason to believe that she would have been either. In fact, she could easily picture both of them riding into battle alongside James. As she felt a slow smile begin to spread across her face, she realized that she'd let the daydream go too far, and she quickly shook her head to banish the thought, not wanting to dwell on what could have been. Scooping the last bite of lasagna into her mouth, she stood up from the couch.
"I'm going to check on Henry," she announced, crossing the room to rinse her plate before heading upstairs.
Emma crept into the dark room, trying not to wake her son. However, her eyes had not quite adjusted to the blackness, and she failed to see one of Henry's shoes, which he'd discarded in the middle of the floor. Her ankle twisted slightly as she stepped on the shoe, and she lost her balance, lurching forward and landing heavily against the edge of the bed. Henry stirred, his eyes flying open when he located the source of the disturbance.
"Emma?" he said, turning on the bedside lamp.
"Sorry about that," Emma apologized, standing up and straightening her shirt.
"I'm glad you're home. I was worried about you."
"That seems to be a common theme today," Emma quipped under her breath. "Well I'm fine, kid. Just a small fracture." She held out her cast for him to inspect.
"Cool. Can I sign it?"
After the cast had been signed – with an unsteady drawing of the mother and son and the inscription "Get well soon" underneath – Emma pulled the cover up over the boy and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"I'm glad you're ok," Henry said, smiling up at her. "I got scared when grandpa told me you'd gone to the hospital."
"Didn't he tell you it was just my wrist?" Emma asked, slightly angry at James for upsetting the boy.
"Yeah," he shrugged. "But I was worried it might be something else, and it would've been all my fault for going into the woods in the first place."
"Well, running off like that was pretty reckless, but I'm fine. You're not getting rid of me that easily, kid," she joked, kissing the top of his head. "I love you."
"I love you too…mom."
"Mom?" Emma repeated, hardly daring to believe what she'd heard.
"Is that ok?" Henry asked, suddenly nervous. He'd considered calling her "mom" before this moment, but he knew how much trouble she was having adjusting to all the changes that had occurred since the curse was broken, and he wasn't sure how she'd react. However, after two scares in one day—first seeing her fall from the bridge, and then finding out that she'd had to go to the hospital because of something he'd done—he felt he could wait no longer.
"It's more than ok," Emma laughed, leaning in to embrace her son. She felt like her heart might explode from happiness. She knew that she was Henry's mother biologically, and he'd made it clear that he preferred her over Regina, but there had still been a lingering semblance of doubt in Emma's mind as to how Henry really viewed their relationship. It was amazing how just the small verbal confirmation of his feelings could affect her so deeply.
After Henry had once again fallen asleep, Emma headed back downstairs to wash off the grime that was still covering her after her earlier fall. The shower took her twice as long as it normally would have—due to the difficult task of keeping her cast from accidentally getting wet—but she didn't care; she was on an emotional high that nothing could spoil. In fact, the only thought that even slightly sullied her jubilation, was that she didn't have anyone to share the news with. Prior to breaking the curse, she would have run straight to Mary Margaret to celebrate the event, but now she felt that doing so would be unfair. Telling Snow would only remind the brunette that she had yet to reach that milestone with her own child, and she did not want to upset the woman.
Once she'd dried off and gotten dressed, she propped the bathroom door open, hoping the cool air would help clear the steam off the mirror so that she could comb her hair out. Her locks had a tendency to tangle when wet, and the fact that she was attempting to use her non-dominant hand to brush them made the task even more of a challenge than usual. Passing by the bathroom, Snow noticed her daughter's struggle.
"Want some help?" she offered. Much to her surprise, Emma nodded and followed her to the couch, sitting down with her back to the woman. Snow took the comb and began patiently working through the knots in her daughter's hair. Emma was normally a bit rough with her hair, and she had to admit that Snow's gentle touch felt amazing.
"You may have gotten your father's blonde hair, but you got your curls from me," Snow said with a hint of pride in her voice. She adored Emma's ringlets and loved identifying traits that tied her to her daughter. She reached up and fingered her own short locks. "Sometimes I really miss my long hair, but then I think about how much easier it is to manage like this, and I wonder if maybe I should just keep it short."
"I think your hair looks nice like that," Emma shrugged. "I can't really picture you with long hair, but I'm sure you'll look great no matter what you decide to do." She knew it was unusual for her to so openly compliment someone, but she was still buzzing with joy from her encounter with Henry, and she found that she wanted to spread some happiness of her own.
Snow blushed at the unexpected praise, too stunned to question what had prompted the rare event. She had been worried that Emma would shut down or become awkward around her after confessing the truth about her wrist, but the blonde seemed oddly content.
After she'd combed through her daughter's hair, Snow insisted on blow-drying it, dismissing Emma's insistence that she would be fine going to bed with it wet. Near the end of the process, James appeared and began to settle himself onto the mattress on the floor.
"What do you think you're doing?" Emma yelled over the sound of the blow-dryer.
"What?" James yelled back. Snow switched off the device and shushed them both, pointing to the stairs to remind them that Henry was trying to sleep.
"I said, what do you think you're doing?" Emma repeated more quietly.
"Going to bed," James shrugged, trying to pretend that he didn't know why she was asking.
"I see that," Emma answered. "But why are you lying down on my mattress?"
"You're injured, Emma. You shouldn't be sleeping on the floor."
"Um, in case you're unfamiliar with how casts work, I'll be wearing this thing for several weeks, and sleeping in your bed won't speed the healing process in any way."
James opened his mouth to argue, but as he took in the stubborn look on his daughter's face, he accepted that he was fighting a losing battle. Sighing, he stood from the mattress, smirking as Emma's expression changed to one of triumph; it was amazing how much she looked like Snow sometimes.
He hovered uncertainly for a moment, wanting to kiss his daughter goodnight, but still unsure of where they stood on the subject of physical contact. Finally, he settled on gently touching her cheek, before turning and heading back into the bedroom. The awkward, but loving, gesture melted away any annoyance Emma felt toward the man, and she turned to shoot Snow an amused look as if to say, "Can you believe him?"
"He means well," Snow said with an apologetic smile as she began to put the finishing touches on her daughter's hair. The exhaustion from the day combined with the late hour and the soothing heat of the blow-dryer made it nearly impossible for Emma to keep her eyes open, and she yawned in spite of herself.
"It's after midnight. You should go to bed," Snow suggested as she unplugged the blow-dryer and began to wrap the cord around the appliance. Emma welcomed the idea of sleep, and quickly settled herself onto the mattress. As she pulled the cover over herself, she realized that her baby blanket was still lying on the couch, where she had discarded it after James spread it over her earlier. She wanted to retrieve it, but her body screamed in protest at the idea of getting up from the mattress.
Snow noticed her daughter's preoccupation, and after spotting the source of her distraction, quickly deduced what she needed. She picked up the blanket and fingered the purple ribbon, marveling that Emma had once been small enough to wrap inside of it. "Do you always sleep with this?" she asked curiously.
"No," Emma answered. "But when I was a kid, I used to sleep with it anytime I had a bad dream, and after that nightmare the other night, I figured..." Emma trialed off, suddenly feeling a bit childish. Snow smiled as the blonde accepted the blanket and wrapped her arms around it. She was grateful that her daughter had had some small piece of comfort all those years that she was alone.
"Goodnight, Emma," Snow said quietly as she switched off the living room light. "I love you."
I love you too, Emma responded in her head, wishing she had the courage to say it out loud. Her conversation with Henry had led her to understand that her parents weren't mind-readers. She had already been certain that Henry considered her to be his mother, and the revelation had still deeply moved her; she could only imagine how such an admission would affect Snow and James, who were still living in the dark about Emma's feelings toward them. Although she now thought of them as her parents, she had never acknowledged that fact aloud, and she realized that they deserved to know. As she tightened her grip around her baby blanket and inhaled the familiar scent, she resolved to find some way to tell them, no matter how difficult it may be for her.
Neither Snow nor James could sleep. They knew they were over-reacting — Emma was an adult and it was just a small wrist fracture — but after everything they'd been through with their daughter, they were oversensitive to the idea of anything happening to her. They'd begun to take turns checking on Emma, worried that her wrist might cause her pain in the night. On Snow's second trip, she crept quietly to the edge of the living room. She didn't dare turn the light on, but she was able to make out the outline of her daughter's chest rising and falling. As she turned to head back to the bedroom, a voice rose out of the dark, causing her to jump.
"You know, it's kind of hard to sleep when you're being watched," Emma said, sitting up and throwing off the covers.
Snow cringed as Emma crossed the room and flipped on the kitchen light. "I'm sorry if I woke you," she apologized.
"No, it's alright. I've been awake for a while; my wrist was bothering me a little." In truth, her wrist was throbbing, but she didn't want to worry the woman too much.
"Oh!" Snow exclaimed, jumping into action, "Let me get your pain medication."
Emma held up a hand to stop her. "I can do it." She filled a glass with water and then removed the bottle from the medicine cabinet. As she attempted to open the child-proof cap, she once again mentally cursed herself for injuring her dominant hand; it was apparent that this cast was going to complicate everything. Snow chuckled as she watched her daughter's struggle. Emma thrust the bottle in her direction, attempting to scowl at the woman, but instead slipping into a smile.
Snow easily popped the lid off the bottle, and poured two pills into her daughter's open palm. "Listen, I'm sorry your father and I were spying on you. We were just worried," she said, hoping they hadn't made Emma feel too uncomfortable.
"I know. It's ok," Emma shrugged.
Snow narrowed her eyes. Emma had been acting strange all evening — allowing Snow to help with her hair, giving out unexpected compliments, and now shrugging off the act of overprotectiveness. "Someone's in a good mood," she said suspiciously.
"Not really," Emma hedged, taking another large gulp of water in an attempt to hide the smile playing at her lips. She was still reeling from Henry's announcement earlier, and Snow had apparently picked up on her happiness.
Snow watched as a huge smile crept across the blonde's face. "Emma!" she cried, a smile breaking out on her own face upon seeing her daughter so happy. "What's going on?"
Emma knew there was no point in trying to play it off; Snow was determined to get it out of her. "Henry called me 'mom' for the first time," she admitted, positively glowing with pleasure.
"Oh!" Snow exclaimed, instantly picking up on why Emma had been hesitant to tell her the news. "That's wonderful! Frankly, I'm surprised it took him so long." Emma shrugged happily and used her finger to trace the drawing on her cast.
"You're doing a great job with him," Snow said kindly. "I know you've never had to be a full-time mom before, but you've handled the transition beautifully. Despite all the changes you've had to deal with, you've never let it interfere with your duties as a parent. You put your child before yourself, and that's a very admirable trait." Emma smiled self-consciously under the praise. As she reflected on Snow's words, she realized how applicable they were to the brunette as well. She thought back to her earlier resolve and quickly spoke up before she lost her nerve.
"I guess I get that trait from my own mother," she blurted out, gazing at the woman shyly. Snow looked at her questioningly, and Emma nodded with a grin. Snow smiled so widely her face hurt, and rushed forward to embrace her daughter.
"James, I know you're listening, so you might as well come out," Emma said with a chuckle. A moment later, James emerged bashfully from behind the curtain, embarrassed to have been caught eavesdropping. Emma pulled back a bit from Snow's embrace, but allowed the woman to keep her arms wrapped lightly around her.
"When the curse was first broken, I couldn't bring myself to even think of you guys as my parents; it was too new and too…well, weird. But you stuck with me, no matter how much I hurt you or tried to shut you out, and you've proven to me that I no longer have to go through life alone." She glanced between the two of them, a sudden feeling of panic rising within her as she realized just how much she was putting herself out there. Taking a deep breath, she willed herself to continue.
"Look, I'm not saying I'm ready to start calling you mom and dad — in fact, it will probably be a long time before I'm ready to take that step — but I want you to know that I do consider you both to be my parents." As Snow's eyes met James', she saw her own feelings of joy mirrored on his face. She wondered briefly if this was all just a cruel dream, and she discreetly dug her nail into her palm, rejoicing at the slight sensation of pain which indicated that this was indeed real.
"I know you both harbor residual guilt about sending me through the wardrobe, but I think you should forgive yourselves. I've come to realize that without the curse, I never would've had Henry, and no matter how much I wish I could've grown up with you two, I could never wish away my son."
"We love you, Emma," James said, trying to control the emotion in his voice.
"I know you do," Emma nodded. "And I want to return that love, but I've never been the type to freely express my feelings, and it may take me a little longer to be able to say it out loud." She looked at them with an earnest expression, hoping they would understand. "But you have to know that I truly do care about you both."
Tears forming in her eyes, Snow once again tightened her embrace on her daughter. Emma looked at James, silently inviting him to join in, which he was quick to do. As Emma felt the love emanating from her parents, she sighed contentedly. It felt like an eternity ago that she'd sat at the remains of Henry's castle with Snow, feeling as though her life had been yanked out from under her. Looking back, she could see how all the baby steps had merged into a giant leap leading her from that point to now. She knew a long road still lay ahead, but as long as she had her family by her side, she was ready to face whatever challenges might come.
Well guys, there you have it. I'm sorry if the ending felt a bit rushed, but as I said, with school starting back, I have zero time to write. I apologize to those who were hoping to see Emma calling Snow/James "mom & dad." I just felt that it was still too soon for her to take such a huge step, so I tried to find a realistic compromise. I really hope no one is too disappointed with the way I ended things. Also, I hope I didn't overload you with fluff too much there at the end, but I figured if there was ever a time to be mushy, it'd be the end of the story. :)
And now for a little mushiness of my own: THANK YOU so much to everyone who has reviewed, followed, and favorited this story along the way. I never would have been able to keep the story going this long without your encouragement! I've really enjoyed hearing from all of y'all, both through reviews and PM's. If anyone wants to chat about the show—either before it starts (especially once we start getting promos), or after episodes start airing—don't hesitate to PM me!