Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize.
Long A/N: Thank you so, so much to everyone who read and reviewed the last chapter (and to those putting this story on their favorites/follow list). I am so unbelievably lucky to have so many awesome people reading this story. You guys make my day. Seriously. Special shoutout to Lazey for her always great PM conversations and to jjxox8d for laughing at my silly hook up pun.
Before you start reading, I think it only fair to warn you that this chapter ends on a cliffhanger. And unlike last chapter, which ended on what I called a "ad break cliffhanger" (as in, the cliffhanger that keeps you sitting through the five minutes of ads), this one ends on more of an episode/season finale cliffhanger. I find this appropriate, actually, since this is the 23rd chapter, and there are about 23 episodes in a season. It wasn't planned that way, but I'm going with it. As bejamamzing pointed out to me, you Oncers should be familiar with cliffhangers by now, so just think of it as keeping with the style of the show.
All this to say, after this chapter, I won't have anything else to post for a little bit. I usually write at least one chapter ahead, but I haven't been able to continue as I am currently in the process of deciding the endgame. Once I get that squared away, I will be able to go on. Of course I know generally what's going to happen, but now's the time for real decisions to be made and I have some tough choices. That being said, I would love to hear feedback about the general direction you'd like to see the story go. My plan is to work this all out after the Red episode airs this weekend as we won't be getting anything new for awhile. The awesomeness of this season is seriously interfering with my ability to plan an end for this story.
Now that that's done (if you're still reading that is...) I hope you enjoy what you've all been waiting for.
Much thanks to Melissa for betaing. Really.
"Mary Margaret…Mary Margaret…"
Snow's eyes snapped open. She blinked several times, trying to clear her vision. The room swam in front of her.
"You okay?" She heard Emma's voice in her ear.
Snow blinked again and the room stood still. Emma was kneeling in front of her, eyes wide with concern. "Are you okay?" she repeated.
Snow exhaled. "Yes…I think so. I'm sorry," she added, when Emma continued to look worried. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"What happened?" Emma asked as Snow slowly got to her feet.
"I don't know," Snow admitted. "That's never happened to me before." She shook her head experimentally and to her relief, the room stayed still. "I'll be fine," she said. "Probably just hungry."
Snow could feel Emma's eyes on her as they walked back to the kitchen. Although she didn't want to admit it, the momentary blackout was one more symptom on a growing list of worrisome complications from the poisoned apple. She wondered how much longer this would go on. Had Rumpelstiltskin put something in the true love potion that would make her sick? Was that how he was going to force her to do his bidding, by holding another cure hostage?
"These look great!" Emma exclaimed when she saw the pancakes Snow had made. "You really shouldn't have gone through all this trouble, though."
"No trouble," Snow told her as she picked up the plates. "I'll heat them up again. They're probably cold by now."
Snow set one of the plates in the microwave and hit the reheat button. When she turned around, she saw Emma was trying to hide a smile. "What?" she asked.
"It's just…it's been awhile since anyone's made me breakfast."
Snow smiled. "You're welcome."
"And…" Emma hesitated, and Snow suddenly saw her six-year-old trying to find the right way to confess she'd accidentally spilled grape juice on the carpet again. "It's kind of funny, you know. Right before I left the diner last night, I took one of the leftover cupcakes, put a candle in it, and made a wish that I didn't have to be alone on my birthday."
"Yesterday was your birthday?" Snow clarified, as dread settled into her stomach. So Rumpelstiltskin had been right after all.
"No, actually," Emma said. Her expression was almost guilty. "Today is."
"Oh!" Snow exclaimed. "Happy birthday!"
"Thanks," Emma muttered, clearly embarrassed. "I feel really bad about all of this."
"Don't!" Snow told her. "I'm glad you're here. I'm serious," she insisted, when Emma continued to look uncertain. "Especially since it was your birthday wish. It's like I said the first night we met in the diner…no one should be alone when there's company to be had." Snow took the plate out of the microwave and brought the pancakes back over to the table. "Come on, eat. Then you can take more painkillers. Your ribs must really hurt."
Snow did not miss Emma's wince as she sat down. "Yeah, they do. Guess I should've wished to be pain-free on my birthday instead."
The distant sound of a phone ringing caught Snow's attention. She could see that Emma had heard it, too, as she immediately made to stand up from the table. Snow waved her back down.
"I'll get it," she said quickly.
"I think it's on the dresser," Emma called after her as Snow returned to the bedroom.
Emma's cell phone was sitting on the dresser, just as she'd said. Snow picked it up, and hurried back to the kitchen. The phone stopping ringing halfway down the hall.
"Here," she said, handing it to Emma.
Emma flipped open the phone and sighed. "Granny," she said. "I should probably call back. Do you-?"
"Not at all," Snow said.
Emma smiled apologetically as she pressed the redial button. "Hi, Granny, sorry I – right," Emma said, frowning. "Right, I understand. Thank you." Emma hung up and set the phone on the table. "Well, it's as I expected," she explained to Snow. "I'm fired."
"You didn't even tell her about the car accident," Snow pointed out. "She might have reconsidered."
Emma shook her head. "It's not worth it. She's already made up her mind anyway. It doesn't matter. Like I said, she never wanted me for the job."
"She must have," Snow replied. "She did hire you, after all."
"Not really," Emma said. "Mr. Gold forced her to do it."
Snow frowned. Why hadn't she realized that Rumpelstiltskin had been interfering with Emma's life just as much as he had her own? He had to know who Emma was, especially since he remembered his former identity.
Especially since I told him Emma's name.
Aloud, Snow said, "Mr. Gold certainly does have all the power in this town, doesn't he?"
"He does," Emma agreed. "He's actually the reason I came to Storybrooke in the first place."
"Really?" Snow said, though she'd guessed as much by now. "Why's that?"
"He…" Emma paused. "Sorry. It's just – I've never told anyone this before."
"You don't have to-"
"I want to," Emma said, smiling tentatively. "It's just hard." She sighed, pushing her last pancake around her plate with her fork. "He told me that I'd find my father here."
Snow covered her mouth with a napkin to hide her surprise. Rumpelstiltskin had told Emma she'd find James here? Well, at least it wasn't a lie, Snow realized. Clearly he hadn't told her to check out the hospital.
"I should have known it was too good to be true," Emma continued. "There's no one here who could be my father. No one's the right age, or if they are, they're married and have their own family."
Snow lowered her napkin. "Why did he tell you that you'd only find your father? What about your mother?"
Emma looked away. "My mother's dead," she said quietly.
He told you I was dead?
"I – I'm so sorry," Snow replied, trying to keep her emotions under control. Emma suddenly looked so sad, and Snow was furious that of all the lies that Regina and Rumpelstiltskin could have told, they'd told her one that would torment her forever. "When did she die?"
"In childbirth," Emma answered.
She won't recognize you. Isn't that what Rumpelstiltskin had said? Of course Emma wouldn't be able to recognize her. She wouldn't be looking for a mother that she thought was long dead.
But do not fret, dearie. The memories are in there somewhere. They're just being repressed.
"But your father's alive?" Snow asked. "I mean – Mr. Gold said you'd find him, so he must still be alive."
"I assume so," Emma said. She smiled wryly. "Or maybe he is dead. That's probably what Mr. Gold meant. I'd find his grave here."
"Oh, no, don't think that way!" Snow exclaimed. "I'm sure he didn't mean that. Maybe you just haven't been looking in the right places." Or in the right age range.
"Maybe," Emma replied, but she didn't sound too convinced.
"Don't give up," Snow urged her. "I'll help you. Neither of us has a job now, right? So we'll have lots of time to look for him."
"That's nice of you," Emma said. "You don't have to do that."
Snow smiled at her, trying to find a way to ask the question she'd been dying to ask for so long now. "Are you still in touch with your adopted family?"
Emma gave a hollow laugh. "Long story. But no."
Emma didn't seem to want to elaborate the point, so Snow tried again. "Can I ask you something else?"
"Last night after I…while we were waiting for the ambulance. You said some things…"
"Oh, no!" Emma exclaimed. "I'm sure it was nonsense. I don't remember any of it."
"Maybe," Snow conceded. "But I'm curious." Emma looked at her, and Snow took that as a sign to continue. "You said that Regina had taken your son." She was watching Emma's expression carefully, but Emma's face was unreadable. "Did you mean Henry?"
Emma drew a sharp intake of breath. Snow was immediately worried she'd gone too far and began to backpedal. "I'm sorry – you don't have to-"
"Yes," Emma answered softly. "I did mean Henry."
So he is my grandson. Snow tried not to smile.
Emma sighed. "I was just seventeen. I hadn't meant to get pregnant, and my mother was furious. Regina," Emma clarified. "Did I say that she also raised me?"
"You did say something like that last night," Snow admitted. "When you were talking about how she was raising your son."
"Right," Emma said. "Well…at first she wanted to throw me out. But then she realized that a scandal would interfere with her political campaign, and nothing was more valuable to her than political power. So she gave me an ultimatum. Either leave and cut myself off from her completely or…have the baby, but let everyone think that it was hers."
Snow clenched her hand over her knee, practically shaking with silent fury. Sick.
"And I guess at the time, it just seemed like the better thing to do. I was young, I had no degree, no money, no job. I wouldn't be able to raise a kid on my own. I had to give him his best chance." Emma paused for breath, and then continued, "And despite the fact that Regina wasn't the greatest mother to me, she had resources. She'd be able to care for a child, raise him right. And she made a big deal about the pregnancy. You could tell she wanted this child."
"You made the right choice," Snow found herself saying. Leaving a child with Regina was a repulsive idea, but she couldn't fault Emma for choosing it. After all, she had done the same thing.
"Did I?" Emma wondered. "Every time I see Henry, he looks so unhappy."
"Does he know you're his mother?" Snow asked.
"Of course not," Emma said. "That was part of the deal. Regina would raise him as her own; he would never know who I was. I think that's one of the reasons why Regina was so furious when she found out I was also in Storybrooke. She's worried I might tell Henry who I really am."
"He's a good kid," Snow told her. "I mean, I only had him in class for a day, but he's a very smart kid."
"He must really like you," Emma said. "He gave you that note, too. What was that about?"
A sudden daring stole over Snow. Hadn't Henry told her to tell Emma who she truly was? What if this was her chance?
Snow rose from the table and retrieved Emma's bottle of painkillers from the counter. Emma raised her eyebrows as Snow handed them to her. "That bad, huh?"
"No," Snow replied, her heart fluttering. "I just remembered that you were in pain and thought you might like these now."
"Thanks," Emma said, dumping two of the pills into her hand.
Snow sat down opposite her daughter again, wondering how to start. It wasn't any easier the second time around. "Emma, I have something to tell you."
She's only six years old. She's not ready.
But she wasn't six years old anymore…
"I'm your m—"
A/N: I hope that the number of answers you got in this chapter helps compensate for the fact there's a cruel cliffhanger. Think about it this way: at least it's not a true season finale cliffhanger, because you won't have to wait four months to find out what happens next! In the meantime, enjoy Red's episode and please consider leaving me a review!