I see Cora and Hook in the distance, preparing to jump into the portal. I can't let them get to Storybrooke, so I quickly pull out an arrow and shoot it. It knocks the compass from their hands, and into the dirt. Their faces quickly morph into expressions of shock. I can tell that they have no idea how we got out of Rumplestiltskin's cell. We've caught them off guard, and I plan on using that to our advantage. They aren't prepared to fight us, and I know that we are going to have to pray that that is enough of a distraction to give us the upper hand.
"You're not going anywhere," I state. I glare at the two of them. They are the only thing standing in Emma and my way.
"This portal's taking us home," Emma says, completing my sentence for me.
I turn to her. "The compass-get it!" She immediately rushes off, and I know that she will stop at nothing to get it. She pulls out a sword and heads into a duel between her and Hook, while Mulan is blocking Cora's fireballs.
I have an arrow ready to shoot, but I panic. If I aim for Hook, I might accidentally hit Emma, and there is no way that I'm going to let that happen. He knocks the sword from her hands and she lunges at him, only to be pushed to the ground. My maternal instincts take over, and I shoot at Hook. I silently curse myself when I miss.
I try to shoot Cora, but I am afraid that I will hit Mulan. My bow is ready to fire, but I can't decide who to aim the arrow at. I'm glad I don't go for Cora, as Mulan swings her sword at her, right into my target area. Cora disappears into a cloud of smoke, and a leather satchel is flung into the air. I know it contain Aurora's heart, and I'm frozen as I watch it fall towards the portal. At the last second, Hook catches it, and then hands it to Mulan. She stares at it for a moment, and I can tell that she is unsure of what to do.
I run over to her. "Go!"
"No, but you need the compass," she says.
"And Aurora needs her heart!" I exclaim. Getting home is what's important to me, but I could never keep someone from getting their heart back. Having something like that taken from you is terrible enough, and I can't imagine living without it. Aurora had helped us, and I want to do everything in my power to help her in return.
Mulan pauses for a second, and I can tell that she wants to go. I know that she vowed to protect Aurora, and I know that this is what she needs to do. To my surprise, she hands me her sword.
"Take it. It deflects her magic." I offer her a small smile before she runs off. I know that this was her most prized possession, and I'm touched that she would give it up in order to protect Emma and me. I watch her run away, and I don't know if I will ever see her again.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Emma fighting Hook. She has good form, but not good enough. He flips her onto her back, and I'm hit with a pang of worry. I'm just about to rush to her aid when I remember that Cora is still here. I begin to look around, when I hear a mocking whistle behind me. I know that I can't defeat her, but I'm going to try. I hold the sword up as I turn to face my step-grandmother.
She begins to circle around me, and I turn with her, not taking my eyes from her. She raises a hand and I automatically jump, causing her to laugh. The sound is demeaning, and I curse her under my breath. I don't know what else I'm supposed to do. I know that this is a battle I'm not likely to win, but I will fight her until my last breath.
Emma is still battling Hook. He has her on her back, and his sword is dangerously close to her neck. I want to go rip him away from her, but I know that if I take my attention off of Cora for a second that she will over-power me. I see a glint of gold in Emma's hand, when I realize that she has found the compass. She manages to get back on her feet, and after some very good handiwork that leaves me impressed, she manages to hit Hook in the head with compass, causing him to collapse. He lays on the ground, and I can tell that he's been knocked out. I can't help but be full of pride. My Emma was quite the fighter, and I was not surprised at all.
"Now let's go home!" she yells from across the portal. I silently agree with her. We just have Cora left to deal with.
I'm still engaged in my face-off with Cora. We continue to circle around each other, daring one another to make the first move. I see Emma raise her sword and charge at Cora. She is brave, that's for sure. Cora disappears in a cloud of dark purple smoke. I instantly drop my weapons and take advantage of the moment.
"Emma run!" I scream. She has the compass in her hand, and all we have to do it make it to the portal. I run as fast as my legs can carry me, thinking only of getting into that portal. Emma is beside me, and I can see the determination on her face. She wants to get home just as much as I do.
Suddenly Cora appears in front of us. She throws us through the air, and I land hard on my back, Emma beside me. We both grunt in pain, but scramble to our feet. It is going to take a lot more than that to keep me from getting home.
I walk to face Cora, and she meets me halfway. Emma tries to come towards us, but Cora pushes her back to the ground with magic. My mouth falls open as I look at Emma. My Emma. Cora can do anything she wants to me, but she cannot lay a finger on my daughter. I will protect her if it is the last thing I do.
"Why do you want to go to Storybrooke?" I desperately ask. I need to understand why it is so important to her that we don't go home.
"Because my daughter needs me."
And suddenly I understand. It doesn't matter if you're good or evil, a mother will do anything for her daughter. I know that. The love I have for Emma compares to nothing in any world out there. I would risk everything for her. I would do anything to keep her safe. Emma needs me now. She may not realize it or even accept it, but I know she does. She needs me to be there for her. And that's all that I want to do. But I'm not sure if I will get the chance.
"And now I'm going to give her the one thing she's always wanted..."
I know what Cora is going to say before the words leave her lips. Regina has wanted me dead since I was ten years old. And Cora is willing to do anything for her daughter. I know how that feels.
It's as if I'm frozen in place. I stare into Cora's eyes, my own filled with hurt and anger and hate. Her lips are turned into a small smile. I wonder how long she has waited for this moment. I know now that there is no way I'm going to survive. I can feel my heart beating in my chest, the last beats I will ever feel. I have lost this battle. I don't know how I thought it was possible to win. Cora is motivated by a mother's love, and nothing is going to stop her. I realize that I'm never going to make it home. I'm never going to wake my Charming from his sleeping curse. I'm never going to see my grandson again. I'm not going to be there for my daughter. I finally had my family back, what I love more than anything in the world, and I'm going to be taken from them. But this time, I know that it will be permanent. I won't be waiting for a curse to be broken. I'll be gone, and there is nothing they will be able to do to bring me back. I curse my ten-year-old self for not being able to keep Regina's secret. I had thought that I had already paid for that mistake, but now is when I will pay. The clock has come full circle. Daniel's heart was ripped out and crushed because of me, and now the same is to be done to my heart. This is a cruel world, and an even crueler fate.
"Goodbye Snow," she says, her voice empty of expression. She doesn't care about the fact that she is about to kill me in front of my daughter's eyes.
I brace myself for what's about to come. I don't know if it will hurt, but I know I won't be ready for it. I draw what will be my final breath, and whisper a silent prayer for Emma. I want her to know that I love her, and that I tried so hard to protect her. There are so many things that I wish that I could say to her, but I'm never going to get the chance. I hope she makes it back to Storybrooke. She needs to get back to her son. Emma is the only thing I can think about in my final moments. I refuse to let any tears fall. I want Cora to look into my eyes as she kills me. I want her to see the pain that she will cause by ripping a mother from her daughter. This is the end, and I refuse to be weak. I let my love for Emma fill me, and I know that in the last moment of my life, that alone makes me strong.
"No!" I hear. I'm pushed away, and the next thing I see is Cora's hand plunged into the chest of my daughter.
"EMMA!" I scream as Cora tries to rip my daughter's heart out.
I shoot up, the sound of my daughter's name escaping my lips. I'm drenched in sweat and I'm panting. I immediately get out of bed and leave my bedroom. The sound of my steps echo on the metal staircase as I hurry into Emma's room. I automatically go and stand next to her bed.
I reach out and gently grab one of her wrists. I extend two fingers and gently place them on her skin. I panic as I search, because I'm afraid that maybe this time there won't be one. My fingers find it, and I hold my hand in place.
I feel the steady beating of her pulse.
I let out a breath that I didn't know I was holding. I am able to relearn how to breathe fairly quickly. I don't remove my fingers from her wrist. I'm still not sure if this steady beating that I feel is real or not. Once I've come back to reality, I softly lay her hand back down. I brush a strand of hair out of her eyes, and I leave.
Emma had risked her life for me. I still couldn't believe that she had actually resisted Cora's most powerful spell, and it still puzzled me. I had been so relieved that she had been okay, but that didn't change the fact that that was the single most terrifying moments of my life.
The nightmares had started the day we had gotten home. That had been a good day. I was with my Charming again, and for the first time in weeks, our family was together. That night I had gone to bed with a smile on my face. I had been full of happiness, I mean, we had actually made it home. This was what I had been hoping for since the moment I jumped into that hat. I felt safe again.
I have found that the worst nightmares come from your worst memories. And I had one.
Every night it's the same. I revisit that same memory. No details are changed, no dialogue is altered. It's the same conversation, the same fight, and the same feelings, over and over again. But it's also the same ending. Every time. I can't count the times that I've woken in a sweat, screaming my daughter's name, shaking from fear. And every night I rush up to her room. Every night I grab her wrist. And every night I check for her pulse. Why?
Because I'm afraid.
I'm afraid that one day I'm going to wake up, and it won't be a dream. It will be real. One day I'm going to wake up and her heart will be gone. She'll be gone.
The steady beat of her heart is the only thing that keeps me alive each day. I couldn't live if it didn't exist.
Charming doesn't understand. He wasn't there. I've tried to explain to him what it felt like, but I can never get the words out. It's impossible to talk about.
Emma knows what she has done to me. She refuses to apologize. She says that she isn't sorry for what she did. Every conversation she says the same thing.
"I couldn't lose my family."
Those words echo in my head throughout each day. I don't know how I feel about it. I'm overjoyed to know that she cares so much about me, but I am not okay with the fact that she was willing to risk her life. If any one of us should be risking their life, it should be me. It is my job to protect her, not the other way around. And yet, the knowledge that she would do anything for me keeps me sane. At least a little bit. Because I can't rewrite the past. Nothing changes what she did.
She knows what she puts me through on a daily basis. She is understanding. She has never protested when I randomly have to check to see if her heart is still beating. In fact, she usually just holds her wrist out to me. She even showed me where her strongest pulse points are. She knows that I have to keep proving to myself that Cora didn't take the heart of the person I love the most. I know she feels guilty for the pain that I go through every day, but I know that she wouldn't change a thing.
I have been afraid of things before. But I have never let my fear consume me before. But I will never be able to get that vision out of my head, and that terrifies me.
My biggest fear is losing her. Losing my daughter. Losing my Emma.
She is my entire world.
I lie back down and try to go back to sleep. I already know what I'm going to see before I even close my eyes. I wonder how long this will last. How long it will take for these nightmares to go away. Probably never. I will probably be haunted by this memory for the rest of my life.
I need to find a way to make peace with this memory. I need to find a way to move on.
But I can't.
Because there is only one thing I am able to think about.