Chapter One Hundred and Four
Life has never been fair, Graham knows. If it had been fair, Emma would have been raised by her very loving parents and married a very loving prince and he would certainly have no right to her.
But life is unfair, making happy endings a goal rather than a certainty, and now the family he loves as his own faces breaking apart.
Through the trees, he can distantly see Snow and Charming cling to each other, embracing and kissing and sometimes whispering to each other. It reminds him of the time before the curse came, when they knew it was coming and thought it would mean Snow going with Emma into another world.
He didn't really know the loss they were facing then. He has a better idea now, now that the thought of never seeing Emma again is like losing his heart all over again.
"Emma?" he hears Henry say. The two have been whispering together and he's more than a little sure they've probably been conspiring together too, because he knows Henry and he has a good idea of what young Emma is like from how well he knows her as an adult.
With a sigh, he turns around to look at them, only to go completely still as he sees the magic swirling around Emma. She has her eyes closed in deep concentration, still holding Henry's hand as she ages before his very eyes.
"Emma?!" Henry gasps. Graham can only watch as Emma – his Emma - blinks, then stares down at Henry's hand in hers.
"Hey, kid," she says, and Henry launches himself at her. Emma closes her eyes and puts an arm around him, the look on her face so loving it seems to make her brighter than the sun to look at. "I'm here."
They sit in silence for a moment, Graham unable to tear his eyes off them. They make such a lovely sight, the boy and his (one) mother. (Snow, of course, remains Henry's mommy and always will be.) It makes him ache for what Emma had to give up, the chance to raise her child.
Like mother like daughter, he thinks, and hurts for them all.
Finally Emma pulls away slightly, leaning forward to kiss Henry's forehead. He closes his eyes at it, then smiles up at her.
"Do you remember what happened?" Henry asks, untangling himself from her embrace to stand up.
"Yes," Emma says, and lifts her gaze to Graham. "I remember everything. Why don't you go tell David and Mary Margaret the news?"
"Okay!" Henry says happily, bolting in the direction of Snow and Charming.
Graham swallows as Emma stands up, never taking her eyes off him as she approaches. She pauses just a foot away from him, her face still as bright as when she looked at Henry. He doesn't dare consider what that might mean, but he can bask in it nevertheless.
Then she quickly steps forward and kisses him fiercely, almost making him step backwards from the force of it. He sighs at the familiar sensation of her lips on his, linking his arms around her to press her even closer.
"Graham," she whispers against his lips, and oh. Oh. He doesn't have words to describe how it feels to have her back.
"I love you," he says instead. She'll remember what he told her when she was a child, but he still wants to say it to her properly.
She kisses him at that, softly this time, and he sighs into it. Then she pulls away, letting her thumb rest on his lower lip for just a moment before she turns around and follows Henry.
Life does seem to have a certain morbid sense of humor at times, Hook has come to believe after centuries. But it also seems to have a morbid sense of irony, he reflects, as he follows Regina up the last ledge to Dead Man's Peak and notices they are not alone.
"I know the place is called Dead Man's Peak, but I wasn't expecting it to be literal," Regina says. Before them, clearly dead, lies a man. A somewhat familiar one. "Greg Mendell."
"Well, if it was literal it would be Greg Mendell's Dead Peak," Hook counters, just for the pleasure of seeing Regina give him a look. He lifts his gaze further to see someone huddled against the rocks. "And that must be Tamara."
Regina outright hisses, moving before he can say anything further. He watches as she uses magic to slam Tamara against the rock and then reach into her chest and pull out her heart.
He knows that sight and he closes his eyes for a moment. Milah. Milah's heart.
"You," Regina says harshly.
Tamara gasps, but soundlessly. Regina blinks, then reaches into her pocket and crushes something in her hand. A moment later Tamara screams, and this time, there is definitely sound.
"Shut up," Regina says and squeezes the heart lightly. Tamara's eyes bulge, but she does close her mouth. "The only reason I haven't squeezed your heart into dust yet is that I may have use of you."
"Please," Tamara says. "I didn't know I was working for Peter Pan, I swear! I thought I was working to stop magic. Magic is evil."
Regina shakes her head. "I know evil far better than you. Magic is what you do with it. If you can only see it as evil, then your problem is you, not magic."
Tamara looks ready to argue that, but Regina squeezes the heart again.
"You would have killed Snow and Charming," Regina says quietly, every word like a judgment.
"She killed Bae," Hook adds, and Regina glances over at him curiously. Then slowly, she nods, as if she understands.
"You gave Henry to Pan," Regina goes on.
"You were the Evil Queen!" Tamara protests. "I know about you. I know what you've done. You can't..."
"Can't judge you?" Regina says merrily. "Yes, I've done worse than you. I earned my name. That's exactly why I can judge you. Hook, get all the water we need. I'm going to be busy for a little while."
Hook gives a light, mocking bow at the clear order, then follows it. He keeps an eye on Regina whispering to Tamara's heart while he works, careful not to touch the thorns, filling all the canteens they've brought with water.
As he finishes, he sees Tamara begin climbing downwards while Regina walks up to him. He raises an eyebrow.
"I have her heart," Regina says to the unasked question. "She's under my control. She will help us now, and if she helps us enough I may let her live."
"She's not coming back with us?"
"No." Regina shakes her head. "I won't let her near Henry, or Snow and Charming. They don't need to know about this."
"Why not?" he asks curiously.
"They would feel guilty about using her," Regina says simply. "I don't."
Emma walks into the clearing and sees Henry talking excitedly to David and Mary Margaret, who look up a moment later. They look stunned at first, staring at her. She sees the brief flash of loss across their faces, but she doesn't fault them for that. Not when she felt the same flash of loss when she regained her adult memories and knew she wouldn't get to be raised by her mommy and daddy after all.
Then they hurry towards her and she finds herself being hugged fiercely. She can feel David's hand at the back of her neck, supporting her gently as both of her parents cling to her and she clings right back.
"Emma," Mary Margaret says, her voice choked. "Oh, honey."
"Yeah," she manages to say. "Hi."
David laughs for a moment, then draws a shuddering breath. "Welcome back."
"Thanks," she manages to answer. This is good to have back, she has to admit. For all she has lost, she has to remember all the things she has gained also. "Mom. Dad. I..."
The words stall in her throat, but she thinks about the David and Mary Margaret Nolan she knew as Henry's parents, the mom and dad she slowly got to know, the mommy and daddy she got a glimpse of while a child and she forces the words past the dryness in her throat.
" I love you guys," she says thickly.
She can feel both David and Mary Margaret go completely still for a moment, even holding their breaths. Then they're kissing her forehead, murmuring how much they love her too, and Emma closes her eyes and lets it all sink into her skin, into her very bones.
They will never be her mommy and daddy, the loving parents who raised her. They've lost that. But they will be her mom and dad, her loving parents now. They'll always be Henry's mommy and daddy, the loving parents of the most precious thing in the world to her.
They're crying as they pull back, she notices, and she can also see Graham ruffling Henry's hair affectionately a few steps away. She swallows, then composes herself.
"We're not leaving you on Neverland," she tells David firmly.
"Emma..." he says, but she holds up a hand.
"We'll find a way to go home together, as a family. That's the only way," she says, and Mary Margaret looks at her with a strange pride. "Okay?"
"I don't mind staying here," Henry pipes up with, and they all turn to look at him. He looks fiercely determined, and Emma remembers what he told her just before she became herself again.
"Henry," Mary Margaret says softly.
"I don't want you to leave Neverland because of me," Henry replies and Mary Margaret walks over to kneel by him.
"Henry," she says lovingly, cupping his face in her hands. "We love you more than anything."
"You're our son," David says quietly, squeezing Emma's shoulder lightly as if to reassure her too. "Sometimes, love means sacrifice, Henry."
Henry shakes his head stubbornly. "I don't want you to."
"I know," David says. "Your mother once took a sleeping curse to let me live. I didn't want her to, just as she has never wanted me to sacrifice my life for hers, yet I would."
"So why can't I be the one to sacrifice something?" Henry says, sounding frustrated. "I love you all."
"How about none of us sacrifice anything," Emma cuts in. She gives them all a look, Graham, Henry, Mary Margaret and David. Her family. "We kick Pan's ass, we get Henry's heart back, we find a way to cure the poisoning and we go back to Storybrooke and live happily and boringly ever after."
David smiles at her, and then she finds herself being hugged again. She remembers how easily he hugged and held her when she was magically a child, and knows he's probably been longing to do that for ages. So she leans into it and even hugs him slightly back.
"I missed you," he says, and pulls away to smile at her. "I like your plan, Emma."
"Yes," Mary Margaret says, holding out a hand that Emma takes while still keeping Henry close. "I like your plan too."
Wendy has been watching them curiously since the Echo Caves, so Neal walks over to her while his papa strides onto the beach.
"That's your father?" Wendy asks, and Neal nods.
"I thought of myself as an orphan, as a lost boy, for so many centuries," he says quietly, and Wendy touches his arm, a light, comforting touch. "It was better than thinking that my papa loved me, but didn't love me enough."
"And now?" she asks.
"Now..." he trails off. "I don't know. I have a son I'll never really be a father to because I was a coward, because I was too afraid to go back and find someone I let down. So if I don't forgive him, I'll never forgive myself."
She smiles gently at him. "Why can't you be a father to your son?"
"Emma gave him up for adoption," Neal says quietly. "I wasn't there, and she was in jail, so she gave our boy the best chance she could. She gave him up. And my papa found out and made sure her parents were the ones who adopted Henry."
Wendy looks confused at that. "Emma's parents adopted him? As his grandparents?"
No," Neal says, putting his hands in his pockets as she watches Rumplestiltskin's hand glow with magic. "They didn't know. It's a long story. They adopted him and raised him as their son. That's who he is. He's Snow White and Prince Charming's son. I'll never be his dad. He has one already."
"But you can still be something to him," Wendy says, and he remembers the optimism and kindness in her that he had a bit of a crush on as a boy living with her family.
"Yeah," he says, wanting it more than anything. He watches his papa drive a lance of magic into the water, then pull something up with it. A squid.
It's not the only thing coming up from the water, though. A familiar face peeks up above the waterline, waving at him. The mermaid who saved him.
"Hi!" she says merrily. "I was looking for you. Did you find Emma, Henry and Tamara? I tried to sing to them, but my friend Tink ended up finding them instead."
"Ariel," Neal says, feeling slightly dumbstruck.
"You know this mermaid?" his father asks, and Neal nods.
"She's the mermaid who saved my life."
"A friendly mermaid," Rumplestiltskin says, glancing over at him. "Son, I think we have a way home. If your friend is willing to help us."
Ariel smiles and nods, and for the first time, Neal allows himself to feel a spark of hope.
And above the trees, Pan's shadow listens and then floats away, looking for its master. The Dark One and his son are coming, and so will the others soon too. Henry's family. They will all come.
It's time to ready the trap.