Henry stared at the mouth of the cave. Nothing could be heard except the falling water outside and the occasional ringing of Tink's bell as she floated in the air beside them. Every eye in the cavern was on the boy waiting for him to speak, wondering if the weight of the decision before him had really sunk in.
He's just a kid, Emma thought to herself. There is no way that he can make this decision on his own. Not now. Not after he's just lost three parents in one sitting.
She had no idea what was going to come out of her mouth, but Emma opened it anyway to say something to her son, but stopped when she saw Henry open his.
"So if I choose to leave Neverland," he started, trying desperately to understand the choice he was now faced with, "it will disappear forever?" Rumplestiltskin nodded. "But I thought it was run on imagination?"
"It is," Rumplestiltskin said, "but there has to be someone here to instill belief into the other children's imaginations. You have the heart of the truest believer, Henry, and your belief in Neverland, and in magic, are enough to save it."
David cleared his throat. "So the fate of Neverland, of the Lost Boys, the fairies, mermaids, everything, rests on Henry?" He knew it was a repetitive question, but he needed to ask it
"Yes," Rumplestiltskin confirmed once more.
Emma couldn't accept it. She wouldn't. She wasn't about to let the fate of countless humans and fairy tale creatures torture her son.
"What if we just took everyone with us?" she suggested.
The Dark One turned to the savior. "You could take the Lost Boys, sure," he continued, "but all the other creatures here were created from imagination, and unless Henry, the truest believer, decides to believe in them, and call this place home, they will cease to exist.
The only thing anyone could do was stand there in silence, taking in the even heavier load of information that had just been dumped on them.
"How much time does he have?" Snow spoke, asking the question everyone had on their minds. "Peter Pan. How much time is left before Henry is forced to make this decision?"
Rumplestiltskin thought for a moment before speaking, clearing doing some sort of calculation in that brain of his. "A day," he said. "Two at the most."
Killian, who had been completely silent the whole time, finally spoke up.
"Just let it die," he declared. "There's no longer anything good in this realm; the world would be a better place without it."
"Excuse me?" Tinker Bell interjected. "What about me?"
David nodded his head, not paying any attention to the fairy's comment. "I agree with Hook. I say we just take the Lost Boys and get out of here."
"We can't just let all these innocent creatures on the island die!" Snow cried out.
"At least someone's making sense over here," Tinker Bell huffed, her face blood red with anger.
"Innocent?" Killian questioned. "Do you not remember the mermaids that attacked us? The mermaids that tried to kill us, and almost succeeded in killing your daughter?"
Snow made to argue back, but her husband interrupted.
"He's right, Snow. Why would we want to save creatures who are just going to harm Henry, let alone any more kids that try to visit here?"
"But maybe that's how Pan wanted them," Snow argued back. "Who says they can't be turned back to the good side once they are off Pan's leash?" Killian and David opened their mouths to continue the debate, but Snow kept going. "And what about the other creatures here on the island? What about Tinker Bell and the other fairies?" She gestured up to the scarlet fairy next to her. "Have we even thought about them?"
"Snow…" David started, but his wife drew a breath and kept going.
"And we can't forget about the birds, the fish? What about the Indians? We haven't even thought of them because we haven't had to encounter them! Are we just going to let them disappear into oblivion too?"
The argument over the fate of Neverland continued on, but Emma, Henry, and Rumplestiltskin remained silent.
Emma, her arm wrapped tightly around her son's shoulder, looked down at him who was watching his grandparents, Tinker Bell, and Hook going back and forth like a tennis match. As her ears began tuning out the raised voices in front of her, she realized she had never noticed until now how much Henry had grown over the past two years. It was remarkable. Whenever she looked at him, she still saw that little ten-year-old boy who came knocking at her door in Boston that one late night.
How different would her life be if he had never come and found her? What if she hadn't been home to answer the door? Would he have waited for her? Would Regina have come and found him and taken him home? What if she decided not to go to Granny's that next day and ask to stay. It was supposed to be for a week, just a week. What a week that was. It changed her, and for the better. Her entire life now was all because of Henry. Without him, she would have never found her parents. They would be stuck in the curse, miserable and alone. She would never have been a mother. She would have always thought of Neal as the man who abandoned her in jail for no reason. She would have hated him for the rest of her life. And she never would have found love again. She never would have known what it was like to have people there for you no matter the cost. She would be alone. Completely alone. No Henry, no Neal, no parents, no Killian.
She owed everything, her entire life, to her son, and she couldn't bear the thought of letting him go, not to such an awful place like Neverland.
But Neverland wasn't supposed to be a place like this. It was supposed to be like what she dreamed about as a kid, what every kid dreamed about. It is supposed to be a place where anything is possible. Where you can go and have amazing adventures fighting pirates, swimming with mermaids, and playing with Indians. It was supposed to be a place where you thought the happiest things and, with the help of a fairy, you sprouted wings. Neverland was none of those things.
But Henry… Henry could make it all those things once again. He could make it a special place where children's imaginations could run wild.
Emma furrowed her brow. The ongoing debate between her mother, father, and Killian came quickly back into focus. This couldn't be the only solution. There had to be some other way to save Neverland, and she wasn't going to give up until she found it.
"Stop it!" she ordered. Killian, Snow, and David fell silent almost immediately at her command. Emma, turning to Rumplestiltskin, said, "Gold, this can't be it. There has to be another way."
"I am sorry, Miss Swan, but I'm afraid the only other option would be if Henry feels like giving his heart to Pan, but I'm guessing none of you are too keen on that solution."
Emma let out a frustrated sigh. "So what? We either leave Henry behind or let him die or let everything else die? That doesn't exactly seem right, Gold."
Rumplestiltskin let out a dry chuckle. "Well, what more do you want from me? I told you all there is to know. There's nothing more I can do."
"I don't believe that," Emma fought back.
"You're the most powerful magician in all the realms," Snow added, coming to her daughter's aid. "There has to be something, anything, you can do!"
"I've already told you everything I know."
Tinker Bell flew right up to the Dark One's face. "So you're not even going to try and help save me and my friends?"
"I believe I've already helped enough."
David unsheathed his sword and held it up to Rumplestiltskin's neck. "You haven't helped one bit. All you've done is cause chaos."
"And put an innocent boy's life even more at risk," Killian jumped in, following the prince's lead and raising his sword back up.
"STOP IT!" Henry finally yelled."STOP IT ALL OF YOU!"
Everyone froze and looked over at Henry. He stepped out into the middle of the half circle they had slowly formed and faced his family.
"No one is going to decide my fate but me." Unbeknownst to Henry, the corners of the Dark One's mouth curled up and his eyes softened at his comment. "And right now, the most important thing is to defeat Pan."
David smiled. "Henry's right," he said as he went to stand by his grandson and placed his hands on his shoulders. "This is your fight, Henry. What do you want us to do?"
Henry glanced around at his family, channeling the innate inner strength he knew he had inside himself before taking a breath and laying out a plan.
"We need help," Henry said. "We need to get everyone on the island to fight. Pan has to be defeated. If we don't do anything, he's going to come for me, for my heart, and no one wants that to happen." He turned to Tinker Bell who was still floating dangerously close to the Dark One's face. "Tink, do you know who would help us fight?"
The fairy turned a bright shade of emerald and smiled in support of the boy. "The pixies will fight. We've been waiting for the day when Pan would be gone, and it seems that day has finally arrived."
"Having the fairies on our side will definitely be an advantage," Snow added, glad for support in saving Neverland. "They were a huge help when I went to break Charming out of the Queen's castle back in the Enchanted Forest."
"I would also suggest rallying the Lost Boys who aren't Pan's minions," Tinker Bell suggested.
"Aye, the ones who were captured and brought here by his shadow," Killian added. "The mermaids might also join in on this battle."
Emma raised her eyebrow. "You mean the mermaids who tried to kill us?"
"They are just as unhappy with Pan as the rest of us," Killian explained. "I'm sure they will direct their murderous tendencies towards Pan if they hear of this."
"Ok, so we have the fairies, the mermaids, the Lost Boys," Charming said taking a head count. "What about the Indians?"
Killian waved his hand. "I wouldn't bother with them, mate. They like to keep to themselves."
"But they might join us if they catch wind of what's happening," Tinker Bell added. "It's possible, but they can be unpredictable when it comes to things like this."
"Well, let's quit yapping and get going," Emma declared. "Tinker Bell, you go round up the fairies; Killian and I will talk to Ariel and the other mermaids; Henry, I want you to stay here with David and Mary Margaret."
"But I want to help!" he exclaimed. "This is about me after all! I can go get the Lost Boys!"
"You're going to need more than just your grandparents if you're looking to gather them, lad," Killian said. "A sword and a bow and arrow won't hold up against Pan's magic."
"He has me," Rumplestiltskin said. The whole of the cave looked in the Dark One's direction, skeptical of anything he had to say. "I can help break into the camp to retrieve the boys."
"Thanks, Grandpa," Henry smiled.
Emma closed her eyes and sighed. She still didn't trust Gold, but knowing that her parents were going to be with him gave her no reason to deny her son what he wanted, especially considering the circumstances.
"Fine," she agreed. "We meet back here in one hour with as many troops as we can get. Agreed?" Everyone nodded in unison. "Then let's move out."
Tinker Bell sped out of the cave, leaving a faint green light in her wake, while Emma pulled her son in and gave him a tight hug. As much as she didn't want to let him out of her sight, she knew if they ever wanted to get off this godforsaken island, they needed to do this.
"I love you, Henry," she said, placing a soft kiss on the top of his head which was up to her chin already.
"I love you too, Mom," Henry replied. "I'll see you soon."
Henry let go of his mother and lead his grandparents out of the cave and into the jungle.
"Shall we, love?" Killian gestured his hand forward, allowing Emma to take the lead.
The savior took a breath and marched forward out of the cave, Killian following close behind. He pointed her in the direction of mermaid lagoon and they set off down the dirt path.
Neither of them spoke for some time, both trudging side by side through the jungle closer to their destination. Killian knew there was much on his princess's mind, but thought it best not to approach the subject of Henry's fate until she brought it up. Instead, he took her hand in his and squeezed it just to let her know he was there.
That was all the savior needed in order to let it all out.
"Why Henry?" she begged into the dense air. "Why, after everything he has been through, is this thrown on him?" Emma stopped in her tracks, whipped her sword out of its hilt and plunged it into the nearest tree, letting out all her frustration on it.
She continued to whack away at the bark, Killian standing behind her watching. If taking it all out on the tree was what she needed, he wasn't going to interfere. It wasn't until she was out of breath and collapsed on the ground in tears that he moved to comfort her.
"I just want us to be a family," Emma sobbed into Killian's arms. "I want us to have a normal life. But I guess that just isn't in the cards when you're the savior or the son of the Evil Queen."
"Everything will work out how it is supposed to, love."
"How do you know that? How do you know Henry will make the right choice? He's just a boy!"
"He's more of a man than you know, Emma," Killian said. "Being here on this island has changed him. He's gone through some horrible things just within the past few days, and it's changed him." He wiped a tear from her cheek. "You know it has, love. You could see it in his eyes when you told him his father had died."
Emma pushed back more tears and blotted her hands against her wet face. "I just didn't think he would grow up so fast."
"Parents never do. Whenever I saw Baelfire – Neal – after he had come to Storybrooke, a part of me still saw him as that boy I had saved from the waters here in Neverland. Henry will always be your boy, no matter how old he gets or where he is. And you, love," he put his finger to her chin and raised it so he could look her in the eyes, "will always be his mother. Regina raised him well, as have you the past two years. Henry will make the right choice. I have no doubt about that."
Emma pushed her lips together and sighed. She had no doubt that Henry would make the right choice, but she was desperate not to lose her son. Her gut was telling her what she didn't want to hear thought she knew from experience that it was always right. She couldn't think about that now though. They were on a mission. They needed to save Neverland whether that meant losing her son or not.
"Come on," she said to Killian as she got up off the ground and brushed off her clothes. "We need to go find Ariel."
Killian followed her lead and rose up off the ground and pointed to the east. "Mermaid Lagoon is just beyond those cliffs. We should find Ariel there."
The pirate and the princess marched up the steep hill and around the cliffs before their eyes fell upon the beautifully azure lagoon down below. The water sparkled in the sunlight that was seeping through the long, jungle vines hanging down from the tall trees. Killian and Emma ducked down behind a large rock to survey the scene and find the fiery-haired mermaid.
Several mermaids were huddled around the back of the lagoon listening to one who, what they guessed, was telling a very animated story. Others were scattered around the water doing various activities. Finally they spotted Ariel off to the side of the lagoon closest to them brushing her hair with what looked to be a fork.
"Seriously, she actually has a dinglehopper?" Emma said incredulously.
Killian looked at her with his eyebrow raised. "Dinglehopper?"
"I'll tell you later," Emma brushed off. "Come on. I think we can get to her if we just follow this ridge down." She pointed to their left at a small, rocky path along the back of the cliff in the dark shadows of the trees. What looked like footprints could be seen going in the direction they were about to take. "Looks like we aren't the only people who've snuck around the lagoon to see the mermaids."
"Aye," Killian confirmed. "Wendy would come here quite often just to watch them when she could. I'm surprised this path hasn't been discovered."
Emma lead the way down the steep path, stepping as quietly as she could in order to not make the mermaids known of their presence. When they got to the end of the path, Ariel was sitting on a rock on the edge of the water just out of reach for Emma to tap her on the shoulder. She quietly cleared her throat in hopes of getting the mermaid's attention.
"Ariel," Emma whispered as loud as she could.
She continued to twist her long, red hair into her fork.
"Ariel!" she whispered a bit louder, but got no response. Emma turned back to Killian. "She can't hear me."
"Move aside, love," he said, pushing himself between Emma and the boulder that hid her from sight.
Killian bent down and picked up a small pebble and tossed it at Ariel's shoulder. The mermaid twitched her shoulder when the stone hit her and reached back to feel her skin. When she turned around to figure out what had hit her, she caught a glimpse of the pirate peeking around from the boulder. He brought his finger quickly to his lips and pointed back in the direction of a nearby river that connected the lagoon to the rest of the island. Ariel nodded, took the fork out of her hair and hopped nonchalantly off the rock she was sitting on.
"Back up the path, lass," Killian said to Emma, guiding her back in her tracks. "She'll meet us down by the river."
The two of them crept back up the rocky path and into the jungle. They could hear the sound of rushing water just beyond the thick of the trees ahead of them and made their way towards it. When they came to a small clearing, Ariel was already waiting for them up on shore.
"I thought you were leaving Neverland," Ariel said as soon as she saw them.
"Plans changed, unfortunately," Killian sighed, "and we need your help."
"Mine?" Ariel asked. "What do you need me to do?"
Emma looked at Killian and back at Ariel. "We need you to rally the mermaids. We're ending this war with Pan tonight."
Whispers echoed off the walls of the cave as the Lost Boys sat in a huddle towards the back wall, each of them cautiously eyeing Henry and his grandparents. The four of them had managed to round up a handful of them and bring them back to the cave to await everyone else. It wasn't long after their arrival that Tinker Bell and two other fairies fluttered back into the cave.
"This is Periwinkle and Zarina," Tinker Bell said introducing each fairy on either side of her. "They're going to help lead the fairies in the fight." Each of the fairies waved at the group. "And this is Snow White and Prince James," Tinker Bell continued.
"David," the prince corrected.
"Oh, right," Tink said. "Prince David. You know the Dark One, of course. And this is Henry, the one who is going to save us all!"
Henry smiled. "Thank you for fighting."
"Where are the other two?" Tinker Bell asked.
David sighed. "Not sure. They were going to talk to the mermaids."
"They should be back by now, right?" Snow asked, concern growing in her voice.
"And we are," Emma answered as she and Killian entered from the mouth of the cave. "Sorry, we had to do a bit more sneaking around than we thought."
Emma and Killian joined the circle of Henry, his grandparents, and Tinker Bell and her companions, panting slightly from rushing back to the cave as quickly as they could.
"Captain Hook?!" Tink's gold companion exclaimed. "I didn't realize you were a part of this brigade."
"Aye, I am." Killian noticed Emma out of the corner of his eye looking curiously at the fairies. He supposed she had only ever heard of Tinker Bell from what he gathered from her tale of Neverland. "Emma, love, this is Zarina and Periwinkle," he said pointing to the gold fairy and blue fairy.
"Hi there," the fairy chime.
Emma gave a quick nod and leaned close to Killian. "Periwinkle? Really?" she whispered in his ear.
"I didn't name them, love," he replied trying to hide an amusing smile on his face.
Rumplestiltskin growled, his patience quickly wavering. "Enough with the niceties," he said through barred teeth. "What of the mermaids? Are they in or out?"
"They've agreed to join us," Killian answered. "Ariel was able to convince them that this fight is the one that will end Pan. She and the rest of the mermaids are awaiting our orders."
"So what is our next move?" Snow asked finally.
The pirate looked at the small group of Lost Boys that still sat huddled together at the back of the cave. "Are those the only Lost Ones you could gather?"
"For right now, yes," David confirmed. "But they haven't exactly agreed to fighting just yet."
"What do you mean?" Emma asked.
"What he means is we had to force them to come here without really telling them why," Rumplestiltskin explained.
"They seem scared out of their minds," Snow whispered in a low tone. "Someone needs to talk to them."
"I'll do it," Tinker Bell volunteered.
She fluttered over to the boys, her light glowing a soft, friendly chartreuse. As she approached, their huddle slowly broke open and they all turned to face her.
Emma could see the uncertainness and a slight amount of fear expressed on their faces. She wondered how much they thought of this place as home. No orphanage nor foster home had ever given her that feeling because no one had truly cared for her. It wasn't until she had found her parents and Henry and Killian that she finally felt like she had a home. They cared for her. The whole town cared for her, and it wasn't until she saw someone putting her needs before their own did she know what it was like to have a home. Peter Pan certainly didn't put the needs of these children before himself, so how is it possible for them to feel like this is their home? Did they forget what it was like to have someone care for them? The very thought made Emma choke up and fight back a few tears.
What looked to be the oldest boy of the group stood up as Tinker Bell approached. "Why are we here?" he asked. "And why do we keep hearing all of you talk about fighting?"
"Because, Curly, we are going to get rid of Peter Pan once and for all, and we need your help."
"Why do you need us?"
"You boys know Pan's whereabouts better than anyone," Tink explained. "You know where he hides, and we need that to defeat him."
"But Pan is our family," one of the smaller Lost Boys said. "Why would we betray him?"
Emma stepped forward. "He's not your family. Family doesn't do what he's done. He's turned this place into a place that I can't wait to leave, but it's not supposed to be like that. You're not supposed to be scared of your home, of your family."
"How do we know you're not lying?" the oldest one said, putting on the bravest he could. "This is the only home some of us have ever known."
"And that's exactly why you need to help us," Henry said, walking up behind his mother. "None of you understood why I wanted to leave here as soon as I came to Neverland. It's because you don't know what a real home is like. I always thought Neverland would be like a second home. Do you guys even remember what Neverland was supposed to be like before you came here?"
The lads looked at one another hoping someone would say they could remember, but none of them could.
"Sorry, Henry," another one said. "This is the only Neverland we know."
Henry sighed sadly and sat down cross-legged in front of the boys. Emma couldn't help but think of her first reaction to finding out what Neverland was really like and the great disappointment she felt when she realized it wasn't anything like the Neverland she had heard and dreamed about all her life.
"When I realized this wasn't how Neverland actually is," Henry began, "it made me so sad. It wasn't full of the adventures I thought I was going to have. I didn't spend my time playing games with the Indians or sneaking off to see the mermaids or fighting Captain Hook and his crew. Instead it was full of darkness and danger, more danger then it should have. The only games I've gotten to play are Pan's target practice and I wouldn't want to even come close to a mermaid. Captain Hook is the one coming to rescue me from Peter Pan! That's not how it should be. That's not how I ever imagined it! Instead I wanted to go home. I didn't want to play Pan's game. But then I learned why I was really brought here. I'm the one that's supposed to bring back Neverland to what it should be. I'm the one who can save it and make it the place that's full of fun and adventure."
Henry took a breath and a large, wide smile grew across his face.
"That's what I want it to be," he declared as he stood up in front of the group. "That's what it should be! When children come here, I want them to be able to play games with the Indians and see the mermaids and duel with the pirates! That's what I want for me, and that's what I want for you, too! And I'm going to give it to you! I am going to help save Neverland and make sure it will always be a place full of fun and adventure! Who's with me?!"
All at once, the group of Lost Boys got to their feet and shouted "aye" as they circled around Henry electing him as their new leader.