DISCLAIMER: I do not own Once Upon a Time or any of the characters from the show.
It is a dark, starry night in Neverland, and a very tired Emma sighs in relief as she reaches the campsite she has called home for the past few nights. She feels she might freeze to death any moment now, so when she sees the bonfire they built last night in the distance, she sprints toward it like a small child seeing an ice cream parlor for the first time. She comes to a forced stop when she realizes her father is already sitting by the bonfire, attentively staring at the dancing flames, which she so fiercely hoped would provide her freezing body some warmth.
She is emotionally exhausted after the talk she had with Snow, and the last thing she needs right now is to be questioned by her father – she has come to know her mother too well over the past few months, and she knows the first thing Snow must have done after Emma left is tell David. So naturally, Emma tiptoes past the bonfire as quietly as possibly, doing her best to cross the campsite unnoticed.
Her efforts, however, are futile, and Charming breaks his gaze from the bonfire to find his wide-eyed daughter looking like a deer caught in the headlights. Snow White would not have missed a chance to ask Emma a hundred questions until she was positive she knew exactly how her daughter was feeling, but Charming knows better and decides not to push it. "I take it you don't want to talk about it?"
Emma blinks a few times before she can properly form words, "Nope. Done enough of that for today." Her eyes are still bloodshot and swollen, a result of pouring her heart out to her mother a few hours ago, and all she wants is to get some much needed sleep. Well, a blanket and a radiator would be great, too, but when in Neverland, the closest you get to those perks is sitting by a bonfire, which was most definitely not an option right now. "Good night, David."
Charming lowers his gaze as to not make his daughter even more uncomfortable, but looks back up when he realizes she is shivering. "You must be freezing with only that shirt on." He begins to take his jacket off, "here, why don't you take this?"
'Is this how it feels, having a dad to keep you safe and warm when you're cold and scared?," Emma thinks to herself as she stares at David. "Oh, uh, no, I mean… uh, it's okay, I'm pretty sure Mary Margaret has at least five of my jackets in that backpack," she tries to lighten the mood, "the woman thinks we are travelling to space or whatever. Brought my entire closet."
"She went to help Regina out with something. She won't be back for a while. Here, take this."
Emma hesitates, and shifts uncomfortably without even moving from the spot she's standing at.
"On the other hand, you can always sit here next to your old man and the bonfire will do the job," David says with a teasing smile, clearly trying to break the tension, as he gently pats the log he is sitting on.
Emma's lips curl into a shy smile as she tentatively begins to walk towards her charming father. It is incredible, she thinks, how she has warmed up so quickly to a man she thought so little of not too long ago. Why is it, she wonders, that sometimes it is so much easier to talk to her father than to Snow, who was her best friend before she even knew she was her mother?
As soon as she sits down next to her father, he puts his jacket over her shoulders, no words needed – for which she is more than thankful. She will never admit it, but it is these little moments that make her feel like a little child who cannot get enough of daddy's love and attention. And as soon as she realizes that, she feels uncomfortable again and is tempted to get up and run as fast as she can. But this time she doesn't, maybe because this is the kind of love she always craved but was never given.
All these memories of a broken childhood, all these emotions that now flood her soul, are too much for Emma, and she feels the tears begin to form in her eyes. 'Dammit,' she thinks. She can't let David see her like this. The last thing she needs or wants is another heart-to-heart. After all, she is Emma Swan, the tough, independent bail bondsman who has never let anything –or anyone- break her walls. Ever.
But of course David notices the blonde tense up as she tries to keep her emotions in check. He puts an arm around her but keeps his gaze on the ground. Again, no words needed. And Emma thanks the heavens for that. 'Is this what it would have been like, growing up with my dad there to comfort me when I cried?,' Emma wonders. Little does she know, the same questions and regrets are running through her father's mind. 'Is this what it would have been like, comforting my little girl when she was scared or upset? Is this what it would have been like to soothe her when she cried?'
But this is becoming too much. As much as Emma treasures these little snippets of what she should always have had, she can't afford to let her guard down right now, not when she has been warned her time as an only child is coming to an end. No, she has to be strong now more than ever, because soon her parents will have a new little baby to comfort and to love on, and she knows, she just knows, they will realize they don't need their damaged-beyond-repair twenty-eight year old daughter when they have a giggly little baby that's all they've ever wanted. So she needs to be ready for that. Walls up.
She lets out a humorless laugh as she realizes just how screwed up this all is. She just found them. God, she just got them back and already they've decided she is not good enough. No matter what Snow White says, it's more than clear. No matter how much her mother tries to apologize, she knows exactly what Snow's little speech was all about. She never has been, never will be, good enough. Yes, she came back; yes, she saved them all. She fulfilled her destiny. But Snow has made it all too clear that this was not what she signed up for. She wants a baby – always has. What she got was far from the baby she dreamed of. Can Emma even blame her? But then again, Emma didn't sign up for any of this either. Life threw this so-called destiny at her and gave her no choice but to take it.
And thinking about just how ridiculous and loveless her life has always been makes her angry. So angry and so resentful that she can't hold her words in anymore. "Thanks for the jacket, you know… I'd better relish all of this while I still can," she says with more sarcasm than she initially intended, "since soon baby Charming number two will be here to get all the spoiling."
David opens his mouth in an attempt to refute his daughter's hurtful words, but she is having none of it.
"No, let me finish. You know, since you asked, I'll tell you what Mary Margaret and I were talking about before." She takes her father's jacket off of her shoulders and drops it on his lap. "She was trying to tell me that you guys having another child won't change what you feel for me. And you know what, I actually believe it. I believe it and do you know why? Because right now it kinda seems like you don't even feel anything for me. Right? Can't change what was never there. I mean, I can't even blame you, can I? You didn't sign up for this! You didn't sign up for me!"
If David felt guilty before, now he feels his heart break inside his chest. The moment Snow said those words back in the cave, he wished there was a way to take them back, but now, listening to his daughter voice her fears, so broken and so scared, it feels just so, so much worse. He looks at Emma and is consumed by regret. Regret for what could have been. For what they missed out on. For what was so cruelly stolen from them, what was stolen from his golden-haired girl who did nothing wrong but was so wronged by fate. Most of all, he regrets how he didn't fight harder. How he allowed destiny to take his Emma when she was only a defenseless baby, and how it resulted in his little girl living a life of hurt and despair.
There is really no way to take back Snow's words now, and that is also something David regrets. Because right now he would do anything to take the pain from Emma's heart even if that means being in pain himself. He will stop at nothing to make sure his daughter knows just how loved she is. He will give his life for her if that's what it takes.
"You're right… I didn't sign up for you. You're right. I signed up for a baby I knew I would love but what I got was something else. I got something much, much bigger and more precious than I ever imagined I would. Something I'm not sure I even deserve." He brings his thumb to her cheek and gently wipes her tears, "I got you. My kind, smart, beautiful Emma. And you, Emma, are so much more than all I've ever wished for. So you're right, I didn't sign up for you. Because never in my life did I think I deserved to wake up every morning so overcome with love and pride."
Emma can't bring herself to say anything right away. She just savors this moment… David's words… because even though she is not sure she fully believes those words, they are beyond any ideal she had of what love should be. They are so much more beautiful than any dreams she had as a little girl. And while she refuses to bring her walls down, she can't help but feel loved and sheltered in her father's strong arms… the arms that shielded her from Regina's army all those years ago, and that still make her feel safe and warm when they hold her.
"I can't tell you your mother and I won't have any more children. Although if that's really something you need, I would do it for you without a second thought. But Emma, know that you are more than I've ever wished for. You are my princess, and always will be."
Emma looks up into her father's eyes, so much like her own, and can't help but feel that there is at leastsome truth to what he is saying. "I just don't think I can deal with it, not right now I can't. I've felt so lonely all my life and now I've finally found you. I just got you back. And I feel like I'm ten years old saying this, but I don't want to share you. I don't. Not right now." She instantly wishes she could take back her oh-so-immature words, but it's too late. What the hell is up with her blurting out all these things lately?
David offers a small smile. "And you'll never have to share me or your mom, even if there are other children involved. You are my first baby girl, my first and greatest love, and I'm sure your mother feels the same. So you'll never have to share us. If anything, our hearts can grow a little bigger to make room for a bigger family."
At that, Emma is able to reciprocate his smile. "God, I feel so ridiculous. It's just… I… I don't think I can deal with seeing you guys raise another kid. Not when I grew up alone, wishing you would come back for me to bring me back home." She looks back down as all those feelings of abandonment resurface, the pain so raw and so real again. "I just really don't know how that would make me feel."
"I wish there was something I could do to change the way you grew up. To take the pain away. You have no idea, Emma, of how consumed I am by regret every day. Of how I wish I could turn back time so I could see you grow up, so I could teach you everything and protect you from anything. But we have to learn to live with it," he feels his daughter rest her head against his shoulder, "don't dwell on what could have been, princess, you're still my little girl." With that, he kisses Emma's head and is one more time overcome with love for his daughter.
His girl might be twenty-eight years old, but in his eyes, Emma will always be his baby –his Emma, his biggest reason to live and breathe. And while they can't recover everything they missed out on, they can still make up for lost time. And he can without the shadow of a doubt give her all she has ever wished for, give her all his love.