Was it worth it?
"I'd like to think it was," he whispered.
"Are you sure, Pops?"
Rumplestiltskin turned around, and his eyes widened at the sight of his boy - Baelfire, all grown up: short brown hair, tanned skin, a scruff that the sharpest razor couldn't banish, and gold-green eyes that regarded him seriously.
"I got to spend a life with you, even if it wasn't exactly how I envisioned it," the Dark One replied, folding his glittering golden hands behind his back. He wanted to hug his son so badly, but he wasn't sure if it would be welcome.
Neal Cassidy shrugged, his off-white dive-suit creaking with the movement. It was beaten and battered, and the Queen's callsign had faded over the years, but other than that, it was whole. It was like his boy had never been violently ripped away.
"And what about everyone else? A lot of people lived different lives than what they had in the Enchanted Forest, or even Storybrooke."
Gold closed his eyes.
"It was the only way, Bae. Besides, I wasn't the only one who agreed to recast the Dark Curse."
It wasn't a defense, he knew, and it never could be - but it was the truth. Still, he hadn't known that this world was already linked to other dimensions, and primed for an invasion by the Anteverse and the monsters within. If he had, he would have done his best to find a different realm to send them to.
"Hmm." Neal stepped closer to him, each movement echoing loudly in the blank space they occupied. "I guess, but this definitely wasn't the original recipe, Dad."
"We knew that people would be separated, perhaps never to cross paths, but... I tried to right some of the wrongs I had inflicted on them, Bae. Please, believe that." The tears burned in his eyes.
He almost never cried, not in any of the realms, unless it was in front of his little boy.
"I didn't mean for you to die."
Neal finally stopped in front of his father. "Whoa, wait, that's not..." He looked down at his boots, rubbing at the side of his neck. "That's not what I meant, Papa. I knew the risks when I signed up for the Program. I would've done it anyway, even if you hadn't been involved.
"Shit, look at you now: one of the best Rangers in this world's history. What would our little village think of that?"
Gold frowned at the memory of that backwater dump, and he snorted. "They wouldn't believe it if they saw it with their own fool eyes."
"Well, fuck 'em, then. We both stood our ground, and maybe even made the world a better place for it." Neal placed a gloved hand on Gold's shoulder, wrinkling his perfectly pressed suit jacket. Silence reigned supreme for a while, and then he asked, "Are they gonna be happy, at least?"
The Dark One struggled with an answer. "Sacrifices were made," he said slowly. "The Savior still lost her parents and the Evil Queen, her first love. I know I… strayed from my path when I lost you again, but I tried to give them a better life this time around. To make amends."
He tried to be a better mentor to Regina, the one she originally deserved in the Enchanted Forest, instead of one that twisted her for his own dark purpose. He tried to give Emma a family that loved her, even if it wasn't with Snow White and Prince Charming; he hadn't expected her to lose her adoptive parents to the First Strike. History repeated itself in that regard, despite his best efforts. And he did his best to make sure his grandson had both of his mothers.
Everything he did in this world to ensure a better life for them - for everyone - wasn't enough, and it never would be: Rumplestiltskin alone knew exactly how many sins he had committed against Emma Swan and Regina Mills, among countless others, in his efforts to find his son.
He dared to put his scaled hand over his Neal's. "You're not upset, are you? That Emma and Regina..."
Neal grinned, and there was no trace of sorrow or regret. "Nah. I guess I always knew that Emma and I weren't meant to be, even before that mess with Zelena, but I got more time with her here than I deserved. I got a chance to do right by her for once, you know? Besides...
"They can always find us here, if they need us, right?"
The Dark One and his son stood side by side, standing vigil, and waiting for the day when everyone would finally be reunited.