Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and any unrecognizable characters or dialogue.
I've been trying to work on this for almost a year now. A close family relative was diagnosed with cancer in the last eight months, plus what with the world turning upside down with this pandemic... I just haven't had the desire to write for this particular would be epic.
I hope you're all doing well, and are safe and healthy. Thank you for the continued support.
Chapter Playlist: 'Better for Everyone' from The Crown: Season Three OST
"Have you ever heard of the Law of Surprise, dear Lilith?" Rumple trilled as he spun at his spinning wheel. He'd been at it for days now, and Lilith arched a brow in silent query rather than answer. "Oh, just taking a trip down memory road is all. But, have you heard of it?"
Sitting up in her chair, Lilith marked the page in her book and shut it. "Of course I've heard of it; most of royal blood always do. My something great-aunt was claimed by a group of healers that saved her mother's life before she was born by it. It is an archaic practice that not many kingdoms honor anymore, given its roots in blood magic." Her gaze sharpened. "Why? Did you trick some poor fool into making such a stupid pact?"
"Ah, no." Giggling at the thought of wreaking havoc with such ancient blood magic, Rumple paused in his spinning. "Can't say I've ever gone that particular route with my deals."
"Then why bring it up?"
He eyed his student, grateful that she had already returned her attention to her book and missed the wariness in his gaze. He'd learned, over the last five years, to shield himself from her empathy. It was difficult, given she'd had the gift before he'd trained her, but it was possible if he was in the right mindset. Any time he brought up the past her father had him steal from her, he made sure to keep his emotions under tight control.
"No reason, Lilith," he muttered as she continued to read, not reacting to his words. The loss of her humanity was new, but she had adapted rather well in his opinion. With the way she was, he was quite certain she wouldn't do more than blink at him if he revealed their shared history. "No reason at all."
Arms crossed, Emma glared down sullenly at the small unlit campfire before her. By her own admission, Regina had never taken a student before and Emma was beginning to understand why. She was hard and uncompromising, and though she claimed summoning fire was the easiest thing to learn, Emma wasn't sure she believed her.
"Focus." Crouched beside the fire, Regina's voice sharpened. "Concentrate."
"It's kinda hard when you're talking in my ear." Emma snapped back while the other woman rose to stand beside her.
Scowling, Regina circled the blonde. "And when the wind blows, or it's raining, or someone's shooting arrows at you," she added the last bit pointedly, ignoring Emma's harsh exhale. "Yes, concentration is hard. That's the point. You need to find your anger and use it to focus."
"No, there has to be a way without going dark."
Throwing her hands up, Regina prepared to stomp away. "You're such a pathetic waste of ability."
Emma turned on her heel and snarled at the dark-haired woman's back. "And you are a monster."
When she twisted around, Emma was surprised to find no hint of anger on Regina's features. Rather quiet contemplation. "Smell that?"
From their spot on a stump, David and Mary Margaret straightened, watching avidly. Both had kept quiet during the 'lesson', deeming it better to let Emma take control of the fledgling power inside of her. Plus, given how high tensions were beginning to run, they didn't want to step on their adult daughter's toes by acting like overprotective parents.
There was a self satisfied gleam in Regina's eye. "Smoke." She uttered, gesturing lightly to the small fire before she strode away from the irritated blonde.
Turning to watch Regina go, Emma caught sight of the fire and couldn't stop her brow from raising in silent surprise at the sight.
Watching, David sighed deeply. "This is a bad idea." He muttered in an undertone to his wife.
"She has it in her," Mary Margaret watched the 'lesson' warily despite her words. "She should learn to use it. We just have to trust her."
"Yeah," David whispered as Emma knelt beside the fire, staring into the flames. Regina seated herself primly on a rock, facing her 'student'. "It's not Emma I don't trust."
As they spoke, Hook came around a collection of bushes, shaken by his run-in with Pan. Swallowing past his suddenly dry throat, fingers itching for his rum, he instead approached David and Mary Margaret. Touching the other man's shoulder, he muttered, "We need to talk." Glancing to make sure Emma was too enthralled with the magic lessons Regina had reluctantly agreed to, he knelt beside the worried looking pair. "Pan paid me a visit."
Both stiffened, with David glancing toward the jungle warily. Mary Margaret slipped her arm from his, stealing a glance her daughter's way before both focused fully on what Hook had to say.
"He, uh... he told me that Neal is alive," he continued hoarsely, "that he's on this very island."
Mary Margaret blinked rapidly. "Emma and Lillian saw him. He was shot, he fell through a portal. No one could have survived that."
"Well, he did, and now he's here. He said he took him from this very camp while we were off in his cave."
She held a hand up. "According to Pan, if he's telling the truth."
"And, uh, why would he tell you? What does he hope to gain?" David whispered, though Hook was somewhat gratified by the lack of suspicion directed his way.
Glancing down, Hook swallowed before answering. "Who knows why he does anything?" If he voiced the reasoning behind Pan's newest little game, he knew David would seize it as the truth. "He has his reasons, but it's a sure bet they're not good ones."
Turning her head, Mary Margaret froze when something caught her eye. "He's telling the truth," she muttered, rising from her seat and going around the two men to the tree behind them. "Tracks... and a scuffle." She touched a broken tree limb, keen eyes taking in the clues. "Someone was here while we were gone, we have to tell her!"
David reached out to halt his wife when she made to brush by him and possibly shatter their daughter's world. "No, no, no. She already lost Neal once. And if this is a game, we can't put her through losing him again."
"He's right." Hook chimed in when she made to protest. "Either way, telling her is what Pan wants, which is why we shouldn't do it."
Eyes darting between the two men, she quickly caught on to what was happening. "You want to find him without letting her know?"
"Why hurt her unnecessarily?" Hook asked.
"I've never lied to her before." She responded simply, unable to even think about keeping something from her precious daughter.
"You're not lying." Hook pointed out. "You're just keeping a secret until confirmation."
"Secrets always seem to keep us from the people we really care about." Her eyes went to her daughter, heart aching as her husband spoke.
"And sometimes secrets protect the people we love."
"Katerina," Jacquimo dogged her steps through the castle, ignoring her fervent attempts at shaking him off. The end of her pregnancy was fast approaching, and with it brought the growing danger of her deal with Pan being exposed. "Katerina, please! You must tell him!"
Coming to a sudden halt, she whirled to face her oldest and dearest friend. "How?!" She demanded shrilly, the tears already falling. Despite her best efforts, her nails scratched along the blackened veins that no amount of magic could erase. "How am I to tell the love of my life that I have as good as signed away the life of our child? That Pan will come for him the moment he is old enough?"
"You don't know that for sure," Jacquimo said, catching her trembling hands in his own. "You said Pan claimed the Law of Surprise, yes?" He waited for her sharp nod before adding, "he could ask for anything, Katerina. Anything. And you might not even have a boy - you might have a girl. Surely he would have no use for a girl."
Though it was clear even he himself wasn't entirely convinced, Katerina let herself believe in his words. Even though her mother had performed an old family spell that revealed the gender of the baby, revealing to all that it was going to be a boy, to Queen Tabitha's utter disappointment. The Kingdom of Corona had had an unbroken line of ruling Queens, dating back to their ancestor, Queen Kore.
Her relationship with mother had already been fraught with tension since her marriage to Beau, especially after she renounced her title as a princess in favor of the title she gained as Beau's wife. It had only worsened when the baby's sex was discovered. Terrified of what her parents would think, specifically her mother, if they found out about her deal frightened her more than Beau's reaction.
"I-I will tell him." She told Jacquimo, who watched her with sympathetic eyes. Her brother-in-law, despite everything, had been her closest friend since childhood. He had helped save her when she'd thought all was lost, and she bore him no ill will for what had happened with Pan. "After the baby is born." Her hand went to the swell of her belly, hidden beneath the layers of pink silk.
"When the baby is born."
As Emma continued her 'lesson' with Regina, Hook stood nearby the blonde woman's parents. As the trio discussed how best to keep the news of Neal's survival from Emma, while also planning out how to try and find Neal, their close proximity to one another and secretive whispers caught the attention of the very subject of conversation.
"If we're going to hide this, we need a good cover story." Mary Margaret muttered from behind David as he swung his satchel over his shoulder. Fiddling with the straps on his back, she absently made sure it was tight enough.
"Done." David agreed while Hook muttered, "That's not a problem."
"Where are you guys going?" Eyebrows raised, Emma approached with Regina just behind her. Both women watched as Hook and David threw out different answers, immediately glancing in slight panic at one another once they realized what they had done.
"While I find this beneath me," Regina drawled, hands planted firmly on her hips as Mary Margaret came out from behind her husband, eyes focused somewhere near Emma's booted feet. "I can't help but feel that you're hiding something."
"She's right." Emma frowned when none of the denied Regina's accusation. "Guys, what's going on?"
Unable to lie to her face, the words were out of her mouth before Mary Margaret could stop herself. "Neal's alive!"
Mouth dropping, Emma's gaze swept over the guilty faces before her. Both David and Hook were staring at Mary Margaret incredulously, who determinedly kept her eyes trained on her daughter.
"Neal i-is... alive?" Emma whispered the last word, heart seizing at the very thought of him. Though she'd kissed Hook, she knew the act had been a moment of passion, something she found she wasn't keen on repeating. Neal had, despite the life they had lived together, had been the constant she'd clung to until everything had been ripped away from her. "Really?"
"Maybe." Mary Margaret amended, finally looking away from her daughter's devastated face to peer at Hook and David. "Sorry," she whispered to them, "she deserved to know."
Seated on a rock, Gold reached out and closed his eyes. Focusing on trying to grasp hold of the threads of the future, he barely noticed when his arms began to shake from the strain. Since he'd been gifted the power of the Seer, he'd never had much trouble utilizing the gift and it alarmed him how difficult it was proving to be at the moment. So lost in the tangled webs, he didn't notice that someone had joined him in his camp.
Appearing in front of Gold, Pan stood with his head cocked to the side. He'd heard of Rumple's little gift, though was disappointed the older man didn't realize that his gift of premonition was absolutely useless on Neverland. With a sigh, he spoke, breaking Rumple's concentration.
"You can't see the future here." Watching boredly as Rumple startled and scrambled to stand, putting distance between them, Pan continued. "It's impossible to see the future in a place where time stands still."
"I may not see the future here, but I can make one happen." Gold growled at the immortal teenager, who looked rather unconcerned.
"Was that a threat?" Pan queried, voice shaking with laughter. He sobered abruptly, his mood swings forcing another scowl out of Rumple. "And here I made you your favorite breakfast." Gesturing down at the fire, he watched how Rumple was unable to hide his reaction at the small skillet that was suddenly perched above the flames. "Eggs in a basket. I thought you could use it. You looked a little down in the dumps."
Judging by the uneven breathes he was beginning to take, Pan judged that Rumple was not fine. As it had with every little reminder of their shared history, every pointed barb or strategically placed doll, Pan could see that Rumple was slowly unravelling. Part of him, the same part that hated what he was doing to Lily, cried out at the torment he was putting Rumple through. But, as always, he shoved it aside and buried it deeply within him.
He was so close to having it all, and refused to allow a past life to get in his way.
Scoffing, Pan smiled cruelly. "Sure you are, Rumple. You've lost your son Neal. Again." Toying with the idea of bringing Lily up, he decided against it. The point of this was to needle Rumple into leaving, not send him into a spitting rage. And Henry's unattainable because... wel, you'd have to go through me. And we both know you can't." He reminded Rumple darkly, bending down to pluck up one of the eggs. "You still like the yolk runny, right?"
Flinching away from Pan's proximity when he offered the egg, Gold found his voice. "What do you want?"
"Well, if you won't eat, then I will." Biting into the breakfast with relish, he began to pace. "I'm just trying to point out the silver lining in your cloudy life."
"That by killing you, all our troubles end?"
Returning the egg back to the skillet, Pan straightened and laughed. "We both know that's not going to happen. After all, imagine how devastated my princess would be." Smiling nowhere in sight, something dark overtook Pan's features. "Especially because the only way to do that is for you to die, too." Pressing the advantage, Pan inched closer. "You can go. Leave the Island."
"And abandon my son? Lillian and Henry?" There was a dangerous gleam in Pan's eyes at the mention of Lillian. Though it made him half sick to think about, Gold acknowledged he would and had reacted in a similar manner when someone tried to separate Belle from him. "I don't think so."
"Look," Pan rolled his eyes at the seriousness of Rumple's words. "Even if you did save them… which you won't… what would be the point? They'll never forgive you for all the horrible things you've done."
"You don't know that." Gold muttered through numbed lips. While he had spent enough time in denial over the consequences of his choices, he truly believed his family would forgive him if he managed to pull off saving them all.
"And have you forgiven father?" His barbed words had their intended effect, and Pan watched solemnly as Rumple's face became a mask of grief. "You see my point? Back to that silver lining then..." Abruptly changing the subject, Pan blithely continued ignoring the pain radiating off the man before him. "You have a nice girl waiting for you back in Storybrooke. Belle, isn't it? Stop this foolishness and go back to her." Though he knew no one would believe him, Pan truly meant what he was saying. If he could save Rumple from being doomed, he would. "Make a new start. She looks fertile. Maybe a new child? You and I both know that's the only future for you... Assuming you want to live."
Watching the horror bloom on Rumple's face, Pan stepped back satisfied that he'd accomplished what he'd set out to do. Without Rumple on the island, it was almost certain that Lily and Henry would never leave its shores. Though he had sensed a shift in Lily's behavior, she hadn't come to the treehouse the previous night, he knew all it would take was a little time. Turning to leave, Pan tossed over his shoulder.
"Enjoy the eggs."
"This is a waste of time." Regina snarled at the Charmings plus Hook, enraged that they even considered playing right into Pan's hand. "He's toying with us."
"I don't think so." Mary Margaret went to where she'd seen the broken branches and disturbed dirt at the edge of the camp. "Look, more scuffling. Someone was definitely resisting."
Though David and Hook went to get a closer look, Emma and Regina stayed put.
"How do we know that means it was Neal?"
Mary Margaret went to her daughter. "We, then someone was fighting for his life."
Turning to Emma, Regina tried to reason with her. "Are you really going to fall for this?" Taking in Emma's wide, reddened eyes and too pale face, Regina had her answer. "Fine. You wanna follow the evil munchkin's dirt road? Be my guest."
"Wait," Emma called as Regina made to go around David and Hook. "Where are you going?"
"To save Lillian and our son."
"We need to stick together."
"No, we don't." Regina returned with a bitter laugh, tired of these little games. While she knew her status as an outsider looking in would never change, she refused to allow any more detours that were becoming more numerous by the day. They had been on Neverland for over a week and had little to show for it. "You may be prepared to risk the lives of my children over some heartbroken fool's errand, but I'm not. I'm tired of waiting around." Lips pursed, she stomped away from the camp, deciding to find Gold and save Henry and Lillian.
Swallowing thickly, Emma forced herself to turn from Regina's retreating back. "What if she's right? Pan could be lying."
Mary Margaret gently shook her head with a small, barely there smile. "Just because it seems too good to be true doesn't mean it is. Don't give up." Fear was written clearly on her daughter's face, and she longed to smooth it away. "You owe it to Henry to find out if his father's still alive, and you owe it to yourself."
Even though he still wasn't sure it hadn't been a trick, Henry told Lillian about the message from his mothers and grandmother the first chance he got. Her eyes widened, revealing far too much white, and she swiftly demanded that he take her to where he'd thrown the broken mirror. It had shattered from the fall, and she touched it with hesitant fingers, jaw going slack when she felt the traces of residual magic.
"Regina enchanted this," Lillian whispered as she pulled her tingling fingers away from the mirror. "This isn't a trick Henry. They're here."
His pale face lit up at her words, and she slipped her arms around him when he hugged her. Chin resting on his head, she glanced up to meet Luca. His smile faded when he caught sight of her severe expression, twisting into something serious that made her hold Henry all the more tightly.
They were hiding something from her, and she was going to find out what it was.
Spyglass raised to his eye, Peter watched with amusement as Hook led the Charming family on their way through the jungle. "Look at them go." He sighed, pocketing the tarnished spyglass. "So determined to find their missing friend."
"Speaking of that friend." The rescue attempts of the Charmings and the Evil Queen didn't really interest him; what did, was how they were going to thwart said attempts at rescue. "What should we do with Neal?"
"It's time to move him." Peter announced, mouth twisted into something sharp. "Take him to the Echo Caves." His chest warmed, prompting him to twist his head around to see Lillian storming their way. "The game is about to get interesting."
Gazing down at the doll in his hands, Gold didn't stir when Belle appeared beside him on the rock. While part of him knew the vision had been brought on by his magic, he couldn't bring himself to stop it from manifesting. He missed Belle with a fierceness that left him aching and hollow, and refused to give up the lifeline until he did what he had come to Neverland to do.
"You don't know what to do, do you?" Belle asked quietly, hands clasped demurely in front of her.
"No," he muttered. His mind hadn't stopped moving since Pan had left the clearing. "I don't."
"Come home to Storybrooke." She said it simply enough, as if it was the most obvious choice.
"And just leave... just leave Henry and my family behind?"
"Come with me, and we can start a new family." She offered a hand to him. "Our own family. That's what I want." Her face twisted in pain when he did nothing but stare at her in growing discomfort. "Don't you?
"No, you... you can't want anything." Gold said earnestly, knowing within his heart that Belle could not possibly have made it to Neverland. While he didn't deny that the vision before him spoke his innermost desires, the way it was acting alarmed him. "You're just a figment of my self-conscious."
"No. No, I'm really here." The vision told him, shaking her head as she raised a hand to cup hs cheek. Eyes closing at the touch, he missed the way 'Belle' smiled. "Take my hand. Believe in our love, and we can go back." Holding out her hand beseechingly, she pleaded in a whisper. "Take it, Rumple. Please. Come home to me."
Torn, Gold raised his hand and let it hover over Belle's, on the verge of accepting her offer before she began to gasp, clutching at her throat.
"Enough of this." Regina's voice snapped through the air like a whip as she entered the clearing. One hand extended, she held 'Belle' by the throat and squeezed.
"Regina!" Gold's head snapped between the stern faced queen and a gasping, panicked Belle as she was forced to her knees.
Shooting her old mentor a sneer, Regina mocked, "Are you really going to fall for this?"
"Rumple, st-stop her." Belle wheezed, hands clawing at her throat.
"Don't listen to him." Regina snapped when it looked as if Gold planned on going to the vision's side.
"What are you doing?"
Regina's hand closed into a fist. "Showing you the truth." Grabbing hold of her former teacher with he free hand, she held onto his shoulder tightly. "Look who you're really dealing with."
Feeling as though he'd been punched in the stomach, Gold watched as the glamour fell in a swirl of grey smoke, revealing the Shadow. "Pan." He whispered as the silver-eyed Shadow glowered at them before flying off into the night.
Gauging that she and her mother were far enough away from David and Hook, Emma turned to her mother and hissed, "I kissed him."
"What?" Bewildered, Mary Margaret stopped in her tracks to face her guilt-ridden daughter. "Who?"
"Hook." Pursing her lips, Emma forced herself to meet her mother's eye. "I kissed Hook."
Letting out an 'oh' of surprise, Mary Margaret studied her intently. "Well... why?"
"I... I don't know." Exhaling deeply, Emma tried to find the right words. "I-I was... it's been a while. I was feeling good. I... I don't really know, actually."
Ever since their introduction in the Enchanted Forest, one would have been blind to see the way Hook looked at Emma. While she hadn't paid too much attention to it, Mary Margaret wondered if maybe she should have. With everything that had happened between the breaking of the Curse and their current situation, her daughter's love life hadn't really been something she considered her business. Especially since she'd assumed Emma and Neal were in the process of rekindling their romance after Lillian revealed Tamara's deception.
"Did it mean anything?" Mary Margaret gently pressed as they started walking again, determined to help her figure things out.
Brow furrowed, Emma once more went over the kiss in her head. It had been passionate, rough and heavy, and she would be lying if she said she wasn't attracted to Hook. However, she also knew she was still in love with Neal, and was wary of another relationship while still figuring out her current situation. Plus, she wasn't entirely sure of Hook's motives, though she knew he was primarily there for Lillian.
"I... I don't know. It-it was just a kiss..." She whispered weakly, eyes fixed miserably ahead of them.
Mary Margaret smiled wryly. "I'm sure Neal will understand."
"If he's still alive."
"Emma, I get what you're doing, you know." Stopping, she waited until Emma turned to face her. "You don't want to open yourself up to the hope that he's alive, but you should."
"Because you deserve a happy ending, Emma. And happy endings always start with hope."
Sending his Shadow to look into the matter of whether or not Katerina had given birth yet, Pan awaited its return sitting on the branches of his Thinking Tree. It had been quite some time since he had looked into that state of affairs, and he was anxious for the promise Katerina had made to be fulfilled. The Law of Surprise was an old, rather archaic covenant that not many used, and fewer still even knew what it was.
Katerina had stilled when he'd asked such a thing, and he'd known by the way her expression closed that she knew exactly what it was. For saving her life, Pan expected something that she did not yet have, something she wouldn't be able have, if he had let her die. Before the Shadow had shown him what awaited him if he let Katerina live, he'd been prepared to give her and her little bird safe passage back to the Enchanted Forest and be left to her own fate.
The blue-eyed girl haunted his dreams, and he believed the Shadow when it claimed said girl would help him cheat death. With every year that passed, the hourglass continued to empty, and he could feel the drain on his power. While patience had never been his strong suit, he knew he had to play the waiting game for his plans to work.
As the Shadow returned and they touched hands, he scowled at the vision of a ruddy, grey-eyed boy in Katerina's arms. The woman in question looked as haggard as one would expect after giving birth, and there was an edge of terror in her every movement that she couldn't quite hide.
Teeth clenched, Pan withdrew from the Shadow and jerked his head, watching as it flew off. Scowling, he stepped off the branches of his Tree, landing upright on the ground before he stalked back to the camp.
As Lillian approached, Peter quickly moved to head her off. She was far enough way that the cages were hidden, and he would rather keep her in the dark about their prisoners until he was sure she wouldn't overreact. Reaching out for her, he stilled when she stopped out of reach of his hands, arms crossed tightly as if to ward him off.
"Lily, what is it?" He asked warily, glancing behind her to see Henry and Luca hanging back. Stepping closer, he watched her tense, smirking when she refused to step back. Raising a hand, he held her cheek, thumb stroking her bottom lip. "Love?"
"Don't call me that." She snapped, swatting his hand away. Startled, he stepped away to fully look at her and swallowed. "You don't get to call me that, not after what you've done."
"What I've done?"
"You kidnapped Henry. You kidnapped me!" Her features twisted with loathing, though he sensed the hurt hidden underneath. She had missed him, that much he knew, and was more than a little angry at herself for how easily she'd given into his manipulations. "You know what, I don't really care about me. What I care about is Henry, and why you want him. So for once, you're going to tell me the truth instead of spouting off more convenient lies and half-truths!"
Hands on her hips, Regina glowered at the shell of a man before her. "What is this? Amateur hour?" She spat acidly when her continued to stare at the spot 'Belle' had been. "Did you really believe that was Belle?"
Tearing his gaze away from the ground, Gold snapped, "Why are you here?"
"Well, for starters, it appears I'm saving your ass." She returned evenly, pointing accusingly. "You were about to be Pan's lunch."
"Oh, what do you care?" He sneered, turning to walk away from her.
Scoffing, she glared at his back. "I care because I've been camping with the Charmings for a week and getting nowhere." Following him, she continued. "If we're gonna get Henry and Lillian, I need you. I need Rumpelstiltskin."
"Well, the problem, dearie, is that Rumpelstiltskin can only stop Pan by dying." He told her through gritted teeth.
"You're not gonna die at anyone's hands but my own." Managing to keep herself from rolling her eyes at his defeatist attitude, she lowered her voice. "We're two of the most powerful practitioners of magic who have ever lived. The Evil Queen and the Dark One joining forces?" She posed the rhetorical question, gesturing between them. "I'd say we can find another way to handle one smug teenager that doesn't include you dying."
"You've never faced him, I have! And I know what killing him requires." Judging by the way she was eyeing him, it was clear Regina didn't believe his heated declarations. Thankfully, she didn't press for an answer, likely assuming he was being dramatic. "And that, dearie, means my life."
Holding his gaze with dark, intense eyes, Regina's brow creased when he looked away first. Turning to go back to his little campfire, leaving her to look at his back, inspiration struck her. "Well, as much as I want to, maybe we don't have to kill him. If that's the case, then," sighing deeply, she briefly though about what harming Pan would do to Lillian. "Maybe we can find another way - something to contain him, some other fate."
Listening intently, Gold muttered, "a fate worse than death?"
Startled that he was participating, Regina stared in surprise for several heartbeats before smiling. "Now we're talkin'. There's the malevolent imp." She stepped closer. "Is there a spell you know, something we can enact?"
"No. But back in my shop, I might have just the thing."
"Well, why didn't you bring it with you in the first place?!" She found it rather difficult not to smack him upside the head.
"Because I came here to kill him and die in the process!" He reminded her, ignoring the way she rolled her eyes with a chuckle.
"Well, I could've told you that wasn't gonna happen." She craned her neck to look at his back as he paced. "You forget, dear. I've known you a long time. I know all about your survival instincts."
"Yeah, well they just kicked in."
She smirked at his soft whisper. "Good. So, now we just need a change of plans. We need to get back to your shop, pick up this magical item, and then all of our problems are solved."
Spinning on his heel, he eyed her in frank disbelief. "Crossing realms? Is that all?"
"Yes," she nodded, lips quirking in a smile as she realized just how they were going to pull this off. "That's all."
Following the tracks through the jungle, Mary Margaret led them up to a small cave opening. It was small and unassuming, and they wouldn't have looked at it twice had Hook not informed them of its true nature.
"The tracks lead directly into that cave." Holding up her lantern, Mary Margaret frowned at the way the darkness of the cave sucked in the light. "This must be where Pan is keeping Neal."
David moved closer to study it. "If the cave is some sort of prison, why aren't there any guards posted to stop us?"
"Because this prison doesn't require guards." Hook move to the forefront of the group, staring at said prison with slight terror. Sighing deeply, he stared into the darkness and suppressed a shiver. "Echo Cave."
Mary Margaret seized onto the tone of his voice. "You know it?"
"All too well." Twisting his neck, he met her eye. "I lost half my crew inside those rock walls." Watching their reactions, he explained, "the only way to rescue someone from inside is to reveal a secret."
"A secret?" Mary Margaret pulled back, blinking. "That's all?"
"You darkest secret. The Echo Cave derives its name from an old saying. 'The deeper the lie, the more truth in its echo'." It somewhat alarmed him at how unimpressed Emma appeared, though he could see Mary Margaret taking his words seriously. The last thing he wanted was to lose any of them on this journey; Lily would never forgive him. "The cave demands that you reveal a truth about yourself. A secret you would never admit to anyone."
"This is ridiculous." Emma snapped, eyes narrowed in irritation at what she viewed as Hook's attempts to mess with them. She ignored the clear unease in his body language, convinced he was putting on a good show.
"Don't kill the messenger, luv."
"Even if we spill our guts, how do we even know Neal's still alive in there?" She challenged with narrow eyes.
"Because this is what Pan wants. He wants us to rescue him."
"Why?" David asked.
"So that we reveal our secrets." While Emma still looked unimpressed, both her parents wore grave, unsettled expressions. "He believes once we do, our secrets will destroy us."
Having done everything in his power to keep Pan from claiming his Law of Surprise, Rumpelstiltskin found himself on edge with every year that passed with Lilith under his tutelage. He wanted her powerful and, assuming Pan would be interested in her family's famous healing magic, worked to suppress the light magic within her. She took to magic, particularly dark magic, like a fish to water.
Even at a young age, she was ripping out hearts and casting curses on those who dared to renege on their deals with him.
Though there were a few setbacks, ones that were swiftly resolved once he gifted her the ring the Black Fairy's spawn had placed on her mother's finger, within a few years he had all but snuffed out the light within her. Pan would never be able to use Lilith's magic to keep himself alive.
Rumpelstiltskin had made sure of it.
Though he clearly didn't relish his duty as a guide, Hook took the lead and trudged into the Echo Cave. Emma followed him closely, looking around at the unremarkable walls. As they rounded a corner, they came to a stop before a large ravine that, when she peered over the edge, Emma couldn't see an end to. Across the way, in a cage settled on a pillar, was Neal.
Staring at the defeated looking man slumped in the cage, Mary Margaret's gaze swept to her daughter's tense shoulders, to the worry in her husband's face. Emma stared, unable to believe what she was seeing. Breath catching when Neal slowly raised his head, she blinked rapidly as their eyes met.
Rearing back from the force of his echoing shout, Emma gasped. "Neal."
Hook didn't need to look at Emma to know how Neal's desperate shout affected her. While he had originally thought his attraction to her just that, after their kiss he knew it was growing into something more. Now, faced with the truth that she still loved her son's father, he struggled with what he knew would be said in the next few minutes if they had any hope of getting Neal out.
"It must be a hundred feet across," Mary Margaret guessed, looking for any kind of way to make it to Neal.
"Even if we fashioned some sort of rope, there's nothing to attach it to. No way to swing over."
Wide-eyed, Emma tried to keep a lid on her growing terror. "So, what do we do?"
Hook's gaze remained focused on Neal. "I told you what needs to be done." Finally looking down, he swallowed. "Consider this the moment of truth, literally. So," forcing a smile, he turned. "Who wants to kick things off?"
"So, what?" Emma glared up at him. "Someone tells their secret and they sprout wings?"
"I don't know the particulars, only what I've been told. Lily got stuck in here once, had to face some hard truths about herself and, in the process, nearly drank away half of my rum."
"I don't think Pan would have left her in here, so how do you know that her revealing a secret actually worked?" David asked, unable to keep out the bitterness over Lillian's secret relationship with Pan.
"There's only one way to find out, I suppose." Inhaling deeply, and dimly wishing he wasn't so close to the edge, Hook began. "I kissed Emma."
"You did what?" David demanded loudly as his daughter and wife rolled their eyes.
Said wife shook her head resignedly. "David, now is not the time."
"I already told Mary Margaret." Looking anywhere but at Hook, Emma finally glanced to meet his earnest gaze. "So, technically it's not a secret. Besides, it was just a kiss. How is that your darkest secret?"
"It's what the kiss exposed." Holding her uncomfortable gaze, Hook focused on Emma and her alone as he spoke. "My secret is, I never thought I'd be capable of letting go of my first love... of my Milah. To believe that I could find someone else, that is, until I met you."
Looking past his shoulder at Neal, whose expression she couldn't make out, Emma could feel the burn in her eyes. She hadn't meant anything with the kiss, anything beyond instant gratification. While she was flattered that Hook seemed to have taken more than a passing interest in her, she wasn't sure how she felt about the full extent of his feelings. Swallowing thickly, she was relieved when the ground beneath their feet began to shake. As the quaking began to subside, they all watched at the small bridge began to form between their spot and Neal's.
"Uh," seizing the moment, David moved to the forefront of the group and faced his wife. "Mary Margaret..."
"No, no. No. Me next." Wetting her lips, she stared at her husband's chest, unable to face him as she began. "Ever since the Curse broke, since we found each other, since we found Emma..." She raised her eyes to meet first David, then Emma's gaze. "And all of that happiness, there is something I haven't wanted to admit. Our daughter is a beautiful, smart, amazing woman," seeking Emma's eyes, Mary Margaret prayed she wouldn't see hurt in them. "Whom I love very much and of whom I could not be more proud. But, she's all grown up. And... as much as I wanna pretend I'm okay with that, I'm not."
Staring at David's shirt again, she shook her head and glanced up. "We missed it, David. What we have with her is unique, but it's not what I wanted. We were cheated out of everything... her first step, her first word, her first smile. We missed it all."
"What are you saying."
"When we get off this island and get back to Storybrooke, I want another go at it. I wanna have another baby."
As soon as the words left her mouth, the ground began to shake again. Stumbling as the bridge extended further toward them, David returned his attention to his wife, noting the stubborn set of her jaw as she refused to shed a tear.
"Nothing in this world would make me happier," he whispered, while Hook looked on at them sadly. "And I know with all my heart that you would make... an amazing mother." He smiled widely, throat burning. "But it can never happen... at least not with me."
Mary Margaret's smile faded. "What do you mean?"
David looked down. "When Hook and I went to search for the sextant, he was really taking me to find a cure."
Lips pressed together in a thin line, she asked, "A cure for what?"
"Dreamshade." Watching the hope die in her eyes was like a knife to the gut.
"The lost boys." She spat through numb lips, shaking her head in denial. "The arrow - you pushed me out of the way..."
"I wasn't fast enough. I was hit." Ashamed that he had hidden this from her for so long, he drop her stormy gaze. "Hook was able to find a cure, but it comes at a price. I can't leave Neverland. If I do, I'll die."
For a third time, the entire cave shook as the bridge finally finished forming. Gaze sweeping over her three companions, Emma nodded and unsheathed her sword before she carefully crossed the bridge. Racing the last half to kneel in front of the cage, she reached out to touch Neal's fingers. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Neal breathed harshly, "But Henry... I-"
"It's okay. We're gonna take care of him." She eyed the cage and raised the sword. "Just need to get you out of her first." Rising, she began to hack at the cage, snarling in frustration when the blade did nothing to it.
"Wha - Emma. Emma, Emma!" Neal shouted over her rising frustration, peering up at her as she stopped swinging. "You know that's not how this works." Panting heavily, she exhaled and fell to her knees beside the cage, gripping onto the bars. "It's okay," he encouraged gently. "You can tell me anything."
"When I heard you might be here, and that you might still be alive, I knew I should be happy. But I wasn't." Blinking back tears, Emma continued miserably. "I didn't understand why until now. From the moment I saw you in New York, in the instant you stepped back into my life, I knew. I knew I'd never stopped loving you." Watching for his reaction, Emma bit back a sob as the tears formed in his eyes. "And even before I had a chance to take a breath, I... I lost you again, and all that pain that I had pushed down for all those years it... it just came rushing back! And I-I didn't know if I could go through it again. I love you." Voice breaking, Emma smiled. "I probably always will. But my secret... Is that I was hoping that this was a trick. I was hoping you were dead. Because it would be easier for me to put you behind me than to face all the pain that we went through all over again."
The moment the cage dissolved, Neal surged forward. Clinging to him tightly, Emma pressed her face into his shoulder as he rubbed a hand soothingly up and down her back. Whispering quiet assurances into her ear as she quietly cried, neither paid much attention to the trio waiting for them across the bridge. Pulling apart, the pair swiftly crossed the bridge and led the others out of the cave, all relieved to put the terrible place behind them.
As he inhaled the fresh air deeply, Neal turned to nod at Hook and Emma's parents. "Thank you."
"Well, don't thank us yet." David clapped a hand on his shoulder. "We still have to save Henry."
"We found your star map," Hook nodded at Neal's raised brow. "So, the question is, do you know how to get off this island?"
"If we can find Henry and Lillian, I can get us home."
Nodding, Hook gestured back the way they had come. "Well, then let's go get Tinker Bell and... retrieve the boy." Taking the lead once more, he turned and headed into the jungle, Mary Margaret and David just behind him.
Hanging back, Emma waited until they were out of earshot before speaking. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"About what I said..."
"Hey, hey. Emma, it's okay." Neal assured her, reaching out a hand.
Scowling, she took it. "No, it's not. I wish I could change how I feel more than anything but... I can't. I'm sorry." She whispered, miserable.
"Don't be. After everything I've put you through, you don't ever have to apologize to me about how you feel." He squeezed her hand, letting go when she pulled away. "Hey, I'm glad you told me. I have a secret too, Emma. I'm never gonna stop fighting for you. Never."
Unaware they were being watched, Neal followed after the others, leaving Emma to stare after him. Hook swallowed at the sight of them together before he made himself turn away from the willowy blonde.
Walking behind his wife, David tried to catch her eye with little success. "Look, I know I should've told you..."
"Don't." Mary Margaret shut him down flatly, refusing to even look at him. "Just... not now."
As they walked along the pebbled shoreline, Gold watched frowning as Regina knelt to pick up a conch shell. "If you think summoning a giant squid if the answer, I've already tried that."
"Oh, you've had fun, haven't you?" She asked archly, turning the shell over in her hands. "I have no intention of ordering calamari." Raising the opening to her lips, she began to whisper into it. Watching the rippling water avidly, she smirked as something red broke the surface. "Hello, Ariel. Long time."
Gold eyed the furious looking mermaid warily. "It's true that mermaids can travel across realms." He admitted. "But they can't be trusted."
"This one can." Regina assured him. "We have history together."
"Well, that would explain the distasteful look on her face."
Regina ignored the dig. "And now, she's going to help us."
Face pinkening with rage, the mermaid's mouth open but no sound came out. Stopping abruptly in what Gold was sure was an angry tirade against the woman beside him, Ariel placed a hand on her throat.
"Oh, right." Regina extended a hand. "Your voice."
"Why would I help you!" Ariel shouted, stiffening at the sound of her own voice.
"Because I can give you what you want." Twisting her hand again, Regina conjured the shell bracelet and placed it in Ariel's open palm. "I can give you legs, Ariel, and this time, control over them." She promised as the mermaid glared daggers at both her and the cursed bracelet. "But more importantly, I can give you what you need most."
"The place I'm sending you - among its residents - is your prince Eric."
Expression stony, Ariel asked, "What's the name of this place?"
Knowing she'd successfully reeled the mermaid in, Regina allowed a satisfied smile. "Storybrooke."
Thoughts? Comments? Questions?