He is in the bathroom.
He is completely blindsided.
He is in utter disbelief.
He is hiding.
He is in the bathroom –
And he has a daughter.
At the very least, he thinks, now I know what Emma felt like then.
For years – during every family gathering, every hometown visit and every holiday – they’d gather round at Granny’s and recount all their great adventures together, never failing to recall the one that started it all of course, his journey to finding his birth mom.
I love you, kid, she’d tell him, but you gotta work on your delivery! She’d chide with a sarcastic roll of her eyes, one that he’d return as she ruffled his hair, but unfailingly accompanied by an affectionate smile on her lips and tender swipe of her thumb across his cheek.
He used to love those moments.
(Used to, but not anymore. Not since –)
But now… now–
I’m Lucy. I’m your daughter.
–now he has a child of his own, apparently. A girl.
She is all dark eyes, golden skin and bouncing curls, and no matter how many times he tries to suppress the memories, flashes of similar features that should have been a blur from 10 years ago stand out sharply and contrasted in his mind.
(His head wants to forget, but his heart – spun from light and belief – his foolish, foolish heart, won’t let him)
“Hey, do you have any food in here? I’m starving!” There’s a scuffle, rubber skidding across the linoleum of the kitchen floor then the creak of a cabinet door before she calls out again, “Never mind, found some!”
Her voice pierces through the narrow wood of the bathroom door and despite the crippling panic that endeavors to grab him and bring him to his knees, he cannot help the brief flicker of a smile that steals across his lips.
A smile that threatens to grow once he’s stepped out and seen that she’s helped herself to the strawberry Poptarts that he himself had just been about to partake in for a meager dinner.
But he doesn’t let his amusement show. Instead, chooses to adopt a stern expression as he asks her who she really is, what she’s doing there and what she actually wants.
His expression turns graver as she insists upon her earlier truth, his daughter, god, as she spins a tale of curses that span realms and a Darkness that threatens to consume and he needs to go, and it’s all too familiar, all too real and all too painful.
Despite his gut urging him to listen, to trust her, to believe (his heart begins a low beat, thrumming in a way it hasn’t for a long time), he just
refuses doesn’t. he pulls a page out of his birth mom’s book and makes to call CPS. His hand closes round his phone except –
– except she whispers the word, carrying it right across the space between them, and his heart thuds even harder against his ribcage.
It’s not even the word or the way she’s said it that does him in, rather it’s the unspoken I need you that hangs in the air – echoing loudly in his ears she might as well have shouted it, and worming right into his beaten heart.
He doesn't believe her, really. He doesn't. But even the smallest possibility that she could be telling the truth, that she might actually be his, their, kid tugs at a part of him he's afraid is already crumbling in resolve, and he finds he can't refuse her.
(He ignores the voice in his head, one whom he hasn't thought of in years and sounds awfully like his grandmother, that whispers at the power of the possibility of belief.)
“Where do I need to go?”
He feels himself blanche. It’s one word but it’s everything. Home, he thinks. He used to believe he knew where that was. He used to believe that home would always be there, waiting for him. He used to believe home was Storybrooke. Then he found himself changing that belief and home became her.
He used to believe a lot of things.
And now he doesn’t.
He looks at her, her dark brown eyes wide and imploring and he feels his resolve slip. He tells her to grab her coat and her answering whoop makes something in his battered and bruised heart stir.
“I still don’t believe you, you know.”
The way she smiles, the curling of the corner of her mouth familiar and causing him to gulp down the memories that suddenly crash over him, makes him think that he fools no one, not her and most especially, not himself.
“Sure,” she quips with a trademark roll of her eyes.
Damn, she is my kid. The thought enters his mind unbidden and he falters, struggles against the urge to bring a hand to his chest as his heart flutters timidly but rapidly inside him.
Believe, it whispers. Believe.
As they go out of his shoddy apartment complex, he asks her what she’s clutching and she shows him the unfamiliar, white bookbinding but the incredibly familiar lettering and he feels himself stutter.
Believe, his heart begins to chant.
But his heart has been too still, too broken, darkened as it is by anger and grief and longing and so he just doesn't. He doesn't want to is the thing and he isn't ready for this. He isn't ready to dive headfirst into what is undoubtedly another pool of heartache, not again and maybe not ever.
They step into the dark and cold night and onto the sidewalk where they have to cross to get to his car. So focused is he on trying to drown out his traitorous heart that he nearly misses the way her hand instinctively closes around his as they cross the street.
He succeeds, for the most part, in steadying his heart into a dull thrum.
But whatever short progress he makes dwindles when in that one simple contact, coupled with the excited spring in her step as she innocently sways their arms between them when they cross, he feels his heart truly begin to start again.
(Believe, believe, believe)
They set off onto the road, him insisting that he's only doing this cause someone (he refuses to think it's her because she would tell him, right? But also refuses to think of the permanent alternative and so doesn't dare dwell on that at all) is looking for her and he should at least get her home.
She obviously sees through him cause all she does is giggle. He keeps driving.
His heart thunders in his chest.
(Believing in even the possibility of a happy ending is a powerful thing)
And when she shoots him a look, the dazzling gleam in her eyes loaded with unfettered hope. He thinks, maybe… maybe.
Believe, believe, BELIEVE –
He just might.