Neal enjoyed the sunset on his walk home.
The last couple of days had been a rollercoaster ride. Hearing about everything that happened after he died was weird. What was he supposed to think of Gideon coming to Storybrooke as an adult under the control of the grandmother from hell and his father was a savior for like a second. He always knew his father’s fears fought against the purest part of his heart. Rumplestilskin love for his family always triumphed. Well, eventually.
Keeping it a secret from his mom was wrong but he didn’t know how he felt about it and unleashing the whole sordid tale upon her seemed just as bad. Whatever peace his parents had negotiated, their relationship remained strained and conversations between the two sometimes deteriorated into metaphorical slings and arrows.
Then again, they could fight each other with real weapons.
So Neal felt grateful, to be alive and that he and Emma had resolved their own issues.
“Another day closeted with your father.”
Neal turned to find his mother marching her way back to the cabin. “Hey. Where did you set up today?”
After a deeply theatrical exhale Milah gave him a displeased stare as she swung a canvas with each step.
“Let me see.”
She flipped the canvas to reveal the rocky outcropping west of the castle. “You don’t have to deflect. You can simply tell me to mind my own business.”
“Mom, that’s not it.” Neal studied the painting.
“You’re keeping secrets. I suppose the royal family doesn’t consider me important enough to be kept informed.” She sniffed at the end.
He checked her face for tears but all he found was anger.
“Yeah, I’m keeping a secret,” he conceded. “But it has nothing to do with how the royal family sees you. There’s still too much we don’t know. Honestly, it’s not an emergency so we’re waiting to speak to both you and Killian at the same time when he gets back. It’s a lot to tell over and over again.”
“So I get to know when the princess decides it’s okay and can ogle my husband.” Milah’s comment dripped with disdain.
“Actually, Emma voted to tell you now but you’re my mother and they left the decision up to me.” He took the heavy paint box from her. “And considering you are willing to lie to an entire kingdom about your ‘husband’ to ‘give you time and support’, I thought I was doing you a favor.”
“Oh my.” Milah swung the canvas again. “You sound like me and your father for once.”
“Fine.” She brushed her hair over her shoulder. “I trust you.”
“You can trust Emma as well you know.” He slowed to match her steps. “Do you even know why you dislike her so much?”
Milah opened her mouth to respond.
“Don’t say it’s cause she’s a princess or because everyone does as she says or any of that other bullshit. You’re smarter and kinder than that.”
“I don’t want to think about it.”
“Afraid of the answer?”
“Maybe.” Milah sighed. “Maybe it’s the way they look at each other.”
“Killian and Emma?”
“See I didn’t have to say who and you knew.”
Neal shrugged and the two walked in silence for a bit. He looked up as they came to the clearing in front of his cabin in the woods. It lacked New York pizza and other amenities but he was figuring out what kind of life he wanted in the Enchanted Forest. Moreover, he had a place to miss whenever he went away.
“No, you didn’t have to name names,” he finally responded to her. “Were the two of you ever like that?” He looked at her when she didn’t utter a sound, her lips tightened into a straight line. “We weren’t, Emma and me, not like that really.” He pulled her to a stop. “I want it though. A connection that exists no matter what else or who else is in the room. I’ve just started figuring this shit out, you know, my happy ending. I’m going to do it no matter what else happens.”
“Good for you.”
“You can do it with me.” He nudged her side with the box of paints. “Because being surrounded by this nonsensical group that is our family is totally a part of that happiness. So you know, my happiness includes you.”
Milah nudged him back. “I’ll try.”
“Good.” Neal pushed open the door. “By the way, you know Lumiere totally has a thing for you…”
“Oh, shut up.”
Voices echoed through Killian’s sleeping mind and his eyes stirred behind his lids trying to track the words in the dark.
Anna and Elsa were... He hesitated to call it bickering. Though the words were flung about with astounding speed neither sounded aggravated and honestly, the two women constantly broke out in giggles. He didn’t think they had him in the barn though he could hear the occasional grumble by Sven.
His situation was greatly disconcerting.
Killian understood each groan and neigh and he desperately wished it to be completely in his head. Surely the two royal sisters didn’t let the reindeer into the castle.
Then he remembered who he was dealing with.
His mind surfaced from the deep black sleep and the weak light of the room blinded him. He promptly closed his eyes and boosted himself up in the bed. Before he could blink to fully adjust to the light, a smallish form threw themselves at him.
“Have you ever been able to control your sister, Elsa?” His voice weakened by his dry throat. He patted Anna on the back. “Good to see you again, Anna.”
She leaped off the bed and chattered away at him. The room focused just as Sven groaned in response to Anna and he winced trying to raise one brow.
“Anna,” she interrupted. “I sure Killian is hungry and thirsty and you know, maybe Sven would like to go to the barn for his carrots?”
The reindeer rushed from the room and Anna followed.
“Thanks,” he said.
“I owe you.” Elsa came to the side of the bed. “What do you remember?”
He looked in awe as he stretched out the fingers of his left hand. “Where is it?”
She nodded at the pillows and Killian reached underneath to pull out his hook.
“So, Captain, what will you do now?”
“I wish I had a simple answer.” He twisted his hook and took a deep breath. “What I want to do? I want to go find my wife” – he exhaled with a shudder – “my pregnant wife, and never leave her again.”
“What’s stopping you?” Elsa gave him a concerned look.
“I could pretend that I care whether or not she fully remembers me, but I don’t.” He got out the bed and stretched his arms above his head. “Without my memory, I managed to get my hands on her twice and I didn’t want to let go either time. Not quite sure how I managed to walk away. Now, now there’s no way I’d let go.”
“There are other excuses – her thinking I’m married to someone else and the drama of that situation.” Killian crossed the room to lean out the window. “Fact is, without remember what we are to each other, I’ve been a fool who hasn’t been able to hide his fascination with Swan since we met. Even with the promise I made.”
“You made promises to her first.” There was a knock at the door and Elsa went to open it. Anna came in with a tray of food.
“Hey Captain, I filled this for you.” Anna tossed him his flask.
He pulled the cork out with his teeth, saluted the princess, and took a small swig of rum. “How long have I been out?”
“Four full days,” Elsa informed him.
“I need to head back to the Enchanted Forest.” He crossed to the tray of food and studied it. “Then I need to remove all obstacles from returning to my wife.”
Emma used her study to organize her assignment. Everything found so far in her investigation of curses and true love’s kiss and spells and prophecies scattered throughout the room in a mess of books and paper and scribbled notes.
Her mother liked to say that happy endings aren’t always what we think they’ll be and Emma applied it to every assumption she could. She went straight to the source too, Henry’s original storybook.
It was all in the ending. When good and evil both did the thing then everything was righted or whatever. It just meant something put life out of whack. Wherever the book began before, after being burned it now started with Fiona and the cutting of Gold’s thread of destiny.
The moment great darkness was born in their world and all their lives became entwined together.
Emma was disturbed to realize the storybook had so many stories of bad parenting and child abandonment. The list was pretty long for people with unhappy childhoods. Gold, Regina, Snow, David, Killian, Zelena, Red and Belle all had at best difficult relationships or at worst horrific abandonment stories. The Magic Kingdom was filled to the brim with emotionally manipulative parents.
Maybe that was the start.
A horrific act by a parent who lied to themselves. A parent who pretended they were protecting their kid but it was all about themselves. Setting the sleeping curse Regina used on Snow White aside, every dark curse was broken by the true love of parent and child.
Emma thought about the moment when she dropped her sword and Gideon stabbed her. It weirded her out to think it in these terms but at the heart of it was a sacrifice made to protect an innocent. But it had to be done to restore balance – dark and light choosing to truly protect and placing the needs of others ahead of their own, before even their own survival.
Emma wanted post-it notes, colored ones. She could use one color for fucked up family stories and one for protective actions.
God, if she was trying to be organized about it, then clearly it was time to think of something else.
She pulled the journal of a savior from before even Merlin’s time Tink found turning to dust in the fairy archives. The last entry wasn’t by the savior themselves but someone else had supplied the end of the story. It shared a lot of similarities with Aladdin’s. Isolation from love, from people in general, was not good for a healthy savior. Emma stretched at her desk and flipped to the beginning.
The scratch of wood against wood whispered across the room. She frowned at the table. After days of being docked in Arendelle, the Jolly Roger was on the move. Emma wondered what sent her pirate there and if he enjoyed his time with Elsa and Anna. She huffed out a breath and tried to return to the journal but sound of scratching intruded and she gave in to her need.
Emma climbed up the stairs and grabbed the hand mirror from the mantel. Swinging it, she went out on the balcony with the turbulent sea below. She closed her eyes and lifted the mirror in front of her face. To concentrate, she inhaled deeply before opening her eyes to find her pirate at the helm.
He looked worn out, tired and pale but he stood strong and straight at the wheel.
Something was different.
Emma closed her eyes and pushed more power into the mirror, sliding her fingers on the glass to zoom in closer. Her breath got trapped in her chest. His eyes were alight with determination and purpose.
“Hook,” she whispered.