The Once Upon a Time Virtual Series
Virtual Season 3
Executive Producer: Silverbluemoon
Story By: RebelByrdie and Silverbluemoon
Written By: RebelByrdie
Illustrated By: Dalliance-Amongst-the-Stars
Direct-to-Media Illustrator: Love-Will-Have-Its-Sacrifices
Edited By: NotEvilDear-Wicked
Advisors and Consultants
Continuity and Consistency: AsraiaySoph
Research and Development Assistant: Archaeomedic
This series is Rated M for language, violence, drug references, and adult situations.
It is not intended for all audiences. Please use discretion.
Publication Date: 12/25/2014
he inside of the little red car always smelled funny, and the smoke made her eyes and nose itchy.
“Put that out, or at least roll down the window.”
The front driver’s side window rolled down, and a blast of cool wind blew into the car, making the medallion hanging on the rearview mirror spin. The red socks and letter B twirled and shined in the afternoon light.
B was for Boston.
The window rolled back up and the driver, a sandy haired man with glasses, sighed and switched on the radio. The last lines of Cyndi Lauper faded away, and for a moment the only sound was the sniffling of the blonde woman, rounded out by a baby-filled belly in the passenger seat.
Then the pounding beat of the Beastie Boys fighting for their right to party began. She knew the song; it made her happy. She had her Mommy, her Daddy, her blankie, and her song. Mommy let her pick out her favorite pink jeans and her shirt with the shiny flowers. She hummed along, kicked her feet, covered in her dearest My Little Pony velcro shoes, and bounced happily. The barrettes in her hair clicked when she shook her head from side to side.
Other cars zipped past them, and when they finally turned into a parking lot she hoped they were going to the grocery store. Every time they went to the grocery store she got to ride the horsey by the door.
They pulled into a parking space, and she craned her head around to see. It didn’t look like the grocery store, but there might still be a horsey or even a space ship. She wiggled and twisted and made the button on her seat go pop to set her free.
She bounced, ready to be out of the car. Daddy got out first and slammed his door with a hard bang. Mommy got out and made the front seat go up. She moved slower because she had a baby in her tummy. It was a small parking lot with a few cars and a big building, but it didn’t look like a store.
There was a sign, The Massachusetts Department of Child and Family Welfare, and she could even make out some of the letters: C was for cookie.
“Emma.” Mommy bent down slowly to look at her. “I know this is hard to understand, but…” Tears started to fall from her eyes, like she had an owwie.
“Oh Sweetie, I’m so sorry but we can’t keep you anymore.”
Emma looked from her Mommy to her Daddy; she really didn’t understand.
He looked at her though his glasses. “We’re not your real parents, Emma.”
“Johnny!” Mommy looked at him with a mad face and yelled at him.
He bent over and placed a plastic Barbie suitcase, the one she’d put stickers all over, onto the ground.
“It’s the truth, Haley.”
Emma felt her tummy squirm and a yucky taste in her mouth. She started to cry. “Daddy?” Why was he being mean? Why was Mommy crying? What had she done wrong?
He stepped away. “We need to go, Haley.”
Mommy wiped her tears away and then moved a thumb over Emma’s face, wiping away more. “We’re going to leave you here with Mr. Saul, Honey. You remember Mr. Saul, don’t you? He’s going to take you to a new home and a new family who will love you just as much as we do.”
Emma felt more tears coming. “But we a family.”
Mommy stood up, tears pouring down her face anew. “I’m sorry, Sweetheart.”
Daddy opened the car door, and Mommy got in and took her seat.
“No!” Emma started to panic, “Don’t go! I’ll be good! I’ll be good! I wanna stay with Mommy! Please!”
Mommy started to say something, but Emma couldn’t hear her because Daddy slammed the car door. He didn’t even look at her when he walked back around the car. He simply got in, and then he was gone and she was alone.
Emma was all alone with Mr. Saul. The man was tall and brown with only a little bit of hair. He smelled yucky. Emma followed him, though, because she didn’t know what else to do. He carried her suitcase but didn’t hold her hand or even smile at her. She didn’t want to go with him. She wanted to go home with Mommy and Daddy and play with Buster the doggy. She was supposed to be a big sister soon. They didn’t want her anymore, though. Their names matched, they were supposed to all be together—the Swans. Yet somehow she hadn’t been enough, and family wasn’t forever like on tv. She stood and watched the car drive away with her blanket in her hand, dragging against the ground. It was all she had, because she didn’t have a family anymore. Family was a red car driving away, never to be seen again.
Emma jerked awake, and her dream—her freaking memory—faded away. She curled her hands into fists. Regina storming off in a huff had triggered what one of the cut-rate therapists DCF had sent her to had labeled as ‘separation anxiety’, which was, apparently, rooted in the fact that her birth parents had left her on the side of the road when she was a baby. Go figure, that sort of thing could mess a person like her up for life.
Emma looked over at her parents. They were snuggled together, sharing their heat in the chilly Neverland morning. Of course—after all, they were the perfectly “happily ever after” couple whose kisses broke curses. Freaking ridiculous. The fairytale couple that could apparently do everything but raise their own daughter. Nope, instead they’d stuck her in a magical tree and said bon-voyage, baby. Enjoy the hard knock life, and come back big and strong to save us all from the Curse.
She sighed. What kind of parents did that to their kid? She had spent years of her life missing her son. Years of telling herself she had made the right decision. She had spent long nights drinking and dreaming of the life she could have had with him. She had given him up for his own good, so he could have a better life than she could have ever given him. Why had Snow and David given her up? To save their own asses. To free their happy little kingdom. To be their secret weapon against the Evil Queen. The Swans had given her up too, for their own good, so they could have a nice, shiny new baby. Bullshit. So much bullshit.
Then, just when she had her shit more or less together and thought she’d found a family and a home, things had gone tits up. Now, she was stuck in Neverland with a drunk pirate, her lovey-dovey parents, and no Regina or Henry. Henry had been taken away from them. Regina, Emma shook her head defiantly in the early morning light, Regina had left her—another red car driving away.
She sat up, knowing it was time to get up and face another day of Indiana Swan and The Island of Doom. Her personal shit storm of feelings would just have to wait.
eal had been in some tight spots and terrible situations before, most of which had been on Neverland, actually. He chided himself because he used to be tougher, more familiar with this environment when he’d been a kid. Now he was old and fat, and he really wanted a handful of Excedrin and an ice cold beer. Oh, and nurses—pretty, pretty nurses in colorful scrubs who would bring him IV bags full of delicious drugs. There were no hospitals on Neverland, though, no pretty nurses, and not even ice to chill a damn beer. He pushed his way through the brush and sighed with relief when he found himself on a small rocky beach. It was another small safe haven which he hoped one other person still frequented.
Neal rummaged around the rocks until he found was he was looking for—a conch shell. He chuckled, lifted the shell to his lips, and spoke into the pink spiral of the shell. Then, he eased himself down to sit on a rock and wait. His arm and shoulder still ached and burned, but the nausea and other fun side effects from drinking the rancid berry wine had finally worn off. He didn’t have to wait for long.
A splash alerted him to another presence, and Neal turned his head just in time to see a red gleam rise from the sea. The merman rose up, red hair slicked back against his scalp, and he grinned at Neal. His neck and chest were covered with strands of beads, shells, odds and ends, a cracked monocle, a gold fork, and a very familiar blue diamond. If James Cameron knew his story was real, he’d probably shit a solid gold brick.
The merman swam closer, so Neal pushed himself to his feet and waded out into the shallows to meet his old friend. “Ariel.” He smiled for the first time since he’d come to. “You are a sight for sore eyes.” The merperson smiled and reached out to poke Neal in the stomach.
It was like no time had passed at all, except that it had. “Yeah, yeah.” Neal chuckled. “I’m a lot older and a little fatter.” Ariel quirked a brow. “Okay, maybe a lot fatter.”
They settled down in the shallows where the surf slid over the wet sand as they caught up. Neal felt his story spill out of him: Emma, August, Tamara, Henry, his Dad. Ariel was a good listener, and not just because he didn’t have a voice. He wondered if the merman knew that Disney had made a fortune off a half-assed retelling of his story? Probably not. And honestly, movies were a pretty difficult concept to grasp and even harder to explain.
He handed Ariel an arrow without having to be asked, and they fell into their old methods of conversation using sketched out symbols in the sand and hand signals. Ariel had plenty of adventures of his own to share. It was almost like old times. They laughed together, relaxed, and for the first time since he’d arrived, Neal felt safe. “No I’m serious, Ariel. Storybrooke has this crazy-” he moved his finger around his temple without even thinking about it, “-mix of royalty and magic, and then you turn around and see cars and cell phones.”
Ariel quirked a brow and drew a rough sand picture of car. Neal wondered how Ariel knew about cars, but then he shook his head. All of the trash humans created, the junk they sent away, ended up in the ocean. Hell, maybe Ariel had found Jimmy Hoffa. Neal opened his mouth to explain what a cell phone was but was beaten to the punch when Ariel pulled a small water-logged silver cellphone out of the mess of trinkets around his neck. Neal wanted to hit himself. Ariel could go anywhere. He wasn’t just a fairytale character. He’d probably seen more than his fair share of the modern world: Plane crashes, Katrina, oil spills, submarines, realms worth of seafloors rich with life, death, tragedy, and triumph. It kind of put his bumming around America, Canada, and Mexico to shame.
“You are something else, you know that right?” Neal asked, grinning widely.
Ariel didn’t reply of course, but grinned, and he quirked a brow in amusement. Neal noticed, with a little surprise, that it was pierced.
tlantica was the crown of the Kingdom of the Seas, and the royal palace of their Majesties King Triton and Queen Athena was the flawless jewel at the city’s center. It was a glowing palace of gleaming gold, precious pearl, and colorful coral that grew in fantastic spiral towers. The warm turquoise water was pierced with beams of sunlight from high above, and the swirling current flowed through the arches and windows of the palace. It was a place of power and leadership, but laughter and joy also echoed down the halls. Triton and Athena’s many children frolicked and played all through the palace, spreading happiness and positive energy to every inch of the castle. The youngest of the royal brood, and their only son, was still a babe, and he had been laid down for his afternoon nap in the gilded clamshell bassinet that resided in the Royal Throne room. Athena slid her fingers through his copper-colored hair, the same bright color as her own, and smiled at her youngest child. Then, she swam with graceful flicks of her fins to find her husband’s ever-absent clerk to follow up on some paperwork. She was gone for, perhaps, a minute.
Ariel’s eyes popped open as soon as his mother left him, and his infant-blue eyes locked onto the Royal Throne, or more specifically the shining trident that stood beside it. It had begun to sing. The sound flowed like someone spreading water around the rim of a crystal glass. It called to the baby. Though nowhere nearly as graceful as his mother or sisters, Ariel’s uncoordinated arms and tail pushed him through the water towards it. He giggled as his chubby fingers clasped around the trident’s long and slender staff. The heavy weapon was too much for the baby and he sank to the seat of the throne. The trident followed. He wrapped his chubby fists around it once more and giggled again because it tickled and buzzed his little fingers while it sang to him.
A veteran mother, Athena knew the sounds of illicit giggles all too well. She turned back into the room, her voice chiming that, “Little Princes should be…” Her fingers went slack and the documents she’d just been handed floated away. “NO!” She swam with the speed of every panicked mother, a special sort of speed and strength reserved to protect their precious ones, toward the baby.
Ariel, of course, ignored her cry. He had already heard the word many times in his short life and did not like it. He continued to play and every giggle, babble, and gurgle made the most powerful weapon in all the seas shoot colorful sparks and bubbles out of its razor sharp tips.
Triton, alerted by his wife’s screams, swam into the room and stopped short of his throne, amazed to see that his youngest child was playing with his trident. His son had apparently been chosen by the object as heir to the Kingdom of the Seas.
The responsibility of being Triton’s heir settled heavily on slender shoulders. Ariel found himself thrust into an adult world as a child. He was uncomfortable with the grandeur and expectations of his position. It pushed him into a spotlight that he did not desire. His sisters were jealous and resented him for his coveted position. His eldest sisters raged when they realized he didn’t even want to be heir, especially when they wanted to make their father proud but weren’t expected to do anything but be pretty. So instead of being welcomed into the circle of sisterhood, he was left out, left to himself and his studies of politics, history, policy and diplomacy. He grew to hate it all and searched for an escape from the life that he didn’t fit into.
His obsession with the world above began as something minor, as an escape. He loved the stories of the human world, and when he escaped the palace he would swim far and wide, searching for something new and different, anything to distract himself from being the Heir.
The first time he found a sunken ship, he’d been too scared to go in it. He’d heard the stories: hooks, nets, spears, and thick tar-like oil that was practically poison floating on the water. Curiosity won out in the end, and Ariel started to discover a new world that existed beyond the ocean. He took trinkets at first, things that could easily be hidden, disguised, or overlooked. Soon, though, the world above became more than a distraction; it became a place, a dream of a place, that he could truly belong to. There were books with pictures and portraits and drawings that enchanted him and enticed his imagination. There were women with beautiful dresses and wide smiles dancing with handsome princes, riding horses with cloaks blowing behind them, sticks that burned like tiny suns, and flowers whose petals were soft and fragrant. Clouds and water that fell from the sky above. Love, freedom, adventure. No expectations, no pressure, just a moment to be himself.
The human world, despite all the dangers he’d been warned about, seemed brighter and better than the one in which he was trapped. He gazed at a portrait, a human woman reading a book, and he wished it was him. The portraits he had posed for all seemed the same—surrounded by his smiling siblings, his fathers hands resting heavily on his shoulders, towering over him, the example of what he was supposed to be one day, and his face turned up in a smile so forced he felt it would crack.
So he collected more and more, to the point where he couldn’t possibly hide it all in his quarters. So he’d found a cave and built a haven, a safe place. There he could look, touch, and wonder. He could wrap the necklaces and wraps he’d found around his neck and shoulders. He could admire ribbons in his long hair. He could relax and be just Ariel.
The first time he went to the surface, he’d almost turned back a hundred times, convinced that someone would see him and report him to his father, that he would be stigmatized, hated, and that no one would ever understand. Yet, he had to go. He had to see this world that he was constantly tugged towards, if only once.
The first time Ariel saw the stars and the moon, he knew he would be back. The sky was as endless as the sea and it was indescribable, darker than the water in the deepest canyon yet full of light. He was swept away in its grandeur. More trips followed—daytime, nighttime. He watched the sunrise paint the sky with colors he’d only dreamed of, and the sunset turn it into a gold and red pit of molten colors, too many to name or even describe.
He learned what dry sand felt like in his fingers and that children built castles with it. He watched lovers walk on their legs in the surf. He watched sailors move their crafts along the tides as if they too had been born to the sea.
He grew, became older and perhaps wiser, but was no happier with his life. He felt torn in two—alive only on the surface and slowly dying beneath it.
Then, there was Eric. Eric with his dark hair, bright eyes, and boisterous laugh. The Prince who loved the sea and playing his flute. The free-spirit whose soul spoke so clearly to his own. Even thinking about him made Ariel smile, and suddenly the world beneath the waves didn’t seem so oppressive. His happiness distracted him, though, and it made him less cautious.
Somehow, someway, his sisters noticed, and they followed him and told his father. For a moment, Ariel thought it would be okay. True Love, after all, was the most powerful magic. It could break any curse and transcend realms. That was what his love for Eric was; it allowed him to transcend worlds with no swirling portal or the Voice of the Seas. It was a pure and simple and beautiful.
His father hadn’t agreed. Triton had been furious, and when he’d discovered his cave, there had been screaming and destruction, magic so potent and powerful that the water all but boiled. All of Ariel’s things, the world he had built for himself—his hopes, his dreams, his happiness—remained on the cave floor as shattered and tattered as the objects he’d surrounded himself with. He was forbidden from the surface, from exploration, from being himself.
Ariel left in the dead of night with one thing in mind. His father said he didn’t listen, that he spent so much time obsessing over the poisonous human world that he didn’t know anything about his own. He knew one thing; there was a way to get his happily ever after, he just had to make a deal.
Ursula’s cave was another area that was strictly off limits. The humans considered her an ancient goddess of the sea, but the merfolk knew far better. She was a villain, a witch, a trickster whose magic was as black as her heart, and she was Ariel’s only hope. The cave was dark and dank, where the water crashed against obsidian rocks that were sharper than a serpent’s tooth. It was upon one of these jagged rocks that Ariel sliced his hand open. He hissed and watched his blood fall into the white foam that floated on the water. It turned pink and he waited. His heart beat like a throbbing drum in his chest.
“A brave young prince,” the voice, as menacing as it was musical, echoed throughout the cave, “come to seek me.”
All the stories, the myths,and the gossip hadn’t prepared him for the sight of the caecilian sea witch. Her midnight black tentacles and body lead up to ice white and flawless skin and a face that belonged in one of the paintings that Ariel so loved. She was beautiful, graceful, as much a goddess as the humans claimed her to be. Her rich red lips quirked into a smile. “What could be troubling Triton’s pride and joy so much that he lets his blood mix with foam to summon the scurge of the seven seas?” Her tentacles waved and slithered and curled around herself and the rocks surrounding them. Beams of quick-silver moonlight came through the roof of the cave, painting the scene in an ethereal glow.
“I need passage to the human world. It’s where…” He struggled to say the words that had burned in his throat for so many years. “It’s where I truly belong. My True Love is there and I…” Ariel paused to take a deep breath and pushed his thick red hair back. “And I need to be there more than anything.”
All magic, all deals, came with a price. It was a price Ariel was willing to pay for a bracelet that gave him the ability to chose his form and three days in the sun to win Eric’s heart. He would give anything.
“Your voice.” The word dripped with delight. All Ursula wanted was his voice. “The bracelet cannot be activated without it, though when True Love’s Kiss breaks the spell, it will return to you.” Her tentacles rose to cup and caress her chin, and her lips pouted prettily, her dark eyes sparkling with promise. “Do we have a deal?”
Ariel had one more question, “And it will let me chose any form?”
Ursula nodded and replied, “Anything your heart desires, my dear sweet child.”
He nodded in agreement and everything unfolded quickly. A pulse of power left his throat, a bracelet attached to his wrist, and magic overtook him. It wasn’t painful, but it was far from pleasant. He could hear Ursula’s laughter as he fell into the water and thrashed as his body changed, his world irrevocably changed forever.
When he reached the shore, when the fiery spears of the morning-turned midday sun touched him, Ariel found that everything had really changed. His original form abandoned, he’d chosen the what he wanted and had been rewarded: two legs, rounded hips, a soft and smooth stomach, breasts, and a face that was rounder, more cherubic than it had been in years; a human female. Her fingers sought out her face, and then she looked at the legs that carried her, oh so unsteadily, out of the water and onto the beach. It had worked.
Ariel’s luck, her destiny, held true, as the very first human she met turned out to be not only friendly, but happy to help her. She had three days, three short days to prove that this was truly her world, her form, and her destiny.
Three days to fall in love and find Happily Ever After with Prince Eric.
Mary Margaret, which could not be the woman’s real name, liked to talk. She waxed poetic about fate and love. She spoke Ariel’s own thoughts. She hadn’t been a fool after all. If her raven haired friend believed in love just as strongly as she, then surely they couldn’t both be wrong.
Mary Margaret, though, was running from an Evil Queen, and she had to leave on the third day. “A romantic boat ride into a lagoon! This is it, Ariel!” The woman had all but jumped up and down in excitement, “You’re getting your Happily Ever After!” She left with one last bone-crushing hug, and Ariel was alone with Eric.
They didn’t communicate as well as she and Mary Margaret did, but she could see the love shining in his eyes, and just as the sun slipped under the horizon they kissed. It was overwhelming, like the universe aligned just for them, but then the magic took her—it robbed her of her legs and her beauty, of her true form. The kiss had come a moment too late.
“You-you’re a sea-creature!” Without thinking, Eric lashed out, smacking Ariel in the arm and knocking him overboard. He—for Ariel was a he once more—wanted to beg Eric, to tell him, to explain, but his voice was gone forever. As was Eric’s love.
“How could I love something so different then me? We’re from two different worlds!” Eric screamed at him.
Ariel hung his head, watching Eric paddle away. He retreated into the water where Eric’s words couldn’t be heard, where his anger couldn’t hurt him anymore. He swam home, back to Atlantica; no one could see him crying because tears were just little drops of the sea.
How could they have been too late? It wasn’t fair!
Love wasn’t real. Happiness wasn’t possible. His father had been right. He didn’t belong up there. Up there was cruel and painful. Up there, in the human world, they didn’t understand him either.
He hadn’t been welcomed home, though. He had betrayed everything his people held dear. He’d made a deal with the sea witch, he had walked on land, he had disobeyed his father, and the worst of all, committed the ultimate sin: trading away the Voice of the Seas for a pointless adventure. He had sold his birthright, the one he hadn’t even known he’d wanted, for a farce.
He couldn’t even ask for his father’s forgiveness, not that it would have been given. He couldn’t apologize to his mother, oh how the pain etched deeply into the face that had so resembled his own just a few short hours before. He couldn’t say goodbye to his sisters, who stared at him with fear, horror, and shame in their eyes.
He was banished from Atlantica for all time, never to return, never to be welcomed home again. So he wandered, searching for Ursula and The Voice, for happiness, for redemption, for another chance. Ariel searched for his own identity and destiny throughout the realms and years, always searching but finding nothing but the echo of Ursula’s cold cackle in the waves.
Ariel surfaced from his memories the same way he did from the surf, all at once, with no barrier between what was and what had been. He smiled at Baelfire, or Neal, as he now called himself. He had traveled far and wide, seen worlds and wonders that he ached to describe but could not. In all the worlds, he had few people he called friends, and Neal was one of the people he trusted with his life. Still, though, it troubled him that his friend had been through so much, had lost and struggled, and had been just as lonely as he had been. Neal was a good, if occasionally misguided soul, but the shadows and demons in his eyes were just as powerful as they’d ever been. It was hard, Ariel knew, to overcome the shadows of the past, whether it was lost love or a father separated by time and ideals. Throughout the years, Ariel had learned many things, including that the human world and the merfolk world were not as different as either side imagined. Families, and the love and pain that came with them, were the same in both worlds.
abies crying, people arguing in Spanish, a couple having noisy sex: the walls of the DiMarco apartment were criminally thin. The blaring football game in the next room blocked out some of the sounds, and what the Dolphins and the Patriots didn’t drown out, her foster-brother’s chainsaw-like snore took care of pretty well. Emma was sprawled out across the small bed, a bottom bunk that was always under threat of being squashed by the rickety top bunk, and wondered if she was doing the right thing. The livid bruises on her arms, back, and face told her that yes, she was. Still, though, guilt ate at her. The other kids, Andy, Jemma, and Juan, were not old enough to be out on the street, not in Boston in October. It would get too cold too fast for them. They were just children. Hell, Jemma still thought her real mom would show up one day to claim her. Emma didn’t have the heart to tell her that once a druggie lost custody, they didn’t get it back. The girl still had hope, and she would keep holding onto it until there was nothing left to cling to. A couple more years and she would understand that she was really a System Kid.
Emma didn’t have a few more years left in her. She was tired of bouncing from place to place, from fake family to fake family. Yeah, some places were okay, but most were shit holes where she served as a meal ticket, a relationship bandaid and, most recently, a walking punching bag. She could probably handle the beatings, but it was the way that the DiMarco’s real son, Larry Junior, stared at her. He was twenty-three, creepy, and a little too handsy for her liking. Nope, it was time for Emma to leave. Since her social worker of the quarter, Ms. McBride, never gave two shits about any of them, Emma would have to take matters into her own hands.
She waited until the fourth quarter, when Larry and his Real Kid were too caught up in third downs and Fantasy Football League points to pay attention to anything else, and got out of bed. Her backpack, a ragged thing she’d been carrying around for a few more years than she’d like to count, was stuffed with clothes and the few personal possessions that mattered. She was already fully dressed. Emma glanced over her foster siblings, all younger than her, and reminded herself that she had Amanda DiMarco’s shiny new cellphone in her pocket. First, she would call the cops and report that the DiMarcos had a little stash of weed and boot-legged scotch—it would get them to the apartment way faster than accusations of abuse and neglect—and then she would hock the phone for a few quick bucks. She had enough money saved to get a bus ticket out of town. Emma Swan was going, going, gone. No more foster homes, no more group homes, no more orphanages, and no more rent-a-kid weekends for her. She was done. She was free and no one was going to stop her. She doubted the DiMarcos would even bother filing the paperwork. She climbed down the rusted fire escape, and when her combat boots hit the asphalt alley, she started walking. Family was walking away forever and knowing that nobody would care that you didn’t come back.
Emma walked, not through the cool Boston night in her mind, but through the god-awful jungles of Neverland. She had never looked back after that night. Sometimes she wondered what had happened to her foster siblings, or if anyone had ever looked for her. It had been back before the days of Amber Alerts and No Child Left Behind. She had been on her own, young and angry, and ready to steal her way to a new life. She hadn’t been willing to let anyone ever hurt her again. Then there had been Neal and Tallahassee, and everything had come crashing down.
She had never been arrested before, and it really was just like on Law and Order. They put handcuffs on her, read her Miranda Rights, and put her in a cell with five other women—older and tougher women who had looked at her like they were starving dogs and she was a fresh, juicy steak. Two weeks in and she was always nauseous, always puking, always cold and scared. She wanted to go home, but realized that she had no idea what home was. Home had been, for a brief and shining moment, a yellow bug that hadn’t seemed too small with two people living inside. Home had been Neal and Tallahassee. Home had been a lie. Neal didn’t love her, he couldn’t love her. He had used her, played her like a two-bit hustler. He’d conned her and she had fallen for it bigtime. She hadn’t been enough, for him or the DiMarcos or the Swans, or for any other family who had shipped her back. Hell, she hadn’t been enough for her birth parents. Family was being left on the side of the road with nothing but a name and a blanket. Family was a red car driving away. Family was not being missed. Family was being shoved into the back of a police car. Emma Swan didn’t need a family, she didn’t want a family, and she would never have a family.
She kept going, faster and faster, swinging her sword through the leaves, letting the sweat soak through her clothes and slick over her skin. She wasn’t enough. She wasn’t enough. She wasn’t enough for David and Snow; if she had been they would have fought to keep her. She wasn’t enough for the Swans, not their own little daughter, just a rent-a-kid. She wasn’t enough for Neal to stick around. She wasn’t enough to keep Regina from running off. She wasn’t enough to keep Henry safe. She was never, ever, going to be enough. The thought repeated over and over in her head, burning and bubbling in her blood, she could hear every harsh word and every half-assed goodbye and sorry in her head playing on a never ending loop. Not enough. Not enough. Not enough.
When a hand descended on her shoulder, she screamed. Not in fright, but in anger. She didn’t want to be touched. She didn’t want to talk. She didn’t want them. They didn’t want her.
She turned around on her heels and could feel magic and rage pumping through her. “Don’t fucking touch me!”
omething was wrong. David had known something was bothering Emma. He wasn’t the smartest man in the world, he knew, not the most savvy, nor an expert at being a father, a prince, or even a Sheriff’s Deputy. Honestly, if it wasn’t sheep or Snow White, he often found himself in way over his head, and he admitted that. Still, though, he loved his daughter and knew something was wrong. He was in pain, he was slow and stiff, and he was in the midst of his own death, but that was no excuse to not be a father to his child. So when she turned on him, sword in hand, her eyes burning with dangerous and terrifying green fire, he took a step back. It was not what Emma said, he’d heard curse words before. It was how she said it. She was full of a rage that defied description. There was anger and pain in her voice; there was a desperate and feral energy. There was danger, his little girl was hurting, and it was his job to protect her, even if it was from herself.
“Emma!” Snow’s voice echoed through the woods, and David held up a hand to ward her away. Emma did not react well to the woman’s cry. Her body jerked, and her grip on the sword became so tight her knuckles turned white.
“It’s okay.” He took a step forward, his hands held up to show that he wasn’t going to hurt her like one would approach a wounded animal. “Emma, it’s okay.” He spoke softly, gently, trying to coax her into calming down. “Everything is going to be okay.”
Her teeth bared into a snarl, “No!” She started to pace, to move with a restless energy, like the animals he’d seen in the shelter cages. Emma continued to speak, but it degraded into sounds and screams, and he didn’t understand what she was saying, only knowing it hurt her.
He didn’t know what to do, so he followed his instincts. He approached quickly, thrust her sword out to her side where she dropped it, then grabbed her in a tight bear hug, like the hugs he’d always dreamed of giving his daughter. She didn’t hug him back. Instead, she howled. She kicked. She threw her elbows and fists back. She threw her head back, and he felt the cartilage of his nose crack hard at the impact. Emma fought like a wounded animal.
She scratched. She bit. She screamed. He held on.
He held onto the most precious thing he’d ever had in his arms. It seemed like only yesterday, almost literally, that she had been a tiny newborn in his arms. He had sworn to protect her from any evil that could possibly befall her. Now he held onto her, trying desperately to protect her from herself.
“You can hurt me, Emma. I can take it. Just please don’t hurt yourself anymore.”
Her only answer was another gut-wrenching scream.
He backed up, keeping her tight against his chest until his back hit a tree. He let himself slide down to the jungle floor, his strength waning. “It’s okay, Emma. I’ve got you. I’ve got you, and I am never ever letting you go again. I love you and I’ve got you. It’s okay. I promise, it’s all going the be okay.”
She dug her heels into the ground and struggled to get free, but he held on. His daughter might be a grown woman with a child and mind of her own, but she was still his daughter, and his love for her was limitless.
“It’s okay, Emma. Let it out.”
The screams turned to hoarse, choked up, soul-shattering tears. She stopped thrashing and began to sob. She was in pain and all he could do was hold her and tell her that he loved her, so he did.
now White’s heart shattered in her chest as she watched Emma fall apart in David’s arms. Every scream cut her like a knife. She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t think, she couldn’t understand, she couldn’t believe. Her daughter, her baby, was so broken, so hurt. It was her fault. This was her fault. Not just Neverland, everything. She had sent Emma away, sent her newborn baby away to become a savior, and this was the price. What kind of horrible mother does something like that? All magic came with a prince, and this was theirs. They had their Savior, but the price had been Emma.
Snow looked at Hook. The Pirate looked at the scene before him, took a deep drink of rum, and started to walk away, saying, “Family matters, Love.” She glared at him as he disappeared into the forest with no further explanations or clarification.
Family. Her family was hurting, and Snow found that she could not stand idly by any longer. She went to them and dropped to her knees. She pressed close, but not to her husband, her rock and pillar of strength, but to her daughter, the precious miracle she and David had made together.
“I’m sorry, Emma. I’m so so sorry.” Sorry for everything. For losing Henry, for sending her away, for fighting a war when she should have brokered a peace, for everything. She didn’t know how long they sat there, a tiny family unit crying together, but she held tight and promised herself, Emma, and any god that might still listen to foolish princesses, that she would never lose sight of what was important ever again.
lowly Emma felt herself calm down. The rage and pain gradually cooled and receded, like the tide going out. She felt empty, but oddly calm. She also felt incredibly awkward. She didn’t usually lose it; she wasn’t the losing it type.
“Um.” She coughed. “Sorry about that. I mean thank you. I mean… um…” She wasn’t sure what she meant. “Yeah.”
She started to pull away from her parents, breaking the three-way hug she’d found herself in. “I guess we can make camp here tonight. I mean… yeah.” She really did not know what to say. She was saved by a rustling in the brush. Footsteps on twigs and vines sounded through the air. Emma smiled and her lips formed the “R” to say Regina, because of course her son’s other mother would come back to them after she’d calmed down a little, and because she needed her too, but it was not Regina. Emma went stiff at the approaching form, all of her ragged defenses went on high alert, and the sword she didn’t remember dropping flew into her hand, as if summoned by magic. “Who the hell are you?” She pointed her sword and tried to not feel silly. Whoever it was, it was a man, and he was wearing a cloak and carrying weapons, which met all three strikes for Neverland.
“I said, who the hell are you!”
He pushed back his cloak and if Santa Claus-—she needed to ask someone if he was real as well, she realized—himself had been standing there, she could not have been more surprised.
He grinned, the same crooked grin he’d always had. “Um, hi.”
She literally could not believe her eyes. “You’re alive!”
Instead of acknowledging that he was actually back from the dead, he looked around and asked, “What are you doing here? Where’s Henry?!”
Emma’s anger, so recently calmed, flared back up again. Though he’d asked the right question, he was simply the wrong person to be talking. Especially about Henry at the moment.
Her mood was dark and dangerous. She shook her head. “So you’re alive and just waltzing around Neverland. What the fuck, Neal?” Seriously, what the fuck? She had seen him get shot and then fall into a swirling green portal of death. People didn’t just bounce back from that.
Neal, his face set in his innocent dumb-bunny expression that might have fooled her once a long time ago, looked around again. “Me? What are you doing here? Where is Henry?”
Emma whipped around and fired back, “Your precious fiance and her torture-happy boyfriend kidnapped him and brought him here.”
“No.” Neal, who had already been pale, lost all the color in his face. “Oh, God, no.”
He still hadn’t explained how he’d arrived in Neverland. “How did you end up here, of all places? Did the portal just spit you out onto some random island of doom?”
He laughed, almost hysterically, which was about right at this point. “Portals don’t work that way… I thought of Neverland as I fell. I was glad that I was dying anywhere but here. Lucky me.”
Well that didn’t make sense. Whose last thought was ‘gee, I wonder what Neverland is like.’
“What are you talking about? Are you saying you’ve been here before?”
He leaned against a tree and scrubbed a hand across his face as she realized his other hand was in a sling. “You remember those nights when I would wake up screaming? Those were nightmares about this God-Forsaken-Place.”
Emma blinked and looked at him, really looked at him. “You were you a Lost Boy?” Suddenly she was really seeing him. “Wait—you’re dressed like those little Wilderness Scout Gang Bangers that attacked us.”
Neal looked away. “I was sort of a Lost Boy, once upon a time.”
Emma gaped. Of course he had been, because that was her life now: a never ending slideshow of fairytale shenanigans. “What, so you decided to take the scenic route between fucking fairytale forest and Portland? How long were you here? A day, a week? A couple of centuries? How old are you, anyway, son of the freaking Dark One?”
“Emma,” Snow’s voice piped up, but she didn’t bother the look at the other woman, “Stop interrogating him. He’s hurt.”
Really? She was defending him? Wasn’t she supposed to be on her side? “He has some explaining to do,” she responded curtly. “Because the last time I saw him he was dying, and now he’s here. How did you even get here the first time? Did Peter Pan have a recruiting service or something? Are you fucking Tootles?” Emma named off one of the only names she remembered from the Dustin Hoffman flick she’d caught on some late night cable marathon.
“It’s a long story.”
Really? Really? Of course it was. “It always is with you.”
He pushed away from the tree and started to pace. “When I left in the first portal, when my Papa let me go, I met a family. I met Wendy.”
That was it, her last shred of normalcy and sanity disappeared. “You have got to be shitting me right now. Let me guess, Michael and John, too, right? Oh my God, was there a dog named Nana there?”
He rubbed the back of his neck with his good hand. “Yeah, actually.”
Anger started to build up again, pouring into her blood like adrenaline or alcohol. “And what did you do, abandon them to take the fall for you, too? Well, at least they weren’t pregnant. Unless you’re here to tell me that Peter Pan is your long-lost son or grandfather or third uncle 12th-removed or some bullshit like that?”
Neal’s temper, not as pretty as he’d like to pretend it was, suddenly reared its head. “No! I came to Neverland to rescue her. To save a girl’s life. To help her family, my family. The only one who ever really wanted me! I lost them all because of Pan and this place.”
She was so done with Neal and fairytales. “Well, so you escaped and landed in Portland?”
“There’s more to it than that!” Neal protested, and though he didn’t know it, he sounded just like Henry when he whined.
“More to it than teaching me every con in the book.” She had been holding this inside since she’d been arrested. “More than telling me you loved me, knocking me up, and then leaving me to take the fall for you? What else could have possibly happened?”
“Look, ” Neal winced like he was in pain but continued, “I did a lot of shitty things, but the main thing here is that we have to save Henr-”
“You,” she cut him off mid-word, “brought that bitch to Storybrooke. You let her know about all the magic and fairytale bullshit, and you stood by and argued with me when I told you something was wrong. As far as I’m concerned,” she closed the gap between them and got in his face so he could see the anger in her eyes, “it’s your fault my son is in Neverland.”
“Our,” Neal corrected her.
Her anger blew, she blew, having finally reached her limit. “No! You don’t become a daddy by forgetting to pull out fast enough in the backseat of a car, Neal. Henry is my son. Mine and Regina’s. You don’t get to be a Daddy after taking him out for pizza. Once. He is not your son.
“You never told me about him!” He reached out to her, trying to grab her arm, to touch her.
She pushed him away. “I was in jail, and you were long gone. Thank God Regina adopted him and gave him a real home. If it had been up to you, his first words would have been, ‘Hey, Sucker!'”
“So, you’re saying,” he all but screamed, “you’re glad that the Evil Que-”
She lunged at him again. “Don’t call her that! Never call her that!”
David took that moment to step in by stepping between them. His face was hard and unreadable. “Okay. It’s late. You’re both angry, and Neal is hurt. We need to remember that we’re here for Henry, so we can work out the rest of this,” he paused, his eyes boring into Neal’s angrily, “situation later.”
They both stepped away from each other, faces hot and angry, fists balled, and began to make camp. Emma found she desperately missed Regina.
. . . To Be Continued in Episode 9
Total Word Count: 8543 words