The Once Upon a Time Virtual Series
Virtual Season 3
“Heart to Heart”
Executive Producer: Silverbluemoon
Story By: RebelByrdie and Silverbluemoon
Written By: Hunnyfresh
Illustrators: Napfreak and Fox
Edited By: Silverbluemoon
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: March 6, 2016
now had once thought that her bandit days were over. The moment she and David reclaimed her throne, she’d believed the forest and survival skills were behind her. She was a queen and had been raised to understand that her destiny was to take care of her father’s kingdom—her kingdom. She should have known better than to let Regina escape her death from the executioner’s arrows. They had been playing cat and mouse ever since. And truth be told, she never imagined they’d both be on the same side for once; though currently it was hard to tell if they and their group were playing like cats, strategizing their next move, or running wildly with their tails cut off like little vermin. Days prior, Snow had been ready to admit that they were the hunted here—Pan too omniscient to be surprised—but now, with David saved and their misfit band of renegades circling around a makeshift battle plan drawn in the sand, she felt the tables were turning.
At least, they would turn, if only the group could come up with a suitable plan.
David, kneeling by the plan and drawing chevrons high above the pieces of coconut shell meant to symbolize Pan’s camp, spoke. “We can flank them—three archers in the trees,” he pointed at each individual chevron. “Snow, Regina, and Neal—the rest of us can move in with swords or magic.”
Snow turned her head when Tinkerbell spoke, the fairy leaning against the base of the tree her house was built upon as her curly locks shook in disagreement. “The boys know the trees. Above and below. They’ll have us before Snow White can even cock an arrow from her quiver.”
“Do they trust you?” Charming asked. “You live here and obviously you’re not dead.”
“Obviously,” the fairy answered with disdain, crossing her arms over her chest. “They did, once. But now they know I’m with you.”
Snow scrunched up her brow in confusion, shifting on the log to get a better look at Tink behind her. “Who told them?”
“The mermaids,” Tinkerbell guessed as she waved to her surroundings. “The trees, the shadows? Does it matter? They know that we’re here, and they know that we’re coming. So no, archers in the trees will not work.”
The feeling of dread that Snow had gotten so used to during David’s Stone Age returned full force as the fairy stared down at them with hopelessness. Certainly their story was not to end in Neverland with a temper tantrum throwing teen taunting and tricking them. If she could fire off just one arrow at Pan, she could—
“So we wait for night,” David decided, and Snow turned back in her spot on the log to place a supportive hand on her husband’s shoulder.
It was Neal, this time, who voiced his doubts. “Wait until the shadows are stronger?” He shook his head fiercely as he spoke. “Nope. No thank you.”
“What about magic?” Hook asked, kneeling beside the map and pointing a drawing stick towards the blonde and brunette lingering in the clearing of the trees. “Swan and the Queen are walking weapons. Blow up the camp and we can be done with it.”
Regina scoffed as she stepped toward them, her voice laced with an edge that Snow remembered from her younger days—the odd biting comments that had always made her feel like a child, no matter how old she was. “So your grand and glorious plan, pirate, is to go in, guns-a-blazing and hope for the best? Because that worked so well last time.”
“It worked on you,” Snow pointed out, jutting forth a determined jaw and daring Regina to deny her capture.
Regina’s lip twitched, and Snow could tell she was fighting to control the dark glare that so easily came to her face when aggravated. “That situation was completely different,” she explained, waving her hand in the air. “There were armies, fairies, and allies involved. This is a hostage situation—where, need I remind you, the hostage is Henry.”
“I know—” Snow began to argue, but Regina cut her off, the Evil Queen taking another step forward.
“Then you also know,” Regina continued darkly, “that this plan requires strategy, stealth, and strength.”
Even at this distance, Snow could feel the raw power spilling from her; not as the Evil Queen, no, but as a mother desperately trying to protect her son.
“And this idiotic plan,” she continued, waving her hand to the group in the middle surrounding nothing more than coconut shells, wood chips, and marred up dirt, “is the equivalent of using a battle axe to perform brain surgery.”
“Well, what do you want us to do, Regina?” Snow asked exasperated. “Sneak into the camp and slit everyone’s throat? They’re children.”
“No, they’re not.” Neal stood and pointed outwards towards the trees, his voice rising in passion. “They’re tiny terrors. Why do you think they’re no adults in Neverland? When Lost Boys start to become men, Pan kills them.”
Snow sat with wide eyes as Neal’s chest rose and fell with the weight of nightmares she could only imagine. He turned away from the group and slowly sank to his haunches, his head in his hands.
The shrubbery rustled behind her, and suddenly Tink came into view, sorrow and understanding flashing across her features, as the fairy reached out a hand to touch the suddenly immobilized man, but before she could even make contact, he jerked away, nearly stumbling on the dirt in his haste to put distance between them. His eyes weren’t as dark as they were a minute ago, but there was no hiding the pain within them.
The rest of the group watched with a mixture of sadness and concern as Neal finally came to his senses, distancing himself from the rest of them as he crossed his arms and schooled his features. There was silent communication between him and Tinkerbell, for the blonde sighed with a bitter shake of her head.
“It’s true,” she finally voiced before turning back to the group with outstretched arms. “Where do you think the shadows came from? They were all Lost Boys once. Now doomed to serve Pan for all eternity.”
“Well that’s fucking cheerful,” Emma muttered, scowling, very obviously adding in something new to hate about this place.
“So the shadows are magic?” David clarified, standing from his spot. “Like a fairy, but bad?”
Snow caught the slight twitch of Regina’s hand and watched as her face darkened in aggravation.
Tink sighed. “Magic isn’t that simple. There’s no clear cut label of good and evil or right and wrong. It’s natural. In nature. It’s part of the world.” She waved her arms towards Snow and David and fought to get the words out. “This dark magic versus light magic you speak of has nothing to do with the act. Intent makes it so. That’s why fairies are trained for years and are constantly monitored so they remain pure and good.”
“And if they’re not?”
Face immediately darkening, Tinkerbell crossed her arms and stared incredulously at the newly saved prince. Snows saw that Regina was sporting a similar, if not more threatening glare. Apparently magic-users thought the question dumb.
“Human magic users aren’t monitored,” David argued when he was met with silence. “No one has ever talked about good witches or good magic users. I’ve only heard of bad in any realm. Look at Cora, and Rumplestiltskin, and—” his eyes met Regina’s.
“Me?” Regina spoke up with a challenge in her eyes.
“Or me?” Emma added, muscles tense, flashing him a dare to take it there. David flinched at his daughter’s words, feeling their tentative new bond slipping at what he realized now were foolish words. Foolish words to speak in front of his child—his magical child. Of course not Emma. Never Emma. His eyes softened and begged her to see the misunderstanding he felt helpless to clarify.
“No, Emma,” Snow immediately intervened, soothing. Emma refused to meet her eyes, instead looking away as if she hadn’t heard. Snow’s heart twitched with a profound sense of loss. It was odd to feel it now even though her daughter stood right in front of her. She, too, glanced away uncomfortably. This was not something to focus on at the moment.
“Humans can be born with magical abilities,” Tinkerbell continued, gesturing at Emma, “or learn how to use it.” She shifted her gaze to Regina. “There was a time when it used to be widespread throughout the lands, but it’s fallen into disuse as there are even fewer who can teach it. Magic is incredibly nuanced and complex.”
“I’ll say,” Emma muttered.
“And humans,” Tink glared at the rest of them so fiercely that Snow felt personally offended, “don’t react well to what they do not understand.”
“Magic is emotion, though. That’s simple enough,” Snow argued, trying to regain a foothold in the conversation.
Again Tinkerbell met Regina’s glare and rolled her eyes; the former queen scoffed in contempt.
“Magic is emotion is what they tell children who need a bedtime story about a gallant knight saving a princess with a kiss. That barely scratches the surface.” Tink continued, huffing out her explanation. Snow sat up straight in derision, but Tink ignored her. “Magic is endlessly complicated, and the ways to use it are endless. I don’t know how it’s like it Storytown—”
“Storybrooke,” Regina corrected.
“Whatever.” Tink dismissed her with a wave of her hand. “In the lands that I do know, humans don’t like what they don’t understand and that always leads to fear and hatred.”
Tink squinted at Emma’s reference but seeing Regina’s minute shake of the head at her obvious confusion, opted to ignore it. “Yes, well because of that, most magical beings and users become targeted and hunted, all because of scared little humans.”
“But magic is dangerous and deadly!” Snow argued. “People have been slaughtered by sorcerers and evil queens.”
Regina was a second away from flaming Snow right in the face, but Tinkerbell jumped in, adding darkly, “Fairies can do the slaughtering as well, Your Majesty.”
“No,” Snow shook her head doubtfully. “No, they don’t. They’re different. They’re light.”
“Fairies are of light magic, just like Neverland. They thrive off belief and joy.”
“But it’s all messed up here,” Emma pointed out. “There’s no way in hell this place is light magic.”
“That’s purely Pan’s corruption.” Regina tagged in, the group shifting their attention from the fairy to the queen. The brunette’s voice was soft as she looked solely upon Emma, speaking carefully so she understood. “Remember what Tink said? Magic is about intent. Light magic can be used for evil, and dark magic for good. It is less common practice, I admit, but not unheard of.”
“You have dark magic, and I have light magic,” Emma pointed out. “Like we were born with it.”
Regina nodded. “Though we still have to learn how to use innate magic. Rumpel taught me to harness hatred to fuel my spells. The only light magic users I knew were mermaids and fairies, and they didn’t take on human apprentices.”
Emma scrunched up her face, a question ready on her lips, but as if Regina could read her mind, the former queen beat her to the punch. “The last known magic-using humans were exterminated during the early days of the Ogre Wars—years and years before Rumpel was ever the Dark One, or even born for that matter.”
“And he has all the dark magic, right?”
Once more Regina nodded, though indicating there was more to it. “He’s possessed with the most powerful and concentrated dark magic in all the realms. But no, he does not have all of it. Dark magic exists in nature just as intrinsically as light.”
“He definitely uses it for evil,” Tink jumped in hastily, stepping closer to Regina. “Which is also why he’s not going to make it to Storytown.”
“Storybrooke, Tink,” Regina corrected again, exasperated.
“It doesn’t matter what it’s called, he isn’t going back there.” With a baleful look, she blanched as she caught Neal’s stormy face. “Sorry.”
“Why not? I don’t understand,” Snow asked. All this talk of dark and light magic was going over her head. They were complicating things that didn’t have to be complicated. Magic was emotion. Feeling anger equaled bad and feeling love equaled good.
“And I, for one, don’t care.” Hook stood, withdrawing his sword from its scabbard and brandishing it with fanfare. “All this talk of magic is boring and keeping us from getting into the action.”
Both Tink and Regina rolled their eyes yet again, and Emma, too, looked a bit aggravated.
The fairy took determined steps toward the pirate and met the tip of his sword without blinking an eye. “Then listen carefully, Hook. Pixie Hollow is innately pure light magic, while the Dark One is pure dark magic. The Hollow will naturally attempt to purge all dark magic from its land.”
“It’ll attack Papa, you mean.” Neal spoke in a quiet, lost little voice. “Like antibodies attacking a virus.”
Regina nodded, adding, “And Pan will only encourage it.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” David thought aloud.
Tink moved away from Hook’s sword, the fairy daring him to continue his outburst, but all he did was point it towards the ground. “It’s not,” Tinkerbell finally answered. “If the magic doesn’t kill him, then the shadows will. His magic first, then his mind, though I’m not sure which is worse. Then his body. And once they’re done with that, they’ll come back for his shadow. It won’t be pretty.”
“You keep mentioning shadows.” David moved to take a seat next to Snow on the log, who began rubbing her palm reassuringly over his knee. “That sounds like we have to be scared of anything that casts one.”
“No, not really. The shadows are entities themselves, powered by Pan’s belief. They take on whatever form Pan wants,” Neal answered as he gestured towards the group. “They’re tricky bastards who can look like your loved ones, your enemies. Anything.”
She felt David shift under her hand and just squeezed tightly, holding onto him and balancing herself while trying to look for all the world like none of Neal’s explanation affected her.
Emma scratched her head confused. “I haven’t seen anything weird. Except, you know, everything.”
Regina nodded in agreement. “Neither have I.”
“I’m not surprised,” Tink answered. “You’ve both been so focused on your son that the shadows haven’t been able to distract you.”
Though it sounded like a compliment, the reminder that they were still no closer to finding Henry made both mothers shift and glance warily at one another.
“And Papa?” Neal asked quietly. The fairy offered an apologetic shake of her head.
Suddenly Regina’s voice boomed across the clearing as she marched to the middle of the clearing, mucking up their drawing of the battle plan. “You mean to tell me that we’ve been putting together a plan that wouldn’t make it past a second-rate network writer’s room while the best chance of saving Henry has been a victim of shadows and magic poisoning all along?” She glared at them all. “Idiots.”
With a final huff, Regina stomped across the clearing purposely kicking at the wood chips and coconut shells littering her feet. Her intent was clear as she pushed aside the low-hanging branches to leave.
Snow stood quickly. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Regina stopped and turned with an evil smirk on her face as she clapped her hands once. “Oh, I thought I would go to Starbucks and get a mocha.” She answered bitterly. Her face darkened as she glared at the little princess who had always been a thorn in her side. “I am going to get Rumplestiltskin before he becomes a permanent decoration in this godforsaken jungle, and then,” she straightened her posture and flicked her braid from her shoulder, “we are going to save Henry.”
Before Snow could react, Emma had already started after her, but David—moving just as quickly—caught their daughter’s arm and firmly shook his head. “Let her go. She just needs to blow off some steam. Trust me.”
Setting her jaw, Emma looked like she wanted to argue, but David had fixed her with a such a fatherly assuredness that she was momentarily caught off guard. After a heartbeat shared between father and child, she defiantly pulled her arm back and walked off from him—right through what was left of their half-witted battle plan—and slunk down at the base of a tree. She seemed to be frustrated that she’d not only let him affect her, but that she had chosen to obey. David sighed as he returned to Snow and resumed his seat on the log. She offered him a quiet smile as their fingers laced together in surety. They may not have had a solid plan yet, but that didn’t mean they still weren’t the righteous hunters in the fight against Pan. Snow knew all too well that hell hath no fury like a mother scorned.
umplestiltskin had never been a name that had instilled fear, especially not in the shanty town where he’d lived as the resident coward. The Dark One, however, made people shake and cross themselves and pull their children indoors. When the two merged together, Rumplestiltskin and the Dark One, the Dark One and Rumplestiltskin, a power was born of such greatness that no longer was Rumplestiltskin thought to be a coward. Great and powerful sorcerer he may have been though, once upon a time; now all that was left was a sweaty, shaking man plagued with mental nightmares far worse than even he could have conjured on his greatest foe.
The fire had died down hours ago, but still he lay curled beside its hearth. The logs that once attempted to keep him warm were now grey; nothing left but ash and soot. Rumplestiltskin didn’t move despite the chill overtaking him. Regardless of his slight frame—too similar now to when he had been the village coward—he didn’t notice, as he was overcome with fever wracking his body and delusions stealing his mind. Red and black magic crackled over his skin and around his rudimentary campsite. Patches on his neck still boasted that shiny scaly skin of the Dark One, but his face was fully human and weary, like a man who had seen far too many battles; ironic since the only war he should have actually fought was the one that had proved him the coward he was. His hair was tangled, matted to his face. The grey in it matched the beginnings of a beard grown along his jaw. If any straggler were to walk by and see him, he’d look nothing more than a common peasant lunatic, tossed out of his home, raving on about demons. The only difference was Rumplestiltskin could actually see them.
Around him in the trees, the shadows stirred.
He clenched his fists tightly, grounding himself to the earth as if he could disappear within it. Just then, the familiar clicking of a spinning wheel caught his attention. He released his fists with a gasping breath. A spinning wheel? In Neverland? The click-click-click leveled his labored breathing, and for one fleeting moment his brain quieted, allowing the steady rhythm of the spinning wheel to pull him into serenity. His eyes drifted shut, nearly feeling the wool between his fingers as he pressed on the pedal at a gentle pace. Too quickly and his wool would clump, but too slowly and the wool would break. Click-click-click.
“Wake up, Rumpel.”
The click-click-click slowed just as his eyes opened gently in time with the wheel. On the log just above him sat a brunette figure, though his vision was distorted and blurry. “Belle?”
A derisive snort sounded from the figure. “Hardly.”
Waking up fully, he sat up on his elbows and blinked to clear the fog from his eyes. When the brunette came into focus, his breath hitched, and he blinked twice more just to make sure his mind wasn’t playing tricks on him. There sitting on the log, dressed in dark red and black leathers complementing the look of a certain villainous pirate, was Milah, dagger in hand as she used it pick at the dirt from under her nails.
“You’re dead,” Rumpel choked out, throat hollow and sore.
“Murdered,” she added with an indifferent shrug.
He shook his head frantically. “No, you’re not real. It’s not real.” His panic rose again.
The woman sighed and placed her hands on her knees, ready to push herself to a standing position. Instead of straightening immediately, however, she hovered over his wasted form, her top lip curled in disgust. “And I’m still latched to the village coward—even in death.”
She shook her head and turned back to the log, placing a foot up to fix her boot. Rumpel struggled to get back to his feet, hissing every time he put too much weight on his right leg and had to all but slide his body over to the log before pulling himself up onto it. Milah cocked an eyebrow at his effort, tutting and shaking her head in expected disappointment.
“What are you doing here?” He attempted, trying to sound demanding and powerful, though the threat vastly missed its mark; he just didn’t have it in him. Instead, his voice broke, making him sound simply exasperated.
“My, my, is that the way you treat the mother of your child?” Satisfied with her boot, Milah sat down beside him, primly crossing one leg over the other.
“Mother?” Rumpel spat. “You abandoned our son to sail off into the sunset with a dirty pirate. A rabid cat would have been a better mother. An Evil Queen, even.”
Milah laughed, tossing her head back in mock mirth. “Shall we give you the parent of the year award, then? You’re as good a grandfather as you are a father. Both boys ended up here—tortured, hunted like prey—by a demon with the face of a boy.”
He shook his head, his momentary courage dissipating as quickly as it had come. “You’re not real.”
Milah scoffed and pushed at Rumpel’s shoulder. He nearly tipped and fought to keep his balance. “Pathetic. The Great and Powerful Dark One,” she mocked, gesturing with grandiose flare before swinging a leg over to straddle the log. She leaned in close to whisper in Rumpel’s ear, “is going to die alone in a sweaty heap in Neverland.”
He leaned away from her, hands curling into fists. “I’m not dead yet.”
“You should be.” She gripped his shoulders, forcing him to face her and moved in until they were nearly nose to nose. “All the lives you’ve taken. All the lives you’ve destroyed. Don’t you deserve death?” She spat out every word, venom in her eyes.
He continued shaking his head as if he could make her words untrue just by the mere action. “I did it for Bae. For my son.”
“For our son!” She exclaimed, thrusting a fist into the air in triumph and derisively mocking his infamous excuse.
“No.” Rumpel pulled himself away so harshly his back collided against the log, his face beet red with anger. He hissed in pain and wiped at his sweaty brow. His head felt dizzy and his heart hammered, but Milah only dragged herself closer, her eyes locked on him like a deadly hunter. He tried to concentrate, focus on his anger—focus on anything. “He is my son. You abandoned him,” he bravely continued. “You chose a disgusting thieving pirate man over your family.”
That stopped Milah in her tracks, and she eyed him incredulously. “Family?” She laughed once more.
“Yes, family. Bae and Henry.”
“Henry Mills is not your grandson. He’s just another pawn in your game, just like everyone else for last however many centuries you fooled yourself into thinking you could control fate without consequences.” She swung her leg back over the log and stood, stalking behind the feeble old man Rumpel had become. She dropped down next to his ear and whipped her hands out as if conjuring an image before them. He shifted in her presence, choking on the pervasive scent of sea salt and rum wafting from her. “That child had a destiny, Rumpel. A great one. You robbed little Henry of it, stripped it away because it suited you.”
“He’s just a boy. He still has a future.”
“A boy who would have been great beyond measure—but you robbed him of that.” She reared back and rapped her knuckles against the top of his head that was more annoyance than pain. “And for what? A Dark Curse to bring you back to Baelfire? He’s gone too. Because you turned an innocent girl into a monster and let her off her chain.”
“You don’t understand!” He swiveled on the log to face her, balled up fists slamming against the log in his anger. His breath was coming too heavily for him to realize the sides of his hands were coated in sticky blood. “You never understood. I’m doing this—all of this—for Bae!”
“No, Rumpel.” Her voice grew, loud, sharp, consuming. “You did it for yourself. You won. You had all the riches, all the power, Bae back, and yet you still let it slip away because at the end of the day you are nothing more than a coward. Petty, useless, weak.”
“I am not weak,” he squeaked out.
Milah gestured toward the trees. “Our son leapt into a portal to escape you! Your tawdry Miller’s Daughter turned away from you after she had what she wanted.” She straightened and put a finger to her jaw in thought. “I wonder how long Your Maid will tolerate you. Surely it won’t be long until she reaches her limit. I wonder whose strong arms she’ll run into to escape your weak and pathetic grip.”
“You’re not real!” He slammed his fist into the wood again, his battered fists opening more jagged gashes. “You’re not real. Not real. Not real!”
His chant echoed every smash of his fists against the wood until he moved from hitting the lumber to pounding his fists against his temples instead. His eyes scrunched closed as blood stained his face and Milah’s dark and cold cackling reverberated in his head and all around him. It wasn’t just Milah though. All around him, as he clawed at his head, he could hear Cora, rejecting him once more, Regina’s impassioned speech moments before her execution, and through it all, he could hear Neal, his Bae, his son’s voice. His words weren’t clear, and Rumpel wished for anything that he could anchor himself to his son, to that voice, but all it did was haunt him, reminding him that he had let go of his Bae’s hand and his son had called him a coward. His face bruised with every hit of his fist, and then he heard it, a childlike scream, and he knew it was coming from yet another boy he had failed—Henry.
His eyes snapped open and his breathing stopped as he glanced up at Belle, glowing in the darkness of the night. His breath caught in his throat and his fists slowed. His heart stuttered. Gone was Milah, with her taunting hurtful words. In her place was Belle, his Belle, in her stunning yellow ball gown and her soft curls pinned up. She reached reached out one pale yellow glove to touch him, but he recoiled, not wanting to stain the silk. She reacted faster than him, though, and quickly threw out both hands to catch his palms. She examined them gently and frowned at him.
“You’ve hurt your hands.” She said, worriedly. She sat comfortably beside him and began wrapping them. He didn’t even bother to wonder where the cloth had come from. All he knew was that as soon as she had begun, the burning cuts on his palms and knuckles no longer bothered him.
She was deliberate in her movements, careful not to put too much pressure on his hands, and as she worked, carefully inspected the cuts for any splinters.
“Are you real, Belle?” He cautioned the question.
She looked up from her triage and smiled radiantly at him. “As real as you are.” With this she lifted his newly wrapped and closed fists to her lips and kissed each and every knuckle.
He pulled his hands away, took a perfectly coiled lock of auburn hair between his fingers, tugged at its elegance, and watched it spring back. She was really there. His anxiety melted away. His knuckles grazed her cheek, her eyes drifted shut at his touch. Slowly, so very slowly, scared to move too quickly for fear she would disappear, Rumpel inched forward and closed the gap between them until the familiar pressure of Belle’s lips against his own silenced the voices arguing in his head and eased the sparking magic crackling over his skin. He kissed her, and it felt like magic, like his Dark One shell was shedding its skin, leaving nothing but Rumplestiltskin—neither sorcerer nor coward—just Rumplestiltskin, the man. For one blissful moment, he was free.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
Belle and Rumpel sprang apart as they both turned to see Regina, hair braided down a shoulder and sporting a simple white shift, black leather pants beneath it. Despite her innocent attire, her eyes were dark, and hovering in her hand was a smooth stone glowing red like the magic surrounding him. It didn’t take a genius to recognize the tracking spell imbued within the rock.
“The Evil Queen!” Belle gasped, clutching onto Rumpel’s arm.
“Regina?” Rumpel asked, confused.
In response, Regina shot out her arm, her violet magic violently tossing Belle across the small clearing. She did not even give Rumpel time to react before storming over to him. Always so focused, so bold, so quick to anger. This was the monster that Milah had sneered about. “Are you suicidal or just out of your ever scheming mind?!”
Rumpel didn’t answer as he frantically pushed past Regina, as quickly as his weakened state and hobbled leg allowed, and rushed toward his fallen angel. “Belle!”
He gripped the woman in his arms and cradled her head. Her hair, once perfectly done up, was tangled with loose leaves and twigs, and her silken gloves and the back of her dress were stained with dirt. “It’s okay, Belle,” he promised, hastily checking her for any large abrasions. His face was pained during his inspection, fearful that he’d find a wound that would steal her from him forever.
“That is not your maid, you blind imp. That’s a shadow.” Regina pointed threateningly toward Belle, but Rumpel clutched her close.
“She hurt me, Rumpel,” the imposter cried quietly, tears glistening over bright blue eyes.
Regina continued. “You taught me about shadow magic. I can’t believe Neverland’s magic ensnared you.” Regina scoffed as her upper lip twitched in a sneer. “The Dark One, weak as a kitten. Pathetic.”
“Don’t let her lock me away,” Belle begged, her voice pithy and whiny like a child begging to stay home from school. “Don’t let her, Rumpel. I don’t want to go. Stop her, Rumpel. Stop her.”
Rumpel’s face darkened as his lover pushed for justice, and without a second thought, he turned a deadly eye to his former apprentice and lunged. Regina cocked an eyebrow at his advance, awkward and unwieldy in his battered state, and by the time he was close enough, she simply sidestepped and kicked him in his bad leg.
The pain shot up through his body, and he cried out, falling into a heap on the ground. His eyes watered from the pain, and he could see his beloved pick herself up and race to him, but Regina was far too fast. Her face tightened into a mixture of aggravation and stress, and no longer was she just his pupil or a mother on a mission. Regina’s eyes had narrowed with a darkness he hadn’t seen in over twenty-eight years, and he watched helplessly as the Evil Queen whipped her hand. Belle was suddenly in the air, choking, feet dangling, one heeled slipper fell to the jungle floor.
“Belle!” He croaked out in desperation, reaching for her.
At his plea, the Evil Queen disappeared, replaced by Mayor Mills who rolled her eyes and huffed, “I cannot believe this. Must I do everything myself?”
“She is not real, you oaf!” Regina whipped her head back to glare at Rumpel. “Your real girlfriend is home! In Storybrooke!”
At Rumpel’s stuttering response Regina turned back toward the imposter, disgust evident on her face. “Love is weakness.”
For a moment, Rumpel squinted through the haze of the red magic trying to encompass him once more. He shook his head in disbelief. “Cora?”
The brunette in question whipped her head back again, this time in surprise. Regina’s—not Cora’s—determined face flinched and softened, not enough to release her captive from the magic choke-hold, but enough that Rumpel could see the mixture of fear, regret, and loathing etched onto her features. His monster off her chain was not without feelings.
Suddenly a loud cackle sounded in front of them, and Rumpelstiltskin looked up in time to see the gasping form of his Belle disappear, her auburn hair and yellow dress vanishing into a cloud of black smoke only to regenerate into an identical person—though this time, his beloved wasn’t dressed in a yellow gown or blue maid outfit. Rather, the black mist had formed into black leather and fishnets, and Belle’s once curled hair sat in a messy bun on top of her head. She didn’t glow. Trouble seeped off her like an exotic perfume, and Rumpel stuttered at seeing Lacey once more. The leather-clad woman smacked her knee and positioned a hand on her hip as she smirked apathetically at Rumpel. “Girlfriend? Home? More like away from you.”
“It’s Lacey,” she corrected sharply. “And I’m finally free of Rumpelstiltskin. Finally free to love whoever I want. And best yet,” she narrowed an angry glare to both Rumpel and Regina, “no jail cells required.”
Lacey glanced down at herself, nodding her approval at the tight royal blue dress under her jacket. She used her pointed heeled boot to kick up dirt, the debris catching at Rumpel’s knees. “I could have younger people now. Kinder people. Less evil people. People with less baggage and more heart.”
The final blow came when she took calculated steps past Regina to level her gaze on Rumpel. Her smile was wide and toothy and she made sure he listened. “I don’t even miss you.”
“Belle!” Rumpel yelled aghast.
Regina rolled her eyes. “Enough!”
Producing a fireball the size of a volleyball, Regina hurled her weapon toward the shadow, but Lacey had enough time to turn, wink at Regina, and disappear in a misty cloud of smoke. The fireball went through the smoke, its target missed as if the imposter had simply chosen that moment to depart.
Rumpel scrambled to the spot the shadow had vacated, crawling on his knees to grab at the dirt like it could bring her home. “Belle. Oh, Belle.”
“Oh shut up,” Regina scoffed and marched the short distance to the grovelling Rumplestiltskin, yanking him up by the back of the collar and tugging him to his feet. Rumpel fought to catch his balance but Regina barely gave him a moment before forcing him to stand upright. “I wasted valuable time looking for you when I could have been looking for Henry. I can’t believe I had actually hoped that you would be useful. I should just kill you now and save myself more headache later. If Neal—”
“Bae?” Rumpel looked up hopefully, his bandaged hands gripping the front of Regina’s shirt in desperate hope.
“Yes.” She pried his grip from herself with a disdainful glare. “Your son is alive. Now will you wake up and join the rest of us in the real world?”
At that, Rumplestiltskin straightened. The mere mention that Neal was alive sent an energy boost in his brain and down to his heart, pumping its encouragement through every vein in his body. Neal was alive. His Bae. And this time, he wouldn’t leave him. Rubbing the dried blood and dirt from his face, Rumpel could feel the red magic fizzle on his skin, waiting for his vulnerability, but he remained strong and took a steadying breath as he looked around his small campsite as if seeing it for the first time.
“How did you find me?”
Regina turned away from him, and though he couldn’t see her face, he could tell by the dullness of her voice that her mind was elsewhere. “Tinkerbell,” she finally answered. “Tinkerbell was lecturing the idiots on magical theory and how you would be slowly destroyed here. Thankfully your magic is a dark beacon in this hell hole. And I know your magic. I would recognize it anywhere.”
“Clever girl,” he muttered, relieved.
Regina turned, emotional distance gone from her face as she crossed her arms over her chest, staring at him expectantly. “Yes, well if you’re done playing Dances With Shadows, your son is waiting to see you and your grandson is waiting to be rescued.”
“Tink,” he rolled the name is his mouth. “The green fairy you were so infatuated with.”
“Loved, Rumpel,” Regina corrected, her eyes dimming at the memories. “I loved her, and she was ripped away from me.” The unspoken “again” hung in the air before the brunette tilted her head to the side with derision. “But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
Rumpel took a moment to compose himself, not willing to cower before the simmering Evil Queen. Instead, he flicked his wrist and conjured a cane, before leaning heavily upon it—hoping to ease the sharp spikes shooting up his leg. The effort it took to produce it should have been minimal, as it was a simple spell, but his own magic seemed to backfire on him. He wheezed heavily, coughing into his bandaged fist like a pack-a-day smoker.
“I never touched your fairy,” he countered once the coughing fit passed.
Regina stormed closer, anger on her face. “But you knew. You knew and—” Without preamble she reared her fist back and clocked him in the jaw, striking the man down easily. He groaned in the collapse and rubbed his tender jaw, feeling the bruise coming on. Perhaps his pupil didn’t need magic lessons after all with an arm like that.
He spat on the dirt, his saliva red with blood as he looked back up to Regina who advanced once more.
“You son of a bitch.” Her eyes shone with what could have been unshed tears, but Rumpel couldn’t tell, and suddenly she was gripping his arm and pulling him to his feet. “Now let’s get you to your son before I change my mind and decide to leave you here to die.”
And with that, they disappeared in a cloud of purple smoke.
inkerbell really wished she had gone after Regina. She knew the former Queen could hold her own, but the last thing she wanted was for her to get stuck in her own head where her demons lay. She was half a second away from giving up and going after the brunette when a swirl of purple smoke appeared in the middle of the clearing, and when it dissipated, there stood Regina, holding up a frail and weary looking Rumplestiltskin. Tink had never seen the great and powerful Dark One in such humble form, but she could still feel the magic radiating off him. He may be weakened, and Neverland would most definitely get to him, but there was no doubt the kind of power he still possessed.
“Papa!” Neal rushed across the clearing to greet the new arrivals.
Rumpel looked towards the voice and his face lit up. “Bae!” With renewed strength, he stood on his own and met Neal in a warm embrace. “My Bae. You’re alive. You’re alive.” Rumpel, felt the hot tears slide down his cheeks.
The son clapped his father on the back and frowned as he took in his well-worn and tattered appearance. “You look rough, Papa.”
Though the rest of their renegade followers were preoccupied by the return of the Dark One, Tink, on the other hand, kept her focus on Regina. The brunette looked indifferent to the whole reunion, but the fairy could see the storm brewing beneath chocolate eyes. Before she could step forward and question the brunette, Emma Swan reacted simultaneously, seemingly far more curious about Regina than the father-son reunion as well. Lucky for Tink, she was closer, and just a touch faster, and Regina noticed her first. The fairy tried not to think too much of the Saviour, even as she felt her eyes bore into their backs, her lips tight tight and arms crossed.
Snow and David joined in on the reunion, Regina and Tink bypassing them as they walked away. Regina whispered quietly to the fairy, “While these idiots gossip and braid each other’s hair, I need you to show me the fastest route to Hook’s floating death trap.”
More than anything, Tinkerbell wanted to ask Regina if she was okay, but it would be for her benefit only. She knew she wasn’t. How could she watch a father reunite with his child when her own was still stuck in this Neverland maze? Instead, she nodded. “Of course.”
Together they walked down a well-beaten path, the space between them closing as they stepped shoulder to shoulder. Behind her, as they walked away, Tink could hear Emma Swan curse, and the fairy couldn’t help but feel a small swell of triumph bubble within her. It was petty, perhaps, vying for Regina’s attention when now was not the time to be playing My Wings Are Bigger Than Yours, but for the time being, she had Regina, and Tink was going to live in the moment, no matter how short-lived. She schooled her expression once more, lest anyone see her pleased smirk save for Emma Swan, and soon they had moved away from the group and reaching the end of the short trail. Regina could have poofed them there if she so wished, but Tinkerbell could always tell when something more was at play when it came to the brunette before her.
“What do you need, Regina?” She asked cautiously.
Regina stopped and leaned against a tree, chin falling to her chest as she heaved a heavy sigh. “I need—I—”
“Why me?” Tink questioned, moving across the sand to stand directly in front of Regina. “What’s going on?”
Regina shut her eyes and held herself across the waist. It was a clear sign the former queen was trying to get her emotions in control. “Gold,” she finally voiced, though the usually confident tone was shaky. “He—I discovered something.” Tink had never seen her quite this flustered before, and with a shake of her head, Regina looked up at her, eyes wide and doe-like, like the young girl she used to fly around with in their youth. “I spent all this time thinking of you, Tink. That I—that—”
“Regina.” She tried to reach a hand out in show of comfort, but the brunette shook her head and turned away, facing the tree as she hugged herself tighter.
“He told them,” she voiced and her words shook with simmering anger and regret. “Rumpelstiltskin told the Blue Fairy and The King.” Regina turned, just barely catching Tink’s eye. “About us. Maybe about everything.”
Fury burned through Tinkerbell’s veins like flowing lava. “That bastard.”
Regina finally turned back once more, sorrow in her eyes. “You never betrayed me.”
It was Tink’s turn to look away, kicking at the rocks buried under the dirt at the bottom of her feet before she cautioned a glance up at Regina. “Did you really think I had?”
“In my darkest hours.”
The brunette didn’t let her finish. “I had so many dark hours. So much darkness. So much loss.”
“And now?” She licked her lips and took a step closer, holding Regina’s gaze for an intense minute.
An answer never came.
The unspoken apologies, the explanations that were never heard, all hung in the air as the electricity grew between them. Tink’s heart beat rapidly, and somewhere deep inside her, she wished and hoped that Regina’s was pounding just as hard. But maybe too much time had passed, between them, in their own lives. No longer were they the fairy and the young queen, flying off to grandiose adventures. Regina was the first to turn away, her expression suddenly serious as she pinched the bridge of her nose in deep contemplation before finally straightening.
“I’m going to ask you to do two things for me, Tink,” Regina commanded. “If you ever loved me at all, I need you to do two things for me.”
“Yes,” Tink agreed easily.
Regina stopped suddenly and furrowed her brows. “You don’t even know what they are yet.”
“So tell me, then I can say yes again.” Regina fought the smile from gracing her lips, but when Tink grinned that infectious, all-teeth, beaming grin at her, Regina let it bloom for a second.
“I need to get my son home, back to Storybrooke.”
Tink squinted confused. “I thought that was the plan.”
Regina scoffed. “Their plan is disastrous. It will never work. Neverland is not made for heroics. I thought that Rumpel may have been the best route back but he’s obviously not an option.”
“And what about your Miss Swan?” Tink couldn’t help but asking.
Almost regretfully Regina sighed. “No, I fully expect her to do something idiotic as well.”
“In response to whatever idiotic thing you’re about to do, you mean?” Tink argued with a tilt of her head.
Regina dismissed her comment with a wave of her hand before stepping right into Tink’s personal space. Tink thought for a moment to move back, but the earnestness in Regina’s eyes kept her planted. “The first thing I’m going to ask for is your silence. What’s about to happen—well, no one else can know.”
“Regina.” Tink curled the right side of her lips upward into a conspiratorial smile. “Your plan to get off Neverland isn’t exactly hero-friendly, is it?”
“I am the Evil Queen,” she said simply. “Nothing I do is hero-friendly.”
“Wrong thing, right reason?”
“Then I’m in.” Tink held a closed fist over her chest. “And I won’t mention a word. Fairy’s honour.”
“You were a terrible fairy,” she quipped.
“And you were a terrible queen,” Tink countered leading them further onto the path. “We make the perfect terrible duo.”
They laughed as they continued their walk, and within a moment they were back at the beach that Regina had visited with Neal to find Ariel. The waves crashed gently against one another, the turquoise water folding and kneading in on itself as the midday sun reflected harshly against what could have been paradise.
“So what’s the plan?”
“A mermaid portal,” Regina answered. “Neal’s fish friend is going to navigate it for us.”
“But Ariel can take only one person—and only with pixie dust,” Tink surmised. “It would work for Henry, I suppose, but we used the last of the dust for David.”
“A bigger portal would solve that issue.”
“But you have no beans,” Tink argued. “And unless you’ve suddenly become more than a human with magic, I don’t see how you’re going to get one.”
By way of answer, Regina pulled a dagger from her boot. Tink barely had time to question what she was going to do with it, when the brunette slid the dagger across her palm.
Tink gasped and clutched Regina’s arm. “Regina! You couldn’t have poked your finger instead of opening up gash?”
Suppressing a wince, Regina flexed her palm open and close, the wound seeping out fresh blood. “Sacrifice requires pain, not just blood.”
“A sacrifice for what?”
Regina held her wound-free hand up and placed a finger to her lips. Tink quieted immediately as Regina stepped to the edge of the beach. The waves lapped against one another as they moved inward, splashing up and over Regina’s shoes. Unphased, Regina closed her bleeding palm into a fist as the blood dribbled down the side of her palm and falling in droplets, mixing into the sea foam.
“Ursula,” Regina called out, “Dark Goddess of the Sea. I summon thee.”
Tinkerbell waited a moment. Then another. The waves continued crashing, and the jungle leaves behind her kept whistling in the light breeze, but nothing happened.
The turquoise water suddenly blackened and started to whirl. The echo of the waves and the whistling of the trees were drowned out by the whirring of a water vortex. From its depths, tentacles rose first, shimmering and ever-moving, rising from the water in twos. Tink was tempted to grab Regina and run, but the brunette looked stern and serious, rooted to the spot as head and body emerged from the water.
Ursula was neither human nor any type of merperson Tink had ever seen. She was. . . abstract. Liquid metal melted together in a mix of copper, mercury, and steel, forever moving to keep its form. Though she looked half-octopus with her spirally tentacles, her top humanoid form reminded Tink of what Medusa would look like, wiry hair and angry face. Only her eyes remained the same, a fathomless black pitch that made Tink worry if you stared too hard you’d fall into their abyss. The being’s magic permeated the air like a dirty fog as it whipped around them, and Tink could distinctly taste its signature—salt, blood, and something she could only describe as death.
“How dare you summon me, you loathsome imposter?” Ursula questioned angrily, black eyes fixated on Regina from the water. Tink opened her mouth to scream, to tell Regina this wasn’t worth it, but Ursula’s metallic tentacles were too quick. Within an instant they were wrapped around Regina like a rope. The image was all too familiar, reminding Tink of the stories Regina had once told her about how her mother had treated her in her youth, and the fairy could see familiar pain in chocolate eyes as Regina fought to remain calm and keep her queenly composure.
“I told you never even to mutter my name again, Witch,” Ursula hissed, bringing Regina right up to her face. “Give me one reason not to kill you right here and now.”
Regina choked against the tentacle bindings, and she wiggled attempting to give herself more room, though Ursula just squeezed more tightly. Regina scrunched up her face in pain for a moment before staring at the Dark Goddess square in the eye. “I have an offer for you.”
“What could you possibly offer to me?”
Ursula threw her head back in laughter, the water around her crashing upwards in her mirth. The sound was bone-chilling.
“I will give you Neverland on a plate,” Regina continued. Ursula laughed again, the water relaxing around her. She was listening, Tink thought. That’s a good sign, right? “All I ask is for a portal. A portal large enough for a ship to fit through.”
“A portal?” Ursula repeated with a cackle. “You’re even more mad now than when you cast your Curse. The Dark One’s Mad Dog Queen off her leash and striking deals with me. The Queen of Heart’s Little Princess all grown up and causing chaos all her own.”
The tentacles tightened around Regina, and the brunette grunted involuntarily.
“You’ve already exhausted your pitiful magic. I can feel your weakness,” Ursula spat. “You’re too weak to properly teleport or even wield those fireballs you enjoy throwing so much.” She brought Regina closer so they were nearly nose to nose. The space where her nose would be shimmered from a bright copper to a steely silver then back again. “You still smell of those wretched flowers. You can’t give me Neverland.
Boldly, Regina craned her neck meeting Ursula further. “I can, and I will.”
Ursula shook Regina violently, the brunette not crying out even as her small body flew from right to left and back again. Tink’s voice caught in her throat as she tried to yell, to scream really, but Ursula spoke once more. “You can’t, and you know it. I know it. Even that forgotten pixie knows it, but—” she brought Regina in once more, “I don’t want Neverland.”
Regina’s reflection peered back at her from Ursula’s deep black eyes. Her hair was wet from the waves, and her skin was beginning to take on a blue hue, but first and foremost, what stared back at her was a desperate mother. “Then what do you want?”
“What are you willing to give?”
Anything, Tink knew. Regina would give up anything and do anything—everything—for those she loved. The former queen said as much when she spoke. “For this boon, I will give you anything you want.”
“Dangerous words, Your Majesty.”
“I am a dangerous woman.”
Ursula unwrapped her glimmering tentacles from around Regina’s torso and pushed at the captive woman’s neck, forcing her into an awkward and painful angle. “Why? Why are you doing this?”
“I have my reasons.”
“Where would you be going? Back to your castle?”
“To the Land Without Magic.”
“All lands have magic,” Ursula scoffed.
“To a place called Storybrooke, Maine. In the United States,” Regina answered primly.
Ursula shook her harshly once more. Tink wanted to scream again; on,y fear kept her silent. “Do not patronize me, Regina Mills. I know all about your little village by the sea. How it stood timeless for twenty-eight years. I know of your life, your Curse, your little Saviour.” The Sea Witch leaned her head in carefully, and the liquid metal forming around her mouth tilted upward in glee. “And your son.”
Though Regina couldn’t move her head, her voice was cold and hard, as confident as the Queen she was bred to be. “Then you know that I will do anything to get him back home.”
Tink suppressed a gag when Ursula caressed one of her tentacles down Regina’s cheek in mock apathy. The blackness of her eyes seemed to shine in wonder. “So many options. So many glorious and enticing options.”
“Name your price,” Regina ground out.
Tink was waiting at the edge of the beach, clutching her dagger uselessly as she watched the show before her. She knew Ursula’s tentacles would react too quickly for her to do anything, so she just stood there and wondered what the hell the Sea Goddess would ask for. Images of hearts ripped out and burned forests came to the forefront of her brain. Tink had no doubt that Regina would succumb to her old ways if it meant saving her son. What did come out of Ursula’s mouth, however, surprised her entirely.
Tink gawked. Regina blanched.
“Regina, don’t do it!” She had no idea what the sea witch’s game was, but surely it couldn’t be good.
Regina ignored her. “A kiss for a portal to Storybrooke?”
Ursula grinned wickedly. “Do we have a deal?”
The shimmering reflection in Ursula’s metallic face and neck showed grim determination from the woman captured in her tentacles. Without a moment’s hesitation, Regina nodded once. “Deal.”
Ursula pulled Regina back up until they were face to face, chocolate brown eyes meeting pitch black. Regina’s face contorted in disgust for half a second before Ursula batted her eyes and smiled coyly. “Kiss me like you mean it, Your Majesty.”
Regina glared, but it was only for a second. Henry’s life was on the line after all. Without preamble, the former queen leaned forward and they kissed, flesh against metal, and Tink wanted to turn away and vomit, but instead stared dumbly watching the horror before her unfold—just in case Ursula had any ploys up her slimy sleeves. The kiss seemed to last forever, but as soon as they broke apart, Regina gasped like her face was finally breaking the surface after having been submerged for a touch too long. As quickly as she had grabbed her, Ursula’s tentacles retracted, and Regina fell to the dampened beach—hard. A shimmering black pearl dropped beside her in the sand.
“You have your portal,” Ursula nodded. “I do hope you can find your way home.”
Regina glanced up at her through sodden hair and heavy breaths. “Second star to the right and all that.”
With a coy smirk, Ursula disappeared back into the sea, the water beneath her swirling back from whence it came until only the gently lapping, turquoise sea returned.
Tinkerbell rushed to Regina’s side, dropping to her knees in her quick inspection. “You okay?”
Despite keep her composure for so long, Regina was shivering from the cold water, and her limbs sagged like they were drained of all her energy. Still she kept persisting on. “That was very unpleasant.”
With a frown, Tink did the only thing she knew how to do. She hugged Regina. Her arms wrapped around the damp woman and held her tightly against her chest, stroking the sand out of her braid and surrounding her in warmth. For a second Regina stiffened in the hug, but it only lasted a moment when the woman all but collapsed against her and succumbed to the hug. The drain of the last few minutes, hell since she had arrived on the island, finally caught up to her, and hiding her face in the crook of Tink’s neck, Regina broke down. Heavy sobs racked her body as she cried against the fairy, and Tink mourned for the time they had lost together. The in-between years spent apart, angry at one another, suddenly meant nothing because this woman, crying in her arms was the one she had fallen for, most deeply of all, once upon a time.
A few minutes passed when Regina’s sobbed quieted to mere shudders until it stopped altogether. The two women remained in the hug. “It was unpleasant for me,” Tink quipped, “and I only watched.”
Regina pulled back with a soft chuckle, wiping at her red eyes.
“I’m gonna need Hook’s flask to wipe it out of my mind.”
Regina smirked but looked up suddenly worried. “But you won’t tell anyone?”
Regina’s voice was weak and small, reminiscent of the child-queen she had known in the past. Tink caught Regina’s face between her palms and shook her head. “No.”
“And when everything gets crazy, when the Idiots talk of heroics and want to stay and fight for the greater good or something equally as asinine,” she continued picking up the black pearl from the sand and pressing it into Tink’s palm. “When there is a fight and when it comes down to saving the whole team and getting my baby home, I want you to take this and go to Hook’s ship. With or without me or anyone else. You. Henry. The Mermaid. Make sure he gets home. Take Neal and Emma if you can, even the idiots, but the priority is Henry.”
“And you?” Tink choked out, her voice watery as she clutched their only life raft to her chest.
Regina smiled sadly, a quiet understanding hovering between them. “Tink, promise me. Promise me Henry comes first.”
Something inside Tink wanted to argue, that they could all go back to this Storytown and Regina didn’t have to do any of her non-heroics heroics to save the day, but it wasn’t the time nor the place to argue with the woman. “I promise.”
Regina smiled her thanks and grasped Tinkerbell’s hands. “Help me stand. That old Sea Bitch was right. We’re going to have to walk back.”
“Too bad we can’t fly,” Tink said as she gripped Regina around the waist and eased her to her feet.
“Those were the days,” Regina responded with a weak smile. Tink bit her lip when the brunette had to lean most of her weight against her as they began to walk back towards the jungle. She really was weakened. “There is not going to be enough booze in Hook’s flask to wash away the taste of overconfident calamari.”
“Don’t you know? It’s enchanted never to run out. Endless rum.”
“Still not enough to get that horrible taste off my lips.”
mma groaned to herself as she paced and seethed outside of Tink’s treehouse. She rolled her eyes at the mere thought of the blonde fairy paced more harshly against the clearing. Regina was gone—again! She had just run off into the jungle, alone, might she add, but the worst part was that she had run off again and it was TinkerHell who was the one who had gone after her. No saying where she was going or what she was doing. Just poof—away with her bestie. She kicked at a rock and felt the need to stamp her feet. Whatever it was with Regina, it was always two steps forward, one giant ass leap back. They were in this together. They were Henry’s moms, goddammit. If Regina was feeling upset, she would have thought that they had patched things up enough that she could confide with Emma. David just wanted her to wait it out; wait for Regina to return and then she’d be comfortable enough to talk. Apparently being Regina’s sort-of-son-in-law made him some sort of expert on the mannerisms of Regina Mills. She may not have grown up in the Enchanted Forest with the Evil Queen reigning, but she sure as hell knew more about Regina Mills, regular human being and mother in distress, than her father who was in a coma for twenty-eight years.
She did stamp her foot then, disturbing the one lone flower that tried to grow there and caught the curious eye of Hook. Emma should have gone after her, She should have gone with Regina. What could a stupid fairy do that she couldn’t? She had magic! Tinkerbell had jungle-bad hair and some kind of shitty-ass past with Regina. Freaking fairies.
Her pacing ceased when the jungle leaves bristled at the entrance of the clearing, and within a moment, both Regina and Tink returned. Emma’s face dropped as she took in Regina’s disheveled state, wrinkled clothing and mussed up hair. For a moment, Emma thought the worst as she briefly glanced to Tink, but concentrated on Regina’s face was pain, and it was clear that her eyes were red. Her gait, usually calculating and confident, was slow as she leaned against the fairy to walk, and Emma so desperately wanted to move across the clearing to figure out what was wrong. Tink let Regina stand on her arm as she charged toward Hook and shoved her hand into his coat. She came away with his flask, uncorked it, and took a swig.
“Bloody Hell,” the pirate groaned cocking a presumptuous eyebrow.
She handed the flask to Regina who followed shortly after, and the blonde mimicked the action, but instead of swallowing she spit the rum onto the ground. Before Hook could make a slimy comment about the Queen holding her liquor, Regina threw her head back and chugged the flask.
Emma stood gawking, waiting for Regina to cough up the waterfall she was draining into her mouth, but the brunette wasn’t stopping anytime soon. Regina Mills was putting that away like a college frat boy. Emma didn’t know whether to be impressed or scared. Regina didn’t throw back alcohol. Hell, she’d only seen the woman sip at her own cider.
Finally, Regina stopped and recapped the flask, throwing it to the pirate without another word.
“You’re welcome, love,” Hook said pointedly.
The newly arrived women ignored him as Tinkerbell smirked at Regina. “Just like old times.”
Regina raised a single brow, a cocky grin fighting it way onto her features. “A bit.”
“What was the name of that Inn, anyway?
“When we were there? The Half Moon. After I bought it, The Bell and Crown.”
Hook inclined his head as he drank from his flask himself. “Fine tavern there, Queen, though I preferred it back when was the Miller’s Daughter. Better mead, easier women.”
Making her presence known, Emma spoke up as she crossed the clearing to join the trio. “Well I’ll be sure to mention that on the online review.”
Rumpel used his cane to stand up from his spot on the log, Neal cautioning a hand behind him to catch him should he fall. The mere presence of his son seemed to make him loads better. “Well, now that you’re back, Dearies, if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to discuss this plan of yours.”
Regina snorted. “Pass.”
“Hey!” David cried.
“It’s a good plan,” Snow argued jutting out her jaw with a mixture of superiority and hurt. “Not everything has to be curses and potions.”
Regina didn’t even grant her a response. “On that note.”
The newly arrived brunette was already beginning to walk away. Emma ground her teeth. “Damn it, Regina! This isn’t the time to—”
Regina ignored her as well and pushed back into the woods.
“I’ll just go—” Tink began, but Emma was not leaving Regina alone with that brown-nosing fairy.
Emma put her hand out to stop Tink from following. The fairy looked annoyed but not surprised at the action. “I will.”
Emma followed Regina through the path of trees she had disappeared into, she damn near had to jog to keep up. The infuriating brunette would not slow down or stop no matter how loud Emma called her name. When Emma found her, she had stumbled upon a small area with a small stream running horizontally down the middle. The trees still surrounded them, but the small area afforded them enough privacy to talk, and Emma really needed to know what was going on inside Regina’s brain right now. The brunette glanced up at her when she stepped through the brush, but she didn’t stop her pacing on the opposite side of the stream. She ignored Emma as she walked its length, breathing deeply and holding her arms around her waist. Emma was certain if she could read Regina’s mind, she’d find her counting backwards down from ten or any other calming tactics therapists and guidance counselors had taught her in her youth.
Despite all that, Emma still flipped.
“What the fuck, Regina!”
Regina barely flinched an acknowledgement at Emma’s harsh tone. “I have no patience for their idiotic babbles or for your profanities, Miss Swan.”
“Too fucking bad!” Blue fire licked at her fingertips, threatening to engulf her whole hand. She barely noticed, but Regina did, raising a pointed eyebrow at the source of the flame.
“Control your anger, Miss Swan,” she demanded slowly.
“My anger?” Emma threw back. “You’re the one out of control.”
“Stop this!” But all Emma did was take a step closer to the edge of the stream, blue and white sparks growing from her hands all the way up to her elbows. Regina motioned to the flames. “Your emotions are running amuck, Miss Swan. Magic is emotion.”
“Oh,” Emma sassed. “I thought you said it was complicated.”
“It is!” Regina yelled out. “Emotions are endlessly complicated!”
They stood across the stream, both seething heavily and neither wanting to back down. A good leap and Emma could easily make her way over to the other side of the water without having to walk around, but the former queen was standing her ground just as well as Emma.
“It took me years of hard work and study to become proficient in magic,” Regina continued. “Did you think I woke up one morning and could produce a fireball?”
“But you expect me to become a magical master in just a few days?” The blonde argued incredulously.
“You’re the almighty Saviour.” Regina spat out the title like she had tasted spoiled milk.
“I didn’t ask to be the fucking Saviour!”
“And I didn’t ask to be the Queen, but here we are,” Regina shot back. “Now stop complaining and control yourself.”
“Why should I control myself when you won’t?”
Regina, a second away from returning to her pacing, fixed Emma with a dark glare. “I beg your pardon?”
“You keep running off,” Emma stated, her hands free from any flames as she counted off the items in her list. “With Neal. With the pixie. And now—by yourself!”
“I can take care of myself!”
“Really?” Emma reared back and let out a snort. “Because you weren’t doing too hot in that field!”
Regina scoffed. “I would have figured something out. I always do.”
Emma groaned, stomping her foot twice in pent up aggravation. How could Regina not see? “You don’t have to! You’re not alone!”
Regina’s face suddenly brightened as if a realization she tried to fight before made itself known all too clearly. She took a step back from the stream with a shake of her head.
“I’m always alone,” she stated quietly.
Emma couldn’t believe what she was hearing. After all they’ve been through, after all they’ve done, not even just in Neverland but since coming to Storybrooke, they’ve been pulled together by fate or magic or fairy tales. Whatever the hell it was, Emma couldn’t let this woman believe that for a moment longer. She charged forward, stomping through the stream and not caring one bit that it would take forever for her socks to dry. She moved so quickly, Regina backed up another step, but by then Emma had already made it over to the other side.
“You’re not alone. Not now. Not anymore. Never again.” Her voice was intense, imploring, needing this woman to understand neither of them were alone anymore. She ran a finger through tangled locks and groaned. “I’m here with you, damn it. I want to help you. Protect you. Make sure that no one hurts you or threatens you ever again. I won’t even let Whale look at you funny. I can’t do that—any of that—if you keep pushing me away!”
With every promise, Emma took a step forward, causing Regina to take the complementary steps back.
She looked flustered, eyes darting to look anywhere but at the insistent blonde, but her gaze always landed right back on Emma. “I—Miss Swan—”
Emma shook her head. They were way past the titles of Miss Swan and Madam Mayor. She took another step, Regina’s back closer to a large tree behind her. “Stop! Stop pushing me away, Regina.”
Regina’s eyes were wide and doe-like. There was a fear within them that Emma could tell was something Regina was battling, something Regina was holding herself back on. If only the damned woman would just talk to her! They would be okay and they would get their kid and go home and split those fries and milkshake. Regina shook whatever thought was clouding her features and tried to push past Emma. “Miss Swan—”
The name set Emma off, and she lunged at Regina pinning her against the tree with a loose grip. She held Regina’s left palm above their heads and used her lower body to keep her there against the tree. If Regina really wanted to, she could easily push past Emma, magic or no magic, Emma knew the woman had a good right hook. But Regina let herself be pinned, wild eyes searching frantically through Emma’s green ones, and for the first time since they stumbled upon this lonely clearing, Regina’s voice sounded small, like she was tired. Tired of fighting who she was and what was happening around her.
“Unhand me, Miss Swan,” she demanded with next to no bite.
“My name is Emma.”
“Emma,” Regina amended softly. “Emma, please.”
Their faces were near inches apart, and if she just moved forward, their noses would brush. Emma’s loose slackened more, but she still remained pinned against her son’s other mother. Faintly she feels Regina’s free palm toying at the hem of Emma’s tank, whether to grip or push away, she couldn’t be sure.
“We have to be strong: physically, mentally, magically.” Regina explained. Their eyes bore into one another and something unspoken filtered through their shared gaze. But then Regina added. “For Henry.”
“No,” Emma disagreed, voice quiet now. “We’re just our strongest together.”
Without thinking, Emma closed the gap and captured pink lips with her own. She felt Regina gasp beneath her, body stiff and unmoving, but within the blink of an eye, the hand that had been toying with pushing her away was gripping onto her with tight ferocity. Emma released her captured arms and dug at Regina’s waist, bunching the linen there and just grazing at tanned flesh. Regina responded in kind. Hands free now, she brought them up and tangled them in blonde curls, the lips moving in a heated passion far greater than the humidity of the jungle. Nothing could come between them, not physically, mentally, emotionally, magically. That’s all Emma could think of as Regina broke the kiss just to start it again.
This was what magic felt like.
Emma’s hands slid against bare skin as she locked Regina in her embrace, earning a satisfied moan from the woman beneath her. Somewhere off in the distance, they could hear pipe music, slow and juvenile, but music just the same. Emma almost thought she hallucinated the sound, so indulged was she in Regina. Breaking the kiss, Emma dropped her forehead to Regina’s shoulder, the brunette doing the same as they remained embraced, swaying on the spot to the soft music.
“Do you hear that?” Emma asked breaking the quiet.
“Music,” Regina answered, her lips tickling Emma’s neck.
Emma furrowed her brow and strained her ear. She wasn’t crazy. “Yeah. Like a flute or a pipe.”
“Or a recorder,” Regina added.
“The plastic clarinet-y things?”
Regina nodded, but then she pulled back eyes wide, hands pushing back against Emma’s shoulders. “It sounds exactly like—” Emma tilted her head trying to decipher what had drawn Regina’s attention. It was just pan flutes after all. “—Like ‘Hot Crossed Buns’.”
Regina pushed against Emma and freed herself from the woman and the tree. She spun in a circle, spinning around and around trying to determine where exactly the sound was coming from. “I listened to Henry toot out this song a million times. Henry. Oh God, Henry.”
She marched through the stream and started to head into the woods. Emma caught her arm before she could disappear. “It could be one of those Shadow things.”
“It could be our son,” Regina argued, eyes wild and fearful. Emma wasn’t so sure, but then Regina’s voice dropped, and it looked like she was about to cry. “Please, Emma.”
She didn’t know if it was the name or the please that did it for her, but the blonde couldn’t say no. “We’ll go together?”
Regina didn’t answer immediately. Instead, she pulled the arm Emma caught back enough until they were simply holding hands. “Together.”
Still joined, they jogged through the jungle towards the sound of the music.
enry breathed heavily running through the jungle. He didn’t even bother to try to push the branches and leaves out of his way, the rough foliage whipping against his face as the only thought echoing in his head was to get out of this place and to go home. He pushed faster at that. He needed to get home and away from all this craziness. Get home to where his moms were. If they were still there. His legs gave out, and he dropped, heaving heavily as he struggled to take in breaths. His hands dug into the earth, buried under dirt and fallen leaves, but that was nothing compared to the blood stained on his clothing. He choked out a sob and pushed the memory of that kid—just a little boy—with a spear sticking out of his neck.
He just wanted to go home.
He wiped at his eyes, tears and dirt mixing on his cheeks, but when he came away, the panpipes dangling from a string around his neck got in the way. Growling he ripped it off his neck. He was no Lost Boy. He was Henry Mills, and he was a hero. At least, he tried to be. Right now he was too exhausted to run anymore, and if what Pan had said was true—remembering his mom’s torn jacket or the little boy weeping out the song his mom used to sing for him—then he was alone. His muddy hands shook, his muscles burned, and his feet ached. He could have been running in circles for all he knew; the trees were never ending and he couldn’t tell between one or the other.
He was no hero. He was definitely not a Lost Boy, but how could he come from a line of heroes, his mom being the most powerful sorceress in the land, and all he wanted to do was cry. Looking at the panpipes in his hand, he started to blow on them. Music was never his forte, but he had tried his hardest to learn how to play the recorder in the second and third grade. It was the same thing, sort of. With much effort, he piped out a basic tune, slowly and with lots of mistakes. The pipe squeaked with an awkward note one breath and then hummed with a flat tone the next. Every so often, his mind would pull him back to that crying, bloody boy, but he concentrated harder on the music. If he could focus on that, then maybe he could hold back his throat from screaming and sobbing on his own. There was nothing to stop the tears that were already falling from his eyes, but at least the music was a momentary distraction.
With every sloppy note, the music soothed him as best as it could. One note here: His grandparents would come brandishing their swords and bows. Another breath there: Emma would have her fists cocked and his mom would have a fireball as huge as the moon ready to haul. That’s what he had to do, he thought as he continued to play. He had to be more like them. He was like them. He was Henry Daniel Mills—a Swan, a Charming, and a Mills. His DNA and upbringing couldn’t be anything other than brave, strong, and true.
But he was starting to feel like that second grader he was who kept dancing through the house belting out an awful rendition of ‘Hot Crossed Buns’ while his mom cheered happily.
Trees and underbrush rustled not too far off into the distance, and he flinched, jumping from his spot on the boulder and preparing himself for an attack. It was the Lost Boys again. He just knew it. He had to get out of here. He was a second away from turning, already placing the pipes back around his neck and bolting when—
He stopped dead. Mom?
Like a daydream, Regina and Emma rushed through the trees. He stood stock still. It couldn’t be them. They looked—different. His mom’s hair had magically grown longer, its usually short brown locks pleated in a braid, and she wore different clothes, like a fairytale princess in disguise. She was the prettiest thing Neverland. Beside her was Emma, looking like a knight with a brandished sword, armour, and everything. No, he thought taking a step back. This had to be a dream. Pan was playing tricks on him, trying to get him to come back.
He prepared himself to run, to escape the illusions of the island, but then they were right there in front of him, and four strong arms wrapped all around him, and he knew it wasn’t a dream. He was safe. For the first time since he’d come through that portal he knew he was safe.
“Moms,” his voice sagged in relief as he hugged them close, his body succumbing to their embrace. “Moms, you’re here.”
“Henry, oh sweetheart.” Regina was the first to pull away, just a little bit. Her dark eyes ran all over him, fingers skimming across his face as she wiped away the dirt and tears. She gasped when she noticed his blood stained clothing and roamed her hands frantically over his body, magic tingling at her fingertips. “Are you okay? Where does it hurt? Tell me what’s hurting?”
He shook his head, voice cracking as his eyes darted to both women. “It’s not my blood.”
Her face fell but she didn’t press any further, only wrapped her arms even more tightly around him. She squeezed so hard it hurt just a little, but he didn’t complain, only dug his face to burrow between theirs.
“You okay, kid?” Emma asked.
He nodded against her shoulder. “I wanna go home.”
Regina nodded and pulled back to wipe at the fresh tears streaming down his face. Emma squeezed his shoulder, offering a happy and reassuring smile. “We’re taking you home, Henry.”
Warmth radiated from the deepest pit of his chest as his heart swelled at the relieved and happy looks on both his mothers’ faces. There were times over the course of the last year he had turned against them, wondered why Emma had given him up and how Regina had lied to him for so long, but in that moment, none of that mattered. He was going home, and he never felt more loved. His moms would go through hell and back again. For him. He hugged them tightly once more.
“Damn straight,” Emma nodded at their release. “We’ve been looking for you, fighting to get to you. Us, your dad, your grandparents. Kid, we’re so glad you’re okay.”
“My Dad?” Henry hoped. “He’s here too?”
“Yeah, Kid. He’s here,” Emma reassured, pressing her forehead against his. “He’s here, and he’ll be so happy to see you.”
Unbidden tears streamed down his face once more. Everything was so overwhelming he could barely comprehend it. Everyone had come together for him. But there was no way, no way his Mom would team up with his grandparents. This all had to be a nasty nightmare. He shook his head with a sob. “Your jacket. He showed me your jacket. It was all torn up.” He clutched desperately at Regina’s top. “And one of the b-boys and they sang your lullaby and I-I thought. . . “
“Just a couple of scrapes,” Emma shrugged. “Nothing your Mom couldn’t fix.”
Henry eased up on his grip of Regina, a silent question hanging in the air. With an understanding smile, she waved her hand, and his clothes suddenly changed. He was back in his khaki slacks and favourite blue long sleeve t-shirt. Even his hair was cleaned and combed, and on his feet were suitable hiking boots that already made his aching feet feel protected. Never before had feeling clean felt so good. Gone was the dirt, the sweat, and best of all, the blood.
“I know I promised—”
“Thank you, Mom!” He hugged her tightly again, putting his all into wrapping his arms around her neck and squeezing just as hard as she had squeezed him. Emma was right there too, wrapping her arms around both of them, squished in this little family hug, and Henry wept that he ever thought his family would forget about him.
“You ready to go home?” Emma whispered in a tangled mess of chestnut hair.
He furrowed into both of them like they were his favourite blanket-soft, warm, safe. For a long moment, he wanted to stay in Neverland if he could stay in this hug forever. Both women seemed to think the same since neither moved to let him go, and Henry relished in that feeling for a second longer.
Then just above them in the trees, slow clapping began to sound. Behind the women was their foe, Peter Pan sitting on an unnaturally twisted makeshift throne made of branches and twigs suspended in the tree line. Blossoming around him were verdant green leaves and blood red flowers. From Henry’s vantage point, the buds of red looked like little bloody voodoo doll heads, and that thought made his stomach squirm. He didn’t look long for both his mother’s turned swiftly, placing him behind them in a human shield.
“What a sweet family reunion. Mother, Son, and. . . Other Mother.” Pan pressed a hand to his chest in sorrow. “It brings tears to my eyes, really, it does. I’m almost sorry to see it come to an end.”
His face zeroed in on the mothers keeping Henry in their grasp. “Almost.”
Emma took a step forward, though both Regina and Henry held her back. “Stay away from us, you prepubescent prick!”
He smiled wickedly, a wide, toothy grin that spoke of deadly mischief. “I only want the boy.”
“Yeah, well you can go fuck yourself.” Emma drew her sword at the same time Regina conjured a fireball.
Regina was the first to attack, flinging the ball toward the demon in the trees, but the ball stopped midway and burst into an array of monarch butterflies and tiger lily petals. His mom’s eye twitched.
Pan leaned an elbow against the arm of his chair and held his chin on the platform his knuckles. “Feisty.”
“I’ll show you feisty,” Regina growled and readied another fireball.
As quickly as she produced one, Pan wiggled his fingers, and the ground, rich brown and like moist peat, rose from the earth like muddy tentacles and coiled around his Mom, trapping her arms to her sides and wrapping around all the way to her neck. Then the coils started to choke her. Pan was not-so-subtly reminding Regina that he is everywhere, that nothing happened on his island that he didn’t know.
“Mom!” Henry cried at, tugging at the earthen tentacles and fighting with the ever moving soil. He tried pulling on roots and scooping away handfuls of mud but it was no use. His Mom just kept choking. “Leave my Mom alone!”
Pan laughed, the sound reverberating around them like an echo, and with another wave of his hand, Henry was encapsulated in a mud pile all the way up to his shoulders. He struggled against the tomb, but the dirt around him seemed to harden like cement.
“Henry, no!” Emma tried furiously to dig him out while Regina watched on with horror. Her mouth opened and shut as if screaming his name, but no sound came out.
Suddenly Emma jumped out of the way when Henry’s column was propelled forward toward Pan. No matter how fast she scrambled, the blonde was useless against keeping Henry to them. She jumped fluidly to her feat, anger blazing in her eyes.
“I told you to leave my family alone!” Blue and white fire erupted from her fist and envelope her all the way up to her elbows. She shoved her hands out in front of her, and the earthen binds of both Henry and Regina crumble back down to peat. Another shove and Pan, throne and all, was pushed back a few feet into the trees.
The boy demon clutched the arms of his chair in surprise, his eyebrow quirking impressed. “Well, well. Those magic lessons are certainly paying off.”
The moment he was free, Henry scrambled back to return to his mothers, only managing to reach Regina before she reached out her hand for Emma. Their fingers almost touched. Then, like something out of one his nightmares, a giant stone hand erupted from the ground and squeezed Emma around the middle. She yelped at the sudden pain and tried punching at the stone, but it just tightened its grip further. Regina raced over and desperately tried to pry the fingers off.
Henry watched horrified. Emma was turning blue, and patches of the stone were staining with flecks of red as his Mom tried to punch Emma to freedom. All the while, Pan sat above them in his boy throne, eyes bright with glee. No, no, he was not going to lose his moms.
He turned to Pan desperately. “Leave my Moms alone! Please! I’ll go with you, just leave them alone!”
“No!” Both women ceased their actions in their moment of panic.
Regina rushed to Henry and held him about the shoulders. “No, Henry, that thing will never touch you again.”
Emma coughed and caught both of their eyes. She looked like she was about to pass out from lack of oxygen, but she still managed to smile, holding his Mom’s gaze. “Hey, remember all that stuff about sticking together and not running off?” Regina pulled Henry close, his head pressed against her chest. She nodded. “Forget it. Take Henry and go. Now!”
Henry shook with fear, looking up at his Mom. “No. Mom, no. We can’t leave Emma.”
“Regina, save our son. That’s all that matters.”
His Mom looked like she was on the verge of tears as she turned from him to Emma. She shook her head so minutely it could have just been a twitch of the head. “Emma—“
“No, Mom. We need Emma. Please!”
His Mom didn’t say anything. She just wrapped her arms around him and looted them away in a cloud of purple smoke. Never once did she break eye contact with Emma.
mma breathed out a choking sigh of relief. If you asked her earlier today, she would have said watching Regina poof away from her would have been the most aggravating thing about their trek to find Henry, but seeing that cloud of purple smoke dissipate, she had never been more grateful for the other woman’s powers. They got away.
There were times in Emma’s youth that she didn’t think she would make it past the age of adulthood. Either she was in a house with too much violence, or her life choices let her wind up behind the wheel of a stolen car, laughing with the other runaways as they did donuts in an empty parking lot so quickly the left side of the car reared up in the air nearly toppling her over. She had reprimanded men who had jumped bail and had a nasty right hook or would do anything to escape her, even going as far as trying to kick her off the fire escape while they were ten feet in the air. Never did she think that her end would come at the hand—stone, apparently—of a magically immortal demon who didn’t know that playtime was long over. She never thought it would end this way, but if nothing else, she thought as her vision blurred and her eyes began to water like they would pop out of her skull, Regina and Henry were safe.
Until there was another swirl of smoke and Regina and Henry reappeared—only three feet away.
Pan clapped his hands again, a slow sarcastic clap. “Really? You haven’t figured it out yet? I am Neverland. Your magic is nothing compared to me.”
He squeezed his fist, the stone structure around Emma mimicking his motion, and Emma winced in pain. Regina rushed forward, one last feeble attempt to save Emma, but in the midst of her distraction, vines descended and wrapped around Henry, pulling him up and away.
“Henry!” Emma shrieked.
Curling his fingers in a mock au revoir, Pan disappeared, and the stone hand crumbled away.
Emma dropped to her feet gasping in breaths of air. Her ribs were bruised, and she felt the blood rushing back to both halves of her body with a painful tingle. She banged her fist against the earth as tears prickled to her eyes. “Damn it! We had him, Regina. We had him.”
She looked up to see Regina standing there, silent, shaky, pale. Emma had seen Regina in her most vulnerable, an image of the Mayor standing outside a mine hall fighting with Emma on who got to rescue their son, but the brunette never looked so small before. Emma stood up quickly, wiping her hands free on her pants and approached the woman cautiously. “You okay?”
Suddenly tears spilled and slid down her cheeks, and Emma rushed to take her hands into her own. She got it. They had their son only to lose him again. That alone would break even the strongest of women, Regina included. She squeezed the older woman’s hands. “Let’s go get the fucking cavalry. We’re going to go get our son then leave this hellhole in the rear-view,” she promised.
Regina didn’t respond. She just held Emma’s hand and squeezed back so hard it hurt. Emma didn’t let go as they rushed back through the trees.
Neal sat with his Papa, making sure that he rested his limp leg. The man may not have been his favourite person in the world when he was growing up, but the idea of Neverland consuming him, no man or Dark One deserved that kind of torture. He was about to stand and get a cup of water when the trees rustled in the distance, and popping through the clearing was Emma and Regina. He took a step back at the red-faced fury on his ex-girlfriend’s face, but it was Regina’s whose face caused alarms for him. He didn’t know her in her Evil Queen glory, but even walking with her to speak with Ariel let him know she was not a woman to be trifled with nor did she scare easy. But Regina looked like she had seen a ghost, her weight all but falling against Emma as she stood there, ashen pale and shaking like a leaf.
Charming and Snow darted to Emma immediately, but Tink rushed to Regina’s side, her face pulled into a concerned frown. The second that Tink touched her shoulder, Regina was clouded in purple smoke, and when it cleared, Regina was gone only to be replaced by Henry. Neal’s heart thudded against his chest.
Emma spun so quickly she almost fell. “Henry!”
Their son darted to her arms and hugged her tight around the neck. “I couldn’t talk. Mom made it so I couldn’t say anything,” Henry explained through sobs, his body shaking as he spoke. “She told me she loved me and that you would take care of me, and then she switched us! She switched us!”
He looked around frantically as if one of the people surrounding him would suddenly turn into his Mom, but when they all remained the same, the tears poured more quickly. “Pan has my Mom! Pan has my Mom, and he’s going to hurt her.”
Neal jumped from his spot on the log and knelt by his son, pulling his frantic form into a fierce hug. “It’s going to be okay. We’re gonna get her, and we’re all gonna get out of here.” He held Henry’s face gently between his hands as he lowered his voice to a calming and understanding whisper meant for only Henry’s ears. He had been a Lost Boy, and like hell he’d let his son fall victim to it. “Whatever happened, whatever you had to do, it doesn’t matter. You hear me? It doesn’t matter anymore.” He pressed his forehead against his son’s head and spoke earnestly as if willing the words to take in his mind. Whether it was for Henry or somewhere in his past Neal was the one who needed to hear it, he pressed on. “You have a family right here, and we’re not leaving without your Mom. You are not a Lost Boy, Henry. You are not a Lost Boy.”
Tink, now, looked as ashen pale as Henry had been when he resembled his mother. The fairy sat down hard on a large boulder as if her legs couldn’t hold her up any longer. “Pan has Regina. Pan has the heart of a True Believer.”
A darkened one, yes,” Papa said from his perch on the log. “He would prefer Henry’s pure heart, but Regina’s will do. It will more than do.”
Emma suddenly got defensive and narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean?”
A flicker of Rumpelstiltskin, the Dark One, shone through as he chuckled lightly to himself. “Ah yes, I supposed we never really got around to telling you.” He stared between Emma and Snow. “While you and your mother were away having adventures in the Enchanted Forest, I cast a spell over the well to try to prevent Cora’s arrival in Storybrooke.”
“An evil spell that would have killed us,” Snow added.
Papa shrugged. “But it didn’t because Regina absorbed it. The spell was powered by a great deal of fairy dust, and the only way she could have survived absorbing it was to store it in her heart. Fairy magic is finicky, but it would respond to her heart.”
“Wait, wait.” Emma stepped forward, hand firmly grasping the helm of her sword. “Regina’s been carrying around a death spell in her heart? In her heart? All this time?!”
“So what does that mean?” Snow asked clearly not following. “Right now, I mean.”
Rumpel closed a fist in the air like he was grasping something. “If Pan takes Regina’s heart. . . If he gives it to that wretched tree of his. . .” He dropped his hand and looked away. “Not only will we all die here, but with that much dust—”
He didn’t finish, his hands visibly shaking. Neal didn’t know much about how his Papa tutored Regina, but if he was this upset over it. . .
“With that much dust, he could gain access to the Hollow,” Tink finished for him. Snow gasped covering her mouth. “If he corrupts that—”
“Indeed,” Rumpel sighed. “To save the world—all of them—we must rescue the Evil Queen.”
“Before he gets her to the tree,” Neal added darkly.
“Tree?” David asked.
“His Thinking Tree,” Neal explained. “He used to call it that, at least. Now, it’s known as The Wendy.”
“Let me guess,” Emma scoffed with an angry roll of her eyes, “the actual Wendy Darling.”
“Yeah. She died, years and years ago, but Pan. . . well he didn’t want her dead.” His voice grew flat as he remembered the way Wendy’s hair curled in perfect ringlets and how she was always so good in making him laugh, making him believe in himself. “She was my best friend. My first love. When she died, he put her in this tree, and then. . . she became the tree. I thought she’d come back the next night, but that had only been a Shadow; I thought I was saving her and the boys see!” His eyes grew glassy as the memory of that time took over him, but he forced the recollection back with a shake of his head. “Well, becoming one with a mortal, it messed with him, with Neverland, with everything. And Wendy’s fate—it’s the worst thing I can imagine. The worst kind of Hell.”
“Oh my,” Snow gasped softly into her hand, David wrapping a comforting shoulder around her.
Henry’s lip trembled as he put distance between himself and Neal. “He’s going to do that to my Mom?”
Neal didn’t want to lie to the kid, so he shrugged with a heavy sigh. “I don’t know, Kid.”
Pan’s cold and eerie laughter filled the clearing, and Henry reached for Emma, bringing her close so he could cling both to her and Neal tightly. Henry didn’t have to say anything for both Emma and Neal to understand. He wanted his Mom. Emma tucked her head in close to Henry and comforted him as best as she could. Neal was thankful for that because he was in no position to be the soother for the shadows had come.
They surrounded the clearing, a feeling first as the hairs on the back of his neck stood like they could sense its presence. He wasn’t sure Emma or Henry would see them, and he didn’t wish it on either of them. He stood, attempting to control his breathing and sandwiched Henry in between himself and Emma. The Kid was still crying, no doubt envision his Mom as the new Wendy, and he didn’t blame him. All he could do was make sure Henry couldn’t see or hear the shadows, because if he did, he’d have nightmares for sure.
Surrounding them in the trees was a bunch of Regina Mills.
Each and every shadow looked like her, some more normal than others like the one that was ripped from his memory: Regina wearing the dark jacket from when she had teamed up with her mother and fought against them at Papa’s shop. But then there were others though, staggered amongst the trees. Regina with her long flowing hair and white dress, a young Regina in a sky blue riding jacket, Regina in pageboy leathers holding a flickering fireball. The most startling shadows stood beside each other, though they were the most polar opposite. There a shadow stood looking like Regina in a red shirt, contemporary chic Mayor of a small town, but beside her was the woman Neal could only assume was the Evil Queen, dressed in all black, her makeup matching. His blood chilled at the sight of them, and as he glanced around the clearing, he could see everyone else, save for Henry and Emma, was just as frightened.
The shadows did something he didn’t expect them to do. One by one, all the Reginas zeroed their gaze in on Henry and Emma standing in the middle of the clearing. Neal instinctively stood in front of them, a hesitant foot forward. They would get them over his dead body. The realization that that was entirely possible left him nearly paralyzed. But when neither Henry nor Emma responded, the blonde shushing Henry’s crying with soothing kisses to his head, the shadows screamed.
He hadn’t heard that scream in centuries, but it still haunted him to the bone, making his heart nearly thump out of his chest. He did well to school his reactions though. The last thing he needed was to curl into a ball and have Henry cry even further. Around him, he could see Hook avert his eyes, his gaze darting from the Regina in the red shirt, and Snow did well quietly cover her ears. If banshees were real, and probably only his papa would know if they were, then the Shadows surely would have been descended from them with the scream they made.
Thank God Emma and Henry couldn’t hear it.
He was glad because though he had heard many things in his life, nothing was so terrible as hearing the woman who’s raised his son scream like she was being murdered. Maybe, Neal knew—a dark haunting knowledge—that she actually was being murdered.
Evil Queen or not, Regina did not deserve it, not this, never this. Never Neverland.
. . . To Be Continued in Episode 20
Total Word Count: 17648 words