dragonbat2006: Canon Error (Default)
[personal profile] dragonbat2006
Title: Patterns
Author: [personal profile] dragonbat2006
Fandom: Once Upon A Time
Characters: Emma Swan, Rumpelstiltskin, Henry Mills, Regina Mills, Robin Hood, Snow White, Prince Charming
Pairings: Primarily Gen. Background Snowing & Outlaw Queen
Rating: K+
Genre(s): Angst, Hurt/Comfort/Drama
Timeline: Set immediately after S5, E12: Souls of the Departed
Warnings: Spoilers for Season 5
Word Count: 5,915
Story Summary: Emma wonders whether the first Dark Curse was ever completely broken. Gold may be the key to finding out.
Notes:

A/N: I have not yet seen Episode 13. If this isn’t an AU yet, I have every confidence that it will be.
A/N: “Patterns” written by Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire. Recorded by Beth Fowler on the Baby Original Cast soundtrack album (Jay, 1983).


Patterns that begin as I walk through a door

Patterns in the curtains and the kitchen floor

Patterns in the day's routines I must arrange

Patterns in the ways I try...but never change





Just look, as I'm thrown a curve again

I leap, then I lose my nerve again

In tears, running home I go

Secretly relieved

Safe with what I know, again



And yet I know I am not the same…




—Richard Maltby, Jr., “Patterns”





Patterns





“Could we rest up for a bit?” Henry asked. “I feel like we’ve been walking for hours.”



The adults in the party looked at one another for a moment. “Granny’s shouldn’t be far from here,” Regina said. “We could get supper—”



Henry shook his head nervously. “I might not have any chapters about the Underworld in my book,” he said, “but we covered Greek Mythology back in grade five. If we eat or drink anything here, we might not be allowed to leave.”



“Persephone and the pomegranate,” Emma nodded slowly. “I know the stories we’re familiar with aren’t always a hundred percent accurate, but it might not be a bad idea to hold off on sampling the local cuisine until we’re sure it’s safe.”



“I think,” Snow ventured, “that the woods might be a better place to rest. More private.”



“We were in Granny’s earlier,” David agreed. “We ran into some familiar faces who probably shouldn’t overhear any conversations. If you should encounter someone who looks like me but isn’t dressed like me… it’s not me.”



“James,” Regina exclaimed with a knowing smile.



“And a blind woman who offered me a choice between gingerbread and,” Snow shuddered, “children as a light snack.” She smiled at Henry. “Don’t worry. I didn’t have anything.”



Regina’s smile faded. “You’re right,” she said. “I don’t believe I’d care to encounter her.” She didn’t miss Robin’s sympathetic glance in her direction and she sighed. “We knew from the start that coming here would mean running into a lot of the people we’d… sent here over the years. She’s just one of them.”



“You know we’ll stand with you, Regina,” Snow said immediately.



“I’m not afraid of her!” Regina snapped irritably. “That doesn’t mean I can see any value in having a conversation with her. And…” she wrapped an arm about her son’s shoulders. “And I don’t think it’s a good idea for her to meet Henry. Considering that she might not recognize how… grown up he really is.”



“It’s too bad that Rumpelstiltskin went off,” Robin ventured. “He’s been here before. Having someone familiar with the terrain would have been handy.”



“Yeah, well, it’s not the first time,” Emma muttered. “When we went off to Neverland he ditched us pretty damned fast, too.”



“Did he?” Robin asked, raising an eyebrow. “That would have been about the time that I met Baelfire, I suppose?”



“That’s right,” Emma said. “Pan had kidnapped Henry. We—me, my parents, Regina, and Hook, went after him. Gold helped us navigate the waters, but he didn’t even wait for us to reach land before he bailed that time. He said he’d stand a better chance without us, but, as it turned out, he had his own agenda.”



“I can’t say I’m surprised at that,” Robin said. “He is the Dark One, after all. Still, it is interesting that history seems to be repeating itself. One of our band taken by force to another realm, most of the same people going off in search of him, the Dark One providing some initial guidance and then striking out on his own…”



“He’s just falling back into his old patterns,” Regina pointed out. “It’s hardly news.”



“It’s not even like it’s the only pattern that keeps cropping up,” David said. “How many times has there been a curse on the town line? Or something gone wrong with our memories?”



“Or Grumpy running down the street bellowing about terrible news?” Snow added with a slight laugh.



Emma stopped walking so abruptly that her parents nearly crashed into her. “Emma?” Snow asked, concerned. “What is it?”



Emma’s face was almost as pale as it had been when she was the Dark One. “What if I never broke the first Dark Curse?” she whispered.



David blinked. “We’d still be our cursed selves, I guess. And there wouldn’t be any magic in Storybrooke.”



Emma shook her head. “That’s not what I meant. I meant, what if I haven’t fully broken it, yet?”



“But you did,” Regina said. “I mean… I was there in the hospital when you kissed Henry. I saw it happen.”



“Time started moving forward the minute you decided to stay in Storybrooke, Mom,” Henry pointed out.



“I know,” Emma said. “That was the first hint that the curse was starting to break. But what if it never finished?”



“But it did finish,” Snow said. “Emma! You broke the curse, you restored our memories…”



“And then, we had a short… break. With strangers showing up in Storybrooke and a lot of scary stuff going on, so it wasn’t really a break, as much as a change of pace. And then, Neverland. But after that? We came back from Neverland and the next thing we know, Grumpy’s running down Main Street,” she looked at her mother and nodded, “hollering about terrible news, and what happens in the minutes before Pan’s curse hits? I get… sent away into a land without magic. I have no memory of where I came from, until it’s time for me to go back and… and save everyone. Again. And then? We try to get back to normal in Storybrooke,” she sighed, “with more strangers showing up. New faces first, then folks you knew back in the Enchanted Forest. And now, Hook’s gone and we’re off in another realm looking for him and Gold’s off on his own.”



The others glanced from Emma to one another. Nobody spoke for a moment.



“Well, what about Camelot?” Robin asked. “That was another journey to a different realm. Nobody was lost, then.”



“I was,” Emma whispered. “In more than one sense of the word. And Gold didn’t come with us that time, so he couldn’t go off on his own. And yet…” she frowned. “Maybe I’m trying too hard to make things fit. Because I know he wasn’t really there with us. But in a way, he was. When I became the Dark One… Wait. Backtrack. Regina, when Hook and I went back to the Enchanted Forest through Zelena’s portal, we sought out Rumpelstiltskin, because we figured he was our best shot at getting home. He… was kind of different, back then.”



“Not news to the rest of us. What’s your point, Emma?” Regina demanded.



“When I was the Dark One, that version of Gold was in my head, trying to… to train me, to guide me. Teach me how to be a Dark One.” She winced. “And that fury who tried to drag Robin off,” she gave Robin an apologetic look, “that was my fault, I think. When you asked me to save him, Gold told me I had to demand a price for it. I refused. I mean, I couldn’t… bargain over someone’s life.”



“But all magic comes with a price,” Regina said, her eyes wide. “That’s one of magic’s rules, not one of Gold’s.”



“Tell me you would have been that understanding if I’d demanded a fee for saving Robin in Camelot.”



Regina shook her head. “Of course not,” she said softly. “I just… thought that the price was taken by… by fate. I never realized that when Gold demanded something, it might not necessarily have been for his own ends.”



“Kind of makes you wonder how much of the stuff Gold’s pulled over the years was him, and how much was… appeasing the magic,” David mused.



Emma nodded.



“You were saying that you don’t think the original curse has been broken, yet,” Snow said.



“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Emma replied. “I’ve started the process, but even if time is moving again, we’re still going through the same… pattern. It’s like a spiral. We may be moving in a different loop, but we’re still going around in circles.”



“So,” Robin said heavily. “Assuming you’re right, how do we break that pattern?”



Emma sighed. “I’m not sure.”






Robin had a fire started in minutes. Nobody was hungry, but it felt good after hours of walking to rest, sitting under the tall oaks and maples, and relax. And if the flickering flames made the trees seen more gnarled and sinister, somehow it didn’t feel as spooky as the Underworld’s version of the town. Trees looked scary by firelight at home, too. It was almost normal.



“So,” Emma ventured, as she eased off her right boot and flexed her stockinged foot, “I’ve been trying to make some sense out of what’s going on and I may have come up with something. Maybe it’s silly, but… has anyone else seen Groundhog Day?”



Robin looked blank. “Wasn’t that some minor holiday you lot celebrated this past February?” he asked, puzzled.



Snow, David, and Henry shook their heads blankly. Surprisingly, it was Regina who nodded. “I’ll admit that the description on the back of the DVD piqued my interest. They didn’t get it exactly right, of course, but considering that it was created in a Land without Magic, it was surprisingly on-target on several points.”



Emma pulled off her other boot, upended it, and shook it. A small pebble dropped out. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot since we started looking for a place to camp.” She glanced at the others. “It’s a movie. And Regina’s right: the plot has a lot in common with the Dark Curse. Except it’s one guy—one obnoxious, self-centered guy—reliving the same day—Groundhog Day—over and over. And he’s aware of it. Every morning, he wakes up to the same song on the radio, bumps into the same people on the stairs, steps in the same slush puddle… And then,” Emma smiled, “once he realizes what’s happening, he starts having fun with it. He was a self-centered jerk before. Now, he realizes that he can do just about anything—including drive off a cliff—and he still wakes up the next morning on Groundhog Day, in a bed and breakfast, with the same song on the radio.”



“Even more frozen in time than Storybrooke was,” David said, nodding. “So, how did he get out of it? He did get out of it?”



Both Regina and Emma nodded back. “You want to take over?” Emma asked.



Regina shook her head. “No, please. You’re doing fine.”



“Okay,” Emma said, hunching forward slightly and extending her fingers toward the fire. “Well, after he got tired of being a jerk and trying to get himself killed and so on, he started trying to change. At first, it was to impress one of his co-workers who he was crushing on, but little by little, it was less about her and more about…well… making a difference. Because he kept reliving that day, he started noticing all the little details going on around him. So, for example, after a few hundred do-overs, he knew who was going to have a flat tire outside the coffee shop and he made sure he was on-hand to fix it. He knew when a kid was going to run out into traffic and got there in time to pull them back. And so on. And finally,” Emma continued, “when he went through a day where he’d helped just about everyone in the town, the next morning, it was finally February third.”



Regina frowned. “And you think that the curse…?”



“We may not be stuck in the same day,” Emma said, “but we’re not really moving forward.”



“They do say,” David said, “that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”



“And some things are changing,” Snow added, smiling in Regina’s direction, “because we’re changing.”



“But if you’re right,” Robin said, “then perhaps, it’s not enough.”



“Well, we can’t just go doing things differently for the sake of doing them differently,” Regina snapped. “We need to figure out what we’ve been doing wrong all this time.”



“Maybe,” Snow said hesitantly, “there is something.” She threw her daughter an apologetic glance. “I hate to bring it up, but when you… took Gold, Belle was the only one of us who went after him. We thought trying to communicate with Merlin would give you your best chance, only…” She looked intently at the fire, avoiding making eye contact with any of the others, though when David reached out and took her hand, she squeezed it back. “…Only, it’s not just that Gold goes off to do his own thing, it’s that when he needs help, we usually just assume he can manage on his own. And maybe he can, but that doesn’t mean he should have to. And that time? He really couldn’t.”



“When you put it that way,” Robin said, “it’s hard to fault him for wanting to leave us behind at the first opportunity. It’s not as though he has any reason to think we’ll have his back.”



“He wasn’t even the Dark One, at that point,” Snow whispered. “We all knew that. And we still…” She sat up straighter. “You know, I don’t even think I can blame him for reclaiming the darkness. If we weren’t even going to give him a chance to show that he might have changed after the Apprentice healed him…”



Regina sighed. “Don’t beat yourself up too badly,” she said. “I should have seen it myself. I’ve… been where he was and it is not easy to keep trying to do the right thing when everyone is waiting for you to revert to the person you’re fighting hard not to be.”



“I think there might be more,” Henry, silent until now, spoke up. “The duel with Hook. After he won, after he spared Hook’s life and went back to Belle… she told him that she didn’t know if she wanted to be with him anymore.”



“What?” Emma started forward abruptly. “Henry, are you sure?”



“Sure, I’m sure,” her son maintained. “When the Dark Ones marked all of us, Grandpa gave her some money and the car keys and told her to go see the world.”



“How do you know all this?” Regina demanded.



“I,” Henry looked decidedly uncomfortable, but there was a note of defiance in his voice. “I stopped off at the shop to see if he wanted to bring Belle and join us at Granny’s. He told me that he didn’t want Belle to know, that he was sending her out of town before we’d all be taken.”



“Henry,” Emma’s voice sounded rougher now, “what time was it when you went to Gold’s shop?”



Henry blinked. “I don’t know. It was right after we decided to have that dinner.”



“So, it would have to have been before he sent Belle away,” Regina said slowly. “Because,” she glanced at Emma, “we almost bumped into her on our way into the shop to get Excalibur.”



“But she went back to him,” Emma said. “I mean…”



“I texted her after it was over to tell her what had happened.” Henry frowned. “Mom?”



“Emma?” Snow asked. “What is it?”



Emma, looking nearly as pale as she had when she’d been the Dark One, shook her head slowly. “I kidnapped him and turned him into a pawn so I could get my hands on Excalibur. I sent Merida to kill Belle to force him to become a hero.”



Snow slid over to her and grasped her wrist. “You were possessed by the Darkness, Emma. That wasn’t you.”



“So was Gold,” Emma snapped. “If he’d done to any one of us what I did to him, we wouldn’t be making excuses for him. We’d all be pretty certain it was his choice and we’d treat him accordingly. Belle is the only one of us who’s ever acted like he was worth saving. But that’s not all.” She looked wildly around the campfire at the others. “He was a slave to that dagger for a year. The instant the Apprentice untethered him from it, I turned around and forced him to do my dirty work. I didn’t use the dagger, I used Belle. And after all that, after everything, after he won that duel with Hook and he chose to walk away, instead of…” Her face seemed to crumple. “I love Killian. I brought us all here to bring him back because it’s my fault he’s here in the first place. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know what he did to Gold in the past, or what it must have taken for Gold to spare him after everything he’d been through. And then, precisely because Gold spared him, Killian got his hands—his hook—on the one thing he needed to bring the other Dark Ones to Storybrooke. And after all that, Belle dumped him. And then, when Regina and I showed up to get Excalibur…”



“If his doing the right thing lost him the woman he loved and seemed to sign all of our death warrants,” Regina said slowly, “it’s no wonder he reclaimed the Darkness.”



Emma shook her head. She still wasn’t finished. “And even that’s not the worst of it. Because, after that, I…” Emma’s voice trailed off. “Maybe he could have forgiven me for what I did to him when I was being affected by the Darkness. Maybe. Even though none of us would have given him the same courtesy. But almost the minute I was free of it, I went and threatened to take away the first real happiness he’s had since I don’t even know when.”



“Emma!” Snow exclaimed. “You were still in shock. You were grieving.”



“That doesn’t make it right,” Emma countered. “I’ve got to fix this.” She started to pull on her boots.



“Where are you going?” Regina asked.



“After Gold.”



“Alone?” Snow demanded.



Emma looked around the campfire again and sadly shook her head. “Listen to yourselves. You’re still trying to make excuses for what I did. You’re all still on my side. If you come with me, it’s just going to remind him that no matter what I do, you’re always in my corner and no matter what he does, you’ve never been in his.”



“Do you even know where to start looking?” David asked, looking down with a measure of embarrassment.



Emma thought for a moment. “I have some idea,” she said.



“You’ll stand a better chance at tracking him by day,” Robin said.



“Not really,” Emma countered. “He’s got his dagger with him. I can hear it whispering.”



“Mom…”



Emma smiled shakily. “I’ll be fine, kid. But just in case I’m wrong and Gold turns me into a toad, I’m counting on you for True Love’s Kiss.” With a sigh, she turned toward Regina, steeling herself for another argument.



But all Regina said was, “Good luck, Emma.”






Emma wasn’t really surprised to find that following the dagger’s whispers had brought her back to the cemetery. Gold was walking up and down the rows of tombstones, studying each one, his mouth set in a determined line. She hurried to catch up with him.



“Had I wanted company, Ms Swan,” Gold snapped without looking at her, “I would have asked for it.” He strode away briskly on two good legs.



“Gold!” Emma called, running after him. “Wait!”



He turned to face her then, his brown eyes icy. “I suppose that if I don’t, you’ll be having a chat with Belle on your return to Storybrooke, correct?”



Emma took an involuntary step backwards. “No,” she said, willing her voice not to falter. “I was wrong to make that threat to you in the first place. I was still in shock over losing Killian. I was grieving. I was hurting. And, when I found out that his sacrifice hadn’t gotten rid of the Darkness after all, I was furious.” She forced her eyes to meet his and not look away, despite the coldness in his gaze. “But none of that gave me the right to blackmail you. Especially not with your relationship with Belle. I’m sorry, Gold. I was hurting. I wanted to hurt back and you were…” She shook her head. “You were there. But that doesn’t justify how I reacted once I knew the truth. I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I never should have given you that ultimatum.”



She closed her eyes. “You’re sure that you’re the only Dark One, now, right? There’s no other blade with my name on it I’ve been magicked into forgetting about?”



“Quite sure,” Gold replied, with less anger and more than a hint of his usual crispness. “I’m not one to share my power.”



Emma nodded, feeling a wave of relief wash over her. It passed quickly. “That means when I said what I said to you, it was all me,” she said faintly.



“You were hoping that being possessed by Darkness would explain it away?” Gold’s lips twisted into a sneer. “Well, I hate to disappoint you, dearie, but no such luck.”



She nodded again, not really surprised.



“However,” Gold continued, his tone softening slightly, “it may not have been completely your fault. You’ll recall that in the weeks leading up to your becoming the Dark One, I was doing my utmost to awaken your own darkness. One thing I’ve noticed about you, Ms Swan, is that you can be an unbelievably slow student on many subjects, but once you finally manage to grasp them, you commit yourself to them fully.” He smiled bitterly. “Fate seems to have a high sense of irony, I find. I suppose it’s only fitting that, after I do everything I can to turn you, you react by directing your first act of genuine darkness against me.”



Emma sighed. “You want irony?” she asked, her own smile mirroring his. “Gold, you never had to turn me Dark to change your fate. My job description is supposed to be to bring back the happy endings. Where did you get the idea that I was going to leave you out of it?”



His eyes widened. Clearly it had never occurred to him to think otherwise.



“Let me just say,” Emma continued, sobering, “that I have no clue what it all means—how I’m supposed to bring them back. But if and when I figure it out, you’re getting one, too.” She smiled again, this time crookedly. “Even if I wanted to make an exception, Henry would never forgive me.”



Gold nodded. “He’s a good lad. He has so much of his father in him. And you, of course,” he added hastily.



“Thanks, but… I wasn’t in his life for the first decade,” Emma pointed out.



“Neither was Bae.”



Emma hesitated for a moment. Then she reached out and put her hand on Gold’s shoulder. He flinched and turned his head, regarding the hand in amazement, as though he couldn’t quite believe what she’d done. Then he slowly relaxed. “Let’s sit down for a minute,” Emma suggested, gesturing with her free hand to a nearby mausoleum with stone steps leading up to the entrance. Gold nodded again.



“In case I wasn’t clear,” Emma said, once they were seated, “I’m not going to tell Belle. But,” she added, “before you breathe a sigh of relief, think about it. She’s going to find out sooner or later. My keeping your secret just buys you time. On the other hand, if you were to tell her…”



Gold looked at her sharply. “I can’t,” he blurted.



“Why?” Emma asked. “Because she’ll leave you? If that’s what you’re thinking, I’m pretty you’re wrong.”



“I don’t believe I’m inclined to gamble our relationship on your speculations,” Gold huffed.



“Fine. Let’s look at facts. From what I read in Henry’s book, Belle knew that you were the Dark One before she even met you, correct?”



“Yes, but she thought she could change me.”



Emma raised an eyebrow. “Right from the start?”



Gold was silent.



“After she tried to break your curse and you sent her away, you didn’t see her again until the first Dark Curse was broken. If it was,” she added. “I think I need to talk to you about that, after. But leave it for now. The Dark Curse was broken. Belle got her memory back, she knew who you were, and she still wanted to be with you.”



“And then she ran from me when she saw me using magic.”



“But she came back,” Emma pointed out. “Why?”



Gold sighed. “You don’t know how many times I’ve asked myself that same question.”



“So, you have no idea. She didn’t give you an explanation. She just raced back to your side and you accepted it, no questions asked.” She sniffed. “Doesn’t sound much like you.”



Gold frowned, thinking. “She was angry when I summoned the wraith to deal with Regina. I’d told Belle that I wouldn’t exact revenge on Regina for what she’d done, but—”



“—you never said anything about the wraith.” Emma let out a low whistle. “No wonder she was angry.”



“Yes,” Gold nodded. “Angry enough to storm away, but she came back when she was calmer. She left me when…” His eyes grew wide. “She didn’t leave because I was using magic. She left because I wouldn’t tell her why. Once she realized that I was trying to break the curse on the town line…”



Emma smiled. “Obviously, I don’t know everything that’s gone on between the two of you in private,” she said. “But I have a feeling that Belle’s probably more okay with you being Dark than she is with you keeping her in the dark. I mean, even when she had those cursed memories and thought she was Lacey, just about the only thing about her that was recognizable was that she didn’t mind a bit of darkness.” She sighed. “Just think about it, okay?”



Gold was silent for several minutes. “You may be onto something,” he admitted. “I suppose Henry told you that when I returned from my duel, she…”



“Yes,” Emma said, when it was clear that he wasn’t going to continue talking. “He did.”



“Well,” Gold continued, “when she came back after the crisis was past, the first thing she said was that I’d lied to her. And she wasn’t angry in the slightest.”



“I really wouldn’t make a habit of lying to her,” Emma cautioned. “I get why you did. You wanted to spare her feelings. The main thing was that you were protecting her, not yourself. That’s why she forgave you. But when it’s the other way around? I tried that with Henry when he asked me about his father. You were there when that blew up in my face.”



Gold nodded. “Indeed.”



“Do you believe in prophetic dreams?” Emma asked suddenly.



Gold raised an eyebrow. “I may be able to see the future, but not while I’m asleep. I’m told that some people have that talent.” His eyes narrowed. “Why?”



“It might not mean anything,” she said. “I mean… on the way here, I was wondering if I’d see Neal again. It could have just been that when I dozed off, I was thinking about him, so my subconscious worked him into my dream.”



“But you wouldn’t be mentioning it if you didn’t think otherwise.”



Emma nodded. “If it wasn’t just a dream, if he was really reaching out to send me a message, then he’s not here. He’s already moved on to a better place. I just… when I found you here, I thought you might have been looking for him and if my dream was accurate, you’re not going to find him.”



Gold absorbed that. For a long moment, he covered his eyes with his hand. Neither a word nor a tear escaped him, but when Emma wrapped an arm about his shoulders, he let her pull him close. Finally, he lowered his hand and gently shrugged out of her embrace.



“So,” he said, making an effort to compose himself. “You said earlier that you weren’t certain you’d broken the Dark Curse?” He frowned. “Where would you get an idea like that?”



Emma sighed. “Well, I started breaking it when I arrived in Storybrooke. I’m not disputing that. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder…”






When Emma was finished talking, Gold was silent for what seemed like an eternity. “And you think that my returning with you will break this cycle.”



Emma sighed. When Gold put it that way, it sounded kind of stupid. “No. But I think maybe it’ll help. It’s not just you. It’s all of us. Together.”



“On a quest to rescue the poor wretched souls who’d like nothing better than to return to the land of the living and leave you behind to languish in their stead.”



“There has to be some sort of loophole.”



Gold shook his head. “There’s none.”



“Isn’t that what Blue told you when Neal went through the portal?” Emma demanded. “If you’d accepted that, we wouldn’t be here. Henry wouldn’t be here.”



“It took me two hundred years to come up with a solution to that problem. And that was with a full complement of potions, powders, and other magical ingredients. In this realm, Pan is running my shop. And I won’t find anything useful there unless he wants me to.”



“Wait,” Emma said, frowning. “In Neverland, Pan’s imagination ran wild. I get that. But this isn’t Neverland. I don’t think he has that kind of power here. He might be able to block us, by withholding ingredients we need… but if he’s trying to get out of here, why would he? I’m not saying he isn’t dangerous, but here… I think we can beat him.”



The sneer dropped from his face. “You may be onto something,” he admitted. “There’s still the matter of getting my hands on the components.”



“He might just give them to you, you know,” Emma said thoughtfully. “If he wants to get out of here, chances are he’s already tried and come up short. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s in his best interests to let you have what you need and then try to come in at the end and swipe the results. And if that doesn’t work, then maybe we could try Regina’s vault and see if there’s anything useful there.” She waited for him to meet her eyes. “I’m not giving up. Not on this, not on Hook, and especially not on you. We’re all getting out of here.” She held out her hand. “With you or in spite of you, but we are. I just have a feeling that, if it’s with you, maybe this will be the last time we need to go through this… cycle.”



Gold regarded her hand as though he wasn’t sure what to do with it. After a moment, Emma started feeling a bit awkward. She took a deep breath. Gold hadn’t turned his back on her. Not yet. “Maybe,” she said softly, “this is how I bring back the happy endings. For everyone. With everyone.” She closed her eyes. “Please.”



Silence surrounded her. She didn’t want to open her eyes. As long as she kept them shut, she could believe that Gold hadn’t teleported away. But there was only so long that she could stand in this cemetery, one hand extended before her. And then, she felt a tentative grip on her hand, which quickly tightened. Her breath whooshed out of her and her eyes flew open. She broke into a broad grin. Gold’s answering smile was hesitant, almost shy, and it lasted less than a moment before it faded. Emma had no doubt, though that it had been genuine. He let go of her hand and gestured to her to lead the way.



“We, uh, made camp in the woods. We thought it might be safer,” she said.



Gold nodded. “It is. Although there’s no place in this realm that’s truly safe.” He frowned. “Have any of you eaten anything here?”



“No. Henry remembered his Greek mythology.”



“Good,” Gold said briskly. “Then there still might be a chance.”



Emma took a deep breath. “Why did you do it, Gold? Become the Dark One all over again? I thought…”



“…That once you’d made me ‘brave’, I’d be able to face the world without my magic?” He shook his head. The bitter edge went out of his voice. “I suppose,” he said, “that some thanks are in order for that. I have your memories, now. I know what you were trying to do. And it might have worked, had you not come to ask for Excalibur.”



“The temptation was too much?” Emma asked sadly. Then she almost jumped in surprise when Gold’s hand closed on her arm.



“No,” Gold said seriously. “Had Hook not taken the sword from you, you know what would have happened.”



“Yeah,” Emma said, trying not to shudder. “I would have taken the Darkness into myself and Regina would have killed me.”



“And then?”



Emma blinked. “I guess I’d be here.”



“Do you really think that your family would have done less for you than you’re doing for the pirate?” Gold demanded.



Emma froze. “What?”



“They would have asked for my help, of course. But without magic, that help would have been considerably more limited. As great a store as your mother sets by hope, no matter the force of your son’s belief, that quest would have been doomed from the outset. Regina’s magic wouldn’t have been enough to affect the outcome. It required considerably more. If time hadn’t been so short,” Gold continued, “perhaps there might have been another way. But given the deadline…”



Emma felt tears stinging her eyes. “You…” she choked. He’d willingly chosen Evil to give Good its best chance. To give her parents a chance to save her that they hadn’t realized they were going to need. Gold’s voice cut crisply into her thoughts.



“…Meant to do for you, what you did for Regina while I lay in a coma.” He sighed. “Don’t act so surprised, Ms Swan. Your intention was to turn me into a hero. I had worse models I could have emulated.” His mocking smile was back. “I hadn’t planned on the pirate’s interference, though.”



She managed a shaky nod. She was fresh out of words. Instead, she flung her arms about him and hugged him fiercely, not sure whether she was seeking comfort or giving it, thanking him, or commiserating with him. Or, perhaps, it was a bit of everything.



Gold patted her back awkwardly and waited for her quiet sobs to cease before he gently disentangled himself. “We’d best join the others,” he said huskily. “Before they split up to search for you.”



Her. Not them. That was going to change, if she had anything to say about it. For now… “We’ve still got a way to go,” she agreed. “But I know we’re on the right path.”

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