Characters: Emma Swan, Rumpelstiltskin|Mr. Gold
Genre(s): HC, Drama, Angst, Adventure
Timeline: Season 3 AU. Diverges from canon during S3;E15 (Quiet Minds)
Warnings: Canonical character death
Word Count: 912
Story Summary: Instead of leaving Gold in the Woods after Neal's death, Emma decides that the wisest course of action is to get him out of Storybrooke and away from Zelena's control.
Notes: All Pete's Dragon references are to the 1977 film, not the 2016 remake.
Disclaimer: Disney owns OUAT and Pete's Dragon.
Emma squeezed her eyes shut, blotting out what she didn't want to see. Maybe when she opened them again, she'd be back in bed, in Manhattan, and this would all be a dream. Henry would be in the kitchen having breakfast before school. Storybrooke wouldn't exist. Neal would…
Unconsciously, her hand moved to her throat, to where the silver locket he'd just given her hung on its chain. She smelled the damp earth and pine needles of the Maine forest, heard Gold's muffled sobs over the wind's rustling, and felt the weight of Neal's head in her lap. She opened her eyes to the reality around her before tears filled them and blurred it once more.
Neal was dead. Neal was dead and she was responsible. Oh, he'd asked her to do it. It had been the right thing to do. The only way to learn the Witch's identity had been to separate Neal's consciousness from his father's, even though they'd both known that it would kill him. He'd made that sacrifice, but it had been her magic that had made it possible. She'd loved him and lost him and found him years later and fallen in love with him all over again—only to lose him forever. She had done this and she would have to live with it.
Gold's breath hitched and his head, buried in his hands, sunk lower. Emma closed her eyes again. Whatever grief and guilt she was feeling right now could only be a pale fraction of what Gold was experiencing. He'd literally carried Neal's spirit inside him for months at the cost of his own sanity, and he would have continued to pay that price, had it been an option.
Carefully, gently, Emma eased Neal's head to the leafy ground, slid closer to Gold, and placed a cautious hand on his shoulder. Gold clutched at it for a moment. Then he looked up and took a deep breath. "You have to go," he whispered, releasing her. "Stop Zelena. Bae sacrificed himself to give you that chance. Don't…" His voice broke. "Don't let it be in vain."
Emma nodded. "I'm parked on the side of the highway about five minutes from here. I can give you a lift into town."
Gold shook his head. "Just go. Leave me here with my boy."
Emma started to obey. Then she took another look at Gold and slid back down. "I can't leave you here."
"You have to," Gold replied. "Zelena has my dagger. You know what that means." At Emma's startled nod, he continued, his voice almost gentle. "I can't go back to town. Zelena can use me against every one of you—and she will, if she thinks it will hurt me. The important thing now is that the others know who she is. You need to tell them before she can make me stop you. Get the dagger away from her. That is the only way that you can help me now."
Her eyes were burning with unshed tears again. She blinked them back. Then she took a long look at Neal, knowing that she was seeing him for the last time. She was about to bid Gold goodbye as well, when she thought of something. "Gold?" She gripped his sleeve to get his attention. "How is leaving you here going to keep the town safe?"
He shook his head. "It's not. But it will buy you time. And it will keep the people I care about safe. For now. Emma. I've already lost Bae. Don't make me lose Belle, too. Please." A sob escaped him. "Please. You have to go."
He sighed in relief when she released him. Then his head jerked up when he realized that she hadn't moved. Instead, she'd taken out her phone. "What are you doing?" he demanded sharply.
"Texting my father everything you just told me and asking him to get Regina to help him with the witch. And asking him to look after Henry for a little while. Come on."
Emma took a deep breath. "As long as you're in Storybrooke, Zelena can control you. It's just a matter of time before she orders you to do what you're dreading. I'm getting you out of here."
Gold was already shaking his head. "You can't abandon—"
"I'm not. This isn't permanent. This is… taking a couple of days to catch our breaths and come up with a plan. If the others can't get the dagger away from Zelena, then I can return on my own and come back for you later." She took another breath. "Look. If there's one thing I know, it's that whichever side you wind up helping? That's the side that's got the best chance of winning. The way I see it, if you're out of town, Zelena doesn't have you helping her. And," she touched his shoulder again, "if you just can't face doing anything for anyone right now… I understand. Even if you aren't up to helping us, if you come with me now, at least she can't use you against us." She closed her eyes. "Gold, I'm going to have to tell Henry that I had to let his father die. Please, don't make me have to tell him that I turned my back on his grandfather, too."
Gold flinched at that. Then, slowly, with Emma's help, he struggled to his feet. "Five minutes away, you said?"