The logical part of her completely understands where Mary Margaret is coming from.
Emma has walls, true, but she also has empathy. If she were in her mother’s shoes… Hell, she’s been in those shoes. She, too, has missed her child’s first steps, first laugh, first everything, all for Henry’s best chance. She made sure he would be adopted and wouldn’t go through the foster system like her.
Wouldn’t have to face countless rejections, like her.
The logical part of her knows, understands, and yet she can’t help but feel like she has been suckerpunched in the gut. It’s a familiar feeling. It’s spending hours holed up under the covers after someone else got adopted by a loving family but not her, not Emma. It’s that hopelessness after she did get adopted but they sent her back, because—they didn’t want her.
She is not what Mary Margaret wanted. Not what Snow White wanted, a princess in her castle with dreams that never got fulfilled. And that second chance Snow White wants, she can’t even get.
Because David can’t leave Neverland.
The Echo Cave is true to its name. Long after they’ve left, the secrets rattle around in her head. An endless echo.
The way Mary Margaret’s confession hurt that needy, primal part of herself that never wanted to let go the first time her parents ever hugged her.
The implication of David’s confession—how she won’t lose just him, but likely her mother too, if she decides to stay with him. Sure, Mary Margaret ignores him now, angry he didn’t tell her, but Emma doubts she will just leave him.
Which means she’ll leave her.
Emma is all grown up now, but the thought of her parents leaving her again is not even one she wants to entertain. Where’s that endless fairytale-like hope her parents always display now? If they won’t, she will. There has to be another way. There has to be something that can get David off this wretched island.
And then there are the two other confessions. The raw truth of her own confession hurts in an entirely different way to the ones of her parents’. Really, the only one that didn’t hurt was Hook’s, and isn’t that an odd turn of events.
They’re sitting by a campfire like this is some school outing instead of a rescue mission, and all of a sudden Emma can’t take it anymore.
She looks at Mary Margaret’s features, usually so soft, torn into stony anger as she refuses to speak. What we have with her is unique but it's not what I wanted.
She looks at David’s sad, forlorn expression, but most of all, it’s resigned. I can never leave.
She looks at Neal, impossibly alive, dragging back all her pent-up feelings with him. I was hoping you were dead.
She can’t bring herself to look at Hook, for fear of finding that naked sincerity he has displayed a surprising amount of times during their time on this island. Until I met you.
“Hey, Emma, wait up!”
It’s only after she hears these words that she realizes she has gotten up and walked away from the camp, pretty far into the jungle.
She stops, looking over her shoulder. “…What?”
“I just—it’s just—“ Mary Margaret flounders. “It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it?”
It is, objectively, beautiful. If one ignores the effect of the Echo Cave confessions and the fact that Henry is still in Pan’s clutches. Still, the moon shines brightly above them, the stars around it glittering brightly.
“Sure,” she says.
It’s petty. She knows it’s petty.
Emma turns as if she’ll start walking away again. “I’d like for it to stay that way.”
Mary Margaret flinches. A vindictive part of her rejoices.
“Please wait up,” she softly pleads.
Shame catches up to Emma. She stays.
“Can we talk?” Mary Margaret asks.
So she did notice, then, Emma looking hurt after the confession before she masked it. She wondered if Mary Margaret would even bring it up with her—this new baby that she wants—in the midst of her anger at David. Apparently, Emma had underestimated her.
It feels a lot like before. Like her friend Mary Margaret the teacher, before everything got so damn complicated.
“Or you can do the talking,” she offers when Emma doesn’t say anything. “And I’ll just listen. You can always leave.”
Mary Margaret proceeds to sit down in the middle of the jungle.
She snorts. “I thought you were supposed to be a princess.”
“I was also a bandit. It wasn’t as glamorous as you might think.” There’s a genuine smile on her face. “Come sit with me.”
Emma’s nerves calm. The moon is all around her.
“I don’t know if I have anything nice to say.”
“That’s okay,” she says, voice surprisingly even. “You can tell me anything.”
Best case scenario, Mary Margaret ends up understanding why her confession hurt Emma. Catharsis.
Worst case scenario, Emma gets to vent and then leave. Catharsis.
Emma sits down.
Despite the oppresive heat, it’s easy to lose herself in the beauty of the night. As more time passes, Mary Margaret finally grows impatient enough to speak.
“Did you change your mind?”
Emma points upwards. “That’s the closest thing I ever had to a home.”
Mary Margaret follows her finger, before looking back at her. “…The moon?”
“I had a roof above my head sometimes. Sometimes not. The moon was the only thing that remained consistent. I’d…” A wistful smile curves her lips upwards, softly speaking, “I’d look up at it through my window in the group home or unobscured on the streets, and I’d wonder… Are my parents looking at the same moon right now? What are they thinking?”
Her voice breaks when she continues.
“Why don’t they want me?”
“But, Emma, we do,” Mary Margaret rushes to say. “It killed me to send you away.”
“That’s not the point!”
She takes in a deep breath to calm herself.
“For twenty-eight years, I didn’t know that. Either I was in the foster system with some really crappy people or I had no one. And even now, knowing why you gave me up…” She lets out a sigh, bitter smile on her face. “I’ve already told you this before.”
“We could’ve been together,” Mary Margaret echoes the words spoken after she’d reunited with her daughter.
“You had to be the heroes, and I get that, I do. But that doesn’t make twenty-eight years of being unwanted go away.”
Mary Margaret is brought to silence, before she swallows so hard Emma can hear it.
“I should have picked my words better in the Echo Cave.”
Emma fights to keep her face impassive while her mother speaks.
“I have little experience being a parent, being your parent, but that’s no excuse,” Mary Margaret says, eyes needling into hers. “Just because I want another child doesn’t mean that I don’t want you.”
“You don’t just want another child.” There is a lump in her throat. “You want the experience of raising one, everything you couldn’t get with me. You can get it with that other child. You can have someone without walls, without year and years of baggage. You can raise your own little princess or prince. And once you have that…”
Understanding dawns on her face. “Then I won’t want you anymore,” she fills in, her face anguished. “Oh, Emma. That couldn’t be the furthest thing from the truth. No matter if I have a hundred other babies, there will always be a place for you with me.”
Mary Margaret’s voice grows firm.
“I will never stop wanting you, ever. Full stop.”
Tears are springing to her eyes now, despite Emma’s best efforts. There is relief and another really good feeling she can’t put a name to blossoming within her.
“Okay,” she whispers, vision blurred. “But please don’t have a hundred babies, I don’t think there’s enough space in the loft.”
The two of them break into soft laughs.
“It’s a moot point, anyway,” Mary Margaret says, a sudden edge to her voice even as she smiles. “This is no place to raise a child.”
Despite having expected it, hearing it from Mary Margaret herself startles Emma in a visceral way.
“You’re staying here?”
So much for always wanting me, goes the bitter voice in her head. You’re just going to leave me. Again.
But it’s not Mary Margaret’s fault, this situation. David can’t leave Neverland because the lost boys poisoned him. And Mary Margaret…
“As angry as I am that he didn’t tell me, I can’t just leave David here alone. He’s my home.”
The word home lingers in the air, and Emma finds her heart thundering.
“Can… Can home really be a person?”
She tilts her head a little. “Of course it can. Have you…not felt that way before?”
“Once,” she admits, and doesn’t need to elaborate on who. “But he… He set me up to go to prison. After that… No.”
Her face is aghast. “Neal did what?”
With the emotionally charged conversation, Emma had forgotten that her parents don’t know the full extent of what went down between her and Neal. She winces.
“Um, yeah. I don’t want to talk about it right now.” Her mother looks like she might argue, so Emma speaks before she can. “He told me something once, though.”
“What did he say?” It sounds like she’s struggling to keep her voice even.
Emma hopes she doesn’t bring it up with David later—Mary Margaret can at least be diplomatic about these things, David will go full protective dad mode on her. Good thing David and Mary Margaret aren’t on speaking terms right now, and there's a thought she never thought she'd have.
“He told me how you know when you’ve got a home. After you leave, there’s a feeling you can’t shake. You just miss it.”
Emma wipes at her wet eyes.
“Doesn’t sound like good advice to me,” Mary Margaret says after a long silence. “Because it requires you to leave. To keep leaving.”
“It’s true, though.”
“…Yeah.” Her eyes are far away, probably thinking about David, lost in memories. “It is.”
Abrubtly, Emma stands up. “We should get back to the others.”
Mary Margaret gets up, too.
“Whatever happens,” she says. “No matter how this mission in Neverland ends. You’re my daughter, and I love you, so much.” It's spoken like a promise.
That feeling from earlier, the one she can’t name, is back—along with discomfort. But before she can bring herself to awkwardly let her mother down—
“It’s okay—you don’t have to say it back." She’s smiling. "I just wanted you to know.”
Slowly, Emma smiles back.