When Emma first sees Killian, she thinks of starlit nights, cold, yet beautiful, with the mix of thrill and danger, and whispered promises of sweet, sinful things. She doesn’t even need her so called superpower telling her that he’s lying; she knows he’s bad news, and swears to stay away from him.
On the beanstalk, she only later figures out how right she is: Despite his sarcastic wits, arrogance, charming smiles, insistent flirting, and the carefully hinted morsels about his humanity, he’s really nothing more than a broken man. A hollow glass figurine, which in spite of being glued back together after breaking into pieces, is malformed, some essential part is missing, and because of it, the whole thing is slightly different, not exactly ugly, but something is off about it, and it will never be the same. It’s so fragile; you can easily break it into sharp slivers and cut yourself on it.
Emma knows it, because she’s exactly like this, a broken mess, and she swore off complicated guys, hell, even guys in general. She put up her walls, built it high and thick to keep out the pain, of course, but also to keep her wrecked soul inside, to not hurt anybody, because she’s sure she doesn’t know how to love with all her jagged edges. The remnant of her feebly patched heart only warms up to Henry, – who could resist that kid –, and then to Mary Margaret, though when she learns she’s her mother, she feels as if an old wound has been ripped open again, and the ache which has been a constant companion for twenty years is there again, haunting her, and eating her alive.
Killian – Hook, she corrects herself, no need to get affectionate – reminds her of herself, with all the restlessness and the false bravado, which is clearly there to conceal something: A hole, left by none other than a loved one. An abyss so deep it cannot be filled, not even with the hotness of fury and revenge. And Emma knows well, she doesn’t need another darkness to fight, she has her own demons, tearing her from the inside, that’s why they’re both better off without each other, though it’s a hard decision.
Hook is an irresistible mix of danger and adventure, everything she finds fascinating, a flame which could, though only temporally, distract her from the sticky blackness inside her, which threatens to suffocate her. But this isn’t the solution, she can’t use this momentary remedy again, she made that mistake with Neal, letting the burning fire of adrenaline and the false sweet words of love cloud her judgment, thinking she escaped her monsters. But reality came, shattering her sparkling dream of happily ever after. And now Emma is determined to not walk into the same trap, and when they’re leaving the FairytaleLand, she surreptitiously sighs with relief, because she never has to see Hook again.
When she first sees Hook in Storybrooke, he’s clean shaven, he doesn’t wear his namesake and he swapped the leather outfit for a wool coat. But even now he stands out, he looks like he belongs to a painting and involuntary Dorian Gray’s name comes to her mind, and finds that it’s perfectly fitting. A handsome man who can easily deceive anyone with his looks: alluring and dangerous at the same time. Emma thinks he could easily pass for a goddamn prince from a fairy tale story – she knows it’s ironic, considering her father is literally Prince Charming. But the princess will be in for a hell of a surprise when her hero turns out to be a dragon in disguise, or in this case, a pirate.
She’s suspicious at first, she asks reasonable questions: how did he get here without the compass (he took a chance with the dried up bean and the healing water), where is Cora (he doesn’t know). And though she doesn’t detect a downright lie, she knows better than to trust him and it’s clear to her that he keeps something from them.
David and Mary Margaret are careful, though they don’t share Emma’s worry. They let Hook live in Storybrooke – even if he wanted to go, he couldn’t, because they still haven’t figured out this new curse, and who knows how that would affect him – and they ensure that Hook stays away from Mr. Gold and Belle and vice versa. Emma only scoffs at the idea of her parents telling to Mr. Gold what he can or can’t do; she still remembers the whole wraith thing, which happened in a situation much like this. Even when Belle coerces a promise out of Gold to not cause any trouble, or hurt Hook, nor directly or indirectly (Belle chooses her words wisely, and Gold smiles at how she’s getting better at making deals), Emma goes to sleep with an uneasy feeling.
She senses an indescribable and intangible shift; she feels the panic creeping upon her, fearing the unknown but certain change that will show its face soon enough. And though the dwarfs, Ruby and Granny are patrolling most nights, her unease doesn’t fade away, it gets only stronger. And waiting the inevitable is the worst thing she can think of, because she can’t get ready, she doesn’t know which armor to put on, and what monsters she will face.
Ruby is the first one to die. It happens on a cold, yet snowless Sunday. It begins like this:
The ensemble is eating breakfast at Granny’s, and David is telling about his new patrolling schedule, but Granny looks at the clock surreptitiously. Ruby can be absent-minded, and it wouldn’t be the first time for her to miss the gathering after a night shift, she sometimes just goes home to crash to bed.
But Emma sees the fear on Granny’s face, which is a constant companion to her for a while know, and just knows it’s not irrational. She has a feeling that something terrible happened to Ruby, and keeps seeing the lively girl’s lifeless body in her mind.
She offers to look for her and Granny nods gratefully, because she doesn’t want to show the others that she’s barely keeping herself together, but Emma sees it anyway, she’s pretty good at reading people. Granny’s hard façade is beginning to crack and it proves to Emma that there is something wrong, not just her imagination is overactive.
Ruby isn’t in her room. Soon they form a search party for her, and it’s Mary Margaret who finds her under the toll bridge. Emma wishes she could have been spared from the sight of her friend, lying there lifeless, but she’s the sheriff, she has work to do. So she numbs all of her feelings, as she cordons off the scene and waits for the ambulance to pick up the body.
The bloodstains on her stark white shirt are all Emma can look at, even if she wants to tear away her gaze, and in the harsh morning light the red spots seem like grotesque flowers on a snowy clearing. And all she sees is redredred, there is too much red, it brings out the dyed streaks in Ruby’s hair and the bright scarlet lipstick, and Emma wonders if she was always this pale or it’s the blood loss. She notices the heartbreaking irony of the situation: Ruby covered in crimson, and she thinks how fitting this kind of death is to Red Riding Hood. This morbid thought fades away as quickly as it came, and Emma sobers up. There is no fitting death to anyone, Ruby was young and full of life, and she should have lived a long and adventurous life, leaving a trail of broken hearts after her. Instead of this, she is the one who lies broken, like a withering flower that was cut too soon.
Emma stands guard there, and thinks of wolves and red cloaks and lost girls in the forest, who are saved in the fairy tales, but often end up dead in the real world. A high-pitched cry cuts through the dead silence of the night, as they break the news to Granny. It sounds like an animal in pain, and Emma reflects on the sad fact that there won’t be any wolf howling at the full moon in Storybrooke.
Ruby’s heart was ripped out and it’s nowhere to be found. Everyone accuses Regina, but Emma is the voice of reason in the desperate blame game, and says they don’t have any evidence and she’s innocent till proven guilty. David scoffs at this, and Emma feels a stab of hurt, because she may be a grown up, but arguing with a parent has still an uncomfortable feel to it. It’s like a new betrayal, and she isn’t sure anymore if she wants his approval.
Mary Margaret is on Emma’s side, as always, and lets her protect Regina, and helps with calming the people.
Emma sleeps in her car, just outside Regina’s house for the next two weeks, because she doesn’t trust the angry and grieving mass. Mary Margaret brings her coffee and donuts every night. At least one of her parents is proud of her, and it warms her up a little, but she still has the keen feeling that something bigger and worse is coming.
On Ruby’s funeral, the snow starts falling; the flakes are like tiny ice daggers against Emma’s skin. She always thought about the snow as a peaceful thing, but it’s painful, painting the world white, bleak, draining away the colors, as Ruby’s bright spark was ripped away from them.
Surprisingly, Hook attends the funeral, and Emma wants to scream at him, slap him, ask him how he dares to come here and mock one of her friends’ final moments, but her anger subsides when she sees the look in his eyes. Genuine and honest sympathy.
It catches her off guard, and her blinding and red hot fury is washed away, just like a quick rain storm puts out a camp fire. She doesn’t want anyone’s pity, let alone his, she wants Ruby alive, here, smiling, but that’s not going to happen. It’s not a bedtime story to be rewritten, it’s life, harsh and cruel, and she’s used to it, she learned that whatever shiny, dazzling, promising thing the world dangles before her, it will take it away brutally, crushing every hope she dared to dream. She dreads Henry will be the next to go, but casts the thought aside, she doesn’t want to tempt fate.
When the service is over, Hook is nowhere to be found, and Emma doesn’t even know why she has searched for him. As she looks over the miserable crowd with red-rimmed eyes, it hits her how apart is she from them: all of the others are mourning, while she feels nothing, just the deep empty pit growing in her chest, that was already there to begin with.
They find Ruby’s heart in a gilded box, on Granny’s doorstep. They think it was Regina, they’re concocting different scenarios about how she could get there unnoticed, magic being their first choice, even if Archie is protesting that Regina doesn’t use it anymore.
It’s not much later when they find out that it has nothing to do with Regina, but everything with Cora.
She was supposed to be the savior, The Chosen One, and though she seemingly loathes it, she’s secretly glad some prophecy pointed out her purpose, because up until then she couldn’t find it. That’s why she started to find people as a job, not just because she needed to know her roots, her family, but she thought maybe her reason on this world would be revealed along the way.
So when she finds out that the curse isn’t really broken, it’s like another piece of her is chipped off and gone. She isn’t good enough. The thought that she failed, that she let down Henry, is like poison slowly dripping inside of her, consuming every bit of self-assurance she’s stocked up along the way.
She feels herself crack under the weight, but still the thoughts of Henry, and what’s best for him give her something to hold onto and she tries hard not to fall into pieces.
She faced many dangers, especially in the FairytaleLand, fought with dragons, ogres, zombies and even the last giant, but still when she sees it, looming over her, she is so surprised, she freezes. She stands near to the edge of the forest and the scene in front of her doesn’t make any sense, her brain just shuts off, she’s that proverbial deer in the headlights.
She stares petrified at the monstrous beast; this dragon is twice as big as Maleficent was, and it could easily eat the giant for breakfast. Emma only sees the jet-black scales, the luminous green eyes, filled with hatred, and the glint of dangerously pointed and sharp teeth, and then feels a push, and stumbles ungracefully to the muddy ground.
When she looks up, the sight is more bizarre than a dragon in Storybrooke: someone’s trying to kill the beast with a sword. The same someone who pushed her away from the harm’s way. And as Emma watches his smooth, elegant moves, she wonders how he can hide a big damn sword under a wool coat without being noticed.
As skillful as Hook is, there is no way he can kill this dragon, but Emma doesn’t even try to pull out her gun – no one can say she doesn’t learn anything –, she can only wish for a sword or a way to trap the beast or knock it out. She frantically looks around for anything, for two trees that grew close enough to capture it, and sturdy enough to hold it, but doesn’t find anything, and the panic starts to set in.
She starts to turn around, to tell Hook to run into the woods, and maybe, just maybe, it’s too large to follow them through – but the images of burning trees and stifling smoke are too vivid in her mind.
She turns in time to see teeth getting into Hook’s shoulder, to hear his painful cry, and see the spray of blood – which instantly brings back the memories of intense red and howling sorrow. But Hook recovers quickly and while he thrusts the sword in the general direction of the dragon’s trout, he fishes something out from underneath his coat with his hook, and throws it to the beast.
The monster’s eyes roll back, and its colossus of a body splays across the ground, shaking the earth with its massive weight. Emma can’t believe their luck, and only when Hook hisses in pain as he frees his blade from the dragon’s muzzle, she realizes how badly he’s injured.
“Poppy seeds,” he says, and Emma at first doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. “After our adventure with the giant, I thought it might come in handy.”
“But how did you know it’ll work here?” Emma asks incredulously, because even Gold can’t predict what magic would do in this world.
“I didn’t,” he says with an easy grin, and Emma thinks Hook is definitely that kind of person who would laugh at the face of Death. Or invite It to a drink.
Emma shakes her head to clear off the unwanted thoughts about the pirate, and focuses on a more pressing matter at hand. Which is said pirate’s still bleeding gash on his shoulder.
Emma offers to tend his wounds, to which he replies with shameless innuendos, which she deflects with mock angry scoffs. And as Emma is applying the bandage, while Hook does everything to point out how half-naked he is, how Emma is taking advantage of his gentlemanly behavior, she’s struck by how easy it is with him. Despite that he gets under her skin – or rather because of it –, she feels comfortable with him, something she hasn’t had a long time with anyone. But maybe it’s just because they’re so alike, and Emma can’t decide if it’s a good thing.
But whatever this is between them, she feels warmth spreading through her as she touches his bare skin. It’s frighteningly the same as was with Graham, yet slightly different. However, it’s something that Emma thought she’s lost long ago.
They don’t know how, but Cora brought a parade of monsters with her. They leave a trail of destruction, blood and loss after them. There isn’t a day when someone doesn’t die. Emma prays every night for Henry, and when a new body arrives in the morgue, she feels guiltily relieved that it isn’t someone she knew.
They don’t find Cora, no matter how hard they’re searching, and it frustrates Gold to hell. He succeeds in breaking the curse on a hot early summer day, and though everything is blooming and the world is a splash of colorful beauty, the hearts of the citizens of Storybrooke are heavy, but they hope they can leave all the torturous memories behind, and find themselves a new home, or a way back to home and most above all: their true self, because no matter how they deny it, the curse has affected them, and they feel splintered at best. Everyone has now two lives in their heads, and as Jefferson likes to point out very often on town meetings, this is the worst imaginable kind of suffering.
Mr. Gold leaves with Belle to find Baelfire. He says Cora isn’t her problem, at least not until she decides to go after him. A long time will pass until Emma hears from him again, but he’s someone she won’t miss.
Emma goes with Mary Margaret, David, Henry, Granny, Archie and the dwarfs. They’re like a patchwork quilt, mismatched, but something holds them together.
They don’t even think about what it means that Cora is free to go to anywhere in the world. But soon they will.
Emma doesn’t really know how and exactly when it has happened, but after freeing Storybrooke, everything went to hell. She doesn’t know what they were thinking – mostly they weren’t thinking at all –, but everything turned out in the worst way imaginable.
It’s still unclear to Emma if Regina had an argument with Cora, if they even met here, but the results are the same. Cora’s beyond reasonable and she’s furious at her life, at Rumplestiltskin – it doesn’t come as a surprise to Emma, that even the big bad witch had a deal with Gold, because who doesn’t, really? – at her daughter, and she made it to her goal to tear this world to shreds, because if her daughter found even a little morsel of solace in it, then it should be ripped away from her.
Emma wonders how fucked up it is that the end of the world didn’t come as a result of world wars, or natural disasters, or even alien attacks, but instead the reason is a dysfunctional family.
Cora doesn’t seem to notice how absurd is what she’s doing; she’s apparently used to playing god, and to her this world is nothing more than one of the many breakable snow globes on her shelf.
The Apocalypse starts something like this: there are wild mass panic and military forces all around the world. Cora likes her toys, so she releases all kinds of nightmares to do her bidding.
The government assures everyone they’ll be safe, they’re prepared for a war, even if it doesn’t seem an ordinary one. The church and various cults claim it’s the end times, and Emma can’t really disagree, but would like to punch anyone in the face, who claims if they have enough faith the Beasts won’t eat them. (She doesn’t have any problem with having faith, but God only helps those who help themselves, and praying at a dragon is definitely not the best decision.)
The dragons do the most damage, and Emma wonders how bizarre it’s to see tanks go against mythical beasts, when she’s watching the news in one of their hideouts in New York. There are several safe havens now for people who lost their homes and families; usually the former hotels have been converted to sanctuaries for refugees.
They hop from haven to haven, to elude Cora, though she doesn’t really search for them, and that’s the worst and most frightening part: they don’t know what she wants. Clearly to reconcile Cora with her daughter is not an option, and this mindless destruction leaves them baffled.
The dwarfs and the fairies (who find them in a little town near Seattle) make a decision to search for diamonds, maybe that could help somehow perform some kind of magic to stop this madness. In their minds everyone curses themselves for not thinking this far, for being so selfish to actually think they can leave their problems behind.
The fairies soon come back with good news, they say they found diamonds in Storybrooke, and Emma thinks it’s a goddamn miracle, because she’s sure Cora would protect the place where there is one known portal to another world. When Mother Superior pulls out a knife, which is glinting viciously in the dim, sputtering electric lights of their hideout, and tries to stab Emma, they know they failed, and Cora knows about their plan now.
It’s a question of survival, but they can’t just knock out the fairies try as they might. They have to slaughter their own friends, and even if it wouldn’t be enough reason for Emma to scream her frustration and indignation at the world, the fact that Henry has to watch all of this, it is.
From then on they are much more distrustful, because they know now that Cora has been ripping out hearts, and playing with people as a puppeteer would. They don’t stop at public sanctuaries anymore, they buy a farmhouse – it becomes a trend between the fearful people, despite the government’s reassurances – and they settle in for self-sufficiency. They stockpile anything and everything. David and Emma take any part-time jobs they can in the nearest town, and Mary Margaret, Granny and Archie manage the farm and keep Henry occupied and teach him, though Emma knows it’s futile. They just need a routine to hold on to, some everyday thing, because if they give this up, they admit they lost, that the world is ending and they are slowly fading, like a story written in ink a long time ago on fragile parchment.
There are days when Emma doesn’t feel real and swears she is just a character in a book, a sad story, a cautionary tale, but nothing more.
The really young children don’t remember the time when the monsters weren’t real. They only know that if there’s no light, then their souls are in danger, because a living shadow can take it. They know if they see a person, it doesn’t mean they’re alive, or they may be, but they aren’t acting out on their own accord. They know that if they hear a nice lady on a river’s or a lake’s shore, they could be lured to their death.
The governments and the society fall. There are little communities, protecting each other, there are people with magic. It seems when they broke the curse which held them in Storybrooke, the magic went everywhere, and found the already sensitive people. People with abilities are feared, but respected. Some say they’re the Devil’s advocate, some say they’re on the side of the angels.
To Emma, it’s just pure chaos.
August, Marco and, of all people, Hook find their isolate safe house. They welcome them, it’s refreshing to see someone new, but obviously David is against the idea of the Captain staying with them. David is fuming with anger – mostly it’s directed to himself, all of them blame themselves and sometimes the self-loathing gets to a ridiculous amount – and Emma finally witnesses the first outright fight between David and Mary Margaret.
The pressure breaks free, and they’re shouting at each other, but in truth they’re shouting at themselves. It’s such tilt at windmills, it’s heartbreaking, and even Archie can’t say anything. David says that Marco was a fool to let Hook guide them here, and the fact that he has a locator spell – magic – makes him even more suspicious. Of course, Hook has to interrupt with witty comments about him being always prepared for every occasion, and Emma is sure there is a subtle sexual innuendo somewhere, and because she had so little to be happy about, she has to bite the inside of her cheeks to stop herself from smiling.
David claims they can pack and leave now, because Hook is sure to be working with Cora, but Mary Margaret and Granny are adamant, they’re staying. David leaves that night, and in the dead silence Emma can hear Mary Margaret’s quiet, but pitiful sobbing.
Emma can’t sleep, just lies awake in her bed, so she decides to go and sit on the porch, listening to the crickets, wishing desperately for hot chocolate. It’s such a mundane thing, but she had her rough patches in life, she never took anything for granted, but now, the soothing and warming effect of this little thing is like a big, gaping hole in her life.
What she does find in the dark garden though is a very bored and restless pirate.
„You won’t last long here,” she says to the pacing figure, which stops and tenses immediately, as he hears her.
“And why is that, love?” he asks with a devilish grin, which she can’t exactly see, but can hear it nonetheless.
“You’re like some wild animal,” she says without stopping to think. “This little farm is like a cage to you, and honestly, I don’t think that some famous pirate can settle down in one place and doesn’t want adventure, rum and women.”
He’s silent for a moment, then laughs, and it’s such a deep and lively sound, Emma briefly thinks maybe it could replace the hot chocolate, which she craves so much.
“Yes, obviously, I’m that transparent, you caught me.” His voice is playful, if she offended him, he doesn’t show it. “Though if you ask me,” he continues lightheartedly, “I can solve at least two of the three problems. If they let me convert the shed, I can cook up some kind of alcohol there; you’d be surprised how resourceful I am. And you can always volunteer for a one night stand.”
One side of Emma’s mouth quirks up, but she doesn’t reply. Somehow it’s so good to see Hook being the same annoying, arrogant prick. It gives a false hope that some things don’t have to change.
Emma sits down on the porch steps, and after a while Hook follows suit. His warmth washes over her, gives her comfort, it’s nice and she tries hard not to think about the fact that it’s Hook, the very same person she didn’t trust on the beanstalk. It makes her wonder how much she changed in this dying world, and what it means.
She looks up at the sky, and stares at the stars. Most people love them, thinking how beautiful they are, and marvel at the wonders the world has to offer, but now, Emma only can think of how distant they are, little glimmering dots in a vast, cold and empty space. They just make her feel lonelier and more hopeless, because it doesn’t matter if she sees them, they as well died a long time ago, and only their lights reach her. It’s like a bittersweet goodbye note that may remind you the good things, but in the end, it just tears the wound wider, which the person left in your life.
Hook doesn’t say anything, and maybe it’s better this way. They’re like two lost pieces of a long forgotten game, but at least they’re lost together.
Though there is no more television broadcasting, there are still working radio stations. Mostly it’s just news about the terrors in the world, occasionally they read out some play or book for entertaining, but the most important thing is they read a list of names every night. But in case if they have fake ID, or no ID whatsoever, they describe the dead bodies they have found.
They always listen to it, mostly because a lot of their friend is out there – though they only cover local places, so if someone they knew dies outside of the state, they’re out of luck. Now Mary Margaret sits beside the radio every night, dreading to hear about David.
On the third day the feared news arrives, they found a body that resembles to David, according to the witnesses the man died defending a little town from a zombie invasion. Mary Margaret goes to identify the body, and they pray for that it’s some misunderstanding.
It’s really him.
Everything turns dark after that, as if someone had spilled black ink all over the place. Emma buries herself in work, and tries to numb her feelings; she is, after all, good at it. August, Marco and Archie try to help to Henry. Mary Margaret is the one who takes it worst. She doesn’t cry, she doesn’t complain, she does her works and chores automatically, like a robot. Her eyes are so hollow, Emma suspects David took a so large piece of her soul with him, that she will never live, only exist.
Hook doesn’t leave, and he even takes on part-time jobs in the town without any complaining. Emma is grateful.
Grumpy arrives on a late October night, and first they’re glad, and don’t notice that he’s all alone. The dwarf is, well, grumpy as usual, it’s no surprise (and Nova, the love of his life, is dead, though they don’t know if he knows), but soon he tells his story, and the mood gets downright depressive. The feeble smiles for a long lost friend turn into fear and worry.
Grumpy speaks of their desperate search for some kind of magic, and that in the end, like so many times before, they went to Rumplestiltskin for help. They found him, but he wasn’t like his old self. Belle had been killed by Cora and with her Rumplestiltskin’s remaining humanity. Despite the fact that he found his son, Baelfire, he turned into a complete monster. The reason is an easy one: Cora did a thorough job; she cursed Bae, sentenced to him a painful and slow death.
When the dwarfs arrived at Rumplestiltskin’s lair, he has already tried all of the imaginable cures he could think of. And in exchange for help what the dwarfs were asking, he needed test subjects for searching the cure.
Only Grumpy is alive now, and as he rolls up his sleeve, they see what the curse looks like. His arm is transparent, the bones and some of the muscle tissue are visible, it’s a sickening sight, but Emma swallows her nausea, and notices that tiny letters are swarming in his flesh. Everyone gasps and stares in confusion, it doesn’t make any sense.
But to Emma somehow it’s clear, Grumpy turns into nothing more than letters, like the storybook character everyone in this world thinks he is. They decide they need a plan, they have to save Grumpy, and even Mary Margaret joins in the debate, her long lost spark returns, though only a faded and worn version.
Emma doesn’t sleep that night, and urged by some unexplainable reason she writes a sentence to her forearm with black ink: I’m real.
They come to the decision that they’d ask for help from Regina, because she’s the only magic user they know. (They absolutely veto Rumplestiltskin, after what he did to the dwarfs.) They know from Grumpy that Regina is being kept under lock and key in one of the little communes in Virginia, some magic user considered her dangerous and they succeeded to put her in a cell similar to the one which Rumplestiltskin was kept in the FairytaleLand.
Grumpy says he knows the town’s people, he helped them a lot, and if they ask nicely enough, they let them talk to her. So they pack everything and start their journey.
Grumpy dies way before they reach the state line of Virginia. It’s like an abrupt illness. Yes, Grumpy seems more tired every day, but not that much to think he wouldn’t live until they get to Regina.
And then one morning, they find a heap of goo and discarded clothes. They think it’s some kind of ruse by bandits or whatever, but then Emma notices the small letters glinting in the early sunlight.
And that’s what is left behind after their friends: worn fabrics and six almost transparent, membrane-like letters.
They leave a stone mark on the side of the road to remember to the dwarf with the greatest heart and dreams.
One night, soldiers attack them, and it’s clear from their heart emblems they’re the army of Cora. They’re too many, and there is no possible way to defeat them all. Granny and Marco say they can hold them back, Granny with her arrows, and Marco with impromptu traps. There are arguing, but in the end the two elders win, and they plan to meet the others later.
They never come.
From then the journey becomes bitter, but they don’t give up to honor their dead. Every one of them is quieter than before, and most nights they just sit around the fire and stare at the flames in utter silence. It’s an eerie scene; they’re like vacant houses, where you see a beautiful, almost perfect façade, you can easily imagine it as a place, where happy moments could happen, but nobody lives there and the ghosts of could-have-been leave a sour taste.
It can only be guessed what happened with August. They don’t know how, but he got marked by a wraith. He’s a little too satisfied with being left behind, to be sacrificed for them.
Emma doesn’t want to admit it that she’s a little envious of this easy escape. But she has Henry, and she’s strong for him. She wonders about the miracles of being a mother and what it means, how much strength it gives, and contemplates that maybe Mary Margaret is doing the same for her.
She knows that being alive only for someone is not really healthy, but at least they want to live and fight for it.
They encounter wolves on a particularly cold night. Later Emma only can recall of the little visible puffs of air their breaths left. She doesn’t remember anything, she’s only aware of the cold night air and that her breaths are visible but Mary Margaret’s aren’t. She can’t fathom the reason why, because her mother was always this pale as snow, her hair black as night, and her lips red as blood. And if there is more red in this scene as it should be, Emma doesn’t want to notice.
“Come on, wake up!” she urges her mother who knows how long she does this, though she feels her throat raw.
But Mary Margaret is so motionless, Emma can picture the glass coffin around her, and for a moment, she dares to hope, that true love’s kiss would wake her up. Then the realization hits her: David is long gone. Though true love’s kiss is not exclusive only for love between lovers, it can be between a parent and a child, as she proved it with Henry.
She leans down to kiss Mary Margaret’s forehead, and thinks of all the love she feels for her, and how much she needs her, because now matter how much it hurt her to be left alone for twenty-eight years, it wasn’t like Mary Margaret didn’t care about her. And while Emma was in Storybrooke she was the first one to trust her, and it was such a frightening and alien feeling, Emma at first couldn’t place it. And then they became something likes family, and then they were a family for a brief time, and then the world ended.
Emma wishes she was a fairy tale character now, because Mary Margaret doesn’t move, and whatever curse is on her, it doesn’t break. She feels a tightening pressure in her chest, as if some kind of vise is squeezing her, the urge to scream is building, and the blackness inside her threatens to take over.
As she starts to sob uncontrollably, a warm and solid hand lands on her shoulder. She doesn’t have the strength to turn around, she doesn’t want to do anything, just lie down beside her mother.
She should have known better, she thinks, the world always takes what it gave you. Why didn’t she remember that? Why did she have to be so careless to let Mary Margaret in? And now, she left her too, Mary Margaret wasn’t strong enough to fend off those monsters, though she was a real warrior. Why couldn’t she be the winner in this fight? Maybe, a little, malicious voice whispers in her ears, maybe she didn’t want to live, and maybe she missed David too much. And look at her now, she’s at peace, she’s happy, she’s where she wanted to be.
And all Emma can say, as someone helps her up is, “She left me.” She sounds stunned, like she could never imagine this, and then the memory of Mary Margaret promising her, she would always place her before anything else, comes to her mind. She feels like she’s on the edge of a very deep and dark abyss, and could fall into anytime.
“Everyone leaves me,” she speaks softly, defeated.
But someone pulls her close, away from the emotional chasm, and holds her here in this world, keeps her sane, as she feels the solid muscles around her, she can have the illusion that she is safe, at least for now. She listens to the steady and strong heartbeat, and it’s the most wonderful sound she’s ever heard. It’s so simple, yet it has a very important message: the heart’s owner is alive, and that’s what she needs now. Life, warmth, human touch.
“I won’t leave you.” His voice is deep and soothing.
She doesn’t mind that she clings to Hook like he’s her lifeline.
They reached the little town where Regina is supposedly kept, and Emma hopes that it’s true, because it’s too terrible to even think about if it’s not. Then all of their sacrifices would be for nothing, and if Emma couldn’t save her loved ones then sure as hell she at least tries to live up to their world-saving tendencies.
Regina is there, and they’re lucky, the town’s people are helpful, apparently Grumpy talked about them, even about Emma. They manage to get in and speak with Regina.
She isn’t in an inhumanly small cell, as Emma kept imagining it, but it’s not a grand hotel either. Regina seems thinner, her eyes are a little sunken, but she isn’t starving, it’s just the all consuming loneliness and the inner demons, clawing their way to the outside.
Regina’s eyes shine when she sees Henry, who runs up to her, and practically pushing her off her feet. Emma didn’t even stop to think about it, but Henry must have been worried for her other mom, and she mentally scolds herself for being so oblivious. She was so buried in her own grief, she wasn’t even there for her own son, at least, not with all of her heart.
When the tearful reunion is over, Emma is all business, and she tries to tell matter-of-factly that how much they have lost, though her voice breaks when she recounts her parents’ deaths. Maybe some small, paranoid side of her expected Regina to gloat, but surprisingly, the other woman just looks sad. Emma isn’t sure if it’s because she sees the death’s effects on Henry, or maybe all this destruction brought her to her senses.
At first Emma leaves out Hook, because he said they have history with the queen, and doesn’t want to ruin their chances. When Regina agrees to help, Emma does mention that the only help they have is Archie and Hook. Regina doesn’t seem fazed, and starts to work on a plan.
Emma sees in Regina what she always has, a woman who can be so determined to get what she wants. Emma feels a little regret that she and Regina were enemies so long. Everything could have been different if they just reached an agreement. But wishing doesn’t solve anything, so she lets the Evil Queen work out a plan to save the world.
By day Emma learns magic from Regina, who is a very patient teacher, which surprises her.
By night she tries to sleep, but visions of glass coffins and poisoned apples are haunting her dreams. When she lies beside Killian, and listens to his heart’s rhythm, she dreams of far away lands where happy endings do happen.
They fall into a routine and it’s like on the farm all over again. Archie teaches Henry, Regina tries to explain the workings of magic to Emma, because she has potential, and maybe the two of them can defeat Cora, and occasionally they have nice family dinner without any sarcastic comments or sharp looks.
It feels like a happy ending, though obviously not one which you can find in a child’s book. It’s twisted and strange, where the Evil Queen has a son and can earn her redemption, and where the princess finds something akin to love with a pirate – though she denies that it’s true love.
Emma feels as happy and normal as she can be, and so much time passes, she lets herself fall into a false feel of safety.
Cora finds them on a winter afternoon one week before Christmas, when Emma was on trade duty, which means she was the leader of the vendor caravan. As they pull into town, Emma sees the bodies and a terrible dread overwhelms her. She saw exactly this in the FairytaleLand, when Cora ripped out everyone’s hearts.
The snow falls silently, covering the dead bodies, laying an impromptu shroud on them. While the members of the caravan are in shock or starting to cry out for their loved ones, desperately searching the faces for someone familiar, Emma just stands there numbly.
She can’t say she knew these people, but they gave her and her family shelter, and she saw enough horror anyway. She mechanically walks over to their house, forcing herself to take the next step and the next step. When she sees the tiny body, she falls into her deep abyss, all of her imaginary demons pulling her down. Her vision gets hazy, and doesn’t notice what is happening around her until it’s too late.
Only when a force jerks her backwards, and lands hard on the frozen ground, she realizes that Cora doesn’t left. She is like a bright red flower and Emma can’t figure out if her dress and gloves are really this color or it’s all the blood that she shed.
“My, my, the Chosen One, I take it,” she says, and her voice is like sugar coated venom. She sounds polite, yet the underlying meaning is clear. She wants her dead.
“Fuck you, bitch.” She doesn’t have energy or composure to think of any better comeback.
The witch actually laughs, which ignites such fury in Emma that it warms her soul all over, and she embraces the overwhelming and blinding hatred. She tries one of the spells she’s learned to wipe off that smirk from Cora’s face, but she’s overpowered. Cora easily deflects her spell, and uses one to trap her with vines or roots which emerge from the earth, shaking it.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t know about any of your foolish plans?” She walks so close to her that Emma’s skin starts to crawl. Before Emma can reply, she continues idly, like she’s on some goddamn tea party, not in a field of dead bodies. “You silly little girl, you have no idea how many times I told my daughter that love is weakness. You should have known better.”
And it hits Emma really hard, she knows what she’s talking about. Cora knew they’re close to a working plan, and they’re happy. And how could she have possibly known it? The answer is simple, yet painful.
“Hook,” she whispers softly, and the feeling of betrayal is like a knife in her chest.
“Yes, darling, Hook, he has a rather pretty face, I dare to say,” she chats away cheerily, and starts to pace in front of Emma. “But don’t worry, his heart was in my hands right from the start. Though I let him off the leash sometimes.”
Emma is so defeated, she doesn’t even tries another spell, she doesn’t search for Regina or Hook, and she just hangs there in the trap, and doesn’t even give a damn about it. Honestly, she doesn’t see the point. All her life she pushed back, she fought, and for what? To be played by some evil witch and the cruel fate.
“It doesn’t really matter now, is it?” Emma asks.
“You’re right, nothing matters to you anymore,” she says finally, and somehow Emma instinctively knows it’s not about her. It’s all about punishing Regina for whatever she has done, and Emma feels that Regina is alive somewhere, and Cora let her run, so she could hunt and haunt her.
As Cora conjures up a fancy silver dagger, Emma isn’t afraid, and to be honest, she’s a little relieved too. Though she was harsh with her mother, now she understands: she doesn’t want to be here, to help Regina or to find Archie – if he’s even alive –, she wants to be with her family, with Henry.
She welcomes the sudden pain in her chest, accepts her fate, and as the snow falls, she tastes ashes on her tongue, and thinks of princes and princesses and happy endings.