The Jolly Roger came in by moonlight, dropping anchor in the bay. Tinker Bell waited for the crew to make camp on the beach before approaching. She found her target sitting on a boulder, a bottle of rum in his hand. No surprise there.
"Hello, Captain. Back again, I see." Though the pirate was permitted out of Neverland to run Pan's errands, Tink knew that he had been unable in all these years to break the demon's leash. From the flash of resentment in his eyes, she knew that he still hoped for escape.
Captain Hook growled, "What do you want, Tink?"
"You left a few things out of your story the last time we met."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"This woman you want vengeance for: she had a son."
Hook's gaze shot to Tinker Bell, moonlight catching the shock in his eyes. "He's alive?"
"No thanks to you," Tink snorted. "Baelfire told me everything." Well, not everything. She suspected that some things were too painful to speak aloud, and she didn't want to add to the pain by pushing him too hard, but he had said enough.
Hook had the grace to look ashamed. "He wanted off the ship. What was I to do?"
"Not sell him to a demon? He's just a boy. You'd let him die for a few angry words?"
"Well, he didn't die, did he?" mumbled Hook.
"Which means you still have a chance to make things right." Tink fixed the pirate with a glare. "For once in your life, you can choose love over hate. Honor the memory of the woman you loved by saving her son. Take him back to the Enchanted Forest."
"Too late for that, love," Hook scoffed. He took another swig of rum, then wiped his lips. "Pan has his eye on the lad. If I steal him away, the Lost Boys will turn me into a pincushion before you can say 'land ho', and I don't fancy dying of dreamshade poisoning."
"That won't be a problem if you don't come back to Neverland," said Tink.
"You think I haven't tried?" Hook asked through gritted teeth. "Pan sends us out, and his magic drags us back. I can't break his hold on the Jolly Roger."
"As to that, I think I may have a way..."
"Last time I begged you to help me, you said you didn't have any magic."
"Yeah, well, things change." She saw the look of interest that he tried to conceal, and she knew she had him. Fallen fairy or not, she could still help at least one child.
Baelfire was reluctant to hand over the coconut, but Tinker Bell promised him it would get him home. He wasn't sure where 'home' was anymore, and he didn't trust the pirate who had stolen his mother and handed him over to the Lost Boys, but Tink had protected him from Pan's games and let him hide in her treehouse. Now she had found him a way out. He wished she would come with him, but she refused. She had to stay behind to look after the other boys, she said, the ones caught in Pan's enchantment.
It was his only chance of escape. Out of all the boys on the island, he was the only one who dared to dream of escape, because he was the only one who had never chosen to follow Pan. He shuddered, remembering how close he had come in Hamelin to losing himself. His feet had danced to the Piper's tunes, but his heart had still hoped that something survived of his father inside the Dark One. He had little hope now. His memories of the Darlings were only memories — he didn't know how long he had been in Neverland (it seemed forever) but he had eavesdropped on the ship's crew and heard centuries mentioned.
"I've made a deal with the Shadow," Tink told the pirate captain. "In return for its freedom, it will take you to the shores of the Enchanted Forest, cutting all ties that bind you to Neverland."
Bae had been the one to suggest the trap. He had seen how the Shadow was drawn to lights, how it could be mesmerized by a flame. Together with Tink, they had carved the patterns in the shell of the coconut to capture the creature. Now, tied to the prow of the Jolly Roger, it had the power to pull them between realms.
"Can we trust it?" asked Hook.
"More than we can trust you," said Tink. "Once you open the coconut at the end of your voyage, it will release you from your service. Being a creature of magic, it must obey the rules of magical agreements."
That wasn't enough to hold my father to his deal, thought Bae bitterly, but he kept his mouth shut. Hook, at least, was persuaded by Tink's argument.
She turned out to be right.
The next day saw the Jolly Roger in the waters off Longbourn. The port town was larger and busier than Bae remembered, but he made no comment, maintaining a sullen silence. He had spent the voyage hunched in a corner of the deck, trying not to get in the way, watching the crew and especially Hook. Despite what Tinker Bell had said, Bae didn't think the pirate had given up his revenge. And the longer he stayed in his company, the more dangerous it became for Baelfire, Rumplestiltskin's son.
Bae had been an unwilling participant in too many of Pan's games to overlook the value of a pawn. If Hook hadn't thought of it yet, he would soon: a child the Dark One cared about was a weakness to exploit. And even now, Bae believed — or desperately hoped — that his father might still care. And if he didn't — gods, no, that would be even worse, to find out that way that he had truly lost Papa forever.
So he kept his thoughts to himself and went along with Hook, letting himself be stashed away in a room upstairs while the captain went downstairs to "make inquiries", as he put it. Bae tried the door; it was locked. Thanking the gods that he was still small enough to squeeze out the window, he climbed carefully to the rooftop, then crept from building to building until he found his way down into a quiet alleyway.
Then he headed away, out of the town as quickly as he dared. It was colder than Neverland, and raining lightly, but he didn't care. Mud splattered his legs and stained his ragged clothes, and only his movement kept him warm. Once dusk fell and he had the cover of darkness, he stepped off the road and called, "Papa!"
In Neverland, he had shouted into the jungle, into the sea, into the caves, dreaming and waking, until he had gone hoarse, but his father had never answered. But this was the Enchanted Forest. This was the edge of the Frontlands. This was home.
His hands froze and the wheel spun out of control, forgotten. Straw and gold slid out of his hands as Rumplestiltskin leaped to his feet.
He knew it had to be a lie. That voice, it couldn't be real. Rage consumed him at the impersonation. Who dared to mock him with hope? Ready to do murder with his bare hands, he flung himself from the Dark Castle to the road outside Longbourn. Only to find...
...his boy, shivering in the cold, his clothes soaked through. It was a trick. It had to be a trick. Baelfire was in the Land Without Magic. And how could he be so young, as if he hadn't aged a day since he had gone through the portal? But, oh, he was so convincing. The anger and the hurt in his expression were all too real. Rumplestiltskin stared, mouth agape, until he managed to whisper, "Bae..."
The boy stared back, eyes impossibly wide.
And then Rumplestiltskin couldn't breathe. His heart thumped painfully inside his chest. This wasn't real. A glamour, or a shapeshifter. A spell. And yet—
"You lied to me!" The boy flung the words at him like spears, but he couldn't respond. He couldn't even think.
All he knew was that he sensed no magic here except his own. He gaped, stunned. Was it his son?
"You lied!" the boy shouted again. "You told me Mama was dead. That the pirates took her."
"What?" Rumplestiltskin staggered back, his thoughts whirling. Nothing seemed to make sense. How could his son be here, now, accusing him—
"YOU killed her."
"Bae..." He wanted to protect his son, had always wanted to protect his son, but it was clearly too late for that. If he lied now, he would lose him forever. But the truth was too horrible — he would lose his son anyway. Again.
"You killed her. It's true, isn't it?"
"...yes." Rumplestiltskin watched in agony as Baelfire broke down in tears, sobbing his heart out.
"Oh, Bae." He moved forward, instinctively wanting to comfort his son with a hug, but Bae jerked away.
"Don't touch me!"
"Please, son. I'm sorry." Rumplestiltskin reached out again, then let his hand drop. "I'm so sorry, Bae."
"You never came for me," Bae choked out the words brokenly. "I used to dream of you coming to rescue me. But then I'd wake up and remember how you left me behind."
"I was a coward," Rumplestiltskin admitted, tears running down his own face. "But every moment since I lost you, every waking moment, I've been looking for a way to find you. To tell you that you were right. That you were always right. I should have had the courage to go with you. Please, I know that I can't make up for the past, for the lost time—"
"You left your own son for the power of a dagger! How can I think that things will ever be any different?"
"For you, I can be strong." Rumplestiltskin summoned the Dark One dagger to his hand, then offered it hilt-first to his son. "I chose it once. Now I choose you."
"I don't want the dagger. I want my father back!"
"I know. I know, son. I understand, now." At the time, he had been too blinded by darkness to hold anything but contempt for the cowardly spinner he had once been. But Bae's loss had woken that part of his old self that survived beneath the magic. He could be a better man. He had to be. He looked helplessly at his son. "At least let me take you somewhere out of this rain. Please, Bae. You'll catch your death of cold."
"Would you even care?" Bae shot back.
"I... I love you, Bae." But he knew the words were meaningless, after everything he had done. "I know you don't trust me. I know I've made mistakes. Please let me make it up to you. I can change. I can be better, son, if you believe in me."
It was only after a long moment of silence, during which Rumplestiltskin feared that his son would shout at him to leave and never come back, that Bae finally nodded, relenting.
Giddy with relief, Rumplestiltskin took them back to their old cottage. Magically preserved even after all this time, it was both closer and less alarming than the Dark Castle. Neither speaking at first, they could almost pretend that they were both what they had once been. But looking at his son as he clutched a cup of tea, he knew that forgiveness was not even close.
Eventually, he stammered out a halting confession of the last time he had met his wife. Milah had not been abducted at all. She had never loved him and had left with the pirate without a backward glance. Rumplestiltskin had murdered his boy's mother. She had abandoned Bae. But so had Rumplestiltskin. He was a fool even to dare hope for forgiveness. But at least his boy was warm, dry, fed, and safe. If Rumplestiltskin could do nothing else, he could manage that much.
Later, Baelfire told his own tale, and Rumplestiltskin listened in mounting horror.
Neverland? With Peter Pan? That Bae had escaped with the help of Killian Jones came as another shock. Rumplestiltskin finally understood how his son had learned his mother's fate — from this pirate who had both damned and saved the boy. Too numb to react, Rumplestiltskin waited for Bae to continue.
"He wants to kill you," Bae said dully, not meeting his eyes.
"Of course he does," Rumplestiltskin snarled, but another thought was overwhelming him, and he staggered to his feet. "You say the Shadow took you to Neverland. Pan's Shadow. It can travel to the Land Without Magic?"
"It can go to all the realms."
"She lied to me!" The Blue Fairy must have known, but she had denied every possibility except a curse. Why had she— no. He didn't care. He would rip her open and feed her liver to the crows. "That hypocritical blue firefly!"
"She'll die for this. She kept this from me..."
His son didn't want him to kill. With an effort, he focused on the terrified, pleading face of his child. No. He couldn't do this again. "Bae..."
"I don't want you to hurt anyone, Papa."
Rumplestiltskin shut his eyes for a long moment, breathing hard. He drew on every good memory he had of his family and forced back the darkness that threatened to consume him. He could do this. He could do anything. "I won't, Bae. I won't."
But it wasn't enough. He hadn't tried to kill anyone today, but what about tomorrow? Or the next day? How long until he slipped and lost his temper and made another fatal mistake? He saw the doubt in Baelfire's eyes, and it only added to the pain of his regrets.
"Are you sure about this?" Baelfire looked down at the dagger he held as gingerly as if it might burst into flames at any moment.
"How can you ever trust me, unless I show you that I'm willing to pay for what I've done?"
It was the plan, almost the same plan. He had Seen himself imprisoned, but assumed it was needed to enact the Dark Curse. His assumption had been wrong. He had already found his son. The prison served another purpose.
So it was that Baelfire captured the Dark One and took him to Snow White's court, accusing him of murdering Baelfire's mother. Rumplestiltskin freely admitted his guilt.
Everyone was amazed. Of course they were. How could a mere boy overcome the Dark One, the mightiest sorcerer in the realm? Baelfire refused to explain, until the Blue Fairy came, and he whispered his secret in her ear. She looked sternly at Rumplestiltskin, and he merely sneered back. The three of them knew the truth, but would she reveal it to her pet royals?
She would not. She spoke only in vague homilies of Light overcoming Dark, then took over construction of a magical prison, the actual work to be done by her dwarves.
Rumplestiltskin made no protest, enduring the Blue Fairy's sanctimonious smirk as she locked him in. The jagged bars neutered his magic, all except his Sight, leaving him alone in the dark with only his visions for company. Food and water were deemed unnecessary, as everyone knew that the Dark One was immortal. His imprisonment might last forever. He hoped not. Perhaps, someday, his son might forgive him. That was his hope.
It was enough; it had to be.