"Everybody just calm down!" David's voice carried like a command, but it still took a few minutes before the voices around the table settled enough for him to continue.
"The beans are still months away from harvest. We've got plenty of time to hash this out in all it's entirety, but I think the sooner we start the planning process, the easier it'll be on us all."
"I don't see why we have to waste time talking," Grumpy said. "It's simple enough. You've got a task, and the dwarves will do it. We always get the job done." His fellow dwarves echoed him loudly, pumping their fists in the air and calling out affirmations. David put his hand up again, signalling for quiet.
"Grumpy, I appreciate the enthusiasm, but a team of dwarves showing up at Emma's door isn't going to work."
"It'll just freak her out," Neal pointed out. "Seven strange, short men with pickaxes would freak anybody out."
"And seeing her ex-boyfriend won't?" Regina said, raising an eyebrow.
Neal ran his hand through his hair. "Look, Henry's my son, and Emma's my -"
Regina raised both brows now. "Your what? Ex-girlfriend? The one who didn't want you to have anything to do with her or your son? How do you think she'll react to you ringing her doorbell?"
Snow gave Neal a sympathetic look. "She's right, Neal. Emma's bound to react badly to seeing you." She took a breath, looking around the table. "And I can't go - not with a baby on the way."
Regina looked over at David. "Shall we take a chance that she won't develop a crush on Daddy?"
"Eww." Grumpy made a face.
"Eww is right." Red made the same face. "I could go. Maybe I could talk to her."
Granny made a sound of disapproval. "Time doesn't run concurrently between here and there, you know. What if you arrive right in the middle of wolf's time?"
"We can't risk that," David agreed. "And I can't go. I'm not leaving my pregnant wife." He reached down, grasping Snow's hand. She smiled up at him.
"What about you, Blue?" Snow asked. "Can you go? Disguise yourself, maybe?"
Blue shook her head sadly. "No, I'm afraid not. Both Green and I are needed far too much here, especially with the witch starting to cause trouble. She could be dangerous."
Regina pushed her chair back from the table. "Well, I guess that leaves me. I was the best choice, to begin with."
Snow shook her head vehemently. "Regina, think about what you're saying. Are you going to be able to pretend to be somebody other than Henry's mother? To not treat him like he's your son? You're bound to slip, and then Emma will most assuredly pick up on it and see you as a threat."
Regina looked affronted. "What are you talking about. I can be quite charming." She slid her eyes over to David. "No pun intended."
"She's right," David said. "You're going to be mooning over Henry and Emma will get suspicious. It won't work." He mused on that for a minute. "What about Rumpelstiltskin? Could we ask him?"
"Right. Send the creepiest guy in the kingdom to her door." Neal rolled his eyes. "That'll go over well."
"I suppose I could go," Granny offered.
"A little old lady like you on the streets of a big city?" Grumpy said, incredulously.
"You think I can't handle myself?" Granny said, narrowing her eyes.
"No, I think you'll end up hurting someone," Grumpy said, throwing his hands up. "Or in jail for murder. You can't walk down main street with a crossbow over there, you know."
"The hell I can't!"
Regina threw up her hands. "And that's why we need diplomacy!"
Granny, Red and Regina were all talking over each other, so David pounded on the table in an effort to restore some order. Finally, everyone quieted down. David took a deep breath, shifting his gaze down to the end of the table.
"You've been awfully quiet down there, Hook. If you have anything to add, we'd like to hear it."
Hook had been leaning back on two legs in his chair, arms folded, face impassive, just watching the show in front of him play out. He now righted himself, unfolded his arms and shrugged.
"You've all said everything there is to be said. I have no pre-existing biases - at least not with this Emma - no magical issues that might threaten anyone, no homicidal tendencies, and I've all the good looks, cunning and trickery I need to make my way in an unfamiliar place and track down someone who may be entirely different than the person we think we're looking for. It has to be me."
"And what's to stop you from staying there?" Neal asked, angrily. "Forgetting all about us and never reminding Emma of any of it?"
Hook's eyes were cold and his voice was hard. "I know you and I have no love lost between us, but I'll not deny you your son." He looked over at David and Snow. "And I'll not deny Emma her family."
"How can we trust you?" Granny said suspiciously.
"I could have left half of you in Neverland. For that matter, I could have sailed off as soon as we all got pulled back here and never laid eyes on any of you again. But there's more at stake here, and I'm a part of it now."
David's eyes slid sideways to Snow, and she bit her lip, nodding slightly.
"Hook's right," he said. "And I owe him my life. I think that earns him a bit of trust from me."
"And me," Snow agreed, nodding.
Regina rolled her eyes. "He is right. He's better equipped than any of us to track her down over there. He's used to working without magic."
Blue looked down the table. "It should be Hook," she said, smiling a mysterious little smile. "He is exactly who should go."
David nodded. "It's decided then. We'll meet again this same time next month and start going over a plan."
Everyone started pushing chairs back and getting up from the table, talking and hugging and saying their goodnights. Hook lingered, making his way over to Snow.
"May I have a word?" His voice was low, but insistent.
A frown creased Snow's forehead. "Of course." He took her by the elbow, leading her a short distance away.
"About the plan..." He looked over at the others. "I -"
Snow took in a sharp breath. "You've found a way. You've found a way to Emma."
He was taken aback by her astute response. "Yes. At least, I believe so. I leave tomorrow."
Snow studied his face a moment. "Do I want to know how?"
He gave her a crooked grin, but she didn't miss the trepidation in his eyes. "Don't want to bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that there's a chance I may be dead instead of leaving. Which is why I need to let someone know I'm trying. If I'm not back in a week, you'll know I've failed."
"And then what?" Snow asked. "How do we rescue you?"
He sighed. "You don't. There's no rescue from this. But you'll need to send someone to get Emma, and that should be Neal."
Snow looked at him like he was crazy. "Didn't we just establish that it would be a bad idea?"
"Initially, it would be. But he's Henry's father. Her desire to let Henry have that relationship will lead to her letting him back into her life on some sort of basis, just like it did before. If he's smarter this time 'round, he may actually win her over."
He couldn't hide the flash of pain in his eyes as he said it, and Snow reached out, touching his shoulder.
"My money's on you, Hook. You find her. You bring her back to us."
He nodded. "I'll do everything in my power. You have my word."
She gave him a cheeky grin. "The word of a pirate?"
He smiled back. "The word of a man who wants your daughter back as badly as you do."
Snow's eyes slid over to Neal. "I know you do." She leaned up, kissing him on the cheek. "Stay safe, Hook."
"You're not going to try to talk me out of it?" he asked.
"Would it make a difference?"
"No." He called over his shoulder, heading for the door.
Snow hugged herself, watching him go as David sidled up next to her. "What was that all about?"
"I'll tell you tomorrow."
He gave her a look of confusion. "Why?"
"Because I want Emma to have her best chance," she said, putting an arm around her husband. "And I think...I think maybe he's it."