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agony into peace

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"Fisherman myself, I gathered whatever was lost,
and my efforts harmed no one."
-- Pablo Neruda, To Envy


It's always in the aftermath of disaster or peril that we see what truly matters. Some say it's a kind of relief combined with survivor's remorse over what has been irrevocably lost. Personally, I find it more of an uplifting of the human spirit, a chance to continue to pass on the stories that make up our rich histories.

Tonight is no different.

And how is it that these trials of the soul always seem to be fought and resolved in the deepest darkest hours of night? Perhaps that's just symbolic of the struggles themselves, pulling us into the depths of our own capacities for treachery and evil. It's how we deal with the consequences of our actions, formed either in dark or in light, that determines our true selves and our places in the grander scheme of things.

Again, tonight is no different.

The trip back from the Underworld has been difficult. Not a one of us will walk away from it without some kind of scars, physical or emotional. What matters now is how we process and move on. It will take time, for all of us.

Each of us was faced with skeletons from our past, good and bad alike, and none were easy to deal with. Resolving my mother's fears that Snow and I never fully married was easy, but it hurt to see her. Knowing that she has two beautiful grandchildren to carry on our family legacy, as well as a great-grandson, eased her heart and allowed her to move on from the Underworld. Meeting my twin brother, on the other hand, still torments me. That we could share and be borne of the same womb, yet turn out so diametrically opposed still baffles me. As painful as it was to say goodbye to my mother again, it was worse to deal with James and try to give him some sort of peace to leave the Underworld.

Glancing around the encampment as I get that sensation of being watched, I feel the need to guarantee that our perimeters are secured. No one is ready to return to town just yet, wounds too raw to bear the movement of getting from here to there. The fairies know we're back. Blue offered to bring the children out, but, as much as we'd like to see them, we all declined the offer. We need to be stronger before we succumb to the emotions associated with our children and what we could have lost.

Before I go anywhere, I stand and take stock of what is immediately obvious. The dwarves have gathered firewood to last a week, and have a merry blaze going in the center of camp. Nothing can mistake where we are, which might be a tactical error, but we're all just too damned tired to care. The fire will keep us relatively warm, particularly within the bubble of the protection spell to be erected once Snow and Robin return with food. Regina offered to use magic to feed us, but she was unanimously turned down and ordered to rest.

Happy is trying to teach Henry to juggle with a handful of smaller sticks, but it's not quite working out. They're both laughing, especially when Grumpy gets hit by accident. His growls only make them laugh harder, which eventually gets him to join them. Henry's already taller than all of them, but they treat him like the man he's growing into, so he enjoys their company. Their allegiance stems from Henry's descent from Snow, but it's no longer just that. Henry has earned the right to their protection and camaraderie.

Just beyond the edge of the fire's glow, I can make out the forms of Regina and Emma. Neither is moving too much, leaning against a large downed tree. For all I know, they're sleeping in those uncomfortable upright positions. But a part of me knows that isn't so. Their movements are slow, tentative, offering comfort in the only way they can right now, which is proximity and shared grief.

Perhaps the one person who had the hardest time in the Underworld was Regina. Faced with so many people whose blood has stained her hands and her very soul can't have been easy on her. The sheer quantity of deaths by her hand or her command was a staggering sight for all of us. I know that Regina barely made it out of there with her life, because of the demands of her many victims. But seeing her parents and Leopold again was particularly harrowing, based on the few details she gave me. Snow's commentary on the two of them having to deal with Daniel has left me with a new respect for both women and the feud that grew between them.

Emma's whole reason for going to the Underworld ended up less than optimal for her. Granted, she was able to get closure with Neal for Henry and herself, which is something all of us wanted from the second we spotted him there. But, as lovely as that was, we were there for Hook. The fact that, in the end, he chose to remain with Milah only proved to all of us what Regina has been saying all along about him. We nearly didn't get Emma out of there alive, but something happened between her and Regina that ensured our entire party returned to Storybrooke alive, but indelibly changed.

Just as I begin to look away to give them a modicum of privacy, motion brings my attention back to my daughter and Regina. They've moved closer together, or it appears that way from this distance, and Regina reaches up to touch Emma's cheek. Emma stiffens briefly at the contact, then leans in to rest her head on Regina's shoulder. I can see her body shaking, and assume she's crying again. Regina simply wraps her arms around Emma, rubbing her back and saying something that I can't hear. It doesn't take long for her to kiss Emma's hair. I'd love to say that I'm surprised by this move, but I'm really not. They've been growing closer and closer over the past few years.

Emma leans back to take off her jacket and hands it to Regina, who takes it and leans in to press a brief kiss to Emma's lips. She tries to pull back, but is tugged close again, this kiss more desperate and initiated by Emma. Propriety and a strong sense of not wanting to get involved in my daughter's sex life have me turning away briefly. When I do glance back, they've shifted positions, Emma lying on her side with her head in Regina's lap. Regina settles the leather jacket over Emma's shoulders, then begins to run her fingers through long blonde tresses. Her lips are moving, but I don't know if she's initiating conversation or not. It doesn't take long to note the more relaxed posture as Emma drifts into sleep. Regina talks a little longer, a smile on her face that practically screams how much she loves the woman curled up next to her.

And then Snow and Robin appear by the fire. Robin and Grumpy start preparing the food they brought back for our dinner, and Snow makes her way to my side. She smiles as she sees what I've been watching, then kisses me gently and tugs me back to the fire. I know she'll take food over to the newly acknowledged couple, but for now they can have their hard won peace and privacy. And when they're ready, they'll be welcomed back into the fold with open arms and open hearts.