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All My Fault

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"You can't hold both of us!"

"I'm not letting go of you." Emma tried to pull harder but it was difficult with only one hand. She heard some movement behind her but couldn't afford to turn her head to see who it was. Too risky!

"You have to."

Damn Neal with his stubbornness. "No, you're shot," she insisted. "If you fall through that portal, you'll die no matter what world you land in."

She could see how much pain he was in, and not all of it was physical. Holding his hand on the injured side must really hurt like a bitch. She could sense the movement behind her getting closer. She hoped the uninvited guest was friendly, otherwise they were really done.

"No, Emma," he stubbornly said. "Henry needs you! He can't lose both of us. Don't make him grow up like we did!"

She heard a sharp intake of breath with Neal's last statement, so she had a good idea who their guest was. She hoped she was right as she needed all the help she could get to pull him up. She needed to focus on the task at hand for now. "Then don't let go!" She still saw him being stubborn so she needed to say more. "I need you." He seemed a bit hopeful with that so she added hesitantly, "I love you."

She didn't expect him to say, "I love you, too," so she was pleasantly surprised to hear the words, despite their precarious situation. Her happiness was short-lived though, as she felt Neal release his hand from her grip. She was about to cry out, then she saw that David had caught Neal's hand just in time.

The portal was still open though. She guessed something had to go through before it could close. "David, please hold on a bit longer!" She scanned her surroundings and saw her gun nearby. She tossed it through the portal and the green vortex swirled more violently before finally closing. David struggled with Neal's weight so she quickly helped pull him up.

The three of them lied in a tangle of limbs. Emma immediately realized that Neal's position was critical. She knew a thing or two about gunshot wounds. She arranged his body to stay flat to keep the blood flowing to his heart. She removed his scarf to allow the air to flow more freely. She applied pressure on his wound to stop the bleeding.

David dialed 911. Neal seemed to be in a lot of pain but he kept looking at David and struggled to open his mouth. "Save your energy for now!" said Emma.

As usual, Neal was being stubborn. When David finally looked in his direction, he managed to say, "T..Thanks! So… sorry about leaving Em..Emma!" Then he lost consciousness.

David raised his eyebrows questioningly at Emma as he didn't know what he meant. Thankfully, the call went through so he was busy explaining their situation to the emergency personnel without Emma needing to explain.

Emma remembered her ABCDE of treating a gunshot wound. She felt her heart freeze when she didn't detect any breath or pulse. She stopped pressing the wound to perform CPR. She just focused on performing the 30 chest compression followed by 2 mouth-to-mouth. Everything was in slow motion and she didn't care. Just repeat the count, 30 then 2, 30 then 2, 30 then 2. She kept doing that even though her vision was blurry because of all the tears. She hadn't even realize she had cried through this entire ordeal. After what felt like an eternity, the medic finally arrived. They needed to pry her away from him to give him professional help.

She felt so helpless with nothing left to do as she had always been a girl with a plan. Thankfully, David hugged her. She put her head on his shoulder while he murmured placating sentences. They watched as the medic removed Neal's clothes to apply a defibrillator to his chest, alternating between the defibrillator and CPR. She watched with a strange detachment as his heart finally started again. Suddenly, everything went back to normal speed. They now applied pressure to his wound to stop the bleeding while someone quickly covered him up with blanket as he went into shock.

After managing to stop the bleeding temporarily, they lifted him onto a stretcher. They were going to carry him into an ambulance. "Are you coming?" they asked.

Emma quickly followed but she didn't forget about David. She turned back and said, "Thanks, Dad!" That surprised both of them. Before David had a chance to reply, she quickly added, "Call Henry, Mom, and Gold! Meet us at the hospital!"

Chapter Text

"Where is he? I need to see my boy now!"

"He's in surgery."

"Why does he need surgery? I can just use magic to heal him."

Emma stared disbelievingly at Gold. "In the middle of a surgery? Where were you before? You could've helped us find Regina instead of wooing your new or old girlfriend. Whatever. I don't care. Hell, you could have prevented him from getting shot."

Gold staggered and clutched at the nearest bench. "Did Bae get shot because of rescuing Regina?" he asked weakly. "I didn't know he'd be involved."

Emma jabbed her finger angrily at his chest. She didn't care if he was the Dark One. "Well, there are a lot of things you don't know about your son. Did you even try to spend time with him since he arrived in Storybrooke?"

Gold couldn't hold back his tears anymore but Emma didn't care. Some things had to be said. She didn't know why Neal kept quiet all this time. If she were him, she would give him hell after what he had done. "He never confided in me about you, but you should've seen his expression when you were stabbed in New York. He still loves you very much. Did you know that he nearly fell down a portal again? He let go of my hand so that Henry wouldn't grow up alone like we did. If it weren't for David, he would probably be dead in another world."

Gold was shocked. He sat down at the nearest bench, trembling. "I'm sorry, Bae," he whispered. "I should've been there for you."

Emma now felt bad for lashing out at him. However, the issue of growing up alone had really hit her hard. She asked, "Where's Belle?"

Gold held his cane like it was his lifeline. He answered in between sobs. "She's still Lacey so I left her with Granny as she won't be much help. Where are Henry and your parents?"

Emma felt that her energy had been drained with the confrontation so she sat down next to him. "They're in the cafeteria getting Henry some hot chocolate. He's afraid he is going to lose his father after only knowing him for a few days." It then hit her that a lot of things had happened in the past few days since she had come back from New York. She had had the whole year to adjust to the weirdness of Storybrooke. Neal had done remarkably well with the all the violence and strange occurrences that had happened since he arrived. Although he had grown up in the Enchanted Forest, he hadn't lived in that world for centuries. Well, she hoped he would continue to cope if, no, not if, when he recovered.

She tried to console Gold with a confidence she didn't really possess. "I think Dr. Whale is a good doctor with a great track record. Neal is in good hands."

The mention of Whale sent Gold to another frenzy. "I hope Whale didn't take what I did this morning to heart," he said. "I don't want Bae to have to pay the price. But since Bae saved him this morning he ought to repay the favor."

That confused the hell out of Emma but he wasn't in any state to give an explanation. She looked around awkwardly then breathed a sigh of relief when her parents walked in with Henry.

Henry quickly hugged Gold so she was relieved from comforting duty. David sat awkwardly next to Henry. He wasn't sure what to say to Gold.

"I forgot to ask earlier," said Emma. "Where is Regina? How is she?"

"She's fine, just needs to recuperate a bit," Snow answered. "She hasn't lost her magic. She's with the Blue Fairy. "

"Well, good for her but not so good for Neal."

"Emma, you shouldn't say such a thing," Snow admonished her. "I'm sure Neal will be fine. I think Rumplestiltskin and the Blue Fairy should be able to help if Dr. Whale can't."

"Yeah, just solve it with magic as you usually do. I'm sure Neal will be so happy about it."

"Emma, what's wrong? You're not usually this cranky."

"Gee, I don't know. Nobody believed me when I said Tamara was evil, except for Henry. Then we needed to save Regina, who has tried to kill us numerous times. It turned out I was right all along; Tamara was behind all these schemes. She shot him and threw a magic bean at us. He saved me and nearly got sucked into a portal. I tried to guilt him by saying I love him and he said he loved me too before having the audacity of letting go of my hand. Luckily, David caught him just in time. Then he stopped breathing so I needed to do CPR. How is that for a day?"

Once Emma had finished her rapid tirade, she finally broke down into sobs.

Snow wasn't sure she caught all that, but she did hear the part about Emma loving him and him loving her back! She hugged Emma and said, "Oh Emma! You do love each other, just as I thought. I'm sure everything will work out in the end."

"How can you be sure of that? How can love save a gunshot wound with infections and blood loss?"

"Well, for a start, we have Frankenstein as a doctor." Emma managed a weak smile at that. "I'm sure it counts for something. Besides, I'm sure Rumplestiltskin will think of something to save his only son, whom he has sought for ages. I know I would no matter what it costs."

Emma hugged her back. "You didn't see Gold earlier. He looked so helpless. I'm sure he'll move heaven and earth, quite literally, to save Neal. Oh no! I blamed him for not helping to save Regina when I was the one to ask Neal to come along. What was I thinking?"

Snow stroke Emma's head. She had missed out on comforting her daughter for 28 years and she wasn't going to miss another opportunity. "Oh, Emma. You didn't know what was going to happen. You didn't force Neal to come along with you. Blaming yourself won't help at all."

"Thanks, Mom. I did sort of guilt him into coming along though, but later he said he wouldn't leave me alone. He said he would back me up."

Snow was thankful for that. "I think he did a great job helping you, don't you think?"

"Yeah, at the cost of his own life. I'm not sure what to say to him when he recovers."

"I think thank you will be a start. It has been a long day. Why don't you go get yourself something to eat? I'll call you as soon as I hear anything."

Emma looked at Henry who was still hugging Gold. She wasn't sure who was comforting whom. David hovered uncertainly beside them. "What about Henry?"

"Henry has eaten. He will be fine. Kids are more resilient. Go take a rest. We'll be here."


Emma was grateful for the temporary relief. She munched on a sandwich in the cafeteria. She wasn't sure how she felt. A lot of things had happened. She didn't tell Snow about Neal's apology and their Tallahassee. It was all too much to explain in a short period of time. She remembered vividly admitting her love to Neal and that he reciprocated. That was the happiest second in her life before everything went to hell again, as usual. She wasn't sure whether she'd still have the same feeling when Neal recovered. She noticed she used the word when not if. I guess mom's positivity has rubbed off on me.

She heard a familiar voice and raised her head. There was a figure at the door. She put her head on the table and counted to twenty and raised her head again. The figure was still there so it wasn't hallucination. What has she done to deserve this?

"What do you want, Hook? Come here to gloat?"

Hook had the audacity to wink and sat opposite her. "Well, for a start, I'd like your lovely company. You're not eating Jell-O, are you?" He peered at Emma's food suspiciously.

"Go away! If you want to gloat, you've come to the wrong place. Gold is over there. Wait, what? Jell-O?"

Hook seemed to be relieved that Emma wasn't eating Jell-O. "Yes, I hate that thing. It's wriggly and evil. It's not natural. Why do people in this world feed the sick with such an atrocity?"

Emma didn't want to follow up this thread of conversation. Speaking with Hook tended to make her blood boil even without the complexity of explaining the working order of this world. "What do you want, Hook? If you want to hurt Gold through his son, I think you're too late. It's done, unless you want to finish the job."

"People close to the crocodile often get hurt. He should think about it."

"Seriously? You want to go there. What's wrong with your and Regina's obsession with revenge? Get a life! You were the one shooting Belle. She was not hurt by him. Neal was shot by his fiancée and it had nothing to do with who his father was." Emma added quietly to herself, "But he did get shot because of me."

"What, exactly, do you mean by get a life? I plan to do that by killing the crocodile."

Emma put her head on the table again and counted to fifty. She was only at twenty three when Hook interrupted her, "What're you doing? You don't need to dream of me while I'm right in front of you."

Emma pulled Hook's collar. "Why did you come here?"

"I like women who like it rough."

Emma pulled his collar harder and hissed. "Please tell me what you want or I swear I will stick Jell-O somewhere the sun doesn't shine."

"I'd rather be the one doing the sticking."

Emma yanked even harder until Hook was in danger of turning blue.

"I came here to check how Milah's son is doing."

Emma didn't expect that. She released her hold slightly. "Isn't Milah the name on your tattoo?"

Hook raised his eyebrow suggestively but the effect was reduced as he was still gasping for air. "Ah, you remembered. I knew you would."

"Shut up, Hook. So Milah is Neal's mother. Does it make you his stepdad? How come he never mentioned that?"

"Swan, you need to release your hold on me if you want me to explain properly."

Emma released him.

"Well, Baelfire has always been stubborn. And he…uh…didn't take it well when he discovered that I took his mother away from his father. He never accepted me."

"I couldn't imagine why," she replied dryly. "Are you insane? Taking the Dark One's wife?"

"Well, he wasn't the Dark One when Milah left."

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, that made all the difference."

"Well, love, while I'm sure you'd like nothing more than to sit here all day flirting with me, I do have important matters to discuss with you."

Emma groaned and put her head back at the table. "Why me?"

"I couldn't possibly speak to the crocodile face-to-face without giving into the desire of stabbing him. Your father is very angry with me because I knocked him out in the sheriff station and I think you mom has similar attitudes as your dad. I might have also unleashed a giant on them."

Emma finally raised her head. "Gee, again, I wonder why. Don't you remember the last time we met, when you pushed me into a wall, then I knocked you out and tied you to a storage room?"

"Ah, I know you're into kinky stuff so I don't take it personally. All you need to do is just ask."

She aimed to take hold of Hook's collar again but he quickly backed away. He swiftly produced a stone which looked like a big black diamond. "OK, I stole this from that lass Tamara and her lad, Greg."

"Do you want to bribe me? I don't care much for diamonds. "

"I want to do more than bribing." He wriggled his eyebrows again. When he saw Emma was about to lunge at him, he quickly added, "No, it's not a normal diamond. This is apparently what they called the failsafe, whatever that means. I think your queen, Regina,…" He ignored Emma's interruption that she was not her queen. "I think Regina created this diamond to destroy Storybrooke in case the curse broke or if she was bored. Whatever she fancied I guess. Greg retrieved this diamond from her when they captured her. I managed to steal it from him when they didn't notice."

Emma crossed her hands in front of her chest. "Why do you want to help me? What's in for you? Why should I trust you?"

"Love, I might be a pirate but I don't want the blood of the innocents on me. Besides, Milah's son is among the innocents. I had done that boy a lot of wrongs and he has suffered enough. I heard he was involved in saving Regina."

"Yes, he was."

"Always trying to be the hero. I told him it'd get him killed but as I said, he's always been stubborn."

Emma remembered Neal releasing his hand from her hold. "Yes, I know what you meant. Won't you get into trouble for helping me?"

"So now you worry about me. I'm touched. Don't worry, I'll be hiding in my ship. That's why I came here first. I hope you can catch them so I don't need to face them again. Here is their hiding place." He produced a piece of paper to give to Emma. "By the way, I heard they wanted to take Henry away as well, something about that's what the Home Office wants. If I were you, I would hold on to him."

Hook's statement froze her blood. "Why do they want Henry?"

"I have no idea, lass. I've got to go before the crocodile or your parents come here."

Hook made to leave but before he reached the door, Emma called out to him. "Thanks for your help! I'm sure Neal will be happy that you warned us about Henry."

"What has Baelfire got to do with Henry?"

It was Emma's turn to raise her eyebrow. "You didn't know that Neal is Henry's father?"

He looked stunned. "No, I had no idea. I hope Baelfire recovers."

"Thanks, I guess. Henry needs his father. A son shouldn't lose his father at such a young age."

"Yes, and a father shouldn't lose his son," he added wistfully, then left.

Emma tried to decipher what he meant. Both Hook and Gold had been cryptic. Her thought was interrupted by her ringtone. She picked it up and heard her mom on the other end. "Emma, Whale has finished performing surgery. Do you want to come listen to what he has to say?"

"OK, Mom, I'll be there ASAP."

Chapter Text

"Dr. Whale, why hasn't Bae wakened up from his surgery? You said it would be 24 hours at most. It has been three days."

Whale sometimes hated his job. He preferred working back in his homeland, trying to resurrect the dead. There, he would get fame if he succeeded. Here, he worked with living people, which meant he needed to polish his bedside manners and sometimes deal with difficult patients or family of the patients, like Rumpelstiltskin.

It was not his fault he was the only surgeon in Storybrooke. He really needed to thank Regina for that. That woman was vindictive. Despite his earlier misgivings about Rumpelstiltskin, he understood that his son was a good person who rescued strangers. He had done his best removing the bullet and stopping the internal bleeding. That had taken hours of concentration. He needed to induce a medical coma to allow the bleeding to stop faster. Usually the patient would wake up automatically when the anesthetic wore off.

Apparently not this patient. He should've known that the Golds (it was hard to call the family the Rumpelstiltskins) and the Nolans (or were they the Charmings? These dual identity issues really created nightmares for professionals) were prone to getting shot, falling into unexplainable comas, and amnesia. With his luck, the son of someone wanting to humiliate him to impress that woman got the first two. He hoped Rumpelstiltskin's son wouldn't get amnesia but with current trends and what he knew about the side effects of comas, he might as well get it.

"Well, as I said, this is a very unusual case. I think it might be psychological."

"Are you saying my son doesn't want to wake up? Why wouldn't he?"

Whale added internally, "Why would he with a father like you and a possible stepmom like that?" Well, to her credit, the woman wearing the same face as the woman he had met three days ago had a different demeanor. It was as if she actually cared for other human beings and felt the pain Rumpelstiltskin was facing.

Externally, he said, "Medically, he's fine despite the blood loss and infections." Rumpelstiltskin glared at him. He gulped nervously and continued. "What I meant was with his current condition, he shouldn't have any trouble waking up. Therefore, I think the problem must lie with the internal thoughts of the patient himself."

"What use do you have then? What can you do to wake him up?"

Whale bristled at the implication. He was the best surgeon here. Well, he was the only surgeon here but that was beside the point. He had done his best, which should equal the best of any fine surgeon in this country. "Well, I removed the bullet, stopped the internal bleeding and gave him medication for infections so don't tell me that I didn't do anything. I suggest you and the rest of the family talk to him to encourage him to wake up."

"Can I just use magic to wake him up?"

"I thought you tried that a few times." Sadly, it was true. Whale had seen Rumpelstiltskin try. It was actually painful to see him try and fail. His face would just crumble like he had lost all hope, which Whale guessed was true for his case. "Unlike your sleeping curse, the cause is not magical, so there is no magical solution." The mention of the curse left a bad taste in his mouth.

Rumpelstiltskin advanced and glared at him dangerously. Thankfully, the woman next to him held his hand and said, "Rumple, no. We've talked about this. Violence won't solve our problem." She then directed her gaze at Whale. "Dr. Whale, did you suggest we talk to Baelfire instead? How does that even work? How many people should talk to him?"

He still looked at her suspiciously.

"I'm Belle," she said. "Sorry that you got the bad luck of encountering me with my cursed personality. I know my apology is not enough to repair your humiliation. For now, let's focus on how to wake Baelfire up."

Whale nodded curtly and said, "Well, as far as I know, coma patients can still hear whatever is going on around him or her. Not that your son is in a coma, I just say it because I can't find a better term. They just couldn't wake up or in his case he doesn't want to. That's why you need to be careful with what you say within his hearing range because he can hear everything. Not that he'll remember it when he wakes up, but what he hears influences his state of mind. I presume you need to say something that makes him feel he is needed and loved. As for how many, it's up to you, but I guess two at most because you don't want to crowd his room and it's easier to hear what oothers say and follow up if there are only two people."

Belle smiled. "Thank you, Doctor. You've been most helpful. I'll arrange for Emma and her family to come."

Whale was uncertain but Belle seemed to be genuine. He would still need to closely monitor what they were going to do but he believed with Emma and her family around, things wouldn't be too chaotic.

"OK, you do that," he said. "I'll be around if you need me."

Rumpelstiltskin hated feeling helpless. He thought he would escape this feeling after he became the Dark One. He was very much mistaken. He learned that feeling helpless didn't only relate to how much power you didn't have, but also to how much you couldn't do to help your loved ones. He could get rid of Bae's infections and even cure anemia. Since the medicine in this world could take care of those, he didn't need to interfere, otherwise his son would hate him more.

Although at this time he wouldn't mind his son hating him. That would mean he was actually awake. Through the glass window, he looked at his son lying hooked to different machineries. Whale had explained those were for liquid, antibiotic, and even nutrition because he wasn't able to consume any food. Has he always been this pale and thin?

He was thankful that Belle had returned. He hated the Blue Fairy with every fiber of his being but he couldn't be more grateful to her when Grumpy came over to give him the potion to restore Belle's memory. He'd been selfish to keep Lacey as she seemed to like him for who he was. When his son hadn't woken up after the surgery, however, he couldn't bear to face it alone, so he tricked Lacey into taking the potion. Now he regretted not giving her the potion earlier. Belle had always been his rock. Although Belle felt appalled by what she had done when she was cursed, she could sense that he needed her support so she put aside her own problems to take care of him first.

She was the one urging him to rest, otherwise he'd just stay at Bae's bedside the whole time. She said she'd take care of Bae and if there was anything new she'd call him immediately. He couldn't trust anyone else but he could always trust Belle.

Now Belle proved her worth by making the call to the Charmings. He could barely contain his emotions. He didn't want to end up breaking down and begging them to come. Not that it'd be hard to ask them as they were here as often as he was. Emma literally needed to drag Henry away from his dad to ask him to eat or sleep or go to school. Emma and Charming themselves were busy with the job of hunting down Tamara and Greg. The last he heard they had arrested Greg but Tamara was still on the loose. If only he could lay his hands on her, however the most important thing now was for Bae to recover. Snow had been quite supportive and would sometimes take over so that Belle could rest. If Belle trusted her, then he could trust her as well.

"They will be here soon. Don't worry, Rumple, everything will be fine. As Dr. Whale said, it's all in his mind and I believe at least one of us can get through to him."

"Belle, you don't know how stubborn he can be."

"I know, Rumple, I know. After all, I face you every day."

Rumpelstiltskin managed to smile despite the dire situation. "Are you saying that I'm stubborn?"

"Yes, Rumple, you're even worse than your son. I believe that is your family trait."

"Oh Belle, you haven't even met Milah."

Belle mockingly hit his arm. "Should I be worried?"

He thought grimly about his former wife and compared her to Belle. "Definitely not. Shall we try to talk to Bae before they arrive?"

He then linked his arm with hers and walked into the room.

He sat down next to his bed. "Bae, I know you must hate me right now. I don't blame you. I hate myself most of the time. However, don't punish yourself because of me. A lot of people need you. I need you. Emma and Henry need you."

"Baelfire, we haven't actually met. I'm Belle and I need you too. Besides me, you're the only one who can get through the thick skull of your father. I know saying he can be difficult is a gross understatement, I truly do. I think I'm the only person besides you who can truly love and understand your father. We're the only ones who can make him stay good. So you need to get better, not only for yourself and your family, but for the rest of Storybrooke."

Belle's words seem to take effect as Bae's tears started to come out. She noticed that as well and held Bae's hand in hers. "I know it's a big responsibility for you but I believe you can do it. I know it must be hard for you to be responsible for your father's actions when you were only fourteen but you're not alone now. You have me and Henry and the rest of the Charming family to keep him in check. I'm sure Granny can help too."

He added, "Bae, don't blame yourself for what happened. I know you'll do that but don't. Even trusting Tamara is not your fault. I did the same with Cora even after I'd lived for more than 250 years. So don't blame yourself." He put his hand on top of Belle's and Bae's hands. "As Belle said, we'll be strong together."

Rumpelstiltskin heard some commotion outside and when he peeked out, he realized the Charmings plus Regina had arrived. They were talking to Whale. "I'll let Henry and Emma in to talk to you now."

He walked out and stared at Regina. "What are YOU doing here?"

"The Blue Fairy and all the other fairies are busy. Snow and Charming seem to think that I could be in danger since Tamara is still on the loose, which is silly of course, since I can defend myself better than them with my magic. They dragged me here so I wouldn't be alone. Do you think I want to be in the vicinity of your family?"

"YOU … " Belle shook her head so he stopped. However, his name wouldn't be Rumpelstiltskin if he didn't have the last words. He sneered. "You don't have it in you to say good things about other people so I would expect nothing less from you."

It was Regina's turn to glare. "Mom, that's OK," said Henry. "Grandpa is just stressed."

Snow White quickly handled the situation before it escalated. She dragged Charming into Bae's room. "Charming, let's talk to Neal."

Charming refused to budge. "I don't know him that well. I'm not even sure I like him after what he's done to Emma." That earned him death glares from both Snow and Rumpelstiltskin, so he stopped.

"It'll be interesting to see how those two talk to Bae," thought Rumpelstiltskin. "I hope they don't make his condition worse. I believe Snow will have common sense." He looked at Belle who simply nodded at him so he didn't protest when Snow and Charming walked into the room. That left him standing there awkwardly with Regina, Emma, and Henry. Whale had disappeared.


David hated the fact that Snow saw the good in everybody. He protested when they seemed to adopt Regina as part of the family despite the numerous evil deeds she'd done to them. That was the reason they had brought her to the hospital, to make her feel as part of the family. He was thankful that at least Snow had the good sense not to invite Regina into the room. He was sure even normal patients would fall into a coma listening to what Regina had to say.

He looked at Neal and felt his heart aching. Whatever he felt about the man, he could sympathize with him. After all, he had been in a coma for 28 years without anyone claiming to be his family, thanks to Regina. The problem was that he was a man of action, not words. He'd let Snow take the lead.

Snow sat next to Neal's bed. "Neal, we don't know each other that well although we've worked together to fight evil. You might have a bad first impression of Storybrooke. From what I've seen so far, you're a good man; a brave man who is willing to protect his family; someone who is also willing to forgive others for past wrongdoings. You were willing to protect your father who had abandoned you. Those are the qualities I appreciate in a person. Besides, Emma loves you so you must have a lot of other good qualities. My point is, we need more people like you. Emma and Henry need you. Your father needs you. The rest of Storybrooke community needs you. I know you're a fighter so you need to fight this and get better. I believe in you."

That seemed to help as Charming saw Neal's fingers start to twitch. It was a very quick movement but Snow noticed it as well and whispered to her husband. "Charming, you can do it. I also believe in you."

That gave him a boost of confidence. He cleared his throat and said, "Neal, similar to Snow, I don't know you that well personally. I agree that you are a fighter so you need to fight this. I don't know what was going on between you and Emma, but both of you are fighters. You can make it work. You know that's a big sacrifice for me as a father, to allow you to continue to have whatever relationship you have with Emma. Well, we'll talk about that when you're well. My point is, get well soon. My heart is breaking whenever I see Henry cry."

He didn't add that he'd hurt him if he hurt Emma. This was not the time.

Well, he hadn't awakened yet but perhaps Emma or Henry could finish the task. "Now we'll let Emma and Henry talk to you."


Meanwhile, outside the room, Emma could feel the tension between Gold and Regina. Thankfully, Belle was back so she didn't need to be the middle woman this time. She dragged Henry to sit on the chairs away from both Gold and Regina.

Henry promptly produced the Once Upon a Time book from his backpack. Emma groaned. "Kid, do you have to take the book with you all the time?"

"Emma, this is important for Operation Phoenix."

"I thought our operation name was Operation Praying Mantis."

"That was when people didn't know Tamara was evil. Now everyone knows so the operation was successful."

"Henry, I think Neal disagreed with the conclusion of your operation." She might as well humor Henry. "So why Phoenix?"

Henry's eyes brightened which reminded her painfully of Neal's. "Well, a phoenix is a long-lived bird that can rise from the ashes and be reborn. Neal is Baelfire so he already has the fire element. When he recovers, he'll be much stronger than before, hence the name phoenix. We have this operation to help him to get well soon."

Emma had to admire Henry's abilities to come up with different operation names. "Well, at least this name is more appropriate than Praying Mantis." Henry smiled sweetly at her.

Looking at that smile, she was thankful that she had heeded Hook's warning and searched for Greg and Tamara at their hiding spot. They managed to catch Greg by shooting him in the leg when he tried to escape. After patching him up in the hospital, she had deposited Greg in the cell. Unfortunately, Tamara had escaped yet again. At least she didn't successfully shoot anyone (not for lack of trying) this time. Red helped to search for her but her scent had disappeared at the river so they hadn't caught her yet. Based on Greg's confession, it seemed that they really wanted to kidnap Henry, so despite her intense dislike of the captain and his constant loyalty flip-flopping, she owed him one. Now she just needed to protect Henry 24/7 until Tamara was caught. Easy peasy!

"Emma, did you hear what I just said?"

"Sorry, Henry, what was that?"

"I said we should read this book to Neal. It worked for grandpa Charming twice, once when he was in a coma and once when he was under the sleeping curse."

"Henry, I think it was your grandma's kiss that woke your grandpa up, remember? I was there." She remembered the awkward scene when her parents had made up for lost time in front of the dwarves and still hadn't finished after her conversation with Gold. "Besides, I think reading the book will make your father's condition worse."

Henry sulked. "Why?"

"Well, for a start. He escaped from the world described in the book. He nearly fell through a portal back to that world so I'm sure he won't like to be reminded of it, at least not while he's in this condition. Besides, he told me that he didn't have a fairytale childhood. We'd better stick to this world if you want to talk to him."

"But he used it to explain to Tamara about the Enchanted Forest."

"All the more reason not to use the book now."

"So what should I tell him then?"

"You tell him how much you love and need him. That usually does the trick as he genuinely loves you. He'll do anything for you."

Henry brightened at the prospect of that. "I can do it."

"I'm sure you can, kid."

At that time, her parents walked out from Neal's room. From their happy expressions, she guessed whatever they said apparently worked. Now it was hers and Henry's turn.

She stood up and offered her hand to Henry. He stood up and grabbed it. Emma loved the way his hand fit into hers. She realized that he was growing up so quickly that soon his hand wouldn't fit into hers anymore.

She could sense that Henry was nervous. She was nervous as well but she hid it better. After all, there was no other family members left so the responsibility lay with them.

Mary Margaret gave her a smile when she passed her and whispered, "Good luck!" Her father didn't say anything but just patted Henry's shoulder.

Emma had always disliked hospitals; the smell of disinfectants, the whiteness of the tiles and walls, the slow hum of different machines. They screamed desperation and loneliness. She was lucky she didn't need to visit hospitals very often. Until she moved to Storybrooke.

It was even worse when someone she knew was admitted in the hospital. She could never forget when she saw Henry lying helplessly hooked up to the IV. Now she felt like history was repeating itself. Neal looked just like Henry when he was asleep - naïve, innocent with his guard down. She realized that Neal put up his wall even higher than hers. After all, she had been the first one to admit her feelings, twice, under very different circumstances. She knew he had a fear of rejection and now she knew why. Ignoring all those machineries, he looked almost at peace. It was more likely that his nightmare hadn't kicked in.

Henry sat down next to his father and hugged him without disturbing any of the machines. That kid seemed to be a pro with such things. Emma wasn't sure if that was a good thing. She might as well keep the ball rolling.

"Neal, I swear to whoever the people in the Enchanted Forest believe in, you'd better wake up. Do you think I would just let you say 'I love you too' and leave it at that?" Henry was surprised to hear that, being news to him. "You said there wasn't one day you didn't regret having left me then you'd better keep your word. That will work better if you are actually awake. Not this escaping reality by staying asleep." Henry whispered, "Mom!" but she ignored it. She might've gone too far but she didn't believe in some sugar coated half-truths. The cynic in Neal might be the same.

It seemed to hit the mark as she saw tears leaking from Neal's eyes. "You may think that you can't face whatever reality you wake up in, but believe me, you can. I know you're stronger than that. Besides, we made a good team and I believe that we, including our parents and Henry, can get through this together. Otherwise, I'll go to whatever dream world you're in right now and drag your sorry self back here. You used to say I always find what I look for and believe me, I'll find a way. So you'd better come back here soon so I don't need to go through all the trouble." She remembered what Whale had said, about how the patient usually didn't remember what was being said, so she added more as a side thought, "Besides, despite my better judgment I still love you and I need you and Henry."

Neal's eyelids seemed to flutter but he hadn't opened them yet, so perhaps that was all her imagination. Emma noticed Henry was smiling. Of course Neal might not remember what she said but Henry definitely would. Oh crap.

"Dad, I know you can hear what all of us have said. I need you to stay with me. I know you're a good man. You don't have to be a hero. Just be my dad. I'd rather have a living father than a dead hero. So please return to us. Just be yourself. I know I've never called you Dad but I will now. I love you."

Suddenly, Neal opened his eyes and grabbed Henry's hand, surprising both Emma and Henry. He tried to say something but because he hadn't used his vocal cords or drank for days, it was a big effort. "Hen… henry, I'll… be he…re," he finally managed to say. It seemed he had used all his strength. so His eyes closed again and his hand fell back to the bed.

Emma quickly called Dr. Whale to check on his condition.

Chapter Text

She wouldn't listen to his apology. She picked up the pace along the beach and he needed to jog to keep up with her.

"Emma, could you please at least give me five minutes of your time?"

"You had eleven years, Neal. Why didn't you?"

"Emma, I know whatever I say won't make up for what I did. Could you at least hear my explanation?"

She turned around to face him. "OK, five minutes then we're going separate ways."

He was about to say something when suddenly, a dark skinned woman in a track suit ran next to his side. "I'm sorry Neal," she said. "You gave me no choice." She produced a gun and promptly shot him in the chest.

Emma was shocked. She was about to attack, but the woman suddenly produced a magic bean. She threw it at Emma's feet then quickly left.

Emma was backing away but the portal opened up so swiftly that she fell. He managed to catch her hands and felt himself being pulled down. Suddenly his father materialized out of nowhere and held his right hand and began to pull him up. He used his left hand to pull Emma.

However, the pull of the portal was too strong and he was getting weaker with his injury. His father didn't have enough strength to pull him up. He was too weak to hold on to both ends. Emma slipped through his hand while his father's hold on him also loosened. Both Emma and he fell through the portal.

He screamed and opened his eyes. It was only a dream. It's too much. He has to get out of here! He tried to get up. He then realized his hands and feet were restrained and he was hooked to the IVs and some other machinery. His father looked pleadingly at his side. He doesn't understand.

"Bae, please don't scream and struggle, trust me on that."

He tried to yell and realized that his throat was too dry. After a while, he managed to say, "Get away from me!"

Where is he? What's going on? If he's injured, is his dream real? But it couldn't be because his father was here. Where is here? It didn't look like a hospital in New York, less bustling. Has his father managed to get a hold of him via magic? He had to get out of here. He started to yank at his restraints. At the corner of his eyes, he saw the nurses outside had started to notice his struggle and whispered among themselves.

His father continued sadly, "Bae, trust me on this. Don't struggle."

He tried really hard to speak. "Are you behind all this?"

"No, Bae. I wasn't. What do you remember last?"

He tried to think and realized that his mind was too foggy. Some images popped up in his mind. "Manhattan …, my apartment…, you got injured …, Hook…, Henry …, Emma … then nothing else. You have to let me go."

He yanked again. "I'm afraid it's not within my power," his father said sadly. He then saw two of the nurses coming over with a syringe. He felt like this had happened before. Is this déjà vu?

"No, no syringe," he yelled.

The nurses looked at him in pity. He hated that. "I'm sorry, Mr. Cassidy, it's for your own good before you hurt yourself," said one of the nurses before plunging the needle into his vein.

His father looked away with regret etched on his face.

He was certain this had happened before but he couldn't know for sure. The drug must have messed with his memory, otherwise why couldn't he remember anything? He struggled to stay awake but it was a losing battle. The last thought he had before falling asleep was he was going to have the same nightmare again.


Rumpelstiltskin was in tears. They treated his son like a mental patient in an asylum. He thought the "coma" would be the worst that could happen, but he was very much mistaken. Henry had awoken him two days ago but he fell unconscious again. The next time he woke up was with a scream. It didn't help when his son saw him there. He asked him to get away from him and ripped the IV drips apart trying to run. That resulted in a lot of blood gushing out and spurting everywhere. He didn't have enough strength. When his feet touched the floor, he toppled. Rumpelstiltskin managed to catch him but he couldn't hold him with his limp. Luckily, the nurses came in and immediately injected him with a tranquilizer and put him to bed. Since Bae was actually suffering from severe anemia because of the gunshot wound, he needed another blood transfusion.

The second time he woke up screaming, he saw Emma. He looked dejected and said he was sorry for everything and tried to run away again. The nurses were quicker this time. Before the drips were completely ripped, they injected him again. There was still some bleeding involved. Since then, they had taken the precaution by restraining his hands and feet before he harmed himself.

This had been the fifth time since recovering from his "coma" that Bae had woken up with nightmares and tried to run. The slightly calming factor for him seemed to be Henry, but they still needed to sedate him because the nightmares seemed so horrible that he felt the need to escape from them immediately. They hadn't managed to ask him about the nightmares because he was too scared and disoriented about his surroundings. He didn't seem to recognize anyone besides him, Emma and Henry. Strangers had more neutral effects on Bae as compared to him and Emma.

This time he had managed to get an answer out of Bae. He didn't even seem to remember coming to Storybrooke at all!

Rumpelstiltskin saw that at least Bae could sleep peacefully for a few hours before the nightmare. He needed to talk to Whale immediately. He wished Belle was here but she had been having a few late nights accompanying him. He had ordered her to take a rest.

He found Whale taking a nap in his office with his door ajar. He knocked and Whale quickly woke up and tried to straighten his coat. He must be used to intermittent sleep as he got into focus so quickly after waking up. When he looked up and saw it was Rumpelstiltskin, he looked wary but quickly hid it.

"Please sit down. What happened?"

"How did you know that something happened?

"Well, you look frazzled. Did he wake up from a nightmare again?"

"Yes, still the same case. However, he managed to answer something. He didn't seem to remember coming to Storybrooke."

"I think now I know what happened to your son. I believe he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD."

"I thought that only happened to soldiers."

"That's a common misconception. Victims of abuse, betrayal and violence often have the symptoms as well. Was your son a victim of one of them?" He looked thoughtful. "I guess getting shot alone may have triggered it."

Rumpelstiltskin felt horrible. He had contributed to some of his son's traumas. "I guess he viewed me abandoning him at the portal as a betrayal. His ex-fiancée shooting him must be another huge betrayal." He realized that he didn't know much about Bae's life after he left the Enchanted Forest. He felt like the worst father.

Whale knotted his fingers together and propped it under his chin. "That much I have guessed. He does have the symptoms of PTSD with the nightmares, tendency to get frightened or violent, and now you have confirmed that he has altered memory and selective amnesia. "

Rumpelstiltskin looked disturbed. "How do we cure that?"

"I don't think there is a quick cure. He needs long-term treatment. I suggest sessions with Dr. Hopper."

"Can't I just remove the nightmares?"

"I think the nightmares are the symptoms, not the cause. If you remove them, some new ones may materialize. "

"How about removing all bad memories?"

"The human mind is very complex. We can't be certain which memories cause the nightmare. Some bad memories may be needed for us to function."

Rumpelstiltskin regretted not trying to talk to Bae. They had a semi-conciliation at his death bed after his conversation with Belle. However since he recovered, he had been too afraid to reach out to his son. He was afraid of rejection after 300 years of waiting. Now it seemed it was too late. Something puzzled him. "Why can't he remember that he has woken up a few times before and tried to escape? If he remembered, he would have learned the lesson."

Whale looked sheepish. "I'm afraid it might be the side effect of the tranquilizers." When he found that Rumpelstiltskin was glaring at him, he quickly added, "The drug was necessary because otherwise he would have bled to death. Well, if you have a similar potion to sedate him without any side effects, you're welcome to try it."

Rumpelstiltskin nodded grimly. "I may have something."

"Doesn't your magic come with a price?"

"I'm willing to pay the price if that means Bae will recover. I can make potions for dreamless sleep."

"As much as I'd like you to try that, your son at least needs to remember his nightmares so that Dr. Hopper can help him interpret the meaning."

Rumpelstiltskin was exasperated. "You are so full of rules. How can he have a consultation with Dr. Hopper when he can't hold a normal conversation with anyone?"

"I feel terrible to ask this, but do you have any potion or magic to calm someone? At least to remove his will to escape so we don't need the restraints. I'm afraid modern medicine has no such thing without any side effects or risks."

Rumpelstiltskin sneered. "Isn't that the same as removing the symptom and not the cause, like you talked about?"

Whale looked properly chastised. "Yes, I know. At least for the first few times when he wakes up, he needs that. After he gets used to the idea of not running away, you can just abandon the potions or magic as he will be more adjusted."

"In that case, I may have something."

Whale nodded. "One more thing. When he wakes up, at least for the first time, it would be best if he's with someone with a calming effect. So perhaps Henry and someone neutral to him like … Mary Margaret." Rumpelstiltskin understood Whale's hesitation before mentioning the name. The last people his son apparently wanted to see were him and Emma.

He and Whale then made the necessary arrangements.

Chapter Text

She wouldn't listen to his apology. She picked up the pace along the beach and he needed to jog to keep up with her.

"Neal, wake up! Wake up!"

"Emma, could you please at least give me five minutes of your time?"

"Neal, you need to wake up now!"

He felt the insistent tugging at his hand. So it had only been a dream. However, he wanted to know what Emma's answer was going to be. He felt disoriented. When did he fall asleep?

He opened his eyes to see Henry pulling his left elbow insistently. He was accompanied by a beautiful brunette with short pixie hair.

"Hen..Henry?" His throat felt extremely dry.

The woman offered him a glass of water with a straw. "Drink this, but slowly."

He picked it up and felt that the glass was heavy. How long has he been out?

He drank a bit and felt a bit relieved. He tried not to gulp it down too much. Neverland had taught him that.

"Where am I? Why am I here? Who're you?"

He saw that the woman was shocked but quickly hid it. "My name is Mary Margaret and I'm Henry's teacher. You're in the Storybrooke General Hospital. There had been an incident."

He was stunned with the word Storybrooke. He thought, "It's not the job of a teacher to accompany a student during a hospital visit."

"Henry, where is Emma?" he asked. "Why am I in Storybrooke? What incident?"

Mary Margaret seemed saddened by his questions. She must be a very dedicated teacher. She answered, "So you really don't remember."

He shook his head. The movement actually induced dizziness but he'd manage.

"What was the last thing you remembered?"

"My father and Emma together with Henry came to look for me!" He smiled at Henry when he mentioned his name. Henry smiled back. "Henry and I went out for pizza. We came back. Henry wanted to go to the museum. I went up with Henry to get my camera. I heard some commotion downstairs. When I came down, I saw my father lying on the floor while Hook lay next to him, courtesy of Emma." Mary Margaret smiled at the mention of Emma. What's her relationship to Emma? "I was shocked to see Papa with so much blood." He tried to think more but nothing came out. In fact, he started to get a headache when he tried to think. "Sorry, I don't remember what happened next."

"Do you remember coming to Storybrooke using the Jolly Roger? About the battle with Cora?"

He suddenly had rapid flash images. They came and went swiftly. He had a full-on headache now. He tried to hold his head then realized he was hooked to the IVs. OK, this is really serious.

Mary Margaret noticed his discomfort. "You don't need to force yourself if you don't remember."

"No, no, I had some flashbacks when you mentioned those events. I recalled steering the wheel of a ship with Henry and standing side by side with you, Emma, and a tall blond guy holding a sword while two women threw fireballs in our direction. I failed to see when these happened and how they were connected. Are you connected to Emma by any chance?"

Mary Margaret seemed a bit relieved. "Yes, I'm Snow White, Emma's mother. You can call me Mary Margaret or Snow. The blond guy is her father, I call him Prince Charming. The two women were Regina and her mother, Cora."

Neal paled. "I'm so.. so sorry, I didn't mean to leave Emma but… but she needed to break the curse cast by my father. I'm so sorry, I shouldn't …" He eyed the IVs. His first instinct was to get away from here and thought of a more appropriate response to Emma's mother when he felt himself ready. However, he felt like something had overridden his instinct, something that said everything was going to be OK, he didn't need to run. He wasn't sure what to do anymore. "I.. I didn't mean to.. it was a mistake…I'm sorry, Henry… I'm not like my father …" He felt tears coming out of his eyes uncontrollably. He shouldn't cry in front of Emma's mother, Princess Snow White. Despite his tears, he felt like laughing over that fact.

Henry hugged him. "It's OK, Neal, we know that. You need to rest to recuperate." Neal felt some of the pressure ease with the hug. He hugged him back carefully so as not to displace the IVs.

Mary Margaret got worried when she caught him eying the IVs. She squeezed his hand. "Neal, it's not the time to discuss the past. As Henry said, you need to reserve your strength. You seem to remember something so I guess it's a good sign."

"May I know how I ended up in a hospital? Was it because of Cora or Regina?" Henry still hugged him but he felt Henry twitch at the mention of Regina.

"It's a long story, but you got shot."

He laughed bitterly amidst the tears which hadn't stopped. "I guess that explains the pain in my chest. So, I'm in a hospital not because of magic. That's a first. Who shot me then?"

Mary Margaret, no, Snow White, looked disturbed. Henry buried his face in his shoulder. Something is amiss.

"If you don't remember, perhaps it's for the best," she answered. "We can discuss this later. I prepared some soup for you. Have a good rest."

He didn't like the feeling of not knowing. He yelled, "Who shot me?" He didn't care if the whole hospital heard him. "Henry, who shot me?"

Henry looked up and hesitated. He pleaded with Henry with his eyes until his son finally relented. "I'm so sorry, Neal. It was Tamara, your ex-fiancée."

He felt the rug getting pulled out from under him. It was a good thing he had been lying down. Nothing made sense anymore. "Why would I have a fiancée? But Emma…" He then remembered who was in the room with him. "Why did she shoot me? Why can't I remember her?"

Snow was also in tears now. She sat down and squeezed his hand more tightly. "I feel for you. You got betrayed by someone you thought loved you. I know the feeling. Perhaps that's the reason you don't remember."

He then remembered his father letting go of his hand over the portal, then Hook selling him to the Lost Boys. He still couldn't recall this Tamara, but perhaps it was for the best for now. Then he remembered abandoning Emma and sobbed even harder. Even Henry had joined them in sobbing. Now he had initiated a group sobbing. That's just great. What a great influence I am in Storybrooke.

"I'm sorry again about Emma," he managed to say after collecting himself. "I really shouldn't have left her."

"You should say sorry to her first, not to me," Snow insisted. "Everyone makes mistakes."

No wonder she was called the fairest of them all. "Why did she shoot me?"

"You were helping Emma in rescuing Regina."

"Do you mean the woman who tried to throw fireballs at us? Why?"

Snow White had stopped crying. She wiped away her tears and smiled. "As I said, it's a long story."

"So the reason Tamara shot me was nothing personal."

"No, it wasn't. You were just in the way. We'd like to tell you more but you need to rest."

He had finally managed to control his emotions. "I'm not sure whether that makes me feel better, but thanks for being frank." He rubbed Henry's hair. "I'm sorry, buddy, you've gone through so much."

Henry had stopped crying as well. "That's OK, Neal. It's not your fault."

He suddenly felt very tired. "I'm not too sure about that. All of you would still be in the Enchanted Forest if I hadn't fallen though that portal." He looked at Snow White. "And you wouldn't have been separated from Emma."

Snow said, "Don't go there! I have tried to play this blame game with Emma and it just gave us more heartache."

He gave her a bitter smile. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Neal, I'm being serious," she said.

He replied as sincere as his heavy heart could muster. "I know. I'll try."

"I hate to tell you this since you don't remember. You've been having a lot of nightmares the last few days and you haven't reacted well. The surgeon treating you, Dr. Whale, said that you might want to talk to Storybrooke's psychiatrist, Dr. Hopper."

He needed to joke to lighten the moment. "Great, so not only am I going senile for not remembering my nightmares, I used to remember them vividly, but now I'm going insane too."

Snow bit her lower lip; a sign Neal interpreted as unsure what to say next. "Don't worry about not remembering. I think your medication affects your memory. And you're not going insane. Dr. Hopper can help you deal with your er… memory loss. I mean the ones not nightmare related."

"OK, I'll talk to him." There was definitely something amiss but whatever it was, they were hiding it. He then remembered. "Where is my father? Where is Emma? I thought at least my father would be here."

He saw that Henry and his … grandma looked at each other. Something was definitely amiss. After a few tense seconds, Snow said, "Whenever you woke up from your nightmares, you didn't react well in the presence of your father or Emma. We decided it's best for you not to see them first."

"What did I do?"

"You ripped out your IVs and tried to run. The result was not pretty."

"I'm sorry to put you all through this. I'll stay here when I have my nightmares again."

"Stop saying sorry, Neal," Snow admonished him. "It's the effect of your nightmare."

"It's funny I don't recall even my most recent nightmare."

"It's the medication. Henry woke you up when you started to twitch so you haven't had your nightmare yet."

He became suspicious. "How do you know the exact time I'm going to have the nightmare?"

Snow exchanged glances with Henry. "Dr. Whale invented a medicine which could control the time you went into a dream. Don't worry about it. You just need to rest for now and tomorrow Dr. Hopper will come to see you. Henry, we need to go. You need to go to school tomorrow."

"I guess I don't have a say in this since I'm stuck here. I could use some reading material until tomorrow."

Henry produced a stack of comic books from his backpack. "I hope you like the Hulk. I also have some of Iron Man and Captain America. Sorry, this is all I have to read, unless you want my text books or the fairy tale book."

He became agitated at the mention of the book but hid it quickly. "Superheroes are fine, in fact they were my favorites when I came to this world. I actually don't mind some text books since I didn't go to school." He shouldn't be bitter about it. People in the Enchanted Forest mostly got home schooling.

Snow added, "Unless you want Emma's or my novels?"

He remembered that Emma liked to read contemporary novels where the main character is a heroine who liked to fend for herself. However, those kinds of novels were hard to obtain because the convenience or drug stores usually sold the cheap romance novels which Emma despised. Too many memories. "As tempting as that is, I'll give the novels a pass for now." He suddenly remembered that he still hadn't apologized to Emma. "Could I talk to Emma?"

Snow avoided eye contact with him. "Yes, as soon as she's available."

"One more thing. What happened to Tamara?"

Snow wrought her hands. "I'm sorry Neal. She's still on the loose. Emma's been busy tracking her."

"That's OK, I guess. I can't get upset over something I don't remember. As you said, that's for the best."

Henry produced a sketchbook and pencils out of his backpack. "Neal, you said you liked to draw so perhaps you can draw if you get bored with reading. I bought this for you."

He felt overwhelmed. Henry was too good for him. He felt his eyes start to water again. "Thanks, buddy."

"Come on, Henry, your father needs to rest. We'll come over to visit again tomorrow. And Neal, don't run away from your nightmares. You're stronger than that."

"I'll try."

After Henry and Snow left, he started to sketch. There was a lot to think about; his memory loss, his nightmare, Snow and Henry's reactions. He couldn't make heads or tails of them. He was worried about the nightmare as it was apparently worse than what he had before. He would try to stay awake until he met Dr. Hopper tomorrow if he could. He felt it was a losing battle as he grew very weary.


Chapter Text

Archie tried not to have expectations when he was about to meet his clients for the first time. Despite the fact that his profession couldn't afford the luxury of preconception, he felt a little apprehensive meeting the son of the Dark One for the first time. Rumpelstiltskin came to him once for consultation when Archie still had his cursed memory. He might have rejected Rumpelstiltskin if he had known his true identity. That action also landed him into trouble because Hook thought he knew some of the Dark One's secrets. On the other hand, his curiosity was also piqued. From what he had heard so far, Neal seemed to be a very interesting character. He was quite different from his father, at least in term of using magic and attacking people.

He peeked inside his room and was surprised by what he saw. His patient was trying to focus on drawing while fighting a losing battle against fatigue. Whenever he was about to nod off, he would pinch or stab himself using a pencil and continue drawing. This had been going on for around ten minutes.

He knocked softly and Neal jumped at the sound. "May I come in? I believe you have an appointment with me today."

"Please do. I guess talking will be better than anything else I've tried. I'm trying to stay awake."

As he walked in, the psychiatrist noticed a dream catcher hanging at the top of the IV pole. He also noticed a barely eaten bowl of soup, plus some other uneaten hospital food. Archie sat on one of the two chairs next to the bed. He just realized that Neal was drawing Henry in different settings. On one page Henry was in Granny's, on another he was in the park. Archie guessed he must have some memories to be able to draw different locations in Storybrooke.

He then noticed how gaunt and pale Neal looked. Being unconscious and not eating would do that to a person. He noticed the dark circles under his eyes and puncture marks on his arms. He remembered Rumpelstiltskin's stories about his attempts to escape. Not to mention the marks for replacing the IVs and blood transfusion. This was a totally different persona from what he expected from the son of the Dark One.

"Are you done psychoanalyzing me? What is your recommendation? Strait jackets or lobotomy?"

Archie blushed. He didn't realize that he had been staring at him for so long. "Sorry, I'm not used to those." He pointed at his marks.

"Ah, these. I'm not used to them either but, then again, the Enchanted Forest and Neverland didn't use needles. What kind of psychiatrist are you to not be used to these things?"

"I've actually never recommended using needles for my treatments."

"Here I thought you were going to give me some good stuff so I won't have nightmares anymore."

"Well, I didn't say that I don't give medicine. By the way, you don't have to joke around me. Just be yourself."

"What else have I got, Doc, if not my humor? I don't remember an important chunk of my life, including having an ex-fiancée. Someone sane would have noticed such a thing. I think the only family who wants me is Henry. I'm not sure if I can face my father or Emma. Oh, not to mention I don't have enough strength to get up without help. If you know of anything good going my way, feel free to let me know."

Archie saw him blink back the tears that threatened to come out by rubbing his eyes with his sleeves. "It's OK to let everything out rather than bottling it up inside."

"I don't want your pity. I don't even want to wallow in self pity but I can't help it."

"It's OK to wallow in self pity occasionally. Don't judge yourself too much!"

"Sorry, who are you anyway?"

"I'm Dr. Archie Hopper, I thought you knew."

"No, I meant who were you back there?"

So he really didn't remember anything. Emma had told him that Tamara had a list of some of the Enchanted Forest inhabitants and his name was on it. Neal had made it for her. But now, he asked about his identity. "I'm Jiminy Cricket."

He let out a bitter laugh. "The conscience thing. I guess I'm not conscientious enough so I end up getting shot."

"No, my profession here isn't directly related to my identity there. The cricket advised people. Here, I need to be impartial. Don't blame yourself for getting shot! Robberies and violence happen every day and most of the time it's not the victim's fault."

"How could I not? I don't remember what happened. You'd think that I wouldn't miss such important details but my memory fails me. By the way, why should I tell you all this? I won't even see a therapist in New York even though I have a lot of issues."

"If you want your memory back, you need to work with me." He was not going to say that the reason he saw him was not because of memory loss as it would put too much pressure on the patient. At least not at the start. He smiled to ease the tension. "Well, here you can at least tell me everything about the Enchanted Forest. Can you do that in New York?"

"I think you have a point there. They'd send me straight to the asylum if I told them the truth. So what should we do to retrieve my memory?"

"Easy there. How about I get to know you first to see which method is more suitable. Which one do you prefer to be called, Neal or Baelfire?"

"Does it matter, Doc? May I call you Doc? Or Archie? Or Dr. Hopper? Neither Neal nor Baelfire gives me any luck so it doesn't matter."

"You can call me Archie. I just want to call you the name you are comfortable with. What is it about your luck?"

He seemed to mull it over. "I think Neal is fine. The two best things I had in my life, meeting Emma and having Henry, was when I used Neal. Not so much luck though, since I left them. However, I got into more trouble using Baelfire. Do you really want me to start about luck? We'll be here more than a day. I think most of it was my fault though. "

"I'm not sure I understand. Could you elaborate?"

"As Baelfire, my mother left me, most likely because I was not a good enough son for her. My father got cursed to be the Dark One to protect me. That resulted in a lot of people getting killed because he wanted to protect me. If…"

"I'm sorry, I need to interrupt. You couldn't possibly know that. You're not responsible for other people's choices."

"If I didn't fall through that portal, my father wouldn't have created the curse. The people in the Enchanted Forest would still have their old lives. I'm at least responsible for THAT."

"No, you're not. It was your father's choice to create the curse."

"I haven't finished. My father manipulated Regina's life so that she would cast the curse. He gave magic to Cora and Regina. Countless people have been hurt because of that."

Archie decided not to argue with a patient when he or she was being stubborn. He seemed to possess a lot of latent guilt which resurfaced because of the shooting. There was not much to do for now except to let him pour it all out.

"You're not responsible for the actions of your parents, Cora or Regina. I hope you know that."

"Well, logically I get what you mean but somehow I still feel morally responsible. Now this is what I'm definitely responsible for; leaving Emma so that she could fulfill her role to break the curse. What kind of boyfriend does that? I didn't even know she was pregnant." He was unable to contain his emotion any longer. Tears were pouring out.

Archie noticed the fatigue take over as Neal started to doze off. He would continue the session next time then. There was no need to force him.

He was about to leave when Neal suddenly yelled, "No!"

His patient seemed to realize where he was and his interrupted session with Archie. "Please don't go! I'm sorry that I fell asleep. I woke up as soon I realized that."

"I think you need to rest to speed up your recovery. We can continue this tomorrow or whenever you're ready. When was the last time you slept?"

"No, you don't understand. I don't want to sleep. I've slept enough. I was told that I was unconscious for a few days."

"Is this because of your nightmares?"

He seemed to be embarrassed about it. "Oh, so you know about that."

"Do you want talk about it?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"Well, you don't have to but it helps to at least reduce your burden."

"OK, Dr. Phil. I thought my previous nightmare was bad, but this one was surprisingly much worse. I have fallen asleep three times since I talked to Snow White and Henry yesterday and I keep having the same nightmare."

He then described his nightmare. It was about Emma who didn't want to hear his explanation. An unknown woman shot him and threw a portal bean at Emma's feet. He was unable to save her, the same way his father had failed to save him. Both he and Emma fell through the portal.

Archie had talked to Emma and Rumpelstiltskin. He noted that Neal got half his facts right. That was understandable because he was feeling some guilt that he couldn't face yet, especially about Tamara, and abandoning Emma. He represented the guilt through releasing his hold of her over the portal. He was still in shock over falling through another portal so his mind tricked him in believing Emma was the one falling down. He also hadn't gotten over the fact that his father had abandoned him. Those were some serious issues he needed to address.

"So what do you think? How crazy is my nightmare? I know the getting shot part was true since I'm here but I just don't know about the rest of it. How likely is it for me to fall through another portal again?" He chuckled without humor at the last statement. "I'm here so I don't think the portal part is true."

Archie decided not to tell him the truth just yet. His mind had suppressed it for a reason.

"We can work on your memory later. You said you had a different nightmare previously. Could you tell me that?"

"Way to go, Archie. Just go to the part in my life that I avoid the most. I don't think this dream catcher does its job. I didn't even notice its presence until today. Emma or my father must have dropped it here when I was asleep. They're avoiding me."

He then recounted his previous nightmare; how he had asked the Blue Fairy for help so that his father wouldn't be cursed; how he made a deal with his father; how his father didn't honor the deal and chose power over him.

Archie noticed that betrayal, abandonment and portals seem to be the common theme in his nightmares. Based on the facts he knew so far, he wasn't surprised that Neal ended up with such nightmares.

"You can see that portals and I don't have the best relationship. I wonder why my mind would create another nightmare involving one."

Archie needed to bite his tongue to stop from telling him the truth. Recalling his nightmares had taken its toll as Neal looked haggard and was barely able to keep his eyes open.

"I think you need to rest. I can come back again tomorrow."

Neal forced his eyes to open. "You told me there was a way to get my memory back. What are your methods?"

"I think hypnosis is the most common method. I have had success with that."

"Really? Who has lost his memory in Storybrooke?"

"Actually it was Emma's father, David."

"Don't you mean Charming? At least that is what Snow told me."

"He has a few names. Not important for now. The point is, he could recall his past with Snow under hypnosis. We could try that with you."

"I'm so looking forward to recalling my time over the portal," he said sarcastically. "Isn't that what shrinks do? Force the patients to face their most traumatic experience."

"Well, we just want to restore your memory so we could start with something happier, like your time with Henry here."

"Henry," he said wistfully. "I can start with that. Should we start now? I'm ready."

"I don't think you're in any condition to be under hypnosis now. You need to have enough rest."

"No, I'm good. Let's do this." Neal tried to sit up but failed as he didn't have much strength.

Archie decided to use a diversion tactic because it was really dangerous to conduct hypnosis when the patient was not ready physically and mentally. "OK, we could. I keep wondering though. You mentioned Neverland but you were supposed to go to the land without magic. Could you elaborate more on that first?" Archie recalled that even Emma and Rumpelstiltskin didn't know the details of Neal's life in between the time he fell through the portal to when he met Emma. How he spent those years was an important deciding factor for the therapy.

"Wow, you really want to learn all my dirty painful secrets. Is that really necessary?"

"Your past experiences help to form the person you are now. They may also help you to recall your memory."

That seemed to motivate Neal since he was determined to have his memory back.

He then told of his life in Victorian London for six months before being adopted by the Darlings. He was halfway through telling how he ended up on the Jolly Roger in Neverland with Hook when he fell asleep.

Archie adjusted his blanket and waited for ten minutes. Since it looked like Neal would stay asleep, he left. He already had a lot to go on. He needed to discuss the best solution with Rumpelstiltskin and perhaps Emma too.

Chapter Text

Emma opened the loft door to be greeted by the smell of Snow's cooking. Roasted chicken with root vegetables.

"Hmm, it smells nice. Can we eat now?" She still needed to adjust to the idea that she had a home to go back to and parents who loved her.

"Not for another half an hour."

Henry looked up from his homework and ran to hug her. He seemed to like to hug more since Neal came to Storybrooke. "Emma, you're home early. How was it?"

't referred to how to handle Greg. They had discussed it for days. It was hard since they didn't want to kill or transfigure him into something, as was suggested by Gold. They couldn't lock him up in a cell forever either. Surprisingly, it was Regina who came up with a solution.

Emma sat next to Henry. "It's solved now. Greg has left Storybrooke. I dropped him into a deserted park in the next town. When he wakes up, he will forget about the existence of magic and Storybrooke."

David came out of the bathroom and sat opposite Henry. "Wouldn't it be strange for him to have nothing to remember for the last 29 years?"

"Don't worry. Regina has planted false memories. She should be an expert by now since she had a lot of practice with all the Storybrooke residents."

"Is it safe?" David still felt uncomfortable since he had been in a coma for 28 years and had false memories for a few months afterward.

"Do you mean for Greg or for us?"

"Both."

"Since he doesn't remember anything about Storybrooke, we're safe. He'll be fine. After all, nobody really got hurt with Regina's false memories."

"I think the residents may argue with you about that but I get your point. So Regina really helped."

"Yes, she did. She felt bad after what she did to his father. Do you think I have the power to perform such magic? Personally, I'd ask Whale whether he has any memory-altering-drug."

Henry perked up at the mention of Regina. "You see, my mom is capable of changing if she is given the chance."

"Henry is Regina's biggest and only cheerleader," Emma thought. She rubbed Henry's hair. "I know Henry, I know."

David looked a bit uncomfortable with Henry's blind faith in Regina. "Any other news?"

"Do you mean Tamara? You don't need to speak in codes in front of me," Henry answered.

David was shocked. "Henry, how do you know about Tamara?"

"Emma has promised me that there won't be any secrets between us. She told me how Greg and Tamara planned to kidnap me. I'll always be supervised by an adult as long as Tamara is free, so you guys don't need to worry."

David looked at Emma questioningly. Emma just shrugged. "Well, I believe it's better to be prepared and it's not good to keep secrets."

"Well, I can't exactly give any parental advice as we're also very new in parenting. So there is still no trace of Tamara?"

"Unfortunately, no. I've asked Ruby to trace her scent but she came up empty. She said if someone used Wolfsbane then she wouldn't be able to detect the scent."

"So basically she could be anywhere."

"Yes," Emma answered grimly. She still remembered how Tamara shot Neal, who apparently didn't remember even that part. She needed to stop her train of thought now. "We just need to be extra careful since we don't know who else is working with her. Luckily, Gold's cloaking spell has been implemented, so we shouldn't have to worry too much about newcomers."

"Henry, how about we practice sword play every day after school?"

"OK, Gramps."

"Do your homework, Henry."

"OK, Emma."

"David, could we talk for a second, somewhere more private?"

They went to the corner near David's bed, away from Henry's ears. "David, not that I don't appreciate what you do but how useful is it to go against the Home Office using a sword?"

"I know , Emma. I just need an excuse to give him extra protection after school. He loves sword practice. I think he also misses his dad and swordplay reminds him of Neal." Emma's heart ached at the comment. "Besides, the sword play gives him extra confidence and who knows? It may come in handy sometime."

"In that case, thanks."

"Anything for you, my …" David decided not to add the word princess as he knew Emma was sensitive that word. "Emma."

Emma raised her eyebrows, "Seriously? My Emma?"

"If you have a better suggestion, you let me know."

They both saw a flash and turned toward Snow who had somehow managed to sneak near them and take a picture. Her years of becoming a bandit had really paid off.

"Mary Margaret, what're you doing?" Emma asked.

"Oh, nothing. I rarely see you two talk. This is a rare opportunity."

Emma felt her heart warm up with the thought of her first picture with her dad. "But we talk all the time in the Sheriff's office."

"Yes, mostly about work but this is something else."

Henry came over to join them. Snow said, "How about a group picture?"

"Can we eat first? I'm famished."

"No, Emma, it'll be quick."

Five minutes later, they had taken different pictures with different combinations of family members. The final three pictures were taken using a timer so they could all be in them.

"That was fun," Snow concluded. "We should do it more often."

"Yes, it was, Gram. Next time we should ask Neal, Belle and Mr. Gold, plus Regina."

Snow smiled at Henry's optimism. "Sure, Henry. When they can all stand to be in the same room with each other for more than five minutes, we can take a family picture."

David whispered in Snow's ear, "At least it'll only be group pictures. Not Thanksgiving, so no knives will be involved."

Snow swiped at him playfully. "Oh Charming, you're so bad. I think we can smooth out our family problems eventually."

"I doubt it'll be within this century. That's what I like about you, Snow, your eternal optimism."

"Is that the only thing you like?" Snow put her hands on her hip. "You're in so much trouble now, Mister."

Henry grinned from ear to ear seeing his grandparents behave like hormonal teenagers. Emma was also happy for her parents.

"When are you going to talk to Neal next?" Henry asked.

Emma was taken by surprise by Henry's sudden question. "Honestly, I don't know Henry. He did ask about me and Gold when he talked to Archie this morning."

"Does it mean he'll be OK to see you now?"

"I don't know, kid. Anything can happen. Let's eat first, OK."

David helped Snow prepare the table.

Henry opened his phone and showed Emma some pictures. "Archie forwarded some of these to me. Look at what Neal drew. It's me. He's really good."

"They're indeed very good." That reminded Emma of Neal drawing her portrait back in Portland.

"Don't you see that these are in Storybrooke? That means there is hope his memory will recover."

Emma looked at the pictures closely. Those were indeed in Storybrooke. "There was never any doubt that he won't remember, Henry. The problem is how to deal with his nightmares."

"And the feeling of being betrayed," Emma continued internally.

Snow noticed Emma getting tense and Henry looked disappointed. "Shall we start eating now?"


After dinner and cleaning up, David offered to accompany Henry upstairs to read some superhero comic books.

Both Snow and Emma sat with mugs of hot cinnamon chocolate.

"Do you want to talk about what Archie said?"

Emma had asked Archie earlier whether telling her and Gold about the session was against Doctor-Patient Confidentiality. Archie said it depends on the content being disclosed. In some conditions, it was best to inform the family. It was especially true with Neal's case as he could harm himself on purpose. Besides, they didn't really discuss anything very private.

"Is that the reason David went upstairs? I was surprised that he was interested in superheroes."

"Oh, he is really interested in superheroes. However, you're right. He wants us to talk."

Emma then told Snow about the session.

"Oh, Emma. How do you feel?"

"I think you are asking the wrong person. You should ask Neal how he feels."

"Whatever happens in the hospital affects you too. You're my daughter so of course I care about how you feel."

"Well, as long you promise not to offer me rainbow kisses and unicorn stickers to make me feel better, I'll talk, but please be in my best friend mode and not my mother mode."

"Oh Emma, I know you're not a fourth grader so I won't offer you the unicorn stickers. I have some very cute blue bird stickers though."

"Mary Margaret!"

"Sorry, Emma, I couldn't help but joke about it. OK, I'm listening now."

"Well, I'm just worried about him. He doesn't want to eat or sleep or even meet certain people. I know he had nightmares in Portland but not to this extent. He still talked to people although he never told me what his nightmares were. At least I know what his nightmare is this time and I'm part of it."

"Oh, Emma." Snow wrapped her hands around Emma's. "You're not the source of his nightmare. It was just him projecting his guilt."

"I know that but I still feel bad about it. I dropped by last night when he was asleep to bring him his dreamcatcher but it doesn't seem to help."

"Have you asked Rumpelstiltskin about the effectiveness of the dreamcatcher?"

"I would have but it seems Whale suggested that it would be best for Neal to remember his nightmare so that Archie could analyze it. The nightmare is only the symptom, not the problem, so we need to go to the root of the problem."

"OK, that's tricky. You said you were worried. That was not exactly a feeling. How do you feel?"

"Are you asking me as a mother or a friend?"

"Why can't it be both? My mother and I were best friends. Well, not for long."

Snow looked a bit misty eyed so it was Emma's turn to comfort her mother. "I think she did a great job because you turned out so pure and, well, unlike me."

"Don't say that, Emma. You're good."

"Arguable. OK, I will try to articulate how I feel. I'm really not used to this whole talking-about-my-feelings thing."

"You can start small."

"Well, this is not small but it's what bothers me the most. I feel sad, mostly because I admitted my feelings to him over the portal. He also admitted his but he remembers none of it now. I can't admit my feelings all over again if he isn't dying."

"Emma, you don't tell someone how you feel only when he or she is about to die. You can tell the person anytime."

"Obviously you don't know me that well. I don't do feelings well. I'm actually feeling uncomfortable talking to you right now, but I'm trying."

"You're doing great, Emma."

"Thanks. Do you know what's worse? I thought he only admitted his feelings because he was about to die. After all, his fiancée had just shot him so he might have transferred her rejection to me. However, when they cut off his shirt for the operation, they handed his belongings for safe keeping. Do you know what I found? The swan pendant."

"Isn't that the pendant you used to wear? I've wondered what happened to it ever since you came back from New York, but I didn't dare ask."

"Yes, that pendant. It was a gift from Neal. Well, he stole it for me." Emma winced.

"That's OK, Emma. I'm not judging you. I was a bandit."

"Well, I returned the pendant to him saying that I only kept it to remind myself not to trust anyone. That was a lie of course. I didn't know he kept it all this time."

"I guess he values it as much as you."

"If he still has feelings for me, why did he never admit it? Why did he act like I was behaving like a jealous ex?"

"You did act like a jealous ex."

"Not helping."

Snow's lips quivered into a smile. "Sorry. Well, men are strange creatures. Perhaps he was afraid of rejection because you did say you had no feelings for him. Besides, he had a fiancée. You couldn't expect him to dump her as it would look bad and he didn't want you to be the third party."

"This is too complex."

"Most relationships are. My relationship with David is not simple either."

"So what do I do? I know he still has feelings for me although he'll never admit it unless I open up first which I won't. He doesn't know that I know about his feelings. He also doesn't know that his feelings are reciprocated and I don't plan to tell him anytime soon."

Snow covered her face. "OK, I agree this is more complex than my problem. What's wrong with you two?"

"I don't know, perhaps fear of rejection from an early age."

"I'm so sorry, Emma, I didn't mean to leave you alone in this world."

"I know. I should blame Pinocchio for that. I was merely stating the facts. Besides, Neal had it worse, being abandoned by both parents. I could still fantasize that I was a lost princess although it seems to be a fact now. Neal didn't have that luxury."

"I guess you two just need to talk, not admit feelings straight away. Just talk normally likes friends."

"I'm not sure about talking but I'll go check on his condition tomorrow morning before his session with Archie. If he is up to talking, we'll talk. Otherwise, I could just leave and let Archie handle whatever reactions my visit triggered."

"That sounds like a plan. I'm proud of you for taking the initiative. Now do you want another cup of hot chocolate?"


"Rumpel, why are you spinning so late at night?"

"I can't sleep and I didn't want to disturb you."

"Is this about Baelfire?"

"Yes, I'm worried about what Dr. Hopper told me."

"Oh, Rumpel, I'm sure there is a solution for everything. People have come back stronger from much worse situations all the time."

"Please give me an example."

"I know of this guy who lost his arms after an accident but he still competes in Paralympics and even paints using his legs. There is always hope."

"Belle, where did you read such a story? I don't think it's in any classical books."

"Silly, there is the Internet. You can read all sorts of things online."

"You were locked up until a few months ago and then lost your memory until just recently. Who could have possibly taught you how to use the Internet in the last few days?"

"Ruby, of course. It's surprisingly easy to use. I still need to learn to type faster but at least I can type a query into Google or read the news or motivational stories."

Rumpelstiltskin smirked despite his mood. "I believe you as you are a quick learner. Is that how you spent your time with Ruby?"

"Of course, Rumpel. What do you think I do with her?"

"I don't know. Shopping? Talking about men perhaps?"

Belle sat on his lap and smiled. "That is such a bad stereotype. Don't flatter yourself! Why should I talk about you all the time?"

"So you talk about me some of the time then."

"I'm not telling." Belle pouted playfully. "So what are your worries? You could tell me over dinner. It's not a burden for me. I love Baelfire too."

"Thanks, Belle. What have I done to deserve you? Really? You love him. You haven't even officially met."

"I have eyes and ears. From what I have heard so far from others and from what I observed when he was in a coma, he has a good soul. But lost, just like you."

"I'm to blame for that."

"Not entirely. I think his mother played an important part too as you told me she left when he was only five. Not to mention what he had encountered afterward."

"But he looked up to me the most and I have disappointed him."

"All is not lost. He still loves you as he responded to you in his coma. We can just learn from our mistakes and move forward. Besides, Archie said he was looking for you so he still misses you."

"But Belle, I am in his nightmares. Both versions of them. I'm not sure I can make it better if I'm the cause of them. He doesn't even want to sleep and eat. He stabbed himself to keep himself awake." He was now on the verge of tears.

"Nightmares are so complicated that we can't blame it entirely on just one thing. Even if you are to blame, there is nothing to be done as it was in the past. Just amend your relationship with him now."

"You're such an amazing person. You know that, Belle?"

"I know and you could be too if you believed in yourself more. Is there anything you can do for his fear?"

"Well, I can remove it magically but Whale said it can be handled by science. After Archie left, Whale injected Bae with some dreamless sleeping medicine. It's not good to stay awake for too long as he's supposed to be on the mend. What if he can't wake up again because of the medicine?"

"I'm sure Dr Whale has learned his lesson after the last time. We'll find a way if he really can't wake up again but I'm confident he will. How about eating then?"

"I think his trauma caused him to lose his appetite. We'll see what Dr Hopper suggests we do to make him eat after tomorrow's session."

"I'm sure we'll find a solution. It seems that he suffers the same problems as you, Rumpel."

"What is that? Cowardice? I don't think he's a coward."

"No, Rumpel. The feeling that you're not worthy enough to be loved and the fear of rejection."

"How could you possibly surmise that with your non-interaction with him?"

"From what you said about his interactions with Emma. That was exactly how you reacted to me, Rumpel. You constantly rejected me, remember?"

"Sorry, dearie. I didn't mean to. I'm still not sure why you love me."

"See, that's what I mean. You keep questioning that. I love you despite your flaws and you still feel you're not worthy of it. Baelfire suffers the same thing but he covers it better."

"Do you mean that if he feels secure and loved, he'll get better?"

"That's exactly what I mean."

"Thanks, Belle. You seem to know psychology better than Dr Hopper.

"Not really. I just know from personal experience."

"I love you. You know that right? I can never say that enough."

Belle smiled. "I know. I know. I love you too."

"Let's go to bed."

Rumpelstiltskin decided that he'd see Bae before his session with Dr Hopper. If he didn't want to talk to him, that's fine. He would learn to handle rejection better, like Belle said. He would just wait outside during the session as he felt the need to stay close to his son, at least physically.

Chapter Text

Neal was talking to his Papa when he felt somebody poke his ribs repeatedly. "Hey, wake up, wake up."

He then realized that his Papa wasn't really there and his eyes were actually closed. He awoke from his dream but the constant poking continued.

He opened his eyes groggily. The nurse stopped poking at his ribs. She held a gun to his face.

A gun! The grogginess quickly fled. He felt completely alert and confused. He looked up at the woman. She looked familiar."Who are you? Why are you threatening me with a gun?"

"Oh, honey." The word honey was enunciated with disdain. "I heard that you had amnesia. I thought the hospital staff was just being dramatic but I guess it's really true. How could you forget your fiancée?"

Well, he remembered now. This was the woman who shot him in his nightmare. The ex-fiancée Henry had mentioned. "Tamara?"

"I'm glad you remember, honey."

"If you want to finish what you started, be my guest. Just make it quick!" Neal closed his eyes resignedly.

"On the contrary, I want you to live."

Neal answered with his eyes closed. "I think you're sending mixed signals here. Please make up your mind!"

"I won't kill you right now but that doesn't mean I won't hurt you. I want you to come with me. Open your eyes!" He felt a slap across his face which made him open his eyes involuntarily. He tried to lift his hand to his face, then remembered that his hands were still hooked to the damn IVs. Well, that would put fighting her out of the question.

Tamara also noticed where his eyes looked. "Don't try to fight me, Neal. I won't hesitate to shoot your kneecaps in retaliation for what Emma did to Greg."

"I'm not scared. Do your worst! I'm not coming with you. If you wanted me to go with you, why didn't you just wheel this bed away? Why do you need to wake me up?"

"Do you know how hard it is to even steal a nurse outfit, especially with that werewolf searching for me? How much Wolfsbane I needed to use in the past week? Wheeling this bed out of the hospital is too suspicious. However, you're coming with me in this." She dragged a wheelchair from behind her. "I prefer you're coming with me willingly. It would be a pity to shoot you. The noise will draw attention of the staff, then I'll shoot whoever comes in next, the more the better. Do you want their blood on your hands?"

Neal grew very quiet. He'd rather die than be someone's prisoner ever again. He needed to stall for time and think of something. "What do you want me to do? Why do you want me anyway?"

"I want you to unhook all your IVs then wear these pants and coat so it won't look too suspicious." She threw the pants and coat in his direction. "Do it now. I know you're stalling for time, hoping for Emma or your father to rescue you. Well, it's half past four in the morning so nobody is coming for you. Now or I will start shooting the nurses outside!"

Neal felt his hands shake unwillingly as he started to unhook the IV for saline at his right hand. Luckily, he had observed how the nurses did it so he unhooked it carefully with a minimum of blood. He felt more light-headed without the saline. He really needed to think of something fast. If he could get the gun away from Tamara then press the bell for the nurse, the security would take care of the rest. To overpower her, he needed speed, strength, and the element of surprise. Unfortunately in his state, he might not have the first two, so the element of surprise would have to do. "You still haven't answered me. Why do you want me to go with you?"

"I'll answer you but you need to keep unhooking those IVs. You have way too many of them."

No thanks to you. He worked on unhooking the IV he believed was for antibiotics or some other medicine. He couldn't be too sure because his memory was still fuzzy with the drugs.

"Well, I got the order to take Henry to Neverland." He froze when he heard the words Henry and Neverland. "I see I got your attention. Keep going or else."

Now his left hand shook so violently he didn't unhook it properly. The blood oozed from the puncture but he didn't pay attention to that. "Henry? Is he the boy that Peter Pan wants?"

"I see that I asked the right person. Yes, I got the order from the Home Office to bring Henry to Neverland for Peter Pan. Don't you glare at me! Don't worry. Henry is safe because Hook betrayed us."

"Hook?" He worked on unhooking the IV that was most likely for antibiotics from his left hand. He thought he would have more fighting chances when there was no IV to limit his movement. However, he would be at a disadvantage with his weakened state. He just needed to be unpredictable.

"It seems that only two or three words registered in your brain. Yes, Hook told Emma our hiding place and she managed to shoot and capture Greg." Neal hid his smile at what Emma did. "If you want Henry to remain safe, you'd better come along with me."

That sobered him up. "Why? Pan doesn't need me."

"Oh, honey. Don't be so naïve. Keep working on unhooking those two IVs left." He worked on unhooking the IV that was for some medicine he couldn't remember from his left hand. "As leverage of course. If we have the son of the Dark One in our hands, he'll be at our beck and call and may help us in destroying other magic users."

Neal was getting so sick of being used as leverage or as a pawn by others. If he knew how to get away from all this magic crap, he would definitely do it.

"Don't worry too much about your parentage. You're not only our leverage but also our tour guide. We also need your Neverland knowledge. I heard it from good authority that you're the best person to ask. We realized that Peter Pan's motivation to get rid of magic is not believable. We may need to wage a war with Neverland."

Wage a war against Peter Pan ? Only in your dreams, lady. Only one more drip (for nutrition?) to go and he would be home free.

"Your good authority wouldn't be Hook, would it?"

"Don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to." OK, that confirmed that it was Hook. He was not sure whether to punch him for ratting him out or thank him for informing Emma about Henry. Having complicated relationships with the people around him seemed to be the story of his life.

"Now wear the pants." He looked at the pants questioningly. "We don't want to look suspicious if you wear only the hospital gown." Looking at his hesitation, she said, "Don't be shy! I know your sizes."

He really didn't like violence and hitting people, especially women, but he felt like doing it to Tamara right now. He guessed getting shot earned him the right. He tried to get up but felt woozy so he lay down again. Tamara stepped back and raised the gun. So much for the element of surprise.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you but I can't even get up. Those saline and nutrition drips are the substances that keep me going."

"Don't worry, honey." He really hated the way she kept repeating the word honey. What did he see in her in the first place? "I have a solution for that." She tossed a needle at his bed. "Now inject yourself with this."

"Are you serious? You know I hate needles and staying in this hospital, thanks to you, doesn't help. What's this?"

"It's insulin. It's supposed to give you a burst of energy. But don't get any ideas. This only works for a short time, just to give you energy to get out of here. The more energy you exert, the faster it burns out. Would you be so kind to inject yourself now? You won't like the alternatives."

Sighing, he picked up the needle and injected into his left vein. It was disconcerting to think that he knew how to inject properly after observing the nurses doing it so often. He immediately felt a surge of energy. Tamara stepped back. "Don't try anything funny. Remember the innocent lives and Henry."

He sat down and put on the pants while Tamara watched. He hated the non-privacy, especially in front of his psycho ex but such was his life.

"The coat." Tamara turned her back in order to drag the wheelchair.

Now or never. He threw the coat to cover her head and jumped at her back so he fell on top of her. He could hear her swear but it was muffled by the coat. Pinning her waist using his weight, he used both hands to slam her right wrist to the gun slid a few inches to the right.

He needed to reach it but that meant he couldn't pin her down. Well, it was a risk worth taking. He tried to crawl towards the gun while still maintaining his weight on her but the pressure was getting less the further he slid. Tamara used her elbows to hit randomly at his body. He ignored the pain and just focused on getting the gun.

He was off Tamara when he was about to reach the gun, when suddenly, his head was covered by the coat and he felt her knee press onto his back so his chest was connected to the floor. He yelped in pain, which was muffled by the coat, as his wound was pressed hard against the floor. He started to see dark spots.

"You don't want to play dirty with me, Neal. I'm trained, you're not." She used more of her body weight to press him and he couldn't help but scream. Ironically, this time it was his scream that was muffled by the coat. Well, at least it wouldn't attract the staff. He felt his stitches start to rip and blood started to ooze out of the open wound but she kept pressing. He felt there was no fight left in him. He just wanted to curl up in the fetal position to reduce the pain. He felt his hands being zip-tied. Logically, he knew he should fight for it but the pain was too overwhelming. He felt his vision darken like he was about to pass out but he tried really hard to stay awake. There was still some hope as long as he remained conscious.

He heard Tamara drag the wheelchair. She pulled him into a kneeling position by yanking at his collar. At least she had lifted the coat so he could see. There was not much point because he felt his eyes begin to close involuntarily."Neal, I gave you the easy option but you gave me so much trouble I have to do this." She plunged a needle into his neck and suddenly he felt very sleepy and relaxed. He even forgot about the pain. His willingness to sleep intensified. He felt his body being yanked into the chair but he couldn't care less."I'm sorry."

"You should be." He heard someone's voice which sounded an awful lot like Emma's. Emma! He forced his eyes to open and saw Emma was indeed approaching. To his horror, Tamara had somehow picked up the gun and raised it in Emma's direction.

He gathered all the strength he could muster to get up from the chair and headbutt Tamara. Both of them toppled down. He didn't care anymore about the result of the fight as long as Tamara didn't have the gun pointing at Emma or anyone else. He heard Emma yell his name and suddenly the memory of the time he got shot played in his mind. He guessed at least that part of his memory returned, but as usual with his luck, at the most inopportune time.

"You son of a bitch! I shouldn't have given you the adrenaline shot. I should have just taken your bed out." He felt her gun connect with his forehead and, if that was even possible, he got dizzier. At least the gun wasn't aimed at anybody.

Suddenly, Tamara was engulfed in red smoke and gone in an instant. He heard his father say from a very far distance, "While I agree with your assessment about Milah, you're not taking my boy away from me again."

He heard even more faintly, "Gold, what did you do to her?" and the reply, "Nothing worse than what you had planned for her, dearie. I just sent her to a cell."

He was just too exhausted to react to anything, the memory replayed again in his mind. Tamara shot him, Emma fought to protect him, Tamara threw a portal bean at their feet, Emma held his hand and he let go. He couldn't remember what happened next after he fell. Obviously someone had saved him because he was here, not in the Enchanted Forest.

This was too much. Either the adrenaline had worn off, or Tamara's latest injection had started to take effect, or he was exhausted from the impromptu fight, or because other memories were returning to him like tons of bricks, or a combination of all of them, he felt like sleeping for decades without waking up. For the first time since he got shot, he welcomed the descent into unconsciousness with open arms.

Chapter Text

Emma was shocked to see him face down. She called out his name but there was no response. So he had passed out. She approached and turned his body to the side. His skin was cold and clammy. She was a bit relieved to see him still breathing, albeit very rapidly and shallow. His face was even paler than usual. She noticed the pool of blood trickling from his forehead, chest and arms. She checked his pulse and it was weak. It was most likely he suffered from hypovolemic shock because of the blood loss. She was so going to kill Tamara for putting him through hell twice.

It was lucky that she and Gold had decided to come in much earlier than intended. Gold had bad feelings early in the morning and called her to meet in the hospital. Normally, she would grumble about being called that early. However, she was nervous and couldn't sleep the whole night worrying about the conversation she was going to have, so she agreed to meet at the hospital immediately. Fortunately, they came in at the critical moment. Otherwise, the thought of what would have happened to Neal if Tamara had succeeded sent a shiver through her spine. She took a knife to cut the ziptie.

"I'm going to call the doctor."

"No need, dearie. I can do better."

In an instant, Neal's body was engulfed in the red smoke and transported back to the bed. Gold came closer and healed the wounds.

"Gold, what're you doing?"

"Healing him. Do you think I want to go through the pain of seeing him suffering twice? I wasn't there when he got shot so it's my chance now."

"What about the price? Don't you say magic always comes with a price?"

"I do, dearie. However, don't you think he has suffered enough? I think he has already paid more than what he bargained for."

Emma couldn't really argue with that. After the healing spell, Neal looked much better. His bleeding had stopped. He also looked less pale. Emma checked his pulse which was back to normal. "Did you heal his infections as well?

"I did. However, he still suffers from the lack of nutrition and liquid. He still has anemia but it's less critical now. I can remove what's not supposed to be there like the wounds and infections. Adding things that are not there, however, is trickier and as you said, we don't need him to pay too much."

Emma thought it was more likely that Gold wanted to father him by nursing him back to health. He had missed the chance for 300 years, yes, 300. It still sounded weird to her. She kept silent as she imagined her parents would want to do the same to her. She also missed the chance to raise Henry so she understood.

There was a commotion outside then the nurses came in.

Emma thought it was so typical; they only came in when the problems were solved. Like in the movies when the police only arrived after the hero saved the day. OK, she was the police so perhaps she should be aware of what happened in Storybrooke next time.

"What happened?" a young nurse asked. She looked shocked at the sight of the blood on the floor, the upturned chairs and the scattered IVs.

"What do you think? Your patient nearly got kidnapped under your nose."

The young nurse looked horrified. "I'll page Dr. Whale now."

Two other nurses went to check Neal's vitals.

An older nurse looked skeptical. She asked, "Where is the kidnapper then?" She then looked at Neal closely. "Why does the patient look better than when I came in two hour ago?"

"I took care of the kidnapper, dearie." The nurse looked horrified. Gold just rolled his eyes. "I just sent her to a cell. Why do people always assume the worst of me? I also healed him because his life was in danger."

"Using magic?"

"Of course, magic. What do you think?"

"But the price?"

It seemed everyone and their Godmother in the Enchanted Forest were fully aware of the price of using magic. Courtesy of Gold, perhaps?

"Let me worry about the price, dearie. Where is Whale?"

The young nurse had come back. "He'll be here soon."

Around two minutes later, Whale appeared and looked at the mess in the room, the frantic activity at the bed, and looked at both Emma and Gold. "Why am I not surprised? Your family seems incapable of staying out of trouble even for one day."

He went to the bed to examine Neal. "Well, it seems all wounds and infections are healed. I need to get his blood sample to the lab. He still needs the IVs for saline and nutrition. I also recommend one more blood transfusion as he lost quite a lot."

"I don't think it's safe for him to stay here anymore. Can I bring him home?" Gold asked. He looked really worried. Emma couldn't blame him. He nearly lost his son twice in the span of around one week.

"I'm really not sure why the staff didn't hear the commotion when all this happened. I apologize on the behalf of Storybrooke General Hospital. Yes, you can bring him home but I recommend leaving him here for an overnight observation to make sure his condition is stable. I'll send his blood sample to the lab to check if there are still any dangerous substances left."

"In that case, I'll put a protective ward around here so nobody with malicious intentions can harm him. I'll stay beside him until he gets home tomorrow."

"Gold, you don't have to do it alone. I can stay here as well. I'll just put it as my sheriff duty. I'm sure my parents can help."

"Thanks, Miss Swan. I guess we can take turns. No need to tire everyone."

"That's what family is for." Gold seemed to flinch when she mentioned family. "After you finish with your protection spells, I need to talk to you outside."


Emma called her parents to tell them what happened. Mary Margaret was preparing to go to school. She said she would only inform Henry after school. No need to worry him needlessly. David said he would drop by the hospital later after checking on Tamara in the sheriff's office.

As she made the call, she saw Gold using a wand to create a blue circle around Neal's bed. She needed to learn some useful spells from Gold. Why did he get to use a wand and she needed to use the stupid invisible chalk?

Gold limped out of the room. He looked really weary. Emma thought she might look tired herself as well. After all, it was only a quarter to six but it felt like ten hours had passed.

"Do you want to go to the cafeteria to talk?"

"I want to stay by Bae's side."

"Don't you have confidence in your own spell?"

"Of course I do but I'm still worried."

"The nurses are still with him. I'm sure the staff will pay extra attention to him out of guilt. Besides, it may take only 10 minutes at most. I'm also worried but I think the Home Office still doesn't know that Tamara failed so we have time."

"OK, 10 minutes then I'll get back here."

When they reached the cafeteria, there was an awkward silence as they didn't know what to do. Gold decided to be a gentleman and insisted on taking her order and asked her to sit.

She ordered her usual dark cocoa with cinnamon while Gold ordered some black coffee.

After both of them were seated, Gold asked, "What do you want to discuss, Miss Swan?"

"What should we do with Tamara?"

Gold crinkled his nose in disgust. "I'd prefer to transfigure her into some slimy thing and step on it. Somehow I don't think you and your family or even Bae will approve of that. I've done worse for people who did less in harming him."

"Neal doesn't have to know."

"Lying? I don't think you have it in you, Miss Swan."

"I grew up in this world, not the Enchanted Forest so I don't have the strange so called stiff moral code people there seem to have. You should see Mulan and Aurora. Besides, it's more like a white lie. What he doesn't know won't hurt him. I think Neal will just demand the normal justice of this world. Seeing how much damage she has caused, not to mention her intention to kidnap Henry, I can't accept simple normal justice."

"Yes, I think Bae will go soft on her. He seems to forgive people quite easily, except for me, but given my latest behavior, I can understand his dislike. I think we both have more in common Miss Swan. We do what it takes to protect the people we love. Are you agreeing to turn her into an animal then?"

"Not so fast. I agree about the transfiguration but not permanently. After that, I'll still put her through the justice system in this world. I know some people from the bounty hunter community. I can hack the Fed's database to add Tamara's crime of murder, attempted murder, torture and kidnapping and I'll let one of my friends take care of her. At least someone will get paid."

Gold smirked which reminded her of Neal's. She wondered when was the last time she saw Neal smile. Well, not for a while since he got shot.

"Miss Swan, are you even listening to me?"

Emma nodded absent mindedly. "Sorry, I'm tired so I was out of it for a while. What did you say?"

"I said I liked the way you think. What do you suggest we transform her into then?"

"Can you transform someone into an inanimate object?"

"Yes, I can. What do you have in mind?"

"How about a garden gnome or a statue? I prefer a statue."

"Why?"

"So we can put in the middle of the park to get all the rain, snow, and sun. Not to mention the occasional bird's dropping and vandalism."

Gold smirked. "I'm not sure whether Bae knows this more diabolical side of you. I usually transfigure people into animals." Emma shot him a doubtful look. "OK, I occasionally step on them afterward. I like the way you think. You get things done."

Emma was not sure whether she did the right thing especially since Gold approved it. However, she got tired of them letting people like Regina free so many times even though she had tried to kill them a few times. She needed to do something to stop this trend. "Just what is necessary. It's not as if it's permanent anyway."

"So how long do you suggest I transfigure her? One month?"

"I think three months should cover it. In the mean time, I'll try to hack and insert her records into the Feds' database."

Gold smiled enigmatically. "We work well together. We should collaborate more often."

"I doubt Neal will approve of it."

Gold flinched but quickly covered it. "So when everyone asks where Tamara is, shall I say I incapacitated her temporarily then you sent her to this country's justice system?"

"Isn't that what actually happened?" Emma stared at Gold innocently. "Before we do that, we need to interrogate her about the Home Office."

Chapter Text

When they went back to the room, Belle was there reading a book. Neal looked much better than when they had left him a few minutes earlier. The nurses were gone. The room had been cleaned and tidied up.

Emma looked at Gold. He shrugged. "You made your phone calls, I made mine."

Belle heard them, rushed to Gold's side, and hugged him. "Rumple, I'm so sorry. I came as soon as I heard. Baelfire didn't deserve this. Fortunately, Dr. Whale said besides the blood loss, there was no damage done. With one more blood transfusion and administration of saline and nutrition, he should be OK to go home tomorrow. Dr. Whale seemed to grumble about magical interference, though. Did you use magic again?" She looked up at him reproachfully.

"Only to save his life. I thought we agreed that I could use magic to save lives. This is one of the best examples."

Emma interrupted because she didn't want to know how far they were in the stage of their relationship and she had more important things to do than being in the middle of a possibly awkward fight. "I'm also still wary of anyone using magic, Ms. French. I can assure you that his use was fully justified this time."

"I'm proud of you." She kissed him.

What Emma thought would be a brief kiss turned to be a long full blown kiss. What's wrong with the people in this town? Gold is as bad as her parents. She mentally counted until twenty and they still hadn't finished so she cleared her throat. "I'm sorry to interrupt but we have things to do. Ms. French, thank you for looking after Neal, we don't know whether there are more Home Office people around."

Finally, they released their hug. Belle blushed. "You can call me Belle. Don't need to thank me. After all, we're family."

Emma was so used to not having family and suddenly she seemed to have a lot, thanks to Henry. She smiled awkwardly. "In that case, you can call me, Emma. But I'm not starting to call you Rumpelstiltskin, Gold. It's just too weird to call people with fairy tale names. Baelfire is weird enough."

"I wouldn't expect anything less from you, Miss Swan. Shall we go interrogate Tamara?"

Belle looked at Gold. "Do you promise you will behave Rumple?"

Gold smirked. "Well, with Sheriff Swan next to me, I can't really break the law, can I?"

Emma decided to stay quiet on that subject. "Ms…., Belle, David will come here to relieve you when we get to the Sheriff's office."

"That's fine, Emma. Take your time. The library won't be open in 2 hours."


When they arrived at the station, David was glaring at Tamara. He turned toward them when he heard their arrival. He came over and hugged Emma. "Are you OK?"

Emma was still not used to that but it was nice to have a daddy. "I'm fine, just tired. Why do people keep asking that? You should be asking Neal."

"Well, for a start, Neal is not here. Besides, you and Neal are…" He stopped when he looked at Emma's frown.

"Are what?" challenged Emma.

"Close. I think you two are very close. You act like best friends."

Emma couldn't argue with that. They worked well as a team in both the past and present. "Nice save, David."

It was Gold's turn to clear his throat this time. "I'm sorry to interrupt the continuous Charming family reunions but we have work to do."

David rubbed the back of his head. "Yeah, about that. She refused to talk to me. She even had the audacity to demand a lawyer."

Gold smirked. "Well, I'm a lawyer. I also have means to make people talk." He stopped when he saw the matching frowns between the pair of father and daughter. He raised both hands. "I mean using magic. I have the equivalent of the truth serum. Why do people keep assuming the worst of me?"

"Because it's you, Gold. I've talked to Neal and other people in this town. You don't have the best track record. Anyway, that's beside the point. As you said, we have work to do."

David put on his jacket. "Do you need any help for the interrogation?"

Emma was afraid that David wouldn't approve of their methods. "I'm fine. I'll feel better if you are at the hospital. Belle is nice but what will she do when the Home Office people come? Throw her thick book at them?"

"Don't underestimate Belle, Miss Swan. You'll be surprised what she is capable of. She has beaten Hook at least three times that I know of."

Emma rolled her eyes. "Who in here hasn't bested Hook yet? I trust your opinion about Belle, Gold. I just need David to be there as the Deputy Sheriff."

"Bye, Emma, Gold. I'll inform you if there is any news from the hospital."

"Thanks, David," Emma replied.

She waited ten minutes after David left in case he forgot something. She even opened the front door to double check that David was not there.

They walked in front of Tamara's cell.

"I'm still waiting for my lawyer."

"Oh dearie, I'm a lawyer. We need to talk." He blew a blue smoke in front of Tamara's face.

She coughed until the smoke stopped. "I guess I won't get my lawyer. What was that?"

"You guessed right, dearie. And that was a truth spell. Why do you want to kidnap my son?"

"As leverage, so you can help in our cause to fight against magic." Gold was shaking with anger and Emma needed to put a hand on his shoulder to calm him. "We also plan to wage a war against our employer, Peter Pan. We plan to use Neal as our guide to go to Neverland." Emma was surprised that Gold paled at the mention of Peter Pan.

"Neal won't agree to that. He is not a violent person," Emma said. She then realized something. "Do you plan to torture him?"

"Well, we have different methods of persuasion. I don't think torture will work so well on him. However, I know he loves Henry, you…" Tamara stared at Emma coldly. "… and his family. We can always use any of you as a threat for him to collaborate." It was Gold's turn to hold Emma back as she tried to lunge at Tamara through the bar. "If all else fails, there is always the brainwashing method. I think that will be the best method, actually. He will forget any of you and become a good little soldier." At this stage, both of them were ready to strangle Tamara. Before Gold decided to do it remotely by magic, his phone rang which sobered them. He walked out to another room to receive the call.

He returned two minutes later with a grim face. "What did you inject my son with?"

"Just a standard, very strong sleeping drug. The subject can't be woken until the drug wears off. That helps in transferring unwilling subjects."

"That explains it." He raised his hand and used his magic to choke Tamara. Emma was about to stop him before he really killed her. Before she said anything, Gold suddenly stopped. Tamara held her throat and tried really hard to inhale as much air as possible.

"Is Neal OK? What was that about?"

"Belle just called. She said that Neal kept trashing and turning, and screaming 'Don't hurt them, take me instead.' David, she and even the nurses tried to wake him up but they couldn't. Finally, Dr. Whale injected in his IV a dreamless sleeping drug. He has calmed down and is sleeping peacefully now."

Emma suddenly dreaded to think what would happen to Neal when he was awake. His previous state was bad enough without Tamara's interference. Gold's reaction was fully justified. She turned to look at Tamara who unfortunately had recovered. "Why did you do this to him? You preyed on his instinct to put others above himself. Do you hate him that much?"

"Oh, honey. I don't hate him. I was about to marry him, remember?" When Emma thought she couldn't hate her more, she was wrong. "He's a good man. I actually really liked him. He is just a pawn at the wrong place and time. Nothing personal against him. However, I really hate you as you took Greg away from me." Tamara seemed to be horrified at the last sentence of her confession but apparently Gold's truth spell worked too well as she couldn't stop. "You shot him, detained him for a few days, and released him without any memory of me. Since I couldn't get back at you directly, using Neal is good enough."

Even with her crappy early foster life, after August's deception, Emma had never hated a person so much in her life. Tamara seemed to be an exception. Thankfully, before she did anything drastic, Gold helped her out by choking Tamara remotely one more time until she nearly lost consciousness.

After Emma regained her bearings, she said, "Thank you for doing the dirty work for me. Remember the punishment we agreed on earlier? I don't mind adding two more months to that."

"My pleasure, Miss Swan. I actually strangled her for my own pleasure after her confession. Besides Cora, I've never seen a woman so vindictive in my three hundred years of living. And I'd lived with Milah for ten years so that is saying something."

"Emm, Regina?"

"I was referring to the women I had dated."

"You dated Cora?! What's wrong with you? So like father, like son."

"She was not that evil to begin with." He seemed to consider it. "I guess she started out evil but please remember I was in my Dark One persona. Yes, dearie. Apparently it's the fate of the men in our family to seek comfort in the wrong women before finding the right one."

"But I met Neal first before Tamara…" She was shocked to hear herself saying that. She quickly said, "I mean I'm sure Neal will find a nice woman in the future, like you did with Belle."

Gold looked at her meaningfully. "You were right the first time, dearie. He has found the right woman for him. I'll knock some sense into him if he lets you go again this time."

Emma felt her cheeks very warm. She hoped she was not blushing. Emma Swan doesn't blush. "I have had enough of your matchmaking, Gold. We have work to do."

They asked her more about the Home Office. About how many members they have, their location, and how they receive orders.

It seemed she didn't know much about her organization. She just received orders from the phone without ever meeting her boss. Even her recruitment was done via phone. As far as she knew there were a few offices, but from last year she was assigned specifically to Storybrooke. The specific mention of Storybrooke worried Emma and Gold. Besides Tamara and Greg, there were five more other members assigned to Storybrooke. They just camped outside of Storybrooke's border. They already agreed on a meeting time and place. As Tamara had missed the delivery time (Emma was annoyed that they treated Neal like a package), it was most likely they had gone. Emma still wrote down the time and place as she would check later. She also asked for the names of those five people to run through the Federal records. The names were most likely fakes but it was worth a try.

"What are you going to do to me now?" Tamara asked.

"I'm going to turn you over to this world's justice system," Emma answered. Tamara seemed to be immensely relieved with that. "However, since you have hurt the residents here, I'd like you to taste the punishment of Storybrooke first."

She enjoyed the look of horror in Tamara's face. "What is that?"

"Just plain transfiguration, dearie. We decided to turn you into a statue and Miss Swan had asked me to do it for only five months. I think that was too light for you but again anything would be too light for you since you dared to hurt my only son."

"Mr. Gold, I'm sorry for what I did to your son. I've never hurt your son since we dated…" Gold looked doubtful. ".., not on purpose. He was happy with me," Tamara pleaded.

"I wouldn't call manipulating, cheating, and lying to him, not hurting, dearie. Besides, you shot him, nearly banished him to another realm, and also tried to kidnap him. If he hadn't fought against you, we would have been too late. I would have lost my son again, perhaps forever." Gold was teary.

To her credit, Tamara looked genuinely sorry. Since the truth spell still worked, Emma thought it was genuine, not faked. Tamara closed her eyes resignedly. A green smoke engulfed her and when it was done, there stood a statue of a beautiful woman with flowers as her crown but with the body of an owl.

"What's that? I'm not sure I want this in a public garden or mine."

"That's Blodeuwedd, dearie. The Welsh Goddess of Betrayal and Adultery. You can look it up. I don't think people will care about the statue as long as you said it was a fine work of art. People will just nod and agree to cover their ignorance."

Gold and Emma decided to put the statue in the middle of a water fountain in a small unnamed garden. Luckily Gold put a cloaking spell on them. It would look highly suspicious to have to the town Sheriff and the Pawnbroker carry a new statue in the middle of the day.

Gold decided to go back to the hospital. Emma said she would check on the location mentioned by Tamara since it's outside of Storybrooke. Gold asked her to be careful and even gave her a protection spell. He said it was a one-time offer for Neal's sake and that she shouldn't tell anyone else about it to save his reputation as the Dark One. Emma thought Gold was getting soft. Perhaps Belle, Neal and her family had been a great influence on him. She decided to remain quiet and politely thanked him.


It was around 4 pm when she arrived at the hospital again. Mary Margaret and Henry were there. Gold, Belle, and David had gone home to rest after Mary Margaret decided they had spent too much time in the hospital.

Henry was reading a Hulk comic book at Neal's bedside.

"How is he?"

"Do you mean Henry or his father?" Mary Margaret asked. "Well, Neal is fine. Besides the sleeping drug, Dr Whale said no dangerous substance was found in the needle injected by Tamara. He also found another needle with a bit of adrenaline left which he believed was injected in Neal earlier."

"That explains how he managed to get up and fight."

"Dr. Whale said all these effects will wear off naturally. He's just sleeping now. It'll be best to have someone with him when he is awake because we don't know what he is going to do. As for Henry, he has attached himself to Neal's bedside. We may need a crowbar to pry him off when we go home. How are you doing?"

"Why do people keep asking me that? I'm fine. I just have had a long day with the interrogation and the investigation of the Home Office. I just need to take a long bath and drink a big mug of cocoa."

"We have a mug with your name on it at the loft. You should go home and rest. I'll be here for a while until Gold, Belle or one of the dwarves comes to replace me."

"OK, I'll sit with Henry for a bit then we are going home."

She ruffled his hair and sat next to him. "Hi, kiddo."

Henry hugged her. "Emma, I'm glad you're here. Can we plus Neal go home now?"

"Neal is going home tomorrow." Actually Emma wasn't sure where Neal considered as home, most likely at Gold's house at this stage. "Dr. Whale said he would observe him overnight. If there is nothing wrong with him, he could go home first thing tomorrow morning, then you can go to visit him after school."

"But what if something happens to him again? I nearly lost my dad twice in the ten days I've known him. I'm afraid there will be a third and the last."

"Henry, I understand your fear. I had those feelings all the time when I was your age. We have taken precautions now with Mr. Gold's spell. Besides, someone will be by his bedside all the time until tomorrow. Where is your confidence in Operation Phoenix?"

"In the books, good always wins. However, this is real life and not a book, isn't it?"

"Oh, Henry." She hugged Henry tightly. "You shouldn't mature so quickly. I know it's not a book. However, you know our family has fought through various adversities and survived. We're all survivors. From what I know about Neal twelve years ago, he was one of the best survivors out there. I think he'll be fine." Emma hoped her tone didn't match how she actually felt.

"Thanks, Emma. Operation Phoenix is back on."

"Yes, it is. Can we go home now? You still need to do your homework. What will Neal say if you don't finish it? He may be a fun dad, but like Regina, he is very strict when it comes to your homework."

"OK, but I need to say bye to Neal first." He hugged Neal. "Bye, Dad. See you tomorrow at Grandpa Gold's house." Emma cringed at the mention of Grandpa Gold, she was not sure whether Gold approved of that. She was secretly glad that Henry called Neal dad. That would be a good morale boost for both of them.


Emma couldn't believe how tired she was. She ended up taking a very long bath. After a hot mug of chocolate and some background checking of the names which, as expected, produced nothing, she felt fatigued and went to bed early.

She was awoken by the ringing of her phone. She checked the time at the phone. It was 1:22 am. She saw the caller ID was Gold. A sense of dread came over her which was confirmed as she answered the phone.

"Miss Swan, can we meet at the hospital as soon as possible? My son is missing."

Chapter Text

"Missing? But how?" She felt a surge of fear in case the Home Office had got to Neal but then she remembered Gold had put protective wards around his room. But again magic always came with a price.

"I have no idea, Miss Swan. I just got the call from the hospital. They had been looking in and around the hospital for more than an hour but they couldn't find him." She could hear the anguish and desperation in his voice. "They just had the audacity to call me only now."

"Please calm down, Mr. Gold. We don't know what happened. It'd be embarrassing for the hospital to say he was missing when he just took a walk." At least that was what she hoped. It was unlikely with his condition but it was best to get the facts straight first before jumping to conclusions.

"What's the matter?" Henry asked groggily.

Emma knew she shouldn't lie but again she didn't know where Neal was and she didn't want him to worry. "Just a missing person report. Not to worry, Storybrooke is quite small so I think I can locate the person in no time." Emma wasn't sure whether she was reassuring herself or Henry.

"You always find who you are looking for, Emma. That's kind of what you and your parents do. I wouldn't worry." That painfully reminded her of what Neal said to her once.

"Sure, kid. Thanks for your vote of confidence! Now go back to sleep."

When she went downstairs, her parents were awake.

"Sorry to wake you up, guys."

"That's OK, Emma. We're light sleepers." Mary Margaret smiled, then frowned when she saw Emma had worn her red jacket. "Are you going out? Is this a sheriff business?"

"Neal is missing."

"I'm coming with you." David went to the bathroom to prepare.

"But how?" Mary Margaret asked. "Sleepy is there to guard him. I don't think anybody would dare to do anything so soon. I thought you said Gold had put protection spells."

"He did. That's why I need to go there to find out."

Mary Margaret went to rub her back. "I'm so sorry, Emma."

"Mary Margaret, I'm fine, really. I won't draw any conclusions before looking at the facts."

David emerged from the bathroom. "Let's go."

"Good luck, Emma. I'm sure things will turn out OK. I'll stay with Henry."

Emma smiled tightly. She really wished she could be as positive as her.


Emma let David drive so she could collect her thoughts. When she walked into Neal's room, Gold was talking animatedly with Sleepy and two nurses.

"I just went to the bathroom for less than ten minutes. When I came out, he was just gone," Sleepy answered nervously.

"Did you fall asleep at any time?" Gold barely contained his anger.

Sleepy looked frightened. "I dozed off very briefly a few times but whenever I opened my eyes, Neal was still there."

David came to the rescue. "Gold, I believe what he said. Despite his name, he took his responsibility quite seriously. Look at his coffee cups."

Emma saw there were indeed three empty cups lined up next to the bed. She asked Sleepy, "What time did he go missing?"

"I went to the bathroom near midnight. When I came out, I panicked when I didn't see Neal on the bed. I found this note under that dreamcatcher." He passed her the note and pointed to the dreamcatcher on the bed. "I quickly notified the nurses."

"What time was that?"

One of the nurses answered, "I think Mr. Sleepy notified us around a quarter pass midnight. We searched all over the hospital in case he wandered off."

"Why did you wait for more than one hour to notify us? What if someone had abducted him?"

The nurses paled. "But the note said …"

She opened the note made from a napkin. The note was indeed in Neal's handwriting. "Memories started to return but jumbled. Need to go elsewhere to think. Sorry for the quick notice but I'll be back."

"If he was abducted, don't you think the kidnappers would make it look voluntary to throw people off?" Emma asked.

The nurses stammered, "But… but… the note… it can't be… it was less than ten minutes …"

Emma took pity on them. It wasn't their fault that the people from the Enchanted Forest thought in a straight line and assumed everyone told the truth. "So you have searched the whole hospital and no trace of him."

They both shook their heads miserably.

"I assume you still have the recording of any common areas for the last two hours." They nodded. Emma recalled the time when David was amnesiac and went missing. She hoped they had better luck finding Neal and in better condition this time. "OK, you can show us the recording."

She turned to Gold. "Do you notice any disturbance in the protective ward?"

"No, it seems the ward still holds. So it's either he stepped outside the ward by force or he indeed wandered off by himself."

"I know the way Neal thinks so I have an inkling of where he might be," Emma said. Gold's face lit up. Just hope it wasn't too late because there're still some Home Office people out there. Not to mention, he must be quite vulnerable physically and mentally.

"I'll go check the recording," David offered. "You can go find Neal. I hope your hunch is correct."

Sleepy felt uncomfortable to be left alone with Gold. He quickly volunteered. "I'll help".

"Thanks, David. Time is of importance."

They left with the nurses.

Emma went to check the room. The IVs were in disarray, showing they were discarded in a hurry, but there was no sign of struggle. The only thing missing was Neal's coat. She headed towards the door.

"I'm coming with you."

"I wouldn't have it any other way." Emma couldn't believe that one day she would be so happy to collaborate with Rumpelstiltskin. Such is her life now.


They went in Gold's car because David's car was a truck. It was really not feasible to have someone sit at the back in such cold weather.

"Where to, dearie?" Gold broke her out of her reverie. They had driven out of the parking place. She was about to ask him not to call her dearie but she noticed how serious he looked. "At least he is in the same realm this time."

"Gold, do you know how big this realm is?" She then realized it was Gold's way to reassure himself he would find his son. She softened. "He's on foot and with his weakened condition, he couldn't have gone far despite him having an early start. Could you use your magic globe you used before going to Manhattan?"

He stopped the car. "Great idea, dearie." With a puff of smoke, the globe appeared in the car. Emma could never get used to that.

Gold dropped his blood on the globe. The globe zoomed in to first show the realm name. Emma rolled her eyes when the realm was named creatively as "Land without Magic." Who named this thing? It then zoomed on the map of United States. Then it zoomed on the state then the town. Just like Google Map. It then zoomed on the map of Storybrooke. Finally, it zoomed on a spot in Storybrooke. She felt triumphant that her guess was correct. "It's the Cannery. I guessed as much."

"You know my son well, Miss Swan."

Emma refused to acknowledge that comment. "If I lost something, I'd go to the last place I lost it. Let's just go there."

Five minutes into the journey, David called. "Emma, Neal went by himself. I saw him in the public ward. He wore his coat there. I guess he tried to get away from Sleepy as fast as possible. You'd better find him soon because he was still staggering when he walked."

Emma was not sure whether she should be proud that Neal didn't hotwire a car to go to the Cannery (with the lack of report of any grand theft auto so far but it was the middle of the night so perhaps people hadn't noticed their car was missing. She would give Neal benefit of the doubt.) or reprimand his idiocy to go there on foot without any supplies. She would personally lock him up or ask Gold to help when she found him. As long as the Home Office, hypothermia, anemia, or the myriad of Neal's other health and mental problems he managed to accumulate this week didn't get to him first.

Gold parked the car near the dock. Emma was surprised to see another car driving away once they stopped their car. She used her torchlight to shine at the car but she couldn't see many details. She saw the car had its top down and there were two people inside.

"Miss Swan, are you coming?" Gold was already out of the car.

She guessed she couldn't arrest them because they didn't do anything legal. That was the problem with the law. Not guilty until proven but sometimes it was too late. She just needed to ask Gold to give extra protection to Henry and Neal.

She walked out of the car and led the way. If her guess was correct, Neal should be at the first floor. "Gold, if you can, we try to go there quietly so as not to surprise him."

Gold nodded.

They climbed quietly towards the first floor. Emma remembered this was the place where Tamara had hit her with the pipe. She still had a bit of a bump on her head. Then they saw Neal, kneeling beside the crater that used to be a portal to another world. He was fingering the wood around the crate. If he knew they were approaching, he showed no sign of acknowledging.

"Neal," Emma called when at the same time Gold called, "Bae."

Neal's shoulders seemed to stiffen then relax a bit. He turned to face them and she was surprised to see that he was in tears. "Why did nobody tell me that they tried to kidnap Henry to Neverland?'

Chapter Text

"Neal, Henry is perfectly fine. In fact, he's looking forward to seeing you. That's why you need to return with us."

He scooted away from Emma, which made her feel a pang of sadness. "No, I'll just endanger him more. I shouldn't have brought Tamara here. Perhaps it's best if I die as I was supposed to." His body tipped over and fell through the hole.

Emma wanted to reach out to him but it was too late. Her heart nearly jumped through her throat. They were only two-stories high so he might not die but he could get seriously hurt.

Thankfully, Gold stopped his fall mid air. He then used red smoke to transport his son further away from the crater.

Neal was stubborn. He tried to stand up but it seemed he didn't have enough strength so he crawled towards the crater. "You need to let me die so people won't get hurt anymore."

Gold was at his wits end. "ENOUGH!" He then produced magical restraints in the shape of purple light to bind his hands and ankles.

Neal raised his head defiantly. "You don't get to be my father now after ignoring me since I came back to Storybrooke."

Gold was shaking with anger. "How dare you? Do you know how much I've sacrificed to find you?"

"That's the problem. The curse is on me because you can't let me go."

Gold raised his cane and walked a step toward Neal. Emma caught his cane and shook her head. He just realized what he nearly had done in a moment of rage and felt instant regret and shame.

When they looked at Neal, they were shocked by his reaction. He seemed to be fighting imaginary foes with his bound hands. His body shook uncontrollably.

"Neal …"

"Bae …"

He looked at them but didn't seem to see them. "Don't hit me again. I'll be good. I'll come along to see Pan like you want." He then put himself in the fetal position with his arms raised to protect his head and sobbed.

Emma thought this was so unlike Neal who was always optimistic and putting on a brave front. Something was really wrong.

Emma looked at Gold, who looked enraged at the mention of Pan. She wanted to ask but Gold raised his hand as a sign not to ask question now. He then released the magic binding. "I'm sorry, Bae. I didn't mean any harm."

He walked a step toward him but Neal just scooted backward. He placed himself in the corner and tried to make himself as small as possible and still protected his head with his hands. "Don't trick me. I know that's your game. I'll come along but let me be."

Gold squatted. "Bae, you're not in Neverland. You're safe. This is Storybrooke."

"You often tricked me in the shape of Papa to lure me. Why should I trust you?"

Gold looked helplessly at Emma. She wasn't sure what was going on but Peter Pan and Neverland seemed to be the key. She squatted beside Gold. "Neal, it's me. In any of the tricks, does Pan ever appear in the shape of me?"

Neal removed his hands from his head to take a look at her. He seemed to think long and hard. Finally he shook his head. "No, but it doesn't mean anything. It can be a new trick."

"Neal, you're an adult now. That means you're not in Neverland anymore." Emma couldn't believe what she had just said. "Can you at least trust that?"

He looked at his arms and legs. He touched his coat. "Yes." He still looked in doubt.

"Did you ever see any women in Neverland?"

The answer came quicker this time. "No."

"So you know this can't be Neverland."

"Am I safe here?"

"Yes. Can we go home now?"

"I don't know where my home is." He looked at Emma with his sad brown eyes which used to mean Emma needed to grant whatever he asked for. However, this time he just looked lost.

"Do you remember Henry?"

That seemed to be a keyword. He clutched his head. "I saw him in the diner. I bought ice cream for him. Is that real?"

"Yes. You have been great to him since you were in his life."

"Have I? I nearly failed Henry again. I shouldn't have tried to jump and avoid responsibility. No,no,no…" He ended up sobbing again on the floor.

Emma approached him. He didn't flinch this time so she considered it as progress. She brought a blanket to cover his shaking body. It was freaking cold. It was a wonder how he had managed to come here without freezing to death.

Gold tried to come closer but Emma shook her head. It was not the time yet. Neal needed to let out these strong emotions first. She knew that because she used to cry privately to not look weak and she felt better afterward.

She tried touching his hair since he didn't seem to protest. In fact, he seemed to be oblivious of his surroundings. She tried to rub his hair gently like she used to, after he had terrible nightmares. After a while he seemed to be more relaxed and had stopped sobbing.

He looked up at Emma in horror. "What have I done? I endangered Henry and all of Storybrooke by bringing Tamara here."

Gold chimed in. "Everybody makes mistakes, Bae. At least you didn't do it on purpose."

Emma hadn't got the chance to rub "I told you so" in Neal's face. Now was not the time. "You didn't know. You wouldn't have if you did, would you?" She felt like she was talking to a small child.

He shook his head. He suddenly tensed up again and held his head between his hands. "I remember she pointed a gun here and at hospital. Which one is real?"

She could lie to him to make it better but she knew it was dangerous in the long run. "Unfortunately, both of them are real."

"Was I also about to fall through that?" He pointed at the crater.

"Yes."

He laughed mirthlessly. "How fucked up is that? History repeats itself. I shouldn't have come to Storybrooke. I bring misery to the people around me."

Gold couldn't stand it any longer. He crouched next to Emma. He looked pained when Neal flinched away. He put down his cane and raised both hands. "I meant no harm. Do you realize that all of this is not your fault as you don't plan to harm anyone?"

"But I was the reason you became the Dark One, Papa." He sat up and looked at his father. Gold closed in the gap and hugged him. Neal wrapped his arms around Gold and sobbed on his father's shoulder. "We would have lived happily if you hadn't become the Dark One."

"You would've died, Bae. I'm not willing to accept that. So it's actually my fault." He rubbed his son's hair affectionately. Emma could see that he had been expecting this moment since they met Neal in Manhattan.

"If I hadn't fallen through the portal, there would be no curse. People's lives wouldn't have been ripped apart."

"Again, it's on me, Bae. I chose to create the curse. Besides, you wouldn't have met Emma then there wouldn't be Henry."

Emma hadn't really thought about it but it dawned on her that it was true. She chose not to dwell on it. At least, not now. She cleared her throat. "Sorry, I don't mean to interrupt this self blaming session but we have got to go. Neal, you look awful. You need to rest. Henry needs you."

He released his hug from his father and looked up at her. "Will Henry ever forgive me?"

"Oh Bae, I'm sure he will. You've done nothing worse to him than what I did to you or what Regina did to him. Can we go home now for Henry's sake?" Gold was also not above using Henry to get what he wanted.

"Home?" He looked at his father, not comprehending it. "I don't have a home. I thought I had that with Tamara but I should have just realized that she didn't love me."

Although Emma was annoyed that he brought up Tamara, she realized it was continuation of their conversation at the beach before he got shot. It was around ten days ago but it felt like months.

"You have one now, Bae. With me." He looked hesitantly at his son, expecting him to reject it.

"I think it's best if I go back to stay at Granny's."

Both Emma and Gold were horrified by the prospects as it wasn't very safe and he was still in no condition to live alone.

"Neal, you either go stay with your father or I'll send you back to the hospital. You were just attacked less than 24 hours ago. What would I tell Henry if anything happened to you?"

He looked practically terrified of the hospital. "Papa's house then." Emma couldn't blame him given his experience in the last few days. He covered it quickly by looking at his gown. "So I can get out of this horrible outfit."

He tried to get up and walked without any help. He staggered after a few steps and fell. Thankfully Emma was walking nearby so she could catch him. To her surprise, he lost consciousness right at that moment. His knees buckled, his head fell to her shoulder, and both of them fell to the floor. Neal was on top of her.

"A little help, here, Gold." She was annoyed that Gold didn't look worried at all. Perhaps he had something to do with this.

"I'll do better, Miss Swan." Before she had the chance to say "Don't you dare", all of them were engulfed in red smoke. When the smoke cleared, she was sitting in the back seat of Gold's Cadillac, Neal was still unconscious with his head on her lap, Gold was smirking behind the wheel. If she were a blushing girl, she would have blushed. She tried to move his head to the chair and then realized it would really be a tight squeeze for him.

"Gold, did you just knock out your son and try to make him stay physically close to me?"

"I don't know what you are talking about, Miss Swan. Bae was just too exhausted." He then promptly ignored her and started to drive.

He parked the car in front of his house. After he turned off the ignition, he looked back and smiled. It went better than he expected. Emma was fast asleep and her head fell on top of his son's head. She would be terribly uncomfortable when she woke up but they looked cute like this. He guessed this must be what Belle said was Kodak worthy moment.

Chapter Text

"I never want to see you again. I have no Dad and I don't need one; not one who abandoned me."

The green portal in front of them grew larger. He tried to walk closer but Henry inched away, closer to the gaping portal. "Henry, please stay there. Don't move!" He was relieved when Henry stopped moving. "I'm sorry, Henry. I shouldn't have left Emma. I didn't know you existed."

"Yes, you should." With that Henry jumped through the portal.

"Henry!" He tried to reach for his hand but it was too late.

Neal woke up with a start. It was only a nightmare. A new terrible one. He realized he was drenched in cold sweat.

He then looked down at his clothes. They were silk pajamas he hadn't seen before. What's happened?

He looked around a room he hadn't been in before. The furniture was exquisite. His bed was large. Where is he? He was getting sick of waking up from nightmares in new places.

He tried to remember what happened previously. A jumble of images flashed. Something about Tamara holding a gun pointed at him, a very long walk to somewhere in extreme cold weather, falling through something, then Emma and his father's faces flashed in front of him. He tried to make sense of it. He suddenly jumped in alarm. Tamara with a gun!

What if this is her place? Had she managed to capture him? Why isn't he in a dungeon somewhere? Why are his hands and feet free? Perhaps it's all tricks. All these thoughts ran through his mind as he approached the door cautiously. He peeped through the keyhole. No one was standing guard but it could all be tricks. He would never fall for that after centuries of playing mind games with Pan and the Lost Boys. He saw that the door was a long way from the stairs so who knew how many of them he would encounter.

He heard footsteps approaching. Now or never! He tried to open the window which was fastened from the inside. He hoped it was not bolted from the outside. With one push, the window panes just flew open. He didn't expect them to open so easily so he nearly fell. He quickly caught himself on the frame. He leaned sideways and put his left foot on the ledge.

The door opened. He heard a quick yell from a female voice. "Baelfire, no!"

His right foot quickly followed to the other side of the window. Instead of standing on the roof, he felt a warm blast hit through his body and he found himself on his bed again. What the hell is going on? How is it possible? Tamara couldn't have magic. Unless this is not Tamara's place but his father's.

"Baelfire, are you OK? I tried to warn you."

He looked up to see the woman who was with his father when he tried to beat up poor Dr. Whale. "You! You're my Dad's girlfriend. The one asking him to beat people."

The woman looked properly chastised. He felt bad for her. But she thrived on people's pain. He shouldn't feel bad.

"I'm sorry. We got off on the wrong foot. I'm Belle by the way."

That name sounded familiar. He tried hard to remember.

"Who is Belle?"

"Your dad's girlfriend."

He had flashes of that memory, he tried to remember more but his head started to ache.

"You're my father's girlfriend!" he burst out. He didn't mean it to be rude. Smooth, Neal, really smooth.

Belle blushed. "Yes, I am. So you've heard about me."

Suddenly he had another flash. "You make me want to go back, back to the best version of me and that has never happened before." He crunched his forehead to try to remember more but he ended up holding his head.

"Are you OK?"

"I'm trying to remember what I know about you but I guess my head is not cooperating with me today. Not that it has ever since I was in the hospital."

She sat next to him. He was not sure whether it was a good thing but his memory told him that his dad wanted to be better for her so perhaps he should trust that memory.

"I know how you feel as I was shot before as well." Neal's interest was piqued by her statement. He needed to ask about that later. She continued, "I think you need to take it easy. You got out of the hospital prematurely. A lot of things have happened to you in the last few days." He snorted. "The understatement of the century, I know. I'm sure you will remember all in due time."

"I hope so. I need to remember what I have done in this town." He couldn't contain his curiosity any longer. "Please don't take it the wrong way. You seem really nice and caring. But who was the woman who looks exactly like you a few days ago with my dad? Please don't tell me she is your evil twin. I know our stories are fairy tales in this world but there are limits to my belief."

She smiled. "No, not my evil twin. That was my cursed persona courtesy of Regina."

He remembered his conversation with Snow White about Regina and a fireball. When was it? It felt like ages ago. "The Evil Queen?"

"The one and only."

"I thought Emma broke the curse. How could you still stay cursed?"

"It's complicated. Regina just wanted to get back at your father because she thought he was happy when she wasn't. I'm sorry that you had the misfortune of encountering my cursed persona."

He just waved it off. "That's OK. Bad luck and I are old friends."

"Baelfire, you shouldn't joke about something like that. I'm sure you have had good fortunes as well." She saw his sour expression. "OK, I think you will have good fortunes in the future. I'm sure of it."

"I don't know how right you will be but I love your optimism. I can see why my father likes you." He can't believe he said that to his what? Future stepmom? He felt his face was getting warm. Belle didn't fare any better. He couldn't help but tease her. "Should I call you Mom now?"

"I can see where you get your sense of mischief from. Belle is sufficient. Do you need anything?"

"I prefer you call me Neal." He then remembered his failed attempt to get out of the room. His sense of humor suddenly disappeared. "I wanted to get out. Why can't I do that? I'm not a prisoner here, am I?" He hoped his father had learned his lesson and didn't lock him up like he did when he first became The Dark One.

Belle looked horrified at the idea. "No, nothing like that. You don't remember what happened yesterday, do you?"

Yesterday? He didn't know how long he was out. "What time is it now? How long did I sleep?"

"I think about 28 hours. It's around 8 am now."

"That long! Why didn't anyone wake me up?"

"You're still recovering. Dr. Whale said you needed to rest as much as possible after what happened recently. You shouldn't do anything too taxing physically or mentally."

"And here I thought I would start training for a marathon." Belle tried to look stern but failed. Her smile was beatific. "But I want to know what happened. Why am I not allowed to leave?" He looked at her in horror. "I didn't harm anyone, did I?

Belle was hesitant but she put her hand on his shoulder to reassure him. "No, you didn't harm anyone else but you nearly harmed yourself. You escaped from the hospital yesterday during the night. Then you walked all the way to the cannery in the freezing cold weather. Many people were worried sick about you. Luckily, Emma knew you so well she knew straightaway where to find you."

The mention of Emma triggered a new memory for him. He remembered falling then not falling, Emma rubbing his hair, and his father hugging him. It didn't really make sense but has his life ever made sense?

"Did my father come with Emma to find me?"

"Yes, he was so worried. We all were. Especially after what Tamara did to you. He thought someone could have got you. Luckily you left some note but we were still worried."

With his memory still scrambled, he wasn't sure what his status was with his dad. But he still felt bad for making him and everyone else worried. "I'm really sorry about that. My memory has a lot of holes so I need a refresher. I ran away from the hospital, went to the cannery, then what happened? I remember falling unless I'm misremembering it." It felt so real though.

"Your father said you tried to kill yourself by jumping. He stopped your fall. He and Emma managed to persuade you to return here for recuperating."

He paled. He would never try to kill himself. He had been tempted in Neverland and with his loneliness after he left Emma. But somehow he didn't do it. Too cowardly perhaps. This didn't sound like him but in his heart he couldn't deny it as he had the memory of falling. He had tried to kill himself but he didn't remember. That's just great. He was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Perhaps Dr. Jekyll was in Storybrooke too, may as well since freaking Frankenstein was here. What's wrong with him? OK, because it's me, that's why.

"Neal, I'm sorry to tell you this. It's a lot to take in. Perhaps it's not my place to tell. I just want to explain why you can't get out, at least not from the window. You're welcomed to use the door and explore the rest of the house."

"Can I get out of the house?"

Belle looked hesitant. "I'm not sure about that. But you should rest for a few days first before thinking of getting out. Henry misses you. In fact, he wants to see you after school if you are well."

He hated it when people used the Henry card. He knew people did it on purpose to make him comply. They were right though. He would always comply whenever Henry was involved. "I bet I can't get out the front door. I'm sort of a prisoner here for my own good. I'm used to that. Don't worry I will stay for Henry. Do you know what pisses me off? I'm doing something that is not me, like trying to kill myself, and I don't even remember doing that. What if I start to harm others and I don't remember?" He started to feel tired after his tirade. That proved the point that Belle was right that he needed to rest but he wouldn't admit that.

"I'm sure it's only temporary. Archie said it was normal that sometimes you would have some bad episodes. Please be assured that it's not in your nature to harm others so even if you do something unconsciously, you still won't harm others. I believe that in you so don't you worry about it. Harming yourself is another matter. We need your word that you won't harm yourself at least consciously. Can you do that? For Henry, your father and the rest of people who care about you like me?"

Clear blue eyes met brown ones. How could he deny her when she looks at people like that? When she sees the good in him when he couldn't find it in himself. He swallowed hard and nodded. He could see how his father fell hard for her. "Yes, I can do that." Belle looked at him sincerely with the attitude of not taking no for an answer. This woman really had a superpower. He swallowed again. "I'll do that. I won't try to harm others and myself if I know what I'm doing."

She nodded and smiled. "I believe you. Now rest. I'll get something for you to eat as you must be really hungry after not eating for so long."

Now that she mentioned it, he did feel hungry. He couldn't remember the last time he ate. But there were some nagging questions. "Belle, what did Archie say about me? What's wrong with me?"

"I think he said you had symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Mild ones. I'm sure you can overcome it. Don't worry about it."

He was surprised to hear that. He shouldn't be but he was anyway. "I thought that was only for war veterans."

"That was a common misconception. No, victims of crime have them as well. It's best if you talk to Archie about it."

He nodded then blushed. "Did you say you care about me? Why? You barely know me."

"I heard a lot about you from your father, a bit from Emma and Henry. I know you're a good soul. You put others happiness before your own. But you have the same trait as your father, you think you don't deserve love and happiness. I care about you and your father because you are good. There's nothing wrong with that."

He felt like a small boy who had been admonished by his teacher. Belle really knew how to do that. He said with a small voice, "Thanks. One more thing. Where is my Papa? Shouldn't he be the one talking to me?"

"He is dying to talk to you. However, he wasn't sure whether you would accept him. He thought it would be wiser for me to talk to you first. He went to his shop. I'm sure he will be delighted you asked for him"

He couldn't deny that it was a wise approach. Nobody can deny Belle. "He's right. You're such a good person, Belle. He's so lucky to have found you."

Belle blushed. "You're very good too. Now rest. I'll prepare something for you."

She left him to go downstairs.

He didn't want to sleep, not after the nightmare. He saw a stack of papers and a pencil so he started to draw.

Chapter Text

When Henry came into his father's room, he was surprised to see he was busy scribbling. His back was to the door so he didn't see Henry coming in. Seeing a few of the sketches on the table, he saw that his father had been very busy since he woke up. He then noticed the barely eaten soup on the table and he scrunched his face. Neal barely ate when he was in the hospital and now he was still not eating.

He called softly, "Dad!"

Neal jumped and dropped his pencil. He noticed his father's body shook slightly. Neal turned his head, saw Henry and the terrified look was replaced with delight. "Henry, you came!" He stood up, walked toward Henry and hugged him. Henry noticed there was a slight sway in his walk as if he was forcing himself to stay upright.

Henry returned the hug. He really missed his father. He noticed there was still a slight tremor in his father's body. "Dad, we can sit down if you like. I'm tired," he lied.

He slightly dragged Neal toward the bed and had to push him to sit down. Satisfied that Neal complied, he then sat next to him.

"How was school?"

Henry rolled his eyes. What's with adults and school? "It's fine, Dad. I already know most of the material so I don't know what the big deal is."

Neal smiled. "Well, I'm glad you take from your mother in terms of school." He ruffled Henry's hair affectionately.

"How about you? Did you not do well in school?"

"I didn't go to school." Neal lowered his head. "It was not the fashion in the Enchanted Forest. But Papa taught me how to read and write."

Time to change topics. "That's a very nice picture of me." He pointed at the drawing of him sitting in Granny's with Emma. He didn't know that he could draw just based on memory and a detailed one at that.

Neal stood and walked to the other side of the room to pick up the pictures. Henry still noticed the sway. He looked tired when he returned with the pictures. Henry gently pulled him down to sit then picked the pictures up. They were all sketches featuring him. He felt a swell of pride and love toward his father. He hugged Neal. "Thank you. I love all of them."

"Dad, you looked tired. Why don't you get some rest? You just got out of the hospital."

"I'm fine. I've slept for 28 hours straight. I could stay awake for 12 more hours to finish all these."

Now Henry knew where he got the stubborn streak from and changed tactics. "How about food? Don't tell me you don't need food. I get hungry all the time."

Neal gave him a crooked smile. "Yes, I know. I felt the same when I was your age. I have no appetite though."

"But you need food and rest to get well soon. I want you to be healthy and back to your old strength. Otherwise, I would kick your, pardon my language, ass easily at our next sword fight. Do you know how bored I was when you were in the hospital? No-one to defeat."

Neal laughed. "Nice work, buddy. Reverse psychology won't work on me. Besides, unless my memory serves me wrong, I was not the one getting my ass handed to me and then fell asleep when we rested."

Henry remembered the time when they played in the park and the next thing he knew, he woke up in his grandma's apartment. He blushed. "Dad, I still need you though. Could you please at least eat and rest for my sake? Could you also please not do something that endangers yourself? I just got you. I don't want to lose you."

Neal looked chastised. "So you heard about last night. I'm sorry, buddy. I didn't mean to scare all of you. I don't remember well what happened… Sorry for not being your dad sooner as well. It's all my fault. If only I hadn't left Emma… If only I came to find her as soon as the curse broke… I didn't want to abandon you like what happened to me." He looked even more dejected now.

Henry didn't mean to make matters worse. He gave him a hug. "It's OK, Dad. You didn't know. You've been the best dad I could ask for as soon as you knew I existed. I know you will always protect me even at the cost of your life. I heard what happened in the portal. Thank you for always being there for me! What I need is a living dad, not a dead but heroic dad. Could you at least live for me?" He could feel his hair wet from Neal's tears.

Neal was still shaking. "I'm really sorry, Henry. I always intended to do the right thing but somehow things tend to go wrong. I don't know how to make it up to Emma."

"I think saving her life at the portal was a start. Grandma Snow and Grandpa Charming also left Emma with their best intention so I think Emma will understand in the end. I'll help her understand if she's too stubborn. I know a trick or two or maybe twenty."

Neal smiled despite his tears. "You're Rumplestiltskin's grandson, that's for sure." He paled after remembering his father.

"What's wrong?"

"I really don't know how to face Emma and my father, especially after last night. It's easier with you Henry as you're always so accepting."

Henry remembered the worried looks shared by Emma and Mr. Gold when Neal was in a coma. "I think they're more willing to listen than you would like to believe. I'll help." He winked at Neal. "One thing at a time. How about you eat and I'll tell you all my boring details at school? I'll heat this up first." He went to pick up the bowl to heat it up in the kitchen. He didn't let Neal answer in case he rejected.

When he came back, he saw Neal scribbling. He gently picked it up, put it aside, and half dragged Neal to the small table. He put the soup in front of him and sat down next to him.

Neal looked hesitant. "How about you? I'll get another bowl so we can share."

Henry firmly put his hand on Neal's arm. "No, Dad. If I wanted to, I would have gotten myself something to eat in the kitchen. I'm full. Now, eat and I'll talk."

Neal picked up the spoon. Henry smiled encouragingly. He started to eat and Henry told the story of what he learned from school. He was thankful that Snow didn't teach them how to build bird houses anymore. Neal seemed to be very interested and asked how well Henry was doing in his class, how he interacted with his friends and teachers. He mentioned how he hated Math but he loved English and History classes. Twenty minutes later, Neal had finished his soup but Henry was too excited to stop. He never had a Dad to talk to about school before. Regina was always too busy being a Mayor and Emma seemed to be running from one crisis to the next. He even told Neal about his past classes and projects.

Forty minutes later, he noticed that Neal stifled a yawn. He seemed to be embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I don't know what got into me. Trust me your stories are not boring, so please continue."

"Dad, you need to rest. You haven't fully recovered and you haven't rested in the last nine hours."

"I'm fine, Henry. I'd like to hear more about your stories."

"I can always come back tomorrow. That's why you need to get well and stay safe so we can chat more. Like I said, I need you." Henry said it and realized he really meant it.

"I'm really fine. I'll sleep at night."

"Dad, is this because of the nightmares?"

Neal looked downcast so he knew the answer. "I'm sure Dr Whale or grandpa has some solution for that."

"I don't really want to use magic."

"I'm sure Dr Whale will have some sort of medicine to help you. Dad, have you considered continuing therapy with Archie? He helped me a lot. He could help you deal with Emma and grandpa too."

"I talked to him once, then…" Henry remembered all too well happened next; Tamara.

"Well, that was just one incident. Could you also talk to Archie for my sake?" He put on his best puppy eyes look, which he actually inherited from his father.

"OK, OK, Henry. Please don't give me that puppy dog eyes look." He smiled. "I usually give the look and now being the receiving party is quite unnerving."

"So, Dad, you promise that you will eat and rest properly, take care of yourself and not endanger yourself, and listen to what Dr Whale and Archie suggest. In exchange, I'll come here every day to visit you and we can spend as much time together as you like."

"Young man, that doesn't mean you can get out of not doing homework with the excuse of spending time with me."

Henry blushed. "OK, fine, I'll still do my homework. Do we have a deal?" Henry saw him wince at the word.

However, he still answered, "Deal." They shook hand on it.

"Now, as part of the deal, you need to go to sleep now."

Neal sighed in defeat. "I know you are my father's grandson. How come you have become the parent instead of me?"

"Well, at least one of us has to be the mature and wise one."

"OK, that's it, buddy, the war is on." Neal tickled Henry mercilessly.

"OK, OK, Dad, I give up. You're also mature and wise, OK, please stop."

He suddenly noticed the lack of reply and saw that Neal was kneeling on the floor and shaking. He looked pale.

"Are you OK?"

"I'm fine. Just need to catch my breath. Wait a minute."

Three long minutes later, Neal stood up and swayed. Henry caught him and guided him to bed.

He lay down. The moment his head touched the pillow, he was fast asleep. Henry covered his father's body with a blanket. He looked down and saw how peaceful his father looked when he slept. He rarely looked at ease. Henry promised himself that he would make everything better and help his father anyway he can.

He kissed Neal's forehead. "Rest well. I love you, Dad."

Chapter Text

She heard him descending the stairs slowly and she quickly pretended to be engrossed in the book. To be fair, she had been truly enjoying the book before he came home and seeing him distracted like that had made her lose concentration.

Rumpelstiltskin sat heavily on the couch opposite hers.

She looked up from her book. "Is anything the matter?"

He was about to say something then stopped and shook his head. "It's nothing, you just continue reading."

She knew this sign. It meant he was closing off again rather than sharing, which meant things hadn't gone well. "Do you know that I have been reading the same page since you went upstairs and I can't manage to get any new word in? I kept worrying about you."

"No need to worry about me. I'm fine."

"No, you're not." She touched his arm. "What's the matter? Did he work too hard without resting again?"

"No, it's not that. You know how I only go see him when I'm sure he's asleep first. I ordered Whale to give Bae that medicine as I know he couldn't easily get to sleep after all these events." He looked horrified. "I really want to talk to him but I'm not sure whether I can face him or whether he even wants to see me."

"Do you know that he looked for you when he first woke up in this house? I told you that. It's been three days. You should at least say hi." She stared at him. He looked down. He told her once that only she, well, she guessed now she plus Bae, could make him feel guilty.

"I know but I'm not proud of what I did when he saw me the last time."

"Do you mean at the cannery? I don't think he remembers he went there."

"No, before that. I'd better go to bed."

She knew he was avoiding telling her his worry. She grabbed his arm and pulled him back down on the couch. "Not so fast, Rumple. When did he see you last? What are you not telling me? Is that at the hospital with Tamara …?" She didn't finish because what happened was quite shocking.

"I didn't do anything at that hospital that I am not proud of, although I would prefer him to not remember that part as it must be quite traumatic."

She recalled Bae, or Neal, he asked her to call him Neal, trying to climb out of the window. "Unfortunately he remembers. I guess you're not referring to that." Then it struck her. She closed her mouth with her hand. "Do you mean when I was Lacey and you beat up Dr Whale?"

He nodded grimly. No wonder he didn't want to tell her. He was trying to protect her feelings. She then recalled her conversation with Neal. "I think it's fine. I've explained the situation to him. I was cursed."

He looked slightly relieved then grimaced again. "At least you have that excuse. I wasn't cursed and was aware of what I was doing the whole time."

She patted his hand. "Whatever mistakes you have made, I'm sure they can be fixed. Perhaps you can make an appointment with Archie too for anger management."

"Sure, might as well book the whole family and get the family discount. First Henry, then Bae. People might think the male line of our family has issues. No, I'm not paying that insect who got his degree from a curse to solve my issues. "

Belle quirked a smile. At least his mood was improving if he could joke. "I can find you some books about anger management. I'll make sure you apply the techniques from the books."

"Give a woman a library and what do I get in return?" he grumbled.

"At least you can save your money on therapy."

He seemed to think it through. "Damn right."

"Of course. I'm always right." She smiled. Then she thought of something else she wanted to discuss with him, but first she needed to observe for a few days before drawing her conclusions. "Rumple, how did he sleep?"

"Well, in the first three hours, like a log because of the medicine. After that, I think he started to get the nightmares and started to toss and turn. I wish the medicine could last longer. Why?"

Belle was sure he had used magic to check on his son to know this clearly, but since it seemed to be used for good she let it slide. "I don't think he is doing well, despite seeing Archie daily."

He snorted. "Do you think? How long has it been? Three days? That's why I don't want to pay that bug for myself."

"Rumple, I was being serious. I think Neal still thought all these things are his fault. He didn't think he deserved forgiveness and happiness. He couldn't forgive himself." She wanted to add just like you but she bit her tongue to stop. Well, Neal's case was way more serious as he also just got shot and nearly kidnapped so it all added up.

"Couldn't Archie talk him out of it?"

"I don't think it's that simple. If PTSD were that simple, people would be cured in no time."

"What are you implying?"

"I mean he needs his family. And I meant the whole family. You, Henry, me and Emma. Perhaps some other people too to help him feel loved and wanted."

He snorted. "Good luck getting Ms Swan to talk to him! You'd have a better chance of me talking to Bae than her."

"Then why don't you?"

"Fine, I will."

She flashed him a victory smile. "So you have to talk to him tomorrow then, Rumple, no delay."

"Are you tricking the Dark One, dearie? I'm impressed. Fine, I'll do it." Then with lower voice he grumbled, "Give the woman a library and she orders you around."

She kissed his cheek. "But you love the woman, don't you?" Then she got serious again. "You really need to talk to him. He needs all the help he can get. I can't stand seeing him work as hard as he could to forget everything. He didn't really care for his own health and well being."

"I thought he had made a deal with Henry to take care of himself."

"Well, he's your son. He sticks to the words of the deal but not the spirit. He thought sleeping three or four hours is enough but after hearing what you said, that makes sense. He has nightmares. He didn't take any means of resting besides the sleeping time. He didn't care what time he ate or whether he had proper meal as long as he ate something in the day if he remembers."

He quirked his eyebrows. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

"Well, I was very busy yesterday and only came home late at night to go up to give him his meal. He didn't even realize the time and didn't know he had missed breakfast and lunch and had a very late dinner. Today, I forgot to put salt in the soup. Yes, I know, you complain, Rumple. But he just took whatever he was given without any comment. It seemed like he didn't care about himself at all."

Rumple looked bristled. "I'm going to talk to him tomorrow, alright. Someone needs to knock some sense into him."

She was surprised to see his reaction; she thought he would be sad. But again sadness and fear of losing could drive people angry. "Be gentle to him, Rumple. It's not that he is doing it on purpose. I think he believes he's doing what's best for everyone but he didn't consider himself deserving of something good."

He calmed down. His expression was somber. "What have I done, Belle? I failed him and now he is like this."

"Everything can be fixed, Rumple. I know you two love each other too much. I'm sure you will get through to him. Perhaps not soon but every little thing helps. Besides, you have Henry on your side."

"Well, Henry certainly got his smarts and cunning from me, not Charming. You're right, if Bae didn't listen to me, he would certainly listen to Henry."

Belle rolled her eyes good-humoredly at his semi rivalry with David. "How about Emma?"

"I think she has been actively avoiding me in case I ask her to come to talk to Bae. Those two kids have issues. I'm surprised they managed to have Henry in the first place."

Belle rolled her eyes the second time that night. "Well, I hope Emma will come to her senses and talk to him. It's not like he could just step out of the house and talk to people given his condition. I'll try to help to get them to talk."

"Thanks, Belle. You're the best. Shall we go to bed?"

"I thought you'd never ask."

Chapter Text

The next morning Rumple knocked softly on his son's door.

"Come in."

He opened the door and was not surprised to see scattered sketches on every possible surface. To his chagrin, Bae wore his hoodie and jeans again which hung loosely as he had lost a lot of weight recently. He also noticed the dark circles around his eyes. His son looked up at him with a haunted and worried look. "Papa?" He looked so unsure and scared. In fact, he looked just like the little boy he woke up to tell that his mother was gone.

Rumple didn't expect that. He expected a lot of anger given the circumstances. He could deal with anger, not this. "Yes, it's me. Can I come and sit?"

"It's your house. You can do whatever you want."

"It's your house too." He sat on a chair opposite his son. He then saw that he had barely touched his breakfast. "You know, Belle has prepared that breakfast with her heart and soul. You could at least try to appreciate it"

He put down this drawing, mumbled a "sorry" then picked up the plate. He offered some to him which he refused. He then just started to eat.

Rumple really didn't expect that. He expected a bit more fight, a bit more arguing. Even when he was a kid, Bae always had a feisty spirit. He was a good kid, always listened to him. But he could be very stubborn too. He would fight tooth and nail for something he stood for. Baelfire was an apt name for him.

However, the man before him was, he wouldn't use the word broken, more subdued, disenchanted, and impassionate. He saw a glimpse of young Bae in the man when they fought in his apartment in Manhattan. Then again when he helped to fight Cora and Regina when he was injured by Hook's poison. He even saw the glimpse of the old Bae when he was protecting Dr. Whale from him. Too much had been going on since then. He blurted out, "You know I'm glad that I haven't lost you."

"Are you?" His tone was not accusing, just full of disbelief. "Why?"

He couldn't believe his ears! "You're my son. My happy ending. I traveled worlds to be with you."

"Perhaps you shouldn't. You should just spend time with Belle. I'm not worth it."

He got up, yanked the lapel of Bae's shirt, and shook it. Perhaps this way his son's sense would return. "How could you say that? Are you out of your mind?"

He expected him to fight back. Instead Bae shrunk. He looked at his son's eyes. He seemed so uncertain and worried. He released his lapel, smoothed it out, touched his son's face with both hands, observed for any kind of injuries, which didn't exist because he had used magic to heal him, released him, and sat back down. "I'm sorry, son. What happened to you? You usually have more fight than that."

Bae just shrugged and put down his unfinished plate. "What's the point? What's the point in anything?"

He tried to contain his irritation. If he were not his boy, he might have slapped him a few times to get him to his senses. He put on a smile. "Of course there is a point. To make you happy."

"I don't deserve it. I just bring on pain and misery to the people around me."

Rumple shuddered. That was usually his line. Bae was usually full of hope and light. This was serious. He needed to take control of it somehow. "OK, that's it. This stale room air has gotten into your head. You need fresh air and perspective." In a puff of red smoke, he teleported them both to the beach. Thankfully no one was there to see them appearing out of thin air.

"I wish you would give a warning when you do that. It's disorienting. I could leave an eyebrow somewhere." Looking down at his father's confused face, he said, "Never mind! Harry Potter reference. You wouldn't understand." He flashed him a quick smile.

Rumple was ecstatic. That was a glimpse of his old Bae. If only he could be constantly happy. Not wallow in misery like the last few days. "Son, what's wrong with you?

"Do you mean besides getting duped by a woman who I thought loved me, getting shot, nearly falling down a portal, and also lost in a fight against said woman? Apparently I was in coma for a few days and now people say I got PTSD. Besides that, I'm peachy."

Rumple paled at the mention of all these events. He nearly lost his son twice in a few days time. He understood the sarcasm was used to cover up insecurities. He often did that himself especially with Belle. Bae was so much like him but again he was also so different. He'd better not push his son too much before he retreated into his old self again. He needed to tread carefully. "There's no need to be ashamed to lose in a fight. She cheated. She hit you on your wounds and you had just woken up from that said coma."

"I'm glad you approve of me fighting with a woman. Equal opportunity and all that jazz."

Rumple didn't really understand what he referred to but he knew that his son used jokes while he used sarcasm to cover up his actual feelings. They were so much alike indeed. "Do you love her?"

"Before or after getting shot?"

"I'm being serious!"

The younger man chewed his lower lip, lowered his head, and put his hands inside his pockets. "I thought I loved her. I liked the idea of loving her. That meant I had moved on and was not hung up on Emma. I guess repeating those lies made me believe them. Of course, I would settle for nothing less than a psychopath."

He approached his son and embraced him in a tight hug, "I'm so sorry, son, for everything you went through."

"Perhaps I deserved it. Everyone I knew abandoned me. Mom, you, Killan, and even Tamara. Ironically, I abandoned the only person who didn't abandon me, who would fight for me."

"Oh, Bae, I wish I could take them all back. All the pain, all these memories."

"Sometime I wish the same too. But they are what made me me. I wish I could make it up to Emma."

His heart ached for his son. Unlike him or Milah, Bae always thought of other people first. "Well, you can start by getting better. Right now, you just make people worry about you. Do you know how worried I have been for you the past two weeks? You also made Henry and Emma worried."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I just couldn't help it. I kept thinking of my past mistakes. I can't think straight. I can't." Bae held his father tighter and sobbed slightly into his shoulder. "That's why I keep drawing. It helps me stop thinking. But it's not enough. The thoughts keep coming."

He stroked the younger man's hair softly. That had always calmed him down as a child. "I'm so sorry. If it were up to me, I would make all of them go away."

Bae was quiet so he kept stroking his hair. That seemed to do the trick as he seemed to calm down.

Suddenly Bae released his hug and looked him in the eyes. "What if I'm never able to make it up to Emma? What if she never forgives me?"

"Son, what you did to Emma was nothing worse than what I did to Belle and countless other people. Besides, you left her with the intention for her to fulfill her destiny and be reunited with her family. It's not worse than what her own parents did. I'm sure she will understand eventually."

"But what if she never will? I will feel forever indebted to her."

"I think you saving her from the portal and sacrificing yourself was a good start." He remembered what his son did and his irritation rose again. "What were you thinking? Releasing her hand like that? Do you realize what you did after I spent 300 years looking for you?"

"I'm sorry, Papa. I didn't think. It was a matter of life and death and I really didn't want Henry to grow up like Emma and I did."

"Again, I'm sorry about that, Bae. You feel like you want to make it up to Emma and I feel exactly the same to you. I understand your feelings. Blaming yourself is not the way to go. Believe me. I've done it myself."

"Then how do you cope?" Bae looked at him hopefully.

"Well, there is Belle. She is a wonder. She always believes in me when I don't believe in myself."

Bae smiled slightly. "Yes, you struck a diamond with Belle. Don't ever let go of her!"

"I know that too well. And you have Belle and I to fully support you. Don't forget Emma and Henry!"

"But I abandoned them."

"Don't discount the power of forgiveness. They were really worried for you. Ms Swan might not show it but she still cares for you a lot."

"Yeah, we kinda admitted our feelings to each other at the portal. But now I think she is avoiding me so perhaps it was all just adrenaline."

"Well, that's her problem. I can assure you that she still cares for you a lot."

"Even if that's the case, I'm still in the wrong. I really don't know if I will ever be even with her."

Rumpelstiltskin felt uncomfortable that he should be the one giving relationship advice as he himself was not the expert but this was for his son, not other people. "Oh Bae, relationship is not about being even. It's about trusting the other people with all your heart, about give and take." He knew he said the wrong thing when Bae just went to the nearest bench and sat down. He went to sit next to him.

"How could Emma or anyone trust me after what I did? How could the whole town trust me after I brought Tamara? By the way, what happened to Tamara now? I hope you didn't turn her into a snail and step on her." He looked at him with slightly accusing look.

The pawnshop owner felt that he needed to tread carefully on this topic. "I can assure you that Tamara is still alive. I didn't turn her into snails or any other animals as much as I want to but I know Ms Swan and the Charmings won't let me. Ms Swan sent her to a federal jail." Well, he thought the best lie was mixed with the truth. "You could ask her if you don't believe me."

Bae's shoulders seem to relax after hearing this. "Thank you, Papa for not doing something not so good for my sake. I'm proud of you."

The older man cringed but he smiled for his son. "As for your initial questions, I don't think Emma or the whole town are as angry as you think. I think your mind has blown everything out of proportion like Dr. Hopper said. They know you were being duped and a victim yourself."

"But how about leaving Emma? I know I keep asking the same questions but I really can't think of anything else even if I try." He chewed on his lower lip again, clenched and unclenched both hands as if he wasn't sure what to do with them, his feet kicked on the sands below. "I know it's not healthy or productive but I wish I could think of something different. I also kept thinking that people must have left me because I'm not good enough for them. Perhaps they're right. I only brought misery to them. Mom would have been happy if I had never been born, you wouldn't have become the Dark One, Emma wouldn't have been separated from her parents, Killian… Well I don't know whether I caused him any misery but perhaps I have."

Rumpelstiltskin felt his blood boil hearing the pirate's name. He kept wondering what the relationship was with his son. It was a question for another time. He could see that his son getting agitated again. "I think it's best for us to go home. You need to rest. Perhaps a talk with Belle or Dr Hopper can help us more."

He put his hands on his son's shoulders. Before he activated the spell, Bae suddenly said, "Could we just walk back and talk? I need the exercise and to get to know the town a bit more. Besides, teleporting always makes me dizzy."

He was glad that Bae said that. He really wanted to spend more time with him and now he was given the chance. "Sure, Bae. Anything you want. You could tell me more about the Harry Potter you mentioned earlier."

Bae rose up and supported his father's bad leg for their walk home. He was glad that his son was still thoughtful after this long. If only other people could see what a kind soul his son had. At his euphoria high, suddenly he knew the solution to making his son feel loved and less guilty. This needed to be planned carefully but this was less complicated than designing a curse.

Bae smiled and asked, "Well, it depends on whether you root for the heroes or the villains then I can tweak the stories for your need."

"That's very thoughtful of you, son. Just tell me in any way you want. I'm sure I will be enthralled either way."

"I think the stories will be longer than our walk."

"That's OK. We could continue when we get home or even next time."

"Be ready, Pop. I hope my storytelling has improved since the last time and you don't fall asleep on me." Bae gave him the lopsided grin that was really Bae's trademark grin he had perfected over 300 years. He promised himself he would make his son smile more often.

Chapter Text

"Why are you being so hard on yourself?" Archie looked up from his notebook.

Neal scrunched his forehead trying to think when he was too hard on himself. "No, I am not."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I am not."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I am not."

"Even though I charge per hour, I don't want to waste your money arguing about this. You need to be honest with yourself if you want to get better."

"At least we agree on the part about it being useless to argue because it is true."

The psychologist let out frustrated sigh. He removed his glasses and wiped it using his clothes.

"Isn't that unhygienic?"

"Yes, but denial is not healthy either but you are doing it."

"I don't deny anything. All those things were my fault."

"And that is exactly the problem. Why did you take the burden of other people's faults on your shoulders? Don't you have your own personal issues to deal with without adding others?"

"But those people wouldn't have done what they did if I hadn't made the mistakes."

"That is bullshit and you know that. Your father would still have taken the Dark Curse for your sake even without your agreement. In fact, that was what actually happened if I gathered the facts from your father correctly." He looked at Neal's confused expression. "That's right. He told me everything you told him plus you and your father's past history."

"Is nothing sacred?"

"Not if you want to get better. It seems you prefer to wallow in your self-guilt rather than moving on."

"Don't I know it? But I really couldn't think past that even if I tried. My thoughts keep constantly returning to those even when I try to think of something else." He felt his headaches coming on thinking or trying not to think about that guilt. He tried to massage his head to relieve the pressure.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't force you. I thought direct confrontation might help but I forgot about the post traumatic stress."

"Could you please stop saying that? I'm not a soldier. You make me feel like I just came back from Afghanistan."

"Actually, what you have experienced since you were young until now is comparable to what happens to people experiencing war or crime victims, which you actually were. I'm sorry, I shouldn't force you. Just take it easy. Accepting your condition is the first step for healing."

"Do you mean accepting my guilt and move on?"

The older man let out frustrated sigh. "No, I meant accepting your condition as it was. Don't try to question the who, what, why, and how. Just accept it."

"But accepting the guilt doesn't make me feel better. I have accepted them."

"Accepting is the first part. And no, lumping all other people's faults as your own is not acceptance. It's insanity." He looked at Neal's hurt expression. "Not that you are insane. I just mean the general phrase of speech, not my professional statement that you are insane. In fact, you are one of the sanest people I have ever met in Storybrooke, if I don't consider the PTSD of course." He turned bit red with his bumbling.

Neal smiled. "Coming from you, it's a big compliment I guess. You could have left out the 'if' part to make me feel much better." He took pity on the psychologist as he turned a shade redder if that was possible. "Thanks for making me smile and I feel better already."

Archie wore his glasses back. "Yes, that was my mistake. I should just put you at ease rather than confronting you with all your issues in one go. You must excuse me as I don't really have that many patients and none of them has PTSD."

"Well, I know that Henry was your patient. By the way, my father asked if there was a family discount."

The ex-insect turned slightly pale. "Did he ask for that? Was he upset that I charged too much?"

Neal was surprised to see his reaction. He forgot that his father was scary and influential in both lands. He mentally slapped himself. As if he needed more guilt on top of what he had now. "Sorry, Doc. It was a joke as I thought about Henry and I. Emma said I did have bad timings for jokes sometimes. Just forget what I said. My father said that the fee was no problem for him."

"Thank you for reassuring me. You and Miss Swan seem to know each other well. Could you tell me your relationship with her?"

"If this is your idea of putting me at ease, it's not working. My biggest guilt starts with her. I shouldn't have left her. I should have stayed and ignored August."

"August? Did you know him before here?" He looked at Neal's confused expression. "Never mind, not the time to discuss August. What was your intention in leaving her?"

"I didn't want to but August said she needed to fulfill her destiny and to be with her family. I was only a dead weight for her."

"Were you?"

"We slept in a car and lived our life mostly from stealing. I felt terrible that she was separated from her family because of the curse to find me. She was supposed to be a princess and rule her kingdom, not to be with a low-life like me."

"We will talk about the curse and your sense of self worth later. I want to talk about your intention first. So you left her not because you didn't want to be with her anymore."

"No, of course not, she was the best thing that happened to me after Wendy and her family. But I did her wrong by leaving her and she ended up in jail."

Archie sighed. "You just want to pile one thing on top of another before we finish one issue to make my job harder. Did you send her to jail?"

"No, I only knew that later after I left which I shouldn't have."

"Why did you feel guilty about that then?"

"It should have been me."

"But she went to jail because of her own crimes. If you went to the police, both of you would have ended up in jail."

Neal played with his scarf. "You've got a point there. But I still shouldn't have left her."

"But your intention was for her to be with her family and to free this town of the curse."

"Yes."

"So it was nothing worse than what her own parents did when she was a baby."

"But she was already an adult then and she loved me so it made things worse."

"As I said, your intention was not to break her heart although I agree you could have used better methods for her to fulfill her destiny. You were by yourself at that time and I presume you were still quite young and inexperienced at that time. Snow White and David had the whole council, including me, to decide to leave her although Snow White should have come through with her but that was not the point."

Neal stopped playing with his scarf and looked up at his therapist. "You've got a point again. I didn't think about that."

"Yes, you were too wrapped up in your own self guilt and self pity, not that I blame you given your condition. I just offer a new perspective."

"But how about the curse to the whole town? How about my father becoming the Dark One? How about me bringing Tamara here?"

Archie took a few deep breaths. "Here we go. Did you ask your father to create the curse?"

"No, but he wouldn't have needed to if I hadn't fallen through the portal alone."

"Are you blaming yourself for falling through the portal?"

"Logically, I should say no. But I can't help feeling responsible for this whole town getting cursed and the whole population suffering."

"Not everything is worse because of the curse but we will get back to that later. The point is you didn't create or cast the curse. That was done by your father and Regina. They didn't feel guilty about it so I don't really know why you should. You were only a teenager. Your only fault is falling though that portal but that was out of your control. In fact, why did you fall?"

"I wanted to get rid of my father's curse, start anew in a new land. He didn't come with me then it was too late."

"So again it was done out of your love for your father, not your selfish desire. You couldn't have known that he wouldn't go with you."

"If you put it that way, yes."

"It's not how I put it. I just offer an outsider's perspective as you and your father have been too involved in this to see it objectively."

"You know thinking about it logically doesn't make my guilt suddenly disappear."

"I know. However, it will help in the long run. You need to talk to the people you feel you've wronged which I believe is Miss Swan, but that is later."

Neal gave out a mirthless laugh, "Good luck with that! Emma would prefer to fight more dragons than talk to me. I haven't seen her since I heard of my near fall in the Cannery which I didn't remember. I just remember seeing her at the hospital when Tamara …"

"I've heard about it. I will try to get her to talk to you or you can meet her by accident somewhere. I'm sure you can think of something. Although I'm not sure you are allowed to be on your own outside yet given your condition. I'll talk with your father about this. So now the Dark One's curse, why did you feel guilty about it?"

"My father took it because of me."

"Did you ask your father to take it for you?"

"No, but he did it to protect me."

"So it was on your father, not you, despite what your morality thinks of. Intention is important as you should have realized since we started our sessions. From what I know so far, you seem to think about others more than yourself. Why you then blame yourself when bad things happen confuses me. You couldn't have known. Let's get the Tamara issue out of the way then before we move on to your self-worth issue."

The younger man gritted his teeth. "Well, I really shouldn't have brought her here given this town's secret. But I didn't think things through. I was too overwhelmed with my father, Emma, and Henry and I thought I needed someone who was not involved with this town craziness. I should have known better."

"But you didn't know. Was it your intention to bring her here to destroy this town?"

"Of course, not. I would never think of destroying others."

"Then it's not your fault, same as it's not your fault that you fell through the portal."

"Intention?"

"Yes, you got it. You never intended to have all the bad things happen. You didn't wish other people ill. The opposite of that in fact from what I have seen. I know you feel this way because of your PTSD but you can think it through logically. I recommend some meditation to help. The only issue I think you really need to work through is Emma for leaving her."

"And that will be the hardest but it's expected."

"Yes, the hardest thing is usually worth the effort. Now how about your self-worth issue?"

"What about that?"

"Why did you call yourself low-life? Although I commend you for putting others' happiness above yourself, I get the impression that you think you are worthless compared to others."

"I didn't have a job and lived in car. I stole for survival. Everybody I loved, except for Emma, abandoned me one way or another."

"Did you have any former education when you got here from Neverland?"

"No."

"Did you have any family with you?"

"Of course not."

"Did you have any money or other means for survival?"

"Are you insane? Sorry wrong choice of word given our context. No!"

"Well, although I don't like stealing, and I am really not one to judge given my own history, my point was you did what you could to survive given your very peculiar circumstances coming from another land. Do you still steal now?"

"No, Emma would be the first to arrest me if I did. Actually that's not a bad idea if I want to get to talk to her." Looking at Archie's appalled expression, he quickly added, "I was just kidding. With my luck, she would arrest me, throw away the key, and never return to the sheriff's office."

"I'm glad to hear. What I want to say is you managed to turn your life around, get yourself a proper job. Don't beat yourself up too hard for your past crimes. I used to steal for my parents too so no one is blameless. Well, this session is not about me, but you can read it in Henry's book. My point is your intention again was not to harm others but survival. It would be better of course if you could pay back the people you stole from."

"I do give my money to charity if I can to pay back for my past crimes."

"See, you did manage to turn your life around. So again, don't be too hard on yourself and don't think of yourself worthless compared to others."

"It's easy for you to say if your parents didn't abandon you one way or another since you were young, or your mom's lover didn't trick you then betray you to Pan, or your ex-fiancé didn't use you and shoot you."

"Well, it could be worse. Your parents could force you to steal and even killed other people when you wanted to get out such a life. But again it's not about me, just read Henry's book. As for your abandonment issues, it sucks, it really does, I know, but just accept that life is not fair. It's really not about you who have something faulty that they abandon you, it's them, believe me. I speak of it in general. But I have known you in a more personal way after our sessions, so specifically I say it's not really about you, you didn't have any quality that made people want to run away screaming from you. It really sounds like reverse break up phrase but it's them, not you."

"Thanks, Archie. I really appreciate what you tried to do. And it's refreshing to hear it objectively too. I guess the only thing that hasn't won you over is my terrible timing for a joke and I guess I'm doing it again. Sorry. I mean I accept everything you said in logical level as they make sense. I just need to process it personally because hearing it is different from realizing it myself."

"That's my job so I'm glad I could help. I know very well about the last part, that's why I recommend meditation. I have some techniques to help. I also have some people for you to talk to." He looked at Neal's worried expression. "Don't worry, they are not Emma. I will start from someone with a less complex history with you first. I believe talking to them will help you feel less guilty about the curse or Tamara. For the rest of your issues, you need to work it out with your father and Emma the most."

"Thanks. I really wonder who I can talk to though to help me as I really know no one. I'm all ears. I guess it's also a progress as I didn't want to talk to others before this."

"Indeed. I will arrange for the meetings tomorrow."

Chapter Text

The next day someone knocked on his door.

"Come in," Neal said as he continued drawing. No matter what Dr. Hopper said yesterday, that most of the things were not his fault, his conscience still weighed heavily on him. Only channeling the energy somewhere allowed him some release.

He was surprised to see it was Dr. Whale.

"Did I miss an appointment to go to the hospital? I thought you said everything was OK and I just needed to rest unless I got some serious problems."

"I also said you could come to me in case you had trouble sleeping. I could still give you some drugs for sleeping."

"Oh, that. Sorry!" He had completely forgotten that Whale did say that. "My mind has been preoccupied with a lot of things lately and I forgot."

"I can see that. That's why I'm here."

"Did you come here specifically to give me the drugs? Can't you send a courier pigeon or something?" Whale was confused by his remark but he didn't explain. He was too puzzled about why Whale came to see him. He was the only surgeon in the hospital so he must be extremely busy.

"Not exactly. I didn't exactly come here as your doctor. Although I did bring some medicine for you to save you a trip going there."

"Not as my doctor?" Suddenly he realized what the doctor meant. "Did Archie ask you to come here?"

Whale shrugged. "Well, he mentioned to me that you needed to talk to people to let you know the curse is not your fault and some of us are better off because of the curse. So I volunteered."

"Not that I'm not grateful, but why did you volunteer? You're very busy."

"Believe it or not, most of my patients are related to your or Sheriff Swan's family and friends. So far, you are the last patient that needed significant care. The rest is just normal sickness. I'm sure my colleagues can handle stomach pain or flu."

Neal was sure it wasn't a good thing if all the critical patients were related to him and Emma. He suddenly felt very tired. He put down his pencil and paper, and walked to the bed and lied down. There was no point in doing anything anyway. "I understand. Dr. Hopper couldn't find an actual person who was better off because of the curse so you volunteered so you can check my health and perhaps give me some tranquilizers." He pulled up the sleeve of his left hand. "Well, if you want to inject me, I may as well I accept it willingly rather than by force."

Whale chuckled. "Are you seriously asking to be injected? What happened to the guy who was so anti needle that he needed to be unconscious first before his injection for medicine? I need to teach you how to inject yourself to save us the trouble of restraining or drugging you."

Neal blushed and rolled down his sleeve. "Having nightmares every time I sleep doesn't help. Not to mention sometimes I don't remember where I am when I wake up. Seeing people waving those big needles in front of me is pretty scary during that time."

Whale grew serious and drew a chair to sit next to him. "I'm really sorry to hear that. I meant to joke to lighten the situation. I was serious about you learning to inject yourself. It's less painful than when it's done by others. I was also serious about volunteering to come to see you."

"Volunteering?"

"Well, I haven't thanked you for saving my life."

"What? When?"

"Do you remember the day you were shot?"

Neal remembered Tamara's face when she shot him and pointed the gun on his head, the portal, and Emma. He shivered involuntarily and drew the blanket up to cover his body.

The doctor looked concerned. "Are you OK? We don't have to talk about that day."

"I'm sorry, I can't remember much. I just remember the gun and the portal. Whatever happened before that escaped me."

"That's understandable. What happened was you saved my life."

"Did I?"

"See, you don't even remember that. Is saving people a common occurrence for you?"

"Could be but most likely it was because of the PTSD."

"Stop discounting your good deeds. It doesn't matter. You saved my life as your father was about to attack me when I stared at Belle…er Lacey for too long."

He vaguely remembered restraining his father from hitting the doctor and saying something about luckily he didn't turn someone into snails. "I'm starting to have a vague recollection of that."

"Well, I thought I was going to die or at least be injured or humiliated. Then you, a total stranger, jumped in to rescue me. I didn't have the time to say thank you. Imagine my shock to find out that you were shot on the very same day."

Neal felt awkward and didn't know what to do when people thanked him. It didn't happen often. He said in a small voice, "I did it because I didn't want my papa to hurt others."

"Well, no matter what your motivation was, you still jumped in to save a total stranger. I was devastated to see you in critical condition, not to mention your coma and all the subsequent events befalling you. I think your family is a magnet for trouble. Anyway, I was worried that I never had the chance to say thank you. You were always accompanied by your father when I saw you. So I jumped in at the first chance when Archie said you needed to talk to some people."

Neal felt tongue tied but he had to say something. "Thanks, I guess."

"No, I should be the one to thank you."

Neal rubbed his head as he felt uncomfortable. "In that case, you're welcome. That's so nice of you to come here just to thank me."

"I'm surprised that you don't get thanked often enough. Anyway, I also genuinely have a point in coming here besides thanking you. I'm one of the people who are better off because of the curse."

Neal felt intrigued and sat up. "Are you?"

"I'm glad that you don't feel the need to lie down anymore. Otherwise I feel like I'm very boring. You have no idea that some patients pretend to sleep so that they don't have to talk to me, so what you did is quite refreshing. I knew they were pretending because of their breathing."

It was Neal's turn to chuckle.

"Do you know who I was before the curse?"

Neal tried to think of different characters in Henry's book but he couldn't think of anyone who matched Whale's personality. He shook his head.

"Well, I'm Dr Victor Frankenstein."

His jaw dropped. "Really? With the monster and the bolt in the neck?"

Whale tchk-ed impatiently. "I've never used any bolt. The movie got it really wrong. You realize that Frankenstein is the doctor and not the monster, right?"

"Oh, I got that. But wow, I was treated by Dr Frankenstein." He looked at Whale in awe. "This thing could only happen in Storybrooke."

"I'm glad you are not worried that you were treated by me."

"At least your degree is not from a curse. And you've been helping all these patients for such a long time so you must know what you are doing."

Whale beamed since people hardly appreciated what he had done. "Thanking you is the first part. The second part is I want to tell you that I'm better off here than in the old world."

"Are you? " He looked at his doctor suspiciously. "You don't need to lie for my account."

"I won't lie about such things. Do you know that the monster was my brother who also died because of my fault? My father also died because of my brother's condition. The curse was a blessing as I could forget all those and move on with my life."

Neal was stunned. "I… I'm sorry to hear that. I guess the movie got a lot of things wrong."

"When you talk about guilt and blaming yourself, I know exactly how you feel. Except that yours is mostly your own projection of other people's guilt, mine was really my own doing." Whale cupped his head between both hands. Suddenly, he raised his head again. "You're the second person that I've shared this guilt with. I haven't told any other soul in Storybrooke after so long."

Neal didn't know how to react. He extended his hand give Whale a side hug. "I feel honored you did so on my behalf. I guess there is at least one person who was better off with the curse. Thanks for doing that."

Whale gave his patient's shoulder a squeeze and forced himself to smile. "You're most welcome. If anyone deserves to know, it's someone who has saved my life." Both of them released their body contact around the same time as they suddenly felt awkward. "Incidentally the first person I told about my secret also saved my life and also shared guilty feelings like us."

"Is there more than one? I didn't know."

"Yes, you're not the only person who is overwhelmed by guilt but we were not affected to your extent." Looking at Neal's doubtful look, he continued, "Thanks for not asking me who the first person was because that's her secret to keep. But since she is going to speak to you next anyway there is no harm in telling you now."

"She?"

"Yes, she is the lovely Ruby Lucas also known as Red Riding Hood in Henry's book."

Neal whistled. "I wouldn't have thought it would be her. I guess I really need to read Henry's book more carefully."

"Yes, when Archie talked about your condition to me, she overheard. It's her wolf hearing. I closed my door."

"Why was she in the hospital?" Looking at Whale's sheepish smile, he got it. "Ah, I see, you two are dating."

The doctor coughed. "That was not my point. When she overheard our conversation, she said she knew how guilt could consume someone so much and make us do unreasonable things. Like me, she was better off with the curse too. Well, somewhat better off as her case was different from mine. She volunteered to talk to you after Archie left."

"I guess you two are a match. I'd be honored if Miss Lucas wants to talk to me. I need to thank you for coming to talk to me too. It's a little bit of weight off my chest."

"We'd be happy to help in any ways we can. It's not every day we meet someone who is sane and doesn't always want to be a hero but would still sacrifice his or her own life for others when needed."

"Sacrifice?" He felt silly for constantly repeating some of Whale's words but as Emma liked to point out he never cared to be seen as a fool.

"I guess you have also forgotten that you saved Emma from falling through the portal. I overheard the Charmings, but they were not exactly being subtle."

Neal laughed at the image of Emma being subtle. He sobered up when he realized he did save her from the portal. The opposite of his dream this morning and all other times he slept! "Thank you for clarifying that point. I dreamed about letting her go through the portal and abandoned her again and again. Some people told me that I saved her but when I got the same dreams again, I got really confused which ones are realities and which ones are dreams."

The surgeon looked surprised. "Do you mean you still haven't talked to her?" He saw Neal shook his head sadly and quickly continued, "Well, it's really none of my business. You'd better write down what you know as facts to keep them straight. Not abandoning Sheriff Swan at the portal should be at the top of the list." He clasped Neal's shoulder. "Call me anytime when you need help and I mean it. I must go now as the hospital unfortunately can't run itself even with my colleagues around. There are patients to inject and family of patients to annoy. But I meant it about calling me anytime. Ciao."

After the doctor left, Neal looked up at his window and saw there was some sunlight coming in and the birds were chirping. For the first time in what he felt like ages, he finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel.

Chapter Text

The weather was beautiful. Everything looked so bright and colorful. Neal decided to walk to get some food for his papa and Belle. His father offered him his car but he said he needed the fresh air and the exercise as prescribed by Dr Whale. Besides, he was fine, well, relatively speaking. His father offered to accompany him but he said don't be silly. He was an adult and really he was fine after all that happened. He needed to learn to function normally, couldn't rely on others forever. Although his father said it was too soon as he just got slightly better in the last four days, he couldn't win against his son's puppy dog eyes.

Things had been good lately since his talk with some of Storybrooke's residents.

After his talk with Dr. Whale, he had been speaking with a few of the residents of Storybrooke. Ruby was very kind and helpful. She told him her tale and how she felt guilty after Peter's death. She could control her wolf form when she wore the hood but during the time of the curse, she could forget completely about being a wolf. So she had led a more carefree life despite her constant fighting with her grandmother. She said that was all Regina's doing, not his father's, and especially not his fault. Like Dr Whale, she said she knew too well how guilt could consume someone, no matter whether a person actually was responsible for it. She reminded him that only people with a good conscience like them would feel bad when something bad happens; that's what made them different from the sociopaths and psychopaths. She also said he could call her anytime if he needed help. One lost soul to another. Neal felt very grateful with her advice and told her so. She was glad to hear that. She said not many seemed to appreciate kindness and help nowadays.

Surprisingly, some of the dwarves also came to talk to him. They told him how they had worked day and night to mine the fairy diamonds in the Enchanted Forest. At least they worked regular hours and got paid for their services here in Storybrooke. Besides, who didn't love antibiotics, electricity and indoor plumbing? So it was really more comfortable for them to live here.

Some of the residents who were animals in the Enchanted Forest but were humans here also came to talk to him. He was surprised that some of the mice in the story of Cinderella and Lady and Tramp of The Lady and The Tramp had actually made it here. Neal actually loved some of the Disney movies so he watched them. He just didn't know those stories were from the Enchanted Forest after his time. He just actively avoided anything to do with Peter Pan. If only the public knew how nasty the real Peter was. He shuddered at the memory.

Despite these new friendships and good feelings, he couldn't quench the dreadful feeling that something bad was about to happen. He didn't know whether it was the PTSD talking or because his life experience had taught him that he could never enjoy some peace for a long period of time. Fate liked to play games with him. He told himself he needed to be more positive like Belle said. Perhaps he'd have good fortune in the future.

The walk was relatively fine. The streets as usual were quiet. He didn't know where the rest of the residents were. It seemed they only appeared when there was a crisis. He scrunched his forehead as he saw the same car pass him by again. He could've sworn he saw the same car pass him by everyday on his way to Granny's. Perhaps they lived in the same area as his father and they also went to have lunch in the town. It was certainly not a crime. He needed to put his paranoia on hold if he wanted to move on and be a good father for Henry.

He was so lost in thought that he didn't see until he collided with someone and both of them were sprawled on the ground. He looked up and his breath caught as it was Emma. He smiled. "We really needed to stop meeting like this."

She was as surprised as him. "Neal..are you OK? Your hands are bleeding."

He looked at his hands and was surprised that they indeed were. He was too excited to see her and forgot about the pain. He must have scratched them when he tried to break his fall. "They're just scratches. It's nothing compared to getting shot." Or Neverland, he added internally. He tried to grin at her.

"It's not funny, Neal. Not after your recent near-death-experiences. Let's go to Granny's so I can inspect and clean them up."

"How about you?" He went to have a peek at her hands.

She rolled her eyes. "I'm fine." She dragged him into the diner despite his protest.

She requested antibiotics and butterfly bandages. She cleaned up his wounds, applied antibiotic, and covered them in bandages.

He looked at her in tears. She saw that and asked, "What's wrong? Don't be such a baby. I don't think it hurts that much."

He shook his head. "No, it's not that. This reminded me of our Portland days. When it was us against the world. When we took care of each other and we were all we had."

She was shocked to hear his answer. She was about to respond then suddenly she looked guarded. "Yes, it was all in the past so I don't want to talk about it."

"I'm so sorry. I really shouldn't have left you."

"As I said, don't talk about that. I'm famished. I think I can take all the specials today."

"Emma, don't avoid the topic. I meant what I said on the beach. I've always felt sorry that I left you. Even now."

"I know. It happened. It's in the past. Time to move on."

"But if you are still angry with me that means you haven't moved on." Suddenly he realized something. "You've been avoiding me since the time I got shot. I just came one hour earlier today to the diner. In the past three days I've gone around midday. So you came one hour earlier to avoid me."

She avoided looking at him. "I don't know what you're talking about. I come here anytime I can."

"No, you don't. I asked Ruby when she came to talk to me. She said you always come around midday. That's why I have offered to get lunch for my dad every day at noon. I wanted to talk to you. On the first day, I thought I saw your shadow dashing out when I came in." He looked at Emma and saw that she hid her face in her hands so he knew he was on the right track. "So you've been avoiding me by coming in earlier. I just happen to meet you by chance today."

She looked at him pleadingly. "Neal, I'm sorry, I'm still not ready to talk. I still don't know how to sort out my feelings and reactions."

Suddenly he felt like a heavy lead had been dropped into his stomach. "You still hate me and blame me, don't you? I still hate myself too. All those bad things wouldn't have happened to you if I hadn't left you that day in Portland. It's all my fault."

He forced himself to get up and walked through the door. He ignored Emma calling his name and asked him to calm down and sit. Once he was out, he just ran through the less crowded path. He kept running and ended up in the wood. The forest suddenly looked dark and bleary. He didn't care and kept running. Perhaps he could run out of Storybrooke or perhaps even out of breath. Then perhaps the world would be better off without him.

Suddenly he was tackled from behind. He was face down and someone pressed against his back and legs. He suddenly started to see red. He felt like he was back in Neverland with the Lost Boys and fought for his life. So he tried to kick his assailant so he could get up and run.

The attacker didn't give up and kept pressing. Finally, his red started to fade and he heard his name being called repeatedly. "Neal, you're safe, you're safe." Suddenly he lost his urge to fight and just stayed still. The person flipped his body gently. He finally could see who had tackled him. It's Emma! He doesn't understand.

She kept saying soothingly. "You're safe, you're safe. You're not in Neverland."

Finally his wits returned. He realized Emma was covered in some bruises and dirt which must be his doing. "I'm so sorry, Emma. I don't want to hurt you but I end up hurting you more."

"Not your fault, not your fault. I didn't know the extent of your trauma. I don't really understand what you yelled about but you mentioned Peter Pan and Neverland. That's why I tried to say you're safe and not in Neverland. Do you want to just sit and talk?" He nodded. She offered her hand which he took. She pulled him up into sitting position and held both of his hands in hers.

"I wanted to ask you about Neverland and Peter Pan." She saw him winced. "…but I guess that is not a priority for now." He nodded. "I'm so sorry that I didn't realize the extent of your trauma. I was too preoccupied with my own worry about what I'd do if I met you after our admission at the portal and at the possibility of losing you again. I didn't realize you have your own worries and fears. I'm sorry."

He took a few deep breaths to calm down. He finally said, "It's OK, Emma. I over reacted. I seem to do it often lately."

"It's OK. It's part of your symptoms. You can't help it."

"Yes, but I cause other people to panic and worry."

"Please stop worrying about what other people think over things you can't control."

"I'm sorry."

"Also please stop apologizing for things you can't control."

"I'm so…"

"That's better. Like I said, I was too blinded with my own worry to realize about yours. That was careless of me. I'm sorry." He gave her an attempt of a smile. "And don't laugh. This is a legitimate apology as I was in control and I could see you anytime but I avoided you, even when I knew you were looking for me. Henry, my mom, even Whale and Red have been hinting so."

"You don't have to see me if you don't want to."

"The problem is I actually really want to. I was just too afraid how I would react when I saw you. I was afraid I might hate you even though what you did was so that I could fulfill my destiny. Do you know how I felt when I bumped into you quite literally earlier?"

He shook his head. Too afraid she might say something that he didn't want to hear.

"I felt excited. I realized that I truly missed you. Asking how you were from others is different from seeing you myself. I was glad and relieved that you were OK." She paused. "Well, at least physically."

"Thanks, Emma. So you didn't hate me."

"No, I could never hate you. Even when I was in jail and wanted to hate you. I kept thinking there must be a reason why you left me. And now I know. How could I hate you?"

He avoided looking at her eyes and stared at the grass in front of him. "You should. I left you. I hate myself for that."

She grabbed his chin and directed it at her. She held his hands again. "That's the problem. You hate yourself. That's why you keep having these problems. Even if I forgive you, it still doesn't matter if you don't forgive yourself."

"How could I? I should've stayed with you at that time."

"I thought you had gone through this with Archie. You did your best with the information you had."

"How did you know what I talked about with Archie? Wasn't there supposed to be patient-doctor confidentiality?"

She smiled. "Not in Storybrooke, especially not to the sheriff."

He raised his eyebrows. "I see, abusing your power. I wouldn't have thought you'd do that."

"I can see that you're getting better with your lame joke. Anyway, I read your transcript."

He blushed at that because they had talked mostly about Emma. "Oh no!"

"Neal Cassidy being shy. That's a first. I should take a picture as proof and blackmail material." To his horror, she indeed took pictures of him blushing with matted hair tangled with grass, twigs, and what-not.

She put her phone back inside her pocket. "OK, back to business. Although you shouldn't have done so, but I understand why you must do that."

"But do you forgive me?"

"To be honest, I'm not 100% there yet but I'm getting there. You should start to forgive yourself too. It'd help us immensely so we don't need to constantly worry about you."

"I'm sorry." He quickly lowered his head in embarrassment.

"I love it when you're being all shy. Don't feel sorry that you said I'm sorry. I know it's your habit."

"How? I repeatedly think about the wrong things I've done in my life."

It's her turn to raise her eyebrows. "How many wrong things have you done in your life? Don't tell me you are secretly a serial killer?"

"Leaving you twelve years ago. Not coming to look for you after the curse broke…and... and…"

"See, those are only two. We've covered the first one. Good question. Why didn't you come to look for me after the curse broke?"

"I was too afraid that you had moved on since it had been twelve years. I was too afraid that I'm not worthy of your love and forgiveness. I guess I'm just a coward like my father."

"Really, Neal? Those are valid concerns. Other people have those concerns too. While it would have helped if you had come after the curse was broken, I'm not one to talk. I didn't want to help Henry when he first came to find me. I thought I was not worthy of his love. So I understand where you're coming from. Especially with your abandonment issues with your parents."

"Thank you. I wish I could tell myself that instead of hearing it from you."

"Of course,I was the wise one in our operations in Portland, remember? But seriously, I think you've tried to make up for your mistakes. Although I didn't get the twenty thousand, I got your car and this lovely pendant. Those were all the possessions you had."

He nodded and kept quiet as he didn't know what to say.

"Besides, you've been trying to be the best father you can be since the minute you met Henry. Do you remember what you said in the portal before you released my hand?"

He tried to wrack his brain. He was still fuzzy with the exact details of what happened. He was pretty sure it was not "I love you too" that Emma meant. He shook his head.

"You said don't let Henry grow up like we did. That was very big of you to sacrifice your own life so Henry wouldn't be parentless, although there is of course Regina. But you got big parenting points for that. Although, please don't make sacrificing your own life a habit. I don't want to make losing you a habit. It's bad for skin complexions."

"I'm sorry," he said automatically.

"OK, that sorry I can accept because you chose to sacrifice yourself. Did you know how scared I was at the portal? Did you know you actually stopped breathing and I needed to revive you?"

He felt cold with dread. "No, no one told me about that. Thank you for not giving up on me!"

"Me, give up? Never. Anyway, I'm serious, Neal. Please don't do anything stupid like sacrificing yourself when there is another option. I know there was no other option at the portal and I need to wrap up my mind to forgive you."

"Sorry."

"Enough of that. Do you feel better now?"

He tried to analyze how he felt. Surprisingly he felt much better than he had felt before he bumped into Emma. He looked around at his surroundings and saw it was colorful and beautiful again. "Yes, I don't know whether that was because I met you or because I talked to you."

"I think it's both."

"Thank you, Emma, for helping me and tackling me today. And for reviving me!"

"Anytime! No, wait. If you don't sacrifice yourself all the time, I won't need to revive you. I really don't want to make it a habit, otherwise I'll haunt your ghost."

He softly chuckled at that.

"But if you want me to tackle you anytime, I'm pleased to do that. Before I forget, I need to thank you too."

"For what?"

"For saving my life at the portal. Otherwise we wouldn't be here."

He just remembered it. "Oh, that."

"Is that your only reaction? 'Oh, that?'"

"I don't know what to say. You're welcome?"

"That's better. No, what I want to say is that you should focus on the good deeds you have done and don't dismiss other people's gratitude. I heard that even Dr Whale was thanking you. He was pretty heartless in general but he went to thank you so he must have liked you."

He shrugged. "Perhaps?"

"See, that's the problem. When people compliment or say nice things to you, you don't take it. People like you and appreciate you. You just kept thinking about the bad things and kept punishing yourself. You should replace the negative thoughts with positives ones. Oh god, I sound like Dr Phil now." She made a face. "I'm going to kill Mary Margaret for tuning into that channel."

He laughed. "So it's mom or Mary Margaret depending on convenience? Do you call your dad Prince Charming?"

"Shut up, Mr. Son-of-Rumpelstiltskin. But seriously, you know I'm not one to talk at great length, but I've talked more today than I have in the past month, so you should appreciate that!"

That's true for Emma so he thanked her. "Thank you for everything!" He realized how close they were sitting; he could count her eyelashes and see how green her eyes are. Their hands were even still intertwined. Suddenly he couldn't help the urge and kissed her on the cheek. She didn't push back so that was a plus. He hugged her and she hugged him back. He buried his head at the crook of her neck. They were hugging each other for a while. Two lost children, who found each other, lost each other, and found each other again.

After what might be ten or twenty minutes, no one was counting, he finally released his hug. "Thank you, Emma. For everything!"

"You've said that."

"I know but I still want to say it."

"Thank you too! We wouldn't be here if it were not for you and your stupid noble idea to sacrifice yourself."

"I'm sorry." He earned two punches for saying that.

"Should we go back to the Granny's? I'm famished."

"Sure."

"Are you still going to swordplay with Henry tomorrow?"

"I've promised him. I don't want to break a deal."

"You know that you really sound like your father."

"I am his son."

"Sure, you said that NOW when it's convenient. Anyway, you hurt your hands so it's best not to swordplay. Maybe you could go on a picnic with him."

"That's an excellent idea with the good weather."

"Of course, because it's my idea" He rolled his eyes. "I'm sure Mary Margaret would only be too happy to prepare the picnic for you."

"I don't want to impose on her."

"No, she really thrives on doing that, especially for Henry."

"If you insist. Are you sure you don't want to join?"

"Tempting, but no. I actually have tons of paperwork when I get back to my office."

"Yuck."

"Just wait until you get a job here. I want to see what you will do. And no hotwiring cars."

"No, I've given that up a long time ago. You know that."

"Yes, your escape from the hospital reminded me vividly about that."

"I'm sorry."

"Stop saying it."

"So…"

"Let's just go and eat."

"Sure."

Although Belle and his father would be famished because of his delay, he was sure they would understand. He didn't expect Emma to forgive him, even she admitted she hadn't completely forgiving him, but it was getting there. He couldn't expect anything better. He was looking forward to the picnic tomorrow with Henry.

Chapter Text

Henry was glad to be able to spend time with his father, Grandpa Stiltskin (as he called him in his mind), and Belle. He'd like for Emma to join but she was busy doing whatever sheriffing duty there was to do in this small town but Henry felt that Emma still avoided Neal despite their talk the previous day.

Neal had wanted to swordplay with him but he adamantly refused seeing that both of his hands were bandaged. He joked that they were only flesh wounds and he didn't have much chance to be his dad. But Henry didn't want his father to hurt himself more than he already had. He suggested a picnic instead.

Grandpa Stiltskin seemed to jump at the chance to spend time with his family. Even Grandma Snow said that she would prepare the salad for them. As for Belle, she did the practical thing and just ordered sandwiches and burgers with some condiments for the picnic. He caught Bellelooking meaningfully at Grandpa Stiltskin when she said condiment. Adults were weird.

They had their picnic in a park not far from Emma's office. The weather was surprisingly nice today after a few days of cold spell. They didn't need to wear multiple layers today. Neal still dressed with his hoodie to Grandpa Stiltskin's chagrin but Henry himself started to imitate how his father dressed as it looked comfortable. He even matched the color of Neal's hoodie. Grandpa Stiltskin himself still wore his immaculate three-piece suit. Henry believed his grandpa didn't have any casual clothes and even his sleepwear must be in three pieces and extremely expensive. Belle was dressed in a blue dress with a purple overcoat. Henry thought his grandpa and Belle were matches made in heaven as they didn't seem to do casual.

"And Emma said she hated chocolate with cinnamon. You weren't listening to a word I said, were you?" Neal pulled at his left ear playfully to break him out of his reverie.

"No, I listened to every word you said about your first date with Emma."

"Then you would know she never hated chocolate. And we drank coffee."

There was no getting away with it this time. "Sorry, Dad. I was so happy to be able to spend time with you I got distracted." Which was true. Henry was so happy that he could finally spend time with his father without any worry of him getting hurt physically or emotionally.

Neal looked much better than last week. He was still pale and gaunt but at least he looked much better than when he was in the hospital or even in Grandpa Stiltskin's house. Archie said getting back to doing normal activities should help tremendously. Outdoor air didn't hurt either.

"Sure, buddy." Neal rolled his eyes at him.

"For what it's worth, it's a fine story. I guess we, the Stiltkins, could be very romantic." Grandpa Stiltskin added with a wink to Belle.

Belle swatted at him playfully. "Well, at least it's better than our first date."

"You should tell us that," Neal pleaded.

Grandpa Stiltskin blushed. "Well, it's time to eat. I'm famished."

"Me too!" Henry added.

"But you just ate two sandwiches," Neal admonished.

"Dad, I'm growing. I will be taller than you in one year's time."

"Let the boy eat, Bae. You kept getting hungry at his age too."

"But why wasn't I taller with so much food? Not counting Neverland of course."

Henry sensed his father's unease. He quickly re-opened the picnic basket. "What do you want, Dad?"

"Is there any pumpkin pie?"

"Yes, there is."

Neal seemed to perk up at that. "But how?"

Belle smiled. "I asked Rumple what you liked. He said you liked nearly everything except for mayo. And your favorite is pumpkin pie. So I ordered one for you."

Neal hugged Belle. "You will be the best stepmom ever. Don't let her get away from you, Papa."

"I hear you, Son, I won't." He stole a quick kiss at her.

"Ewww!" Neal and Henry said simultaneously. They realized that and grinned.

Grandpa Stiltskin just rolled his eyes while Belle beamed at them.


All too soon, Grandpa Stiltskin and Belle needed to go. Belle said she needed to reopen the library even with minimal number of patrons but they were loyal. Grandpa Stiltskin said some people wanted to have a look at some antique butter churner. Henry wasn't sure whether it came with the curse, but it didn't seem likely. Why would anyone buy a butter churner? Neal wanted to help his father but Grandpa Stiltskin said it was a nice weather and it was best if he and Henry continued with the picnic. It was a simple transaction. Besides, the weather was nice and there were still some left over as they brought more than enough food for four of them, even with Henry's bottomless stomach.

Neal asked Henry what he wanted to do. Henry said anything he liked. Neal wanted to draw more of Henry's pictures as he never drew him outdoor and asked him to pose. He kept trying to peek at his drawing but Neal could sense every time he tried to peek and covered it quickly.

"Dad, I wanted to see."

"It would look better when you saw the final product. Trust me!"

That was twenty minutes ago and as Neal was still too engrossed in highlighting his drawing, Henry looked around. He noticed a red car with open roof approaching. It stopped around 200 yards from them. The passenger opened the door and walked toward them. It was weird because Henry had never seen this guy before. When the guy was close by he produced a gun. Henry was shocked while Neal was still unaware, too engrossed in his drawing.

"Dad!"

"Five more minutes and it's all yours."

"But…"

"You might want to listen to the boy," the guy in glasses said. Henry noticed he had a British accent.

Neal looked up just in time to have a gun put in front of his face. He flinched at the sight of the gun but quickly hid it but Henry noticed it. He tried to move in front of Henry but the guy said, "No funny business. Get in the car now, or I'll bring the boy along. We don't care which way as long as we get what we're looking for. Don't be heroic because the guy over there also has a gun and he won't hesitate to shoot the boy."

Henry squinted and saw that the driver indeed had a gun.

Neal lifted both hands in the sign of surrender. "I'll come along willingly as long as you don't harm the boy." He then turned toward Henry and said, "Buddy, I'm sorry I can't accompany you but I need to go with them. You run to Emma."

"But Dad, I don't want to lose you again."

"I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Just run. …I love you. Please tell Emma and my Papa and Belle that I love them too." Henry noticed that Neal's voice was breaking. He just made the resolve not to look back and just walked toward the car.

"I love you too, Dad." He wasn't sure whether Neal could hear him at this time.

Henry got up and ran until he was out of view. He peeped behind a tree and saw that Neal walked in front of the guy with glasses. Neal opened the door and sat behind the driver. His captor then sat next to him. He still pointed the gun at Neal. Once they were all in, the car sped up toward the town line. When it was out of view, Henry ran toward the Sheriff's station.

Chapter Text

He needed to focus on driving quickly out of this town. Magic still made him nervous even if it was not new to him anymore. The faster they got out of town the better.

His brother could handle their captive. They had a practiced run about it. He tried not to use the captive's name. Less guilt if they didn't humanize him. They put the prisoner behind him while his brother sat next to their prisoner with a gun. He tried not to think too much about what they had done- separating a young boy from his father. The needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few.

"Inject yourself with this!" He heard his brother order their captive.

"What's wrong with you and injections? Don't you have any originality? Isn't cuffing me enough?"

"We know you were an ex-thief. We are not risking you escaping custody. You can choose injection or I can shoot your legs so you can't run."

Listening to the stern voice of his brother, he couldn't help but smile. Their practice and hard work of the last few weeks paid off. Soon they will have achieved their goal. He could focus on getting out of town now and tune out what happened in the back.

Around ten minutes later, his brother gently hit the back of his seat. He looked back via the rear-view mirror. Their captive was asleep with his head rolled back. He looked so peaceful and young when asleep. Also strangely familiar. He felt like they had met before but he shook it off. It was impossible. They had never crossed paths before. It was also not the time to get sentimental. He saw that the handcuff was still intact and breathed a sigh of relief that he didn't even remember holding. He signaled a thumbs up to his brother. His brother also looked more relaxed now for the first time today.

They were approaching the sign of "Leaving Storybrooke." He slowed down because he heard this place was accident prone because of the curse. He wasn't the least bit surprised when his car suddenly stopped just before they crossed the line. It was as if the engine just died.

He declared, "I will check the engine."

"Are you sure you can handle it? I'm more experienced in this."

"I'm fine." He gestured at their prisoner. "You make sure he doesn't escape. He is our top priority."

The drug would last at least eight hours. They will have reached their destination by then. But you can never be too careful.

He went to unlatch the hood of the car. Steam billowed out of it. It was so cliché. After a few perfunctory checks, he discovered a leaking hose from the radiator. The reservoir was bone dry. Luckily he had jugs of water in the trunk from their stakeouts. Hopefully he had enough to keep the car going until they could get the hose fixed.

As he circled the car to fetch the water, he found himself faced with the muzzle of a gun. He looked up to see the angry eyes of their prisoner staring down at him.

Their ex-prisoner ordered "Don't move!"

He noticed that his brother was fast asleep with a syringe sticking out of his neck.

He couldn't help but ask, "How did you do that?"


Around thirty minutes earlier

Neal made sure Henry was out of sight before focusing on these two guys. Once he saw that Henry had turned at the corner, he breathed out air that he didn't even realize he was holding.

He also just realized he was shaking. Get a hold of yourself. You have faced worse than this. However, the gun pointed at him didn't help. He had been shot merely weeks ago! He tried to take a steady breath. Just play along with them until you get your opportunity.

It didn't help that after two minutes of driving, the guy with the gun threw a pair of handcuffs and motioned for him to cuff himself. He could try to fight back with the chance of getting shot or he could jump out from the speeding car. The chance of getting injured from jumping out of a speeding car was really high. These guys could just drive back and retrieve his body. If he got injured, the chance of escaping was even less. So he needed to buy time and just did what they ordered. So he cuffed himself.

He rolled his eyes when the guy with the gun, he mentally called him Gun for short, produced a syringe from his pocket and tossed it in his direction. It dropped on his lap. These guys must have come from the same school of villainy as Tamara. A cold dread suddenly came over him. These guys had been following him. He had spotted this car the night he ran into the Cannery, although he had paid no heed at that time in his agitated state. He also saw this car every time he walked from his father's place to Granny's the last few days when he was allowed to go out of the house. And he thought he was being paranoid!

"Inject yourself with this!" Gun ordered him unnecessarily. As if the syringe could be used for other purposes!

He couldn't hold back his retort. "What's wrong with you and injections? Don't you have any originality? Isn't cuffing me enough?"

"We know you were an ex-thief. We are not risking you escaping custody. You can choose injection or I can shoot your legs so you can't run."

OK, so they had researched him. Of course they did. It was just his luck. On the first chance picnicking with his family too! Get a hold of yourself, Baelfire. You have managed it so far. You can do it!

He was shaking when he took the syringe. At least he didn't fake his shaking. Damn PTSD! He dropped it on the floor at the furthest corner from Gun who ordered him to pick it up. He squatted and made sure his body blocked Gun's view. He picked up the dropped syringe and switched it with the one he had put in his hoodie's pocket. He could have done it in a matter of milliseconds but his cuffed hands slowed him down by at least twenty milliseconds.

"Don't get any ideas. Now sit back, let me see your hands."

He sat back up slowly. There was really no need to make this process any easier for his kidnappers. Besides he really hated syringes. He showed his cuffed hands to Gun. His right hand was holding his own syringe.

"Inject the syringe in your neck." His hand still shook when he tried to find a vein on his neck. Now or never! He gritted his teeth as he emptied the syringe into his vein. It hurt! It really hurt! He took out the syringe and threw it in the direction of Gun. Gun seemed to breathe a sigh of relief after seeing he injected himself. Neal didn't know that he was that reputable that people took great precaution around him. Who are these guys?

Now it was the time for the fake sleeping. He had a lot of practice in Neverland. He leaned back and put his head on the back of the chair. He made a show to try to keep his eyes open for a few times but couldn't. Finally he closed his eyes and slowed down his breathing. He even allowed his mouth to open a little to complete the illusion.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Neal lived by that principle after every shitty thing that happened to him since his father let him go through the portal. He was devastated that Tamara nearly got to him using a syringe. He had sworn to himself never to be a prisoner again since Neverland. He'd rather die. He needed to be prepared. After all he still carried a lighter around even though he didn't smoke in case Pan's shadow came after him. Adding a syringe was nothing. Obtaining one without suspicion given his PTSD and status as the son of the Dark One in Storybrooke was another matter.

Opportunity knocked when Victor had come to visit him. Victor mentioned about needing to learn to inject himself as it was less painful. He didn't take the offer seriously at first because he was sure his father had cured most of his injury using magic.

A few days later it suddenly clicked. Victor could teach him how to inject himself and provided him with a clean needle. The doctor didn't mind providing him with needles and teaching him how to use them because they had become fast friends.

They had bonded through the fates of being dragged to another world completely different from their own not by their own choices. Besides, neither of them were bona fide fairy tale characters. Victor would be the first to get offended if he was mistaken for any fairy tale characters. With the exception of Rumplestiltskin, who was a master manipulator, Victor thought these people had rather simple thought processes. Everything could be cured by true love kisses, rainbows, unicorns, curses, and magic. He was rather proud to come from a legend, not fairy tales, in this world. Baelfire himself was not really a fairy tale character. Neal assured Whale that Disney would never make any movies or stories about him. The son of the Dark One was not interesting. Disney was only interested in princesses, villains, and the vapid princes who married those princesses.

Victor had taught him how to find veins on his hands, chest, and neck, just in case. They didn't really spell out loud what the "case" might be. The doctor had also warned him that if he wanted to carry a dummy syringe, it was best to fill it with saline solution, not water. Contrary to popular belief, it was dangerous to inject oneself with water. Neal was thankful that he had actually asked a proper doctor for advice. He also hadn't expected he would put his newfound knowledge to use so soon!

As he closed his eyes, he focused on his hearing to get to know what was going on. They were still speeding. Suddenly, the car slowed down and then completely stopped. He took a peek when Gun talked with Driver. So they were at the "Leaving Storybrooke" sign. He was not surprised. This place seemed to be more accident prone than the Bermuda Triangle. He then realized perhaps only Whale or Emma would appreciate his joke. Focus, Baelfire! Don't joke until you are out of danger. You made a promise to return to Henry.

So he was an important cargo for them. He wondered why. As soon as he heard the hood of car being opened, he took another peek. Gun's attention was at Driver. Thankfully his gun was not trained on him. He quickly produced the syringe with the drug and plunged it at the vein of Gun's neck while his left hand covered Gun's mouth to muffle any sound. Thankfully, the drug worked really fast and Gun started to doze off and slept. Neal would send a fruit basket or two to Whale. He quickly took the gun and put it on the other side so that Gun needed to pass him to reach it. Just in case!

He found the paper clip at his breast pocket. He quickly straightened it up and used it to work on the cuff. He kept glancing at the hood while he worked. He saw that Driver was about to walk back pass the driver seat. Just two more turns then the cuff was open. He quickly grabbed the gun and stood up from the back seat. He masked his shaking hands by glaring. At least his anger was real as he really was not sure whether he could fake that. He got really tired of being a pawn in other people's game.

He was satisfied by the shocked look of Driver. "Don't move," he said and realized that was rather unnecessary. He couldn't blame Gun now, who had barked obvious orders at him. Must be from the nervousness of holding a gun.

"How did you do that?" the Driver asked.

He couldn't help but smirk. Again he was not a super villain or even a plain villain. He wouldn't narrate how he did something. He answered casually, "I can assure you it was not magic. I'm the one with the gun so I should be the one ordering you. Now cuff your hand with this." He threw the cuff at Driver. Driver looked scandalized but followed his order. Payback is a bitch!

"Now slide to the passenger's seat and don't move." Neal opened the back door, came out and moved to sit at the driver seat, all the while the gun still trained on Driver.

He was a bit more relaxed now as things started to be under his control. Constant vigilance! A voice that annoyingly sounded like Peter Pan reminded him. Since when did Pan watch Harry Potter? Focus, Baelfire! Ask them the important questions. "Who are you?"

"I'm John, that's my brother Michael."

"Why do you want to capture me?"

"To ask the whereabouts of our colleague, Tamara and also to get our sister back."

"Isn't Tamara with the Federal Police?"

"No. She disappeared as soon as she was asked to retrieve you."

So either Emma or his dad had been lying to him. He started to feel sick. He was not a fan of Tamara, not by a long shot. But he was against killing. He needed to know more information. "I was not aware of that. What have I got to do with your sister?"

"Our sister was held by Peter Pan. We needed someone who had escaped Neverland. Your name came up. You could be our guide there. Besides, your father would be more inclined to help us if we have you."

He gritted his teeth. So they really had come from the same mold as Tamara. However, one thing was different. They wanted to rescue their sister. "What is your sister's name?"

"Wendy. Wendy Darling."

He dropped his gun involuntarily. Luckily it didn't go off. He didn't expect this! "John? John Darling? I'm Baelfire. I'm sorry that I injected Michael. I didn't know!" He went to hug an equally shocked John Darling. They released the hug after a few seconds.

"Baelfire, how you grew up! I should have known. You looked familiar but again you used the name Neal. The Home Office didn't tell us about that."

"I guess they only give select information." He suddenly felt a cold sweat start to creep in. "Did you say Peter Pan has Wendy? How?"

"After the shadow took you, Wendy went to Neverland to find you. She never came back. We went to follow and Pan used her as a leverage to order us around."

The cold sweat had started to spread to his whole body. He started to feel numb. All for nothing! All for nothing! His sacrifices so far were for nothing. He couldn't help his father from the dark curse. He couldn't help Emma to be reunited with her family. He thought at least he could keep Wendy's family intact. But it was not the case. It was all for nothing. And it was all his fault!

He heard John's voice from very far away calling his name. He would have been better off staying in his cocoon of guilt and hatred. Why shouldn't he hate himself? The world must really hate him now.

Chapter Text

Rumple and Emma tried to use to globe Cora gave to find Neal only to have it pointed it right outside. They saw two men outside and Neal sat in the car. Emma stopped Rumple from trashing the guys but asked them to tell why they took Neal.

The two men introduced themselves as John and Michael Darlings. They were brothers. They said they wanted Rumple and the people in Strorybrooke’s help to rescue their sister Wendy in Neverland. They wanted to use Neal as leverage so Rumple would help them. They didn’t expect Neal to trick them. Rumple was proud of his son.

They were surprised that Neal didn’t step out of the car. Neal just muttered “All my fault,” and wouldn’t respond to anything people said. John told Rumple that he told him about Tamara’s disappearance. Rumple punched John but Emma quickly put a stop to that before further damage was done.

Neal refused to talk or even eat for the next two days. On the third day, Emma said perhaps if they went to rescue Wendy, Neal wouldn’t feel guilty and would come out of his cocoon. Since there was no other way, Rumple agreed.

Rumple went to “talk” to Neal and proposed that they went to rescue Wendy. He said he would also release the spell he put on Tamara once they rescued Wendy. Neal nodded which was the first positive response they ever got him in the last couple of days.

A few hours later, Neal went to talk to his dad about leading the Wendy rescue operation. That was quite an improvement from him refusing to talk. However, Rumple didn’t want him to go. He said he had the magic so he would lead the operation. He didn’t want Neal to be in danger. His son was adamant because he said he was the only person here who knew Neverland well. Besides, Wendy was her friend and it was because of him she went to Neverland in the first place. Rumple knew that all the people in his blood line were stubborn so he agreed but he told his son that he would take care of Peter Pan.

Emma was surprised that the first person Neal enlisted to help was Ruby. Neal said that being a werewolf Ruby had the skillset to track Wendy and also the necessary strengths to fight the Lost Boys. Victor actually wanted to come as well but Neal said Storybrooke needed their only doctor.

Emma naturally wanted to come as well. She wanted to have words with Peter Pan who wanted to kidnap Henry. Besides, she thought that if she came along, she could keep Neal safe as the guy seemed to be a trouble magnet. Neal agreed because he knew she could take care of herself.

John and Michael wanted to come and would not take no as an answer because it was their sister. Neal agreed but told them to follow their instruction.

At the last minute, Hook volunteered to take them there because he felt he owed it to Baelfire after abandoning him in Neverland.

Emma told Regina and her parents to take good care of Henry while she was gone. She also asked Henry not to get into any trouble and listen to Snow, Charming, and Regina. Henry asked both of his parents to be careful because he still wanted them to play a happy family in Storybrooke. Neal just rubbed his son’s hair while Emma rolled her eyes.

Rumple brought the Pandora’s Box with him. He planned the operation with Neal. Rumple also provided each of them with a stick that could stun people upon touch. That was Neal’s idea after he watched Harry Potter with Henry. He said that the Lost Boys were misguided so they shouldn’t hurt them, just incapacitate.

They departed on the day it was full moon at night. Hook used the magic bean to sail them to Neverland. Upon arrival, the group lead by Neal went to find Tinkerbell. They could find her within half an hour after landing because Neal knew Tink well.

Tink agreed to be their tour guide as long as they would bring her back to Storybrooke as well.

So Rumple and Neal went to find Peter Pan while the rest went to find Wendy lead by Emma.

Rumple lured Peter Pan away from the rest which was easy because Pan was obsessed with him. While Peter’s attention was on Rumple, Neal stepped out from the shadow. Before Peter could react, he opened the Pandora’s Box and trapped Peter with it.

With Tink as a guide and Ruby’s extra senses, they could easily track and rescue Tink. The rest managed to stun the Lost Boys. Wendy was hesitant at first to trust them but Michael and John managed to convince her they were her brothers, her older younger brothers.

Rumple used the spells to carry all the Lost Boys to the ship. They sailed back to Storybrooke.

Rumple planted false memories at the Lost Boys to make them forget their time in Neverland. The Charmings, Neal, and even Regina helped to find home for them in Storybrooke.

Rumple released Tamara from the spell and dropped her off Storybrooke with Emma’s help. He erased her memory for the place and also her hatred for magic. Neal was grateful for his father’s act. His father had really changed.

Rumple released Pan from Pandora’s Box. With the magic dying in Neverland, he reverted back to Malcolm. Rumple removed his memory and supplanted a new memory for him a deadbeat father who tried to make amend to Rumple. He let Malcolm stayed with him. Belle and Neal were worried. Rumple said it was better off for Malcolm to stay with him so he could keep an eye on him.

Rumple, Regina, and Emma ensure there was no portal from another world in Storybrooke and kept the portal beans well guarded. There was really no need for an extra threat every other day at Storybrooke.

Neal got a small house of his own with his father’s help as the only realtor in town. He lived next to the Darlings who still retained their memories. Tink decided to be Neal’s housemate to Emma’s consternation. Neal teased whether she was jealous. Emma said it was because fairies couldn’t be trusted. Neal said Tink was a good friend. Besides, it seemed that Tink was interested in Archie. They didn’t know what Archie’s preference in partner was but he got really close with Tink so Emma really had nothing to worry about.

The first wedding after Emma came to town was surprisingly for Ruby and Victor. Emma didn’t realize that they were together. Neal teased that her superpower apparently failed her again.

Ruby chose Belle as her maid of honor. Victor appointed Neal as his best man as apparently he hardly had any friend—he was not the only one as most people in Storybrooke were not friends because of the curse and perhaps the lifelong prejudiced carried from Fairy Tale Land. Neal made sure that would change in the future.

At the wedding, Emma noticed Belle’s engagement ring and she told Emma in secret that Rumple proposed last night. Belle said that meant she soon would be Emma’s mother-in-law. Emma quickly sputtered that she was not together with Neal. Belle just smiled knowingly.

For a couple who hardly had any friends, nearly all Storybrooke people turned up at the wedding. Emma was surprised to see Regina brought Hook—er, Killian, she still needed to get used to call him by his name—as a date. Who would have thought the Evil Queen and Hook would be a good match. She smiled when she saw Grumpy brought Nova as a date. Mulan even turned up with someone she introduced as Dorothy.

Snow asked Emma when her turn would be. Emma scoffed and said traditional wedding was not her style. Snow didn’t miss the look Emma gave to Neal when she said it and smiled inwardly. Neal didn’t notice as he was nervous about his best man speech but Henry also caught it. Henry winked at her grandma.

The wedding was considered a success, not only by Storybrooke’s standard aka no villains turning up to cancel the wedding or no curses befalling the residents, but also by normal (whatever that means) standard. Since then, Tink and Archie’s wedding planning business flourished because apparently Fairy Tale People liked to have fairy tale weddings.

At the next Thanksgiving Dinner, Henry Mills-Gold-Cassidy-Swan-Nolan looked around the dinner table and smiled. He wanted his birth mom when he went to find Emma but now he got a father who was together with Emma despite their constant denials but Henry knew they lied by the way they looked at each other, maternal grandparents, a paternal grandpa along with a new grandma, and even earned an ex-pirate stepfather who was together his adopted mom. He even had a great grandpa who didn’t remember he was evil. Well, no family was perfect but Henry wouldn’t have it any other way.