Disclaimer: Once Upon a Time? Ch-yeah, mine IN YOUR DREAMS.
Author's Note: So I wrote half of this right after the promotional pictures came out, spoiling that Emma would go overboard (and that clearly Charming would save her). But I didn't actually finish the story until today - after the premiere and second episode have already aired. Therefore you'll have to forgive me the inaccuracy of certain events, but I really wanted to do this scene my way. I hope you like how it came out. It should be noted that this is my first foray into Once Upon a Time fanfiction, eek. Drop me a line and let me know if I succeeded!
Mermaids, Moms, and Monikers, by AngelMoon Girl
It hits so quickly, there is barely time to process what has happened.
One moment Emma is clinging for dear life to a bollard at the front of the ship, the next, an immense wave is lashing with unquenchable fury at the bow of the Jolly Roger, and when the water clears there is nothing left in its wake. If Charming had so much as blinked, he would've missed the sight of his only child being tossed into the black mouth of the raging ocean, her fate lost to the fickle mercies of the mermaids that lurked beneath its depths.
She wasn't going to last long in these currents.
He is not the only one who has been keeping tabs on Emma since this blasted storm blew up out of nowhere, and the terror in Snow's voice makes his heart clench.
They seem to fall topside as a group, everyone craning for a glimpse of a blonde head bobbing atop choppy seas. Charming can hardly breathe as he realizes he is facing the prospect of losing his daughter for a second - no, third - time, the feel of a broken hat beneath scrambling fingers still fresh in his mind.
They'd had so little time together.
The wood of the railing is slippery, but solid. Charming leaps up onto it, his only lifeline a flimsy boltrope that has become partly detached from the sail during all the wind. He can taste flecks of salt on his lips already and knows the bothersome sensation will only intensify tenfold once he penetrates the surface, but none of this is more daunting than the thought of Emma out there alone. The man of fairytale legend gives nary a pause for thought before he is arching his body in preparation for a dive, until-
Something sharp, catching him right in the small of the back.
Charming hisses an expletive, whirling on the pirate with the hook currently embedded in his jacket, the pirate whose incessant lewdness this entire trip (mostly toward his daughter but Snow had received her fair share as well) had grated thin against the normally levelheaded prince's patience. 'Dislike' was a kind word for the emotion Charming generally experienced around this notorious womanizer of a captain.
"What the hell, Hook!"
"You need to stop and think rationally for a moment-"
"While my baby drowns!? If you think I'm willing to leave her to fend for herself out there-"
"Trust me when I say that the mermaids will drag you to your doom sooner than they'll welcome you with song. If you and your daughter want to return to this vessel alive ever again, you'll bloody well listen to me when I tell you jumping in without a plan is foolish." There is a ferocity to Hook's words that almost draws admiration out of Charming, and he nods grimly when Hook produces a much sturdier looking rope than the one to which he is presently tethered to. "In other words, we're doing this my way."
Charming does not argue; he is not so brash that he cannot accept the veracity of Hook's warning. There is only one thing that is important right now, and that is Emma.
The rope becomes a harness, and Charming has to admit that he feels a little more secure in his mission, in the recovery of Emma, with these three at his back. He knows Snow especially will move heaven and earth if need be, to bring her husband and daughter to safety. It is this overwhelming faith in the power of their love, their love that created such a perfect new person, that buoys Charming into action.
He feels Hook extricate his weapon that passed as a hand, and hears the captain marvel over the din of the downpour,
"That's a lot of gumption, mate."
"No," Charming replies, seeking out Snow, their eyes locking with the silent promise that he'll bring their baby home to her rightful place in her mother's arms. "That's being a father."
And then he pitches himself off the Jolly Roger and into an even more frightening unknown.
Hold on, Emma. Just hold on.
Cold. It's so cold. Charming can feel his mind trying to reorient itself after the shock of the drop in temperature couples with a drastic change in scenery. He begins kicking out, arms and legs working to full capacity as the current pulls him in what seems four directions at once. His eyes are burning with seawater, but Charming continues to concentrate them toward the great beyond, where it is all foam and whitecaps on an ebony canvas.
Where are you, Emma...?
It is as if his prayer somehow reaches the girl, creating an invisible link between them.
Twenty yards out, a head escapes the throes of the ocean, the body attached to it fighting for air as Emma braves a wave of tsunami-like proportions.
"Emma..." Charming begins to push himself harder, one hand reaching up to gesture wildly for her attention. "EMMA!"
Emma looks over just as the wave is gathering her up into its crest. He can see her mouthing his name before it takes her under, and Charming cries out. Her slender form gets wrenched this way and that, and the sight feeds his adrenaline, driving the prince forward. He hopes there is enough rope to provide him the leeway he needs. Luckily he isn't far now. But something... something is wrong.
Emma hasn't come up for oxygen yet, and the area whereabouts Charming assumes she should have landed is suddenly brighter with some underlying glow. He thinks he even spies a swash of silver in the shape of a fin. His heart catches in his throat.
And just like that, a flip is switched. Anger is so much easier than fear. Charming knows how to channel his anger; to make it a weapon. He is so close, he can see the aquatic hybrid now - hands all over Emma, keeping her waterlogged. She seems barely able to get a hand up to protect herself, and this is the figurative straw on the camel's back.
No one hurts his little girl and lives to get away with it.
I'm coming, Emma. Daddy's coming.
He roars louder than the explosion of thunder above them; louder than the screeching he hears the sickly creature making beneath the water. The woman turned fish startles as he plunges into her midst, fists flying and feet connecting with what Charming hopes are vital mermaid organs. He is cautious of injuring Emma, but even without her presence this is slow work, taking out a mermaid. They are nothing like the Ariels of either of his worlds. These creatures' sallow appearances clearly masked vicious resolve and deceptive strength, and right now it feels like four against one. The whipping tail does not make this any easier, either.
Emma's eyes are wide, fingers scrabbling at the mermaid keeping her captive. Charming can tell her body is beginning to scream for air, and with renewed desperation he manages to knock the sea monger a hard one. His punch is so powerful that it rents two pointy teeth straight out of her mouth while bending her nose (hopefully permanently) sideways. She lets loose an ungodly shriek of pain, releasing her hold on Emma, and Charming does not waste the opportunity to grab his daughter round the waist. He propels them skyward, but Emma is dead weight, her limbs weak and nearly useless as she tries to help. He knows she is dangerously close to unconsciousness.
Their much needed ascension is suddenly halted when Emma shouts in a bubbly gargle what sounds like "Dad!", and their bodies - or more specifically, hers - are jerked back down. Charming sees the furious mermaid has returned, one hand clutching at her twisted features while the other clambers at any piece of Emma she can get. He grits his teeth and without relinquishing his grip on Emma any, nails the mermaid once more in her wounded face, the proof of his success in the sharp crack! of boot on bone. The mermaid screams again, turning tail to dart off into the grey. Apparently the two humans just weren't worth the effort.
With that crisis temporarily diverted, Charming realizes he is facing an even greater, more pressing one -
He gurgles a sound of pure terror that only a parent can make, deep in his throat. The young woman in his arms has lost all color, and she hangs limp, peaceful features belying the peril she finds herself in. Charming forgets that he too is in dire need of oxygen; he forgets that his lungs are on fire and his eyes are popping and his head aches fit to burst - he begins shoving Emma up, up out of his hands and over his head. She had to reach salvation first. She had to have that first breath. It didn't matter what happened to him.
She would always come first.
It hits so quickly, there is barely time to prepare for the onslaught of emotion.
Snow feels herself begin to quake the second Emma and Charming's heads pop up from the churning mass. It starts out as a shiver deep in her bones; a shiver that is accompanied by tingling nerves and paresthesia-like pulsing. It is the sensation of waking up, regaining circulation, after being numb for too extended a period. Numb in a limbo that could've lasted minutes, could've lasted hours. All she knows is that her entire being had seemed to rest upon a great precipice the moment Emma went overboard and Charming followed, ready to topple either way - to earth or to oblivion - depending on how this rescue unfolded.
Tonight, her family would either be saved or it would come to ruin. There could be no in between.
Charming spits seawater from his mouth as he and Emma are tugged back to the ship, and Snow can see that he has tucked Emma beneath one arm while the other has a firm grip on the rope. Her daughter's blonde head lolls against his neck.
The shivering burgeons down the princess' spine to come wreak havoc on her knees, knocking them ruthlessly together. Snow is grateful when Hook finally takes over, shooing her and Regina away so that he can levy the sodden father and daughter back aboard.
Snow's heart is nearly beating out of her chest as she takes stumbling steps backward. The creaking of the makeshift pulley is loud in her ears, louder than the thunder. She can feel keenly the cold of the rain on her cheeks, but when Charming mounts the siding with her only child in tow, they become warm with tears. She can't hold herself up any longer. She has no strength left; the silently escaping tears may as well have been her lifeblood seeping forth. She will not breath until Emma does.
The fair-skinned, dark-haired mother sinks to the hull of the ship. Charming steadies himself on solid ground, his eyes only on Snow as seamlessly the man shifts Emma from over the shoulder to bridal style - no, infant style, for this cradling of precious cargo is far more reminiscent of events long past. Like some twisted parallel, Snow thinks, to that fateful evening when she both gained and lost a daughter.
Plaintively, the woman lifts her arms.
My baby. Bring me my baby.
Charming is as careful as he was the first time. He is mindful of his footfalls and carries Emma with tenderness, like a fragile swan with broken wings. Snow chokes on a whimper when Emma is finally placed in her arms, and she is struck by how still her child is. Emma had always been a fighter, never ceasing to stop moving, not even when she was in utero. From the moment that girl sprouted limbs, she announced her presence - and often. Snow remembered the strong morning kicks and the soft bedtime jabs, the pain always a blessed reassurance that her feisty little princess was alive and thriving.
"I know, darling," she used to murmur, placating her stomach with gentle patting. "Mama's here."
What she wouldn't give for a similar sign of hope.
"Emma," Snow moans, leaning over her daughter and stroking the blonde's ashen countenance. "Emma, please. Please come back to us."
Come back to Mama...
It hits so quickly, there is barely time to pull herself up.
Emma gags and splutters, the sensation of her stomach and throat contracting as salty water pours down her front rather sickening. For a while, she just wheezes, staring up at the clouded night sky and two misshapen blobs just outside her peripherals. Then the fog in her mind begins to clear, and she realizes that she is lying on the floor, but propped against something pliant. And, there are hands on her back... a lot of hands. One in particular is rubbing soothing circles as she relishes the return of fresh air. The blobs come closer.
She grimaces at the noise, now noticing that these hands are attached to the blobs, and that those blobs are not in fact shapeless entities, but her parents. Her very wet, very scared, very tearful parents.
"What, someone die?" the ever-sardonic blonde rasps. Snow White and Prince Charming look at each other and then at their daughter, a delayed bout of laughter issuing from those gathered, but it is a short and humorless mirth.
"Yes, someone nearly did... me," Snow growls playfully. "And if you ever pull that stunt again..."
Snow trails off, unable to finish the thought, so she settles for pulling Emma into a fierce embrace instead. Emma smiles. She does not have the will nor the desire to protest when the hug stretches on past the point of socially acceptable. It seems to her that Snow is content to simply hold her, listen to her breathe, and Emma - much to her surprise - enjoys the attention. It wasn't every day your parents brought you back from the brink of death.
Speaking of which...
"Dav... Dad?" Emma whispers, timidly. Charming's eyes snap to hers, and those brilliant blues so similar to her own widen with unspoken joy. This is only the second time that Emma has purposefully used the moniker, and though she's rolled it around in her brain for weeks now, it is only presently that the woman feels emboldened enough to pay the title homage. She can tell it is not for nothing: the man beside her is practically glowing. Give him a match and it'd light on the spot. "Thanks. For... you know... saving my life. Again."
"Anything for you, kiddo."
Emma blushes a heady incarnadine. "Kiddo? Don't you think that nickname is better suited for someone... younger?" She's about to say 'someone Henry's age', but mentioning Henry is too painful right now, so Emma opts for the former.
Charming chuckles. "Of course not. There are some people who will never outgrow being someone else's 'kiddo'."
And as his hand tousles Emma's hair and Snow's lips find Emma's forehead, the recently rescued Kiddo feels a flood of emotion rush over her sopping form, chasing out the chill with a warmth that emanated from the inside out.
So this is what it felt like to be loved unconditionally.