Fairy tales are true, and Storybrooke is the part of our world that proves it. Most of the fairy tale characters lived in a place called the Enchanted Forest, which existed in a parallel universe. An Evil Queen named Regina cast a curse to ensnare all her enemies and their kingdoms, steal their memories, and bring them into a world without magic. She did this first for her own selfish reasons, and secondly for an older evil magician called Rumplestiltskin, who was seeking to find his lost son Baelfire. The curse was broken and many adventures were had, but Regina and Rumple's selfish and self-serving natures haven't ever really changed. They are connected to their enemies through family ties, largely through a boy named Henry, whom Regina raised in Storybrooke. Henry is the son of Rumple's son Baelfire (called Neal in the world without magic) and Emma Swan, the daughter of Regina's enemies Snow White and Prince Charming. Henry has brought all of them together time and again, hoping to help them make themselves better people, but in the end, some people just cannot be changed.
Six scraps of paper appear in six places across a small town in Maine, and six lives are shattered in an instant. They don't know it yet, but the copies of a goodbye note they each hold are the seeds of a larger decimation than they have ever faced, or can yet fathom.
In his pawn shop, Mr. Gold carefully sets the note back down on the countertop on which he found it. He clenches his hand around the head of his cane. His free hand, shaking a little, moves up to cover his eyes. In a flash, he lifts the cane and brings it down on the case before him, shattering the glass top down upon all the trinkets and gaudy things that have never really been his. Nothing is ever really his.
In the town library, Belle's eyes go wide and she cannot even bring herself to finish reading the note. She drops it and runs out of the building, but on the street, she feels stuck. She cannot tell in what direction she wants to go. Her lips quiver and her eyes flicker back and forth between extremely disappointed hurt and extremely unsurprised anger. She pulls the wedding band off her finger and stares down at it in her palm. After several breathless moments, she drops it in the street.
In the Sheriff's station, Emma Swan reads the note for a second and then third time, quickly scanning every line for some clue as to where her son might have actually gone. The things the note tells her seem utterly unreal, and yet in this place she knows anything truly is possible. She fears it is not a game, a joke, or a cruel lie; she fears the truth of her son's written words. After all, she saw it appear before her, so she knows there is real magic tied up in the tale of his goodbye. She shrugs into her jacket and bolts from the station, only taking a single moment to consider where she must go; there really is no question in her mind about where all of them are about to end up.
In the mayor's office, Regina drinks another glass of whiskey before finally allowing herself to pick up the note from her son. She recognized his handwriting from several feet away when it appeared, but a sense of deep foreboding kept her fingers from lifting the words up to her face. Now, she reads it all in a flash and then the page bursts into flame in her hands. It incinerates instantly, and Regina disappears in a swirling cloud of purple smoke.
In the pawn shop, Mr. Gold is no longer holding the cane. Belle has it in her hands, and she is screaming at him. He isn't listening to her words; the expressions moving across her usually soft face are breaking his heart, and he cannot speak to defend himself. There is no defense against her accusations, because she finally knows the full truth of him. She finally understands that her love, and his love for her, will never be enough to change him. He sees the spot on her finger where a wedding ring should be, and anger overtakes everything else. Rumplestiltskin rips his cane out of his bride's hands. She cowers back from him, though he doesn't raise the cane against her. He turns his back on her just as a cloud of purple smoke brings Regina into the room behind Belle.
"Get out of my way," Regina says, magically flinging Belle against a case to the left.
"What?" Rumple spits out the word as he turns, then begs, "Don't hurt her!"
"Why do you keep pretending like you care about anyone but yourself, Rumplestiltstkin? You can't fool me any more than you can fool yourself. I know you better than everyone left in this town, and I really shouldn't be surprised at all by what you've done this time."
"You wanted to kill her yourself, Your Magesty, or don't you remember that?"
"But I didn't. I chose to let her live. We all agreed on that, didn't we? Didn't I deserve a say in her fate, if you were just going to ignore all of that?"
"What, dearie, did you want to thrust the knife into her chest yourself! Is that what you're angry about now?"
"Of course not. Because I wanted to, but more than that, I wanted to be better. For Henry!"
"Fat lot of good that did," another voice breaks in.
Regina and Rumple, as well as Belle just getting her bearings again, turn to see Emma has come in the front door to join them.
"You got one too?" Belle asks as Emma helps her to her feet.
"Yeah. I got one too."
"Why are you here?" Regina spits her words at Emma over her shoulder, unwilling to turn fully away from her old mentor even to face the woman she considers to be an enemy again. "Trying to find another way to screw me over?"
"Not everything is about you, Regina. In fact, right now, none of this is about you. It's about finding Henry. Isn't that more important than your petty grudges?"
"You're wrong, Emma," another new voice chimes in.
Everyone turns to the front door - Mr. Gold moves to stand beside Regina, and she moves a few inches away, but will not cower as Belle did - as Snow and Charming come in.
"This is as much about Regina as all of us," Snow says.
"And it's as much her fault as the rest of us," Charming adds.
"Do we believe what it says?" Belle shouts, looking embarrassed for a moment when all their eyes turn on her. Setting her lip, she goes on, "Maybe he just wanted to give us all a scare. Henry could be somewhere here in Storybrooke, waiting to see what we'll do next. This could just be a test. And I'm afraid I already failed."
"Belle, my dear, you have every right to be angry with me," Mr. Gold croons, trying to step close to his wife, but is blocked by Emma. "I never should have lied to you."
"To any of us," Regina says.
"You're right," Mr. Gold says, lowering his head, and Regina is actually surprised by his genuine regret.
"Can we save the happy family moments for after we put our family back together?" Snow snaps. "My baby is safe with Granny right now, but my grandson is missing. We can't just imagine it's a prank and try to ignore this for one second."
"No one's ignoring this," Charming says, clutching Snow's hand.
"If we believe it," Emma says, "then what are we supposed to do about it? Isn't it already too late?"
Her resolve to control herself is strong, but a single tear escapes the corner of Emma's eye, and all of them see it travel down her cheek and drop onto her jacket.
"You have to go to him," Regina asserts. "He asks you not to, but no matter what, he's still our child. I raised him, but he came from you and Neal. You can go to him, so you have to go to him. Right now."
"She's right," Snow says, choking back a sob.
"I'll find him," Emma tells them as she moves for the door. "I'll bring Henry home."
They watch her go. For a moment, all their disputes are forgotten. They feel a little hope; Emma has brought each of them hope in the past, whether through her own actions or the actions of the son she brought into the world, and the memories of those moments help them now.
Henry's goodbye note:
Emma, Regina, Snow, Charming, Rumple, Belle, et al…
I love you all. I have to tell you that first, so you can understand I'm doing this for you as much as for myself.
I hate all of you almost as much as I love you. It scares me what you're doing to me, because of what you always do to each other.
Belle, maybe it's not fair to lump you in with them, but you choose to love my grandfather time and again, so you're a part of this too. He lied to you about the dagger he gave you. He lied to all of us about Zelena. He killed her, and he could only do that because he gave you a fake.
I don't know that I would have spared Zelena myself. That's part of why I have to do this.
I wanted to know what I was really capable of. I've seen enough magic to know the basics. I made it up as I was going along, this little spell to see into my future. Nothing concrete, of course, because it's always changing, but even the possibilities that unfurled before my eyes terrified me. Terrified me more than anything any of you have done already.
If I stay in Storybrooke, I will become one of you, and you are all monsters.
I do love you. That's why I have to be honest with you.
I saw your secrets wrapped up in the things I will do if I stay with you. I saw what you have done, what you could do, what you would choose to do, and I can't be a party to any of this anymore. I have to break away.
Afterward, I had to handle living a full day in your presence without letting on about what I'd seen. One day was too much. I knew by nightfall that I had to get away, and so, that's what I'm doing.
I've written a spell to escape. I can't get away near as far as I'd like to in space, but I can escape just far enough away in time. By the time you read this, I'll have already grown up, in this world, without you.
I'm going to go back in time. The process will skew my memories. I won't lose everything, but I won't believe much of what remains with me. You'll be legends to me, wherever I end up. I'll still be in America. I'll still be me, pretty much. But I'll have a chance to fix myself; be a normal boy, and maybe grow up to be a normal man.
I'm hoping I overshoot the era I think I'll end up in, so maybe I'll be really old or already dead when you come looking for me. I don't think I can handle ever seeing any of you again.
Who am I kidding; I know only Emma can come after me anyway.
I was trying not to use this word, but Mom… Mom, don't come looking for me. I don't want to break your heart twice. Consider this a suicide note, won't you? Just tell yourself I died, that it didn't work, that I killed myself for nothing. I think that will be easier than coming after me and seeing the truth; that I was right and I had a better life without you. I'm telling you that's what I want, that's what I believe in, but I don't want you to suffer seeing it. And you will suffer if you see it.
Regina, you're still my Mom too, but… I can't let that stop me. In fact, you're still the biggest reason I want to get away from Storybrooke. Nothing's changed for me since I first went looking for Emma. Nothing at all.
You all play at happy family and comrades in arms when other horrible things come knocking, but the second you all get too close and there STOPS being an outside enemy to fight together, you go after each other's throats again.
I can't watch it happen again. Ever again.
I can't handle how much I hate you all for it. The lies and grudges and petty arguments. Especially the fighting over me! I'm not a fucking possession; I'm a person. None of you realize how you make me feel when you do this again and again.
None of you will ever be able to let go of the past, and I can't really say I blame you for it. I've seen enough of the horrible things each of you have done in the name of the things you believed in. This is my horrible thing. You can't stop me.
It's already done.
I sacrificed my future to gain this chance, and it's a sacrifice I make all too happily.
You want to know what I saw? I saw myself consumed by magic. I saw myself become more powerful than anything that any of you have ever seen before, or could even imagine. I saw myself bring more magic into this world than you could believe. I saw myself changing this world to suit my liking. I saw myself breaking Storybrooke free from obscurity and secrecy. We spread out and all of us further changed this world, making it almost unrecognizable, and this world doesn't deserve that.
Ultimately, I saw myself as judge, jury, and executioner of my own family. I won't let that happen. I can't let myself become that kind of monster!
So I have to forget you now. I have to forget what we've fought for together. I have to let go of all of you, because I can never choose between any of you.
I love you all too much to let your petty disputes rule me.
And I hate you all too much to stand looking at you one day longer.
Please, let me go.
- For the last time,