The Once Upon a Time Virtual Series
Virtual Season 3
“And So It Begins”
(aka “A Bumpy Ride”)
Executive Producer: Silverbluemoon
Story By: RebelByrdie and Silverbluemoon
Written By: RebelByrdie
Illustrated By: Dalliance-Amongst-The-Stars
Edited By: Silverbluemoon
Advisors and Consultants:
Consistency & Continuity: Awkwardfangirlurl
This series is Rated M for language, violence, drug references, and adult situations.
It is not intended for all audiences. Please use discretion.
Publication Date: 07/11/2014
he magic bean glimmered in the sunlight, a bright spot against Hook’s weathered tan hand. When he threw it in the water, Regina felt the pulse of magic immediately, plain as the taste of salt on the air. The energy made the hairs on the nape of her neck stand at attention and her fingers twitch painfully. Regina braced herself as best she could and wrapped a rope around her arm to anchor herself. As they sailed towards the gaping blue maelstrom, she took one last look over her shoulder at Storybrooke: The town she had built, the town she had called home and raised her son in, the town she had so recently tried to wipe out of existence. Emma, who was holding on to the boom for dear life, was looking back too. There was silence, despite there being hundreds of things that desperately needed to be said, and then the world around them exploded.
It was a moment of barely controlled chaos. Magic crackled dangerously in the salty air as the portal opened in the usually gray Maine sea, the swirling waters opening like a mesmerizing cerulean eye, and at the focal point, the ship groaned once in resistance before giving way. The Jolly Roger teetered briefly, then fell, disappearing from Storybrooke’s horizon.
Regina could feel the deck shudder beneath her boots, the wood groaning and creaking; she heard a rope snap and a canvas sail rip and she grit her teeth until her jaw ached. This barnacle-covered (my had she watched that cartoon with Henry one too many times!) overgrown rowboat was not going to hold together through the portal. And they could not rescue her son if they died before they even set foot in Neverland.
“Your floating death trap is going to fly apart, Pirate!” Regina’s words were only barely audible over the rushing water and groaning timbers.
“Your dear Mother used her magic to hold the ship together for its last journey.”
The mention of her mother made Regina wince, but she let the rope drop and raised her gloved hands. The magic burnt through her skin and ached in her joints, a sure sign that she had overextended herself. Her control was less precise and the price far more taxing, but the shimmer of violet energy did appear to be warring with the swirling blue of the portal. It was not enough, the violet flickered and waned, all but useless. She turned her head and her wet hair flipped around her cheek. She caught Rumpel’s eye and he raised an eyebrow, as if to ask her if she really couldn’t do this herself. It reminded her of the years she had spent learning how to use magic. She had not been amused then and she was not amused now. Whatever his reply might have been, he too raised his hands. The boat’s shuddering settled, and its course, kept as keel as a one-handed pirate could keep it, steadied out.
The journey was jarring. There was no sky, and they were surrounded by unearthly glowing waters. It cast a menacing light on the ship and its ragtag crew. Fractured sapphire-hued light and odd flickering shadows painted the ship, lending a surreal, almost nightmarish quality to the scene. Regina’s stomach, empty for more hours than she could accurately count, flipped, and she could taste bile on her tongue. She had never liked boats.
The sky, full of foreign stars, appeared, and the sense of vertigo that plagued them momentarily eased. The end of their journey was near. Regina braced herself and felt the oddest mix of weightlessness and gravity as they finally cleared the portal. There was a moment, a small and breathless second, that the phantom memory of a night spent flying through a cloudless sky in a far away time and kingdom washed over her. Then gravity, as inescapable as any other law of physics, reasserted itself, and they all came crashing down.
The ocean was flat, calm, placid. The surface of the water reflected the dark star-filled sky above it and at its horizon, it was quite impossible to tell sea from sky. The serenity was shattered-completely, however, by crackling lightning, a swirling vortex and sudden eruption of a ship from the sea. The notorious Jolly Roger leapt out of the dark waters and, for a moment defied gravity, before it came crashing back into waves below. The water, dark and clear, like an onyx looking glass, splashed up and around the ship, as if the sea itself was vehemently protesting the sudden introduction of wood and human on its surface.
Regina, without a solid hold on anything, lurched to the side only to be saved from falling overboard by a fast and hard introduction to the ship’s side. The impact was sudden, sharp, and she wondered if one of her ribs had cracked. She catalogued her aches, and honestly couldn’t tell which were old, new, better or worse. She tried to regain her footing, and after another small stumble, she did. She squared her shoulders, years of practice and training taking over, and turned once more to Hook.
“That was graceful, Pirate.” Her voice dripped disdain and snark, “Was your last posting on the Titanic?” She rolled her eyes at his baffled expression and wondered why she had expected anything more.
Emma stood at the stern, watching the restless waves lap at the battered front of the ship. She glared hard at the vast empty sea, before turning towards the hold, determined to separate herself from Regina and Hook’s pointless bickering. She could see Snow moving towards her, but David placed a firm hand on his wife’s shoulder and shook his head, stopping her in her tracks. Emma would have to remember to thank him for that. The last thing she needed right now was a hug from Snow-Freaking-White.
She turned her attention back to where Regina was standing, or more like clinging to, the side of the ship. Her usually olive-toned skin was chalky, and she looked shaky, like one stiff breeze would knock her on her shapely ass. Emma shifted her weight from foot to foot, unsure of what to do.
Mr. Gold, however, had no such qualms. He brushed Snow and Hook aside and sauntered over to Regina like magically teleporting to the literal Never-Never Land was an everyday occurrence. He tilted his head and took in the former queen’s discomfort, but did not seem especially concerned by it. He reached out, with no warning, and grabbed Regina’s gloved hands. No one could ignore the wince that went across Regina’s face or the quiet hiss of pain that accompanied it. She tried to pull her hands back, but Rumpelstiltskin held fast.
“You’re not doing so well, Dearie.”
Regina opened her mouth to retort but lost her words when he peeled off one of her black leather gloves. It was hard to tell from this angle and lighting exactly what had happened to the other woman’s hands, but Emma could tell that it was not good. From what she could see, Regina’s hand looked badly burned.
“You have a choice now, Your Majesty. I can tend to this for you, or Snow–” He paused. They both looked at Snow, seeing the woman had already pulled bandages from her backpack. He continued, “can wrap you up with bandages and boo-boo kisses. What will it be?”
She inclined her head, a Madam Mayor move Emma had seen a thousand times, and subtly winced again. “We will go below decks where you can at least see what you’re doing.” She looked at the rest of their motley crew, her eyes turning ice cold when she paused on Snow. “No rainbow kisses or unicorn print band-aids are necessary.”
Regina then walked, shoulders straight, head held high, every inch the queen she had once been, passed the rest of them before descending into the crew’s cabin and cargo hold. Gold followed her with a smirk on his face.
Emma waited all of thirty seconds before quietly following them. Maybe she didn’t know all the voodoo magic and sailor-things she needed to know, but one thing she was very good at was staying quiet and blending into the background. They had been necessary survival skills from her past work and life. She hide behind a barrel and some rolled up canvas sails, intent on seeing exactly how hurt Regina really was and what Gold planned on doing about it.
They went below deck and when they were out of the way of prying eyes, Regina allowed her shoulders to slump. Keeping her knees stiff enough to hold herself upright had become a battle in and of itself, and she wasn’t sure if it was the movement of the ship or the pain, but she was nauseated, bile constantly threatening to make an appearance.
Rumpelstiltskin removed her other glove and proceeded to turn her hands over to reveal what she had been hiding. The small charred black, scarlet streaked and painful blisters that the electric shocks had left on her fingers had worsened and spread. The very necessary overuse of her magic had done her no favors. The constant flow of magic from her hands while she had contained the trigger and then held the ship together had turned her usually pristine hands into a bloody and raw mess. She could see pieces of white bone and frayed and bloody muscle peeking out of blistered tissue. Faint flashes of violet and emerald magic played across her mutilated palms and left agonizing trails of pain in their wake. The price of magic, the price of putting her life on the line for people who would happily see her executed, had been high. If it hadn’t been for Henry, she would have wondered if the damage was worth it.
“Not very pretty, dearie.” She grit her teeth rather than hiss in pain. He waved a single hand over her wasted ones and the cool sensation of relief immediately replaced the pain. This time she couldn’t control herself as she let out a small, shuddering sigh.
“I suppose it is pointless to tell you to rest and not use any more magic for a few days.”
She glared at him but was too weary to say more than a simple, “I suppose it is.”
The familiar, not-quite-comfortable tingle and itch of healing magic restored her body and made her think of the early days when magic had not come so easily to her and she had produced more mishaps than successes. Regina tried to ignore Rumpelstiltskin’s clucks of disapproval now, just as she had done then. He turned his attention to the blisters on her temples, the one she had thought she had hidden with her hair, and harrumphed once more.
“Exhausting your magic will do you no good where we’re going.”
He sent a magical jolt of warning through her. His red magic hissed through her veins like lava, both invigorating her magic and boiling her blood. It was an unpleasant sensation to say the least. Her knees buckled and she sat, gracelessly, on the hard bunk behind her.
“If you want to rescue your boy, then you must be prepared. This isn’t a Sunday stroll through the park, Regina.” His voice was hard now, his accent grown thicker for the seriousness of the situation. “Neverland is not for the weak at heart. It is not a place for heroes, for knights in shining armor and do-gooders.” He leaned close, his dark brown eyes had an impish yellow ring around them that reminded Regina of exactly who she was dealing with. “The Charmings will only slow us down. The Pirate will betray us, and Miss Swan?” He scoffed, “She has no idea what she has stumbled into.”
“What–” Regina’s voice was markedly cracked, throat so dry it hurt to speak, “–have we stumbled into this time?”
Gold looked away. “We have stumbled into nothing.” He straightened up and crossed his hands over the top of his cane. His fingers drummed thoughtfully, “Neverland is not a place for Madam Mayor and Mister Gold.” His eyes flashed, “It is a hellish pit that only The Dark One and The Evil Queen can hope to survive.”
He pushed her backwards with the butt of his cane, the movement fast and harsh. She fell backwards and glared at him, braced on her elbows.
“What are you willing to do to save Henry?” he asked severely.
She met his glare with one of her own. “For Henry?” Her voice dropped to a dangerous dark octave reserved for those she despised the most. “Anything–” her face hardened and her brows furrowed and she could feel the cold mask of The Evil Queen slide over her features. “–and everything.”
Rumpel nodded at that, apparently satisfied with her answer. He used his cane to rap her shins lightly, “Then you should rest up, Dearie. We’re all going to need our strength.”
Rumpelstiltskin watched as Regina collapsed against, then lay upon, the lackluster comfort of the built-in-bunk that he, himself, had occupied not long ago. There was a reason he had told Belle that she had to stay behind. They were all marching like lambs to the slaughter. Even if Regina was at full strength, he feared that her love for her son would cloud her judgment. Not that he would know anything about that, of course.
He spared a glance for Emma Swan, not half as stealthy as she believed herself to be, as he left. She had heard everything and he was pleased. The Savior needed a cold hard dose of reality if she wanted to save her boy–the same boy that his son had fathered. His grandson. Henry.
He came back onto the deck and looked around, dismayed at what he saw. The Pirate knew what he was getting into. He could see the dark memories of Neverland in Hook’s eyes. The others, though, were babes in the woods. Compared to Peter Pan, the fights with Regina and Cora were little more than schoolyard scuffles. Actually, Rumpel mused to himself, he wouldn’t mind having Cora with him. She would have proved herself to be a formidable fighter against Pan and his ilk. It was a pity she’d had to die.
He surveyed his surroundings with an eye for detail as he walked to the helm, his cane tapping out a static beat on the deck. Killian Jones, or “Hook” as he preferred to call himself, stood with one hand and one signature replacement, on the wheel.
“How far away are we?”
Hook didn’t bother making eye contact with him. “Two days, maybe more.” He looked to the sky, “I would wager more.”
“Oh good because I wanted to be stuck on this dingy once mo–” He stopped abruptly and looked around him again. “This is not the same ship as before.” Why hadn’t he noticed it sooner?
“No.” Hook’s jaw tightened and his knuckles popped loudly as he gripped the spokes of the wheel. “Milah’s blood doesn’t stain this deck.”
Bae was dead. His son was dead. He had fallen into a portal never to be seen again or properly mourned or buried. To have someone mention Milah now, when the wound of their dead son was still fresh and bleeding, forced his temper to boil deep in his gullet. He could feel his magic, dark as pitch, crackling under his skin. It would be so easy.
No, he reminded himself, no matter how despicable the pirate was, they needed him. For now. “Blood?” He felt a smirk slide across his lips, “I don’t remember there being any blood when I ripped that bitch’s heart out. What did you do, Killian, give her a particularly rough goodbye?”
The Pirate lunged at him, steel hook at the ready. The waste of leather and rum was fast, but the powers of the Dark One made Rumpelstiltskin faster. He struck Hook across the face with his cane. It made a lovely, sickening crack and blood spurted from Hook’s newly crooked nose, splashing the deck below.
“I’ll skin you, you filthy crocodile.” Hook drew his sword, “And when I’m done with you, I’m going back for your girl. What’s her name?” He slashed hard with his sword. “Lacey isn’t it? Bawdy little minx now, isn’t she?”
Fireworks went off in his head, Rumpelstiltskin saw red and black. He attacked with his magic, hurling the pirate against the mast, much the same way he had so many years before. “I’ll kill you.”
Hook stared down at him, cold fire burning in his blue eyes, “Like you killed Cora? You and your little poppet there?” He nodded vaguely towards Snow while dangling in thin air. “Don’t think The Queen has forgotten about the two of you. She may need you now, but the very second she thinks she don’t need you, she’ll push you off a cliff if it helps her cause.”
Rumpelstiltskin chuckled coldly, “Says the man that handed her over to be tortured for hours by the people who kidnapped her son. Do you think she’s forgotten about that? Perhaps I should leave you to my old apprentice. Especially if we can’t save my grandson.”
The ancient imp suddenly felt the cold steel kiss of a sword against the back of his neck.
“No one is killing anyone. We are going to save Henry, and to do that we’ll need everyone.” David’s words were hard and commanding. For the first time in a long time, he sounded every bit the prince he pretended to be instead of the shepherd he was.
“We need both of you. So stop this. Let him down, Rumpelstiltskin.” Snow, using her big-girl-voice that sounded more like Regina then she probably realized, barked orders at him like he was a dog.
If he didn’t think they were his only chance of saving the one piece of Baelfire left in all of the realms, he would string them all up from the rigging and leave them for the sun and sea birds to finish off.
He twisted his wrist and Hook crashed onto the deck with a hard smack of flesh on wood.
“Keep that bloody monster–” Hook spat blood, leaving his teeth stained and his cut lip raw, “–the fuck away from me or immortal or not, I will keel-haul him the rest of the way to Neverland.”
Snow White and her Prince looked between the two of them and nodded, but her attention was not on them. She was looking at the hatch to below deck where the Evil Queen they had just been arguing about was all alone with her precious little princess.
Emma waited until Gold, creepy bastard that he was, had been gone for a few minutes before coming out of the shadows. The Jolly Roger hadn’t changed much since the last time she’d sailed on it. She sat on a barrel near the middle of the room and stared at Regina. The other woman had her back toward her, but Emma only had to close her eyes to see the torn up hands and burnt temples that the woman had displayed only moments before. All because in the same damn day, Regina had been tortured and then laid her life on the line to stop the Trigger Diamond of Doom and save all of Storybrooke, all of them. The Evil Queen herself had walked into the Mines to die for a town full of people who hated her guts. Or had it only been for Henry? Emma was pretty sure even Regina didn’t truly know anymore.
“Shit, Regina,” Emma spoke softly, but with weight. She rubbed the back of her neck self-consciously. “Yeah, yeah I know. I shouldn’t swear because it sets a bad example for the Kid.” She spoke to Regina’s back. “Oh and I suppose princesses don’t fucking cuss either.” She laughed at that, a high-pitched, nervous emission.
“This is seriously messed up, you know? This whole thing has gone wildly out of control. We were, like, normal-ish, for a minute there.” As normal as a thief-turned-Sheriff and Evil Queen-turned-Mayor who shared a son in a magically frozen-in-time town in Maine, that is. “Now we’re, God, I don’t even know what. We’re chasing freaking fairytale Nazis to freaking Neverland. I mean evil heart-stealing mothers, magic hats, ogres and freaking dragons. Now Neverland. Shit. Shit.” She cursed again and let her head fall forward. “I’m not cut out for this. No one is cut out for this. This is crazy. My life–our lives–are fucking nuts, Regina.”
“You–” Regina’s voice was rough and low, “–have always had a certain way with words, Miss Swan.”
She didn’t turn around or otherwise acknowledge Emma’s existence, but she was at least communicating.
“He’s a kid, Regina. He’s just. . . a kid.”
Regina’s shoulders jerked, like she was trying to hold in screams or sobs. “Don’t you think I know that? I raised that kid. That little boy who sleeps with a nightlight and has a stuffed monkey and a flashlight under his pillow. Or–” Regina’s voice was suddenly tense and brittle, “He did when he still lived at home. My–”Her voice faltered again, “My Little Prince is in danger, and I can’t protect him. You can’t protect him. He is all alone.”
Emma felt a twinge, the sort she usually reserved for other cast-off kids who had grown up in the System. “Yeah, he is. Has he ever–”
Regina didn’t even let her finish her question. “No.”
Regina wrapped her arms tightly around herself, like that grip was the only thing holding her together. “I have to get him back.”
“We.” Emma felt strength in that little two-letter word. “We, Regina. We may not like each other. Hell, we can hate each other from dawn till dusk. This goes beyond us though. This is about Henry so we have to work together. We have to trust each other. We have to save our son.”
She–they–had never said that before. The words tasted odd on her tongue. Our son. “Let me tell you a little story, Regina. Once Upon A Time, there was an Evil Queen.” The woman on the bunk stiffened but said nothing. “And a royal Fuck Up. So one day this royally fucked up girl finds herself locked up in jail and pregnant with a baby. She didn’t even have a GED, and knew that if she kept the baby that he or she would end up just like her – a nobody with no hope of a future – so she gave him up. That’s where the Evil Queen came in. Turns out, she wasn’t so evil anymore and adopted the Fuck Up’s kid, a son. She names him and loves him and raises him and one day the Kid tracks down his Fuck Up Birth Parent.”
“I don’t need your story, Miss Swan, I lived it.” Regina hissed out her words and Emma sighed.
“Fine, so here’s the thing. Our son gave us both the second chance we desperately fucking needed. So the Not-So-Evil-Anymore-Queen and the Still-Fucking-Things-Up-Royally-Girl are going to work together to get him back. Then they’re going home to live happily ever after or whatever.”
They both fell quiet for a moment and then she could hear Regina audibly sigh, “You tell terrible stories, Miss Swan.” She rolled over it was a slow and obviously painful movement. She was still pale, her face washed out of most of its natural color, but her eyes burned with a renewed passion. “So what is your plan, Savior? How are we going to save our son?”
Emma scrubbed her face with the heels of her palms. “Well I definitely don’t need you passing out from magical overdose or magical low blood sugar or low magic sugar, or whatever, so you’re going to have to take it easy for a while and–”she hesitated because she really wasn’t sure about the next part. “I think maybe I should learn some magic.” She scowled at the very idea of waving wands and brewing potions, or wearing pointed hats and flying brooms. “If you want to, I mean.” She cleared her throat awkwardly. She figured she need to try because she was pretty sure they were going to need all the magic they could muster up on Neverland. “For Henry.” She added quickly, just to be safe.
“For Henry.” Regina echoed in agreement.
A loud thump sounded overhead, like somebody had thrown a canon across the deck.
“What the hell was–” Emma shook her head and hopped off the barrel. “Y’know what, I don’t even want to know.” She picked the bunk beside Regina’s.
“No, knowing those idiots–” Regina did not specify who exactly she was referring to, “–you probably do not.”
Snow stared out at the water, squinting at the small landmass on the horizon. Neverland. She had heard stories of it as a child, as most children of her land had, she supposed. Then again the other world, the world that Storybrooke had landed in, had tales of Peter Pan too. Only the pointed eared elfin troublemaker that Disney had made famous was nothing like the boogeyman that she’d heard tales about.
David, her eternal rock and true love, joined her on the bow. “This is really happening, isn’t it?”
She leaned against his chest and felt him wrap his arms around her. He was her safe-place, her sanctuary from all the evils and wrongs of the world.
“Yes,” he replied simply.
They stood there, absorbing love and strength from each other as they watched ominous bruise-colored clouds roll in over the water.
elle watched the Jolly Roger slip over the edge into the magic portal with a lead weight in her stomach. She felt a tear slide down her cheek. He was gone. Gone again, pulled away by forces beyond their control. Again. She pulled the blue coat tighter around her and wished it would protect her against the cold dread in her heart as well as it protected her from the cold ocean breeze. “Rumpel.” The single word quickly drowned in rhythmic tone of the tide coming in and playful squawks of seagulls.
She turned at the sound of footsteps, apparently her body more used to the ridiculously high strappy heels than her mind, and found Archie and Pongo behind her. The cheerful redheaded therapist pushed his glasses up onto his nose with his middle finger, a habit so ingrained that she doubted he realized that he was making a rude gesture.
“Where’s the ship?” he asked.
He was quickly followed by Granny, “Where’d they get off to?”
Belle swallowed, feeling the dizziness, dread and disbelief abate for a moment. “They took the ship and sailed through a magical portal to Neverland.” Part of her, the part she could now name Lacey, recognized that the words that had just left her mouth sounded completely and utterly insane.
Granny looked at her and Belle knew what she saw. Lacey dressed like the sort of woman who took guests to the rooms above taverns. The black dress was skimpy, composed of just as many strings as actual pieces of cloth and was short enough to barely be considered a dress. Belle had owned petticoats that covered more skin. The smoky dark gray thigh-highs left little to the imagination, and the coat was meant for warmth, not for covering near-nudity. Perhaps it was her discomfort or the way she spoke, or knowing Granny, it might have even been her scent, but the older woman only smiled. “You’re you again, aren’t you?”
Belle nodded and smiled.
Archie grinned too. “We’re glad to have you back, Belle.” They turned to leave, and he paused to look over his shoulder and tug Pongo, who was staring at the empty harbor with something like disappointment in his eyes. “Especially since The Charmings are off on another whirlwind adventure.”
“Adventure.” Granny scoffed, “Sure they’re off on an adventure just in time to leave all of us peasants to clean up the mess.”
The question left Belle’s mouth only a moment before she had the answer. Storybrooke, the quaint little town that she had come to call home, had been decimated. The tidy streets were split apart, asphalt and sidewalks cracked by large trees, moss and thick vines. Cars had been overturned and thrown as if they were tiny child-sized playthings instead of full-sized, steel machines. Broken glass, fallen bricks and twisted metal coated everything, everywhere. The earthquake that had accompanied the violent explosion of forest into the town had left its brutal mark. There weren’t any buildings without cracks or windows left unbroken, and the vines choked out almost every color beside their own hearty, stalwart green. The carefully manicured grass and trees that normally lined the sidewalks had grown wildly out of control, turning Main Street into a jungle. Belle gasped, her hand flying to her chest as she saw the clock tower; it was the center of town as well as the place she called home. It was ruined. The thick vines had wrapped around the building from foundation to steeple and had torn it in two. The large gaping split in the middle was jagged and dark. The clock face, whose long awaited movement had signaled the beginning of the end of The Dark Curse, was shattered, and its hands were hanging down, inert and still, frozen once more. Trees, tall and seemingly ancient, grew around it, making it seem more like a long-lost tomb then the bustling center of a small town.
The worst part, far more horrible than the debris and damage to the town, was the sound of the citizens suffering. There were mothers desperately searching for their missing children, people crying out in despair or agony, frantic calls for help and mercy, and from somewhere, someone was screaming, sobbing and begging that their loved one not die. Belle could smell blood, a sickeningly familiar scent, mixed in with the rest of the cacophony of sensory information.
In the rush to keep up with Rumpel, in the confusion of being herself once more, in the sudden sadness of losing Baelfire, and the heroic rush to save Henry, she hadn’t realized the extent of the damage. Their town, their home, was a disaster area.
She watched with wide eyes as four of the dwarves worked together to lift an overturned car, while another pulled the body of Michael, the local mechanic out from under it. Michael’s leg, clad in his usual blue overalls, was a gory mess of blood, bone and torn tissue. His two children, she didn’t know their names, were crying beside him. The girl had a scrape across her face and the boy had bloody hands. Whether it was his father’s, sister’s or his own, Belle didn’t know.
Ropes, clotheslines, chains and wooden boards had been thrown together into makeshift barriers to keep people from falling into sinkholes or stumbling into large piles of debris.
Lights, from the town’s two ambulances and one lone fire truck, flashed red and white as paramedics, nurses, a handful of blue habit-clad nuns and Dr. Whale, his usually pristine hair and face coated in dirt and sweat, ran between patients. “Get him to the hospital and take him straight to the OR. Don’t even bother with the ER, and don’t jar his leg. Another half an inch and his femoral artery will be severed and we won’t have to worry about surgery.” He spoke quickly, without a stutter or even much time to breathe.
“I have head trauma here, Doctor!” The voice was far too familiar, and Belle found herself staring at the ash blonde nurse who had been charged with her care for twenty-eight long years. Even the sound of her voice made Belle stutter. The woman’s usually pristine white uniform was streaked with blood and grime. “Blunt force trauma to the frontal and temporal lobes. Left pupil is blown, no response to verbal stimuli.”
They turned the corner with the patient before she could see who it was or see their injuries for herself, but Whale’s loud curses told her that it was just as bad as it sounded.
Granny’s Diner had suffered just as much damage as any other part of town. The patio furniture was overturned and covered with vines and grass. The left side plate glass window had been obliterated by the sudden growth of a tree which speared through the building, its branches twining in and out of the window. The right side fared little better – the glass was shattered and fine cracks ran all the way through it, patterning it like a spider’s web.
Only half of the stairs were there, but the three of them managed to get passed the roots and vines to the door. The bell, whose ding Belle was so accustomed to hearing, lay on the linoleum floor, warped and dented beyond repair. She could still smell blood, though not as strongly here. A baby, Little Alexandra, was crying, and before she could open her mouth to say a word, she found herself face-to-face with a locked and loaded crossbow.
“Ruby!” Granny’s voice snapped like a whip and the crossbow immediately lowered to reveal Ruby Lucas’s face.
“Oh Thank God.” For a moment, Belle had been afraid that more trouble had been coming her way.
“And who said you could touch my cross bow, Girl?” Granny quickly snatched the weapon out of Ruby’s hands.
“I was just trying to protect – Belle!” Ruby’s green eyes widened and she tilted her head, “It is you isn’t it?” Despite the circumstances of running into each other, Ruby’s smile, wide and bright, made everything momentarily better. Belle found herself easily returning the expression.
“Is everyone okay?” Archie looked around at his fellow townsfolk. Kathryn Nolan stood up and brushed broken glass out of her long blonde hair. “We’re all fine. Just some minor cuts and bruises. Ruby kept the place from coming down on us.” Belle followed the other woman’s eye line and blinked in shock when she saw two very distinct handprints all but carved into one of the weak and sagging walls by the newly introduced trees.
Belle looked from the wall to Ruby, taking in the already healing cuts on her hands and arms. That might have been wolf strength, and wolf healing, but the courage to do what she had done was 100% all Ruby.
“My Hero.” She grinned, and was treated to the image of Ruby Lucas blushing at her words.
The dwarves straggled in one by one, each looking dirtier and more exhausted then the last. Granny quickly handed out water and damp towels.
Grumpy, Ruby’s favorite of the dwarves, looked Belle up and down. “So are you back to being you or should we keep hiding all the top shelf stuff and locking up the pool cues?”
Ruby sighed and wondered how long Lacey’s racey reputation would follow her around. Probably just as long as her own risqué cursed persona would haunt her.
Belle only grinned. “It’s me.”
The scruffy dwarf grinned, “Well, welcome back, Sister.” He looked at the other dwarves and the gathered citizens. “So what happened at the docks?”
Ruby, like everyone else, listened to Belle’s explanation, a cold shiver trailing down her spine at the mere mention of Neverland. She’d heard enough horror stories about that place to give her nightmares well into her teens. The idea that David, Snow and Emma were marching into that place shoulder-to-shoulder with The Dark One, The Evil Queen and Captain Hook didn’t sit well with her. It was like they were jumping into a cobra pit and giving someone else the flute. Flute ah, interesting allusion considering there was an Enchanted Forest story about Neverland and that very thing–
“But who–” Ashely, also known as Ella, asked, disrupting Ruby’s thoughts, “–is going to take care of Storybrooke?” She had the still fussing Alexandra balanced on her hip and a cut on her cheek. She was obviously scared.
Well, that was a fair question, Ruby nodded. Their mayor (or was it ex-mayor?) and the entire police force had just disappeared into thin air–or magical water portal actually.
The clustered citizens looked back and forth between each other, and it was obvious that most people had no clue what to do next.
“I think,” Doc said in a rare moment of public speech, “That Ruby has already proven that she can protect the people.”
It was a good thing Granny had taken the crossbow from her at that point, because Ruby thought she probably would have dropped it and the damn thing would have gone off and speared Archie in the foot or something. Because never in a million and a half years had she expected anyone to say that.
“Seconded.” Came Grumpy’s gruff reply. “Besides she’s always at the station helping Emma and David with stuff, and even Graham before that.”
“Sheriff Lucas–” Kathryn grinned, “does have a certain ring to it.”
Archie, acting as the conscience that he had once been, spoke up. “And no one else has another nomination?”
No one did.
Suddenly all eyes were on her.
The door opened, and she was saved by the bell, or lack thereof, by the arrival of several new citizens. On a good day, the Diner could handle twice as many customers as it currently held. This was not a good day. People were now crowded in. New smells assaulted her sensitive nose.
One in particular made her inner wolf’s hackles stand at attention.
King George, or Albert Spencer as he had been called in Storybrooke, was the apparent leader of the new group that had arrived. Sean, Ashley’s husband, Maurice, Belle’s father, and Frederick, Kathryn’s fiancé, among others, stood behind him.
“I am not–” the former King all but shouted, “Putting that monster in charge of this town’s safety.”
Ruby opened her mouth, but was beaten to the punch by Belle.
“She is not a monster. The only monster here is you, Mister Spencer, or do you think everyone has forgotten about Billy?”
Belle’s words were fast and furious, her melodious accent thickening the longer she spoke. “Ruby is a good person and would make a fantastic sheriff.”
George, perspiration standing out and sliding on his balding head like raindrops, started to turn red. “And I suppose you think you should be Mayor then?”
“Sure. Why the hell not?” Granny challenged in return, her crossbow none too subtly sitting on the diner counter next to her. She crossed her arms over her chest and Ruby knew that her grandmother was not done speaking. “She’s smart, she’s trustworthy and she isn’t hip deep in old world politics. Why not Belle?”
Grumpy held up his flask, “You got my vote, Sister.”
Ruby smiled, she couldn’t help it, “And mine.”
George, hands balled into fists now, snapped. His voice boomed through the diner. “We have enough real rulers in this town without handing the reins over to The Dark One’s whore!”
Ruby acted before she thought, jumping in front of Belle, and planting herself firmly between
George and the woman he had just cursed at.
“What did you just say?” She could feel the wolf clawing up in her chest, aching to pounce, to attack, to rip the arrogant bastard’s throat out.
“Hold on a minute there, George. That’s my daughter you’re talking about!” Maurice, a simple florist in Storybrooke stepped up to his long-time friend. “I won’t stand by and let you call her disgusting names.”
“Oh, like you didn’t stand by and watch her beg The Dark One to defile her? Not to mention the more recent behavior she’s taken up.”
Maurice started screaming back while others joined in, shouting insults, arguments and pleas for silence alike. The noise levels grew until everyone was shouting but no one was being heard.
Rather than join in the fray, Ruby turned to look at Belle. “Hey, you okay?”
Belle looked anything but okay. “I can’t believe this, but I think I miss Regina.”
Ruby chuckled a little. “I know, right. I won’t tell if you won’t.” She held out her hand to shake. “Deal?”
Belle pushed her tumbling curls back over her shoulder, and mischief sparked in her blue eyes, “Deal.”
Their hands connected and for a moment, Ruby lost track of all thoughts, sensations and possibly even how to breathe.
“I would be careful with that word, Ladies.” They jerked their hands apart, like guilty teenagers who had been caught doing something much more serious than shaking hands.
The Blue Fairy, her hair neatly pinned back in a bun, clothed in her navy blue habit, looked nothing like the powerful magical being she was. It was a little unnerving, but then again, Ruby mused, who was she to talk?
“We wouldn’t want the new sheriff and mayor to be accused of making secret deals already now, would we?”
Both Ruby and Belle opened their mouths to say something, because their nominations were still being screamed about, but the Blue Fairy only smiled and shook her head. “I’ll make George see reason on this matter. This decision really is for the greater good.” She flicked her wand and the gold Sheriff’s star appeared on Ruby’s belt. Another flick, and a heavy collection of skeleton keys appeared in Belle’s hands.
“Good luck, Sheriff Lucas, Mayor French.” She looked over her shoulder at the all but rioting crowd and the damaged town beyond them, “You’re certainly going to need it.”
urora rubbed her chest again and held her hand still, just to check. Just to make sure her heart was in her chest and beating again. She hoped this wouldn’t become a habit of hers. It would be very odd to explain to other people that she had an uncontrollable urge to make sure she still had her heart. She trembled at the all-too-fresh memory of having an empty rib cage and no control over herself. She needed to think of something else.
“Do you think they made it home?” Her question was little more than a whisper but she was sure that Mulan heard her. Mulan was, as always, within arm’s reach. They sat across from each other with only the small campfire between them. Safe and secure underneath the shelter that Mulan had built for them using rope and canvas. “Snow White and Emma, I mean.”
Mulan, never much for words, nodded. “Yes, I think they are back in their Storybook.”
“Storybrooke,” Aurora corrected her with a smile.
Mulan only shrugged a single shoulder, as if she didn’t actually care at all.
Mulan stiffened at the name and her hand automatically went to her sword. Then, as if to cover the reaction, she pulled her sword out of its scabbard and began to sharpen it with a whet stone. The activity, a habitual one for the woman warrior, served to calm them both. “I will kill and die a thousand times over before I let that witch lay a finger on you ever again.”
The sudden passion in Mulan’s usually stoic voice warmed Aurora’s newly replaced heart. “Thank you,” she responded, as was her warrior’s due.
Mulan nodded once again and resumed sharpening her sword. Silence fell across their small camp and Aurora found herself missing Emma Swan’s odd comments and Snow’s mothering touch. Still, though, as long as she had Mulan, she knew that everything would be okay. Only– “I was thinking about something.”
Mulan stopped her sharpening, signaling that Aurora had her undivided attention.
“About what Cora said.”
Mulan stiffened again and shook her head, “Cora is the darkest sort of evil. Hook said that she does not have a heart in her chest. We cannot trust her.”
The mere mention of Hook made Aurora’s flesh break out in goose pimples. She could still feel the icy cold steel of his hook in her chest, ripping out her heart. She started to rub her chest again, her right hand rubbing circles over the flesh just above her heart. The same expanse of skin that Mulan had pressed the magically crystallized organ back into. That one moment, in between that last exhale rattling out of her empty chest and the big, warm, incredible inhale when her heart had been restored, chased the fear away. The way Mulan had looked at her, as if she were the most important person in all of the world, had filled her with peace, hope and renewed strength.
“Cora knows magic.”
Mulan all but leapt to her feet. “You are not suggesting that we ask that wicked witch for help!”
Aurora bit her lip and lowered her hand out from underneath the shawl, “No, but there might be another way.” She sighed, “The Forbidden Fortress.”
Mulan blinked once, twice, three times. Surely she had heard incorrectly. She ran the sentence back through her head, and wondered if she had misunderstood one of the words. The Western Tongue was a tricky language to conquer. She suddenly felt an overwhelming imperative to let Aurora know, however – in case she had not been mistaken – that there was no way she was letting Aurora walk into the literal belly of the beast.
“Absolutely not.” She slid her sword back into her sheath and her whetstone into her belt-pouch before she continued, hoping the familiar movements would help calm her. They did not.
“Maleficent!” Mulan spat out the word like it was poison, “is just as bad as Cora, Princess! Perhaps worse.”
Aurora crossed her arms across her knees, “Maleficent is dead. Snow and Emma told us how Emma slew the dragon with her father’s sword. She is dead and her corpse is rotting in an entirely different realm. She can’t hurt me now.”
Mulan sighed and wondered if this was divine punishment for shaming her ancestors. Yes, the dragon was dead, but that did not mean they could walk in to the sorceress’s home and expect to be welcomed with open arms.
“We still do not know if Cora was telling the truth. Or if she even knows what truth is.”
Mulan could feel Aurora’s gaze on her before she even looked up to meet the fathomless blue eyes locked on hers. Mulan felt her heart flutter and thunder as if hundreds of Tiger Butterflies were trying to escape her chest.
“But we have to try. For Phillip.”
There were unshed tears in Aurora’s eyes and her skin glowed in the firelight, she held out her hand, palm up and fingers reaching, “Please”
Damn her weak and covetous heart. Mulan felt herself nod. “For Phillip.”
Aurora’s smile lit up the night, more than the fire and more than the stars. The brilliance of her happy face put the moonlight itself to shame. Before she knew what was happening, Aurora had jumped forward, eliminating the space between them, and had wrapped her arms around Mulan’s waist in a warm hug.
Her hair smelled like honeysuckle, and the exposed skin of her arms felt like the finest Imperial silk.
“We’re really going to do it! We’re going to save Phillip! We leave for the Forbidden Fortress tomorrow at first light!” She broke off the hug before Mulan could speak, and returned to her side of the shelter. She laid out on the blankets and smiled at Mulan one last time.
“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, you know that right?”
Mulan couldn’t help but smile, “I could say the same thing about you, Princess.”
Aurora giggled, “Stop with that. You had my heart in your hand today. Call me Aurora.”
Mulan felt the butterflies burst into flight in her chest again. “Goodnight then, Aurora.”
She, too, rolled onto her blankets, sword laid close to her hand in case she needed it, but sleep would not come. Instead, Mulan laid on the hard ground and watched the dying embers of the fire float into the night sky, dancing in time to the twinkle of the stars. She did not know if it was nostalgia, fear or premonition, but she would swear on all of her ancestors that she saw the ominous outline of a dragon in the rising gray smoke.
. . . To Be Continued in Episode 2
Total Word Count: 8320 words