The Once Upon a Time Virtual Series
Virtual Season 3
“Home Sweet Home”
Executive Producer: Silverbluemoon
Story By: RebelByrdie and Silverbluemoon
Written By: RebelByrdie
Illustrated By: Dalliance-Amongst-The-Stars
Edited By: Silverbluemoon
Advisors and Consultants
Continuity and Consistency: AsraiaySoph
Research and Development Assistant: Archaeomedic
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: 09/05/2014
he fire crackled and popped, sparks jumping into the air and floating up into the trees above them.
“Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” Henry sighed quietly, the voice of Smokey the Bear loud in his mind, a piece of something familiar. He had never been camping, unless camping in the backyard counts, and he wasn’t sure it did or not. Probably not, especially since his Mom hadn’t even let him have a campfire. Fires, she had told him, were for the fireplace. Which, in hindsight, was probably the silliest thing she’d ever said to him considering how many fireballs she threw all over the place.
He clenched his hands into fists and winced, the rope cutting into his wrists. If his mom had been there, he knew she would have magicked the ropes away before tending to his wounds. She would have rubbed Neosporin wherever he was cut, wrapped his raw skin in gauze, and placed gentle kisses to make them heal faster, better. She would make it all better. If his other mom had been there, she would have already beaten the snot out of Greg and Tamara. If his dad had been there— he felt tears gather in his eyes but clenched his jaw and forced them back. He wasn’t going to let these—these villains—see him cry.
The adults were sitting on a log, while he sat on the cold ground on the other side of the camp fire. Greg (or was it Owen? Henry wasn’t actually sure which was his real name), and Tamara were pressed against each other, Tamara’s head rested on his shoulder, her dark hair falling across her face, hiding her eyes. They looked like a couple, like all the people on TV when they were dating. They looked like they were as close as his grandma and grandpa. How could that be?
“I thought you loved my Dad,” he said without much thought, staring at Tamara and thinking about the day they had all had bagels together. He thought about how his mom, Emma, hadn’t trusted Tamara. If only his dad had listened.
“Your Dad is an idiot.” Greg/Owen spat back. “Besides, brat, a father doesn’t abandon his son. He didn’t even care about you until you stumbled onto him in New York.”
Henry felt anger bubble up inside of him, “My Dad is a hero!”
Greg/Owen, (Was he a fairy tale character too? Was that why he had two names? Henry didn’t recognize him from The Book) scoffed and Tamara straightened up. Her face was serious, “Henry—” She pushed her hair out of her face, “no one that associates with that much magic can be a hero. I know you’ve seen how horrible magic is. The Dark Curse, the Sleeping Curse, the Queen of Hearts, the Dark One. Witches, curses, violence and death, nothing good comes from magic. It is destroying the world. It has to stop. Surely you understand that. Neal—” She paused, “Neal brought magic to a world that was never ever supposed to have magic in it.”
Henry glared at her, and hoped that years of watching his mom glaring others into submission had rubbed off, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” She couldn’t, could she? She had only known about magic since his Dad had brought her to Storybrooke, right?
“Sheltered little prick.” Greg/Owen barked out, “You grew up in a little paradise run by your mother where everyone falls all over themselves to please you. You have no idea what the real world is like. You think one little trip to The Big Apple makes you a world traveler, Kid? You’re ignorant. Sheltered. A spoiled rich brat who doesn’t know anything about anything.”
Henry felt his face reddening. He wasn’t a stupid kid. He knew more about magic than these jerks did! He had lived it, and considering that they were actually in Neverland, he was still living it.
“You don’t know how dangerous magic really is. You just see a pretty light show and happy endings. People like you are destroying the world. Your whole town is a tumor and should be cut out of the world before the cancer spreads.”
Henry scowled at them, hating them. Hating them like he imagined The Evil Queen hated Snow White, completely and with all his heart. They were bad, evil. They were talking about Storybrooke. His home, full of family and people that he had known and loved his whole life: Ruby, Archie, Baby Alexandra, Marco— and so many other people who didn’t even have magic. Storybrooke was not cancer.
Henry stared past them, over their shoulders, at the jungle around them. It wasn’t like the forest at home at all. It was hot, humid, scary, and resonated with a thick, heavy feeling full of foreboding, like a monster could pop out and devour them at any moment. He shivered despite himself.
He had to be brave, he reminded himself. Brave like David and Snow, brave like a Charming. He had to be strong and smart like Regina, like a Mills. He had to be tough and quick like Emma, like a Swan.
He didn’t jump or cry out when he saw the first shadow move away from the dark. He watched it carefully and thought about when he’d seen Peter Pan with his Mom. Peter Pan’s shadow had escaped and the cartoon boy had chased it all around Wendy, John, and Michael’s nursery. Was this Peter’s shadow? A second shadow, as silent and dark as the first, slipped out of the forest. Henry watched them with wide eyes; Greg/Owen and Tamara were ignoring him and didn’t notice. Though he didn’t know exactly what or who the shadows were, he started to tug at the rope around his wrist. He started to feel really scared. The shadows slithered towards the adults and Henry wondered if he should warn them. He didn’t know. Was it good to warn the bad guys that something terrible was about to happen? Was it bad not to warn them? He truly didn’t know.
The shadows came up behind Greg/Owen and Tamara, one on each side, and Henry bit his lip, afraid to make a sound either way. The shadows moved so fast! One wrapped its dark and strangely see-through arm around Greg/Owen’s neck and pulled him backwards hard. The other shoved Tamara forward, just as hard, right into the fire. That made Henry forget silence, as he screamed and jerked backwards, digging the heels of his sneakers into the ground and pushing himself backwards, trying to get away. More shadows came from the jungle, surrounding them. Henry suddenly remembered why he slept with a nightlight and a flashlight.
“There’s too many of them!” Greg/Owen shouted.
That’s when the screaming and drum beats started, the night coming alive with sound and sense of danger. Henry looked around and all he could see was the dark jungle and shadows, alive and reaching for them. Henry kept backing up, but there were only more trees, more shadows, more screams and more pounding drums all around them. The noise, confusion and shadows were everywhere.
Tamara scrambled towards him and cut through the rope that bound his hands with a pocket knife. “It’s going to be okay.” she soothed, voice panicked and strained. But Henry didn’t believe her.
“Owen we have to—”
She turned her head to look at her companion, but he was already gone, bald head bobbing away as he ran for perceived safety of the treeline. He did not look back, leaving them alone with the shadows. Tamara stood agape, staring after him. Tears gathered in her eyes and Henry realized that she might not have loved his dad, but she definitely loved Greg/Owen. The shadows pressed closer, grabbing at Tamara. The woman put an arm in front of him, protecting him, not taking her eyes from the invaders, “We have to run!” In a split second move, she turned on her heel and tugged him along with her; Henry just went with it. They hurried into the jungle, Henry’s lungs burned but he wanted to see what was happening behind them, too. Tamara saw the movement and gripped his hand more tightly. “Don’t look back at them, Kid. Don’t look, don’t blink. Just run.” They ran, stumbling in the dark, through the endless, steamy jungle. Twigs scratched his face and hands. Vines, fallen limbs, and roots made him trip and almost fall, over and over. The drums were loud and fast, but it wasn’t musical. It was wild and terrifying. He wanted it to stop. They splashed into a stream and Tamara fell over into it. She disappeared under the water and Henry cried out. He was waist-deep in the cold water, and didn’t know what to do. She came out of the water with a splash and a deep breath, completely soaked.
“Ke—keep going!” She sputtered loudly at him, and they both waded to the other side of the stream. They stumbled and jogged, and Henry, his jeans wet and cold, almost ran into a tree. He stopped himself with his hands and scraped his palms on the rough bark.
The drums kept pounding, the shouts and screams seeming to get louder and closer. Tamara, too, had stopped. Her hair was slicked to her head and face. She looked around, eyes wide. “Hide!” she commanded, squeezing his hand again before releasing it.
Hide? She couldn’t be serious!
When he didn’t move, she pushed him into a bush and then threw vines over him, “Stay still. Don’t move.”
She pushed some of the leaves she was throwing over him off his face, and he was overwhelmed and still so very scared, “Why are you doing this? Why are you helping me? You’re evil!”
Tamara looked down at him, and he swore he saw pain in her eyes. “You don’t know what evil is.”
Henry scowled up at her, “My Mom is the Evil Queen.”
Tamara kept pulling vines and leaves off of the surrounding trees, “Well, then you and I have more in common than you think.”
That didn’t make sense, but before he could ask anything else, a loud scream echoed through the trees. It was a man’s scream. Tamara’s face crumpled for a moment, then she threw the pile of leaves over top of him, covering him completely. “Stay still. Don’t make a move until sunrise. I’ll come back for you.”
Then she, too, was gone, flailing her arms, knocking into branches and vines, yelling and screaming, stomping on twigs, trying to get the shadows to chase her and leave him alone.
Henry curled up on the hard ground under his makeshift blanket of leaves and vines and began to cry.
Would a bad guy save him? Why? Why had she done that? Saving people was what good people did and Tamara wasn’t good, was she? Maybe she had changed? His Mom had changed. She had tried to save the entire town all by herself even though she’d known that she would die.
But she hadn’t, right?
He was cold, wet, alone, lost and as the drums continued, he could admit that he had never been so frightened in his life. He wanted his moms badly. Either, both, all of the above. Someone to save him and take him home. He didn’t want this adventure, he thought, crying harder. He wept, silently begging the universe to send someone to please, please find him and take him home.
ace down in the sand, Neal’s first thoughts were muddled and confused. Not for the first time, he muttered under his breath, “This is is the last time I go pub crawling in Jersey.” He rolled over and groaned, almost vomiting from pain. He let out a muffled scream and then remembered. Storybrooke, Tamara, the gunshot, a portal. He forced his eyes open and could see stars high above him. There was no smog or lights glaring. Even Storybrooke’s skies weren’t this clear. He jerked suddenly into a sitting position, a movement that he immediately regretted, crying out and clutching his side.
His surroundings swam into focus, through the pain, and his terror became absolute. No no no no. He looked around, now seeing the ocean, sand, trees and the noting the oppressive feeling of dark magic in the air. Adrenaline poured into his blood and his heart rate tripled, the muscle pounding against his chest like a hammer; electricity ran through his body, tingling in his fingers and toes. Neal took another look around and started to shake.
No, no, no, his brain shrieked again. This can’t be happening! In his fear, he got to his feet too quickly and almost blacked out. He wavered, trying to keep his balance. This couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be real. Not here. The portal had dumped him in his personal version of Hell.
Images flashed through his mind. The nightmares that had plagued him for so many years came back full force. The sounds (metal clashing against metal), the smells (blood and rot), and the blood-stained sand. He could taste bile, blood and fear crawling up his throat. Despite the fact it was night, sudden heat flowed over him, memories of bright sun and humid air wrapping themselves around his body. Old memories, old fears. Arms, legs, shadows, blood. Screams. He had to go. Despite the pain, despite the blood pouring down his body, he ran. He ran the same way he had run so many years ago. Ran from the screams, ran from the blood-soaked sand and sea foam.
He ran through the jungle, dodging trees and roots, looking for moving shadows. Pan’s shadows. Neverland’s shadows. It has been so long. So many years. He was an adult now—too old for Neverland. Too old. Far too old. He crashed through the trees, trying to figure out where he was. Wherewherewhere, dammit! Where was he? His panicked mind reeled, searching his memories for any clue about his current location. Had anything changed? It had never changed before. He skid through the jungle, pain cutting into his shoulder and a stitch in his side. When had he gotten so damn fat? Out of shape? When had he allowed himself to go soft? He had to keep moving. Run! Run! Don’t let the shadows find you!
He knew. Of course he knew. He was Neverland and Neverland was him. It was like he was running across Pan’s skin, like a flea running across a dog. He had to keep going. Had to keep going. Blood was pouring now and his shoulder was numb. He couldn’t feel anything below his elbow. He looked around the jungle, the place he had survived, the place he escaped. He slowed to a jog and stopped. Sweat, blood and sand clung to his clothes and skin. Neal looked around, searching for landmarks that were now beginning to surface in his memory.
When he had survived—barely survived—Neverland the first time, it had not been by accident. He had learned to hide, to hoard, and to disappear. He had to find one of his caves, something he now knew to call a “safe house”. The jungle was becoming more and more familiar, despite the years he’d spent away. He had to calm down, to think.
It was hard to do with his heart pounding through his chest, his nerves frayed, and pain threatening to drown all his sense entirely. The trees, which had looked the same at first, now were distinct and recognizable.
He wasn’t too far away from one of his hideouts. If it was still there. If one of the Boys hadn’t found it and trashed it. Then again, maybe someone else had taken shelter there. He hadn’t been completely without allies in Neverland. He would hide for the night, then look around tomorrow and see what he could see.
That was good, Neal told himself, altering his walking pattern. He was a city dweller, years spent on sidewalks rushing to and fro. It didn’t matter how hard you stepped on concrete; it remained solid, predictable, and though cracked and dirty, had never betrayed him. The jungle floor was filthy in a different way. It was spongy with rotting vegetation, moist, and any move could snap a twig, drawing undue attention to oneself, springing a trap, or any number of unwelcome things. Neverland was a living, breathing predator that was relentless and bloodthirsty. A nightmare he thought he’d left behind him.
The cave was small and overgrown, but he knew it would be there. He pushed the big rock away from the entrance and was surprised that it moved so easily. It had seemed so big when he was a kid. So heavy. He pushed away the vines and ducked inside, cursing when he scraped his head on the low ceiling. Didn’t it used to be taller?
It was dim and smelled of disuse. He scanned the area carefully but nothing appeared disturbed. Neal reached up into the roots that were gnarled and growing into the small cave. The vine wrapped packages were still there.
He pulled them down with a single, shaky hand. Pushing the stone out of the way had hurt his bullet-pierced shoulder too much for him to keep using it. Five packages he counted before sliding down the side of the cave to the earth below. He had seen storm clouds rolling in, and was glad he would be dry and relatively safe for the night. He reached down with his good hand and pulled the knife from his ankle holster. Always, he remembered telling Emma so many years ago, carry a knife. He cut through the vines and palm leaves and winced at the long-since rotted remains of food. He tossed the ruined food aside, it was little more than dust at this point, but kept the vines and leaves for kindling. The next package was what he was looking for. A flint stone would help him start the fire. The he stopped and chuckled at himself. His Lost Boy brain was coming back. He didn’t need a rock and a knife now, he had a lighter in his pocket. He rifled through the package: a crude knife, a bottle of berry juice, and various packages of berries and herbs. Healing herbs and roots. God he hated the jungle.
First he needed to take care of his shoulder. He didn’t want any more of his blood staining the ground of Neverland. Plus there was the whole dying thing, and he wasn’t a big fan of that.
The fire came first. He needed light and heat. The open door let in fresh (if you could call jungle-rotted air fresh) air enter, and he ripped apart the other packages for more fuel. A stack of now very dry wood was stacked in the corner so he would be warm all night. It took only one spark to light up a fire and he was glad, he was shivering with cold and blood-loss.
Suddenly the paperwork at the ER didn’t seem so bad.
He had done this probably a thousand times, but it didn’t get any easier. He pulled his shirt off to reveal a blood and sweat stained tank. He couldn’t see the gunshot wound but there was a hole on either side of him so he was pretty sure it had gone all the way through. Hooray. He grabbed one of the many coconut shells that he’d stashed away in his packs and started to mix up the dried herbs and, after some more digging, found exactly what he needed: a small vial of pixie dust. He had been too nervous to use all of it when he had attempted to escape. There had always been a what-if.
“Well this is definitely a what-if.” He popped the cork on the juice bottle and the stench of fermented berries hit his nose. He winced and turned his head away, “Pinot Neverland.” He sighed and let his head fall back against the cave wall. His old habit of taking to himself had come back with a vengeance in just a few—had it been hours already? “Alcohol couldn’t hurt.”
His shoulder throbbed, and he knew he had to take care of it sooner rather then later. He had always said that he’d rather die than go back to Neverland, but that was before he had found out that he was a father. And now that he was? Well, that changed everything didn’t it? He put his knife in the fire. He watched the blade glimmer in the light, and when he knew it was hot enough, he wrapped his shirt sleeve around his hand and pulled it back out of the fire. He could feel the heat searing his fingertips through the cloth. He pictured Henry’s face, way too much like his own for his liking, and then pressed the hot knife into the bullet’s entry wound.
“Fuck!” he screamed, jerking forward but keeping the knife on the wound. The smell of burning flesh filled the cave and Neal winced when he finally removed the knife and put it back in the fire. He took a long draw of the wine and almost spat the bitter liquid out. “That hurt way more than I remembered.” He took another drink, “And now, boys and girls, onto the other side!”
Cauterizing the exit wound, twice the size of the entry wound, took a lot of bending and all those yoga classes he’d told Tamara “were for girls” suddenly didn’t seem so silly after all. When the bleeding stopped, and he’d rubbed the poultice he’d smashed together on the burnt skin, he wrapped his shoulder as best he could, and found his old cloak.
It was in the biggest package, its rough brown cloth protected from the elements by the leaves he’d wrapped it in. So had the bow, which was a miracle. The arrows also seemed pretty sturdy. He only hoped he still remembered how to aim. He balled the cloak, probably inches too short for him now, under his head and lay on his side. He emptied his pockets and looked over his inventory.
Cellphone, totally useless. It wouldn’t even turn on—apparently portal travel was hell on electronics. Then again, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to get any service on an uncharted magical island anyway. His wallet was equally useless. Petty cash, a Visa, his bank card. All totally useless—
He had tucked the strip of photos in behind his cash, and in all the craziness that had happened between then and now, had all but forgotten it. He and Henry had been goofing around when they’d stumbled on the photo-booth at the pizzeria. He looked at the string of photos and sighed. Henry was so grown up. Neal had always thought the first time he met his kid, it would be holding them as a newborn. Well he had blown that chance, hadn’t he? He sighed, heart heavy.
What would have Tallahassee been like, anyway? Him, Emma and their kid, just living and being normal. Well, as normal as they could be. He wasn’t sure if he would have liked it. Maybe? He probably wasn’t really father material anyway.
What normal father woke up at night screaming and sweating, ready to attack or be attacked? Tamara had asked him if he had served in Afghanistan. If only his explanation had been so easily explained. Emma had asked if he’d been through too many shitty foster homes. Yeah, he’d been in the biggest baddest boy’s group-home in the history of well, history—mercifully they had both had seemed to understand and let it go. Both Emma and Tamara had their own nightmares, but he had never asked them about them. He had enough of his own demons without taking on more.
He groaned. Tamara. God she had played him like a fiddle! His heart ached; he had truly loved her. Maybe it was Karma? Yes, he had screwed Emma over, left her to go to jail, pregnant even! So maybe Tamara’s betrayal was the Universe’s way of making things square. Because nothing too good can happen to Neal Cassady, it was part of the Son of the Dark One Package Deal.
Neal sighed again. It appeared suffering the sins of the father was something of a family tradition. One he had hoped he wouldn’t pass down. What kind of father would he had been anyway? A weekend father at best, because there was no way he could have stayed in Storybrooke. It was too small—claustrophobically small—and surrounded by trees and water. He would have been fighting panic attacks every day. As it was, every time he saw a forest, he thought of years of foraging and fighting for his life. Every time he saw a stream, he wanted to have a knife in his hand, ready to kill or be killed. Every time a rooster crowed, he would hyperventilate. He couldn’t stay in a tiny little town surrounded by people who insisted on talking and hugging and cleanly separating “good” from “evil”. He didn’t think either applied to him anymore. He just wouldn’t have been able to do it. Not for Emma, not for his father, not even for Henry. He would have lasted two weeks before having a complete freak out.
Once upon a time, it had been called “shell shock”. Then “battle fatigue”, and now the doctors gave it the fancy name “post-traumatic stress disorder”. Neal knew he was truly and permanently scarred from his time in Neverland as a child and now he was back. Back in a living Hell. Fucking portals.
He let his gritty and lead-weight eyes slide closed. He held the strip of photos close to him and thanked whatever gods or fairies who still listened to ex-Lost Boys that Henry was safe. Henry was never going to be lost on Neverland. He was comfortable, loved and protected fiercely by Em and the damn near scariest woman he’d ever met, Regina. It was a step up from a pirate wench and The Dark One, that was for damn sure. Henry would never, ever be a Lost Boy. There was that, at least.
everland at night was a sorcerer’s dream. The night sky, past the trees, was so clear that the stars seemed bright enough and close enough that he might reach up and brush his fingertips against them. The sounds were also crisp and clear, as though the wind itself was playing a melody. The magic in the air was so thick that it was palpable, almost like he was walking through the magical equivalent of molasses. Any other sorcerer worth a flit would be rejoicing. Being magically adept did not guarantee intelligence, he scoffed. No, the magic of Neverland was not a type of magic that played well with others.
He stared into the fire he had conjured, and rubbed his temples in a slow counterclockwise (that was the direction Belle went in when she helped with his occasional migraines) motion, then steepled his fingers beneath his chin as he thought. There was so much at stake and almost no chance of survival. For any of them. Not even for him.
He stared aimlessly at the fire. He was reasonably sure that one of Pan’s emissaries would find him soon enough. The Dark One did not prance around the jungle looking for souls to reap, no thank you! They searched him out, called his name, begged and pleaded for his help. They came to him, that’s how it worked. Rumpelstiltskin did not beg or kiss boots.
The fire crackled and waved in the night, and his unfocused eyes picked up a figure in the flames. He blinked, because surely it was a trick of the lighting, but the ghostly apparition did not disappear. It solidified and others started to replace it, like a slideshow that he had no control over.
He glared at his hands, half expecting to see vivid blue eyes staring back at him. The Seer. The child, the woman, that had started him on his path to true power and damnation. He blamed her, of course.
He didn’t know what it was about Neverland’s magic, so different from his own, that lowered his defenses, hammering at him like a carpenter or a prize fighter. The visions, the teasing glimpses of the past, present, and future that he usually contained or watched at will were now thrust upon him, without control.
It was an assault from which he had no escape.
“Catch me Peter! Catch me!” The light was a vivid and airy green, like the forest was alive and bright. Drumbeats echoed through the trees punctuated by laughter and children’s voices. A young girl, dressed in a simple dress, chestnut hair tangled round her pink-with-exertion-and-laughter-cheeks, smiled. It was a broad and happy grin. “These trees are so much larger than the ones in the Gardens near our home. You could probably traverse all of Neverland and never step foot one foot on the ground.”
A slender boy with sand colored hair floated in the air beside her. “You don’t need trees when you can fly.” He gestured to his feet where nothing help him up.
She raised a brow, “You couldn’t catch me without cheating, Peter!” She darted off into the trees again, fearlessly leaping from limb to limb, climbing and falling with the recklessness and fearlessness that only a child can possess.
Peter Pan, the flying boy who would never grow up, chased her with wild abandon, flying through the limbs at break-neck speed.
“I’m coming Wendy! You’ll never escape me!” he smiled widely, loving every moment of his time with the enchanting young girl.
It happened so fast, one moment she was laughing and running along the limbs then—simply gone. The drumbeats stopped and the laughter fell silent.
Peter, ahead by a few yards turned around, pirouetting in the air with the grace of a bird.
The girl, Wendy, swayed gently, her patent leather shoes, scuffed and dirty from the tree branches, pointing towards the jungle floor. They didn’t kick or jerk, or move at all. Her body was oddly limp and her limbs all tangled and snagged in the bright green vines growing on, around, and between the trees. Her neck was strangely tilted, out of sync with the rest of her body, off center, wrong.
The boy, Peter, floated to Wendy and took her much smaller frame into his arms. The boys below said nothing as their beloved leader sank slowly to their level. He sat on the ground, holding Wendy in his lap, gently caressing her emotionless face with his fingers, his touch soft as a cloud.
“Wake up, Wendy,” he said softly, as if she was playing a trick on him.
He smiled down at her, “Wake up now. The game’s not over, wake up.”
She did not move, did not speak, did not even breathe.
Then, slowly, gently, he leaned down, “A kiss.” He smiled, his face lighting up, his eyes sparking with youthful hope and something that might have been love, “A proper kiss.” He pressed his lips against hers, but nothing happened. She remained still and grew cold and stiff in his arms.
“Wendy,” he said again, tears falling shamelessly from his eyes. He thought could still feel her heart beat, ever-so-gently, and felt a glimpse of hope. That was something wasn’t it?
Rumpelstiltskin pulled himself out of the vision with all his mental and magical strength. The emotions from the vision swamped his own, flooding his system with thoughts and feelings that were not his own.
He clenched his fists so hard that hard crescents formed on his palms, nails digging into his calloused skin. He would beat this, he resolved. Pan would not, could not, conquer the Dark One!
The next vision hit him just as hard and just as fast, leaving no time to brace himself or fight it off.
The sun was high and hot, and the sand reflected it—a blinding white that surrendered to jungle on one side and sea on the other. The rowboat was small, but well kept. It was not a pirate dinghy, no; this small but stately craft was attached to a fine Navy vessel paid for by some powerful kingdom’s overflowing coffers.
Two men, both young and dashingly dressed in stately uniforms befitting their ranks, stepped onto the beach followed by several other, lesser-decorated and commissioned, sailors.
“And you’re sure that this is a true map? Not just some fairytale?”
One of the men, with thick dark hair that curled with a mind of it’s own, only smiled. “His Majesty wouldn’t have sent The Jewel out with his best crew if he thought otherwise. It’s here, brother. I feel it.”
The younger man he spoke to had hair just as dark, but straight and tied into a tail. A perfectly fashionable young man in His Majesty’s Navy. “Relax, Little Brother, The Jones Brothers have yet to fail His Majesty.”
Killian nodded, “Against brigands and smugglers. Against other Navy vessels. We’re sailors, not treasure hunters, Liam.”
The other sailors, their subordinates, pretended not to listen to the two men talking.
“This could be the key to everything, Killian. Not just the King’s prize.”
“Not a prize,” Killian responded, frowning. He wished his brother would let this go. There had to be another way.
A new voice sounded off, and the sailors turned to face the jungle. Several boys, all armed with bows, arrows, and other sundry weaponry, were spread out along the tree line. One boy with bronze skin and a smirk chuckled, “I don’t think you treasure hunters know where you are.”
Killian turned, “By the order of King—” He stopped speaking when an arrow flew through the air so close to his cheek that the fletching drew blood as it zinged by. He drew his sword at the same time as Liam drew his.
“Liam grinned, “After you, Brother.”
Killian chuckled, “Age before Beauty, Mate.”
The boys rushed forward, swords flashing and arrows flying.
Gold fought the vision. He didn’t care about Hook or his brother. The vision, however, was too powerful to fight back.
It was the heat of battle, men and boys screaming out from injuries, dying. Blood spilled onto the sand, staining it. There was a flash, then another and a scream.
The bronzed boy, the speaker of the group began to laugh. A thick, cruel laugh.
Killian went to his brother, battle forgotten. He lay flat on his stomach on the sand, his sword inches from one hand and the other stretched out in front of him, fingers floating in the sea foam as the waves moved back and forth.
“Liam!” He grabbed his brother’s arms and started to pull him back towards the sand, yanking towards himself with all his strength, muscles bunching under his prim and proper navy uniform, the cords of his neck popping with effort. “You’re going to be okay!” A flash of dull gray flew through the air and at first Killian thought it might be another arrow, but a cold bolt of fear hit him when he realized it was a fish hook. It embedded itself in Liam’s shoulder. They both turned and looked. Liam shrieked loudly in pain. “No! No! Liam hold on!” LIam held out his hand and Killian tried to drag him across the sand but hundreds more fishhooks followed, piercing the man over and over, digging through his clothes and latching onto skin. Small cuts wept even more blood into the sand. Liam’s face twisted in pain, but the panic didn’t hit his eyes until the hooks started dragging him back out to sea. Liam was pulled from his brother’s arms, and Killian sunk to his knees in the sand, tears falling mercilessly. What had they done, why had they come?
The vision finally receded from Rumpel’s mind. “Well that was a happy family moment.” He sneered and wondered if the blonde-haired boy knew he had killed the less annoying of the brothers. He giggled at his own wit.
“Blood in the forest” He mumbled to himself as the price of the vision’s magic hit him in the form of a crippling migraine, “Blood in the sand.” He rubbed his temples and damned the belief-powered magic of Neverland. “More to come. Always more.”
He sounded cryptic, even to himself. Posturing for an audience that wasn’t even there to see him and fear his words and power.
“Perhaps” A voice said that was not his own, “you shouldn’t have abandoned the group so soon, or at all.”
His neck snapped up, eyes focusing on the newcomer, and his heart leaping with joy. He knew that voice, it played a melody on his soul. Belle, his sweet and precious Belle.
She sat on the log beside him, as beautiful as she had ever been. Her ankles crossed daintily and her hands set primly on her lap. She wore the blue dress he had given her to clean his castle in, the color bringing out her amazing eyes. Her hair, brushed back from her face, was in spiral curls tumbling over her shoulders. Her smile was lovely and full of joy.
Her smile widened, “Rumpel.”
Belle wrapped her arms around his neck and clung tight to him. He held her close. “I know you’re not real. Neverland’s magic is driving me mad. You’re just a figment of my imagination.”
They broke apart and Belle regarded him, her blue eyes twinkling and her head tilted to the side. Hallucination or not, she was breathtaking in the flickering firelight. He lifted his hand and brushed his knuckles across her cheek, soft and perfectly formed. “But I do not, I cannot, care.”
His hand slid into her hair and was covered by silken auburn strands, “I need you.”
She leaned in and closed the space between them for a short, chaste kiss, so much like their first kiss many years before. She felt warm and solid and he wrapped her up in his arms, fingers caressing the line of her shoulder blades and down her spine. His hands settled at the small of her back and the middle, holding her close to him. Her hands, as always, wrapped around his neck. She was a perfect fit against him. He closed his eyes and when their kiss broke he pulled her even closer and rested his chin on her shoulder, burying his nose in her hair. She smelled like leather bound books, roses and honey, innocent and sweet; she smelled like his Belle.
His mind, as fractured as it was becoming, knew that Belle was in Storybrooke, but his heart was just so happy to have her in his arms.
“I miss you, Belle.”
She snuggled into his arms, and he remembered all the time he had wasted not holding Belle close to him and cherishing her. He started speaking, in a low voice, about Neverland, the visions, and his expectations that none of them would survive.
“I remember—” Belle curled up against him, making herself comfortable with her head against his shoulder, “—stories about Neverland. Childhood boogey stories, but I’ve never seen a book about it, not even in your library. Why is that?”
He chuckled, “Because this place is run on belief, which is one of the most powerful magics in all the realms.”
“Not more magical than love.” She tilted her head again and smiled at him coyly. He couldn’t help it, he dipped his head and kissed her berry-colored lips.
“Nothing is more powerful than True Love.”
They stayed like that all night, The Dark One holding the woman he loved close and waiting for the sun to rise. When the first golden rays lit up the trees, making the jungle glow, Belle started to fade away, disappearing and slipping through his fingers.
“No!” he reached for her, clawing at her.
His voice was hoarse from a long night of talking.
“Don’t leave,” he begged, but his arms closed around empty air. He sagged forward. Even his hallucinations left him. He stared at the dying fire and, perhaps due to fatigue or perhaps his magical projection of Belle had drained his magic, but a vision came on quickly.
This time he smiled as the images were laid out before him. Not of the past, not of the future, but of the present. Now this he could use! He smirked to himself, suddenly feeling much better indeed. It was time, it seemed, for The Dark One to come out and play. His smile broadened, no longer soft, indulgent and happy. It was cold, predatory and harsh, like a shark’s gaping maw as it attacked.
awn was peeking through the trees and the campsite was quiet. Even Hook, who was supposed to be on guard duty, had fallen asleep. Regina leaned against one of the thick jungle trees and sighed in disgust. Because when choosing people to safeguard their lives, a chronic alcoholic-slash-thief-slash-kidnapper was the sort of pedigree one looked for. Regina pushed her hair out of her face for what felt like the millionth time. She was miserable, sore, hungry, and if provoked, would have no problem ripping a body part off of the next idiot who proposed something ignorant. She wasn’t even being specific, just any body part that happened to be in reach.
She sighed and shifted against the tree again, she hadn’t even bothered to try to sleep. She couldn’t. Not with Henry suffering only the gods knew what tortures.
She reached into her jerkin’s inside pocket and pulled out a small plastic keychain. It had no key attached to it, but she never went anywhere without it. It had been in her blazer pocket when Rumpel had decided to change her clothes. It was a small picture of Henry from school. He hated the picture because his broad grin was missing two front teeth, his cowlick was sticking straight up, and his school tie was crooked. He was about six years old and absolutely precious. Her sweet little baby. She smoothed her thumb over the hard plastic coated portrait. Her Little Prince.
Was he cold? Was he hungry? Was he hurt? Oh God, had Greg hurt Henry? She felt nausea bubble up in her throat at the very idea of the man who had tortured her laying a single hand on her innocent little boy. He was so small and sweet and—and—perfect. She felt her throat constricting and staved off the tears that threatened. How could she have let this happen? Her baby was in Neverland, the fabled place of nightmares that children of the Enchanted Forest feared more than Hell itself.
Tears welled up in her eyes without her permission. She would do anything to have Henry back in her arms safe and sound. She would happily trade places with him if she could spare him even the smallest amount of fear or harm. She grit her teeth and wrapped her arms around herself. She couldn’t cry. Evil Queens did not cry.
Only, she was all alone. She may have been separated from the rest of camp only by a few feet of earth, but that same stretch comprised thousands and thousands of spiritual miles. She wasn’t a Charming, and they didn’t offer her any comfort. She was an Evil Queen (she shot Emma’s back a quick hurtful glance) without her Little Prince, and she was all alone.
Emma had bundled her leather jacket into a makeshift pillow under her head. She hadn’t been able to sleep. She was stressed, the ground was hard, and oh, and had she mentioned that her son had been kidnapped by his father’s bitch of a fiancé and the man who had tortured his other mother almost to death? Plus there was the whole Neverland thing. Then the almost being killed by twelve year olds thing. Just so many things. God, she hadn’t had a break since Henry had shown up on her doorstep. She resolved that when this was all done, after they rescued Henry, they were taking a vacation. Two solid weeks somewhere where fairytales were only Disney movies and no one would ask for anything more important than her signature on a credit card slip. Or hell, maybe she would make Regina pay for it. She wondered how much three tickets to somewhere on the West Coast would be. Henry would get a kick out of seeing Hollywood and Regina would probably have a fashonista religious experience on Melrose. She sank her hands in her jeans pocket and when something crinkled under her fingers, she pulled out a crumpled half of an Apollo candy bar wrapper.
She felt her chest constrict and tears prick at the corners of her eyes. She was not about to cry over a candy bar wrapper, she really wasn’t. She didn’t even remember buying the damn thing. They were Henry’s favorite. Henry—her baby—the one she’d given up. The brave boy who had turned up on her doorstep years later, already so grown up. She’d barely spent any time with him at all, and now she’d lost him all over again.
She revised that statement in her head. They had lost him. She looked over at Regina who looked like she hadn’t slept either, looking to be the same level of miserable. And when the brunette turned her head, Emma could see the agony in her dark eyes, the dark circles of fatigue and the tears sliding down her cheeks.
Their eyes met for just a moment and Emma gave her a small smile. Regina blinked once then turned away, her message clear as crystal and as cold as ice.
Emma sighed. The other woman’s rejection stung quite a bit. She didn’t deserve anything else, she had stepped over the line and she knew it, but it still hurt. Emma should have never called Regina an Evil Queen.
She tucked her hands under her head and sighed. Why did everything have to be so very hard? So complicated? She wondered what it would be like if she and Regina could just be normal? Why couldn’t they cry over or share their fears like regular parents did when their kids disappeared? They should be waiting at home with cops and calling all over trying to—
Emma winced. That had been exactly what Regina had done when Henry had run away to find her. Regina was used to being a single mother, and Emma was barely used to the idea of being a mother at all.
No one had even thought of that, right? Regina was living a parent’s worst nightmare all over again, except this time it was three times worse. She would probably rather Henry be in Boston than Neverland.
She wanted to reach out to Regina, to tell her it would be okay. That they would save their son and everything would be right again. The Savior comforting the Evil Queen. It felt far less ridiculous to her than it had sounded in her head. It sounded like a fantastic idea, only Regina would never go for it. Emma was pretty sure that she was way more likely to get a fireball in the face, than a hug right now. She groaned and rolled over, once again facing the trees. Damn it.
everland’s morning was quiet and gentle. Mist clung to the ground, birds were waking up and calling out to one another. Dew clung to leaves and to the uninformed eye, everything seemed calm. It was abruptly interrupted by a lone woman running through the jungle. Her long legs moved in jerky strides and she stumbled along, using her hands to balance herself as she ran into and around trees, branches, and other bric-a-brac. Her face was slick with sweat and her eyes were wide, dark and full of fear. Tamara had seen many frightening things in her life, but Neverland brought that to a whole new level of terrifying; the relentless pursuit of the Lost Boys and other beasts had her on edge and running from them all night left her completely exhausted.
She wondered if Henry Mills was okay.
She wondered if Owen was okay.
She wondered if she would ever see either of them again.
She finally stopped and bent forward, hands gripping her knees to catch her breath. She was thankful she ran so much to keep in shape, but after an entire night of this, was hurting all the same. Her chest was heaving and she was shaking with fatigue. She braced her hands against the tree in front of her and let her body rest. Her hair, tangled and heavy with sweat, fell over her face. God she was so so so tired. If she could just sit down for a moment, then maybe, just maybe she would be okay.
A twig snapped somewhere off to the right and she jerked upright, instantly alert.
Another twig snapped, off to her left. The muscles in her back stiffened painfully.
Another twig snapped and this time it was behind her. She turned and winced at the hot pain of muscles protesting, just in time to catch a glimpse of black against green.
She started to run again, her heart pumping hard. Marathon training had actually come in handy. She was running for her life and she knew it. Adrenaline buzzed in her blood, and she found a new burst of energy as she pushed herself to keep moving.
She skid to a stop and almost fell when the black clad figure, Neal Cassady’s father, appeared in front of her. She turned and slid along slick leaves, taking off again in the opposite direction.
Another flash of black to her right. She jerked and kept running. Fear, like a switchblade against her neck, kept her on her toes and moving. When he appeared again, causing her to turn again and run in another direction, she knew he was herding her like a sheep dog moved a sheep. Or, she thought bitterly, like an animal waiting to make it’s move.
“Run all you want, Dearie.”
He appeared only inches in front of her and she tried to stop but couldn’t, flying right through his ghostly form.
She stumbled, tripped and fell hard onto the ground, face down in the dirt.
She scrambled to her feet and started to run again.
“You won’t escape.”
He appeared again, his face twisted in a snarl.
Keep running, don’t let him see your fear. When the devil sees the fear in your eye, he knows he’s won. Her mother’s voice whispered in her ear, and Tamara knew, without a doubt, this “man” was the devil her mother had been talking about.
He was magical, evil, and after her.
Keep moving, keep moving.
“That’s right, Dearie. Keep going. Run. Run. Run.” His last words were playful, high pitched almost like he was mocking her; he was obviously enjoying himself.
No matter how fast she ran or in which direction, he was there. It was like she was stuck in a terrible horror movie with a Jason/Freddy/Michael/You Name It monster chasing after her.
Only this wasn’t movie magic—this monster, this crocodile was real.
He twitched his hand and she felt like she’d been sacked by a linebacker. She flew through the air, hit the ground and rolled to a stop. Every inch of her body hurt. She pushed herself up on her hands and her knees.
“You don’t scare me,” she managed, voice lacking conviction, clearly beyond terrified.
He appeared beside her and she twisted her head around just in time for him to kick her hard in the ribs. She saw red—the pain was obscene.
“You’re an abomination. Magical bastard.” She spat and saw her saliva was tinted red with blood. He flicked his hand, and she flew through the air again, this time hitting a tree, ribcage first. She knew something was broken, but managed to pull herself up to her feet again.
“Listen, Neal—” She was slammed against the tree by a strong and invisible hand. Her head hit the bark and she saw stars and blurs of colors. She could feel blood trickling down her scalp.
“How dare you say his name!” the beast screeched in her ear.
He twitched his fingers again and broken arrows, half rotten, rose into the air. Their tips, dull and cracked from use or rot, were pointed at her.
“You killed him. You killed my Bae.”
Tamara swallowed thickly, “I—”
His eyes went wide and flashed yellow. “Do. Not. Speak!” His fingers gave the smallest of twitches and the broken arrows flew forward, pressed into her skin and then through her flesh, pinning her to the tree by her shoulders like a bug to a card. She couldn’t move. The pain in her shoulders and body was overwhelming.
“You killed my son.” His eyes were wild, and full of loathing and something she could only describe as pure evil.
She knew, down to her very bones, that there was no escape. She would not beg.
“You’re making the wrong choice, and you will regret it forever,” she warned, breath labored and jaw trembling, more from pain than fear.
Her words made him angrier. He leaned in close, until his nose was less than an inch away from her own. “No, Dearie,” He spat the words out like they were the bitterest poison, “I am going to enjoy killing you.”
Cold dread hit her belly. She tried to keep it from her face, fought for control of her emotions.
But he was fast, faster than any human could be. She didn’t even feel the cold steel of the dagger sink into her stomach until the hilt hit her skin with bruising force. The sensation was horrific. The pain was sharp and cold like an icicle, and it stole her breath and redefined what pain meant. She gasped. Then it moved, ripping through her, tearing across her flat stomach. He pulled out the dagger and she could feel part of herself go with the knife. She lurched forward, and when she put her fingers to her wound she found that it was not just blood coming out of her. Her vital organs were spilling into her hands. A trickle of blood escaped her mouth, a few bubbles as she tried to respond. She was literally being torn apart, butchered, her own blood, bile and other fluids coating her hands.
She slumped down, the arrows unable to hold her weight, and felt the wood splinter and break off, sliding out of her flesh in pieces. She slid down the tree behind her onto the ground.
“You’re just—”She dragged a breath into her burning and oddly tight lungs. “—going to leave me?”
He flicked the knife, splashing drops of her own blood into her face.
“Yes. Let’s see how much you enjoy dying along in a foreign world with no burial and no one to mourn you.”
She narrowed her eyes and looked at him, hoping he could see the hate in her eyes. “You have no idea who I am.” A shiny red bubble formed and popped behind her words.
He looked down at her, his lips curled in disgust. “You’re the wench who broke my son’s heart and then shot him.”
He turned his back on her and walked away.
Dizziness and pain swirled around in her head, like a blood soaked carnival ride that would not stop.
“My family will avenge me.” Blood frothed and splattered more fluidly off her lips as she spoke, causing her to slur her words
“My father will kill you. All of you.” She dragged in a rough breath, only a little air seeming to get to where she needed it. “He will turn your shitty little town into a dark smoking crater!” She screamed then as the pain worsened, cutting into her lungs like a thousand shards of glass. “You will pay for this!” Her vision started to go red around the edges and the world started to spin. Her stomach, her entire body was on fire with agony. “You’ll—” the force behind her words started to fade, “—pay.”
She felt something wet and hoped that he hadn’t seen her crying. She drew in another shaking breath and felt more blood flowing through her fingers and out of her lips. Her head listed to the side and her vision started to darken.
She could hear high, cold laughter echoing through the trees, mocking her. It was the sound of dark joy, Rumpelstiltskin taking pleasure in her pain. Monster. Another monster in a long line of monsters that marred her life.
Magic, monsters, mistakes and her mother’s sacrifices. She hoped it had all meant something in the end. She blinked, barely holding on and one last shuddering word fell from her lips.
Then Tamara was gone.
he sun rose, and Henry decided that Tamara wasn’t going to come back for him. He had slept only a little bit. He was starving, scared, and dirty. He had to be brave, though. He straightened his clothes and brushed the worst of the dirt off. He took a stick and swung it a few times before deciding that it was probably as close to a sword as he would find. He started walking, and tried to remember every book he’d ever read about the wilderness. His Mom had read Hatchet to him a few years ago, before he had learned that she was the Evil Queen, and he desperately tried to remember what the character, Brian, had done to survive. Honestly, the memory of cuddling with his Mom while the cold Maine winter raged outside his bedroom window was more compelling than a half-forgotten story about a boy and his axe right now.
Water, he knew, he needed to find water. A person could go three days without water, so he really needed to find water, right? That wasn’t from the book that was from when he had sneaked and watched CSI on cable when his Mom had been busy in her office. She had no idea he had figured out her parental lockout code. It was his birthday. For an Evil Queen who had conquered an entire kingdom, his Mom was really, really predictable.
He kept walking and wondered what he was supposed to do, exactly. Was the water safe? His mom wouldn’t even let him drink the tap water without running it through a filter first. What if there were diseases in the water, like in India and Africa? Were there edible berries or would they be poisonous? If this were Survivor (another show he was not supposed to watch), he would at least have challenges to win food.
He swung his stick-sword in front of him, knocking leaves out of the way. Were there snakes in Neverland? What if there were Anacondas? Or Sharks?
He shook his head. This was Neverland. There weren’t going to be any snakes. There would be mermaids and real live Indians with tee-pees and tomahawks, and pirates and pixies. Maybe he would even get to meet Tinker Bell and— He suddenly heard voices and the rushing water of a stream.
He hid, a little cautious, and looked through the bushes.
There were two boys, one was picking berries and collecting them in a floppy hat. He had dark skin and his hair was pulled into a stubby ponytail. Another boy, this one with pale skin and red hair, tapped absent mindedly on a drum. Both were dressed exactly how he imagined boys in the Enchanted Forest would dress, cloaks over pants and shirts and boots.
“Who’s there?” The red-headed boy spoke up. He had an Irish accent and his eyes were sharp. The second boy put his full hat on the ground.
“What’s goin’ on?” This voice was slightly deeper and slow, his accent was different, round and almost lazy.
“Someone’s in the bushes.”
Henry stepped out, stick at the ready.
The boys both smiled suddenly. “A new boy!” The Irish boy waved him over. “Hop on over, New Boy.”
Henry came out cautiously. “My name’s Henry.”
The red head tapped out a quick rhythm on his drum. “Hullo, Henry. I’m Seamus.”
The darker boy nodded at him. “Jalen.”
Seamus chuckled, “Most of the lads call him Jay. So When did you arrive on our little slice of Paradise, Henry?”
Henry sat down and Seamus handed him a glass bottle full of water, which he drank down greedily. He was instantly ashamed but Seamus dipped the bottle back into the stream and grinned.
“I got here last night, ” he replied
The boys began to talk, and even offered Henry some berries.
Henry was so caught up with Seamus and Jay that he never noticed a shadow slide away and float up and into the air, its eyes glowing.
“All I gotta say,” Jay handed Henry another handful of berries, “Is welcome to Neverland, or as we call it—” He popped one of the plump red berries into his mouth, “Home Sweet Home.”
. . . To Be Continued in Episode 5
Total Word Count: 10527 words