The Once Upon a Time Virtual Series
Virtual Season 3
“Just Like Magic”
Executive Producer: Silverbluemoon
Story By: RebelByrdie and Silverbluemoon
Written By: RebelByrdie
Interim Art Director: Silverbluemoon
Illustrated By: Konako
Direct-to-Media Illustrator: Love-Will-Have-Its-Sacrifices
Edited By: Silverbluemoon
Advisors and Consultants
Continuity and Consistency: Asraiaysoph
Research and Development Assistant: Archaeomedic
General Feedback and Development: Calculaic
This series is Rated M for language, violence, drug and alcohol references, and adult situations.
It is not intended for all audiences. Please use discretion.
Publication Date: 10/17/2014
t had seemed like such a good idea only an hour ago. Like most of her “good ideas”, though, it had been a head-in-the-clouds fantasy—better on paper than real life. Belle felt wildly out of place in Regina Mill’s pristine office. Her pink sundress seemed garish and neon-bright compared to the stark black and white room, even with the smart gray cardigan she’d paired with it. Everything was grandiose and elegant, just like the woman who had ruled their small sea-side world from within it. The still-fresh basket of blood red apples was a stark and menacing reminder that The Evil Queen was only out of the office temporarily. The only other thing besides herself that did not belong in the office was the bean plant. It still flourished quietly in its sealed glass case. The bean plant was trapped and it didn’t even realize it; Regina’s planter and this office were all it had ever known—a life of captivity—just like hers.
Belle harrumphed loudly to the empty room, planted her elbows on the desk, and set her head in her hands. She was giving up. She was a fool to think she could do this. Manage an entire town?—no scratch that—Rebuild an entire town? Seriously? She could not do this. She had been raised to be a noblewoman, a true lady, not a bureaucrat. Practically speaking, she had spent more time as a prisoner and patient than anything else in her entire life. And wouldn’t you know it, they just didn’t give “How to Mayor” lessons at the Asylum. She groaned loudly, deeply, her head getting heavier in her hands with every breath. Soon she knew it would crush her arms and then the desk beneath them, and then the earth would swallow her up whole and honestly—what would it matter? She was useless, after all. And they would say at her eulogy, “Here lies Belle, who did nothing in her life except what someone else told her to.”
Belle sighed. If Red were here, she’d probably tell her that her pout was adorable but it had to go, that there were things to do. Her head fell further downward as if with the sheer burden of it all, and she moaned. But how, Red? How? After all, she barely knew where the office supplies were kept, let alone how to use the laptop thingy in the middle of the desk—LET ALONE fix everything—and everyone—else that was broken here. Storybrooke was in ruins! People were sick and hurt and the town was a mess. She was not an asset, she decided, but a hindrance to their progress. She should just give up now, let someone who knew what they were doing have the stage. Ruby would be her first choice in fact, she thought. This made her smile a bit and she raised her head, stared out at the room, and pictured Red’s red face at the thought of being MAYOR. Ha! That’s what you get, Ruby, for razzing me in my own thoughts! She smirked a little at that and sat back. Ruby was an amazing friend, even when she wasn’t actually there.
Acting Mayor French took a breath before opening her eyes again and wrinkled her nose at the little silver machine on her desk. She prodded at it vaguely with her index finger, annoyed by its mere presence. It was yet another reminder of what she did not know. Rumpel had tried to explain computers to her a few times, he had even shown her THE INTERNET: a veritable library of information that lived in wires and in the air like magic, but was actually all sorts of complicated. Who was the author of this Internet, anyway? Was it actually a net of some sort? She had heard that there was a book of faces on (or in?) it, too, but wasn’t really sure what a book had to do with a face. Was it an enchanted person stuck inside a book, like the genie in the Evil Queen’s mirror? Belle frowned. Even if she knew how to use the contraption, she was sure Regina had a password to keep her files secure. Rumpel’s had been “Baelfire”, but Belle was reasonably sure Regina’s password would be something different. All computers would not have the same password, would they? Surely that wouldn’t make any sense.
Not terribly surprising, really, but many things in Storybrooke did not yet make sense to Belle. She had been locked away for twenty-eight years in the stale, dim, monotonous world of the Asylum and had only spent a handful of days wandering around free before she’d been shot, pushed over the town line and then turned into Lacey. Lacey, whose cursed memories only included the highlights of 1983 (what a year!), a disturbingly complicated and thorough knowledge of alcoholic beverages, and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Rock and Roll History. She did not know how to use a computer, but she knew every word of every song Journey had ever performed. Perfect. That should take her far.
Belle had gone through the office a bit on the first day she’d entered, and had been so very happy to find actual paper files. And all in precise alphabetical order by year and subject matter, too! But as she’d begun picking them up at random and perusing their contents, the smile had faded from her face; they still meant so little to her. She’d put them back and returned to Regina’s desk (because the desk was, without a doubt, 100% Regina), had sat down and had felt very small, like a child. She remembered how, as a young girl, sitting at her father’s desk in his very austere and kingly study, feeling so very small but excited. She had been completely bewildered—a little bit curious, too, but mostly confused—about how someone used the piece of furniture to rule kingdoms. She had gotten up, walked around it a few more times, then sat down again, hoping that would do the trick, that the knowledge would suddenly pour forth from the desk into her mind and she too would know everything about all things Queenly. Of course, it hadn’t happened, and when she’d expressed her irritation loudly, her little hands in fists, her father had merely beckoned her to him, held her in his lap and smiled, saying, “All things with time, my dear.”
But now it was time, wasn’t it, father? And where was the knowledge she needed?
When three sharp raps on the door made her look up, the first words on her tongue were ‘Regina isn’t here’ but stopped herself. Whoever was at the door knew that—everyone knew that.
“Um—” What was she supposed to say? Her throat was suddenly ridiculously dry, and words were difficult. When they finally came, her voice was shrill and brimming with discomfort, “Come in?”
A tall, stately blonde walked in, looking far more confident and comfortable doing so than Belle had. She was dressed in a well-tailored black pants suit and blue silk blouse, her long golden mane pulled up in an elaborate twist—not a single hair out of place. She looked like she could be mayor.
“Mayor French,” the woman greeted.
“Your Highn—” Belle cut her words short, “I mean Mrs. Nola—” But Belle stopped again, because that wasn’t the woman’s name, either.
The visitor smiled, “You can call me Kathryn, Regina did.”
Belle found herself blushing and chuckled politely, but it sounded a little off, forced. “Yes, and I need to do exactly as Regina did.” The bite in her words was not lost on either of them.
Kathryn walked to the desk, her heels clacking against the marble floor with every self-assured, perfectly refined step. When she grew close, she perched herself nonchalantly on the edge of the desk, as if she’d done so a hundred times before. Perhaps she has, Belle thought. After all, it was beginning to appear as of late that there was much more to Regina Mills than any of them had ever realized (or cared to realize). Honestly, she had been so horrible to all of them, why would any of them have tried to looked deeper, for an actual woman beneath the anger and dark magic? But maybe the Evil Queen had friends now, she thought. How bizarre.
“Well,” Kathryn responded, her smile bright, wide, and full of humor, “don’t start casting curses or handing out poisoned pastries, of course.” She paused and took Belle in. “Regina has done many terrible things to be sure, things that can never be undone.” Belle knew that was meant for her. “But there’s no denying that as an administrator, she was the very best.”
“Well,” Belle replied, unable to keep the petulance from her voice, “she had twenty-eight years to figure everything out, didn’t she!” Suddenly it all came rushing back to her how hopeless she was, and she groaned. She planted her elbows on the desk once more and cradled her head in her hands. Tears threatened as she croaked out, “I’ve had a day and a half and zero experience running a city!”
Kathryn chuckled, “While that may be true, we all have to start somewhere.” She slid off the desk and sauntered over to a nearby filing cabinet (black oak, of course), and removed a thick, blue binder. She crossed back over to the desk, the picture of elegance and grace, and tilted it so Belle could read the cover.
“In Case of the Death or Impeachment of Regina Mills,” Belle read aloud in astonishment.
Below the title, in prim, neat script, someone (most likely Regina herself), had added, “Mayoring for Dummies.”
Belle reached for it, overcome with curiosity, and Kathryn passed it over to her, grinning. The binder was full—nix that—absolutely stuffed with of pages upon pages of information: lists, charts, plans, procedures, policies. . . all of the city’s functional processes were laid out, and like the paper files, all of it explicitly notated and cross-referenced. There was, apparently, a by-law for everything and by-laws about making by-laws. The small town of Storybrooke had a committee to determine committees. Belle felt panic rising in her chest, tears threatening once more.
“I can’t do this,” she said simply. She shut the binder and held it back out to Kathryn. “I’m simply not capable.”
Kathryn only backed away, “Yes you are.”
Belle sighed, “No, I’m not. You should do it. ” She thrust the book forward a bit and looked away, indicating Kathryn should take it. “You knew about the binder, after all.”
Kathryn shook her head. “I know a lot of things. For instance, I know that with Snow White and David gone along with Regina, this town has turned into a powder-keg waiting for a spark. Storybrooke needs a level head and a strong hand leading it.”
Belle gave up, dropping the heavy binder on the white marble desk. “And they put the librarian in charge,” she bemoaned.
Kathryn crossed her arms over her chest, “No, we put Belle French in charge.” She started to walk away on that note, but paused at the door. “And I, for one, think Regina would approve.”
Belle laughed, an almost hysterical sound, “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
Kathryn opened the door, “From Regina? No.” She smiled one last time over her shoulder, “But from me? Yes.”
Kathryn closed the door behind herself, leaving Belle alone in the too big, too Regina office. The binder—full of everything a small town bureaucrat needed to know, apparently—was daunting, overwhelming even. She had assumed Storybrooke had worked like—well, like magic. No ordinances or zoning commissions or beautification committees, just poof. But now she knew it wasn’t so, that Regina had actually run things as a mayor, and that it took a lot of work. Belle found herself looking over a spreadsheet that laid out the town budget, her mouth slowly falling open: wheel taxes, salaries, municipal budgets, expense accounts, quotas and employee performance reviews, etc and so forth. The lists went on and on, endlessly spelling out the intricacies of managing a city. Belle slammed the binder shut. It would appear the Evil Queen had given herself a ridiculously tedious and complicated job for her supposed Happy Ending. Who knew? Belle groaned.
She pushed back her chair and stood up, suddenly needing to go. Where didn’t matter, she just couldn’t be here. She didn’t even bother putting the binder away, and though she could imagine Regina’s disapproval at the idea of clutter in her office, she just didn’t care. She rushed out of that room like she was on fire—passed all the chic furniture, passed the sad little bean plant, and right out the building. She gulped at the fresh air, her chest horribly tight and constricted, feeling like she was wearing a corset, stays pulled far too tight. She didn’t stop either, not until she had put City Hall a block or two behind her, where she found that she could breathe much more easily again. I just need to think, Belle decided. She felt if she could calm down, maybe get some lunch and think it through, things wouldn’t seem so miserably hopeless. After all, even Regina, the Master of Bureaucracy Apparent, had taken lunch breaks. Belle’s feet knew the way to Granny’s Diner without her needing to command them, and she found herself at the counter in no time. Granny and Ashley (who was working overtime to cover for Ruby), both greeted her, and she was both grateful and relieved. She also knew that her “usual” would be out in no time flat. She sat at the counter, staring into the kitchen, and let the atmosphere of the small town diner wash over her. It was nice, except. . .
She was embarrassingly aware she had come here as Lacey. Lacey with her wild clothes and wilder ways. Lacey with her love of distilled spirits and men with rough, calloused hands who liked their women willing and against brick walls. Lacey had loved it all. Especially when things got dark. When Rumpel had lost his temper. When he had shown the vicious side of himself. She, Lacey, had enjoyed it. She had encouraged it. She had been turned on by it. Lacey—there was a part of her that was, or could be—Lacey. Lacey’s memories and Lacey’s likes and dislikes were forever etched onto the living parchment of her mind, never to be erased. How mortifying, she thought, a distinct blush creeping up her neck.
One of the men (she did not know his name), was looking at her. Actually, he was leering at her, devouring her with his eyes. She pretended not to notice, but it was unnerving. His friend, another man she only barely recognized, grinned at her and winked. He whispered, in a voice loud enough for half the diner to hear, “It’s a damn shame Racey Lacey’s hot bod is hidden by those dumpy librarian clothes.”
Though her cheeseburger and iced tea were sitting in front of her now, thanks to Granny, she had completely lost her appetite.
Granny looked at her for only a minute, then switched her gaze to the men. The old woman’s angry glare could have melted iron.
Belle knew Granny was about to explode, so she reached forward and covered the other woman’s hand with her own. “It’s okay, I’m going to go. Thank you, Eugenia,” and then dropped a twenty dollar bill on the counter. As she walked to the door, one of the men (the winker), followed her.
“Aw don’t be like that, Lacey. Why don’t you come back to the Rabbit Hole tonight and it’ll be just like Old Times.”
She turned around, spinning on her low heel. “I am not Lacey!” She didn’t realize that she’d raised her hand to smack him until the man grabbed her wrist mid-strike and held her still.
“Well, you are sure acting like her right now!” he chided, sneering.
She opened her mouth to retort with a fast and furious tirade of curses that would have made Hook himself blush, but was stopped when she heard a growl. It was not the low guteral growl of a wolf, but the warning growl of a dog. A hooked wooden handle landed on the man’s elbow and tugged his arm free of her.
“I thought we had discussed avoiding this type of behavior, Sherman.”
Archie looked completely non-threatening. His spectacles and thinning red hair did not cut an intimidating figure. Even his voice seemed light and conversational.
“Yeah,” the man growled in response, scowling, barely tearing his eyes from Lacey. “Yeah, okay, Doc.”
He didn’t say anything else, just scowled again before turning back down the street, away from the diner and towards the docks. Archie lowered his umbrella and straightened his jacket. “Are you okay, Belle?” he asked, genuinely concerned.
Beside him, sitting as politely as could be, was Pongo. Belle let her hand fall to the dog’s head and scratched behind his ears. Pongo’s tongue lolled out of his mouth and his tail wagged so wildly that it beat against the concrete. “Yes, I am. Thanks to you two.” She smiled at the happy dog.
Archie pushed his glasses up to the bridge of his nose, “I think you could have have handled it.”
That, Belle thought, was exactly what she was afraid of.
“Would you like to talk about something, Belle? You seem to have a lot on your mind.”
Belle smiled and swallowed back the unhappy laugh she was holding inside. She had spent twenty-eight years in an insane asylum. If there was one thing she did not want to do, it was talk to yet another doctor. “No,” she said rather sharply, before looking up and adding a much gentler, “Thank you, though,” and a small smile.
He smiled back, and it pleased her. She may not have wanted him as a therapist, but Archie was a good friend, and she needed her friends now more than ever. “Of course.” He paused briefly, “You know It’s a beautiful day, Belle; don’t let those guys ruin it for you.” He tipped his hat slightly in farewell, smiled again, and turned to lead Pongo into Granny’s. Pongo was a registered therapy dog, technically a service animal, and so was allowed inside most buildings in Storybrooke. But Belle didn’t really think that it mattered, not when it came to Granny. The whole town knew the old woman had a soft spot for Pongo. They’d all seen her feed the dalmatian slices of “accidently dropped” bacon, among other things, and give him plenty of pats and belly rubs over the years. Belle pulled herself from her thoughts, fully intending to walk back to Town Hall, but somehow found herself walking towards the one place she had never expected to go again: the Asylum.
Though she appreciated the fact that she was once again human, Maleficent also wondered if she was really better off. The cotton gown they had given her here was a dingy white and itchy, and she was constantly surrounded by babbling lunatics and lost souls. The whole prison reeked of unwashed bodies and harsh chemicals, and the staff was a joke. The unpermissive and sour nurses were seemingly indifferent to their charges, and the food—Maleficent shuddered. Quite simply, she would have been better off killing and charbroiling chimera. She wrinkled her nose at the thought because she knew that was a truly disgusting dish—and yet, it would have been preferable. She was not impressed with what Regina had done with her Dark Curse so far. This realm, while wildly different from the Enchanted Forest, seemed no better. It would appear Regina—her dear and treacherous friend—had carved a hole in her heart for nothing.
Maleficent was jostled out of her thoughts by one of the nurses, the voice caustic and abrasive. The Head Nurse, who didn’t bother to wear a name tag, opened the cell door. She wore a single red rose in the lapel of her nurses uniform. “You have a visitor,” she grumbled. A visitor? That perked Maleficent up a bit. Someone had finally decided to acknowledge her presence! Was it Regina, or perhaps The Blue Fairy herself, who deigned to step down from their pedestal of power and come speak with her? The nurse held open the door for her as she slipped through into the hall and then lead her down a dismally dim and narrow corridor to a large room. There were other people here, dressed in gowns like herself, full of despair and insanity. The room suffered from years of neglect, everything was worn down, broken and/or stained. The shadows seemed to cling, spreading out and dominating the room, tarnishing colors and diluting everything within. Even her own golden hair seemed limp and dark in the weak, flickering light. In the middle of it all, though, was a splash of color, a woman in a bright pink dress. It was so cheerful and princess-like, like candies and sunset-tinted skies, that it had caught the attention of everyone in the room—even those so full of magical tablets called “meds” that they drooled on themselves and stared at the wall. It was not Regina, or the hateful Blue Fairy after all, but the woman from the day before. Her name was Belle and though Mal pretended as if she could not remember, she knew the woman had, at one time, been Rumpelstiltskin’s maid.
Belle stood, a small smile on her face. She gestured to the chair opposite, indicating Maleficent should join her. Both chairs were made of thin metal with no sort of cushioning and they looked less than inviting. Still, she sat primly and hoped whatever stains were on the table were far too old to infect her with something terminal. Belle regained her seat across from her and all that lay between them was a forgotten paper puzzle and a broken green color stick. The color stick had, it would seem, been used at some point to write obscenities into the puzzle blocks. How lovely.
“Do I—” Maleficent tilted her head to the side and added a touch of innocence to her voice that hadn’t belonged there for many years, “—know you?”
“Yes” The woman in pink answered, “Well no. I mean, sort of? I was there when they found you yesterday. I just wanted to check on you, to make sure you’re doing okay.”
“Oh. Thank you. No one has really told me much about what happened. I was in some sort of accident?” This was just too easy. The other woman’s face had immediately relaxed into a smile as she fell for the act—hook, line, and sinker. Maleficent wondered if she was just that gullible or if this woman deliberately chose to see only the good in people. Either way, it makes her a fool.
Belle spoke of the mines and a cave in and how she’d been found under a pile of boulders.
“I know you don’t remember it, but you squeezed my hand.”
Oddly enough, Maleficent did remember somebody or something holding her hand. It had been an odd sensation, one she had rarely experienced. She shook her head, though, “I’m sorry, I don’t remember. I don’t really remember anything before waking up in this place.”
Belle nodded as if she understood. “Believe it or not, I know exactly how you feel.”
Maleficent couldn’t help but roll her eyes, “I somehow doubt that.”
Belle smiled, a sad, weary smile, and looked to be holding back tears. “I was a patient here for twenty-eight years. When the Curse was cast, I was not given a new identity like everyone else, so I was a nobody, left here to rot away with no idea who I was—and no one to care.”
Mal raised a fair eyebrow, “Curse?”
Belle shrugged, “I’m sure they all think it’s best not to tell you, but there’s no reason to keep it a secret. We were all cursed here by the Evil Queen, Regina. You too, though, I’m not sure what happened to you. There are some odd rumors, but all I know is that your name is Maleficent and you may or may not have been a dragon.”
Maleficent’s jaw dropped a little, and she hoped it looked like honest shock. This woman was not holding anything back.
“Well that actually—” She looked at the table, “—that makes a little sense. It feels odd here. Just strange, in a way that I can’t explain.”
Belle chuckled, “Well that’s Storybrooke in a nutshell.”
“Storybrooke?” Now, Maleficent knew, was the time to get some information about the hell hole she’d been dropped into—without her consent, thank you very much.
“Storybrooke is a small town in Maine. It’s quaint, quiet and has modern conveniences we could have never have dreamed of in the Old World.”
Maleficent nodded, “Like that box?” She pointed at the strange box with moving pictures. It was like a scrying mirror, but non-magical.
“That’s called a television. People watch it for entertainment instead of reading books or embroidering.”
Well, that—Maleficent decided—is a total waste of time. It sounded like something that would turn people into mindless drones. “Why would people watch a strange man paint happy trees for entertainment?”
Belle smiled, “That’s not the only thing on there.” She stood up and went to the decaying couch set opposite the television. She reached between two cushions and pulled out a small black rectangle. She pointed it at the large box and suddenly the painter was replaced by a woman and man arguing passionately, then the image changed again to reveal two women eating something called yogurt, and once again to strange metal carriages (with no horses!) racing down a black road.
Maleficent was actually amazed, “It’s just like magic.”
Belle dropped the black box rectangle back onto the couch, “No, trust me, this is the least magical thing in town.”
Maleficent found herself intrigued and sat down on the couch beside her, “Tell me more.”
The Convent had been her home for twenty-eight years, and yet it had never felt like home. She was no longer a nun, though, which did make it a little bit easier to handle. As Sister Astrid, she had struggled with her faith and her decision to take vows and become a nun. It hadn’t felt exactly right. Nova was a fairy, and even if she wasn’t particularly good fairy, it felt more right than being a nun. Still, though, they all dressed in the same blue habits and went about their chores at the convent, they slept in their neat-as-a-pin rooms, and kept to their vows of humility, poverty and chastity. Though Nova wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was because it was familiar and comfortable? They had no wings here, no fairy dust, so returning to their old ways of granting wishes and guarding innocents seemed unlikely. Still, it was in their nature as fairies to do good wherever they could, helping people—even those who might not be as innocent as they once were. Nova wanted to keep doing that, even if she really didn’t think she wanted the life of a nun anymore.
She knocked on Mother Superior’s door, and after a short wait, a stern voice from within told her to enter. Mother Superior—more accurately known as the Blue Fairy—sat behind a simple wooden desk. The ornaments of the Roman Catholic Church were still in place: the crucifixes. . . the prayer books. . . Why keep them up? Why were they continuing this charade? None of this stuff meant anything to fairies or to Blue, and Nova knew it, so why had she not removed them? Blue, the all powerful Reul Ghorm, was writing a note as Nova entered, her pen scritching quietly along the paper; she did not look up.
Nova felt intimidated, but was not sure why. The Blue Fairy had always made her feel awkward and clumsy, like she would never be good enough. “I wanted to talk to you,” she said simply. The other woman didn’t cease her writing, so Nova took a deep breath, “About Maleficent.”
The Blue Fairy’s expression grew hard and her brows furrowed; her right cheek twitched. “That situation has been taken care of.”
“That situation?” Nova couldn’t believe what she was hearing, “Blue, Maleficent was a fairy and she’s—”
“Been taken care of.” Blue’s words were sharp as they cut her off, and her tone left no room for further discussion. “Is that all?” Was her lip shaking? Was it anger or fear? Nova was a bit intrigued.
She also had much more to say. She wanted to ask a hundred questions, if not more. Why were they still acting as nuns? Where were their wands? When was the fairy dust going to come back? Why hadn’t Blue recognized Maleficent? And that was just the start of it. But she faltered.
“No, ma’am. That is all.” She turned to walk back out of the office quickly so the other woman could not see her disappointment. She was at the door before Blue spoke again, her tone causing Nova to stop cold.
“What is in your hair?”
Nova stopped short, mid-step. Her hand, almost involuntarily, rose to the pink ribbon she had tied into her hair that morning, a splash of her favorite color. She was tired of the navy blue and white uniforms. “Just a ribbon,” she said, hoping beyond hope that Blue would just let it go. But it was not to be.
“Remove it. Now.“
Nova wanted to protest, but she couldn’t. The words caught her her throat, and she couldn’t push them out. Why would the Blue Fairy listen to what she had to say anyway? She was not powerful or smart. She was clumsy and odd, just plain old Nova. She tugged the ribbon free and it fell through her fingers, fluttering to the paste-polished wooden floor. Nova didn’t pause to collect it, and somehow managed to hold in her tears until the door was closed behind her. Blue, on the other hand, continued to stare at the ribbon on the floor, her fingers tightening around the pen until her knuckles turned white.
urora rode with Mulan side-by-side through the forest. Their pace was slow and easy, and although Mulan pretended that it didn’t hurt, Aurora knew even this tranquil pace was jostling her injured ribs. They were getting closer to the Forbidden Fortress, the place that was the icon for all of her childhood nightmares and fears. The forest surrounding the fortress was thick and ancient. The trees were wide and tall, their leaves broad and green. It was dim under the canopy of trees, as if sunlight was afraid to fall on the seldom-used and reputedly haunted road that lead to Maleficent’s home. The path curved sharply out of the wood and suddenly sunlight assaulted their eyes. The Forbidden Fortress lay ahead, but instead of the clear and wide cobblestone way she had expected, the castle was surrounded by thick thorn-riddled vines. It appeared to be an almost solid wall of thick, needlepointed, plants.
“Oh.” Aurora said out of shock, looking at the barrier in disbelief. It almost certainly had been placed there by magic. “We’ll never be able to get through all of—” She looked around, hoping that a path would reveal itself. “—all of this.”
Beside her, Mulan dismounted and unsheathed her sword. Her movements were slow and not as fluid as they usually were. “I will make a path for us.”
Without another word, Mulan raised her sword in the air and brought it down and across in a powerful arc, slicing through the thick vines and leaves as if they were barely there at all. Aurora watched, unable to look away, as Mulan sliced through the jungle. She was not wearing her armor (not that it was good for protection in its battered state anyway) because Aurora had been afraid it would aggravate her injuries. Mulan didn’t let the pain show, even though Aurora knew better. Instead, she kept chopping and slicing, her muscles bunching and flowing, the slightest tics visible through the thin silk tunic she wore. Aurora couldn’t look away, couldn’t even blink. Mulan was simply beautiful. Not in the way that she had been taught a woman should be beautiful, either. Mulan defied description. She was a woman, but stronger than any knight. She was a warrior, but had a beautifully formed face and eyes that were incredibly piercing, intelligent, and beautiful. Every time Mulan looked at her, Aurora could swear the woman was looking right into her soul. Sweat started to form along Mulan’s forehead and hairline. It slid in beads down her jawline and cheekbones, dampening the silk shirt so it clung to her chiseled arms and back. It was as if every romantic adventure story Aurora had ever read about knights in shining armor and adventurers and heroes, had come to life and taken the form of the female warrior before her. Mulan was, without a doubt, Aurora’s own personal hero. More than that, she knew that the woman was doing this only because Aurora wished it so. This amazing woman was swinging her sword—making them a path even though she ached down to her battered bones—just to please Aurora. Would Philip do the same, if the roles were reversed? Would she? Aurora watched Mulan fight through the thorns and realized she did not know.
It took what seemed like hours to cut a slight path through the brambles to the open area just before the imposing fortress doors. They crossed the divide and Mulan kicked the doors open with a hard strike of her boot, her sword raised and ready. They expected fire and arrows and soldiers, but were met only with dust motes dancing in beams of sunlight filtered through cracked stained glass windows. It painted the room in a haze of blues, pinks and yellows, ethereal and otherworldly, like a dream-landscape. Mulan sized up their surroundings carefully and instinctively knew that the grand entry way was empty. Aurora knew no such thing, but trusted Mulan implicitly. She looked around, taking in the fact that dust covered everything: the chandeliers, the gorgeous sitting room furniture, the floor. Mulan’s eyes filtered downward, and Aurora followed her gaze, there were no a footprints in the dust besides their own. Mulan sighed, relaxed, and lowered her sword. They were alone.
That’s when the pain struck her. Aurora could see it in the way Mulan began to tilt to the side. The warrior had thrown her arm out just in time to catch her weight against the wall, and a small groan of pain escaped her tight lips. The sound shot through Aurora’s body like an arrow. Mulan’s eyes slammed shut, and she winced, her stoic warrior’s stance wasted away by the onslaught of body parts screaming at her to slow down, to remind her that she was injured, to remind her that she was still human.
Aurora had been hesitant to enter at first, having been horribly frightened by this place, what they might find here, in the home of her fated enemy. It was cold and still, unnervingly quiet. As soon as she’d seen Mulan begin to fall, however, she’d rushed immediately to her side, truly alarmed, all else vanishing from her mind. This fortress might be scary but she hadn’t been truly frightened until she’d seen Mulan falter. Suddenly the austere towering palace walls and all of its mysteries no longer mattered, only the plight of the woman who had become her world. She slid her arms around Mulan, her left arm sliding across the warrior’s taut stomach, her right landing gently in the middle of Mulan’s back.
“Mulan!” she cried out, though her voice was only a whisper, “We need to get you somewhere where you can lie down.”
Mulan winced again against the pain, but placed her free hand on Aurora’s upper arm, her fingers gripping tightly. “I am all right,” Her voice didn’t sound as assured as her words. Aurora steadied Mulan as best she could. The other woman was solidly built, heavier than she appeared even without her leathers. Aurora supported the other woman, though, and slowly brought her upright. They were close, almost flush, Aurora’s heart throbbed in her body and her head felt light, like her blood had become pure energy. She looked deep into Mulan’s eyes and for a moment, she forgot how to breathe. Aurora shuddered and goose pimples covered her skin. Time seemed to slow down and her focus narrowed to the other woman’s face. Mulan leaned closer and for a moment, Aurora couldn’t move, wasn’t sure she even wanted to, but then Mulan bent down to the pack at her feet and lifted out one of the heavy woolen blankets she always traveled with. Before the princess could protest or admonish her, the warrior threw it over Aurora’s shoulders and was slightly caught off balance. Mulan held on to the blanket’s edges with white knuckles, and pulled it tighter than she had intended in order to keep herself on her feet. This movement also pulled Aurora back flush against her. They stood there, wrapped in a blanket together, close enough that Aurora could feel the other woman’s breath on her skin and smell the not unpleasant musk of her sweat. Mulan didn’t say a word. Aurora seemed to have lost her words as well. The world fell out beneath them, and everything outside of their blanket ceased to be. It was only them, maybe in all of the realm. A sunburst exploded in Aurora’s chest and her heart raced, she couldn’t move, they were so close, skin and heat everywhere and—
A sound echoed through the halls and instead of jerking away, Mulan drew her closer still, tightly in protection, her sword raised, eyes fierce, ready to strike once more.
“Show yourself,” she commanded.
There was rustling, like heavy footsteps in dry leaves, and then a shadow came forward, stretching across the wall, black and foreboding. Aurora pressed her face into Mulan’s good shoulder, unprepared for yet another battle.
Then there was a puff of breath, a whinny, and Aurora peeked out from Mulan’s shoulder. Mulan had lowered her sword and smiled. It was a pony! It looked hungry but curious. Then Aurora saw the horn. It was not a pony, but a unicorn!
“Oh!” She stepped away from Mulan, suddenly no longer afraid. She and took a step closer to the animal. “It’s not yet grown. Aww, such a sweet little pet.”
Mulan relaxed fully, loving the sight before her. Aurora fell to her knees and petted the the unicorn. “Such a pretty—” She began to coo at it before realizing she hadn’t a clue which—she tilted her head to look underneath and got her answer. Aha! “—girl you are.”
She turned to look at Mulan and the other woman was staring at her, a soft smile on her face. “Can we keep her?” she begged. “She’s such a little angel.”
Mulan blinked, “Yes, yet her presence makes me wonder what else is waiting for us.”
Neither knew the whole of it, but Aurora was pretty sure the domesticated unicorn (that she’d already privately named Seraph), was probably the very least of their worries.
hey had walked for some time in the morning but as the heavy humidity of the afternoon hit, Regina started dreaming of icy Maine winters. When Emma called a stop, Regina was more than happy to oblige. Her fingers twitched, knowing Emma had stopped for a reason other than it was balmy and hot; it was time for a magic lesson. Regina wandered away from the main group; Emma did not need an audience. Working magic was hard enough for beginners; Emma did not need her charming parents and the pirate watching her. She heard Emma following, tromping through the jungle behind her like the clumsy oaf she was. The clearing Regina came upon was small, but pretty enough, for Neverland anyways. There was magic here, old—much older than Rumpel even. The circle she found was made of gray boulders, smooth and without moss or vines. They varied in size, from Pongo-sized to one almost as large as Ms. Swan’s rolling death trap she called a vehicle. There were also mushrooms, growing around and between the boulders; it was a perfect fairy circle. Just like the kind she had knelt in and wished in when she was a child. The fairies had never helped then, but perhaps the circle within a circle would help focus Emma’s magic now.
“So what’s the plan today? Sawing a lady in half? Pulling a rabbit out of a hat? Balloon Animals? Card Tricks?”
Regina restrained herself, and did not make a fireball appear to roast The Savior alive. They didn’t have time for this. They didn’t have time to start small. It hadn’t taken years for her to master her magic. She would have to accelerate Emma’s lessons and The Savior would have to step up. This was no game, this was Neverland, this was their son’s LIFE.
“Emma, this is not a joke. Magic is a tool, a way of life, it takes dedication and serious concentration.”
Emma crossed her arms and cocked a hip, “I got it. I am 130% super serious right now.”
Regina nodded and hoped the woman was as serious as she claimed to be. “Well then, Miss Swan, all you need to do is lift the boulder.”
Emma looked at her in disbelief, “Well, let’s not start small or anything.” The blonde rubbed her hands together and looked back at the rocks. “Right, gotchya. Lift the boulder.”
An hour later and still not one bounder had moved a single inch.
“Emotions. Miss Swan. I know you have them in you. Tap into that wellspring of annoying emotions and produce a little levitation spell. Feel it flowing through you. Let your emotions become your power.”
Emma’s face, still sunburnt, flushed a deeper scarlet, “I’m trying!”
Regina couldn’t stand it anymore, the temper she had been holding onto so tightly finally snapped. “Try harder!”
Emma threw her arms up, “This is not me!”
Regina stepped closer, moving into Emma’s personal space, “It has to be you! Henry is depending on us!”
Emma bared her teeth, gritting them together so hard that the muscles of her jaw stood out in sharp relief. “Don’t you think I know that!”
“Then act like it.” Regina snapped back at her, “Use your magic and move these rocks!”
Emma knew Regina was pushing her because it was important—but then she’d just become a straight up bitch.
“Yeah, yeah, I heard you the first time, Yoda.”
Regina rolled her eyes, “I am neither a muppet nor a Jedi Master, Miss Swan. Now focus!”
Emma couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t be magical. She wasn’t David-Freaking-Copperfield or Luke Skywalker or anybody. This magical shit, it just wasn’t her. Neither woman noticed that several different sized boulders had lifted off the ground as they hashed it out. Emma threw up her arms. “I’m done! I need to take a walk!” And as she turned to walk away, the boulders thumped to the ground, still unnoticed.
Regina let her walk away, but chuckled after her as she did, “If you see a large cave, don’t go into it. You’re not ready, young Padawan.”
Emma walked through the jungle, scowling and kicking leaves and vines as she went. She was so angry she could scream. And when had Madam Mayor taken time to watch Star Wars, anyway? She kicked leaves and dragged her through them, needing the strong contact of the earth pushing back against her. She wanted to hit something—or someone—hard. There were so many damn leaves but where was a Lost Boy when you needed to irrationally lash out at someone? She shoved her hands into her jacket pockets and kept walking and kicking, “Try Miss Swan! Our son needs us, Miss Swan! It all comes down to you, Miss Swan. Miss FUCKING SWAN!” she said, in a whiny high-pitched voice, nothing actually like Regina’s. Then in her own: “How about you try my ass!”
Emma needed something, anything to help her calm down. But not knowing what that was, she just kept shuffling through the leaves and kicking at them randomly, and honestly, the walk seemed to be doing her good, she was starting to calm. She kept kicking though, slowly running out of steam, until something that wasn’t a leaf flew up instead. Emma paused, now wholly wound down, and curious. “Whoa, what the hell is that?” She bent down to scoop up the object. It was a folded piece of thick parchment, smudged, aged and yellow. “Damn weird place for Pan to drop his shopping list.” She opened it up, only to find it was blank. “Of course,” she sighed. Then the paper rippled and the blank page changed. A thick black line appeared and curved around the page, drawing out a map. It looked almost like the sand sketch Hook had shown them. It was a magic map, it had to be! Just holding it sent tingles running across her hands; it wasn’t exactly a pleasant feeling but it wasn’t horrible either. Her annoyance now thoroughly and officially forgotten, she turned on her heel and jogged back towards the clearing. Regina would know how to use the magical paper thing!
She burst through the trees and Regina, resting against one of the larger rocks, looked up. “Oh look, it’s the Return of the Jedi.” Her delivery was deadpan, but the twinkle in her dark eyes told Emma that she had enjoyed their little jab.
“Save your 80’s comebacks, Madam Mayor, I think I found something.” She handed the map to Regina, “I think it’s like a magical map or something.” Regina’s dark brows rose and she held the paper up to examine it.
“I can feel the magic in it, but it’s not responding to me.” She waved her hand over the paper. She put the paper on the rock and muttered over it. Nothing happened. they both bent over the paper, completely absorbed.
“Emma, do you think that you could—”
She was cut off by the sound someone crashing through the brush. Emma’s hand fell to her sword and Regina conjured a fireball in her hand. It was not a Lost Boy, though, only Hook. He looked between the two of them. “Swan. Queen.” He ambled over, flask in hand, “What are you staring at?” He stopped and looked at the paper. “Is that what I think it is?”
Regina scowled at him, at first too irritated by his presence to realize he meant the map. Then she followed his gaze. “What, a wrinkled piece of parchment?”
Emma shrugged, “A wicked old parking ticket?”
Hook reached for it, “Jack’s Map.” His voice shook a little, almost like awe. “I never thought I’d see it.” He looked up again, “Which one of you found it?”
Emma raised her hand.
“Well, Swan, then it’s yours now. This map holds the key to finding your boy. It will show you the way to whatever your heart desires most.”
Emma almost chuckled, “Okay, thanks Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Hook looked confused, “I’ve never been to this Caribbean, Love, but I am a pirate’s pirate.”
Regina snorted and for once, “Save your bravado for someone who cares, Pirate. Tell us how this map works.”
He smirked and Emma wanted to hit him. “Swan here,” he tilted his head towards her with a wink, “just has to give in to her true desires—”
Ew. Now she really really wanted to hit him.
“What I want is Henry,” she said, leaving no angle for him to misinterpret.
Both she and Regina were holding the map when he’d begun to explain, and as soon as Emma had uttered their son’s name, the map rippled again and the ink moved, like it had a mind of it’s own. Amazingly, the map started fill in, just like magic.
“You did it!” Regina’s voice sounded light and hopeful, proud of her even. Dots filled in on the map, labelled with tiny names. She could see a small triangle of dots formed by herself, Regina and Hook and, more importantly, one labeled Henry.
“And now I’m in freaking Harry Potter,” Emma said, almost in a whisper. Regina chuckled.
“Those books are completely inaccurate,” she said, waving her off.
Emma smiled, “Doesn’t matter, because now we can find Henry. We can find our son!” Her fingers brushed against Regina’s on the paper, “And—” she looked up into Regina’s smiling eyes, flooding with hope and warmth herself, “—we can go home!”
“Eh Ladies, I hate to be a bother, but would you mind setting me down?”
Emma looked up from the map and her jaw dropped. Hook was floating several feet off the ground and so were all the rocks, they were floating in a perfect circle around them.
“Are you—” She looked at Regina, but the brunette shook her head.
“This is your magic, Emma. You’re doing this.” Then Regina smiled. It wasn’t a plastic politician “Madam Mayor” smile or an ‘I will destroy you’ Evil Queen smile, either. It was big, bright, genuine and— breathtaking.
“I guess I did,” Emma responded in glee, Regina’s grin completely contagious.
High above them, hidden in the greens and shadows of the leaves, another pair of eyes watched the scene unfold. The map was a small set back, of course, but nothing he couldn’t handle. If anything, it made the game more fun. He did so love it when things got interesting. He floated away, leaving them for now. His Lost Boys were tracking them from a distance, and would report if anything else interesting happened. Not that he truly needed the Boys, Neverland would let him know. He flew across the island, traveling through a quiet space between trees and clouds, this was his kingdom, his world, all that could be seen his creation simply because he had wished it to be—he was a god among men.
Peter landed softly in a clearing dominated by one very large tree. The other trees, vines and even the grass were withered and dead, hanging limp and lifeless for several yards all around it. The tree itself, though quite large, was also sliding into decay. It’s branches drooped and its green leaves were sparse. Pan ran his hand along the bark of the thick trunk carefully, almost lovingly. He smiled at it. He leaned his forehead against the trunk and for a moment he was still, almost peaceful.
“Let me go, you little bastards!”
The shout made Peter’s shoulders go stiff and broke whatever spell that had captured him.
Three of his Lost Boys had an intruder, an adult (the worst kind in Pan’s opinion), tied up between them. His balding head and wrinkled face were covered with sweat and blood. One of his eyes was swollen shut and his grin was now made of broken teeth. The Boys had enjoyed themselves with this one.
The boys dropped the man without a hint of hesitation and with his hands and feet bound, he flopped to the dirt like a fish. The Boys, loyal to a fault, disappeared back into the jungle, their eyes never leaving the ground in front of their feet. The man flopped, flipped and struggled to get back to his feet. He was old, flabby and ugly. Pan curled his lip in disgust.
“Listen my name is Owen Flynn and I—”
Pan raised a hand, already bored, “I know who you are.”
The man got up to his knees, “Then you know that I’m—”
Pan rolled his eyes, “I said I know, but I didn’t say I cared.”
Flynn looked up at him, and then past him. His face paled beneath the bruises and his one good eye widened. “That’s impossible!” He shook his head, “Oh My God. Oh My God! This can’t be right! It’s not true!”
The man was rambling now and Peter was quickly growing tired of it.
“It’s a lie? It’s all a lie? After all these years? Do they know? How long has—”
Peter lashed out, striking the man hard across the face. He went sprawling back to the ground, his ugly face hitting the dirt. “You don’t get to look. Your eyes aren’t worthy!” He was screaming now, anger pumping through him fast and hard. He reached out, fisted his hand around thin air and jerked his arm, pulling the man’s shadow away from his body. Ripping the dark spirit from the human form. The man screamed, he howled and shrieked. He flailed, his arms and legs kicking out. He screamed for his dad, which made Peter chuckle.
“Owen. Owen. Owen. Or—” Peter raised a brow, “Should I call you Greg? You’re just another lost boy. A little lost boy that no one loved, that no one believed, that no one understood. That no one will truly miss. You’re pathetic, foolish, and gullible. You grew up, and forgot how to believe. That’s why you could never, EVER receive the honor of being one of my Lost Boys. Lost Boys have to have courage. Lost Boys have to have a spine. Lost Boys—” He leaned closer so that his lips were almost brushing against the man’s ear, “—have to believe.”
Greg pushed himself up, trying to get on his knees again.
“You lied to them!”
Peter lashed out again, this time kicking the man in the ribs, and when he’d collapsed on the ground, he kicked him again to roll him onto his back. He planted his boot on the man’s chest to hold him down.
“Peter Pan. Does. Not. LIE.” He was so very angry now, the accusation having pushed him over the edge, and he kicked Owen in the side at every syllable.
The man struggled on the ground, “But, you did! You lied to them. To all of us! This was never about destroying magic or saving the world. This is sick! It’s wrong! You’re a twisted little fuck and I will get home and I will tell them, and we will destroy you!”
Peter laughed. He laughed so hard that he had to step back for a moment, letting his boot off of Owen’s chest.
Shadows, from the trees, from the ground, from the air, started to gather around; the clearing became dim and cold. The shadows resembled a dark fog, and they brought with them a feeling of dread and the sickeningly sweet smell of rot and decay.
Owen got back to his knees, and after three miserable failures, he stood again.
“I’m not afraid of you.” The quiver in his voice, the tears in his eyes and the wet stain on the crotch of his pants said otherwise.
Peter moved, faster than the human eye could track. Owen didn’t see it coming, didn’t even know there was a dagger in his hand until the sharp blade had been dragged across his neck. The first spray of blood was fast and droplets splashed onto Peter and the tree behind him. Greg staggered and wobbled, his bound hands reached for his throat to staunch the flow of blood, but as he panicked, the blood only gushed faster.
Peter watched, enthralled. The man was finally doing something interesting. He fell forward, his knees thudding dully on the red-stained, hard-packed dirt. His good eye was wide and wild with fear, darting around looking for some sort of help. He tried to speak, but all that came out were bubbles of blood and flecks of pink foam. Peter took this in: the rattling breaths, the shaking torso, the smell of copper and fear in the air. Owen finally fell on his face in a shallow puddle of his own blood. His left foot, still bound to the right with rough hewn rope, twitched twice, then the man moved no more. Silence overtook the clearing and Peter’s attention returned to the tree. He carefully wiped the blood off the trunk and flicked the offending substance to the ground.
“He doesn’t understand.” Peter cocked his head to the side, as if listening to a reply, “No, you’re right, none of them do.” Behind him, the still warm body of Owen Flynn started to sink into the ground, tree roots curling around him and dragging him deep into the dark soil of Neverland.
“They think they can beat us. That they can separate us. That they can win.” Peter smiled, “But they can’t. Together we’re unstoppable.” He grinned, and for a moment, in the starlight, he looked like an innocent teenager in love.
“They won’t leave Neverland, not alive. I just need a few days and then we’ll have the heart and never have to worry again. Everything will be fine.” He smiled, “So we’ll just have to find a way to delay the little rescue party that sneaked onto our island, who violated the sanctity of our home.”
The blood that had so liberally coated the ground began to soak in, the liquid was gone but the rusty red stain of spilled life remained.
“Oh, it won’t be too hard. They just need a distraction, something to take their minds off of their goal, and I know just the people for the job. All we need is for them to believe—” He touched the tree again, reverently, “—in second chances, in old flames, in long-lost fathers and, of course, a little pixie dust wouldn’t hurt either.”
. . . To Be Continued in Episode 7
Total Word Count: 9979 words