The Once Upon a Time Virtual Series
Virtual Season 3
“As Good As Dead”
Executive Producer: Silverbluemoon
Story By: RebelByrdie and Silverbluemoon
Written By: Amy-Tabby
Illustrated By: Napfreak
Edited By: NotEvilDear-Wicked
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: 04/17/2015
he scream—Charming’s scream—cut into Snow like a barbed arrow, headed straight for her heart. Her own cry mirrored it in panic—every step she took seemed to take an eternity, even though she was through the opening and into the passage in a moment. She saw his back, muscle and craggy rock, the one arm that still moved well windmilling desperately. The other arm was curled into David’s chest. His body, once so strong, was outlined with a demonic halo of red light as a pool of magma churned, weak and injured. He was mere inches from the ledge, still fighting to keep from falling to his death.
“Charming!” Snow cried, and she grabbed the back of his shirt. Emma snatched him by the good arm. Mother and daughter towed him back from the molten pit. Snow looked over him, checking every inch of him over—no new injuries. No new problems.
No new problems. Just plenty of ones that were already there, she thought, thoroughly disgusted to and with herself. The island, Gods damned Neverland, could not have her family. Would not have her family.
Charming fought to catch his breath in labored gulps and managed a grin as he looked at his family.
“I think we should try the other way.”
“Definitely,” Emma replied.
Snow glanced at Emma briefly, but she hadn’t quite been able to stop checking Charming for any fresh wounds or signs of damage. It was just like old times, she thought bitterly. Snow cut her eyes at her sarcastic child, who sounded too much like Regina, and forced a smile. Neither of them managed to make their eyes as cheery and stalwart as their voices.
The three trudged back to the cave opening, and upon seeing them, Hook solemnly scratched an X into the side of the wall. Rock and steel hook rasped against one another, and the sound set Snow’s teeth on edge. The five of them looked at one another, willing one of the party to lead into the next tunnel. The pause, the hesitation, and the wait, bothered Snow almost as much as the sound.
Emma sighed, almost too softly for others to notice, and stepped forward into the next tunnel. Snow would have been right behind her if she could have managed to drag David faster. She wondered, briefly, if he was getting heavier or if her arms were just getting tired. The strength and stamina of her bandit days seemed long gone, faded away and covered over by twenty-eight years of teaching school children. David slowly crept before her, and the passage grew narrow. Snow gulped back her claustrophobia and followed, peeping over her husband’s shoulder to see what her golden-haired daughter was doing. Once again, a hellish red light bloomed in front of the group, lighting the passage as it opened up.
“What’s going on?” Neal called from behind Snow.
“It looks like a hallway,” Emma responded. Snow saw her slowly put weight onto one leg as Charming inched out behind her. Snow could feel Neal right behind her, practically breathing down her neck, as she tried to peer out from her stalwart and stony husband. Emma’s face turned to the passage, one eyebrow cocked for what was going to inevitably be a quip.
“Looks like there’s no giant boulders or forbidden tiki statues, but the jury’s out on One Eyed Willie’s fortune.”
Snow narrowed her eyes and tilted her head, while Charming let out an audible “Huh?” Neal, however, seemed to be in on the joke and tilted his head back for a big laugh. The noise sounded too eager to be genuine.
“Oh, eighties,” Neal mumbled and shook his head. He let out a fake sigh. Hook pushed past him with a roll of his kohl-lined eyes. Snow felt his frustration on a spiritual level.
She stepped around Charming the first chance she got in order to get a good look at the corridor they were in. The walls pulsed with veins of magma, and the hellish light made the floor shine as if it were slick with blood. Perhaps it had been, once upon a time. A regular pattern of what seemed like tiles led to the end of the passage, where the tiles became hard-hewn cave rock once more.
“Let’s keep our eyes open for more of Pan’s tricks,” Snow began as she stepped forwards onto the tile. She eyed the walls cautiously in case they collapsed, and the hall became flooded with lava.
She heard the sharp hiss before she felt the jet of steam shoot up her left side, which in turn brought a shrill cry as she pushed her family to get them away from the geyser.
Her face burned, her neck sizzled, and her hand throbbed when she tried to clench it into a fist. It was painful, terrible, she could smell her own cooked flesh.
“Stupid secret lair volcano maze and its freaking-” Emma started grumbling loudly, until Hook stepped on another tile and got hit in the chest and neck with the same sizzling vapors that had just cooked her mother. The pirate winced and growled an obscenity under his breath. The Princess in Snow was offended by his language; the woman who had just been scalded heartily agreed.
“Oh come on!” Emma screamed in frustration. “Is the whole floor rigged?” Emma waved her arms in exasperation, before she slumped in on herself and sighed. “Of course it is. We’re hiking through Mount Death Trap.”
“Looks like it’s just the light tiles we have to avoid,” Charming offered. Snow looked again—true enough, some of the tiles were a duller, lighter shade of “Mount Death Trap,” to quote her daughter.
Snow felt daring, but mostly just done, and decided to move forward. Snow toed a darker tile to her left before settling her weight onto it. No steam. She beamed a reassuring grin to the group that she didn’t feel on the inside. They didn’t know, or need to know, that Snow would be fine sitting down and not moving for a few hours, instead of finding out what was in the next chamber. Of course, she was Snow White. No point in letting her family know she had had it with this island. Or that she was no longer convinced it was even survivable.
fter an excruciating ten minutes or so of hopping from one stone to the next, one tile to the next without triggering any light tiles, and utterly failing to come up with a good enough “steamed fish” joke to crack at Hook, Neal and Emma managed to get to the next part of the maze first. It was a great big vault with a ton of different passageways. Of course there were, Neal mused. Pan liked to make you think you had a choice, that you had control, even and especially when you didn’t. Emma seemed stiff and ready to snap at any given moment. David was limping on, barely faster than a turtle. Her mom was almost worse, with a grin painted onto her face that she obviously didn’t feel. It was like she was baring her teeth at the cave.
Neal tried to shake the goosebumps out of his shoulders, but mostly just made his arm itch and burn from the movement. He scratched idly at his bad shoulder with his good hand as the rest of the group trickled in, everyone looking in every direction at once to determine which was the least deadly option. Choose the form of your destructor. Because there were all deadly. Because of course there was a least deadly option. It would lead to the next trap: then the next, and the next, until they were all dead and Pan could giggle at them at the exit that they almost made it to. Or at least the exit that four out of five managed to get to. He wasn’t a liar, and Pan had said one of them would die.
One in five odds aren’t actually that bad, a little voice in Neal’s head whispered. Let’s vote Hook off the island, the voice continued. Neal grinned with dark, foul humor gleaming in his eyes. The only kind of humor that survived Neverland. Survive until he got some pixie dust, like last time, because dying might get him off of this island but he just plain old didn’t feel like it. After all, sometimes death and pixie dust didn’t work to escape this hellhole.
His shoulder hurt too much to keep scratching it as he wandered further into the cave. Lost boys would have helped make this cave. Building random puzzle mazes were a “fun way” to liven up island living ’round these parts. Especially when the boys made some unlucky victim run through them. Some were made specifically so they could hoot and holler as some little boy scrambled for his life. Anyone who survived them got some glory, sure, but mostly Pan liked watching the weakest of his little cult suffer for the amusement of the many. It kept them in line and in awe of him.
“So I guess we each pick a cave and hope for the best?” Emma offered. Neal twisted his neck around to look at her—didn’t they just do that and almost barbeque her dad? He sighed. They didn’t have much choice. They all knew it.
“Good a plan as any,” Neal said, and walked into one of the caviest-looking caves. Then again, they all looked cavernous. This one was wider inside, which was a relief. He didn’t have to pin his arms against himself—which reminded him too much about things best left forgotten. He tried rolling his shoulders again and almost managed to do it without hurting too badly. He groaned in self-pity and took another step, which wasn’t his best decision. He tumbled, doing everything he could to not land on his bad arm, and skidded down a slope headfirst.
Once he slid to a stop, his hand brushed something smooth that jerked away from him. He looked over, and a coil of red reared up at him and spread its hoods. A two-headed Agrabah Viper. The air left his lungs in a slow breath, and he did not begin breathing again. Moving was bad, but he had to move his eyes, his head, and his neck, to look around himself. More snakes. Neal didn’t know that much about snakes other than keep away from them, and that if you didn’t fuck with them they wouldn’t fuck with you. Also that if they were hissing, they thought you were fucking with them.
One, with red and yellow bands, slithered away as if he’d startled it awake. He probably did. Another, gray-green with an arrow-shaped head that might have been as long as his hand, jerked its head to the side to peer at Neal. More were bound to be in here. Lots more, probably. He looked back at the viper. Those were venomous, right? That’s why they were famous? People-killing kind of venomous. Unless they were poisonous. Some sort of weird distinction.
Screw this, there’s snakes in here, Neal thought to himself. He rolled onto his feet with a feat of dexterity that set his arm and side on fire, earning a chorus of hissing from the snakes. It was kind of like applause. He swiftly and with purpose left the snakes to their own devices and returned to the main cave just in time to watch Hook stumble back in with a cloud of stench worse than his usual mix of rum, brine, and unwashed leather. The pirate coughed, gagged, and spewed onto the stone floor.
“Gas,” he sputtered out, as if that wasn’t already obvious. Neaf elt that it was safe to assume Hook’s passage wasn’t safe to navigate right now. He looked around, noticing Snow nearly fly out of another corridor as a steel plate full of jagged spikes slammed behind her. Charming managed to wobble his way over to her, solemnly shaking his head when she looked at him with hopeful eyes.
“There’s these hot crystals in there, I didn’t think it was safe to go through. Could hardly stand the heat.”
Charming and Snow looked to Neal in unison.
“Snakes,” Neal groaned, dusting dirt off his cloak. “Why’d it have to be snakes?”
From his right, he heard a chortle. Emma sat on the floor, half an inch of her blonde hair scorched and her jacket a burnt mess of leather.
She stuck her thumb behind her when he caught her eye, “Fire in the hole,” and got to her feet. Hook had almost recovered, his eyes still tearing as he gulped for air that didn’t burn, and he carved marks in the sides of caves that had been unsuitable. Emma gave him a hard thump on the back, trying to help him clear out his lungs. He stood straighter and tried to give her a smile, but just managed to look like he was about to throw up. Neal bit back a grin.
Emma trailed into a cave behind Hook that hadn’t been explored yet, and Neal jogged to catch up behind her. He nearly ran into her as she she started gagging. Neal made the mistake of breathing, and the unmistakable reek of an open mass grave made him grab a handful of leather and tug Emma back to the main chamber.
“Something definitely died in there. A lot of somethings,” Neal told the group, “Kind of stunk like Hook’s coat, might be the same material,” he couldn’t help but jab. The pirate grumbled some cuss or another at him as he scratched an X into the rock.
“Looks like that’s the exit,” Emma said as she headed towards the only unexplored cave. Charming and Snow managed to hobble behind her before Neal and Hook could start shoving each other into the back again, leaving the two to simply continue shoving each other whenever one got into another’s personal space.
Hook managed to get in front of him so Neal shoved him vindictively before following into the next chamber. As he clambered through, he felt his back foot slip as if something moved, and he jerked his ankle in. Just in time—a thin, sharp-looking grate of metal slid over the door, locking them in.
“Son of a bitch,” Neal swore. Then the hissing noises ahead of them started. He was really tired of that sound. A dart, small and sharp, embedded into the wall less than an inch in front of Snow’s face.
Everyone pressed against the wall as they tried to get away from the flying darts. He almost thought Snow swore, too. Of course, it could have just been the kohl-smeared pirate.
“You said something about ancient tiki idols, Em?” He said on his next breath. More darts, cross bow bolts he thought. He tugged his hood over his eyes and pretended to be anywhere but where he was, squashed between Mount Death Trap and the asshole that stole his mother from him. When he looked out from under his hood again, Hook was taking a deep swig from the engraved flask. Asshole.
“I’m tempted to get Granny a shotgun, later, so I never have to look at a crossbow bolt ever again.” Emma growled.
“I’ll buy the shells,” Charming offered. Emma nodded.
“Well, that’s it. We’ve gotta get Henry back home so we can buy Granny a shotgun. No death allowed. Everybody got that?”she called out, somewhat unnecessarily. Neal could have whispered a response and she’d have heard it. Then, with a crazed roar, she ran through the hallway.
“Emma!” Snow scolded, as if Emma had started eating before saying grace. Neal almost laughed. They were all gonna die. Why not do ridiculous things? Charming sighed, as if he could hear Neal’s thoughts.
“Darling?” Charming said, shifting his weight nervously. Snow and Charming looked at one another and nodded before ducking into one another and running through the corridor. Neal and Hook watched as crossbows pinged harmlessly off of Charming’s chitinous growths. They met Emma on the far side, clutching at her arm. Charming pulled a crossbow bolt out of his. Neal could swear they were quipping about shotguns without him from the other side of the trap.
He looked at Hook right as the pirate attempted a mad dash. He made it about halfway through before Neal saw a dart tear into the leather on the back of his coat, slashing through all the way to flesh and cutting in enough to draw blood.
Then one went straight through his ass.
Hook jumped most of the way to the rest of the way to the end, hopping in place as he clutched his wounded cheek. Neal laughed so hard he bent over and had to put one hand to his knee to keep from falling over. Team Charming looked him over before biting back their own smiles, although Snow at least patted him consolingly on the shoulder.
“Come on, Neal,” Emma called over. He motioned for her to give him a moment and guffawed again. He kept at it until the rest of the group was clearly no longer amused.
“Come ON, Neal!” Emma called again. He got up, rolled his bad arm, winced for good luck, and sprinted.
He got past the halfway mark in a few strides—no arrows! He pumped his legs underneath him, launching himself with each step. He was mere steps from the rest of the gang, he could make it!
He made one last jump as a sharp pain shot through his leg. He crashed into the group and managed a very manly shriek as he tried to put weight on his leg. He looked down and saw a wooden arrow jutting out of his pants leg. He looked back at Emma.
“I think I should retire from adventuring,” he said solemnly. Emma rolled her eyes and made a rude hand gesture that hadn’t existed in the Enchanted Forest.
Charming and Snow yanked the arrow from Charming’s arm, but he didn’t even flinch. They then used the bolt against Neal’s knee to keep it from bending, using strips from his cloak. In close to no time, they had trimmed the arrow sticking out of his knee, strapped enough other arrows around it to keep his knee from moving, and tucked Neal over Charming’s shoulder so they could move to the next passage and get the hell out of Mount Death Trap.
The door out had an ornate padlock on it. Emma looked at it, turned it over, looked at it some more, and looked for Neal to unlock it.
“Hook, you got your picks?” Neal asked.
“Picks? Why would you assume Hook had lockpicks?” Snow asked, shockingly innocent for an ex-bandit. Then again, the whole bandit thing seemed more like a Girl Scout campout compared to Neverland.
“Who taught him, love?” Hook said, leaning in with a roll of leather in his hand. It took a moment to put tools in, another to gently rotate the slender iron pieces, and the padlock slid open.
“A pirate,” Hook purred, giving everyone a sly grin.
Neal hated him.
“What would have happened if someone didn’t have picks?” Emma wondered out loud. Neal remembered a flash of terror, a lot of running, and an older boy grabbing him by the throat and screaming, shaking him, calling him a pirate, a traitor-
“We’d have died.” Neal stated flatly from Charming’s rocky shoulder. The same way others have died in here, he didn’t say out loud.
Before anyone walked through the door, Hook held up his hand and peered closely at the ceiling. He leaned back and motioned upwards.
“There’s a massive crossbow set to shoot the first fool to go striding in. Any volunteers?” Hook said, looking pointedly at Snow.
“Of all the times we need Regina, Warrior Princess,” Emma said, looking at Neal.
“You saying she could catch it?” Neal replied.
“She’s a queen, actually,” Snow interjected.
“Oh, she’s caught arrows,” Emma told him, ignoring her mother.
“Hot.” Neal grinned.
“Not really a warrior, either,” Snow continued, “and I hate to admit it but we could really use her about now,”
“A mighty princess,” Emma began narrating, still ignoring her parents.
“Forged in the heat of battle,” Neal chimed in. Charming and Hook shared a look of bafflement.
h, man. “Xena.” Emma grinned, “The TV show.” Emma said, finally remembering that the middle of the Evil Volcano Lair probably wasn’t the most appropriate place to be shooting the breeze with her ex. Then again, she needed Neal around to keep her sane.
After all, she was in the middle of Peter Pan’s death trap inside a volcano, after her son was kidnapped, after she broke a curse that his other mother laid on an entire people, including her parents. Neal’s mild distraction was a blessing. His major injury was not, but they’d deal with that on a step-by-step basis. Just like finding her son. And her son’s other mother, who was probably still furious at her. Emma sighed.
“What about that trap, Hook?” she asked.
“However you spring it, a big crossbow is going to fire something at us. Might not be a big bolt, might be a dozen poisoned darts or some other nefarious gimcrack meant to make us meet our demise,” Hook grumbled. He took another drink out of his flask and Emma was sorely tempted to yank it out of his hand and help herself.
“What the hell,” Emma questioned, “is a gimcrack?” She looked at Neal.
“Doodad. Thingamabob. Whatsit. Something beyond his reckoning. So, lots of things,” Neal answered with a shrug.
Hook cut his eyes at Neal before taking another swig of rum.
“How’s the trap triggered?” Snow asked.
“So far it’s been pressure plates, but he could be changing things up, make a tripwire. We could be on a pressure plate, like before,” Hook offered.
“So it’ll fire at the last person to go through?” Charming tried to clarify.
“No idea, mate.”
Emma watched the others, why couldn’t Regina be here? She was stuck with her parents, her ex, and the Captain of the SS Shady Mc-Hook Hand. Not her best insult, but it was in her head so she let herself slide on that one.
Snow tossed her quiver through the door, the leather plodding down right in front of the next trap.
“I don’t think there’s a tripwire. Grab the quiver for me, Hook?” Snow politely demanded. Emma wondered if this is what questing was supposed to be like. Standing around and wandering into random holes in caves, and then getting set on fire and shot at before repeating the process. Hook dragged the quiver back to Snow, and some arrows fell out, but no one seemed to care.
“If it’s on a pressure plate that we’re on, we could try jumping at the same time to see if that triggered the trap,” Snow began.
“And we could walk through after it was sprung,” Charming finished. They beamed at each other, one covered in steam burns and the other turning into a barnacle. Still smiling. Emma didn’t know how they did it.
“Make sure not to fall back into the spot we just walked out of,” Hook warned, rubbing his latest wound. Charming nodded and leaned into the side of the entrance. Emma moved to Neal’s opposing side, bracing him under the shoulder.
“Jump on three?”
“One, two, three!” Everyone did their best at jumping; Snow and Hook hopped, Charming heaved upwards, and Emma did her best on battered feet to throw both herself and Neal in a vertical motion. A crunch was heard as they all cleared the cave floor, and needle-like bolts rained down harmlessly from the other side of the door.
Neal landed and snarled, his leg jostling in the worst of ways. Then again, Emma mused, any movement on his knee would hurt like hell—he still had a wooden arrow shaft sticking out of him, which Charming and Snow had insisted was necessary to keep in to keep him from bleeding out. It all looked pretty hellish and gross, but she wasn’t a doctor so what did she know?
Hook leaned back through the door and checked the massive crossbow. He looked back, nodded, and gingerly walked through the door to look at what was around the corner. He let out a low whistle and leaned on the wall for the rest of the group, drinking again from his flask before finally capping the thing and shoved it back in his vest.
Snow went ahead and gasped as Emma and Charming helped Neal hobble through the passage. Natural light hit Emma’s eyes as she turned into a natural grotto, with a great big hole in the ceiling that showed blue sky through it.
The light at the end of the tunnel. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a train. Emma looked around and took it all in.
It was framed with lush green vines that hung down in carpeted chunks around the crater’s walls, steam blurring blue in the open air. It seemed like this chamber in the mountain must have been the size of a football field, and the earth plunged sharply into the heart of the volcano, where lava slowly churned like Satan’s gravy.
Satan’s gravy? Emma smirked. She had officially spent too much time with Henry. Speaking of her Kid, he would love this; it was straight out of an adventure movie:
Spring water burbled from spouts in the cave walls, spilling into great brassy urns chained across the canopy, the water overflowing into the lava like rain and producing thick fogs of gray, silver, and blue steam to flee to the sky.
Below the brass urns, stones rose from the lava. Some were decently sized, but some were barely bigger than stepping stones. Emma found Neal’s fingers with her hand and clutched them over her shoulder. They looked slick from the water that sprayed from the greatest, lowest-set cistern in the middle.
“How do you want to do this?” Emma asked the two most disadvantaged members of her group. Because maybe she could Lara Croft it, maybe in her wildest dreams, but David and Neal probably couldn’t.
Charming sighed and peered at the chains interlocked overhead. Neal just looked at her like she asked him to sprout wings.
“What’s the likelihood that something’s going to shoot at us as soon as we get out into the open?” Hook wondered aloud, “Or that Pan decided that this wasn’t the sort of trap you were meant to get out of?”
“Pan wouldn’t design something inescapable, not put this much effort into something that no one could survive,” Neal argued.
“How do you know that for sure, Baelfire?”
“I’m not Baelfire!” Neal said sternly to the pirate.
They were literally stuck in an evil volcano lair deathtrap from hell and the two men were arguing like children.
She stared at the pillars, the lava, and the hole above them. It was good to see the sky, even if was unreachable.
t was all taking too long, it was too much. She couldn’t deal with it anymore.
Snow jumped onto the biggest, nearest rock to them.
“Mary Margaret!” Emma screamed.
“Snow!” Charming echoed, equally scared.
“I don’t think the pillar moved, do you think it moved?” Snow called back. At the others’ noncommittal shrugs, she threw up her hands and hopped to the next rock. Had it moved? She couldn’t tell. There had to be a trick to it, something that would fix everything and get them out.
“Emma, Hook, you following?”
She glared at them, and she willed them to follow her.
“What are we supposed to do with…” Hook faltered, shaking his metal hook at Charming and Neal.
“We’ll make a pulley or something.” Snow responded, hopping across more of the stone pillars.
“Jesus, Snow!” Emma screamed. “There’s lava under you, and how, exactly, are we gonna make a pulley?” Emma called back as Neal leaned further into Charming.
“Maybe Henry and Regina are on the other side of the cave, sipping iced lemonade and fanning plane tickets to Maine in their faces to keep cool. In Hawaiian shirts.”
Emma smiled. ”Regina wearing a bright tropical print over one of her pantsuits. I will get to tell the Kid about this and it will be a Storybook adventure and we will go home and live happily ever after.”
Snow listened to Emma ramble and scowled.
“How’s it looking, Hook?” Emma called, trying to see him through the mist and smoke.
“Swan, it looks like imminent death by frippery, jungle garbage, and lava. Should I give you reports on the hour or just when the report actually changes?” Hook shouted back.
“Tell her when a one-legged cripple beats you out of Pan’s death trap, pirate!” Neal called from behind her.
Snow saw him a mere two stones away, balancing on one leg with a look on his face that reminded her strongly of some of the people in Charming’s coma ward during the curse.
“Neal!” Emma shouted at him, “Why didn’t you just wait?”
Behind Neal, she saw movement jumping towards Hook’s position.
“DAVID!” Emma roared.
“I’m fine!” Charming called back from where Emma couldn’t yell at him.
“I’ve got him, Swan!” Hook yelled. “He can jump to your mother from here—they always get to each other, right?”
She could not believe they were fighting and screaming at each other when they were so close.
A blinding light made Snow wince and blink. There was an opening in the wall; it had appeared out of nowhere.
There’s a door!” Snow shouted excitedly, “Hold on to him, Hook!” She leapt to the ledge where the door was. The impact shot up through her shins and into her chest; it made her burn pull and throb. She winced.
“What door?” Emma called. Snow turned again, the door was gone, it had turned back into rock, like a mirage.
“It was just here!” Snow felt her heart pounding out through her scalded chest. “It was here!” She started scrabbling at the wall with her hands. She turned back and leapt to the pillar that she was on when she saw it. As she hit the rock, the wall that had magically flowed into a chamber suddenly reappeared with stairs lit by sunlight, visible on the other side.
“That’s our exit!” Snow shouted excitedly, “We’ve got a way out of here!”
“Snow, I’m coming to you!” David said, and he belly-flopped onto a smaller rock in between Mary Margaret and Hook. With more struggling, he managed to get upright and flop onto Snow’s rock. She pulled him up by the shirt.
“Snow, you go to the ledge, I have an idea on how this is supposed to work! Neal, can you get to me?” Emma yelled. Snow nodded and hopped daintily to the platform. Neal managed a bad imitation of Charming’s standing-flop and gasped as his gut hit hard rock. He kept his grip, though, and gave Emma a thumbs-up. Emma winced in sympathy.
“Snow, hit that bowl over there with an arrow! Make the water fall onto the big rock and trigger whatever pressure plate Pan put in!” Emma ordered.
Snow pulled her bow with a smile. Her little girl finally sounded like a princess.
She took aim and let her breath flow out of her as she released the string.
Neal got to his good knee as brass pinged. The arrow struck true and pushed the chains to the urn, which made crunching noises, and water spilled onto the stone followed by the heavy thud of the urn.
Snow waited, her lungs stock still and empty in her chest, and hoped and wished that the urn stayed put, letting out a relieved sigh when it did. The pressure-weighted pillar was held down, part of the puzzle solved. She celebrated for a moment then reached into her quiver. Her stomach plummeted when her fingers found only three arrows.
David leapt to Snow, and actually landing on his feet, and stumbled into her. He was solid, more so than before. He didn’t smell right, and she mourned that. David always smelled of linen and Old Spice, but now he smelled of smoke and magic. She just wanted it all to be over, to be able to relax into his arms. It wasn’t over, though; they were still in Neverland and wasting time. Snow leaned him against the wall and looked to Emma, waiting for her decision. Though if she didn’t hurry, leader or no, Snow would make the decision for her. She was her mother and she knew best. Some part of her, a quiet voice that was easily smothered by fear, panic, and anger, told her that was the sort of thing Cora would say.
“Neal first,” Emma called. “Snow, do you think you can reach those vines?”
Snow shook her head clear of those thoughts and waited for Neal to hop to the next stone. She watched him gasp in pain each time he had to move his knee. She’d never had such an injury, but considering the way her burn was hurting, she knew he had to be just as bad off, if not worse. Emma did what she could to help him get his weight on his good leg, then they jumped as one to the next stone. Neal’s gasp of pain made Emma grit her teeth as Snow pulled the bow, aimed, and fired her arrow. Mother and daughter watched in silence as the arrow got tangled in a chain and dropped, uselessly, into lava below. A dark gray stream of smoke rose where the arrow fell.
Snow was frustrated, with herself, with her bow, with the realization that Pan had won. One of them was going to be left here.
Snow tried to ignore Emma’s sharp intake of breath. She had failed her grandson, then her husband, and now her daughter.
mma looked between Neal and Hook, and she wondered if the men had realized what was going on, before gathering the courage to look her mother in the eye. There was steel in Snow’s gaze. Something determined and wild that Emma knew better than to fight against, but she still wanted to. She didn’t want to leave one of them to die, even though that was clearly what Snow had already decided.
She tried to silently plead across the chasm with her mother, but knew that it was useless. She watched the gears click in David’s face as he caught up with what was happening, and watched her father’s face turn solemn as he put a supportive hand on Snow’s shoulder.
The worst part was how she was happy Snow wasn’t willing to compromise. The joy of knowing that her parents would sacrifice to see her live through this trial tasted like bitter, bitter guilt as Neal, blind to the boon Emma’s presence had accidentally granted him, cried out as he landed on the final platform.
Emma didn’t know how she was supposed to look Hook in the eye.
“Swan?” Spoke the devil from the other side of the volcano. She didn’t know if he could see that Snow was down to two arrows. Snow readied a shot, carefully and slowly this time, before shooting the vessel at the perfect angle. Emma looked to the sky, feeling as useless as the intangible vapors floating around her.
“Swan!” Hook called out again.
“Neal’s going first,” Emma replied, telling Hook as much as she was telling Snow. Once upon a time, Neal had abandoned her. She wouldn’t return the favor today.
ook watched Baelfire, hobbling and nearly lame, try to get to his knee. He watched Baelfire jump across to the ledge, to the exit to this foul cave, as Snow White and Prince Charming grabbed the young man by the scruff of the shirt and haul his crippled ass to the wall that would soon disappear as Swan got to the next rock.
He debated jumping to the platform. However, one of their merry little band would have to stay, and if he tried to drive a wedge between Swan and her parents and get out of here alive, the lot of them would probably just gut him and throw him onto the platform, honor be damned, to keep their family in one raggedy piece.
He wouldn’t ask Baelfire to jump again. How could he? He had once asked Bae to make a leap of faith in him without words, and the lad had never trusted him again. He had almost had Baelfire as a son. One more reminder Killian Jones had tried to keep of his beloved Milah, like the flask he kept next to his heart and the ivory pistol he’d shot that one enemy captain in the eye with once that was tucked away in his cabin. He smiled as he got his flask out, running his thumb over the engraved M before uncapping it and taking a swig.
“Swan!” Hook called out a third time. She jumped into view, hair gold in the light. She turned to look at him, eyes stony and soft all at once. She raised her hands, trying to grab the words for an apology, the words for a goodbye, out of the steam that flitted through her fingers and tousled her hair.
Captain Killian Jones squatted down and sat on his rock, gingerly leaning to one side, and managed to quirk his lips up into the smile of a damned man. Emma smiled back, just as weakly.
“It would have never worked out between us,” she called to him.
“Is it because I’m a pirate, love?” Killian asked, lifting his flask in a silent toast to her. He closed his eyes and took a drink. It was a long time before he opened them again. When he did, it was to the clatter of brass as the urn two stones away spilled onto where Emma Swan had been, and she took her family out of Pan’s labyrinth. Baelfire, now called Neal, had her tucked underneath his arm as the lucky cripple hobbled off to find his long lost son.
Hook looked down to the red lava some ways below his boots. He looked up to the sky, tantalizing and unreachable through a web of chains and apparatus that he couldn’t reach either. He could fall and burn to death. He could go forwards and sit on the ledge to the doorway that his crew had gone through, never to follow as he had no way to activate the final pillar. Not to mention he’d have to go through water. He couldn’t tell whether he’d be scalded again, and he bloody hell would prefer to die with eyebrows intact and face handsome, not red and puffy and tender like his neck and chest. He’d had enough of that, thank you.
He took another swig. He hadn’t had enough of the sea, he lamented. Love it and loathe it as he did, he had always imagined himself going on one last sea adventure.
“Pirate,” he muttered under his breath as he took another swig of rum. What was a pirate?
A swashbuckler? Certainly, Captain Hook was that. A flash of steel in his good hand, whipping into his enemies as his feet danced over wooden decks slick with blood—yes, Captain Hook had been a swashbuckler in his time. Hook sighed as he realized that he was thinking of his prime being in the past instead of—as he had thought just days ago—being in the present. Impressive what a day and a deathtrap will do, he mused.
He’d had many impressive days. He’d stolen; robbed; smuggled; ransacked; pillaged; cavorted; spent lavish amounts of money; cavorted with Milah, which was a separate and treasured category of his life; drank good rum, bad rum, wine, beer, bad beer, whiskey, tequila, swill, rotgut; done all the things a pirate should do.
Betrayer. He’d betrayed and been betrayed. It was robbing and pillaging, but with words and hearts.
“It would have never worked out between us,” Hook called to Jack the Giant Slayer, stuck on a sinking ship when she never learned how to swim, as he stood in the only lifeboat, heavy in the water with loot and treasure, before he sat down and began rowing.
“PIRATE,” Jack screamed at him, the worst insult she could think of. She screamed a good many more insults, but that one was the truest. That was, after all, the reason why it would never have worked out between them. Because Hook was a pirate.
He had betrayed and been betrayed.
Killian’s eyes scanned the room, his hands itching for a pistol or a knife or a cutlass or anything—but here he was, unarmed and alone in a room of murderous cutthroats. Murderous cutthroats that had every intent of stealing his ship and leaving him dead on Tortuga while they roamed the seas on the Jolly Roger. His eyes showed no possible escape without a battle, and his hand remembered the wine bottle he had gone to bed with last night. It was just behind him, cradled in the lifeless arms of the woman he had shared it with in the liveliest of ways before his treacherous crew slit her throat in the wee hours of the morning.
One of his crew unsheathed a knife. It scratched slowly out of his belt, his comrades grinning with missing or yellowed teeth.
Battle with a bottle, he mused. Sounds like a drinking ballad. Ballad of the Bottle Battle.
He grabbed the bottle and wielded it as he would wield a sword. His men laughed.
“Still a bit drunk, Captain?” The knife-wielding one bayed, thinking he was a comedian.
He was much funnier—well, funnier-looking—when Killian flicked the bottle around his enemy’s wrist the same way he would with a sword, spinning his knife out of his hand and burying it deeply into the wood of the floor. The surprise could have been smelled on him, if he smelled less like a rotting, beached whale. Captain Jones smashed the bottle, bottom-first, into the mutineer’s nose.
Oh, how he fought, though. He deserved the legends, the accolades, the women fawning over him…
Soft, creamy skin writhed under his lips, under his hands. He pulled Milah flush against him as her fingernails scratched into his ribs. His stomach fluttered as if he was weak with drink, but the only thing he wanted to consume was the woman before him.
Later, she looked at him from the sheets of his bunk, playfully hiding part of her face underneath a blanket.
“Come find your treasure, Pirate,” she cajoled. His stomach twirled again, his cheeks splitting into a grin as he crept back to his giggling lover.
He sighed at the memory of Milah, drinking again from his flask. He looked at his shining hook, the physical reminder of her loss, and thought something he often dreamt about—his hand being the physical form of her departure. She was his love, and here he was, missing her, unable to cope in the world without her anymore. He could no more regain the lost limb as he could return her to life. He had tried to do both, and he had failed.
His eyes fluttered closed. He’d lost her, and he’d traded her boy, her only child, to Pan when he first turned on Killian. Because he didn’t need another token to remember her by, he had told himself.
He deserved to be left here to rot, Killian realized. Hook was a horrible wretch that deserved no better than to die away from the sea where Milah’s ashes were spread.
“Too far from the sea,” Killian said, pondering life and what lay beyond. Perhaps if he could atone, he would wipe some of the red from his ledger. Perhaps, if he had one last chance. If the last of the Jones line had one more chance to sail again, what would he do?
Would he have done it all over again? Given a chance? Betray his country for love of his lost brother? Killian wondered for a moment what their mother had said when a lieutenant from the Navy would have come to her home to tell her she had lost both of her boys at sea.
Would she have blamed pirates? Cried out that word like blasphemy to the heavens, daring God to smite her in her grief? And what of Milah? If he could do it all again, would she still be his?
He had been many things in his life. Swashbuckler, betrayer, scoundrel, murderer, outlaw, heartless fiend. Although he must take certain exception to that one, seeing as Cora never did take out his heart. Cora was dead, too. Not exactly Captain Hook’s fault, but Killian couldn’t help the dread and blame that weighed down his soul as if he was guilty of that as well. Perhaps it was due to all his other sins. He’s committed so many—did he even remember them all? Doubtful. The drink had stolen many a memory from him. Fast, fleeting moments of one night to the morning, but never the dark and bloodsoaked nightmares of his past. Drink could only do so much.
What a wretch was he, sitting here, exactly where he belonged, after he earned that cursed title. “Pirate,” Killian said out loud, resentful of his own mistakes.
“Yeah, and you’re a pretty bad one, too,” rang a voice from above. Killian blinked and looked up. Emma, descending as an angel, hair aglow in sunlight, vines wrapped around her waist and stretching out like wings from behind her as her crew lowered her to fetch him. Hook stared dumbly at her.
“What, did you think I’d leave you?” Emma asked as she threw him a thick vine. Killian snagged it with his hook as he put away his flask.
“It’s what I’d have done,” Killian told her, wondering if she would leave if she’d heard all of his crimes.
“Yeah, that’s not really one of your best traits,” Emma quipped. Her feet were bare again, he saw, scraped and bloody from what must have been another climb.
“I make up for it,” he forced a show of bravado, “by being devilishly handsome,” Hook retorted, tying the vine around his waist and pretending to not see Emma roll her eyes. With a grand lurch, the two of them were hauled up out of the hellhole, to the freedom of the slightly less hellish jungle.
Killian couldn’t be more relieved. They weren’t on the top of the mountain, it turned out, but rather on a slope of it. Hook embraced Emma, Charming, and Snow as dear friends—they had, after all, just saved his damned life. He’d hug Baelfire, too, if he wasn’t as likely to be stabbed in the attempt.
“Aww, see? Together we can do anything!” Snow chirped from under Hook’s arm. “Pan thought he had us outwitted, but here we are, still alive!”
Charming cheerfully thumped Hook on the back. Hook tried not to wince as the rocky club of a prince’s arm rammed into what was turning into a blister from the volcanic steam in Pan’s traps.
ade it out alive, huh? Speak for yourself,” Emma grumbled and wriggled out of the pirate’s sudden bout of sentimentality. She peeled the desiccated jacket off and mournfully dropped it to the ground.
Burns, scorch marks, tears, tears with blood on them—the jacket was well and truly ruined.
“Some burns, some scrapes, and an arrow through the knee, but we did just make it through a volcano,” Charming reminded her.
“Yes!” The voice that Emma had quickly learned to loathe came from above. “You’ve all made it through my lovely little traps! Congratulations!” Pan crowed from a tree branch. “Of course, it’s a shame I was right, earlier, and one of your happy band of trespassers hasn’t made it. Peter Pan is never wrong, you see. So I guess it wasn’t a shame. Just inevitable.”
He cocked a brow and ran his hand through his tousled locks. Emma wanted to beat the smug look off of his face. He had almost killed them repeatedly. He hadn’t succeeded, though, they were all still there.
Emma looked to Neal, on a makeshift crutch made from a tree branch, to Snow and Hook, riddled in burns, to David, calcifying in every breath. No, she thought to herself, Pan can’t be right, the group is-
Peter Pan giggled at her before he took a bite out of a dark red apple.
The apple was what made her realize what had happened. What she had allowed to happen. Yes, they had made it through the volcano, but they hadn’t. Her blood went cold, her hands fisted and suddenly all she wanted to do was hurt him.
“Where is she, you bastard?” Emma screamed, her voice cracked and went hoarse. This couldn’t be happening again, not again. She tried to march towards that moronic boy-band wannabe. She would climb the tree and beat the answer out of him. The anger that she had been fighting since, well forever, was bubbling up in her chest and throat. There was, unfortunately, the small matter of her parents blocking her way. Parents that grabbed either arm and held her back from the impish, pubescent turd that had tried his damnedest to destroy her family. They were holding her back from the boy that might have killed a vital member of that family while she wasn’t looking. They wouldn’t let her help, they wouldn’t let her save-
“Regina!” Emma screamed again, more desperate, wild and uncontrolled. She had promised to save her, every time. Thats what good people do, she had said. She had promised Henry that she would protect his Mom. She had promised herself, after seeing Regina so hurt and weak after Greg and Tamara had tortured her, that she would never let anyone hurt Regina again. She fought against David and Snow’s grasp, hoping that her parents would understand, would let her go and let her rip Pan into bloody little bits and tear his ribcage apart so she could present his terrible little heart to her child’s mother. Because she would find her, and everything would be okay. She would make it okay.
“Such a pity, too! A terribly powerful shadow, all gone to waste.” Pan lamented, still smiling. He dropped the apple, bored, and flitted out of the tree, soaring away with a malicious cackle.
“Emma, wait,” Charming whispered urgently. Emma didn’t even understand what he said. Well, understand, but not comprehend. Why would she wait when Regina was in danger? Regina, the mother of her child, was in danger! Again! Henry needed both of his moms! He needed Regina! Safe. Whole. His whole family. Emma needed to find Regina, desperately, and get her son’s family back in order, back in one piece, back in Storybrooke. Henry needed her and Emma, well, she needed Henry to be happy. She looked at Snow and Charming, not knowing why they would want to talk about this when it was so clearly obvious. Rescuing damsels was Fairytale 101, why were they still holding her back?
She wrenched her way out of her parents’ smothering grips, her anger giving her strength she didn’t realize she’d had. She unsheathed her sword and took it to a thick vine—Regina was somewhere in this forest, and she was going to cut the whole damn thing down if she had to in order to get her family back to the way it was supposed to be.
“Ems,” Neal cooed, “Being pissy isn’t gonna solve anything,”
She could punch him in the face right now. She gritted her teeth and glowered at him out of the corner of her eye. He was still in trouble for, well a lot of things, and she couldn’t deal with any of that right now.
A twig snapped, and it wasn’t underneath Emma’s feet. Her head whipped towards the brush where the sound had come from, and Emma was longing for a fight. A Lost Boy would do.
“Come out slowly,” she ordered and pointed her sword at the shrubbery. In any sane and rational world she would be the crazy one. In Neverland, sword pointing and death threatening was par for the course.
The small form that emerged from the jungle had a bundle of golden curls wrapped into a bun on her head—and it was a her, a feminine woman with an upturned nose and eyes like India ink. Those eyes went wide as they passed over Emma and her sword, and they landed on the group assembled behind her.
“Bae?!” The woman squealed excitedly.
“Tink?” Neal said in disbelief. The blonde bounced right past Emma and hugged Neal ferociously. Hook’s eyes twinkled at her.
“Miss Bell,” he said. She looked at him, face impassive.
“Hook,” she all but growled as she walked up to him. He smiled widely. What he probably considered a suave grin was quickly smacked off his face with enough force to snap his head to the side.
“I might have- I deserved that,” Hook admitted.
“You deserved more than that,” Tinkerbell growled menacingly.
Though she was only a hair over five feet, so the menace was all in her voice, in Emma’s opinion. Then it occurred to her, the puzzle pieces came together in her head.
“Okay, Tink? Bell? This is Tinkerbell? Seriously?” Emma asked, looking to her parents for confirmation. She looked at the woman again. Not much like the fairies back in Storybrooke. Emma’s eyes caught a metal glint in her hand. A key ring? Kind of odd to have in Neverland.
The plastic fob gave it away. Emma grabbed her by the scruff of her rags and pinned her to the nearest tree, sword point against her throat. All the anger was back and Emma didn’t bother to hold back.
“Where’s Regina? How did you get her key chain?”
“I don’t know,” Tinkerbell tried to say, but Emma didn’t need a lie detector in her head to know that this fairy should have been named Tinkerturd for all the shit she talked.
“Don’t lie to me. That is a picture of our son you’ve got in your hand.” Emma snarled, pressing the steel against Tinkerbell’s pale throat.
“Where is she?” Emma growled, the desperation in her eyes leeching into her voice. Tinkerbell blinked, and looked at Emma as if she had only just noticed her.
“Who are you?” Tinkerbell asked. Emma leaned in, nose to nose with the tiny blonde pest.
“My name is Emma, and I want my family back. You can help or you can see how you like being thrown headfirst into a fucking volcano.”
Behind her, Hook and Neal exchanged glances.
“Tink, if you know-”
“What have you done with her, lass?”
Emma glared, on the edge of her sanity. She could feel herself holding on by a thread, she needed to find Regina.
Tinkerbell flinched and tried to peel back from Emma’s gaze, her head hit the tree trunk.
“The western peninsula,” she replied softly.
“Did you take her to the Fields?” Hook asked from over Emma’s shoulder.
“Yes,” Tinkerbell said, her voice almost a whisper.
Emma didn’t know what that meant, but Hook seemed to.
“She’s as good as dead,” Hook balked. He looked physically ill at the idea, which scared Emma a little. It had to be bad for Hook, Cora’s Buddy and Greg’s Pal, to look afraid.
Tinkerbell’s eyes shone with something malicious and twisted for a moment.
“It’s a kinder fate than what she deserves,” she told him.
. . . To Be Continued in Episode 13
Total Word Count: 9614 words