Chapter 1: PROLOGUE
“There has always been a war,” Prince David’s father always told him. In a way, he’s right. For as long as anyone can remember, as long as written history goes back, there has been the war, though what began as a magic versus non-magic fight has shifted into a power-hungry battle between two leaders — no matter who the leaders are.
Centuries passed, generation gave way to generation, but the war has remained. New technologies have come and gone: horses gave way to trains, only to be replaced by cars and tanks; weapons have come and gone.
But the War has remained. A few leaders have come along to try and stop the two sides from fighting, but none were strong enough to really stop the war, turning to the temptation of corruption before too long. Even the current King of the Gale, King George, started his rule as a kind and understanding ruler, but all it took to change that was the death of his wife, the King turning to dark magic in hopes of getting her back and only finding anger and corruption.
The only thing that has spanned the ages is the War.
The War, and the Wasteland. The two cities have grown, smaller hubs popping up where people have congregated, but the Wasteland remains, a large expanse of land that runs across the middle of the world where nothing will grow, where no people have congregated, barren of even animal life. And this has become the center for the War, home to makeshift barracks and trenches and destruction.
Prince David dreams of a day when the world is a better place, somewhere that he’s not terrified to raise an heir, somewhere where there is more to live for than corruption and violence. But that day hasn’t come, not yet.
According to some legends, there has never been a time when the Nephilim and the humans were not at war, but he’s too much of a cynic to believe that. Some part of him has to believe that there was a time, no matter how long ago, when the world was not drowning in war and hatred and destruction — because, if that’s true, then he can still believe that it’s possible for there to be a time after the war. That’s why he decided to fight for the Prince instead of the King; King George lives for war, for fighting, but his son, Prince David, helps men like Killian be sure that there is still good in the world, even when it seems impossible to find.
Though, recently, this good has become harder and harder for him to find, and though he chose to fight for the Prince, he certainly didn’t choose to be captured by the enemy, tortured in hopes of revealing the Prince’s location.
The rain pours down around him, pounding against his aching skin. It's cold, just shy of too cold, and Killian thinks that, maybe, if he could think straight, see straight, focus on anything beyond the sharp thrum of pain rolling through his body, it might even feel good.
But nothing can feel good here, when everything around him is so terrible. His world is broken, his home is broken, his soul is broken, his skin is broken. In multiple places. Scars run up and down his arms, his shoulders, his torso. Gunshots, knife wounds, weirdly-healing scars from magic-users and weres and fae blades — and maybe even a few self-inflicted from his lowest moments.
Not to mention his hand. The wound on his arm from the enemy Nephilim soldiers, the almost-unbelievably large were-shifter and the silent but sadistic fire-wielding sprite that helped torture him, was part of the worst pain he had ever felt. There was nothing he could do about the wound on his chest, the gash so close to his heart he feared they would pierce it, but the wound to his arm was another story. He’s seen a wound like that before, knows exactly the damage it would have across his body if the poison was left to spread, so he did the only thing he could think of to save himself, both from the poison and the chains that bound him and removed the rest of the limb with his own dagger.
He raises his eyes from the ground, needing to focus on something other than the throbbing pain blurring the edges of his vision, some sort of goal that he can dedicate what is left of his quickly depleting energy to. And that's when he sees it, so bright and clear in the darkness of the stormy night that he's sure he's imagining it. But he heads towards it anyway, the bright red cross of salvation like a beacon of hope in front of him.
By the grace of one of the higher powers — he honestly could care less about which one — no atheists in foxholes, one of his superiors used to tell them — the door to the building is open, though the lights are low, only enough to light up the single aisle that runs between the beds that line the walls. There are only a few bodies in the beds — humans and fae of all kinds — and they all seem to be asleep, a fact that his entry to the hospital does not seem to have any effect on. But none of this changes the fact that he has no idea where he is, and — more importantly — whether he has made it out of enemy territory, which changes around these parts quicker than the tides. Somewhere in the back of his mind, in a voice that sounds startlingly like his brother's, he wonders if there is still any such thing as safe territory anymore. He has enough common sense left to drag himself through the aisle between the rows of bed and through a set of double doors, and into what looks like an office off to his left, before finally crumbling on the floor, thankful for the warmth of his new shelter before he finally — finally , every bone in his body screams — succumbs to the pain and passes out.
Chapter 2: THE HOSPITAL - Part 1
In all meanings of the word, Emma Swan is tired. First and foremost, she's emotionally exhausted, hasn't had a night of sleep without nightmares for months, even before the war started. She's tired of seeing families torn apart, or children born without knowing if they have a father or not. That's almost as bad as knowing. Almost.
Most of all, though, she's tired of war. That's why she's here in the first place, helping bring life into the world instead of seeing it slip from her grasp out on the battlefield, where she was trained to be. Sick of death , she says to herself for the hundredth time.
She inserts her key into the lock, shrugging when she finds it already open. Maybe one of the other nurses beat her here, she thinks, but the thought is gone as soon as she pushes the door open.
There is blood everywhere.
Immediately, she goes on the defensive. This is what she trained for, yes, but it's not the life she leads anymore, hasn’t been for a while. (And a sight like this would never fail to catch someone off-guard, used to it or not.) She presses her thumb to the scanner on the lockbox next to the door, a worst-case-scenario precaution she hoped she never had to use, but when she feels the cool metal of the pistol in her fingers, the deafening pounding of her heart slows a tad, and a bit more when she turns back to the main room to find all the women still asleep in their beds. Whatever happened here, it wasn’t to one of her girls.
“Emma, thank God.” The voice from behind her startles her even though it is one that she would recognize anywhere, but that doesn’t stop her from whipping around with the pistol held out in front of her, ready to strike.
But, to her immense relief, it is exactly who she expects: Ruby, her head nurse and best friend.
“Ruby, what happened here?”
Running her fingers through her long, red-streaked hair, she begins to tell Emma as much as she knows. “I must have been asleep when he came in, though how he got through the door and past me is a mystery, and he couldn’t have been here long before the smell of his blood finally woke me up. No more than a few hours, if that. And all that I know is that he’s lost a lot of blood.”
“Did you check on him at all? See what his wounds look like?”
With her eyes turned to the ground, Ruby shakes her head, almost ashamed. “I knew — I didn’t trust myself, what with the blood shortage and all, but he’s—” When she does lift her eyes to meet those of her friend, they’re wide with something that Emma can only define as fear . “I don’t know what he is, Em. I’ve never smelled anything like him before.”
“You did what you could, Ruby,” Emma assures her. “I’ll — let me go see what we’re dealing with.”
But Ruby stops her, a perfectly-manicured hand wrapped around her bicep. “Be careful, Emma. He could be dangerous.”
As silently as she can, and with Ruby’s last words echoing through her mind, she follows the trail of blood, large drops that turn to larger puddles as she gets closer to the door to the offices, ending as a large wiped smudge on the linoleum on the other side of the door, presumably where he — whoever he is — finally lost his footing.
But the streak leads right into her office, and she is slightly shocked to find the door closed.
Not as shocked as she is when she opens the door, though; because there, on the floor of her office, crumpled in a seated position against the front of her desk, is a man — a soldier, she assumes, though he is in jeans and a faded grey t-shirt instead of a traditional uniform. A very, very wounded soldier, every inch of him covered in blood and mud, with the former even dripping from him in some places. Instinctively, she takes a quick inventory of his visible wounds: a gash on his forehead, a long slice along his cheek, lines down his bare arms.
But the worst of it is his left arm, blunted halfway up his forearm and tied with a large, tight tourniquet, though not tight enough to completely stop the bleeding. Seeing the piles of it around the man's body, not to mention all he's lost on his way here, Emma questions for a moment how — if — he can even be alive, also questioning his age by his delicate features, by the dark hair that hangs down to his equally dark eyebrows. He can't be much older than she is, she thinks, hoping that he's more than just another loss of this terrible war.
And then he takes a long, hitching breath, letting out a low moan on the exhale.
Good Lord. He's alive.
Emma falls to her knees in front of him, not even caring about the bloodstains that ruin her pants the moment they touch the ground.
She reaches onto the shelf beside her, pulling one of the rags from it's pristine pile, using it to dab away some of the blood from his face.
“You're okay,” she says softly, searching the cups on her desk for a cup not stained with leftover coffee, which she finds on the third try, closing her eyes to focus on filling the cup with water to dip the rag in, hoping the moisture will aid in clearing the crust from around his eyes. “You're going to be okay, do you hear me?” She has no idea where the words come from, but they seem to help, and after a few more groans, the man in front of her opens his eyes with a short yelp.
Emma drops the rag, pressing her palms instead against his cheeks. In sharp contrast to his dirty skin, to his dark hair, dark clothes, his eyes are the brightest blue she has ever seen, and for a moment, staring into them pulls the breath from her lungs and makes it impossible for her to find it again for a drawn-out moment.
“Hello,” she says finally, hoping that her smile hides the terror that suddenly fills her heart. She has no idea who this man is, what he is capable of, which side of this war he is on — or, perhaps most importantly, what brought him to her hospital, of all places.
He has no answer for her, simply stares at her, bright eyes wide. Slowly, the smile fades from her face.
“You're going to be okay. I don't know what brought you here, but I'm going to do everything I can to take care of you.” The source of the words is still a mystery, but as she says them, she realizes that every single one of them is true, no matter who he is.
The corner of his lips ticks up into a momentary smile, though it quickly turns to a grimace when he realizes how much pain it causes him. He opens his mouth, Emma assumes to try to speak, but she stops him with a hand on his arm.
“No, please, don’t. You’re— you lost a lot of blood, I don’t even know how you made it here alive, but I’m going to take care of you, okay?”
Again, he tries to smile, and gets a little closer before the muscles in his face fight against the movement. So, instead of talking, he tries to move — slowly, with Emma’s eyes finding every movement of his muscles — his hand pointing first to the mug of water in Emma’s hand, then — slowly, carefully — to his mouth, though the fact that the very movement causes him pain is written plainly across his features.
“Shit, yeah, okay,” she mumbles, pushing herself up off the floor. “Let me — let me find you a clean cup.”
If they weren’t in a time of war, she tells herself, her office would be more organized. Though whether that’s really true or not is something she may never know, since she has never known a world that is not suffering through war. She would like to believe that one day, maybe , the world can be bright and healthy and good, but for now, she’ll just live with her messy desk — especially in times like this, rare as they may be, when the mess actually helps her, God forbid. It took three tries to find the mug that she filled with water to wipe the man’s face, and it takes her another two to find one already filled with water, this time worrying more about gnats and dirt and floaters than leftover coffee stains, but as she holds the worn ceramic up to his lips and slowly dribbles some into his mouth, she has a feeling that finding a gnat would have made it very high on his list of problems.
Slowly, slowly , he swallows, once, twice, his eyes tightly shut with all the pain he must be in, and then backs his head away from the mug, making some of the contents dribble down his chin and onto his dirty grey shirt.
She cannot even begin to imagine the type of pain he must be in, between the gashes on his face, probably a broken rib or two (if not something more serious, like internal bleeding), not to mention his newly-blunted arm. But even the few drops of water must have felt like a godsend, and, with his head resting back against the front panel of her desk once more, he takes a slow, deep breath, not even seeming to mind his body’s reaction to it, and opens his eyes once more.
“Thank you,” he whispers, his voice cracked and hoarse, though better than Emma anticipated given his state.
Still: “Shh, shh, don’t talk,” she says as calmly as she can, running the wet rag along his jawline again. “You have so many injuries — though,” she tries her best to smile, managing to catch a flash of brightness in his already shining blue eyes, “I’m sure you already know that. I don’t know what brought you to my hospital, but I can assure you that I’m going to do everything I can to get you back on your feet, okay? My name is Emma, and I’m going to take care of you.”
He nods, slowly blinking his eyes, and Emma even dares to think she sees hope in them, a light that stays on his face even as he slips out of consciousness once more.
With the help of Ruby, they carefully move him to the cot in her office, trying their best not to reopen any of the wounds that have managed to close, removing his worn grey tee-shirt to see what they have to work with.
Emma doesn’t even know what to say, but Ruby’s whispered curse almost covers it.
It’s worse than she imagined. Much worse — and Ruby, not trained in field medicine like she is, has never seen anything like it (even during the time she spends in wolf form) and leaves the room with one of her hands covering her mouth.
Emma doesn’t blame her.
How he is still alive is a question that she seriously contemplates, carefully ghosting her fingers over the still-open wounds to make sure that it’s really real. She’s seen dark magic; she’s seen the damage that dark magic can inflict. But what she has never seen is dark magic that sticks around once the wielder is no longer inflicting, magic that shimmers and crackles like lightning across the skin.
What she has never seen… until now.
“What did they do to you?” she whispers, almost wishing she knew the answer, while at the same time thankful that she has never had to go through what this man has obviously been through. She dips her rag back into the new bucket of water, carefully dabbing the blood-covered skin of his chest, finding more small cuts and bruises with every new, clean inch, which she finds surprisingly easy to heal with her magic.
When she makes it to his left pec, though — the spot immediately over his heart — she feels the breath escape from her lungs and finds herself unable to replace it. Not only is it worse than she imagined, but it’s unlike anything Emma has ever seen before. It shocks her. Literally , the energy from the leftover magic reacts to hers and physically shocks her fingers. There’s a gash, a literal gash across his heart that’s large enough she would be able to see into it if it were clean.
What surprises her the most, though, is that it’s not bleeding. If it were bleeding, he would probably be dead, but this is somehow…
It’s black. Shining, glimmering black, moving like the waves on the ocean. For a moment, Emma is entranced by the constant motion of it, and then it shocks her again, her magic crackling in response to it. She can’t imagine the type of pain he must be in, this dark magic gash so close to his heart. She can’t help herself and she stretches her fingers out to touch it, even through the crackling of her magic at the tips of her fingers, but when she comes in contact with it, it just feels like skin. As if there is nothing wrong with it at all.
She finds herself thinking about his status, since he is not wearing the uniform of either side of the war — but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an allegiance , she tells herself, carefully wiping away the dirt around the bleeding gash on his shoulder, a wound that barely missed the edge of an intricate ship’s helm and compass tattoo that runs to the end of his newly-blunted arm. Somehow, the wound that brought her the most surprise upon finding him seems to be the one that has started to heal the nicest, among those that respond to her magic instead of ignoring it entirely. Even so, a field amputation is not an injury to take lightly, magic or no, and Emma makes a mental note to find some stitches and a new tourniquet, just in case.
Which isn’t going to be easy, with the enemy breathing down her neck. She doesn’t really even have enough morphine to treat him, since they’re mostly given pills to give to at the beginning of labor, plus a small and dwindling supply of IV drip in case the women lose consciousness. Shit. She hadn’t even thought about that. She’s going to have to make due with what she has left of that and her supply of sleeping pills until she can figure out how to get another order so soon without raising eyebrows.
She’s going to have to contact David, though with the enemy lines shifting around her every day, whether it would even be feasible for him to come all the way out here is an entirely different problem.
Morphine, tourniquets, stitching thread .
She begins to make the list in her head, a sort of mantra as she continues to work her way across the cuts and gashes on his chest. She finds that many of them not only heal, but disappear without even a scar in a way that she has never seen before. She turns her attention to his face, specifically to the large cut that runs down his right cheek, but a low moan from the lips of the injured man stops her.
“That’s—” she says out loud, realizing she is speaking to a room empty besides a man who needs to be unconscious, who she assumed was given his tightly-closed eyes. Impossible , she continues in her own head, going back to carefully wiping the blood and dirt from his impossibly-wounded chest.
It can’t be the Prince, she tells herself, tossing her soiled rag onto the floor and finding a new one from the shelf behind her. David is a common enough name, he must be speaking of someone other than the Prince, someone other than the man who is the closest thing to family that she has ever known. He has to be.
“ David ,” he groans again, this time followed by, “No, no, Liam, please,” and if she weren’t kneeling above him, didn’t already have her hands on his chest, he surely would have thrashed off the bed. In catching him, holding him down, her fingers are wound through a chain that holds a collection of rings, each one as beautiful and intricate as the last, obviously well taken care of, besides the same signs of hardship that cover the rest of this man’s body. For a moment, she finds herself really looking at him, at the ripples of muscle and dark hair that cover what she can see of his chest and stomach; at the collection of artistry she finds spread across his scarred skin; at his strong jawline and the long, dark eyelashes that rest against his cheeks — until he gasps, squeezing his eyes tight, and tries to thrash beneath her again.
With that, she reminds herself of her task at hand, that he is not here for her to marvel at (even being the most handsome man she has ever seen), and she stands once more, hoping that he doesn’t wound himself further in the minutes it will take her to gather more supplies from the stockroom.
Ariel, one of her nurses, is in the basement, restocking the shelves when she makes her way down the steps. “Emma!” she says, somehow always chipper, even in the middle of an ever-present crisis. “How is our newest patient? Is he going to be okay?”
All Emma can do is nod, finding the IV supplies she came down here for before adding a few coils of gauze to the pile in her arms.
“He’ll — he’ll live, at least,” she mutters, but her mind is elsewhere, remembering the secret room that she built off the back of the basement, dreading the day she needed to use it — a day that, thankfully, had never come.
“Well, that’s good at least. Ruby told me that he’s in pretty bad shape, but hopefully nothing that we can’t fix before we have to send him away—”
Emma turns to her, her eyes suddenly snapping to attention. “Listen, you shouldn’t — you can’t mention him to anyone, or even around anyone. No one can know he’s here.”
The smile fades from the redhead’s face. She simply nods.
“Meanwhile,” Emma continues, turning back to the steel wall at the back of the hospital. “We have to move him down here, to the crisis room.”
“Who’s looking for him?”
Emma shakes her head. “I have no clue. But I do know that I’ve never seen dark magic like this, and that just makes me even more afraid. But until we figure it out, he’s not here, as far as anyone is aware.”
Ariel nods again.
“Would you be able to set up an IV for him? Make sure it’s clean enough for me to take care of him? I don’t want to move him again just yet, but I’m afraid this may be the only way to keep him safe.”
Emma pauses for a moment, wondering — wishing — there was another option besides the crisis room, hoping that maybe this is all a bad dream that she’ll wake up from any moment. But the blood she draws from inside her bottom lip tells another story, and she nods before turning away.
“Emma,” Ariel calls, and Emma has a feeling that she may have missed the first time. “I, uh, need you to open the room.”
“Of course,” she says, the ghost of a smile passing across her lips. She forgot the built-in safeties of the safe room: the fact that only she can open the door, the magic-plus-biometric locks the best she could find when she was adding the room. “Right.”
They move him later that day, once he comes back to consciousness, his body propped carefully between Emma and Ariel’s shoulders, walking half-on his own and half-aided by both Emma and Ariel’s magic. By the time they get him down the steps and onto the hospital bed, he’s only torn two of the stitches in his side, which were Emma’s last resort to stop some of the bleeding in the first place.
Even with just the small amount of healing that Emma was able to do on her own, and the new morphine drip hooked up to his still-complete arm, he already seems to be in much better shape than before.
“Thank you, Ariel,” she says, hoping that her tone of finality is enough to get her point across. Now that he’s conscious, she needs to talk to him, needs to figure out what brought him to her hospital — and she needs to do it alone.
Ariel nods, either too exhausted to respond or picking up on Emma’s tone. “Let me know if I can help,” she says, leaving them behind without another word.
When the door closes behind her, Emma turns to her patient, noticing the way his long eyelashes rest on his cheeks with his eyes closed.
“Alright, listen,” she says, taking a seat in the chair set up next to the cot, and his eyes snap back open. “I need to — we need to talk about your situation here…” She wants to end the sentence with his name, hoping to make up for some of the bite behind her voice, but she realizes now that she’s never learned it.
His face becomes an emotionless mask, his back even seeming to straighten a bit at the authority in her voice. So she tries to tone it down a little, offering a soft smile when he does dare to meet her eyes.
“Can we start with your name?” she asks, trying to soften her voice. “Please?” Whether it works or not is unclear, but he seems to calm a bit either way.
“Killian,” he says, his voice hoarse, and when he coughs to clear it, the pain on his face is obvious. “Killian Jones.”
“Well, Killian Jones,” she says. “I’m Emma Swan.”
He breathes out a small laugh, his hand squeezing into a fist on his ribs with the movement.
“The morphine should kick in soon, and hopefully the pain will start to subside.”
“Thank you, love,” he says, his voice stronger than Emma’s heard it — and also the first time she's noticed his accent, resembling some from the northern mer-people, though his dark hair and tanned skin makes her question even that.
She gives him a moment like this, gathering his strength, before leaning closer to him, resting her forearms on her knees. “But now, can you — can you tell me what you remember about getting here?”
He takes a deep breath, closing his eyes as if trying to remember — which, Emma realizes, is exactly what he’s doing. After a moment, he starts: “Alright, I was… they were questioning me about the location of —" He stops for a moment, briefly meeting her eyes but focusing behind her instead before starting again. "They were looking for some intel that they thought I had. And then when the rain started, they gave up and left me outside, thinking I was too weak to get away, and they were half-right. But the water, it — Christ, Killian — I managed to get away. I had no idea where I was, where I was trying to go, so I just… picked a direction and took off. I really thought I was going to die out there somewhere, that I was finally going to succumb to my wounds, but then I saw this light and I really thought I was going to die, until I realized that it was — it was this hospital, and the door was unlocked even though everyone was asleep. I don’t… I really don’t remember anything after that, but somehow I guess I wound up in your office.”
"Who was questioning you?"
She recognizes the fear in his eyes the moment the question slips through her lips. Just as she does not know which side of the war he is on, he must constantly be asking himself the same question about her, especially now that she knows he is a soldier, even without a uniform. If he says the wrong thing, if he reveals that he is on the opposite side of the war as she is, it could prove futile: she could refuse him care, could turn him out of doors to die — or, worse, she could turn him back to the enemy that he narrowly escaped from.
But she’s not going to do either of those things. “Listen, Killian, this is a hospital. There are no sides to a war in a place like this. But, given your wounds and the obvious hardship you’ve experienced at the hands of your enemy, I fully understand your wariness towards sharing this with me, and I’m certainly not going to force you.”
A silent beat passes, the silence even deeper in the underground safe room, before she pushes herself off the chair.
“I’m working on gathering supplies for you, but I’m going to be honest, it’s not going to be easy. We’ve been under a regular watch from the enemy recently, what with the changing territories in this area, so I may not be able to get everything I need as fast as I’m hoping to, for your sake.”
“I’m just grateful that you’re willing to help me, love,” he says, and something in his voice lets her know that this is genuine.
She just wishes there was more she could do.
Morphine, tourniquets, stitching thread, blood, she says to herself as she leaves him alone to rest up some more. Hope , she adds, though she rolls her eyes at her own joke. He needs that more than anything else.
Chapter 3: THE HOSPITAL, Part 2
“My god, Emma, he looks terrible.” If Emma’s eyes weren’t focused so intensely on Killian’s face, on his wounds, she would have seen the flash of recognition that passed across David’s face, paired with a small smile towards the man in the makeshift bed, when she let him into the safe room.
But she doesn’t.
“He still has the fever?” he asks after a moment. Neither of them move their gaze off of the wounded man, David’s eyes wide as Emma begins to change some of his bandages, revealing some of the worst of the wounds.
Some of the worst, but not yet the worst one, which she has covered carefully with gauze and rags to try to keep debris out of it, since she has not yet discovered a way to close it.
“I think that’s what’s causing the nightmares, and I feel like if I can bring that down, he’ll stop re-opening his wounds when he thrashes around and may actually start to heal.”
“Is that what’s stopping him from healing?” Emma knows the question he is trying to ask without asking it. It’s something she’s been trying not to think about, an idea that she’s been holding in since the first time she saw the wound on his chest.
“He’s already much better than he was when he got here a week ago, you should have seen him then. I haven’t seen anything that bad since we—” The words stop dead in her throat, memories of a time when she was still on the battlefield flashing in her mind before she can wish the nightmares away.
But she doesn’t have to say anything more; David already knows exactly what she is talking about, the thought that's been camping in back of her mind but has not yet come to the forefront. Because if that’s the case…
If that’s the case, there’s no way to heal him. All she would be able to do is watch his condition worsen before her eyes until he —
“The magic-inflicted wounds aren’t helping much, either. They’re bad, David. Definitely the worst I’ve ever seen.” Worse than before , she thinks, knowing that David is experiencing the same memories she is. “He told me that they’re from an interrogation, people trying to get information from him, but I think he’s too afraid to tell me anything more, and I don’t blame him. He keeps calling out three names: Liam, Milah, and David. It’s a stretch, I know, but I was hoping you may know something, maybe you recognize him.”
This time, Emma turns to the Prince as the flash of a smile passes across his face, the memories there no longer from bloody battlefield hospitals, but from somewhere with perhaps a little more hope. “I do, actually, I know him personally, and—”
Before David gets the chance to say more, Killian groans on the makeshift bed, his eyes flying open. For a moment, they are only filled with terror, most likely from another nightmare. But then he begins to focus on the room around him, first on Emma for the moment it takes to remember where he is before moving to David.
A wide smile spreads across his face — one David mirrors.
"Your highness," Killian says, holding his hand out towards David.
Taking it in one of his own, they share a laugh. "Please, Jones, I've told you a million times, it's David."
Emma is beyond confused, to say the least. "How do you two—?" she starts, but Killian is already asking a question of his own, his attention turned to her.
"So, wait, you know the Prince?"
She can't help herself, and she slings her arm over David's shoulder. "David and l have quite a history, we go way back."
"You and I have that in common, it seems, love."
"I hate to break it to you, Jones, but Emma outdates you by quite a lot."
Emma punches his arm. "Are you calling me old?"
He just scoffs. "I would never."
After the room goes silent for a moment, David turns to Killian, all the laughter drained from his face. “Alright, Jones, now that you know we’re all on the same side here, can you tell us what happened?”
Killian nods, but doesn’t speak right away. A pained look crosses his face even though he has not moved, and Emma knows this can’t be easy for him. She’s never been inside the war zones that she’s only heard about, but she’s seen her fair share of the aftermath of them in hospitals and on transports — and the fact that Killian’s wounds are by far the worst she’s ever witnessed can only mean that what he went through is far beyond what anyone should have to endure.
Killian is sitting at the table, a well-worn map spread out in front of him. They have been laying low for a few months now, taking advantage of the silence that the Prince promised the last time they saw him. There was a plan somewhere in his imagination, they could all tell, but it wasn’t time for them to learn it yet, either for their own protection or because he did not yet feel confident enough in it.
Either way, the six of them were thankful for the opportunity to have a few weeks to recuperate before they’re needed again.
It’s far from anywhere Killian ever pictured his life taking him, working with an elite group of soldiers hand-picked by the Prince of the Gale, going on secret missions and working closely with the man who was once his enemy — before Killian lost everything and was saved by the Prince himself, pulled from the water moments before he was ready to give up.
It’s far from anything he pictured, but there's nowhere else he would rather be.
All he has ever wanted to be is an honorable man, someone his brother would be proud of, and the day he learned that it meant rebelling against Gold and Nephilysis — the day he lost his brother, the only friend he ever had, and the woman he believed he was going to spend the rest of his life with — was the day everything changed. But these men, the men that he has been working with for almost four years now, are some of the most honorable men he has ever known, and he is proud to count himself among their ranks, only hoping that they feel the same way about him.
The house is almost silent, four of them out hunting and gathering supplies, leaving just Killian and Phillip, with Phillip puttering around the kitchen. Every once in a while, the sound of a pot or pan, or Phillip muttering to himself, makes its way to Killian in the living room.
But other than that, silence.
And then, suddenly, it is no longer silent, the door slamming open followed by the obvious bang of gunfire taking out Phillip as someone comes around to where he is sitting. In the time it takes Killian to turn towards the ruckus, it is over, the tendrils of dark magic coming from the fingers of the man — only referred to as such because Killian’s dealt with him before, a monster in the body of a young boy — wrapping around his limbs, chilling him to the bone. It’s a feeling that he’s tried to forget over the last ten years, once that’s haunted his nightmares along with the screams from that fateful day.
“Well, well, well, look who I’ve found,” he says, his voice as clear and emotionless as he remembers.
(As he’s tried to forget every night for the last ten years.)
“If it isn’t our friend the pirate captain.”
With those words, Killian immediately knows what he’s up against, knows exactly who is still standing in the kitchen.
Pan squeezes his hand, the tendrils of black magic wrapping tighter around his body.
And then everything goes black.
When he wakes, it’s raining. He’s laying in the mud, feels it seeping into every crevice of his clothing, already caking against his skin. He’s been there for a while. When he goes to move, he realizes that he has been chained to the side of the building, his chains shimmering with what he knows is dark magic. He’s also fairly sure he’s been drugged, with the world moving slowly and groggily around him.
Slowly, the memory of what happened to him comes back: sitting at the table with the map, Phillip in the kitchen, the intruders. He never even got the chance to see if Phillip was alive — though, given who the intruders were, he highly doubts it. He wonders if they also found the rest of the men who were staying in the cottage out in the woods, if they killed each of them as quickly as they killed Phillip; or perhaps some of them are here with him, caught off guard and abducted just as he was and are chained to other parts of the building, or other buildings.
He hopes not. He hopes, deep down, that if they were not lucky enough to be left alone, that they were lucky enough to find their ends quickly and not waiting for what can only become an excruciating end at the hands of the enemy.
Especially this enemy in particular.
It’s impossible, he knows it, but there’s something inside of him that wants to believe escape is possible. He’s been through his fair share of hardships, has fought and snuck his way out of camps before, but never under the nose of powerful dark magic. The cold rain begins to restore his focus, the grogginess of whatever he was drugged with wearing off, and he closes his eyes to focus on a few slow, deep breaths. Before long, he feels more like himself again, and begins to test his luck: seeing just how tightly the chains are wound around his arms, trying to turn and see how the chains are attached to the building.
“You’re not getting out of this one that easily, Jones,” a voice says, moving through the rain. “You see, I’ve been told that you have something I need.” He knows the voice is familiar, the memory buried somewhere deep inside him, but between his exhaustion and the haze of Pan's magic, it doesn’t come back to him until the figure appears through the sheets of rain and leans against the building beside him, the tail end of a still-lit cigarette held between his teeth.
Killian says nothing. Baelfire, he has learned, is the most spiteful being he's ever met — not completely surprising, given his father is Gold the Elder, both the most powerful and most corrupt leader the world has ever seen; and he has ended up powerless, a scientific anomaly in a completely magical line. So, while the questions come to him all at once, barraging his mind — are any of the other men alive? What did you do to Phillip? Why are you working with Pan? — he says none of them.
"My father has given me a mission, sending some of the most powerful members of his army under my command, and we only need one thing. One thing that I've been told you could be the key to finding. Imagine my surprise when I heard your name again, through the lips of one of my informants, after all these years: the man I thought I killed when I sent him falling through the air and into the icy waters of the Northern Mountains. So, Killian Jones, the pirate who apparently can't be killed, this is the first and only time I'm going to ask you nicely: where is Prince David?"
Anything else, and Killian probably would have answered immediately, having already escaped the grasp of Baelfire once before, and having seen first hand the damage Pan can do without even lifting a finger. But this is a question that he really does not have the answer to, and he feels his heart sink, the last bit of hope he held out diminished.
"I haven't seen the Prince for almost a year. I swear to you, that is the truth."
Baelfire smiles, and it cuts through Killian's chest like a blade of ice. He says nothing, though, and Pan appears through the sheets of rain, a matching smile spread across his face.
"My apologies, Captain, but I'm afraid that's not the right answer."
Ariel bursts through the doors to the safe room, fear obvious on her expressive face, and Killian's recounting of the story stops. "Emma, we need you upstairs. Now."
But David jumps from his seat first, hand on the pistol he keeps at his side. "What's the problem, Miss Fisher?"
"There's an enemy patrol here."
“What do you mean enemy patrol , Ariel?” Emma asks very slowly.
“Two of Gold’s men are here, and I’m pretty sure they’re looking for the runaway.”
Ariel and Emma both turn towards Killian, but David is already moving towards the stairs.
“Ruby is talking to them right now, but I don’t know how well she can hold them off. They seemed pretty set on searching the whole building, and one of them is a tracker, so I don’t—”
“David, I think you should stay here,” Emma calls out to him, stopping him on the other side of the door to the safe room, and stopping Ariel’s words before she can spiral into a rambling mess.
He whips around. “What?”
“This is a maternity hospital. We’re not on one side of the war or the other, and coming up to a patrol from Gold with the Prince of the Gale by my side isn’t really the best way to show that.”
After a moment, David nods, backtracking the few steps into the safe room, and Emma passes him to the other side of the doorway. “Fine, okay.”
“And I’m going to close the door behind me.”
David nods again.
“I’ll be right back,” she says, herding Ariel out of the room, as well, before closing the door on the two men.
When Emma pushes through the doors into the main room, Ruby is standing in the open doorway, her body completely shielding the two patrolmen from entering the hospital.
“If you have nothing to hide, why are you keeping us from entering?” one of them asks, his voice higher than she expected, almost like that of a child, and the words come out slowly and drawn out.
“This is a hospital. A maternity hospital, full of women staying here because your war took their husbands away without as much of a second thought about how it would affect them. All you will find here, sir, is a dozen women who curse your existence in the first place.”
“We’ve heard word of some of King George’s men coming here, bringing supplies.”
Emma speaks up, rushing down the aisle before Ruby can argue with them any longer. “We get supplies from anyone who is willing to offer them.”
The two guards look past Ruby, who is still blocking the doorway. “Who are you?” the other man asks.
“My name is Emma Swan. This is my hospital.”
“Alright, Emma Swan,” the first one says, and Ruby moves to the side to turn to face her, allowing Emma to see him for the first time. His face looks just as young as his voice sounds, save a thick, ragged scar running down his cheek. “If you have nothing to hide, where were you?”
Emma and Ruby share a glance, but it’s not necessary; Emma already knows where Ruby told the men she was, if she told them anything. “It’s a slow day here, so I was in the basement making a list of supplies that we need.”
“I don’t think you understand just how dire this situation is, Miss Swan. My tracker here followed the scent of a man who went missing from our camp to this hospital.”
Emma knows that there is no sense in trying to deny the fact that he was here if the tracker followed his scent, so she thinks quickly to come up with something. “I did bring a man in here a few days back who I found bleeding out not far from here. I tried to heal him, but his wounds were too severe and he didn’t make it.”
“What did you do with him?”
“I took him to the local battlefield hospital for them to bury him. We deal with life here, and not death.”
“If you’re lying to us, if you’re hiding him from us, that makes you an enemy of Nephilysis, an enemy of Prince Baelfire.”
“Just as we’re on no one’s side, we are also no one’s enemy. Why would I hide someone here?”
“I have no reason to deceive you.”
“Then you won’t mind if we take a look around.”
Shaking her head, Emma puts her hand on Ruby’s shoulder, pulling her further away from the door. “All I ask is that you leave the women in the beds alone.”
The silent tracker leads the way down the aisle, stopping momentarily at the beds that currently have women in them. Every eye in the room follows the two Nephilim soldiers down the aisle, but the tracker raises no alarms. Emma has given him a reason for Killian’s blood to be here, and she can only hope that Ruby covered his scent beyond the office well enough to deceive the enemy tracker.
Her breath is heavy in her chest, watching the tracker work his way around her office. The cabinets, her desk, the cot that he spent the first night on — everywhere that makes sense for the tracker to find Killian’s scent. And then he steps out of the office again, turning the opposite direction from the main room, towards the stairs to the basement.
Takes a few steps in that direction.
Stands up a little straighter.
“Did the man go down this hallway?” the tracker asks, his voice much deeper than Emma expected it to be.
Emma has to think quickly on her feet, needs to think faster than the weight that she is quickly feeling in her chest. She nods. “We took him down to one of the cots in the basement because of the care that he needed, plus to keep a better watch on him since we didn’t know if he was hostile or not.”
The tracker nods. “And we can go down there?”
Emma tries to keep her fear off her face. “Yeah, sure.”
She uses the biometric lock to open the door, leading the two soldiers down the steps with Ruby bringing up the rear. But she moves to the side when they reach the bottom to stand beside her friend. Ruby looks just as nervous as she is, her hands kept behind her back only to be that much closer to the pistol concealed there.
The tracker moves slowly through the large room, serpentining around the rows of shelves, stopping every once in a while in front of the items they use the most, where she assumes he picks up the most scents and movements.
But Emma knows none of them are Killian's.
He reaches the far end of the room, moving along the wall that contains the secret door to the safe room, though his focus still seems to be on the shelves. She can feel her heart pounding in her chest as he moves closer to the spot in the wall that contains her biometric lock, every inch of her body on edge. In this moment, for the first time in a while, she wishes she was carrying the pistol David gifted her when she opened the hospital, wishes she had something other than the small dagger sitting at her hip to protect herself should the need arise — though she wishes even harder that the need never arise in the first place.
She can tell something is amiss almost immediately, the tracker's eyebrows landing low on his forehead.
"Is there another room down here?"
All she does is shake her head, knowing that if she were to speak, her voice would probably falter.
He doesn't believe her. He does an about-face, placing his hands against the wall, right around the spot where the door is. Bangs on the wall with his fist. Moves down a little further before banging on it again. And then turns around again, though this time to his companion and not to Emma.
"There's something here."
They both turn to Emma, who is doing all she can to hide the shaking of her hands.
"There's nothing there," Ruby says. Loudly. Defensively.
"If this man says there's another room there, then I believe him. Open the door."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Before Emma really realizes what is happening, the door bursts open on its own, slamming outward to knock the tracker off his feet.
There's a deafening gunshot, so close to Emma that she can feel the reverberation of the shot through every inch of her body.
She can't move, suddenly paralyzed from shock or fear or —
And then —
Slowly, she lets out her breath, her heart pounding in her chest. She thought she got away from all this, from the gunfire and the fighting and the death , only to have it follow her back to her very hospital.
Someone is talking behind her, Ruby, she thinks, though it sounds like she is talking through water, and Emma is most definitely drowning.
The body of the tracker lays before her on the ground, a single gunshot in his chest slowly bleeding out onto the concrete floor.
(That's never going to come clean , she thinks, trying to focus on anything except what just happened to her.
Anything except death.)
"We have to leave. Now." This time, the voice is David's, a little bit clearer. But the message is as clear as day as Ruby wraps her arm around Emma's waist, leading her through the basement. "Jones, do you think you can walk?"
"No," Emma tries to argue, turning away from Ruby's grip on her. "No, he can't move, not in the state he's in."
"He has to, Emma. We can't stay here."
"He needs constant care, morphine and blood and — and —"
"Magic," David finishes, trying to prop Killian against his side while carrying a pile of supplies in his hand. "He needs Regina."
"I can't lose this one," Emma says, trying to wipe the memories of what happened the last time from her mind. She's back in that battalion hospital, back in the dirt and the dust trying to figure out how the hell she is supposed to cure something like that , staring down at —
"Emma, babe, you gotta stay with me here," Ruby says, her voice far away again, and Emma tries to shake herself back to reality.
Back to Killian.
Back to action.
She snaps back, just like that, her mind moving a mile a minute as she focuses on helping get Killian out of the basement and ready to move. "Alright, let me — let me help you, David. Rubes, can you get these supplies? I'm also — shit , I'm going to need to come back down here for more once we get him loaded into the truck."
"That's good, because I have to call Mary Margaret before we leave and tell her to meet us at Regina's and not here."
"Oh, she's going to love that," Emma jokes, and David smiles, helping her hoist Killian's good arm over her shoulder, keeping both the wound from his amputation and the one seeping black magic close to his own body. "Now, Killian, this isn't going to be easy, but once we're back in the truck I'll do what I can to ease your pain so that you're able to sleep for most of the ride back to the Gale, okay?"
It's a side of her that he hasn't seen in the few days he's spent under her care, the side that she thought she left out in the Wasteland when she decided to turn in her uniform and turn to bringing life into the world instead of being surrounded by death.
(A life that, in the most mundane moments of her current reality, she sometimes allows herself to admit that she misses: the adrenaline, the ability to give hope to a wounded soldier, and sometimes even the danger of it all. What she doesn't miss, though, is exactly what has haunted her, and what has turned up on her own doorstep now: death, destruction, the type of hatred that is responsible for the kinds of wounds Killian now has to go the rest of his life with.)
She's right, though. Once he's loaded into the back seat of David's truck, sprawled across the bench seat as much as he can manage, whatever she injects into his arm, paired with the small amount of magic she works as it takes effect, eases his pain enough that everything goes dark, his pain subsided for the time being, and he has drifted into a light sleep before they even make it on the road.
Chapter 4: THE ATHENAEUM // THE CABIN, Part 1
“What is that one?” Emma asks, trying to focus on Regina as she changes the bandages around Killian’s battlefield amputation — each part of this a remnant from a life she truly thought she left behind. She hasn’t practiced very much magic since she turned to prenatal medicine, only needing the few spells that would help women get through the pain of childbirth, and it’s been just as long since she’s used any potions beyond the few Johanna taught her how to make, nonetheless brewed them herself.
The memory of how to restitch an amputation like the one Killian sustained comes back to her no problem, though, so as she goes through the motions of fixing what got torn during transportation, she tries to pay as much attention to Regina as she can.
“This one is hawthorne flower mixed with a little mustard seed and some foxglove root."
“Do you think any of these are going to work?” Mary Margaret’s voice is small, strange coming from the one who usually offers hope even in the times that seem the most hopeless, but even she knows just how bad Killian’s wounds are.
Regina shakes her head, but doesn’t look up from the worn book on the table in front of her. “It would be much easier if we knew what he was poisoned with that helped make the dark magic this strong, but I’ve never seen anything strong enough to keep a wound from healing, especially not to the point that this one is. It’s just oozing whatever they used on him.
“And he didn’t tell you what the poison was?” Mary Margaret asks, pacing back and forth in the walkway between the kitchen and the living room, unable to keep her worry off her face.
“I doubt he even knows,” David says. “I’ve seen what Pan and Baelfire can do on their own firsthand, but now that they’re working together, I can only imagine the kind of vile, dark things they’re doing.”
“If it’s even from this land,” Emma says, letting the thought slip past her lips for the first time. It’s an idea that they’ve all been trying to avoid, knowing that it would make finding a cure even harder. For all the ages the world has been at war, the thought of new lands beyond their borders is a relatively new one, people too focused on the violence within these borders to even think about leaving them. But within the past few years, talk of other lands has been popping up, especially around communities of mer-nephilm and some of the elders who have tried to focus their energies on new ways of travel beyond trains and cars.
(King Gold had a small fleet of men who knew how to navigate in the air, the rumors said, but after some of the men threatened to take their science and technology to the Gale, Gold had all of the ships destroyed -- and, the rumors said, all the men as well.
“Yeah, well, let’s just hope that’s not the case,” Regina mumbles, turning yet another page in one of the books that are currently covering her large dining room table. “I am running out of ideas, though.”
David and Emma share a glance, thankfully not caught by the others in the room. They both have an idea, one paired with the nightmarish memory from a battlefield hospital and a time they’ve both tried to forget, a time that Emma specifically locked away in the back of her mind in a vault that she never wanted to re-open.
They try a few more potions and some minor spells on Killian’s wound, even hoping to find something that could at least keep debris from getting in it, but their search comes up fruitless. Nothing they do has any effect on the wound at all.
An hour later, and though the rest of Killian’s wounds are patched, stitched, and covered, they’ve made zero headway towards any sort of healing for the gash over his heart.
Regina has gone up to her office, searching for a few rare ingredients for her last-ditch effort for a healing potion and packing a bag for their travels; David and Mary Margaret sit on her back porch, each with a cup of coffee in the hand that is not grasping onto the other. But Emma sits on one of the kitchen chairs by where they laid Killian, her focus still on the glimmering wound that covers his heart. She has worked a small ball of her own magical energy between her hands, getting it to react with the snaps and crackles still coming from the dark magic inside the gash. She can feel the power from within it humming, louder as she and her magic move closer toward it, but the most she can get to happen is a fine protective layer over his skin, no thicker than cheesecloth, but still failing to touch the affected area.
She is so focused on this that she fails to notice as Killian starts to stir, his head moving slowly from one side to the other as he regains consciousness and tries to figure out where he is and how he got there.
“Swan,” he chokes out after a few moments, no louder than a whisper with how dry his throat has become, but it still scares her enough to get her to jump from her seat.
“Fuck,” she whispers, her hand over her heart, but a small smile starts to spread across her face. “Sorry, you just scared me.”
Killian offers a small smile of his own. “My apologies, love.” He tries to cough to clear his throat, but only finds pain. “Could I get some water?’ he whispers. “And what the hell did you do to me, everything hurts again.”
Jumping out of her seat for real this time, Emma nods. “Yes, yes, of course. And I’ll get you another round of painkillers.”
He finds his eyes locked on her as she walks away, really taking in her figure for the first time since she found him in her office. She’s slender, but muscular, he notices — though it’s not the first time for that, since she did have to move him a few times. But this is the first he notices how truly beautiful she is, her wavy blonde hair piled high on top of her head so as to stay out of her way as she worked on him. When she turns at the kitchen counter, filling the glass she has found with water from the faucet, she finds him watching her, and the corner of her lip turns up into a gentle smile.
He realizes here, answering her smile with a small one of his own, just how indebted to her he is. He does not remember much about the night he crawled into her hospital, but he knows just how damn lucky he was to have ended up there and not in a place where he would have been denied care — or, worse, turned back to Baelfire and Pan.
Just how lucky he was to find a caretaker with such strong ties to the Prince, the only other leader he has found worthy of his dedication since he lost his brother, and the man who, at many times, even reminds him of Liam in the best of ways.
Under any other circumstance, he most likely would have been dead already and not in the care of someone who so adamantly wants to find a way to rid him of the darkness found within the deep wound inflicted in his side. Someone he feels so drawn to, though he cannot figure out why, and certainly will not act on that feeling.
“Here you go,” she says, handing him a glass of water before doing her best to help him sit up without causing him pain or reopening any of the wounds she just finished restitching.
He takes a small sip of water, the coolness of it immediately helping his dry throat.
Slowly, Emma sits down beside him, and he realizes that she has not taken her eyes off of him since she handed him the glass.
“Can I ask you something?’ she asks after a moment, her voice quiet, as if she is trying to keep their conversation a secret from those around them, even though they are alone in the large open space.
He just nods, taking another sip of the water.
“Do you know what Pan used to drug you?”
Squeezing his eyes shut, he takes a deep, ragged breath. This is the conversation he has been dreading, because he knows that revealing it will only remove the small amount of hope left in Emma, her thinking that they will be able to find a cure for him. He does not know if anyone else in their party has any experience with the poison, but he knows more about it than he cares to, though he does not yet know how to share that with her.
“Yes,” he says finally. “Though I’m afraid that, in the times I’ve dealt with it in the past, there has been no way to cure the victim once it’s been used, and I certainly haven’t seen it used alongside dark magic the way it has been here.”
His words are ice to the deepest parts of her, and she doesn’t need him to say any more to know that her hunch has become the reality.
They say it at the same time, their eyes locking together moments later, and neither of them dares to move.
The sliding door to the back porch slides shut even though neither of them heard it open.
“Dreamshade?” David asks, and they both snap their attention to him, though only Emma nods.
“That’s good, though, right?” Mary Margaret asks, much too much hope in her voice for the circumstance, “Now that we know that, we just have to find the antidote?”
David and Emma share a look again, and this time it is noticed by the others in the room; obviously they know something they’re not sharing.
Nobody answers — nobody moves — for what feels like far too long. Mary Margaret takes turns staring at both of them, but does not press any further. The silence holds until Regina comes down the stairs, and she notices the awkward, tense silence right away.
“What the hell is going on down here?”
This is the question that breaks them, and both David and Emma seem to return their attention back to the room from wherever their minds took them to, but it’s not until David speaks that Killian does the same, his mind off on a memory of its own.
“Do you want to tell them, or should I?” David asks, and when Emma doesn’t answer, too afraid of the ghosts the story will reveal about her past, David takes the lead.
“Psst, Em,” David whispers, nudging her with his elbow. She didn’t mean to fall asleep, really, but with everything going on, with all the changes happening to everything around her, she's glad she was able to find a little bit of rest . It takes her a moment to adjust to her surroundings — or, what little of them she can see, since everything around her is still dark.
“It’s the middle of the night,” she mumbles, still trying to figure out what the single blinding light in front of the truck might be.
“Yeah, but we’re here.”
“You couldn’t have, I don’t know, gotten us here during the day?” she jokes, but neither of them smile. None of this is funny.
“We can’t cross the Wasteland during the day, Swan,” Robin says from the backseat, not sensing the joke, and David lets out a small laugh. But in a moment, as the hospital becomes clearer in front of them, all of the laughter in the truck is sucked away.
“Have any of you ever been to a battlefield hospital?” Emma asks, a much more serious tone in her voice than was there a moment before.
A much more terrified tone.
“I promised my mother I’d stay away from them,” David says.
“Yet here we are,” Robin deadpans. “Why are we here again?”
“I need to be somewhere other than sitting behind the planning table next to my father, who will never listen to nothing I say to him anyway.”
“And this is where you decided you’ll do the most good?”
“I was forbidden from battlefields, especially with all this new technology Gold’s trackers have. I wasn’t forbidden from raising the morale of the men fighting for me by aiding in their healing.”
“What about the rest of us?”
Emma holds up her hands, answering for herself before David can pull her into the conversation. “I’m a medic, so I can help people wherever we end up.”
“A healer I understand, Dave, but you brought a Terren to a place where neither a connection to the earth or the animals will be helpful.”
David cranes his head so he can see Robin in the rear-view mirror. “I brought you because you’re the only man who I trust with my life,” he says, as much sincerity in his voice as he can muster, and the truck stays silent as David parks in the small lot outside the hospital.
They’re greeted by a man in all black with wild blond hair sticking up in every direction and a woman with long, dark hair in jeans and a maroon fatigue top, with a rifle slung across her back and a pistol and a dagger in matching leather sheaths on either hip. T he man speaks first, holding his hand out to David after opening the gate for them before greeting the rest of them. “Welcome, Your Highness. It’s a pleasure to have you all here. I’m Victor Whale, I’m sort of in charge around here.”
“And I’m Mulan,” the woman says, her face and voice lacking all signs of emotion. “I’m in charge of everything Victor isn’t.”
She shakes none of their hands, though acknowledges David with a slight nod. He’s been around warriors like her before, can tell by her countenance alone that she is among those who have been forced into a war that they wanted nothing to do with simply because they had no other choice. He is sympathetic towards them, but he would never say it out loud, as it would be seen as dishonorable though he would never mean it as such.
Victor offers them a small tour of the camp, only the things they pass on the way to their cabins, with Mulan disappearing in the opposite direction.
“I apologize for her, Your Highness, she—” Victor tries, but David silences him both with a hand held up and with his own words.
“Please don’t apologize for her. I’ve been around enough of this war to sense the disdain for me, my father, and everything we stand for without anyone needing to say anything. It’s part of the reason I’m so dead-set on spending time outside of the safety of the palace, part of the reason I’m here in the first place.” Victor nods. “And also, I think it would be better if you just called me David, and I would only like for you to introduce me as such. I don’t want the soldiers out here to think of me as their Prince, but just as another man who is on their side of this war.”
At this, Victor smiles, pulling open the door to a well-kept cabin in a more secluded part of the camp. “You’re a good man, sir. I hope you know that much of this army chooses to fight for you and not for your father. That many of us wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”
David follows Emma and Robin through the door, finding themselves in a small common area with a few doors around it that lead to a single bathroom and four individual “bedrooms,” which only contain a small cot and a set of drawers, the space that the three of them will call home for the next few months.
“I really appreciate it, Victor.”
“Get some rest and I’ll find you again in the morning to show you around the rest of the camp. It’s been a quiet few days so hopefully you’ll be able to get a bit settled before any of you are really needed.”
They go through a relatively quiet two months, nothing unexpected coming up through the woodwork from the frontlines, though with far more bullets than Emma ever wanted to see, a very different life than she ever imagined since David introduced her to the palace medic.
Until Jefferson arrives. He was part of a prisoner swap between this hospital and another, not the first of those Emma had been there to witness, but he was in a far worse state than any of the other wounds that Emma has helped with since her arrival.
A far worse state than she’s ever seen before.
Will Scarlett, the man that came with him, relayed the information he’d discovered during his time as a prisoner in the Nephilim camp — though there was not much to relay beyond his knowledge of what happened to Jefferson.
“From what I gathered, there were a few higher-up Nephilim soldiers who recently took a liking to torture, and were, uh, practicing some newer forms.”
“This is more than just torture,” David mutters, watching as Whale’s surgical needle fails to take hold of the skin around the gash on the man’s arm.
“Well, yeah,” Will says, sitting up on his elbows in his cot. “One of those forms was this new kind of poison, supposedly from some far-off land that no one has ever seen before.”
“What land?” David asks.
Will narrows his eyes at him, his attention flitting for a moment to Robin, standing right behind the Prince. “I don’t bloody know, it’s a place that no one has ever been,” he practically spits. “Why do you look so familiar?”
David shrugs off the question, trying to go back to the poison. “Did you hear them say anything about the poison they used?”
This time, Will just shakes his head. After a moment, he adds, "I think they called it Dreamshade, if that means anything to you."
Everyone around the bed exchanges glances, hoping that it means something to one of them.
Over the next few days, his condition only worsens, the area around what they decide must have been the injection site growing black, with the darkness spreading further up his arm in his veins.
It takes two days before he is able to move, slowly recovering from his complete paralysis, but no one gets their hopes up.
It’s a week before he begins to speak, his eyes always set off in the distance and unresponsive to anything or anyone that tries to pull him out of the obvious trance he finds himself in, saying things like, "The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!" or "Half-past one, time for dinner!" in a very excited tone, his words rushed, though often half-whispered.
Or even, sometimes, words none of them even recognized, sung as if part of a poem: "Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimbel in the wabe. All mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe."
On day 12, he makes eye contact with Emma as she is changing some of his bandages, a crazed expression that covers every inch of his face — and somehow, Emma has the feeling that if he had the strength for it, he would have bolted to sit up straight.
“Neverland,” he says, his focus on her so intent that it terrifies her for a moment, though she does think this word is just part of another string of nonsense.
But then he reaches out to grab her arm, suddenly overcome with a strength none of them would have guessed he could muster in his current state, and starts to speak again, the words coming out almost too quickly for her to understand. “They said it was from a place called-called Neverland, and the little boy was in charge. The-the-the little boy and the prince.”
“David!” Emma calls, not breaking her eye contact with Jefferson, afraid that it would also break the streak of consciousness he seems to have at the moment. “Whale!”
“The prince, he wanted something that c-couldn’t be cured, and this-this is what the little boy suggested, say-say-saying that no one could ever find the cure since it's only on an island that no one could-could ever find on their own.”
“Neverland,” Emma says, thankful for David’s hand heavy on her shoulder, keeping her grounded, needing him to know something about the babble coming from this immensely wounded soldier.
“An island no one can find,” David repeats, his voice soft. Jefferson shifts his gaze to David, as if realizing for the first time that he is there.
“The boy t-talked about-about jungles and rivers a-and-and enchanted pools, the only place where-where anyone could f-f-find the cure.”
He looks away from all of them, his eyes once again set off in the distance, but his grip on Emma’s arm even tighter than before.
“Neverland,” he repeats one more time, taking a slow breath deep enough that Emma watches the rise and fall of his shoulders.
And then, as quickly as it started, his hand grows limp on her wrist, and he mumbles, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?", his attention no longer on anything around him as he slips back into madness.
“That was the only thing he ever said that made sense,” David says, wringing his hands around his cup of coffee as he shakes his head.
“What happened to him?” Killian asks, his eyes pressed shut as if he is afraid to make eye contact with anyone in the room.
(He is, fearing that he knows the answer to his own question,)
“He lived for another four days, mumbling nonsense, and then one morning, he just didn’t wake up. Sixteen days.”
Eyes still shut, Killian nods. This was the answer he was expecting, though far from the one he was hoping for deep down.
“Sixteen days,” he whispers, not needing to open his eyes to know that everyone in the room is focused on him.
“Sixteen days after he came to the hospital. According to Will, he was at the Nephilim camp with him for at least another two weeks before that.”
Killian lets out a small laugh, shaking his head. He does finally open his eyes, but the only person in the room he is able to look at is Emma, whose green eyes are full of sympathy, but not sadness.
He’s thankful for that.
“So that’s, what, a month? It’s already been a week since I escaped from Pan, a few days longer than that since they first used the Dreamshade on me.”
No one speaks.
Until: “So, that means we’re going to Neverland now, right?” The question everyone was thinking comes from Mary Margaret, to no one’s surprise.
Everyone turns to Emma, and the pressure of it all sucks the air right out of her lungs, so she shrugs to give herself a moment to recompose. “I don’t think we have a choice. I’d like to think Killian at least has a fighting chance, from how his wounds have been reacting to my magic. It’s certainly something I’ve never witnessed before, and much different than anything we experienced with Jeff.”
No one speaks, and Emma takes a moment to look around the room, her eyes landing on Regina last.
She, unlike everyone else in the room, looks shocked. "What do you mean, how his wounds have been reacting to your magic? " she asks after another moment, her voice both intrigued and slightly scared.
Emma, in turn, can’t keep her confusion off her face. "You mean your magic didn't react weirdly to his wound?"
Regina shakes her head, moving slowly towards where Emma still sits next to Killian’s makeshift cot. "Show me."
So Emma does, conjuring a small light between her hands before focusing on the wound in Killian’s side, where she is able to create the same crackling effect that happened before.
Regina says nothing, her wide eyes unmoving, set on Emma’s hands. Mary Margaret tries to shake her out of her trance, and it takes a minute to work before she turns away from them and rushes back upstairs, still without saying a word, and returning moments later with a small vial of a shining grey liquid, which she hands to Killian.
He raises both eyebrows at her, then looks down at the bottle in his hand. "Pardon?"
"Just do it."
When he turns to David, he just shrugs, so he empties the vial into his mouth in a single swallow. Everyone is watching him intently, waiting for something to happen.
But it doesn't.
"Do that thing with your magic again," Regina whispers, as if afraid to speak too loudly and break some sort of spell.
Emma listens, drawing her power up into her hand before focusing on Killian's wound — and this time, along with the crackling and sparking, she is able to pull a viscous black liquid from the wound, though it startles her and she loses focus, so it all disappears.
Everyone turns their attention to Regina, who just stares wide-eyed at Killian's wound, terror written across her face. "We have to go to the Athenaeum"
"Are you crazy? I can't go to Nephilysis," David argues, and Killian agrees.
"There are already enough people looking for us as is."
"There has to be another way," Mary Margaret tries.
Regina shakes her head. "No, it's the only place we'll find answers.” She stops, looking down at her wristwatch. “And we need to go now ."
David huffs. "What do you expect us to do? Just sit around and twiddle our thumbs until you get back?"
Regina rolls her eyes, but Killian clears his throat. "We could go to the cabin, see if anyone else is there."
This time, David scoffs, his attention on his friend. “Wait, you think we should split up?"
"That really seems like the only logical plan," Killian replies, obviously not thrilled with the idea, but knowing that it really is their best bet.
"You need to come with me," Regina says, pointing to Emma, who has stayed quiet through all of this.
After sharing a glance with David, Mary Margaret reaches out to take Emma’s hand in hers. "I'm not letting you go with her alone.”
Regina rolls her eyes again, ignoring the spite in Mary Margaret’s voice. "We have to leave tonight," she says again.
Emma nods, turning to David. After a moment, he nods, too, turning to Killian. "We shouldn't stay put for too long, either."
It's a plan — well, more of one than they've had this far.
"We'll take a week and meet back together before we go to Neverland."
“How do you even get to Neverland?” Mary Margaret asks, looking around the room in hopes of someone having the answer.
“You have to fly,” Killian says, his voice soft, obviously far away.
"And how the hell do we do that?" Emma asks.
Chapter 5: THE ATHENAUEM // THE CABIN, Part Two
“I’m so proud of you, brother,” Killian says, clapping his hand on Liam’s shoulder as he fixes his collar in the mirror of their shared barracks.
Liam meets his eyes in the mirror, flashing a large smile before reaching around to wrap his arm around Killian’s shoulders.
“Thank you, Killy.”
If anyone else ever even tried to call him ‘Killy,’ he would probably throttle them, but no one has ever tried. Only Liam has ever come up with a nickname for him, and though he knows the tips of his ears turn red on the rare occasion Liam calls him ‘Killy’ in public, he would always take ‘little brother’ over that any day.
It wasn’t a lie, though: Killian is proud of his brother. Very proud. Today is his promotion — both of their promotions, actually, though Liam’s is a much bigger deal than his own.
The youngest admiral the Nephilysis military has ever seen. The only dryad to even become a high-ranking officer in the navy. Gold’s son, Baelfire, even called him the ‘most skilled fae’ he has ever seen. All because he has honed his abilities in a way no one ever expected, combining his air manipulation abilities with his love for the ocean and working with an Elder and a Fae to create a whole new system for travelling: the airship.
So today is more than a promotion for the elder Jones brother; it is also the day Liam gets a ship of his own, the perfect and pristine Jewel of the Realm , whose flying technologies include the best of everything Killian and Liam, with the help of Merlin and the rest of Gold's elders, have created over the last eight years working for Gold.
The ceremony, though filled with age-old traditions, does not take nearly as long as Killian anticipated, even with both of them receiving promotions: Liam to Admiral of the Jewel of the Realm and a small fleet of ships equipped for air travel and Killian as Captain, serving directly under his brother for the time being.
The ceremony does not take long, but the meeting that he and Liam have directly afterwards, where they are getting their first assignments in their new positions, is proving to be the opposite.
Killian had assumed that the only business of the meeting would be giving them their assignments, and he had been dead wrong. Instead of only them, he and Liam found themselves meeting with Gold’s entire war council, which included the Elders for each Nephilim faction, other admirals and generals from all across the Wasteland — not to mention the Prince and his band of Elders and guards, much younger and less traditional than Gold’s men. It’s a stark contrast in the room, really, between the Elders who follow Gold and those who follow his son, between those in traditional Nephilysis uniforms and those in jeans and sweatshirts. Killian would never dare to show up to a meeting with Gold the Elder, the King of Nephilysis, the man that he serves under, wearing jeans. Hell, he would be embarrassed to even be seen by the King of Nephilysis wearing jeans — but he supposes that Baelfire and his collection of followers lead a very different, and much more privileged, life than he does.
Finally, after what feels like hours — though, according to Killian’s wristwatch proves to only be an hour and a half — Gold turns his attention to the Jones brothers for the first time.
“Now, as for the newest members of this council,” he says, his voice odd in a way Killian struggles to describe, though slimy comes to mind. He smiles, though there is not a happy thing about it, more sinister than anything else. “Many of you should already know about Admiral Jones’ work with his airships, so now it’s time to give him and his small fleet of Captains their first destination. I’m very pleased that we are now able to go to far-off places thanks to the hard word of Admiral Jones, and so it is an honor to finally announce that he will be leading an expedition to somewhere my advisors and I have had our sights set on for a while now.”
He says nothing beyond this, waiting for every eye in the room to be on him. The last to look up, Killian notices, is Prince Baelfire, who rolls his eyes when he realizes what his father is doing, but looks up at him nonetheless. Finally, Gold turns back to Killian and Liam, that same sinister smile on his face again.
“Neverland!’ he says with a laugh even more sinister that chills Killian to the bone.
There is just something about him that Killian strongly dislikes but he can’t figure out what. He realizes, perhaps a moment too late, that he may have let his disgust with him show on his face, and tries to wipe off all expression --and then realizes exactly what Gold just said to them.
When he turns to Liam, his brother looks just as confused as he feels. “How is it I’ve studied maps of the world practically my whole life and yet I’ve never heard of this place, this Neverland?”
Gold’s slimy smile grows, somehow. It takes all of Killian’s energy not to cringe, though he’s useless against the confusion he feels when the Prince answers Liam’s question instead of the King. “Well, because Neverland isn’t on any map, it’s not somewhere you can navigate to.”
It’s time for Killian to voice his concern, turning to the Prince. “Then how are we supposed to get there?”
But Gold himself answers instead. “There’s only one man who has ever made it to the island and returned, so he is going to join you.” He gestures towards the door just as a young man — much younger than even the youngest recruits, Killian notices — pushes through the door, as if on cue. Out of anyone in the room, his eyes meet Killian’s, a smile just as sinister, if not more, than the King’s, spread across his face. “Admiral, Captain, this is Peter Pan.”
Liam slams the door to their barracks behind him, the anger that he’s been trying to keep off his face suddenly obvious.
“He can’t be serious, can he?” he practically yells, furiously pacing between the close walls of their cabin. “That Pan, he’s — he’s just a boy. He speaks so highly of himself, as if he has more knowledge than anyone else in the room.”
“I hate to say it, brother, but I do believe there is more to that boy than meets the eye,” Killian responds, sitting down on one of the chairs in their common area.
Liam whips around. “What does that mean?”
“I don’t — he could be…” He shakes his head, then rests it in his hands. “One of the books I read recently spoke of these… these beings who don’t age, who are from all of these weird lands, and I thought it was fantasy, just a myth, but then I saw this—this boy, and I got this… I don’t know, this feeling that he was one of them.”
“Killy, that’s insane.”
“I thought it was insane, too, but now I’m not too sure.”
Liam pushes his fingers through his hair, huffing, but sits down next to him anyway. “What else did your book say about them?” he asks finally, the words coming out slowly.
“Dark magic, Liam. They’re creatures of pure black magic.”
Liam shakes his head. “King Gold does a lot of things, brother, but I cannot believe that he would go to that extreme.”
“That’s not all. Not only are they dark magic, but the places they come from are the same, are home to the darkest magics of the world, items and poisons and weapons. This Neverland , I’ve never heard of it, but I can only imagine that it’s one of these places.”
He is still shaking his head. “No. No, I refuse to believe it. King Gold is— he’s corrupt, yes, but dark magic? That’s insane, Killian.”
“I’m just telling you what I read.”
Liam stands up again, continuing with his pacing where he left off. “Dark magic,” he whispers, scrubbing his face with his hand, then he starts to unbutton the jacket of his dress uniform. “You don’t think King Gold would send us on a mission to collect dark magic, do you?”
Killian does, a fear that he feels seeping into the deepest parts of him — but he just shakes his head. He may think Gold is evil enough to send them to a land of dark magic, but to say it out loud, even to his brother, would be treason. Bad form.
The gates to the Athenaeum loom above them, shining in the golden sunlight of the dawn. It took them a whole day’s drive to get there, opting to go around the bulk of the city instead of through it, hoping to keep as much attention off of them as they can, even if it meant adding another four hours in the car.
Regina has never much cared for the second entrance to the Athenaeum, never afraid to travel through the city because of her immunity, both an atheneid and an Elder on the Gale Council. But she understands how careful Emma and Mary Margaret want to be, being so close to the Prince himself.
With a huff, Regina checks her watch. It’s been almost a minute since she knocked on the door, and there has still been no sign of movement on the other side of the gate. Finally, one of the gates swings open, revealing a dark-skinned Naphilm soldier in a dress uniform — something Regina hasn’t seen for years, since she was a young woman studying to become an elder and an atheneid. Something she never thought she was going to see again once she left Nephilysis behind.
"State your business." His voice is sinister, angry, but he is unable to deny them access once Regina shows him her credentials as an atheneid, which allows her access to the Athenaeum and no questions asked about her allegiance. He doesn’t let them any further than inside the gates, though, barring them from walking any closer to the building.
Even still, Regina rolls her eyes when he stands in the middle of the path, keeping them from going any further. "We're here for a meeting with Magistra French, she's expecting us."
He doesn’t budge. "You're going to have to wait here for her to come get you."
Both Emma and Mary Margaret take a terrified look around, noticing all of the Nephilim in uniform around the building, both as guards and simply sitting in the gardens in the gated area around the Athenaeum, more than either of them have seen in a single place.
Regina stands her ground, conjuring a fire ball in her right hand without breaking eye contact with the guard. "Both you and I know that's not the protocol." Her voice is hard, confident, one she has had more than enough practice with as a member of King George’s council.
"Gold has changed the protocol," the guard growls. He tries to make himself taller, tries to tower over Regina, but he is still a few inches shorter than her in her heels.
Her fireball grows bigger., her eyes wider "He doesn't have the power to do that, not here."
"Tell him that yourself and see how willing to listen to you he is."
A flash of fear crosses her face, and the guard laughs, only to be stopped by the doors behind him opening to reveal the Magistra herself. She, unlike the guards, is dressed much more casually, in a pair of black jeans and a yellow button-down top. After narrowing her eyes towards the guard, who has now stepped to the side, she smiles at the three ladies, her eyes landing last on Emma, holding there for a moment before returning to Regina.
"Please, Regina, come in."
She has a thick accent, different than Emma has heard, though she assumes it’s from the southern parts of Nephilysis, perhaps even the islands off the coast, knowing the accents get stronger the further from the Wasteland.
“Thank you for travelling all the way out here, ladies,” she says, leading them through the entryway to the building and through the stacks. “And on such short notice.”
“Thank you for seeing us,” Mary Margaret says, voicing the words that Emma is somehow unable to vocalize.
Instead, she is focused on the sights around her, the wooden stacks of books that stretch to the high ceilings. Emma has been to some of the smaller universities around the Gale, traveling with Johanna while honing her medical and magical abilities, or with David after she formally became personal aide to the prince, but none of them are anything like this, even the biggest ones in the Gale.
Emma has always wondered — silently, never voicing her questions — why this is the place that every Elder must come to study the arts under the Magistra, thanks to an order by one of the previous King Gold’s (Emma can’t remember which one, never needing to memorize it for academia.)
But she understands it now, following the Magistra and Regina through the building with Mary Margaret taking the rear. There are rows and rows of books in every direction, seemingly endless in the monstrous building. Every once in a while, the repetitive rows are dotted with a collection of tables; broken by a staircase, leading to another floor; or a small study room surrounded by glass walls, some of them covered in writing from the people inside.
Belle leads them up one of these sets of steps and down a small hallway, placing her hand against a biolock not unlike the ones Emma uses in the hospital to open one of the identical doors. Emma notices the large, intricate “M” carved into the dark wooden door as she walks through it, and her suspicions are confirmed when she finds herself in a large office, the walls lined with bookshelves only broken by a window that overlooks a small courtyard. The books, she notices, are some of the oldest she has ever seen, and meticulously organized in some sort of fashion that puts the dusty, cracked ones with pages visibly falling out near the edges of the bookshelf, allowing the bulk of the entire middle to be lined with matching sets and collections of different-colored leather-bound volumes. Many of them do not have words printed on their spines, some of them only letters, if anything at all.
Belle sits down behind the desk, folding her perfectly-manicured fingers in front of her. She allows herself to look at each of them for a few seconds, once again ending with Emma, but this time she does not look away.
"Your phone call sounded urgent, please tell me what I can do to help."
Even though the call did not come from Emma, the question is obviously directed at her, but when Emma fails to voice any response, Regina speaks up. "Emma, this is your story, I think it's only fair."
She takes a small breath, gulps, then clears her throat. For some reason, just the thought of relaying the story to someone as important as an Atheneid — as the Magistra herself — brings a new sense of realness to their situation.
And with that comes a new sense of fear.
From the first time she felt the way the wound on Killian's chest reacted to her magic, she found herself afraid to share it with anyone, sure that it was some sort of secret that she would never be able to discover the meaning behind. (Sure that Killian wouldn't be alive long enough to allow it, really.) And when she learned that it was her magic that did it, and not just light magic responding to the darkness and the poison in the wound, she was even more sure that this was not something to take lightly.
So needing to recall the whole story to the most important fae in the world at the hunch of Regina made her a little uneasy.
But she does it anyway, every eye in the room on her as she tells a shortened version: finding Killian in her office, her ability to heal his wounds save the ones seeping with dark magic, and describing as best she can what happens when she tries to use her magic on them, since this is the detail that made Regina so sure they had to come here.
At this, Belle's eyes go wide, and she jumps out of her seat and starts to search the wall behind her for something.
Emma is too stunned by her response to say even another word, though she did come to the end of her tale, save the very little information Regina gave them in the cabin before they left. Sensing either her shock or the fact that her recollection has come to its end, Regina takes over. "I remembered what you showed me once in one of the obscure healing books that you insisted I memorized, something I haven't thought about in years, and when I gave him a vial of SOMETHING she was able to extract the Dreamshade from his wound for just a moment."
Belle turns around from the shelf, bright eyes wide with both excitement and awe. "So you're thinking she's—"
Regina doesn't let her finish. "Yes, I'm almost sure of it, but I knew I had to bring her here to know for sure."
“Has she tried it with other poisons?”
Both Regina and Belle turn to her, waiting for an answer. “I’ve never dealt with other poisons. Only Dreamshade once before, and I never tried to do anything to it with my magic.”
Belle nods. “And what about this man? The one you healed? Are you also thinking that he's—"
"The one from the—"
"I'm almost sure of it."
“What about him?” Emma asks, having enough of their half-conversation.
“Did you try any other magic on him? Any other strange reactions?”
“What do you mean, strange reactions ?”
Belle's response comes in a rush, more words than Emma is able to focus on as she thinks back to try to answer the questions: “How about when you tried to heal him, did anything else out of the ordinary happen? Any… energies that seemed off? Weird feelings from either of you, but especially you? Did anything work better than you expected, or seem to happen instantly when you know it’s taken more time in the past?”
The breath leaves Emma's lungs. She really wishes things would stop taking her breath away. Belle must sense something, must know that this has riled Emma's memory, and she watches her in anticipation across the desk.
"Well, yes," she says finally, once again able to regulate her breath. "Many of his wounds were less severe, just cuts and gashes on his chest, and many of them not only healed in response to my magic, but disappeared entirely. Not even a scar."
Belle's eyes go wide, even wider than they already were, and she turns back down to the book spread across the desk in front of her.
Silence overtakes the room, and Emma tries to decipher some of the writing that Belle is looking so intently at, only to find it written in a language that does not look familiar to her at all.
"Can somebody please tell me what's going on?" she asks, trying to keep her voice calm, but her heart is pounding wildly in her chest — another side effect from the events of the last two weeks that she wishes would just disappear.
Belle shuts the volume in front of her, folding her hands on top of it. With her head hung, she takes a breath, obvious in the rise and fall of her shoulders, before looking back at Emma.
"There's a prophecy," she says.
Emma scoffs, stopping her mid-sentence. "You're kidding, right?"
Belle shakes her head, but decides to tackle the subject from a different angle. "What do you know about your lineage?"
Emma scoffs again, this time rolling her eyes. "No, really, you've got to be kidding."
"I can assure you, this is no joke to me."
There's something in her voice, a hardness and a seriousness (and perhaps a dash of magic) that makes Emma suddenly very sure that the Magistra is telling the truth. "I'm — I'm an orphan. I know nothing of my parents, or of any part of my lineage. I was left on the steps of a university outside of the Gale when I was a few days old, raised by the Elders there for a while until I took to the streets."
Even after making Emma spill that, Belle says nothing for a moment, though her eyes search Emma's face for… something. Emma isn't sure what, and is even less sure whether she finds it or not.
"And they were the ones who helped you hone your abilities?"
Emma shakes her head again. "I'd left the university by the time my abilities started showing themselves, and it wasn't until David — until the Prince helped me find an apprenticeship with the palace healer that I started to focus on medicine."
"And you've never attempted any art other than the one that showed itself then? Terren, or dryad?"
The question catches Emma off guard. From everything she's heard about the Elders, and about the Magistra in particular, they are supposed to be able to sense these things about a person without having to ask.
"Well, actually, I've — I've never really been sure. Plants, sure, and I've never much tried with the wind or whatever, but I once saved David by using a large boulder to protect us, and I've calmed some waters, but I've mostly just harnessed my own energy for healing purposes."
"Plants, earth, water," Belle mumbles, turning her chair around to face the bookshelf once again, this time finding one of the more used volumes, with a cracked spine and unattached pages in every direction. She places it on top of the other on her desk, but does not open it. "Plants, earth, water… energy." With the last word, she meets Emma's eyes once more, her whole face seeming to light up. "Regina, I'm assuming you've come to the same conclusion I have?" she asks, not even looking over at Regina.
But Emma does, and the wide smile spread across her face just makes Emma more curious.
In the silence, Mary Margaret gasps, bringing a hand to her mouth. "Of course," she breathes.
“What?” Emma says, at the end of her patience. “What conclusion have all of you come to that I somehow still can’t see?”
“See,” Mary Margaret says, completely ignoring Emma’s question. “Emma didn’t have… formal education, really, so she was never fully introduced to all of the factions, and probably never really heard about all of it, so it makes sense that she never—”
“I am right here,” Emma practically yells, stopping Mary Margaret’s words in their tracks. “Now, what the hell are you talking about?”
“A Vis,” Belle says. “Emma, I think you have the Gift. I think you’re a Vis.”
A Vis . She’s — she’s heard of them, sure, maybe read about them once or twice, but…
A Vis. The rarest of all magic-wielders, with the ability to create their own energy instead of just using those around them.
“As rare as Vis are, it’s pretty common for some of those with the Gift to simply go through their lives thinking they are just a simple fae.”
Emma has so many questions. How , mostly. How has she gone her whole life without knowing this? 30 years, almost half of that time as a fae.
As a Vis.
She doesn't have enough time to process this. When Regina said they had to come to the Athenaeum, the last thing she expected was something like this. She assumed it was to find a way to save Killian.
"What does this have to do with Killian?" she asks, the first words spoken for almost a minute.
Both Belle and Regina turn to her, wide-eyed, not understanding the question.
Mary Margaret does. "Yeah, you said he had something to do with this, right?"
"Oh," Belle says, closing the book in front of her again. "No, that's not related to the Vis thing. If you're… well, if you're the Savior that the prophecy foretold, then there's reason to believe he's your True Love."
"You can't be serious."
"Athenaeid do not joke about prophecies, Emma," Regina scoffs, crossing her arms over her chest.
"But true love ? Is that — you can't mean —"
Mary Margaret cuts in, stopping her sputtering. "Does that mean we can save him?"
Belle opens one of the books in front of her again, silent for a few moments before shaking her head. "I really can't say for sure. True Love is a fickle thing, and Dreamshade even more so."
"And True Love is the most powerful magic there is," Regina adds, a brightness in her eyes that Emma has never seen before.
(She's not too fond of it, either.)
"What the hell does this even mean? That I can— what— true love's kiss the poison away?"
Belle and Regina share a silent glance. Belle wets her lips. Regina raises her eyebrows.
"Well," the Magistra mumbles. "Yes, there's a chance of that."
A loud, gasping laugh escapes her chest, one she just couldn't keep down. "This is crazy . Absolutely insane. "
"There's a chance it's much more complicated than that, too, though," Belle says quickly, trying to save Emma from spiraling too far. "In fact, it's much more likely to be more complicated. Something more along the lines of your being the only person who can save him."
It works. This is much easier for her to wrap her mind around, unlike the rest of the information Belle and Regina have sprung on her in just the last half-hour. This, at least, makes sense. More sense than her being one of the most powerful types of fae, or the fact that there's a prophecy. This, at least, she can deal with.
"So now, she needs to be trained, right?" Regina asks, and Emma feels her heart beat in her throat.
How long could that take?, she doesn't have the ability to ask. There's a time crunch, she has to save Killian, she can't —
"Well, if she wants to save this man from Dreamshade, she certainly doesn't have time to stick around here long enough to master anything," Belle says, once again saving Emma from the spiral she was threatening to get lost in. "Honestly, you should get back to the rest of your group and make way towards Neverland as soon as possible, in my opinion."
"What?" Emma blurts out, even though she agrees with everything the Magistra just said. "You're just going to drop this information on me and… send me away?"
Belle shakes her head. "Of course not," she says cheerily. "I have to come with you."
Killian’s heart is in his throat as David knocks on the door to the cabin. He thought he was going to be okay, back here where Smee was killed and he was kidnapped, but he’s thinking the worst: that no one will open the door. That all of his friends, practically everyone he has left, are gone, taken by the same for that he barely escaped from. For what feels like forever (but in reality can’t be more than a few seconds) no one answers the door.
And then there’s a thud on the inside, followed by the muffled “ Bloody hell ” that can only belong to Will Scarlett. Killian and David exchange a smile, an almost-literal weight lifted from Killian's shoulders, and the door opens.
At first, Will can’t believe his eyes, which are practically bugging out of his head (Killian’s pretty sure it’s the longest he’s ever seen Will not speak). He doesn't blame him, though, because he can only imagine the conclusions they drew about Killian when they returned that day to find him missing, with Phillip dead on the floor of the kitchen.
It's the first he's thought of this, really, since he has been spending so much time trying not to hype himself up with the thought of them surviving an attack from Pan and Baelfire, but now that he knows they did, he wonders. What did they think when they returned back that day? They all knew his history, knew that he spent the first years as a soldier working for Gold. Did they think him a traitor to his newest allegiance, think that he returned to the Nephilysis army that betrayed him all those years before?
He hopes not. The only thing he has ever wanted to be is a man of honor, and he hopes that the men he has spent the better part of the last ten years with understand that.
Killian is pulled from the worst-case scenario in his mind when, instead of saying anything, Will practically jumps through the door and wraps his arms around David, who, after a moment, hugs him back.
Killian smiles. Even if they believed the worst of him in the weeks he's been away, returning at the Prince's side is a sure sign his allegiance has not shifted.
"Holy shit," Will whispers, shifting his hug from David to Killian, then he says it again. “I saw someone coming up towards the cabin on the radar but I never expected—”
From behind him, Robin emerges from the kitchen, dish towel slung over his shoulder. "Will, who was at the—" And then he meets Killian's eyes over Will's shoulder, then David's. "Holy shit."
"That seems to be everyone's response here," David says, rushing through the doorway to embrace his oldest friend.
"Why didn't you say you were coming? You could have contacted one of us?"
"Honestly, mate," Killian says, taking his turn in giving Robin a hug. "We weren't sure if any of you would even be here, since I was kidnapped by Baelfire from here. If it was still safe, or if any of you were still alive."
"Who else is here?" David asks, closing the front door as he finds a way to ask the question that Killian was too afraid to: was anyone else killed when they came for me?
"Graham was out back somewhere, but I imagine he should be in any—"
Robin's words are cut off by the man in question coming through the back door and calling out: "Is someone here? I got a notification that someone drove through the sensor in the driveway and I—" He comes around the corner, holding his phone out in front of him, but when he sees Killian and David standing inside the door, his words stop. For a moment, the entire cabin is shrouded in silence, waiting for someone to break it.
“What are you doing here?” Robin asks, and David wraps his arm around his shoulder.
“I think we should all sit down,” David breathes. “This might take a while.”
“So, what, we just have to find this Merlin guy?” Will asks, his mouth still full from the last bite of his sandwich.
“Christ, Scarlett, don’t you listen?” Robin scoffs. “Finding Merlin is the first step.”
“And the easiest,” David mumbles.
Killian leans forward on his elbows, momentarily forgetting about the worst of his injuries, though he is painfully reminded almost immediately. “Once we find Merlin, hoping he still has my brother’s ship hidden away somewhere, then we have to fly to Neverland.”
“And what if — pardon me for asking, but what if he doesn’t have your brother’s ship?” Graham asks, always the most level-headed of them all.
All eyes turn to Killian, who turns his gaze down to the table.
But David speaks up with an answer: “Then we just have to find another way to get to Neverland.”
The room is silent for a minute, until:
“I thought you said this ship is the only way to get to Neverland?” Will asks, once again missing the feeling in the rest of the room.
Killian nods. “Yeah, that’s what I said.”
Another beat passes, all attention on Will, waiting for him to understand what Killian is trying to say.
“Oh.” He scrunches his face, a soft embarrassed red spreading across his already-red face. “So what’s our plan then?”
Killian turns to David, who gestures for him to take over. “Well, our only hope is Merlin, and I haven't been able to get a hold of him. There's rumor he's somewhere in the Northern Mountains, hopefully still with The Jewel of the Realm , and I have a pretty good idea as to where, so I suppose that's our next destination."
The room falls silent again, each of the men around the table trying to decide just how to feel about all of this — Killian’s torture, the need to travel to new lands, to fly . But David doesn’t let them ruminate for long.
"Pack your things, fellas. We probably have a few days still, but we leave as soon as the ladies meet us here."
Chapter 6: Chapter Five: THE ATHENAEUM // THE CABIN, Part 3
The ride from Nephilysis to Prince David’s cabin outside the Northern Mountains takes a day and a half, stopping only when necessary — and most of those hours are completely silent, Mary Margaret, Regina, and Belle with their noses in books and notebooks when they’re not driving, but Emma finds herself unable to concentrate on anything outside of her own mind.
Emma spends the whole ride — the time it's not her turn to drive — still trying to wrap her mind around everything. By the end of the first day, the only thing she can do to keep herself grounded is text Ruby, filling her in on everything she’s learned at the Athenaeum.
Or, almost everything; she doesn't know why, but she leaves out the part about Killian. Everything else almost seems believable compared to that, and she thought she would be fine just ignoring it.
Ruby, of course, is unsurprised by the news of her being a Vis. Everyone around her is unsurprised by the news, apparently.
You really never knew? she asks. I always just assumed you stayed quiet about it.
She thought she could handle herself, stay composed when they get to the cabin, when she sees Killian, but she finds herself incorrect.
Seeing him with this new knowledge, seeing the warm way he smiles at her when she walks into the cabin, is too much for her, and her stomach flips as she turns on her heel to walk back out.
Mary Margaret says something to cover for her, but her voice is nothing more than buzzing in her ears, and she shuts the door behind her perhaps a little too loudly.
She doesn’t care. She has to get away.
Pulling her cell phone out of her pocket, she calls Ruby. When she doesn’t pick up the first time, she tries again — not usual for her, but she’s in dire waters here.
Ruby answers the phone on the fourth ring with a grumble, which Emma ignores.
"He's my true love," she blurts out.
"I thought I could — along with everything else, I thought I would just be able to ignore this and just try to save him, but this is different." The words come pouring out of her, trying to keep up with the million miles a minute that has become normal in her brain.
"Emma, what the hell are you even talking about?"
Finally, she takes a deep breath, though she can feel her heart pounding in her throat. She tries to make the words come out slower, but by the time she reaches the end of her thought, she’s sped up once more. "Belle told me I'm a Vis, left her duties as Magistra to help train me because we're in a time crunch, but that's not the only thing she told me. There's apparently some sort of prophecy about a Vis and a Fae who don't know how powerful they are until they come together and need to use their powers to save each other. Their powers, and the power of their true love."
Ruby scoffs. "And they think it's about you? And Killian?"
"Belle seems to think so. It's apparently from some collection of writing from this Neverland place, one of the only things they've ever been able to decipher completely. Apparently Neverland is one of those places where, once you get there, you don't leave. Or can't. And that's why no one knows anything about it." Her mind is so muddled by it all that she can’t remember what she’s already told Ruby, or what they learned together before she left the hospital, but Ruby seems to understand.
"But Killian's been there before? And he left?"
"Well, he hasn't shared the whole story with us yet, but I don't think it was a very positive experience for him. David knows more about it than I do, but I think — I’m almost certain at least one person didn’t make it out alive."
"And you guys… have to go back? To cure him from the effects of this poison?"
Ruby lets out a low whistle. " Damn. "
The line is silent, Emma giving Ruby a chance to wrap her head around everything, but it doesn’t take long for her to come up with one of the very questions that has been rattling around Emma’s mind: "So then, because of this true love nonsense, you really are his only hope?"
Even though Ruby can’t see the way she pulls her bottom lip between her teeth, she somehow knows that Ruby knows she is doing it nonetheless. "Yes. What that's supposed to mean I have zero fucking clue, but… yes."
Another low whistle. “You really have yourself in a predicament there, Swan. Though there could certainly be worse prospects for your True Love.”
At this moment — of course — Killian steps out onto the porch, and she feels the embarrassment that crept up her cheeks deepen, though the stump she has taken a seat on is still a fair way away from him.
She laughs, trying not to let the Ruby's right thought take up too much room in her mind as she tries to change the subject. "How is everything going at the hospital? Did you get the replacements?"
"He's there now, isn't he? Either that, or you agree with me."
Ruby always was able to read her like a book, even over the phone, and sees right through Emma's ploy. She smiles. "Yeah. Just answer the question."
"Emma, come on! Which one!"
"Both," she says quickly, surprising even herself, trying to hide her smile as she glances quickly at Killian on the back porch; and then, "Now, did you get the replacements?"
Ruby laughs, and Emma can see the way she tosses back her head, letting it move through her whole body. "I'm almost upset you left me here."
"I wouldn't trust the place in anyone else's hands, Rubes." She tries to stuff as much sincerity and appreciation in her voice as she can, only hoping Ruby picks up on it from hundreds of miles away.
If she does, she says nothing, though finally answers the question Emma's been asking, a seriousness to her voice that wasn't there moments before. "Johanna's been here for a few days and Blue just got here this morning. Ashley finally delivered, no issues. We probably would have been okay with just Johanna, but I think Blue is glad to be away from the war for a while."
Emma feels a soft smile curve across her lips. "I understand that completely."
"Any idea how long you'll be?"
Out of instinct, Emma turns to the porch again, where Killian is sitting under one of the lit lamps, a few moths flying around over his head. He smiles at her, raising his hand with a wave, which Emma returns. "I don't even know where I'm going." The anxiety of it all washes over her: she really doesn't know where she is going, doesn't know what will be asked of her, between this prophecy and her new knowledge of being a Vis, not to mention this whole true love/saving Killian piece that has to fit in this adventure somehow. "There's a lot about this I'm not sure about, really," she mumbles, talking more to herself than her friend.
But Ruby answers anyway. "If anyone is capable of succeeding at something like this, it's you, Emma Swan. I've never seen you take on more than you can handle."
"I appreciate that you have faith in me, but what if this is finally it? What if I've finally gotten myself in too deep?"
"Then you'll find a way to pull yourself out. You always have, and you always will."
Emma smiles, trying to instill a little of Ruby's confidence in herself.
Before she comes up with a response, though, Ruby says, "Now, I gotta go, and I'll let you get back to lover boy—"
"Don't forget to update me from your far-off lands. And be careful."
"I always am."
Emma ends the call, though her eyes stay on her cell phone until after the screen goes dark, searching for the very confidence that Ruby just instilled in her, which seems to have already disappeared. Sliding her phone back into the pocket of her jeans, she wraps her arms around her torso, hugging herself. She forgot about the temperature change this close to the Northern Mountains after spending the last few years in all the same climate, and especially after the warmth of the city, and the chilliness of the dusk air quickly seeps into her as soon as she focuses on it, her skin already cold to the touch. She hopes she remembered to pack a jacket, at least for the next few days in the Northern Mountains — though who knows what the weather in Neverland could be like.
Neverland. How the hell did she end up in this situation, traveling with a pack of soldiers, the Prince and his betrothed, a sprite council member, and the Magistra to a land they have never heard of? This is just the type of thing that she thought she left behind when she traded in her medic's bars to start her own maternity hospital, needing to live a life far from the death and destruction of the War. What brought her into this mess?
Killian, she reminds herself. Killian Jones, who fought and forced his way out of a prison camp and back to freedom, who lost his hand in the process — only to find his way to her hospital? A man who, against all odds, has a connection to her oldest friend, the Prince of the Gale, and found his way through the rain and the mud and the entire damn war just to end up in her hospital.
A violent shiver forces it's way through her body, shaking her shoulders and her knees. She's cold, much colder than she's been in a while, and knows she should go inside and find warmth, a blanket or a jacket and a nice cup of hot chocolate.
But she knows what's waiting inside for her: questions and expectations and too many people needing too many things from her.
When she looks up from her stump, she sees Killian slowly making his way across the yard to her, his leather jacket removed to reveal a dark blue sweater that clings to him in all the right places — no, stop, she tells herself. Don't go there.
"My apologies if you're trying to have some alone time now, love, but I couldn't help but notice that you're without a jacket, which isn't opportune in this weather."
"Thank you," she says, taking the jacket from his hand and slipping it over her shoulders. The inside is still warm from his body heat, she realizes, remembering that he was wearing it when he stepped out onto the porch. "It's been a while since I've been in weather this cold, not since I used to travel around with David, and I've sort of forgotten that cold even exists."
He sits beside her on the stump, far enough away that his arm only grazes hers every once in a while, not pressed up against her. "No need to worry, I have some sweaters and jackets here from when I was here last that you can surely borrow for the journey."
She turns to him, trying her best to offer him a soft smile, though she does find it difficult. "Thanks," she mumbles, then lets out a small self-depreciating laugh. "You can just add that to the list of things I wasn't prepared for when I left home."
"Yeah, Mary Margaret was saying that you discovered you're a Vis, I can't even imagine that."
She nods, though her mind is instead on the prophecy. A Vis and a Fae . Though, as far as she's aware, Killian's not a Fae.
"You don't have any abilities, do you?" she asks, trying to broach the subject gently, though she realizes immediately that she fails.
He shakes his head. "Liam — my brother — was a dryad, hence the airships. We were never sure about our parents, though. Mum died when I was very little and our father disappeared one day not long after, but neither used any powers that Liam could ever remember."
If he wants to know why she asked, he keeps it to himself, even as she offers him no response. The silence that settles between them is soft, not thickened by awkwardness or tension, and Emma is thankful for it. It's the first time in hours — days, at least — that her mind is not travelling at top speed, and she seizes the opportunity to take a deep breath, close her eyes for a moment, and focus on the soft sounds of the forest around them.
"What about you?" he asks after a while, and when she turns to him, she finds him staring at her intently, almost as if he is trying to take in every detail of her. Normally, she would find advances like this overwhelming, almost creepy , but there is something in Killian's eyes — a softness, almost, more of an appreciation than anything else — that seems to calm her, even as he asks questions that bring up her past, something she tries to hide from and avoid as often as possible.
She doesn't feel that here.
"I never knew my parents," she says calmly, as if it's not the biggest regret of her life. "They gave me away when I was just a few days old. I don't even know their names."
"I'm sorry, Emma," he whispers, reaching his hand out to take hers. It's the simplest of gestures, his fingers wrapping tenderly around her hand, but it seems to light a spark within her, a warmth that has nothing to do with the jacket and a shiver unconnected to the crisp air. An air of confidence washes over her, bigger and more powerful than the one she felt while on the phone with Ruby, and she lets it wash over her and clean the dust and doubt that hide in her darkest corners. Suddenly, everything about this mission feels attainable: flying in a ship to an unknown land to retrieve the antidote needed to save Killian. It's as simple as that, really, and she feels like nothing can stop them.
Her and Killian.
Everything around him is dark. Dark rocks, dark fields, dark, dark jungle as far as the eye can see. But they’re not in the jungle; in fact, they’re up on a cliff, looking down over it all. It looks so small from up here, the path that’s taken them three days to get through. Up here, he feels like he can see the whole island, though he knows it’s much bigger, since he has actually seen it from above.
A whole island that no one had ever heard of, that’s been missing from maps and history books simply because… why? Nothing about Neverland is simple, he’s learned. It’s — what word did Pan use? — alive. It’s alive, hidden from maps and books and knowledge because it wants to be.
Killian turns around to where Liam and Pan are standing beside a large bush, their arguing voices covered by the rushing of the waterfall behind them, but Killian can still tell they are fighting by Liam’s use of his hands. The three of them were the only men to leave the Jewel of the Realm once it took anchor off the shore of the foreign land, so they are alone at the top of the cliff.
Pan turns away from Liam to face Killian as he approaches them. "I can assure you, Captain, Dreamshade is a very valuable asset to King Gold because of its immense healing power. I don't know where you found these books your brother speaks of, but I grew up on the island, so I would certainly know."
"See, Killian, I told you."
"Yes, Killian , trust your brother,” the boy spits, accentuating his name much more than necessary, almost mocking. “Come help us gather some of these branches, but be careful of the thorns. We want to make sure as much of it gets back to the King as possible."
There is still something about the boy — Pan — that Killian can't stand, and he watches as he carefully snips off the end of a branch and drops it in the nearby pouch.
Killian narrows his eyes towards the boy. "If the plant really does have healing powers, then what would be the need of avoiding the thorns? What is it going to do, heal me too much?"
Pan opens his mouth to respond, but Liam beats him to it, stepping back towards the bush, moving slowly away from Killian. “Come, now, brother, don’t be like that. The king would not have sent us on such a diplomatic mission if it weren’t for the good of everyone, and he certainly would have informed us if we were to collect a deadly poison instead of a plant with healing abilities.”
Pan smiles, and the sense of fear that Killian has felt since the King gave them their mission suddenly becomes paralyzing because of it.
Something is wrong.
“Here, I’ll even prove it to you,” Liam continues, grabbing one of the branches from the bag, and before either of them can react, he slices the skin of his arm with one of the thorns.
At first, nothing happens, but the way Pan stares at him wide-eyed makes Killian’s stomach turn.
After a few more seconds pass, all with no reaction from Liam’s arm save a scratch in his skin from the thorns, he shrugs.
“See, Killian, I told—” His words stop in an instant, his eyes going wide as he turns down to his arm.
Where moments before there was only a scratch, the cut has now turned black, the darkness webbing out along his arm and up under his rolled-up sleeve. He tries to say something, but his throat is quicky closing, and Killian is by his side just in time to catch him as he collapses.
“Brother—” he chokes, and the blackness appears from under the collar of his uniform, spreading up his neck.
Killian can’t believe it, and he whips around towards Pan, who is leaning casually against a tree, a sly smile across his adolescent cheeks.
“Why didn’t you stop him?!” Killian screams, clutching tight to Liam's body. “You knew this was going to happen! You could have stopped it!”
“Well, where’s the fun in that, Captain?”
“I have to get him back to the ship, back to the crew, show them exactly what the king sent us here for!”
As soon as Killian lets go of Liam, though, Pan flicks his wrist and whisks his body into the air. “I’m afraid not. Your brother is never going to leave Dead Man’s Peak, ironically enough.” Another flick, and Liam is propped against one of the rocks along the edge of the water — and with another, Killian’s hands are bound behind his back.
Rightfully, he’s furious, but no matter how hard he fights against his restraints, he somehow knows he’ll never get out. “What do you think you're doing?!”
“I’m just doing as Baelfire ordered.”
“The Prince ordered you to kill my brother? To take me hostage?”
“Oh, no, nothing quite so intricate. He simply ordered me to make sure the Dreamshade arrived back in Nephilysis by any means necessary. You and your dryad brother were simply pawns in a much bigger scheme.”
Suddenly instead of anger, Killian is overcome with a paralyzing sense of fear. “What are you going to do to me?” he asks, his voice much softer than even moments ago. Trembling.
“Well, see, now I’m going to make your crew believe you killed your brother for power so the prince can gain control of your whole fleet of ships.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
Pan smiles, another flick of the wrist, and Killian finds himself unable to speak, all of his words coming out as mumbles. “Because no matter what you say, Baelfire is going to have you killed."
Killian is tied to the mast, his crew standing in a circle around him, every eye on him. He knows that many of these men — men that he has known for years, one that he’s known for most of his life — don’t believe the lies that Pan is spewing, but they’re all smart enough not to argue with him, backed always by Prince Baelfire. Not to mention the woman, the woman he loves , though he hasn’t had the nerve to tell her yet. The woman that’s not even supposed to be on the ship with them, that he begged Liam to let come. The woman whose eyes are brimming with tears, he just knows it, but he can’t bring himself to look at her.
"The power the Admiral gained must have been too much for him," Pan says, his eyes filled with a fake sadness, but Killian knows (hopes) no one else sees it that way. "He saw how important the healing abilities of Dreamshade were going to be to the King and decided to kill the Admiral and take all the glory."
That’s not true! his mind screams, but there is nothing he can do about it. Pan and Baelfire have worked their charm over the crew, and even if anyone did take his side, they would just be tossed overboard to their deaths with him. He knows at least some of his crew must be loyal to him, knows that they must know he would never usurp power from Liam.
Instead of focusing on Pan or the Prince, or even his love, he looks around the circle of men, searching for Merlin. Merlin, his oldest friend beside his brother — his oldest living friend, now — is the smartest man either of them ever met, and he must know this is all a rouse for the prince to gain more power. He must know that none of it is real. Finally, he finds him, and though he is weak from whatever charm Pan cast over him when they left Dead Man's Peak, he can focus on his friend enough to recognize his slight nod, the understanding in his eyes. If nothing else, he has Merlin on his side, and hopefully he is able to carry out the plan they discussed not long before about what they should do should the Jewel of the Realm ever fall into the wrong hands — as it is about to do.
"Killian Jones," Prince Baelfire says, his voice loud, booming, demanding, and every eye on the ship is drawn to him — though Milah, he notices, is still looking only at him. "I find you guilty of treason and sentence you to death. Usually aboard a ship, the penalty would be walking the plank, and I do believe that would be equally efficient in these circumstances."
Milah screams, but no one acknowledges her, which just makes Killian’s heart break more.
Killian gulps. Pan smiles, though no one seems to notice.
"B-b-but your majest-t-ty," First Mate William Smee tries, his voice shuddering with fear. "We're th-thousands of feet in the — in the air!"
The Prince whips around to face him, anger obvious on his features, and Smee practically cowers away. "That is precisely why it will be efficient, Smee," he growls between gritted teeth, then turns back to Killian, who has just a few more steps to reach the plank.
He turns quickly, hoping to find Milah’s face one more time before falling to his death, but she is no longer looking at him. Instead, she has fallen to her knees on the deck, the winds whipping her wild, dark hair around her face, which she holds in her hands.
“I love you,” he whispers, which uses all the strength he has left.
"To your death, traitor," he says, and a whoosh of magic from Pan’s hand pushes him over the side of the ship, falling towards his death and towards the waters below.
His eyes snap open moments before he hits the surface of the water, though every inch of his body remembers how it felt. But instead of the freezing cold that he expects, he feels… warm? Off-balance. Delirious.
It takes him a moment to get his bearings, because everything around him is dark. There’s a light weight on his chest, a warmth emanating from it and through his whole body.
“Hey, hey, no, you’re alright,” a voice whispers in his ear.
She's comforting him, the soft light of her magic illuminating where her hands are pressed against his chest, relaxing him. A few more moments, deep breaths, and he has come to completely, so he relaxes, leaning back into her arms. There is something about her, something about the way she takes care of him and the care she has shown him since she first laid eyes on him in her office that he appreciates immensely, and he can't help the thoughts that come in his sleepy haze about how she has come to mean more to him than that. He hasn't opened his heart up to the idea of love his whole , but he can't help but think maybe, if they somehow succeed at their mission and save his life, he may be able to no longer hide from the feelings that he has been pushing deeper and deeper down.
"You can't be comfortable like this, Swan," he whispers, realizing for the first time the position they are in on the back seat of the truck, but he is apparently wrong, since she's fallen asleep with her hands on his chest and her head resting back against the pillow pressed against the window.
He quickly drifts off.
Chapter 7: THE NORTHERN MOUNTAINS, Part One
"Oi, I thought you said you knew where we were going, Jones!" Will yells from the back of the group, his mouth still half-full from the apple he's been working through over the past few minutes — the apple that he seemed to procure out of nowhere, a few of them realized, after complaining for the first leg of their walking journey about his hunger.
(Only Robin noticed the shy smile from the Magistra, paired with a quick wink, when she pulled it from a nearby tree and tossed it to him.)
"It's been upwards of twenty years since the last time I was here," he calls back, though this attention never leaves the trail in front of him. "I'm sorry if I don't quite remember the way."
"Remind me, why did we all have to come on the walking part of this journey?" Will groans, and though both Robin and Graham have curses ready on the tips of their tongues, David turns around from his spot next to Killian and silences them all.
"Because we're a team, Scarlett. We're all in this journey together."
"Not to mention these woods are filled with powerful enchantments, if something were to go wrong we my never have been able to find each other again," Belle adds.
(Will seems to appreciate Belle's answer more than the Prince's, but no one comments on it.)
"These enchantments just mean we're getting closer," Killian announces, filled with a new energy that wasn't there moments before, and he pushes his way through a large bush.
"How does he know that?" Mary Margaret whispers to David, her hand holding tightly to his. A gifted tracker, she feels uneasy in these woods, knowing neither what they're looking for or how she can help. All she can do is hold tight to David and hope Killian is leading them the right way.
David shrugs. "But I trust he's right," he whispers back, then presses a soft kiss to the back of her hand. It's all he can do in the moment, knowing just how uncomfortable she feels in this situation, but it does provide her the smallest bit of comfort.
They follow Killian for a few more minutes, each of them searching for some kind of sign that they're on a path to Merlin — or at least to civilization of some sort.
Emma follows close behind Killian, her focus set on the fluidity of his movement, whether he seems to be in pain or affected by any of the many wounds that cover his body, though besides the fact that he tries to use his newly-blunted left hand every once in a while to move a branch out of the way or steady himself against a tree, he seems altogether unfazed by them. In an ideal situation, Emma would have him resting, confined to his bed until she could be more confident in his healing.
But this is far from an ideal situation. Perhaps even the exact opposite.
"Wait!" Belle calls out suddenly, and everyone stops in their tracks, turning to face her as she makes her way up through the line to where Emma is standing.
"What's the matter?" David asks, but Belle seems intently focused on Emma.
"Close your eyes," she whispers, coming to stand right in front of her. "Concentrate."
The rest of the group is silent — except Emma.
"Close your eyes and tell me what you feel."
"We don't have time for this," she mumbles, trying to get the Magistra to move on, but Belle shakes her head.
"My purpose on this mission is to train you to use your powers, Emma. That's going to mean we have to stop for a minute or two every once in a while."
She knows Belle is right, but it's not her decision, so she turns to face Killian, who is already watching her intently.
So she takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. The forest sits unmoving around them, and everyone is trying to feel the same things Belle is trying to get Emma to feel. She breaks the silence after a few moments, asking, "What am I supposed to be concentrating on?", opening one eye to look at Belle.
"Everything," Belle whispers.
She closes her eyes again, trying her best to concentrate on… everything. The rustle of the leaves on the trees, the smell of the plant life in the air, fresh and alive and—
"No offence, ma'am, but you're wasting time here." Regina's voice cuts through the sounds of the forest, and Emma's eyes snap open once more. "Can't you just tell us what you feel? Instead of relying on someone who has never done this before?"
"Have faith in her," Belle says, her words restoring Emma's confidence that was shattered when Regina opened her mouth. "She's going to need this skill once we reach Neverland. I'm just planning ahead."
Emma feels a warmth on her shoulder, which she realizes after a moment is Belle's hand. "Now tell me, Emma: what do you feel?"
She tries again. The rustle of the leaves. The smell. The soft breeze on her face, the movement of the whole forest around her: each leaf, branch, and flower. The animals, the insects. But there’s something else, something… deeper. Unexplainable. Something she’s never felt before, but it makes her absolutely sure that—
She snaps her eyes open, quickly finding Killian in the group. The look on his face is almost too much to handle, intrigued and in total awe of her, and if she wasn’t so focused on this, on this feeling , she may have noticed how instead of freaking her out, it actually seems to calm her.
“Something is coming.”
Belle smiles, obviously proud of her newest pupil, but it only lasts a moment, because everything begins to change rapidly. The woods become thicker, darkening around them, and each of them is still, as silent as their surroundings have fallen — and shocked. David moves first, his hand flying to the pistol resting on his hip, and it sets off a chain reaction, everyone around him drawing their weapons.
Except Belle, who raises her hands to try to calm them. “It’s a protection from the forest. Whatever is here can not be found unless the person who set up these protections wants it to be.”
The feeling of defeat that washes over the group is almost as thick as the still-darkening forest, and they’re all still for a moment — except Killian, who releases his hand from his dagger and calls out for Merlin, his voice echoing through the trees and a smile growing across his face.
For a moment, nothing happens. But Killian doesn’t lose faith, and calls out through the forest again, taking a step forward in what he believes to be the right direction.
The unexplainable darkness that they all felt lightens, the sun shines through the foliage. The birds begin to sing once more. A path opens up for them.
“Oh, no, no, you can’t be serious,” Regina chides as Killian takes the first step through the still-dense forest. “We are not following you down the path that just mysteriously appeared in front of us.”
Belle shrugs, raising her eyebrows at Regina. “Well, I am.”
One by one, each of them move to follow Killian through the woods, until only Robin and Regina are left. He glances at her, offering a small smile and a shrug to her still-outraged expression, but he gestures for her to go first.
“Are you really not going to let me go last?” she scoffs. “I am an elder.”
“Yes, that may be true, but I’m a trained hunter with a rifle and I would feel much more comfortable if you went first.”
She barks out a laugh, but pairs it with a smile and a nod before taking off after the rest of the group.
The woods continue to lighten as they follow Killian, and Emma can somehow feel the confidence coming off of him, the excitement, and she moves to walk beside him.
“Do you even know where we’re going?” she whispers, and he turns to smirk at her.
“I can feel it somehow, Swan. The forest, it’s like it’s… it’s talking to me, telling me where to go.” He exhales, shaking his head. “That sounds insane.”
“No,” she says quickly, but pairs it with a small laugh. “No, that’s one of the most sensible things I’ve heard in days.”
Much better than ‘true love,’ she says to herself.
Before too long, the trees open up into a clearing, revealing a small cabin that looks like it belongs in a children’s book: perfectly parallel timbers, a bright red front door, a perfect wisp of smoke coming from a wooden chimney. And a man standing on the front porch, leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed over his chest.
The three boys sit around the small fire, the sounds of the dense forest louder than the cracking of the fire. But they’re paying no attention to any of it; instead, all three are focused only on the older man who sits on the only chair on the porch, his large boots propped up on the side of the fire pit.
They’ve heard a lot of the man’s stories in the three years since they came to live with him, the Jones brothers left by their widower father and Merlin a straggler that Liam found on their travels and simply couldn’t leave behind, feeling the same need to protect him that he’s felt since the day Killian was born. The same need to protect that Nemo himself has felt since he first saw the three boys in the street of the nearest town.
But of all the stories Nemo has spun for their amusement, this one is, by far, Liam’s favorite.
The tale of the man and his airship.
“You see, he discovered a way to harness his own powers and the powers of the sky,” Nemo says, his voice captivating enough to keep the boys’ attention even after all of the times they’ve heard his story. “No one thought it was possible, everyone told him just to let his dreams sink as many of his prototypes did, but with every failed attempt, he was just that much more eager to prove everyone wrong.”
It was a tall tale, a fable — absolutely unheard of, really. One of the tales Nemo first heard on one of the ships when he worked for King Gold, years and years before, before he left that life and moved to a cabin hidden in a remote forest in the Northern Mountains. But still, some of the things he learned during that time stuck with him, and he always missed the salt of the sea on his face, missed the sense of duty he felt when he was sent on diplomatic missions.
And he remembered the stories. It was the only way he could think to amuse the boys, realizing very quickly that fatherhood was not something he was naturally called to after bringing them home from the streets they were living on.
He really didn’t mean to light the fire of obsession under Liam Jones. He really only wanted to keep them entertained. But Liam’s room is covered with drawings of ships, measurements taken from some of Nemo’s books and science from his own mind: ships with sails and wings, made for both flying and sailing. It was a dream that he never imagined would come true, just something that took up room in his mind — until the day his powers revealed themselves. He was out on the nearby lake, crammed into a metal fishing boat with Killian and Merlin and testing models, prototypes made more out of boredom than anything else. A large wind passed around them, pushing its way through their hair, making the hair on their arms stand at perfect attention.
But, alongside the chill that the wind brings, Liam feels something deeper, a strength that he cannot explain that warms the deepest parts of him.
“Do you guys feel that?” he mumbles, somehow knowing they did not.
Merlin just laughs, holding a small sphere of water in his hands, taking every occasion to hone his own abilities (and maybe show off a bit, as a twelve-year-old would be expected to do.) “What? The wind?”
“No, no,” he mutters, not necessarily in response, but mostly to himself. He remembers the stories told by his mother of the day she learned she was among the mer-folk, able to control water: a new lightness to her bones, a pounding excitement in her heart that she could not explain. A strength beyond anything she had ever felt before, that worked its way down into the very core of her.
He feels all of that, unable to shake it off. He’s always feared for this day, knowing that his mother’s abilities are what got her — and many of the other mer-people in their small town — killed under an order from Gold. There was always a change that he would have her powers, always a chance that he would also be able to control water. With a deep breath, he closes his eyes for a moment, trying to gain control of his feelings. He holds his hand out over the water, trying to feel the power of the lake moving through him, trying to remember how his mother explained it to him.
But it doesn’t work. The water doesn’t react to him at all, and he is unable to connect with its power despite being surrounded by it.
The wind whips around them again, almost laughing at him, though he has no idea where that thought comes from.
Is it possible that he—
He tries again, but this time focuses on the movement of the air around him, the soft whisper of the breeze over the surface of the water, all of which stops abruptly when he wills it to.
“Did… Did you do that?” Merlin asks, sitting up a bit straighter from his seat in the boat.
All Liam can do is nod, a weight in his throat making him unable to do anything more. Killian’s bright eyes go wide with excitement.
“To the air?” He asks, trying to confirm.
Liam nods again.
“But I thought mum had water abilities?” Killian asks, his dark eyebrows low on his forehead.
“She — she did,” he stutters, still trying to wrap his own mind around it all.
“And your father wasn’t a dryad?” Merlin asks.
“Not that he ever revealed to us.”
The three of them are silent, the wind moving on its own accord around them once more. The small model ship bobs on the water next to them, and it seems to catch the attention of all of them simultaneously.
“This might just be crazy enough to work.”
It takes a few tries, Liam still trying to figure out how to harness his own abilities, but before too long, he has lifted the prototype ship from the surface of the pond and sent it flying.
Anything is possible.
“I didn’t know if you would be happy to see me or not,” Killian says, a small choke in his voice, as he wraps his arms around his childhood friend.
Merlin pulls away from their hug, his hands still on Killian’s shoulders. “What in the world are you talking about?”
But Killian’s gaze is still on the ground, everything about him a little slouched. “Everything that happened, with Pan and Liam and Neverland, I never knew what kind of lies they spewed about me, but I could never—”
Merlin stops his rambling with another embrace. “Killian, Killian, stop. You don’t have to explain yourself.”
“Really?” There’s a brightness returned to his eyes that had been missing for a while.
“I never believed any of it. Liam was your best friend, anyone who knew you knew that you couldn’t kill your own brother.”
“Did they tell you I was dead?”
“I saw you fall from the ship and land in the water, but I always knew, somehow, that you would find your way back here.”
“So does that mean—”
Merlin smiles, wide and bright and full of excitement. “That I kept my promise? Of course.”
Killian never really explained to the rest of the group how Merlin would be the only person with an airship after Gold destroyed all of them, and when he pulls a thick silver chain out from under his shirt, revealing a glass bottle holding a ship no larger than an index finger... the question has still not been answered. If anything, many of them have more questions than before.
“You have to tell me what you’re doing here first, though,” he says, taking a step back to allow them into the house, and he sweeps his eyes over the group, standing in a semi-circle around his front door. “All of you.”
One by one, they follow Killian into the house. Immediately, Emma is overwhelmed by the sheer feeling of home that overcomes her when she steps through the large entryway. As someone with no roots of her own, she is taken aback by the sheer amount of trinkets and photographs in the cabin, signs of family and home and things that she was never given the opportunity to experience.
“My god,” Killian whispers, slowly making his way around the large open room with Emma following close behind. “You didn’t change a single thing. Everything is exactly as I remember it.”
Merlin laughs, closing the door behind Robin, the last of their party to enter. “Are you kidding? Nemo never let me.”
Killian turns in his heel, probably much faster than he should have given the state of his body. He winces a bit, his hand flying to his chest more out of excitement than pain, and every feature is filled with excitement. “You mean he’s—”
Merlin merely laughs, sitting down on the arm of the couch as he watches the rest of them take in the intricacies of the cabin. “Alive? Of course. Did you really think that man could die?”
“Is he here?”
“Not currently, actually. He met a man recently in one of the taverns in the nearest town, and though he’s only referred to him as a companion to me, I think there’s a little something more blossoming between them.”
“Any idea when he’ll be back.”
“He comes and goes like the wind, you know that.”
“Aye, that I do. And as much as I want to wait for him, to see him again after all these years, I’m afraid we’re in a bit of a hurry.”
“Not enough of a hurry that you can’t all sit for a cup of tea? Maybe some lunch?”
“Oh, I really don’t know—” David starts, but Merlin smiles, gestures to the table, and they all watch in amazement as a feast appears before their eyes. Will curses under his breath. Even Regina is taken aback by Merlin’s abilities.
It’s a kind of magic like none of them have seen before, save Killian and Belle, and though David doesn’t yet know how to ask the man to join them on their journey, he has a feeling that he’s found the missing piece to solving the puzzle of saving Killian’s life.
Lunch goes by with barely a word said, the party not even realizing how hungry they are. Merlin doesn’t seem to care too much, watching them intently from his own seat at the table. But once they have slowed down, have fulfilled the hunger that’s built up on their journey, he leans forward on his elbows, taking a quick look at all of them before focusing on Killian.
“So, are you going to tell me what brought you here to get your ship, or not?”
Killian coughs, almost choking on his tea.
“Dreamshade,” Mary Margaret blurts out, and though David turns to her with his eyes wide, Merlin doesn’t seem caught off-guard by this.
“I’m surprised it’s taken them this long to find you, to be completely honest. Can I see the wound?”
Killian carefully lifts the bottom of his shirt, until the wound over his heart is visible. He doesn’t like the vulnerability of this, his heart pounding as Merlin stares at it. For a few moments, he simply stares, seemingly mesmerized by its iridescence, before lifting his fingers towards it. Killian says nothing — would of course let his oldest friend touch his wound, but even so, Merlin raises his eyes to look up at Killian before making contact with his skin.
“May I?” he whispers, and all Killian can do is nod.
As soon as Merlin’s fingers touch his skin, he slams his eyes shut, expecting the worst, expecting something to hurt, but it doesn’t. He expects something reminiscent of the warmth he feels when Emma touches him, but he feels nothing.
Across the table, Emma watches wide-eyed as Merlin’s fingers make contact with Killian’s broken skin. More than anything, she wants some sort of reaction, hoping for some sort of sign that could get her out of this whole true love nonsense.
Instead, Merlin’s magic does nothing, soft, black smoke emitting from the tips of his fingers, but there is no reaction from the dark magic in his chest.
When Merlin pulls his hand away from Killian, it’s almost as if the whole table emits a sigh, collectively letting out a breath that they all were simultaneously holding.
Will is, of course, the first to comment, breathing out a nervous laugh that breaks the terrific silence of the cabin. “Well, that was anticlimactic.”
Chapter 8: THE NORTHERN MOUNTAINS, Part 2
“I have an idea,” Merlin says, his voice barely higher than the crackling of the fire. He hopes it’s only loud enough for Killian to hear. He may not know the rest of Killian’s party too well, but he has a feeling that if the Prince were to hear his idea, he would be against it.
(His feelings are usually right.)
Killian hums in response, tightening his grip on the cup of coffee in his hand.
“If you’re going to take the ship to Neverland, you’re going to need to start by getting it onto the water somewhere. Somewhere secluded."
“You’re right,” he mutters. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
"Nemo’s been out along the coast for a while, and from what I’ve heard, this guy Shakespeare has a house right on the water, away from everyone else.”
“Plus you know Nemo would love to see you.”
This only draws a smile from Killian.
“What do you think?”
Instead of answering Merlin directly, Killian speaks out to the group, specifically making eye contact with David, who is sitting directly across the fire pit from him. “I think we should leave in the morning.”
The Prince nods, a hardness in his blue eyes evident in the bright firelight. “As long as Merlin has the ship, I don’t think we need to delay any longer.”
“And have the ship I do,” Merlin comments.
“Plus whatever Killian needs to do to make it fly, or whatever, and we’re good to go.”
Killian and Merlin share a look, then a smile. “Oh,” Merlin says as cooly as he can, turning back to David. “For that to happen, I need to come with you.”
“That wasn’t what we discussed.”
At this, Killian speaks up. “To be fair, you never asked me about anything beyond getting my ship from Merlin.”
Killian can feel the way Regina rolls her eyes without even looking in her direction. “So, now he has to come with us, too” she huffs.
“Well, if you want this ship to even make it out of the bottle, then yes.”
“Can’t the Magistra just do it?”
“Not all magic is the same, Regina,” Belle comments. “I’m sure it’s taken years of practice and honing skills to really figure all of this out.”
“And Merlin trained the rest of the elders under Gold’s order when we were working for him,” Killian adds, a fact not really necessary to the conversation, but he wants to rid anyone of the notion that Merlin would be an unnecessary addition to their rag-tag group.
A beat passes, accentuated by a loud pop from one of the logs in the fire pit.
“So we leave tomorrow,” David says, a sense of finality in his voice that silences any argument anyone would have had.
"You're gonna like this," Liam whispers, nudging Killian with his elbow. It takes him a moment to shake off the lag from falling asleep in the back of the car, but once he does, he follows Liam's gaze out the front windshield, watching as the horizon turns from the hills and mountains he's known his whole life to the flat, steady blue of the ocean.
He doesn't even realize his jaw hangs open until Liam chuckles at him.
Brennan pulls his eyes from the road for a moment to glare at Liam in the rear-view mirror. He was never allowed to have any fun, was scolded and tormented by his father in place of a childhood — why should his boys be any different?
Liam snaps his mouth shut, meeting his father's gaze with a glare of his own until Brennan turns his attention back to the road. He never even knew to imagine what a better life would be like until he made friends while Brennan was fighting the War, until he saw that some people's fathers treat them like humans, treat them well and care for them. He had always just assumed that a mother's job was to love and a father's was to discipline, because that's how it worked in the Jones household.
Until their mother got sick, at least. She wasn't strong enough to fight it, was what Brennan told his boys, but Liam never believed it. Alyce was the strongest person he met (though, to be fair, he didn't have much to compare to). He always told himself, especially during the late nights while he watched over his younger brother, sleeping peacefully in their shared bed, that whatever she found on the other side of life was better than anything she knew here, better than her life with Brennan, even if it did mean leaving her boys behind. So, as often as he could, Liam made sure that Killian didn't fear smiling, didn't shy away from having fun, just because Brennan made him feel that way. As often as he could, Liam put himself between Brennan and Killian, protecting him both from harm, and from having his childhood torn away from him as Liam had.
When he looks back at Killian, he is still staring out the windshield at the ocean, a small smile on his face. "A better life," was where Liam told him they were going as they loaded their few belongings into the back of Brennan's car.
He just hopes he was right.
It feels like almost moments later that Brennan stops the car, and Liam realizes they are in a parking lot not too far from the beach, which he can see over the small dunes in front of them.
"We're here," Brennan says gruffly, then steps out of the car without another word, looking around the parking lot.
Liam turns to Killian on the back seat, hoping that he can come up with the words of wisdom that he so desperately wishes to impart in this moment. "No matter what happens, Killy, just know I'm going to be here."
Killian's dark eyebrows lower into a confused v. "I thought you said this was going to be a better place?"
"I can only hope so. But no matter what this man is like, I promise I'm always going to be here to protect you and watch over you."
He smiles, soft and childlike, though there are so many emotions hiding behind it that a six-year-old should not even know about, a sadness that Liam hopes he never has to see again.
"Brennan Jones?" a loud, booming voice outside the car calls out, and they both turn, wide-eyed, to look out the rear window to watch theman approach the car.
"He looks scary," Killian whispers, and Liam shushes him — though he's not wrong. He's a large man, both wider and taller than Brennan, with thick arms and thick legs and a thick, dark mustache set on his thick, dark face.
Brennan nods. "Captain Dakkar, I assume?"
"Aye, but you can call me Nemo."
"Liam! Killian!" Brennan yells, realizing the boys are still sitting on the back seat, and he turns to them with another glare.
"Remember what I promised," Liam whispers, pulling the handle to open the door, and he slides off the back seat before reaching out to help Killian.
"He can do it himself," Brennan scolds, but Liam takes his younger brother by the hand anyway, and refuses to let go, even after Killian has closed the car door. He can feel the heat of Brennan's glare on the side of his head, but he doesn't care; all he cares about is giving a good impression to this man — Nemo — while simultaneously trying to portray his protection of his brother in his eyes.
Nemo meets his gaze, fierce brown eyes finding Liam's bright blue ones, but if he has any thoughts going through his mind, they make no appearance on his features. He turns to Killian, squatting down so that he is almost at the young boy's eye level. "And who are you, young man?"
"That's—" Brennan starts, but Nemo holds up his hand, stopping him immediately, though his attention stays on Killian.
"I would like him to speak for himself, thank you."
Something about this line makes Liam's heart pound. Is that a good thing?
Killian's hand tightens in his. He squeezes back for good measure. The man's face still sits stone-still.
"Killian," the boy says, trying his best to keep his fear, his worry, his anxiety out of his voice, off of his face. "Killian Jones."
Captain Nemo smiles, holding his hand out to shake Killian's — the one that is not holding tight to his brother.
Killian takes it. "Very nice to meet you, Mister Jones. My name is Captain Nemo Dakkar, and I will be taking care of you and your brother from now on. Will that be alright?"
Killian looks to Liam out of the corner of his eye, and Liam gives him a slight nod, paired with another squeeze of his hand.
"Yes, sir," he whispers.
Nemo nods, then straightens back up. "Say your goodbyes, boys. I'll get your bags from the car."
"You can't—" Brennan starts, but when Captain Nemo whips around to face him, there must be something on his face that silences whatever he was going to say.
Brennan nods, turning instead to the boys. "Good bye." His voice is emotionless, even as he looks at his younger son, who is trying not to shake with sadness.
"Why are you doing this?" Killian asks, tears welling in his eyes. Liam wondered if he was going to break, since he has been so silent on the subject since Brennan first told them they would be travelling to a new home.
Because I don't want you anymore, his glare reads perfectly clear. "Don't question me," is all he says, which basically means the same thing.
Killian sniffles, but says nothing more, turning up to Liam as he tries not to let the tears slip from his eyes. He nods, and without another word, they turn away from Brennan and follow Captain Nemo to his car.
Good bye's aren't necessary when you're leaving a man who has no love for you. They can only hope the next stop proves to be better.
And it does. Living with Captain Nemo proves to be better than anything Liam ever allowed himself to believe his life could be. Even when he finds himself scrutinized by the Captain, he always waits for the hot sting of a hand against his face or the hateful words he heard so often from Brennan, but they never come. For all the hardness in his gaze and the scars that run up and down his arms, Captain Nemo is nothing but kind to the Jones brothers.
(Liam has a feeling that part of it comes from his ability to see the pain that ran so rampant in their pasts, the abuse that they suffered at the hands of Brennan, but he can also tell that there is a true, genuine softness to him that Liam has never experienced in his fourteen years.)
They have been staying with him for almost two months when he returns from the marketplace one day with a strange addition: another boy, around Killian's age, who hides behind the Captain for the first two days he spends at the cabin. Merlin, Nemo tells them his name is, and once he faces his fears and realizes that no one there wants to hurt him, he turns his attention from the tall captain to Killian, following him around like a lost puppy but barely saying a word.
Until: "I've never seen eyes so blue," he whispers one day when Nemo and Liam are making dinner in the kitchen, leaving the two younger boys alone in the living room.
At first, Killian doesn't realize the words came from Merlin; he thought he was hearing things, and shakes the idea away.
"I thought only the sea could be that color," he continues, and this time Killian doesn't think it was his imagination. He whips his attention towards Merlin, who is sitting next to him on the couch.
Merlin quickly turns his gaze to the floor, his embarrassment evident on his face, though his dark skin makes it difficult for Killian to see the red tinge. "Your — your eyes," he says again. "I'm amazed at how blue they are. Even in the books I've read at the library, I've never seen a picture capture that color. It's like magic."
Now it's Killian's turn to blush, heat running to the tips of his ears.
“Th--thanks, I guess,” he mumbles, not sure how to take the compliment. He’s been given so few compliments in his life that he’s certainly not yet comfortable with them.
“I think we’re going to be friends,” the boy says, smiling over at Killian.
He hopes he’s right.
“Are you sure we’re going the right way?” Robin asks, following Merlin’s latest direction and pulling off the paved road onto a small, rough gravel pathway that cuts through the woods.
Merlin tosses Killian a glance, rolling his eyes. Killian just shrugs. “Yes, Locksely.”
Not for the first time, Killian turns to glance at Emma in the seat behind him. Something between them had shifted since she and the other ladies returned from the Athenaeum. He hasn’t been able to put his finger on how, on what exactly feels different, but he knows it’s something. He constantly feels himself drawn to her, pulled into the room she is in when they are idle, sitting next to her whenever he has the chance. If something has changed for her, she has given him no sign, save a few small shared smiles.
But right now, she is paying no attention to him, her focus solely on the book spread open on her lap, one hand holding the pages and the other holding her head up, her elbow propped against the window. While she has certainly not had very much of it, she has spent her free time since returning from the Athenaeum reading through a collection of books that Belle brought with them or trying out small spells in the palm of her hand. He's amazed by her resilience, her ability to adapt and overcome, has been since he first met her, but seeing the way she has dropped everything to save him — to travel from her safe haven — to travel to a whole new land — has only escalated it.
They're not on the gravel road for very long before the stone turns to dirt, quickly clouding around them. Killian turns his attention back to Robin, who eyes him in the rear-view mirror. He can tell that he wants to question Merlin again, but he keeps his mouth shut and his worries to himself.
Everyone is eerily quiet, watching the cloud of dust forming around them. Emma and Belle have even looked up from their books. It's only another minute before the woods open in front of them, but when it finally comes into view, the entire party exhales.
The cabin that appears before them is nothing exciting, very similar to the one they left behind — but the view of the ocean that sits behind it is breathtaking. It’s exactly as Killian remembers it, that ocean that stretches out before them in either direction. He’s almost relieved when no one answers his knock on the door, because it gives him the chance to take himself down to the beach and reacclimate himself with it, the smell of it and the blue, endless in every direction. It reminds him of Liam — he hasn’t been to the beach (or, been able to enjoy the beach) since before they joined the Nephilm military. A wave of sadness washes over him, sadness and grief and pain that comes every time he thinks of his brother, but a deep breath and a long exhale send it floating out above the water.
He wants to remove his socks and boots, to feel the sand between his toes once more, but he can feel the eyes of the rest of the crew on him as he stands just beyond the reach of the tide.
How much does he care?
He doesn’t, he concludes, and kneels in the sand to loosen the laces of his boots from the hooks just enough that he can kick them off and leaving his socks tucked into them. The water is cold as it washes over his feet, but it renews his energy in ways he can barely explain. With his eyes closed, he doesn’t see Emma and David follow suit, leaving their shoes with his on the sand and standing on either side of him in the surf. He doesn’t even realize that they are there until he feels Emma’s hand slip into his, squeezing gently. He smiles softly at her, hoping that his thanks is apparent on his face because he doesn’t trust himself to speak.
He turns back to the water, his thoughts no longer on Liam, but on her once more. He tries to let the sound of the surf wash them away, wanting to be able to focus on this moment, and it almost works — almost , until he hears a voice call to him from a ways down the beach.
“Are these ghosts I see, or is Killian Jones standing before me?”
“Captain Nemo,” he breathes, dropping Emma’s hand to take off down the beach. He doesn't run; he’s not sure if he has the energy for that. He doesn’t move much faster than the old man moving across the sand towards them.
The man looks almost the same as Killian remembers, his face perhaps a bit more weathered, his gait a bit slower, but mostly the same — except there is something that feels different about him, an aura that he sees to give off, Killian realizes as the old man wraps his arms around him, minding his obvious injuries. It isn’t until his companion, a shorter and much greyer man in rolled-up cotton pants and and half-unbuttoned shirt, comes to stand beside him, until Nemo smiles at the man and proudly introduces Killian that he realizes what this feeling is: happiness. Joy, even more than he had when Killian was younger.
“And who are your friends?” the other man — Shakespeare , Killian remembers Merlin calling him — asks, gesturing towards the rest of the party spread out across the beach and the lawn.
David, to no one’s surprise, steps forward, holding his hand out towards Shakespeare and introduces himself first.
“You must be their leader.”
"Is it that obvious?" he asks with a small smile.
Shakespeare just chuckles, turning to the rest of the party. "And the rest of you?"
David introduces the rest of the party, Shakespeare and Nemo offering the same welcoming smile to them all — especially Merlin as he makes his way down the hill to them all.
"He never was one for the beach," Nemo mutters, tapping Killian with his embow. They share a soft smile, another wave of emotion rolling over Killian as the tide washes over his feet once more, but this time, it's not sadness — it's joy.
"So now, lad," Nemo says, though his voice makes it obvious he is speaking to all of them, and he sits on the sand, gesturing for Killian to do the same. "I do think it's time for you to tell us what it is that brings you back from the dead and up to this palace by the sea."
"It's quite a long story, I'm afraid," he says, already trying to straighten it all out in his head as he sits in the sand next to Nemo.
“And we don’t have much time,” David adds, as if reminding Killian of the graveness of their mission.
“Best to start right away then, I suppose,” Shakespeare quips.
With a deep, shaky breath, that is exactly what Killian does, diving right away into the depths of his past — though for Nemo, he begins with the last of what Nemo knew to be true: Liam’s death in Neverland.
“Any chance you and the wizard there could make some food appear?” Will mutters to Belle. She lets out a small laugh, closing her eyes as she shakes her head at him, but slowly moves across the sand and up the small hill to where Merlin is still sitting in the grass. After a small conversation, unheard by the rest of the group, they both work to create a small buffet table filled with all sorts of food: roast chicken and cheeseburgers and mashed potatoes and the most beautiful and delicate-looking peach and cherry tarts that everyone knows came from Belle.
Everyone has had their share to eat — including Killian and Nemo, who were brought plates by Shakespeare and Mary Margaret — by the time Killian gets to the end of his story, finding Merlin at the cabin in the heart of the Northern Mountains.
Killian waits for the question that seems to come from everyone else — can I see the wound? — but it never comes. He’s relieved, really, being seen as more than a specimen by someone who has heard his full story.
Though he also hopes it’s the last time he ever has to recall it.
For a few moments, Nemo sits silently beside him, working on another cup of tea. The dainty mug looks almost cartoonishly small in his large hand and it clinks against the saucer when he sets it back down.
“And Merlin still has Liam’s ship?”
“Aye. I saw it. Just a bit of magic and she’ll be all ready to sail to Neverland once more.”
“And hope,” Mary Margaret adds, finishing her own cup of tea not too far away. “It always helps to have hope.”
Merlin takes a deep breath, carefully rising to his feet in the center of the small boat. They’re cramped together, all eleven of them insisting that they needed to come with, needing to see the great Jewel of the Realm emerge from the waters — as long as that’s really what happens. The whole party is holding their breath and Emma can feel it all somehow, either due to her newfound closeness to them or the physically cramped deck of Shakespeare’s small fishing boat — the pounding of their hearts beating quickly, loudly, almost as one. Merlin grips the small glass bottle and closes his eyes, his hand emitting a soft purple glow that seems to get brighter with the words muttered under his breath — and then, in one quick movement, his eyes snap open and he throws the vial out into the water.
Those who dare to breathe gasp, and Killian reaches out his hand almost unconsciously, wrapping his fingers around Emma’s. Otherwise, there is no movement from any of them.
For a long, still moment, nothing happens. A chill runs down Emma’s back, a lump threatening to climb up her throat. But it’s stopped when the world around them rumbles, shakes like an earthquake.
Merlin smiles. Killian’s grip on Emma’s hand tightens, and when she turns to look at him out of the corner of her eye, he is smiling, too.
A crash startles them all, immediately followed by a large wall of water that falls across their boat. But when it clears, the sight that lies before them takes Emma’s breath away again, though this time it is a good thing: there, bobbing before them on the calm sea is a ship — beautiful, pristine (smaller than Emma expected) — sails billowing in the soft breeze coming off the water, including one made of feathers at the front of the ship.
(Emma’s never seen a ship before, but she imagines that’s not a normal sight.)
“I never thought I would see her again,” Killian mumbles, his attention still focused on the ship as he slowly rises to his feet.
“I thought they were just legends,” Robin says.
“Shall we board her?” David asks. The answer is obvious.
Nemo maneuvers the fishing boat further out into the water until they are close enough for David and Graham to swim to the Jewel and weigh anchor as per Killian’s instructions, then help the rest of them climb on board, the small fishing boat tied to the side of the ship.
“And you remember how to fly her?” Merlin asks, coming to stand beside Killian at the helm.
“Gods, I hope so,” he mumbles, only loud enough for Merlin and Emma to hear.
“Let’s get her back to shore,” David announces after a few minutes of snooping around the vessel. “We shouldn’t wait too long before taking off.”
“Shouldn’t we wait until morning?” Will asks skeptically, and Killian has a feeling that he may be the first of them to get sick among the waves.
“Actually, we’ll need to sail at night,” Killian says, wrapping his fingers around one of the wooden pegs on the helm. “Need to follow the stars to Neverland.”
For a moment, everyone is silent, thinking about this statement. More than ever before, standing on the deck of the Jewel of the Realm , this mission feels real, tangible, but also attainable in a way that wasn’t possible without real proof of the existence of the old airship.
“Tonight, then,” David says, meeting Killian’s gaze with a nod. “We pack our things and leave around sundown.”
Chapter 9: PART FOUR: OFF TO NEVERLAND
Killian has never felt so alive. Sure, it’s comparable to the first time Liam’s “pegasus sail” worked, the first time he realized his feet were no longer on land, but somehow coming back to it all after all these years is more, it’s better. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s known it was possible but has been so far removed from it; he knows that part of it comes from the love of the sea that he’s fostered since the first time he saw it with Captain Nemo, a love that always felt like a newer, better tie to Liam and Nemo and positive relationships.
Something is different. He may not be able to really put a finger on what it is, but he has a feeling that it has something to do with the people that are here with him now, twelve years after he was forced to walk the plank thousands of feet above the water, twelve years after he was thought to be dead.
Twelve years after his last trip to Neverland, after the death of his brother.
He doesn’t miss the irony of going back to that same place on the same ship.
“Alright, Captain,” David calls, coming back from belowdecks. “What else needs to be done?”
Captain. He never wanted to be a captain. He only ever wanted to stay with Liam, wanted to follow wherever their adventures took them. And he never expected it to be death and destruction, working for a corrupt king and a masochistic prince. There’s so much he never expected with his life, really — but all of it brought him here, the sun setting at his back and his brother’s ship — his ship now — bobbing on the gentle evening waters.
He knows there is nothing else to be done, since he spent most of the day out here on the deck, making sure the sails are secured and making notes of spots on the deck or the railings that have weakened in the years that Merlin kept it in the bottle.
(She’s in excellent condition given she’s spent the last twelve years in a bottle after almost being destroyed due to King Gold’s orders, though he imagines that Merlin may have fixed some of the damage before putting her in the bottle in the first place.)
They’ve packed all the supplies in the cabins, though a bit of an argument ensued when Killian insisted David and Mary Margaret set themselves up in the captain’s cabin. Beyond being the Prince, David is the obvious leader of their group; by putting them together, it frees another bunk in the crew’s quarters.
None of them mention Liam, and for that he is thankful — because that’s the main reason he can’t bring himself to take the Captain’s cabin. Liam is the captain, and no matter how many years it has been since he died on Dead Man’s Peak, he always will be. That’s his cabin, just as the Jewel is his ship.
(It’s easy enough for him to stay out of the cabin, but reclaiming his brother’s most prized possession is something else entirely. Everything about her, from her pristine paint job to her name, reminds him of the time he spent serving King Gold, and that is a time that he wants to forget more than anything, but what is he going to do, rename her?)
“I believe, Your Highness, that we are ready to take off,” Killian says with a grin, wrapping his hand around one of the spokes of the helm.
“Your Highness,” Shakespeare repeats from where he is standing against the railing, though he turns to David. “That’s why you look familiar, isn’t it? You’re the Prince of the Gale.”
As he always tends to when he is recognized, David reddens a bit as he nods. “Yes, uh, that’s correct.”
Shakespeare also nods, turning back to the water. “I fully understand your decision to keep that a secret. You never know the allegiances of the people you meet.”
It’s an eerie statement, and Shakespeare’s tone of voice doesn’t help calm the chill that’s found its way down David’s spine even though he’s sure Killian wouldn’t have brought him anywhere that would put them in danger.
“You two aren’t joining us, are you?” Killian asks, trying to ignore the same chill he feels down his own spine.
“Oh, no, lad,” Nemo says, bringing his pacing to a halt behind Killian. “We’ve seen all the adventure we can handle for one lifetime.” He reaches out to set one of his large hands against Killian’s shoulder. “I’m just enjoying the time I get to spend with my sons with me once more.”
It’s not the first time Nemo has referred to him as his son; he knows it’s not, yet can’t remember when the first time was.
As Killian watches the crew ready themselves, Graham comes up to him, his thumbs pulling on the straps of his suspenders. He has ditched the vest, his sleeves rolled up to the elbow, but he is still the same well-dressed, dapper Graham that Killian has always known him to be, since the day they pulled him from the water. “Just one question here, Jones,” he says, and Killian hums in response. “How do you navigate to a place that isn’t on any maps?”
Killian has been so consumed with the thought of taking off that he’s forgotten he then has to guide them through the sky once it’s happened. “I completely forgot about that, actually,” he mumbles, but then swipes his tongue across his bottom lip, raising his eyebrows as if he’s about to tell Graham some of the latest gossip. “Thankfully I have a few secrets.”
Graham follows him down into the captain’s quarters, where they’re greeted by a cheerful Mary Margaret.
“My apologies, love,” Killian says, leaning against the doorframe. “Mister Humbert here has reminded me that, after we manage to get this ship off the water, I still need to navigate us to Neverland.” He begins to saunter through the room, to the opposite corner behind the desk where he hopes his brother’s secret possessions are still stashed. A key in the desk drawer, a few knocks with his fist on the wooden panel, and a prayer, and it pops open. By now, they have a larger audience, with Emma and David joining them and Robin watching from the other side of the door, and Killian smiles when he hears the panel open with a pop. “Thankfully, Liam was always a master notetaker,” he says, reaching into the slot to pull out a basket holding a small stack of notebooks, some rolled-up star charts, and Liam’s sextant. “Even when we were told not to.” He drops everything else on the desk, but keeps one of the star-charts in his hand, which Mary Margaret helps him unroll. He smiles, looking down at Liam’s perfect penmanship across the detailed map. “But, by ignoring Gold’s direct orders to make no notes of how to get to Neverland, he has made it possible for us.”
Together, they lay the star-chart out across the desk, holding it open with some of the trinkets, and Killian can't help the proud smile that takes over his facial features as he remembers watching his brother obsess over making these charts, taking notes on the stars in his head as Pan guided them to Neverland. They're not quite finished — he planned to add the last parts during the return trip, a memory that hits Killian like a knife to the chest — but they're close enough that Killian can fill in the rest from his own memory.
Still staring down at the drawings laid across the desk, he says, "Now I believe we have everything we need to take off."
Though it only takes a few more minutes to prepare the last few things and say goodbye to Nemo and Shakespeare, it feels like hours to Killian, whose whole body is practically humming with excitement. The last thing he’s ever wanted to do is return to Neverland, but he finds himself impatient now, wanting nothing more than to take off from this dock and begin their voyage across the water and the air.
Hell, he doesn’t even know if it’s going to work. He knows that part of the magic that helped guide the ship off the surface of the water was from Liam’s powers as a dryad, and he’s obviously not here anymore, a fact that seems to sting a little more every time it comes up recently, especially here, on the deck of his ship.
But he knows that Merlin has talked it all through with Belle, and they were practicing with dinghies before shifting to the Jewel throughout the day. By the time they are ready to take off, they seem to have it all figured out, working together but on opposite ends of the ship, just as Killian remembers Merlin and Liam doing. The sails are down, both the fabric and the feather; the enchantments have been cast, and now all they need is to lift the ship off the water.
The first attempt is a failed one, with the hull crashing back onto the waves after rising just a few feet. They all take a moment to recompose themselves, take some deep breaths and refocus their energy. Even Emma finds herself focusing on the feel of the hull rising up, leaving the waves behind and floating above the water — higher and higher — and when she does open her eyes once more, she finds that it has happened.
They've taken off.
“Are you ready, brother?” Liam asks, his hand excitedly squeezing Killian’s shoulder where he stands at the helm.
If this hadn’t been the twenty-seventh time they’ve tried this in the last three days (yes, Killian’s kept count), then maybe there would still be some excitement left. Of course he wants Liam’s idea to work, but everything Liam has done recently has been in hopes of getting this to work, and every waking moment has been spent looking at diagrams of ships with feathered sails and discussing theories about what kinds of magic they might need to get the ship off the ground. (And there’s a part of him that wishes he had powers, wishes something would have shown itself in the two years since Liam discovered his powers on the lake, but nothing has happened yet, and Killian is about to stop holding his breath.)
“Aye,” is all he says, trying to feign some excitement, if only because he knows how excited Liam is for this to work. Last month, they lifted a dinghy off the surface of the water for a few minutes; two weeks ago it was a fishing boat, borrowed from one of the older men in the village under the guise of seeing what it was like to fish on the ocean.
(Killian had also hoped that they would have made time for that, too, but every moment they spent on the water, out of view of the old men who sit by the beach and gossip, was dedicated to trying to get the fishing boat to fly.)
It took three days and two different types of hand-sewn feathered sails, an added part of the equation from the dinghy, but Killian was still in awe when Liam and Merlin finally succeeded in lifting the boat off the surface of the water.
They did it again later that night, this time with Captain Nemo in tow, and the two of them watched, eyes wide and mouths agape from the inflatable life raft, as the hull of the ship left the waves, floated a few inches above — a few feet — and then slowly, carefully, it starts to move away from them, its only effect on the waves a soft ripple like that left behind by the wind.
They did it.
With the ship sailing through the silent evening air, all that's left to do now is wait. Everyone but Belle and Merlin, focused on flying the ship through the clouds (and both elders, who have no need for sleep) — and Killian, who is too excited by being back in the sky again, back on his brother's ship, to sleep. He sits against the helm, a flashlight wedged between the stokes and the railing behind it shining on Liam's journals spread on his lap.
The only sound on the deck comes from Belle and Merlin standing together at the bow of the ship, no longer needing to be fully focused on the ship now that she is sailing across the sky, most of the work now done by the enchanted pegasus-feathered sail and the wind itself. So instead, they're conversing.
It started out with their backgrounds: Belle having trained under Gold's father, Malcolm, and Merlin learning almost everything from the books Nemo could get his hands on.
("That man finding me on the street was no mistake, I'm sure of that. Without him, I probably never would have discovered my powers, and I definitely would have had far less time to hone my powers than I would have if I was still worried about people seeing me wherever I was.")
Belle is amazed by him, the shocking difference between how the two of them view their powers, but she sees every new opportunity as a chance to learn — in this case, it just happens to be about an incredibly powerful being who should have been sent to the Athenaeum to study under her but instead learned most everything he knows from books brought home from marketplaces.
“So, you’re the Magistra,” he says, not for the first time, and Belle just nods. “Why did you decide to come on this mission? You must have more important things to do than sail to hidden lands to cure someone you don’t even know.”
Belle shakes her head. “I came because of Emma. I think…” She pauses for a moment, then begins to pace across the small deck, glancing at Merlin while she passes by him, as if she’s embarrassed to be asking this question. “Have you ever heard of the prophecy for the One Without a Name? Enchanted Waters, The Island that Cannot be Found?”
Merlin perks up. “How do you know about it?”
She chuckles. “You forget, I’m the Magistra. I’m assuming that means you know about it?”
“I always called it the Neverland prophecy. I found it when Killian and I were doing research after the Jones boys were given their commission. You think it’s about Emma?”
“Wait, does that mean…” She stops pacing, standing in front of him once more, excitement lighting up her already-bright eyes more than the lanterns they set up. “I’ve never been able to find the full text, just references to it.”
Now it’s time for Merlin to perk up. “Not only have I read it, but I transcribed it into my Neverland notes that I have in my backpack. If you can take over here for a minute, I can go and get it for you.”
She takes her position at the bow of the ship, holding her hands in front of her. Merlin may have done this a few times, but in order for her to take over completely, she needs to concentrate much more than she does sharing with Merlin.
It does only take a moment for Merlin to go below decks and get his notebooks, and Belle can barely contain her excitement as Merlin searches for the right page and hands it to her:
Unaware of the strength of her powers,
The One Without a Name will spread her wings,
Rising from the streets to pave a path for herself
To a life of healing in a world full of hurt.
Fate will bring One Without a Home through her doors,
His wounds healed only by her hands.
Bound by the Most Powerful Magic of All,
Their strengths will finally be revealed.
With the Peace-Bringer they will take flight
On a journey to find the Enchanted Waters
From the Island that Cannot be Found.
A failure for them would be a failure for all.
After Belle reads over the words once, twice, she turns her attention back to Merlin, who is watching her intently.
“And you think this is about Emma? And about Killian?”
Belle raises her eyebrows, shrugging. “Too many coincidences between them both, I would say.”
A beat passes.
“What about that last line?” she asks, handing the book back to Merlin. “No notes that I ever found mention it ending with such gloom.”
All Merlin can do is shrug.
Across the deck, Killian is still sitting against the helm, Liam’s journal spread across his lap. He’s read through this one twice already — the last one, the one he was writing in when they left on their voyage to Neverland. Most of his energies during their trip were spent secretly taking notes on what he learned from Pan, but he still managed to spend part of every day writing down the happenings of the day in his logs and adding some of his thoughts.
He’s stuck on one day in general, about a week before they took off and a month after they got their commission — a month after he received the Jewel of the Realm.
I’ve never seen a ship so pristine in my life. She’s better than I ever imagined she could be, and I continue to find myself spending every free hour aboard her decks, admiring her perfection.
The biggest shame is that she will probably only ever see a life under King Gold. She deserves much more than that. We all deserve more than that, especially Killian. I hope that one day, he can find himself a life beyond whatever we find ourselves doing following the King.
If this ship is ever given a new life, I hope it is one with more adventure than we have been given. Let her be taken by pirates, and let her sail under the flag of pirates instead of doing the bidding of a monarch. Let her live the life I have always wanted.
It’s a call back to one of Liam’s favorite stories of Nemo’s, stories of “pirates” who board people’s ships and take their gold. Plundering. Killian always wondered if it was ever possible for pirates to exist, if there was a time when the waters weren’t completely controlled by Gold and his swarms of mer-people, but Liam always laughed it off. It was crazy for Killian to wonder if pirates ever could have ran the seas, but his obsession with air-ships taking to the sky was perfectly logical.
“The Jolly Roger,” he says out loud, and he was so consumed with his own thoughts that he did not even realize that Emma had come to stand beside him, missed the creaking of the boards and the sound of her boots making their way across the deck.
“What?” She doesn’t mean to startle him, pulling him out of the deepest confines of his own memories.
It takes him a moment to regain himself, and he smiles up at Emma. “The Jolly Roger. That’s what I’m going to call this ship from now on.”
Sitting down on the deck beside him, she asks, “You’re renaming your ship?”
He hands Liam’s journal to her. “It’s what he would have wanted.”
She quickly scans the page before returning it to Killian. “So, you’re a pirate now?”
“Better than working for a corrupt king.”
“I don’t know how David is going to feel about that.”
“You know I’m not talking about him, love. He’s the furthest from a corrupt king, but I still hope to never sail under another monarch’s flag.”
He’s silent for a moment, and she turns to look at him in the dim light from the flashlight behind him and the lanterns lit around the railings.
“Even David’s,” he says, his voice so soft she almost doesn’t hear it.
They sit like that for a while, shoulders touching, the only thing between them the silence of the night sky. After a while, he turns his attention up to the stars, the constellations — much different than the ones Liam taught him when he was younger at their home in the Southern Isles, but reminiscent of those they learned together sitting outside Captain Nemo’s cabin.
He points to the sky, to a grouping of stars above them, but off the stern.
“Do you see that grouping there? It makes a wave, up and down twice over.”
It takes her a moment, but she finds it. “Yes, I — I see it.”
“That’s Drakko, the dragon. We’re going to follow him on our journey home.”
She tries to turn around, look towards the direction they’re heading. “And who are we following now?”
He smiles, using the helm to help him to his feet, and he reaches his hand out to help her. Even knowing the state of his body, she takes his hand, but also uses her other hand to pull herself up by the helm.
“Well, these stars were never really given names, since this part of the ocean… or, the sky, I guess, was never explored in books.” He looks around them for a moment, searching for something, and when he finds it, he reaches down to take Emma’s hand, pointing together towards a large grouping of stars. He feels something as soon as their fingers touch, a warmth through his body that wipes away the chill from the night air, and he lets it wash over him before he continues. “But when we sailed this way the first time, Pan called that grouping the Skulia, the skull. And those two bright stars in it, above where he thought would have been the eyes, they’re our navigational stars. The second one to the right, more specifically, is the one we sail towards until Neverland appears before us.”
“What about when the sun comes up? How do you navigate then?”
He laughs under his breath, even though he knows it’s a legitimate question. “Hope, really. At least in the sky the waves can’t throw you off-course like they do on the water.”
“What if we come to a storm?”
He laughs again, squeezing the hand that he realizes he is still holding. “We hope some more. Fly a bit higher and hope we can make it over it.”
When he squeezes her hand, a surge of what can only be magic pulses through her, unlike anything she’s ever felt before. It’s warm and soft and caring, like a nice blanket on a cold winter’s night, and it’s a feeling that she wants to be wrapped in forever.
“But how does the ship fly in the first place?”
He’s focused on this same feeling for a moment, wondering what his connection to her could possibly mean, but when he turns his attention back to her question, he realizes that he doesn’t really have an answer for her.
“I was never part of the process,” he says, his voice soft. “Liam was a dryad, and Merlin could do anything, but I could never…” He turns his eyes down to the deck, softly kicking the bottom of the railing in front of him with the toe of his boot. “I always just watched.”
She doesn’t know what to say to this, so she simply doesn’t respond. After a moment, he turns his head to look at her again, taking in the small details as she looks out over the stars spread across the sky in front of them.
He's almost certain that he's fallen in love with her, but he doesn't want to think too much about it. He knows there must be some kind of psychology behind him, that he must be so drawn to her because of the fact that she is the one who healed him, the one who is taking care of him in a way no one has since his mother. (No woman, at least. And the love and concern they got from Captain Nemo as children, as caring as it was, was still no replacement for his lost mother.) Not to mention the fact that she dropped everything, the entire life she built for herself, to come with him and try to save his life.
He doesn't know if his feelings are admiration or thankfulness, and Neverland is certainly not the place to think about it too much.
Maybe , maybe if they make it off the island alive — if he makes it off the island, he would be devastated if anything were to happen to anyone else — he'll rethink. Maybe he'll be more sure by then. But now, with the hypothetical omen of his numbered days floating over his head, he can't spend too much time harping on what might happen if he is able to leave Neverland again.