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The Orphan Jones

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Mr Gold likes to believe that he is a simple man, with few interests beyond his wife, thirteen year old son, and his business.

He is yet again reminded of the foolishness of this belief as upon locking up his pawnbroker's shop for the night he hears pounding feet in the snow and the unmistakable sound of sobbing.

Gold recognises the sobs. He has heard them often enough. The man grips his keys in his hand, expecting he will be welcoming a visitor shortly, and turns around to look into the gloom of the night.

Further away than Mr Gold had imagined, (but perhaps he is getting used to picking out those cries over any other outside noise) he notices a familiar child running from the direction of the accursed Jones residence.

Surprisingly, Gold's Pawnbroker's does not seem to be her intended destination. The twelve year old does not spare a glance at the shop at all, or, apparently, a thought for the weather, as her narrow, bony little feet crunch through the snow unshod. Her skin looks dark in the dim lighting, lightly mottled purple.

Perhaps she's headed to the docks.

“Iridiana!” Mr Gold calls into the night.

Either the girl is crying too heavily to hear, or she just doesn't care, because she runs on, a blur of a thin, grey dress and tendrils of pale hair whipping about in the cutting wind.

Mr Gold sighs, knowing it is going to be another of those nights. He futilely repeats his cry of Iridiana's name then chases after her into the night.

Iridiana runs blind when she is significantly upset, and it does not surprise Mr Gold when she stumbles on ice and falls backwards heavily, scraping her hands and all the way up one leg to her hip.

If the girl had gotten up, brushed herself off half-heartedly, and continued to race into the night, Mr Gold would have been less worried. Instead, Iridiana sits on the snow and ice in the middle of the road and merely cries harder, wrapping her fists too tightly in her long hair.

“Iridiana?” Mr Gold intones softly, approaching carefully. He's less afraid of the ice than the girl coated in it.

She stiffens for a moment, acknowledging his presence, but the weeping wracks her small frame too severely for her to give it pause.

“You're alright, dearie,” Mr Gold declares, sitting down carefully and feeling thankful not to be relying on his cane tonight. The floor is so cold that it sends a chill to his bones before it starts to melt from his body heat and wet his tailored suit.

Iridiana looks at him from under her hair, as though she would speak if she was not hyperventilating and likely to choke on her own breath.

Mr Gold's own boy has not cried like this in years, but Gold is grateful for having raised two sons for the help it gives him in helping to calm Iridiana down. He has seen the twelve year old upset plenty of times before, particularly on special occasions, but right now her face is as red as a screaming, teething toddler.

Mr Gold rubs circles in the girl's back, murmuring nonsense in a low, soothing voice as though she's no less troubling than a spooked horse, and eventually her panic subsides to irregular, shuddering gasps.

Normally Mr Gold would continue to let her sit for as long as she liked, but they are in the middle of a poorly lit road and she is soaking, freezing, likely to get ill.

He heals up her scrapes efficiently and rightens the hem of her dress, pushed up when she fell. Mr Gold stands, and reaches out for Iridiana's icy, little hands.

“Come along,” Gold says softly. “Let's get you back into the warmth.”

Iridiana stares at him as though she knows he has spoken but can't quite quieten her thoughts enough to process what Mr Gold has said.

“It happened again,” she whispers.

Something in her raw voice or her raw eyes makes Mr Gold's insides tighten. “What did?”

Iridiana is quiet, and if Mr Gold was less familiar with her hurt, he might have thought she was not going to answer at all. Eventually she says hoarsely, “My magic, I… glimpsed something.”

“Something bad, I take it?” Mr Gold surmises quietly.

“No,” Iridiana says pitifully, and that gives Mr Gold pause to look at the girl more closely.

“What she said,” the girl continues rawly. She closes her eyes as though just the recollection hurts enough to make her dizzy. “What she said… hurt worse than usual, and...I saw, um, I saw...”

Mr Gold puts his arm around her shoulders, blocking some of the biting wind, and waits. She is shaking violently and he would prefer to get Iridiana out of the cold before she continued her story, but he knows she won't be able to walk until she has blurted out the words, as though expelling some kind of debilitating poison.

“I saw her make a decision,” Iridiana expels at last. “Before she knew… believed… how bad things were gonna get.”

“Can you tell me about it inside?” Mr Gold asks.

Iridiana looks at him, then flexes her digits and realises they feel both numb and on fire, as though the cold has eaten her senses. She nods quickly.

Mr Gold takes her back home to the shop, whisking her inside with magic because surely what could be the price for helping a frozen little girl?

He ushers Iridiana into the living area, surprising Belle, and makes eyes at his wife to make some fresh, warm tea. Belle stands at once, giving Iridiana a worried look before hurrying through to the kitchen.

“Gaston's gone to bed,” Belle whispers as she passes.

Mr Gold nods slowly, relieved he won't have to field questions from their son about his playmate's ghostly appearance, and fetches down some blankets from the cupboard. He nudges Iridiana towards the fireplace, the girl having the sense not to get too close to the hearth at first, returning her body heat slowly, then Mr Gold bundles her into the blankets and sets her into a chair which he pushes closer to the fire.

He takes a turn standing in front of the flames himself, steam rising from his damp suit. Snowflakes in his hair melt and drip onto the floor.

Mr Gold waits until Belle has placed a cup in Iridiana's hands and the girl has clutched it comfortingly to her thin torso before asking, “So, do you want to tell us the details?”

“No,” Iridiana snorts, but she leans into the tea's heat and closes her eyes with an expression that suggests that she will anyway.

“Did you know Aunt Zelena suggested to Mom that she should have had an abortion when she was pregnant with me?” Iridiana asks softly.

Belle almost drops her own, already chipped, teacup, but Mr Gold steadies it with magic and exchanges a concerned look with his wife.

“Did your mother tell you that? Or is that what you saw?” Mr Gold asks.

Iridiana blinks and affects a faux veneer of cheeriness as she admits, “Tonight my mother told me she regretted not having the abortion.”

Belle really does drop her cup this time, and only the carpet saves the teacup from destruction. Both adults stare at Iridiana, ignoring the puddle of tea spreading across the floor.

Iridiana turns to place her own cup on the nearby sidetable and mutters, “I'll get a cloth.”

“Sit down,” Mr Gold declares. He turns to his wife. “Sweetheart, will you please call Iridiana's… charming… parents, and tell them she'll be staying with us tonight?”

Belle gives Iridiana a sincere look. “You're welcome to stay with us every night,” she says firmly, then steps into the hall to use the house phone. It's not long before she can be heard bickering with whoever is on the other side of the call.

“Where was your father during all of this?” Mr Gold asks.

Iridiana is cringing into the furniture guiltily as the argument in the hall continues. “Jack's teething,” she explains. “He was busy.”

Mr Gold is about to reply, but an exclamation from the hall steals his words. “I don't care if you're the sheriff! It's hardly kidnapping if you're unfit. Go see if David's willing to back you up on this, because we all know what a useless mother you are!”

The phone slams back heavily into its cradle and Mrs Gold returns with a grim expression, which softens into compassion as she looks at Iridiana. “Are you alright?” Belle asks.

“I'm sorry you and Mom aren't friends any more,” Iridiana says softly.

“I'm sorry that your mother is in severe need of a personality transplant,” Belle replies.

Iridiana is quiet.

“This isn't your fault, you know,” Belle insists sincerely.

Iridiana seems unconvinced, and pulls her teacup back towards her like a security blanket.

She doesn't say much for the rest of the night, and the Golds make up a bed for her, not for the first time. The couple then retreat to their room, where they talk quietly amongst themselves about this latest calamity.

It's only one in a long, long line, and the twelve year old seems close to breaking point.

Iridiana's father comes by to collect her the next morning, and he looks close to breaking point as well. Hook and Mr Gold have a strained relationship and difficult past, but Gold has stopped feeling like the wounded party a long time ago. Hook looks like hell. Every wrong Hook has ever committed is being dearly paid for by the impossible task of balancing his wife and eldest daughter, and Mr Gold might have considered that justice were it not for the considerable strain upon Iridiana.

Staring at Hook's stubble and dead eyes, Mr Gold swallows and admits silently to himself that he actually feels sorry for the grounded pirate. He looks like he's been treading water for so long he is considering the merits of drowning.

Chapter Text

Iridiana hovers in the kitchen with Belle, relieved Gaston is sleeping late, and feeling disloyal for the way her stomach twists when Mr Gold gets up to answer the door to her father. Belle wordlessly places her warm hand on Iridiana's thin shoulder, and for a moment the girl feels less nauseous.

Belle follows protectively as Iridiana warily makes her way to the door.

Hook kneels immediately, pulling Iridiana into an embrace that makes it hard to breathe. His necklace digs into her, likely leaving another familiar little blue bruise, but Iridiana doesn't care about that, because all she can smell is her father and all she really feels is his love for her.

Only, there is also that familiar tension in his shoulders like he's already fought battles for her today and knows he will be facing more. It's likely enough, and it does not make Iridiana feel good.

Hook always hugs Iridiana for longer than most fathers hug their daughters, but the whole town understands exactly why he does so. He eventually pulls away, and Belle meets his eyes with an expression he accurately reads as, 'I would shout at you for what's happened, but I know you're already doing all you can about it.'

Hook's expression tightens in response, but he tries to hold his face away from Iridiana so his daughter will not notice.

It is a wasted effort. Iridiana reads the smallest of gestures with an accuracy not many adults have. It's a necessary trait for her.

Hook stands and holds out a pair of Iridiana's shoes, which she takes and tugs on reluctantly. She balances on each foot easily, as she likes to do things for herself.

Hook bundles her into a jacket, which Iridiana permits because she knows he likes to feel useful and close.

Her shoes are uncomfortable on her heels already. She hates wearing shoes.

Hook pulls Iridiana towards him a little and locks eyes with Belle and her husband. “Thanks,” he says hoarsely. “Again.”

“She's welcome here any time,” Belle responds, watching with a fond but concerned expression as the pair leave.

“I am so worried about her, Rumple,” Belle tells Gold as soon as the door closes.

Gold sighs and nods in agreement, whatever he had been intending to say getting lost in the noise of his son stomping groggily downstairs for breakfast.

Hook swallows and observes his daughter trudging along beside him in the snow. She's much too old to want to take his hand, but she can tell he wants her close, and offers her own wordlessly. Hook worries that she spends too little time acting like a child than a parent.

He heaves another deep breath. “How are you?” he asks.

Iridiana gives him a sideways glance and mutters, “Usual.”

The weak way she says it further alerts Hook to the certainty that Emma went further than usual last night. “I'm sorry,” he says tiredly.

“Not your fault,” Iridiana replies shortly. She says this so often Hook wonders whether she even thinks about the words as she says them. “I know you're trying.”

“Your Mom tries,” Hook says, his words forming clouds from the cold. He's unconvinced either of them believe it.

“Dad?” Iridiana asks.

Something in her voice makes Hook's chest feel cold. “Yes love?”

“If you knew how hard it was going to be, would you have gotten rid of me?”

Hook stops walking and stares at his daughter. She blinks as he pulls her up into his arms, but doesn't protest like most tweens would. She's starved of contact.

“Abso-fucking-lutely not ever,” Hook says fiercely into his daughter's ear.

“Why?” Iridiana asks bleakly.

“Because you're my baby and I love you,” Hook asserts.

“I'm Mom's baby too,” Iridiana mutters.

“Your Mom would love you just as much as me if she could,” Hook says.

“Why doesn't she?” Iridiana asks.

Hook's heard that question thousands of times before, and he still doesn't have a satisfying answer. Iridiana's getting older, and at some point he's going to have to tell her the truth, but for now it seems easier to just repeat, “She's cursed.”

“Most curses have cures,” Iridiana says very softly.

Hook presses his stubble against her cold cheek. “I swear Iridiana, if we knew how to cure this, we would.”

Iridiana sighs and presses her forehead against his own. “I know,” she says maturely.

Hook's heart twists for her.

He takes her home and she immediately shucks off her shoes, exposing raw skin on her heels.

“Do they fit properly?” Hook asks.

Iridiana pushes a thick strand of her pale hair behind her ear. “No shoes fit me properly,” she mumbles, reaching for wipes to clean the dirty soles of her feet so her mother has one less reason to be vile.

“Fish child,” Hook murmurs.

Iridiana looks up at him, and despite the situation, spares him an amused grin. “Merchild,” she responds, then reluctantly pulls herself onto her feet, padding through to the kitchen to throw away the used wipes.

She's forgotten to take her jacket off, but Hook doesn't remind her yet, because if Emma kicks off Iridiana is likely to dive back outside into the frozen town.

Luckily, Emma doesn't seem to be downstairs. Hook creeps up to the next floor to ascertain her whereabouts.

She's in the nursery, fussing with baby Jack. She glances around at Hook's tread, and gives him an uncomfortable look. They've had arguments over her treatment of Iridiana before, but he's been especially frosty after hearing exactly what she told their daughter last night.

“I'm dropping the littles off with Mom before work,” Emma announces softly. “I thought you'd want to spend some time with Iridiana alone.”

Hook grunts, recognising the apology, but not feeling like acknowledging it. “Where's Odette?” he asks instead.

“Brushing her teeth,” Emma replies as she fastens the poppers on Jack's puffy coat. There's a wry note in her voice, as they both know the devastation that leaves the bathroom in.

“I'll check on her,” Hook says quickly, glad of the excuse to leave. He pauses, lingering despite himself. “Teething gel's on the dresser,” he says mildly.

Emma looks up at him, her wide eyes unreadable, and nods. “Thanks,” she murmurs, snatching the tube and shoving it into a pocket on the diaper bag.

Hook retreats back into the hall, noticing Iridiana lingering nearby silently. He shepherds her past the nursery door, shielding her from sight with his frame, and gives her a small smile as he goes in search of his errant toddler.

The blonde devil is in the bathroom as Emma suggested, smearing toothpaste onto the bottom of the mirror. Judging by the mess on the sink and towels, she would be decorating the mirror further if she could reach higher.

Hook sighs, half-amused by the pleased look Odette gives him. He washes her down and quickly wipes the mirror, throwing the spoiled towels into the laundry basket.

He doesn't bother with the sink. She's still to 'brush her teeth' tonight as well.

Hook carries a chattering Odette through to her room and changes her outer layers into something not stained with toothpaste, wondering whether he should pack a spare change of clothes for her.

He hears the bathroom door click behind them, and Iridiana braves the shower. She normally lingers until Emma has left, so her presence suggests she's annoyed at Emma.

That's fair.

Hook carries Odette through to the nursery, where Emma is struggling to persuade a kicking Jack that shoes are indeed the norm. Hook retrieves a launched shoe and gives it back to Emma. She gives him a grateful look and pats Odette's blonde hair fondly before attaching the shoe to Jack's reluctant toes.

The blissful look Odette gives her mother makes Hook uncomfortable. The toddler's hair is far closer to Emma's golden blonde than Iridiana's ghostly locks, and Emma touches, plays with, and kisses it constantly. She hardly touches Iridiana ever.

Hook is unsure it was fair of him and Emma to continue to have other children when the contrast between how Emma treats them is so striking.

Emma puts the diaper bag over her shoulder, picks up Jack, and takes Odette's chubby, warm hand. Hook almost offers to help, or to offer to bring Emma a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, but his annoyance stills his tongue.

He's tired.

They can't go on like this. Iridiana is going to break.

Emma senses the tension and murmurs a brief, “Say goodbye to Daddy, kids,” before heading downstairs and into the car. It takes a while before Hook hears the engine start, and he realises he hasn't scraped the car for her or cleared the driveway. She's going to be late for work.

He feels apathetic about it.

Hook looks around the house, feeling torn about all the memories and hopes it contains.

Emma's a perfectly good, loving, devoted mother to Jack and Odette, and Henry, when he visits from college.

Henry prefers staying away, or at Regina's, because being stuck in a house with Emma and Iridiana is torturous. Hook can't blame the kid, although he certainly misses him. It probably won't be long before Odette and Jack want away from the screaming tension too.

Odette's already been asking awkward questions about why Mommy is cross with Iridiana all the time.

Emma's much younger brother Neal, who is barely older than Iridiana, seems to think that Iridiana has some innate unlovable quality which causes his sister's disgust. Little Robyn seems to agree, and it is exhausting trying to build up Iridiana's defences against not only Emma's attacks to the girl's self-confidence, but also that of the ignorant neighbourhood kids.

Iridiana emerges from the bathroom and it causes a twinge in Hook's chest the way she looks at her surroundings as though she doesn't belong there at all.

“Do you want to go for a swim?” Hook asks.

Iridiana gives him a surprised look, then frowns a little as though she understands his motive. “Won't you be cold?” she asks.

“It will make you feel better, won't it?” Hook responds honestly.

Iridiana shrugs, but there's a hopefulness amongst the dull expression. Hook throws a towel at her and she grins, most of the sadness receding from her face.

Iridiana grimaces at Hook's insistence that she wear shoes until they get as far as the cove. It's a cold, bleak day, and although there isn't much snow by the water's edge, the wind bites bitterly.

Iridiana looks exhilarated, her cheeks pink from the chill, and Hook's spirits feel somewhat buoyed as she rushes towards the dark, foaming waves, shedding outer layers.

She dives into the icy water, shrieking, and the contrast between her usual meek self and the exuberant child in the water never fails to take Hook's breath away. She was born for the water.

Her magic certainly knows it, as the tail that has been making an appearance for the last few years breaks through the water.

Perhaps it won't be enough to simply move himself and Iridiana into another place in town. Maybe his daughter needs to live on a ship.

“Dad!” Iridiana calls over the roar of the waves and the wind. “Get moving you coward!”

Hook sighs and sheds his clothing in the freezing cold, reluctantly wading into the icy chill of the water with only shorts for protection.

Iridiana flips and spins in the water, trying her best not to splash him. “I could stay here forever!” she cries.

“I'm already getting hypothermia,” Hook grumbles.

Iridiana rolls her eyes, but gives him a warm look as she says, “You can get out as soon as you're too cold.”

“I'm too cold now,” Hook replies, making no move to leave, and splashing her instead. She squeals, and Hook tries to imprint the happy look on her face into his memories. It's been getting harder and harder to picture recently.

It's hell to imagine not seeing Jack and Odette every day. It even hurts to imagine not waking up beside Emma every morning.

But if Hook doesn't do something drastic soon, he gets the feeling it won't just be her smile that he barely sees.

He'll lose her, and she's already more alone than he could have ever imagined.

Iridiana gives the horizon a look when Hook eventually admits defeat and rushes onto the frozen beach for a towel. She's surprised her father managed to stay out with her for so long, and swims back to the coastline slowly, but she keeps her eyes on the expanse of water.

She would rather never come back to the shore.

Chapter Text

Hook would probably have liked the small and close-knit nature of Storybrooke, if it wasn't for how dysfunctional his family is.

He doesn't want to talk to anyone. He just wants to trudge through the snow with his daughter, a towel draped over her soaking, cold hair, and go home.

Meeting Regina on the walk back puts his nerves further on end, and the knowing look she gives their wet appearance makes him feel annoyed and inadequate. Yes, taking his daughter to swim in this hellish weather means things are bad at home, but she doesn't need to acknowledge it.

It's not like there aren't enough opportunities for Emma to screech out reminders to the town – and Iridiana- as it is.

“Hmm,” Regina says.

Hook narrows his eyes at her.

She brushes her manicured fingers with familiarity through his daughter's sea-and-wind-tangled mane.

“I'm surprised the colour hasn't come out,” Regina comments with what might be a tactful skirting of the bigger issue, or a prelude to something worse.

Iridiana barely glances at the pastel colours streaking her milky-blonde hair. “It's the salt in the water,” she says.

Regina's lips twitch, because she can recognise Iridiana's magic anywhere, even if Emma can't. It isn't lost on Regina that Iridiana is doing as much as a twelve year old girl can to not resemble her mother.

“David mentioned Emma's been in an interesting mood all day,” Regina comments.

She is unsure whether Iridiana or Hook flinches hardest in response.

“Would it help if Iridiana stayed at mine tonight?” Regina asks.

Hook looks to his daughter for a response. The girl likes Regina, but the woman's niece Robyn makes Iridiana miserable.

Iridiana shrugs and looks at her father.

“I think I'd rather keep her close after yesterday,” Hook states, settling his arm over Iridiana's damp shoulders. She leans her forehead against him.

“No problem,” Regina replies, trotting along towards the Jones home with them.

Hook doesn't question it. Henry's probably asked his mother to keep an eye out for his younger half-sister, and it might just be possible that Regina is worried on an immediate level.

“Go get warmed up,” Regina orders, letting them into the house. “I'll cook.”

Hook doesn't argue. He's tired of arguments, and there's going to be a big one between himself and Emma soon enough already.

Iridiana goes upstairs and pulls on yesterday's dress, hoping to cut down on her laundry as a way of avoiding getting caught in a close space with her mother.

Hook spares the dress a glance, but as long as she's clean he doesn't really care about reused clothes. He's more impressed that it isn't crumpled.

The dress is a thin, shapeless, grey shift with a small amount of iridescent beading. Although hardly vintage, the frock looks like something a slight girl in the 1920s would have worn with the hopes of drawing no one's attention.

Iridiana chooses most of her clothing with the hope of it not drawing anyone's attention. Her wardrobe is filled with various shades of mottled grey as though she wishes for nothing more than to melt into the shadows.

When Iridiana was born Hook had thought of her shock of pale blonde hair as luminous and striking, but these days it just adds to her ghostly appearance. He does not understand why she cannot seem to develop a tan from all the time she spends outdoors (and especially in the reflective waves). Iridiana's skin has a sickly blue-grey pallor, and nothing seems to diminish her waif-like appearance.

Hook follows his daughter downstairs, and she is noticeably more quiet than Odette or Jack. Even Henry, who is basically grown, cannot help but chatter in domestic settings.

Iridiana seems to fade.

Regina knows it too, and instructs the girl how to help set the table to try to pull Iridiana into the moment. Including her.

Which Emma seems incapable of doing.

Hook steps forward to help as well, but Regina silently grips his hook and pushes it away, indicating his daughter smiling a little as she places cutlery at three places.

Hook smiles back at Regina. Swallowing, he wonders whether he will have the same support network if he really does leave Emma.

The meal goes along without issue, and of course tastes better as it has been prepared by Regina. Iridiana offers to clear up, desperate to feel useful.

“I wish Robyn was as helpful as her,” Regina smirks to Hook.

Hook smiles a little and watches Iridiana somewhat sadly. He wishes his daughter had even a fraction of the maternal love Robyn receives from Zelena.

It's quiet in the house after Regina leaves, but it's nice to actually spend time with Iridiana in a communal space in the house, and even more so with the girl feeling at ease enough to take up space or speak.

“Iridiana?” Hook asks her eventually. “How would you feel if we lived somewhere else?”

The girl turns to him immediately, looking surprised even though she has sensed something about her father had been off recently. “What- what do you mean?” she asks.

Hook regards her with sad blue eyes. “This doesn't work. You're miserable. Everyone's tense. Maybe it would be better if… you and I lived somewhere else, and Mom and the littles stayed here. Or… we could think of something else, but something has to change. Don't you think?”

Iridiana looks stricken and guilty. “Did Mom tell you to bring this up?”

Hook shakes his head, and tilts her chin gently with his namesake to persuade her to meet his eyes. “This is my idea. I'm worried about you,” he explains.

“But you love Mom,” Iridiana points out. “And Jack and Odette.”

“Of course I do,” Hook says sincerely. “But I need to protect my children and this environment… it isn't healthy. For you or the littles. You can't grow up amongst all this tension...”

“Dad,” Iridiana says softly. “Don't say anything to Mom, okay?”

“Okay, not yet,” Hook says soberly.

Iridiana bites her lip as though she wants to say, 'No, not at all.' Worse yet, she desperately wants to throw her arms around her father's neck and beg him to take her away right now, forever.

She leans against Hook, still chewing her lip.

Hook strokes her pale hair. “You've always got me,” he murmurs.

Iridiana feels sick.

She withdraws back into herself as soon as Emma's finishing time approaches, and disappears upstairs.

Emma juggles Jack, the diaper bag and Odette as she lets herself into the house. She had once thought she would love this house.

She knows she loves the littles, and Hook, but the situation is… hard.

Hook greets her, taking the kids because she looks tired and besides, he wants to spend as much time as possible with them.

Hook has absolutely no desire to leave any of his children -or even his wife, if he is really, truly, honest with himself- but what else can he do?

Iridiana doesn't reappear until prompted to at dinner time. She gives Hook a pleading look in hopes that he'll permit her to take her meal to her room, but Emma is likely to be mild after yesterday's failure, and he wants Iridiana to have a chance to spend some more time with her siblings. Hook shakes his head.

Iridiana deflates, and Hook is filled with deep, burning guilt not only because he has caused the reaction, but also because the prospect of being in the same room as her kin makes Hook's daughter grey even further.

“Is Idanna bad?” Odette asks conversationally.

Emma flinches, looking between her family members. She's unprepared for her toddler starting to pick up on their issues.

“No, Iridiana is not bad,” Hook answers shortly, swallowing the urge to shout, because it's hardly his baby daughter's fault that the family is deeply disfunctional.

Odette seems deeply confused by the assertion, looking at her older sister and then their mother skeptically. Emma looks away.

Iridiana, meanwhile, looks like she might just disappear into the grain of the table and chair if she just chews that little bit quieter.

Hook takes his gaze from Iridiana and moves it around the table. Only Jack seems oblivious to the awkwardness, but even he understands some of the tension around Iridiana because he tends to cry whenever she is close.

At least Killian Jones had his brother Liam. Hook's heart aches.

Emma gathers up Jack and Odette, taking them through to the living room to watch a cartoon movie. She hardly looks at Iridiana, but there is an expression of dislike on the mother's face when she does.

Hook remains at the table and wonders what to do.

Iridiana watches him with an intensely thoughtful look, and Hook wonders if she is considering his suggestion.

She gets up from the table and steps past him, heading for the door.

Hook reaches out with his hook, lightly catching her elbow. “Are you okay?” he asks hoarsely.

Iridiana gives him one of those somber looks of her's, where she seems like the one about three hundred years in age.

“Love you, Daddy,” she says softly, then turns and disappears out the door.

Hook gets up quickly and hisses out a question, not wanting to alert Emma in case his wife wades in and causes calamity. “Where are you going?”

“Relax, Dad,” Iridiana says with faux cheerfulness, trying her best not to stare at her father too urgently lest he somehow surmises her plan.

Hook leans against the doorframe and watches her. “Be back in by ten thirty,” he warns, his tone still muted.

Iridiana smiles back at him, and feels utterly, incredibly guilty.

As soon as her father is out of sight, Iridiana clasps her fingers around a small, black box that she has kept carefully for two years now, almost three.

She heads to the pawnbroker's shop and presses the bell, even though it's closed. She doesn't like going around to the house door. Gaston has a habit of answering that, and he asks too many uncomfortable questions. Worst still, he is sometimes accompanied by Neal or Robin. Or both.

Mr Gold answers after a pause, not looking particularly surprised to see her so soon. “Shall we put the tea on, dearie?” he asks, leading her inside.

“No,” Iridiana says urgently, reaching out and grabbing the sleeve of his suit jacket to halt his step.

He turns around and looks at her assessingly, a modicum of concern clear in his eyes.

Iridiana fumbles for the box and holds it up with a shaking hand. “I… I need help,” she says shakily.

Mr Gold freezes upon seeing the box he had gifted her for her tenth birthday. He glances over his shoulder almost automatically at the trunk she had hid in that day, refusing Henry's entreaties to come out. The trunk seems to mock him, because what the hell was he thinking to give such a gift to a child?

Mr Gold looks back reluctantly to Iridiana's desperate face. The answer was there of course: her need for help was undeniable.

Before Gold can caution Iridiana, the girl opens the small box and takes out the meagre scrap of expensive paper within.

Nervously, she reads out, “Rumplestiltskin...”

Mr Gold puts his hand on her shoulder urgently to stop her, but her words are too swift.

“Rumplestiltskin. Rumplestiltskin.”

Chapter Text

Mr Gold feels a tug in his chest that sends a chill right down to his fingertips. Rumplestiltskin's compulsion to answer the plea for a bargain sends his magic thrumming into life within him.

Rumplestiltskin has been mostly dormant within Mr Gold for over a decade, since he made a sacrifice for his child that altered his magic significantly. Mr Gold has become accustomed to the change, but the primal, monstrous creature within has had little use for it.

Until this moment Mr Gold had not even been entirely certain that this would work, that Rumplestiltskin could take to the new magic enough to still be summoned.

All magic comes with a price, but Mr Gold had gifted the child this one use for free.

“What do you need?” Gold asks, but something in his voice has changed, it's familiar and Other all at once, and it startles him a little to realise just how much of himself has altered in thirteen years.

Iridiana hears the change in his voice but does not appear to mind, gazing instead at Mr Gold's skin. He lifts his hands slightly and notes their faint glitter with mild surprise: he had always thought it had been the darkness which had caused that.

However, it's much subtler than it used to be.

His magic is much less than it used to be.

Iridiana swallows, and approaches Mr Gold's personal space bravely, quite aware that the air around them is thick with magic waiting for her words.

“I… I need you to show me how it happened,” Iridiana enunciates firmly. “I need to understand what happened to my mother.”

Even the monstrous thing inside Mr Gold seems disturbed by the statement, and Gold wonders whether the neglected persona is less inhumane than he had always thought. Perhaps he has changed more deeply than he realised.

Mr Gold licks his dry lips and asks, “Are you sure, dearie? There's no taking it back once it's done.” Unless he wipes her memory afterwards, but that's just going to leave her needing the exact same answers.

Iridiana steels herself, because part of her never wants to know at all what could make her mother reject her so completely. “I need to know,” she says sincerely. She will never be able to fix, or even simply accept, what happened if she doesn't know.

If she doesn't do it, her father might make the biggest mistake of his life. Worse than keeping and loving her.

Mr Gold nods and takes a deep breath, and he doesn't know what's at stake here, but he obviously knows that what he's gifting Iridiana is going to hurt.

“As you wish, Miss Jones,” Mr Gold says soberly.

It does not occur to him to use any other means than time travel, even though he once thought it so complicated. It doesn't seem complicated now. It feels like that time already has a pull on him, as though becoming so intimately acquainted with Emma's magic before Iridiana's birth has made him highly attuned to that moment. That wound.

Sometimes the magic within him seems foreign: a body all its own. The magic is insistent, Mr Gold can feel it pressing on his eyeballs, he reaches for Iridiana in a blur, and… then they're not there at all.

The Underworld is not, nor will it ever be, somewhere that Mr Gold wants to spend much time. That being said, he's pretty sure he's going to hell when he dies, so an eternity spent here might be a reprieve.

He does not want to be here a moment longer than he has to.

Iridiana is looking around at their surroundings: a twisted, apocalyptic version of Storybrooke. Gold can feel her tension through his hand.

“What happened?” the girl says at last, her voice weak.

Mr Gold looks at her quickly. “We're not in Storybrooke,” he explains quickly.

Iridiana gazes around him dubiously. “We're not?”

“We're… we're in the Underworld,” Mr Gold announces.

“Hell?” Iridiana asks, wide-eyed.

“More like… purgatory,” Mr Gold says softly.

“Oh,” says Iridiana, and various snippets of overheard conversations from the past start to make sense.

Mr Gold has the worst sense of deja vu, and it doesn't just seem to be the dread of returning here. “I'm not certain… exactly which moment we've arrived at,” Mr Gold confesses. The doors he had expected to be guarded by Cruella and the Blind Witch are as deserted as the rest of that space, and he gets a horrible feeling in his stomach that perhaps he's taken her too late.

There's nothing strange about the sky, and no heroes running towards a portal.

“I, ah, wasn't expecting you,” declares a voice that sends mild chills down Mr Gold's spine. He had hoped not to hear that voice again.

Mr Gold turns slowly, keeping Iridiana slightly behind himself, and warning her silently with his grip to be on her guard.

“Hades,” Mr Gold greets carefully.

“I'm quite a fan of yours, Dark One, what are you doing down here when you could be up there sending me more souls?” Hades questions. He eyes the washed-out looking child beside Rumplestiltskin speculatively.

Mr Gold licks his lips, getting his bearings. “So I can gather we have not already met then?”

Hades raises his eyebrows and twists his neck. “You've lost me.”

“I'm still making sense of it myself,” Mr Gold mutters. Thinking back, he remembers Hades already knew about the heroes arrival before they met. Perhaps Gold himself had already mentioned it?

“I'm expecting myself, my two successive Dark Ones, and some entourage to arrive here,” Mr Gold explains carefully.

Hades gives him a perturbed look. “Yourself and your successors? But you're not dead.”

“Evidently,” Mr Gold responds. “Instead, events are going to transpire here which will have lasting effects.”

“Like what?” Hades asks, tilting his head suspiciously.

Mr Gold isn't certain what the wisest thing to say is, but a careful use of the truth seems the smartest option. “Your heart is going to start beating.”

Hades takes a step back. “What?”

“Just as I said,” Mr Gold says curtly. “But I won't give you any details, in case it causes anything to change.”

“Why are you here?” Hades asks.

Mr Gold indicates Iridiana reluctantly. “The girl needs to witness what is about to transpire,” he explains.

“Why?” Hades asks.

“What can I tell you?” Mr Gold considers. “You won't get along with the group much, but you will get your own way and you will leave this place. However, something of significance will get broken, and the girl will need to witness that if it is ever to be fixed in the future.”

Hades considers his treasures. His Olympic Crystal is already broken, but he knows how to fix that, surely? “How does my future look?” he asks suspiciously.

Mr Gold is careful yet honest when he replies, “You were your usual smug self the last time you spoke to me.”

Something seems to draw Hades' attention and he looks away. “It seems you might just have arrived,” Hades says huskily. He frowns, “That you is a lot more powerful. Darker.”

Mr Gold concedes with a dry smile. “It turns out I'm not as much of a coward as I thought I was.”

Hades gives him a puzzled calculating look, but seems drawn towards the others. “Should I go to them?” he asks.

“By all means, they're going to cause chaos for you before you leave,” Mr Gold states.

“Should the girl come?” Hades asks.

“She should stay out of sight,” Mr Gold declares, waving Hades off. “And I do not think it is a good idea for me to meet my former self.”

“Wait,” Hades says. “One of your successors… that would be Captain Hook?”

Mr Gold gives a small nod.

“We've met,” Hades admits slowly. He turns to follow the pull of the other living visitors, quashing any chance Iridiana has to ask about her father.

Gold pulls Iridiana close. “Do not tell him who you are, but if you feel endangered, tell him that you're Zelena's daughter.”

Iridiana's nose crinkles with surprise and mild disgust. “Robyn?”

“Don't tell him what Zelena called 'you' unless you have to, but if you do, explain why 'you're' called Robyn.”

“Because Robin Hood died?” Iridiana says skeptically.

“Because Hades killed him,” Mr Gold explains.

Iridiana's eyes widen.

Chapter Text

Mr Gold has no memory of meeting himself in the Underworld, and can think of no justification for requiring a memory potion, but he does remember all references to the waif in the grey dress described her alone.

Gold surmises that means he does something (will do something) that he absolutely does not want to do.

He has a rough idea how long the heroes will stay in the Underworld, and Mr Gold does still have enough magic to return.

But to leave young Iridiana Jones alone here? Where anything could happen?

Mr Gold frowns, thinking back, and rubs his forehead tiredly. ...She got hurt, didn't she? He is sure he can remember something about the girl getting hurt down here.

But if he remembers that, then he can't change it, can he? It's far too dangerous to do that.

Iridiana seems to note his disquiet. She is eerily skilled at that, but it's hardly surprising that she can recognise discomfort when she knows little else.

“What's the matter?” she asks without preamble.

“From what I can remember, this is where I leave you until you've witnessed what you have to,” Mr Gold says quietly.

“I'm fine on my own,” Iridiana says.

Mr Gold gives her a mildly surprised look. “You don't mind being alone in the Underworld?”

Iridiana scoffs softly. “Why would I? Can't be any worse than what I'm used to.”

“I think you get injured,” Mr Gold warns.

Iridiana shrugs, and gives him a look of pure trust. “That's alright, you'll look after me when you come back.”

Mr Gold stares at her for a beat feeling his stomach clench at her open expression. Regina, Zelena, and even Cora had always had walls of mistrust at all stages of their mentorship. Iridiana has suffered just as much as they did, but she is always willing to drop her walls with him.

She believes in him. Mr Gold cannot ascertain whether it is because he is a better man than he ever was before, or because there is a quality to her that guides her trust. It is odd that a child of Hook could remind him so much of Belle.

Iridiana ends the moment with a grin and a wink, turning and giving an unconcerned wave as she trots off in the direction of Hades. “I'll see you later!”

The child is unnaturally chipper and Mr Gold understands that is for his benefit. He leaves in a puff of smoke, wondering how much his wife is likely to berate him for what is surely a severe lack of judgement on his part.

Iridiana glances back at the empty space. Her stomach churns, but her fingers curl into her palms in determination.

She wanders the strange, hellish version of Storybrooke. It looks like someone has laid waste to her hometown and it gives her the creeps.

Her magic feels different here too. She reminds herself that swimming and flying feel very different from walking around, so of course things would feel different down here.

She does not like it all the same.

She supposes she is looking for the early version of her mother, but as Iridiana continues to walk through the eerie town she admits to herself that she would be happy to see anyone familiar.

Perhaps not Robyn. The place wasn't that bad.

Iridiana notices Hades walking into what wasn't quite Granny's Diner. Her heart leaps in relief and she runs towards the building.

Iridiana reaches the door just in time to hear Emma whisper, “You did this.”

Iridiana's stomach lurches, but as she looks around she realises her mother is not looking at her, but instead Hades, who is seated at a booth. Hades gives Iridiana the smallest look of acknowledgement then looks away.

Iridiana scans the diner, recognising the backs of Ruby, Aunt Regina and Grandma Snow.

“Hmm. Guilty,” Hades announces. He stands and comments, “A little water from the Sea of Lost Souls gives the soup a little ...something.” He wipes his mouth for dramatic effect, his eyes sparkling ominously.

“Why would you hurt her?” asks a disturbed Snow. “She was just a sweet little old lady.”

“Hmm,” says Hades coolly, still posturing with the napkin. “Isn't it obvious? ...Because you're trying to help her.”

“And,” Regina snarls, “Dorothy, who happens to be Zelena's sworn enemy. Did she put you up to this?”

“Oh your sister has no idea I'm even here, this is about so much more than that,” Hades declares, his voice growing more dangerous. “Let's call this a teachable moment.”

As the other heroes look disturbed, Emma steps forwards threateningly and asserts, “You wouldn't even be here unless you were afraid we might actually win.”

None of the heroes seem to notice Iridiana and she wonders what she is witnessing. What does her mother believe she can win?

Meanwhile, Hades mockingly responds, “Oh! Yes? Is that so?” He paces around Emma menacingly, whipping out the napkin around his throat as he approaches the puddle of Auntie Em's remains. “So let's see, Savior, because I don't think dear old Aunt Em would agree with you.” He kneels in his expensive suit and wipes up the puddle.

The heroes watch in horror as he stands, picks up a jar, and wrings out Aunt Em into it.

“Citizens of the Underworld,” Hades announces dangerously, “from now on, this,” he brandishes the jar, “is what happens to anyone who deals with these so-called heroes.”

He turns around theatrically, holding the horrible jar aloft. “Who's going to be next in line to ask for their help?”

The diner is silent, and Hades looks around pointedly before making a face. Ruby actually looks right at Iridiana and looks away without an expression of recognition. It twists Iridiana's stomach, even though logically Ruby could not possibly recognise her years before Iridiana is even born.

Hades approaches Emma, still holding the jar, and hisses, “It's hard to be a saviour when no one wants you to save them.”

Emma feels adrenaline race through her body as she reels from the words.

Hades leaves with a smirk, his gaze flickering over Iridiana mildly in a way that makes her skin prickle.

Iridiana stays where she is, and silently steps back as Emma, Snow, Regina and Ruby leave soberly. Iridiana waits, watching their backs, then follows after them silently.

No one notices Iridiana, but the girl has had a lifetime of perfecting that skill. They make their way to the graveyard, fixating on a particular headstone besides which Grandpa David and Iridiana's father stand.

Something seems to be happening between Iridiana's grandparents, one of whom disappears into nothing with Ruby, but Iridiana is too focused on Hook's appearance.

He looks like he's been hit by a truck.

Chapter Text

Iridiana shadows the heroes as much as she is able, which is much harder than she had imagined as they have a habit of splitting up.

It is frustrating, because Iridiana is terrified of missing something important. At first she mostly stalks her mother, but sometimes she follows her gut instead.

She is uncertain whether this is successful. None of her family seem to notice of her, but the dead certainly do.

She does her best to stay out of their way, but just as Emma back home has a way of scenting out Iridiana, the dead seem to recognise Iridiana's Otherness.

They do not like it.

Iridiana gets used to being mildly accosted, it's hardly different from the bullying back home and the scenery's not much different either, but Iridiana gets outright mobbed as she tries to stay out of sight of her father and grandfather.

Iridiana doesn't cry out, because she is used to absorbing hurt until she can't take any more, and at first it's more frightening than painful.

The dead do make noise, angrily railing at this brat with a beating heart for the suffering they endure. The ruckus causes the attention of Hook and David, who exchange glances and run towards the trouble.

Iridiana is unsure if she is more worried about being seen, or what the dead might do to her. Her living heart hammers.

Quickly wading into the fray, Hook and David pull people out of the way, snarling at the more aggressive dead. The men discover at the mob's centre a frazzled looking young girl of about thirteen. David looks around at her attackers, who seem to have nothing in common but their dead status. They don't seem terribly guilty.

“She's a kid!” David exclaims, stepping towards some of the attackers fiercely. He cannot comprehend why a group of grown adults would accost a waifish little girl. The mob drifts away, but some give the girl vicious looks before they go.

Iridiana swallows, wondering whether Hades knows when she is supposed to die. Her body aches a little. If she gets killed down here, she will have to stay, won't she?

Hook shields the girl with his frame and crouches a little to meet her eyes. “Are you okay?” he asks.

Iridiana's face is mostly hidden under a shock of lavender-blonde hair patterned with very faded pastel colours. An attempt to emphasise that her blonde hair is not like her mother's golden hue. Iridiana wonders whether this position will hide her facial features enough not to make her father stare. It is common knowledge above that Iridiana has Killian Jones' mouth and jaw, possessing all the same quirks of movement.

She lifts her tongue to her lips when she smiles, which would be the biggest tell of all, so it's lucky that Iridiana is in no position to smile. She hasn't been born yet, as far as this Hook knows, so he's less familiar with how his mouth looks in misery. As far as Iridiana is aware.

But that does not stop Iridiana's body chilling with fear. She feels like her features are screaming her secret. Hook doesn't know he'll have a daughter yet, but what will happen if he sees himself blatantly mirrored in her? What if she changes something she's not supposed to?

Iridiana nervously looks up at her father's face, her living heart hammering. It's the strangest thing to have him look at her as though for the first time. As Hook stares back at the girl, Iridiana moves her gaze quickly to the familiar jewellery in his ear which catches the light despite the gloom. It's too disconcerting to be looked at like that.

Iridiana cannot help when her gaze drifts back to the earnest, stubbled face. Looking at her doesn't bring him pain. He doesn't know the suffering that's in store.

She takes a step back.

Hook echoes the girl's backward steps to reassure her, raising his hands to show he isn't a threat.

Her eyes fall on the intimidating looking hook where one of his hands should be. It doesn't scare her, but the vivid reminder of who she is facing does frighten her. He's smart; if he keeps looking at her he'll know.

She must not change the past.

David takes Hook's shining hook and pushes that arm behind the former pirate's back.

“We're not going to hurt you,” David states.

The girl gives him a stare that makes him shiver, and it's got nothing to do with her being a child in the Underworld. She needs to keep the men away, because it would be too easy to make a mistake with them close, and the only way Grandpa David won't recognise his wife's eyes on Iridiana's face is if she fills them with hate.

The girl tilts her chin. “Not directly, maybe,” she states accusingly.

Hook looks disturbed. “What do you mean, lass?”

She crosses her skinny arms fiercely, but the aggression of the action is lost due to how much of her torso is hidden by her faded, wraithlike hair. It doesn't quite resemble the inside of a shell; a pirate knows the look of opal when he sees it. Hook isn't superstitious enough to forbid the stone of tears from his ship, but something about the girl gives him chills.

“Not a talker, eh?” Hook says wryly, trying to soothe the strange emotions storming behind the girl's eyes with his even tone. “That's okay, I grow on women like that.”

David gives him a look that says clearly that he recognised the comment about his daughter Emma.

Hook merely smirks back, now's not the time, and crouches further to face the girl.

“That's patronising, you know,” she comments, but she doesn't seem insulted.

“Is it?” Hook gives the girl a winning smile and stands.

The girl seems unsettled by the attention. “You can go now,” she says. “I'm … fine.”

David gives her a concerned look. She seems about Henry's age but all bones and nervous, awkward angles. “Isn't there somewhere safe we can take you? Someone we can take you to?”

The girl snorts, sounding slightly bitter. Her grip on her arms has shifted into more of a reassuring self-embrace. “You've done enough, thanks. It's going to get worse now they've seen me with you...”

“What, those people that attacked you? Why?” Hook demands.

The girl's arms snap to her sides and she steps forwards crossly, not seeming to care in the least that she can't even see over either man's shoulders. “What, you think your lot have the only beating hearts in the Underworld?” she sneers. “I have enough of a hard job keeping mines that way without being seen with you.”

“You're still alive?” David asks.

The girl suddenly looks embarrassed. “In a manner of speaking. But you 'heroes' have been getting Hades all riled up, and that's getting the dead really, really wound up. Between that woman in the diner, and the phones, then destroying the sheriff? What is wrong with you people?”

Hook glances at David in concern, but although his face has tightened he remains focused on the girl's plight. “We're here trying to help,” David states.

The girl momentarily gives both men a wavering, sad look, then squares her shoulders in her thin dress. “You don't even know who I am,” she protests in a brittle voice.

Hook raises his good hand appeasingly. “You don't have to tell us anything if you don't want to,” he says. “At least let us get you somewhere that you're not going to get any backlash for being seen with us, alright?”

The girl gives him a brief, searching look that makes Hook's hair stand on edge. She bites her lip as though she's afraid of what might spill out, then shakes her head fiercely. Her hair swings around her like a barrier.

“Just leave me alone please,” she tells the men. “I think it's a bad idea to talk to you. A really bad idea.”

David starts to protest again but Hook relents and steps back to allow the girl to pass by. She nods at them as if there's something more she wants to say, but silently walks away on bare feet.

“Do you think there's been much of that?” David asks Hook breathlessly.

Hook can't seem to take his eyes from the girl's retreating form. There's something about her that he swears he almost recognises. “Of what?” he replies.

David looks at him as though he's said something stupid. “Of the dead attacking each other because of us.”

Hook shrugged. “I suppose we watch and see. They've got a fair point to be agitated with Hades flying off the handle.”

“We should tell the others,” David states.

Hook nods. “Aye.” The girl disappears around a quiet corner and out of eye line. “Do you think there's many live people down here?”

“Hopefully there will be less of us soon,” David replies. “I want to see my family.”

Iridiana is a lot more careful after that, and holds back long enough to make her nervous of losing sight of her family before she hurries after them.

Chapter Text

Mr Gold swallows as his wife crosses her arms. Narrowing her eyes at him, she demands, “Why do I feel like you've done something, Rumple?”

Mr Gold swallows. “I was about to tell you...”

“Tell me now,” Belle states firmly.

Mr Gold nods slowly.

“Iridiana came by again,” he begins.

Belle gives him a stern look. “And?”

Mr Gold heaves a deep breath. “And she asked for my help,” he continues.

Belle fixes him with fierce eyes. “Why do you seem guilty about that?”

“I might have done something… questionable,” Gold admits.

“What. Did. You. Do?” demands his wife.

Mr Gold sighs. “She needed help, Belle, I couldn't just-”

“Couldn't just what, Rumple? What did you do?”

Mr Gold squirms a little. “She wanted to see what happened to create the gulf between her and her mother.”

Belle's mouth falls open in a little 'oh' of shock. “That's not something you show a little girl, Rumple!” she exclaims.

“Why not?” Mr Gold retorts. “If Miss Swan can tell that little girl that she wishes she had aborted her, why can't I help Iridiana come to terms with how they got in such a mess?”

Emma Jones isn't who I'm scolding right now. I'm interested in what you've done!”

I have done my best to help,” Mr Gold responds.

Belle sweeps the room, not hearing any noise from the building that suggests Iridiana is around. “Where is she, Rumple?”

Mr Gold swallows, and Belle's eyes narrow again.

“She's… not here,” he admits.

“Where is Iridiana?” Belle asks firmly.

“Reviewing things,” Mr Gold murmurs. Belle takes a step forwards warningly. “She's… watching,” Mr Gold admits reluctantly, “what happened.”

“Where?”

Mr Gold takes another deep breath. “As it happens,” he confesses.

“WHAT?” Belle screams.

Mr Gold recoils a little. “She wanted to understand.”

“Your son's almost the same age! You should know what's age appropriate!” Belle protests. "You can't-"

“Iridiana has always been mature for her age,” Mr Gold protests.

“Not emotionally!” Belle retorts, looking appalled that she even needs to point that out. “She is fragile, Rumple.”

“She's strong. She needed this,” Mr Gold insists. “Besides, it's not really what happened then that's the problem, is it? The problem is how her parents chose to mismanage it.”

“The problem, Rumple, is that you have a little girl in the Underworld all by herself watching something that's going to provoke a breakdown,” Belle snaps.

“I think it will help,” Mr Gold argues mildly. “I think she wants to see so that she can process and accept things.”

“She's twelve; she doesn't have that sort of capacity,” Belle protests.

“I think you're underestimating the child,” Mr Gold says softly.

Belle bites her lip. “Even if I am, it's not your place to give her the truth. That's her parents' call, and you're not really even her grandfather.”

“Her parents are responsible for the mess she's in,” Mr Gold states frostily. “If Iridiana comes to me for help I will give it to her.”

“She's a kid,” Belle points out. “She probably thinks if she understands the problem she can fix it. She's going to be disappointed.”

“Who are we to tell her she can't try?” Mr Gold asks.

*

Hook is not pleased to find his daughter has not returned home at the time specified. It seems to justify the worry in his gut present since the moment that she left.

He gives her half an hour, hoping that she's merely late, then steps out into the cold night. He walks past the bus stop wondering if she's just had enough and intended to go visit Henry, but she's not there.

Which means it's going to be an uncomfortable night, going around the town to find out whose house his daughter is taking refuge in this time.

Hook decides to try Regina's door first, because Belle would have phoned, and he absolutely does not want to have a conversation with his in-laws if Iridiana has told them of his suggestion.

Of course Iridiana is not with Regina, because that would be far too simple. And now the brunette is verbally berating him as she pulls on a coat and gloves, insisting that she will join Hook in search.

“Does Emma know Iridiana hasn't come home?” Regina asks archly.

Hook gives her a resentful look. “Of course not,” he responds. “Like she needs an excuse to go off on one.”

“She's still a mother and she should be informed when her child's missing,” Regina grumbles, stepping carefully through the frozen over slush.

“Pretty sure she's of the opinion that she only has three kids, and that Iridiana going missing would suit her just fine,” Hook states through gritted teeth. The word 'missing' makes his gut clench.

“Besides,” Hook continues, “Iridiana's just a bit late. That's normal for a girl her age.”

Regina makes an unconvinced noise. “So where next?”

“Gold's, I suppose,” Hook mutters, looking out into the empty street before them.

Regina nods and takes his elbow. Hook freezes for a moment then relaxes into the touch. It's still a surprise years later that she has accepted him not only as Henry's kin, but her own.

“Thanks for coming, Regina,” Hook says softly.

She looks at him, pursing his lips. “Where else would I be, pirate?”

Hook looks away, not sure how to point out that Regina's out here looking for his daughter when Emma would explode if he even suggested she help. Hook tries to joke instead, “Curled up warm with a book and a glass of red?”

Regina's lips twitch, her breath coming out in visible plumes. “We can remind Iridiana of that when we find her.”

Hook gives a small smile, glad she has said 'when' and not 'if'. They approach Mr and Mrs Gold's home and ring the bell.

The door is swiftly answered, as though their presence is expected, and Hook feels himself release the worried breath he had been holding. Iridiana is fine.

Belle pulls the door open fully, exposing her face, and Hook's emotions plummet. Belle's eyes are wide and she looks strained, flustered.

“Come in,” she says quickly, and retreats inside.

“What's going on?” Regina asks before Hook can even form the words.

Belle leads them into the sitting room, when Mr Gold is standing by the fire. His jaw twitches uncomfortably.

The couple seem vividly ill at ease.

“Where's Iridiana?” Hook asks.

Belle opens her mouth to speak then bites her lip and looks across at her husband for help.

“She's… not here, but I know where she is,” Mr Gold confesses.

Hook steps forwards threateningly, his every nerve telling him something is very wrong. He snarls, “Where the hell is my daughter?”

Chapter Text

Iridiana is starting to get sick of the stalking by the time she comes upon Cruella and the Blind Witch barging through a queue of the dead towards where Henry -he looks so young- is writing in the Storybook.

“Don't count on it,” cries Cruella, flouncing past the enormous amount of people with unfinished business.

Iridiana wonders what is happening, and follows silently. Is this finally the moment where things begin to fall apart?

“Sorry Cruella,” begins Regina, “but I don't think your unfinished business will take you anywhere you want to be.”

“No, I'm not here to collect my story,” Cruella scoffs. “I want to stay in this marvellous realm. You see, with Hades departing, the Underworld is going to need a new ruler,” Cruella announces.

She doesn't know that Zelena will kill Hades. Iridiana listens, musing whether Cruella will become the ruler of this strange not-Storybrooke.

“You?” David sneers at the woman.

“It's the only upside to your daughter sentencing me to this fate,” states Cruella, “but, the job would be meaningless without a citizenry to torment.”

His daughter? That's Emma. That's Iridiana's mother. Is this..?

“Cruella, we're not going to let you harm these people,” David asserts reasonably.

“Oh, you think I'm just going to keep them here?” scoffs Cruella in a faux surprised voice. “Oh no. I'm going to keep all of you here. It's only fair,” she says, glancing at Regina, considering it was your son who refused to write me back to life, and you,” she glares at David, “you dissolved my James, the best toy in the whole playpen.”

Who is James? Was James?

Regina announces, “I am still waiting to hear how you're going to stop us from leaving, Fuzzy, because all your magic can do is make a dog roll over and beg.”

“True, I don't have the magic,” Cruella agrees with a grin, “to keep you all penned in here...”

“But I do!” the Blind Witch chimes in merrily.

She waves her hand, whooshing open the library doors, and magically throws the heroes inside, slamming closed the doors.

Iridiana freezes, watching. She knows they all survive, but it frightens her somehow. It feels very real.

David gets up first and charges towards the door, but Regina warns him out of the way, crying to the witch, “You forced my hand, kid eater!”

She conjures a ball of fire and throws it at the doors.

“Regina,” Robin cries nervously.

Iridiana expects the brunette's magic to work, but it doesn't. The magic is ineffective. Iridiana has never seen that happen. Not to Aunt Regina.

“What the hell?” Regina gasps.

“That's right,” Cruella exclaims from through the doors, “no one's getting out before sunset when the portal closes and then,” she chuffs, “no one's getting out.”

“Consider it payback, Regina!” the Blind Witch cries out perkily. She scowls. “For tricking those children into burning me in my own oven.”

“Ta ta!” adds Cruella. She turns to the Blind Witch and declares, “Oh, it's going to be a nice eternity after all. At least for us.”

They chuckle and leave the heroes trapped, taking a lazy stance across the street to smirk at the dead.

Iridiana stands frozen, scared that to help with break something, and worried that she has no idea where her parents are.

Eventually the doors burst open, and Iridiana feels like she can breathe again. As the magic clears she sees that her mother has joined Regina. Iridiana is unsure how to feel about that.

The heroes are shocked and disappointed upon dispersing to see Cruella and the Blind Witch sitting across the street waiting for them.

“Oh darlings, you didn't think it was going to be as easy as that, did you?” Cruella drawls in faux sympathy.

Emma clenches her fists, suddenly consumed by hatred. There's a brittle anger radiating from her that is both familiar and alien to Iridiana.

“Oh, this is going to be so easy,” Emma growls, pulling back her fist and forming a ball of magical energy.

The Blind Witch chuckles. “It's going to take more than that,” she declares, lazily indicating the graveyard in the distance.

Even from such a distance it is impossible not to see the powerful magical wards protecting the graveyard. The heroes understand that the way to the portal home is blocked, but Iridiana does not understand why their faces drop. Wards can be broken.

David inhales deeply and stands beside his grieving daughter. “Are you suggesting there's a better way than blasting through you then blasting through that?” he growls.

Cruella hums. “Just as brash as your brother after all, but just as stupid, aren't you?” she states. Her tone is mostly flippant but there's a pain around her eyes that makes David almost uncomfortable.

His brother. Grandpa had a brother?

“So get it over with,” Regina groans. “What do you want?”

“Well personally I would like all of your heads on spikes at the entrance to our new kingdom,” Cruella admits.

“But Hades was pretty clear on our not letting you out, so we're going to need something huge to distract us from the pikes idea,” the Blind Witch adds.

“Well?” Regina prompts impatiently. Henry stands a little behind her, hoping he won't have to violate his powers as the Author.

“We were thinking a gratuitous entry fee to the graveyard is in order,” Cruella states with amusement.

Fee. And that's when Iridiana slowly begins to understand.

“I prefer the blasting idea,” Emma says coldly.

“You would think you would be the one most willing to barter,” Cruella pouts.

“Why me?” Emma barks.

“Well, it is your fault that everyone is stuck here,” Cruella points out. “Even me, but especially your family and friends. Even your brat.”

Emma pales.

“Don't listen to her, Swan,” Regina warns.

“She's right though,” Emma admits. She visibly deflates.

“No she's not!” Henry argues.

“We do have a suggestion though,” the Blind Witch comments. “Whilst we're feeling generous.”

“What could you possibly want from us that you don't have already?” Emma asks bitterly.

“Why, your future of course,” Cruella grins.

“You already have my future,” Emma says.

Iridiana wonders why there is so much grief in her mother's voice. Where is Dad?

“But do we really want it in this form?” Cruella replies. “Personally I don't want to have to run a kingdom with you lot in it, constantly having to undo your do-gooder ways.”

“So what do you suggest?” Regina asks.

The Blind Witch sneers at her. “Don't worry Regina, you'll be experiencing a loss of your own soon enough. We don't want anything else from you. We want to make a deal with Emma.”

Iridiana knows she should be focusing on that monumental deal, but she spares a look at Aunt Regina, and the man nearby that Iridiana recognises from photographs. Robin Hood. Robyn's dead father.

“What does that mean?” Regina snaps urgently, utterly unaware of Iridiana's attention or Robin's impending doom.

“Ignore them, they're probably just trying to rile you,” David warns his friend.

“Well it's working,” Regina huffs.

“What do you mean by wanting my 'future'?” Emma asks.

David blurts, “Emma, don't make any deals that-”

Cruella throws up her hand. “Relax, daddy, Emma is a big girl now. She can make her own decisions.”

Iridiana feels sick. She knows how this is going to end.

“Shall we whisper the deal into your ear?” the Blind Witch asks. “I'm sure the others won't approve.”

Iridiana takes an unconscious step forwards. She needs to hear precisely.

“What is it?” Emma asks.

“Come find out,” the Blind Witch smirks.

Sighing, Emma pushes away her family's restraining hands and stalks towards the witches. “Whisper away,” she snarls.

Cruella does, and Iridiana cannot hear a word or see the words against her mother's ear, but she knows. She knows exactly what has just been suggested.

The Blind Witch slips around to the other side. She adds her own quiet comment.

Emma flinches. “But I'm not-”

“But one day you will be,” the Blind Witch replies, her voice still soft but finally loud enough that it carries a little to Iridiana, “and we don't want you to have that happy ending.”

“So the deal is,” Cruella continues in a harsh whisper that Iridiana can't quite decipher, “you give up your ability to love your next child, and we'll let your family, and Regina, go home with you.”

“Knowing that you'll never have any more family than you do right now,” the Blind Witch whispers gleefully. Iridiana cannot make out the words, but she can hear the tone. It twists her stomach.“You'll never be truly happy.”

Emma laughs grimly. “That's easy. You have my word.”

And Iridiana feels her heart drop to her toes. That's it. That's how easily her mother betrayed her.

“Your word is all very well, darling, but we want a signature,” Cruella replies aloud, pulling back and producing a contract.

The others have not heard the conditions of the deal, but Emma's flinch upon hearing it is all the others need to ascertain the price is too steep.

“Don't do it!” Regina insists.

Emma turns and gives her a pained look. “I refuse to condemn the ones I love to eternity in the Underworld. I… I couldn't save Hook. This was an easy decision to make.”

She couldn't save Hook? Is that the deal? Iridiana's mother can bring back Iridiana's father if she… does what she does to Iridiana?

Or is Iridiana literally the exit fee for the Underworld?

As the others protest, Emma quickly signs the deal.

“Your entry fee is paid, you had best run along quickly if you want to catch the portal,” Cruella smirks. “Shame you let down that strapping pirate of yours.”

Emma recoils at the words, but ushers Henry in the direction of the portal. David glares at the dead women and follows.

Regina loiters, tempted to hex Cruella and the Blind Witch. “Best not to get stuck with us, sweetie,” Cruella sneers.

“Mom, come on!” Henry cries.

Regina gives them another look of hate then snarls and rushes after her son.

“I almost feel sorry for Regina,” the Blind Witch comments.

“She chose her side,” Cruella responds coolly, and heads off towards the diner.

“Emma,” David says as he tries to push her towards the portal, “I'm sorry there wasn't another way.”

“I need to protect the ones I love,” she states dully.

“You did your best for Hook,” David insists.

“I don't know,” Emma states. “Did I?”

“Emma,” Regina says painfully, “what did you trade?”

Emma does not reply, and Iridiana can barely put her feet in front of each other to walk after the heroes.

She watches them disappear through the portal then turns and is violently sick on the grass.

That's it.

That's how it happens.

Iridiana feels lost, overwhelmed, and dizzy. The sky seems to spin above her, more enormous than she has even known before.

And then Iridiana notices she is not alone in the graveyard.

She sees an older girl a short distance away, dark-haired and tugging at long sleeves, who looks up as though she can hear something that Iridiana cannot.

Was she there moments before?

“What are you listening to?” Iridiana asks, approaching. She cannot hear a thing.

The brunette lowers her head, her ear still angled towards the sky. “Waiting to see if I'm staying or not.”

“You mean moving on?” Iridiana asks. The girl seems rather nonplussed about it.

“Pulling through,” the girl replies, tugging at her sleeves again. The girl seems to flicker, her image like a flame in a breeze.

Suddenly Iridiana can hear the voice too.

“Wake up, Storm.”

“I am awake,” the brunette, Storm, mutters to herself, gazing at the sky reluctantly.

“Come back. You need to come back.”

Storm tugs at her sleeves again as Iridiana watches.

“Do you want to go back?” Iridiana asks.

Storm's image sharpens. “No,” she admits, then purses her lips. “But this will break my father. He's already lost my sisters.”

Before Iridiana can respond, Storm's image disappears entirely. Iridiana listens for the voice, but the cemetery is silent again.

She feels utterly unsettled.

But then Iridiana thinks of her own father. Where is he?

Chapter Text

Iridiana feels lost and alone.

Her mission seems to have fallen flat, because she has not learned a thing that she can use to make things better. She feels deflated.

Iridiana cannot bring herself to call for Mr Gold.

It feels like… there's something more. Something silent is calling to her, raising the fine hairs on her skin and tugging her along.

Iridiana does not know where she is supposed to go, but she is certain she is not supposed to stay here amongst the headstones.

She leaves the graveyard and wonders how she is supposed to find her father.

Iridiana catches a glimpse of black and white fur disappearing towards the diner. It's the only lead the girl has right now, so she runs after Cruella.

Unfortunately, the dead are restless. Iridiana's rather annoyed that even in the Underworld people can tell she's different, and she's not entirely surprised when they mob her. It's like school. Being harassed and bullied in the playground, being pushed and having her hair pulled. Only here it's because she has a heartbeat, not because she is infamously unlovable.

Inside the cafe, the diners seem listless, which makes the restlessness of the dead outside more noticable. It draws the attention of Iridiana's father, which in turn draws that of Arthur.

“Trouble again,” Hook comments, swiftly recognising the pastel hair amidst the fracas.

“Are the dead usually this volatile?” Arthur asks.

“They're upset,” Hook answers a little distractedly, wading in after the child. Hook's presence scares off a couple of the attackers, but the dead are even more upset than before. Although Arthur reluctantly helps to see off the rest, it takes longer to disperse the angry crowd than last time with David.

It is uncertain whether the accosting is more violent than before, or merely interrupted later in the act, but it is soon apparent that the girl is injured. She holds a limb to herself with a frown, holding in a wince, but she seems vaguely apathetic about it.

As though she's endured worse. It makes Killian feel rather sick.

“Are you alright?” Hook asks her.

She shrugs, but despite her distress this time she seems grateful. Maybe she hurts more than she's letting on. She looks pale.

“Do you know her?” Arthur asks the pirate. Something about the waif makes him uncomfortable.

“Sort of,” Hook replies distractedly. His lips are pressed together at the sight of her body language (stiff, pained, frustrated, anxious) and he asks the girl, “How badly are you hurt?”

“I'm fine,” she replies in an obvious lie. Something about the way she says it reminds Hook of Emma, maybe the posture or the accent.

The girl's lips are grey. Evidently in more than a little bit of pain. But her shoulders are straight.

Hook and Arthur exchange glances, which only seems to frustrate the young teen. Hook tries to reassure her that he and Arthur are going to bring down Hades, because what else can he say, but she merely looks skeptical.

Even though she knows Hades' fate. Because it's not them who will destroy the god.

It seems like she should encourage the men to continue their mission, because she shouldn't tell them about Zelena. So Iridiana does her best to shoo them off. She refuses further help because she is still terrified that she might change something from this timeline that shouldn't be changed.

At her insistent urging the men leave her reluctantly. It doesn't sit right with either man, but the more they protest the more agitated she appears.

“We should have made her come with us,” Arthur complains. “Kept her safe.”

“I don't think the company of people makes her feel safe,” Hook replies, although he already feels his skin crawling in warning as though leaving the girl behind goes against something within him.

“I cannot suppose why,” Arthur responds sarcastically. “That anyone would treat a child that way is sickening.”

Hook nods grimly. “That's the way Hades has things here.”

“The sooner we vanquish this villain the better,” Arthur declares.

“If there's a way to defeat Hades the answer will have to be in here,” Hook declares, leading the way.

“What is this place?” Arthur asks.

“It's his throne room,” Hook replies, “or dungeon, depending on his mood. Last time I was here I spent most of my time at the end of a lash.”

Arthur gives him a disturbed look then begins to look around. “Sounds like this Hades was an even worse king than I was.”

They examine there surroundings for a while before Arthur asks, “What exactly is this Holy Grail we're looking for?”

“It's pages from a storybook,” Hook replies as he continues to search.

Arthur gives him a dubious look.

“I know it doesn't sound like much,” Hook counters, “but Hades went to great lengths to keep them hidden from us and I think these pages can tell us his weaknesses. All we have to do is find them.”

“There's nothing here,” Arthur declares. “Maybe you were wrong about this.”

“I can't be wrong!” Hook exclaims. “Hades is out there now, threatening Emma, and I bloody well need to find a way to save her.”

“I get it now,” Arthur says slowly, striding closer. “This is all about a woman.”

“Aye,” Hook says rawly, “a woman who risked everything for me, and the last promise I made her was that I would move on from this place, and I can't do that – not whilst she's still in danger. Now please, come on, you – you were a king once, where did you hide your treasure?”

Arthur approaches the throne and examines it. “The most important stuff I hid in a place no one would ever dare touch: my throne.” So saying, Arthur discovers a switch which springs open a panel, revealing the missing pages. “Well look at that,” Arthur declares, standing and holding out the pages, “your Holy Grail.”

Hook examines them, knowing quickly that they are exactly what they had been looking for. “I need to get this to Emma,” he declares.

“What have you found?” Arthur asks.

“The one answer she's been looking for most of all – the way to destroy a god.”

*

Arthur and Hook return to the Blind Witch's diner. Iridiana makes sure to keep out of sight this time. She's sore and is starting to feel kind of sick, but maybe she's starting to need food. Although she remembers the story about Persephone, so Iridiana won't be eating anything down here any time soon.

“I thought you guys would come back soon,” the Blind Witch declares to the men, not turning around. “I smelled a bromance. Table for two?”

“We're not here for a meal, we're here for her,” Hook announced, tossing his head at a patron in a booth.

“Oh, back up,” Cruella snaps. She puts down her martini glass and gazes at Arthur. “No seriously, back up,” she purrs. “Let me take a gander at this handsome new addition to the Underworld.”

“We have to get a message to our friends in the world above,” Hook interrupts. “And you ripped out the phone booth that can do that. Now where is it?”

“Oh, as appealing as this stubble sandwich is,” Cruella sighs, causing the men to exchange glances with each other, “I'm pretty sure lying to you won't get me what I want. You'll eventually work out the truth, so here it is and on your way. I destroyed the phone booth. Sorry.”

“Why would you do that?” Arthur exclaims in a gravelly voice.

“Because darling I can't have everyone resolving their unfinished business, that would be no fun. And if I'm going to be trapped in here, so is everyone else.”

“The book,” Hook whispers. He approaches and demands, “Where is it?”

“In sight but out of reach,” Cruella declares smugly. “I put it in the River of Souls.”

Hook walks away and whispers to Arthur, “If we can get our hands on that book, I may have a way to get those pages to Emma.”

Hook and Arthur manage to cram themselves into a narrow boat to journey through the River of Lost Souls.

“We're almost there,” Hook states, “the book should be just up ahead.”

Arthur surveys the moaning wraiths in the water. “What are these things?”

“They're lost souls,” Hook says soberly. He twitches as Arthur lowers his hand to the water. “Oi, careful! Touch the water, you become one of them,” he warns.

Arthur quickly withdraws his hand.

They approach the carved dock whilst the souls continue to wail.

“There's the book,” Arthur states, spotting it in the grasp of a gargoyle above a doorway. “That two-tone witch was telling the truth.”

“I'll go,” Hook replies, “you just make sure the boat's here when I return.”

Hook hands Arthur the rope and approaches the building.

As Arthur waits near the water's edge a soul approaches him stealthily. It snatches at his leg and screeches, pulling him down and towards the water.

Hook turns in alarm and races back down the steps as Arthur struggles with the creature. “Release me, demon,” Arthur gasps.

“Arthur!” Hook cries.

“No! Go for the book!” Arthur insists. “Go!”

Hook hesitates, staring between the book to save Emma and the struggling man below. Hook rushes closer to Arthur, snatching a torch from a sconce on the wall.

He swipes the flame at the soul, hacking at it until the soul finally succumbs to the flames and disintegrates. Arthur pulls his way back from the edge of the pier, breathing heavily.

Hook reaches down and Arthur grabs the pirate's hook to pull himself up.

“Thank you,” Arthur responds.

“Uh-huh,” Hook grunts.

“Now get the book,” Arthur orders, still panting.

Another soul appears from the water, hovering near Arthur before darting towards to book in the gargoyle's grasp.

“Hook!” Arthur cries. “The torch!”

Hook quickly throws it and runs back down the stairs.

Arthur catches the torch and swipes it heavily through the soul. The soul drops the book and it slides along the stone, Hook thankfully narrowingly catching it before it perished in the waters.

“You could have told me those things could attack us,” Arthur gasps.

“I didn't know they could,” Hook replies, grunting as he pulls himself up from the water's edge. “Perhaps things are changing down here now that Hades is gone.”

“You sure this book can still work?” Arthur asks.

“I'm not certain of anything down here,” Hook replies, “but this book is special.” He opens the book and declares, “These pages have crossed realms when people needed hope the most.”

As Hook flicks through, Arthur asks, “Out of professional curiosity, how does one kill the god of death?”

Hook strokes the torn edges where the recovered pages once lay. “With something called the Olympian Crystal,” he replies. Arthur holds the book to help Hook place the pages back inside as Hook continues, “Once activated, the raw power inside can obliterate anything, even a god.”

“You really think Emma can find this crystal and use it?” Arthur asks. “You have a healthy dose of faith.”

“It's more like hope,” Hook sighs, and closes the book. “Alright Swan,” he murmurs to it, “now it's your turn.”

“Hook,” Arthur murmurs.

Hook looks around, expecting another wraith from the spooked note in the monarch's voice. He is genuinely surprised to see the girl instead.

She barely seems to notice their presence, her attention at least half occupied with the Sea of Damned Souls.

The wraiths seem rather occupied with her too, with most pressed as close to they can get to her whilst remaining in the water.

“Came with us after all?” Hook asks, observing the wraiths warily, his gait half poised to drag the girl away.

“Keeping watch,” the girl replies. “The wraiths would have completely swarmed you if they weren't distracted by living flesh.”

“That's… disturbing,” Arthur responds.

The girl shrugs, glad of the knowledge she's picked up from her wandering. “You're new here. You wouldn't know.”

Perhaps she was always supposed to come here. Because otherwise, how would the men have survived the wraiths?

“Have you been here long?” Arthur responds.

She rolls her eyes with the casual contempt only a teenage girl is capable of mustering. “That would be telling, wouldn't it?”

“Did you hear all of our conversation with Cruella?” Hook asks.

“I mostly listened to the part where she almost sent you both to your deaths… well… destruction,” the girl replies.

“Well, thanks for the warning,” Arthur states.

“The closer I got the more wraiths approached you too,” the girl explains. “That's why I'm back here.”

Hook holds the pages aloft. “I don't suppose you know a shortcut to the library so we can get these to Emma?”

“Preferably one that avoids all wraiths,” Arthur suggests dryly.

The girl looks strangely uncomfortable about the mention of Emma, but nods and responds, “Of course I do.”

She leads the men back into the throne room and indicates a series of tunnels. “I've been waiting around here a long time,” she explains.

“What have you been waiting for?” Arthur asks.

The girl shrugs. “A wake-up call?” she replies flippantly.

She ignores the sympathetic looks Hook and Arthur give her back and instead continues to lead them calmly through the tunnel.

She stops abruptly, gasping and grabbing at the wall before she falls to the floor a little ahead of the men.

Which is humiliating, but she can't stop it from happening.

They rush towards her, asking whether she is okay.

She heaves an irritated breath and looks skywards for a moment as a large, pale tail flaps in place of her usual legs.

“Sorry, I'm fine,” she mutters. “Just give me a minute… my magic down here is unpredictable.” And she's in pain. An awful lot of pain.

“Is turning into a mermaid something that's usually predictable for you?” Arthur asks.

“Well in the land of the living I have it pretty much under complete control,” the teen huffs. She closes her eyes to visibly concentrate, and manages to return her legs. After a beat of slowly wriggling her toes she rises warily to her feet.

“Come on then,” she says quietly. “The library's not going to meet us halfway.”

“It might be quicker if I carry you,” Hook suggests.

He doesn't expect her to agree, but after staring at him for a few moments she surprises him with a gruff nod.

She's sure that she shouldn't agree, but the mission seems important, and she dares not slow it down.

Her nose is filled with the scent of salt and leather as the pirate lifts her into his arms. “That way,” Iridiana announces warily, pointing at the forking mouth of a number of tunnels ahead.

“Glad you're here,” Arthur comments.

She glances at him quickly but makes no verbal response.

The girl seems half-asleep by the time they make it to the library, her head slumping heavily against Hook's shoulder as she mumbles the last directions.

Hook sets her down carefully to put the pages in the book.

“I owe you thanks,” Hook tells Arthur, “for your help.”

“I have embarked on many a wrongheaded quest in my time,” Arthur states, “I'm just glad to finish one that was righteous. I only wish I knew what happened to Emma.”

“Emma did exactly what she needed to,” Hook replies.

“How do you know?” Arthur asks.

“I don't know,” Hook replies, squinting thoughtfully, “I just… I do.”

Hook leans forwards and shakes the girl's shoulder. “We did it,” he announces.

She smiles weakly at him. Barely able to listen, but recognising the enthusiasm in her father's voice. She closes her eyes.

A shimmering light appears from the doorway underneath the gargoyle.

“What is that?” Arthur asks.

“It's the way to move on,” Hook replies, feeling drawn by the light.

“So the defeat of Hades was your unfinished business,” Arthur surmises.

“Perhaps it was yours too,” Hook ponders, turning away from the light to face Arthur. “Come with me.”

“Don't worry about me,” Arthur replies, “I'll be alright. I was once prophesised to repair a broken kingdom. My mistake was thinking that kingdom was Camelot. But now I think I understand the kingdom I have to repair is here in the Underworld.”

Hook nods sincerely. “Well I wish you the best,” he says softly. He reaches out his hand, “Goodbye Your Majesty.”

Arthur takes it. “Goodbye Captain.”

The light shimmers against Hook's outfit and he turns to walk into the glow until it envelops him.

Arthur turns to look at the girl and notices blood around her inside arm, mostly hidden by her hair and the way she had been holding herself. It's starting to seep into her hair.

Arthur pales. “Are you alright?” he exclaims, rushing towards her.

“Relax,” she replies groggily. “I can't die here, it's not part of the deal.”

But she's panicking a little. Would be panicking a lot more if she didn't feel so… floaty. Her father has just walked into the light. He's just moved on.

How can she exist if he's…

Unless she was conceived before he died? But then, how does he come back?

Has she changed something? Has she inadvertently killed her loving father?

Arthur gets the feeling that there is plenty the girl is not telling him, but she's clearly fading fast so pressing her on answers will have to wait. The hem of her dress had been torn in the earlier commotion with the dead Arthur rips it away completely. He quickly constructs a tourniquet to ease the serious bleeding from her arm.

Iridiana looks closer to death than any of the dead Arthur has seen here.

He finally manages to stop the bleeding and leans back on his heels in relief. It takes her a long time to come around.

“Why didn't you tell us earlier how badly you were hurt?” Arthur demands.

She shrugs sluggishly. “It was less important than your quest,” the girl insists infuriatingly.

Arthur heaves an annoyed sigh.

“You could have died,” he states.

“Don't you listen?” she sighs.

“What makes you think you're exempt?” Arthur demands.

“None of your business,” she replies calmly. She gazes at her bandages with mild interest. The wound might just scar.

Certainly more interesting than the scar Neal got from falling out of a tree. Not that anyone would believe where Iridiana got this from.

She refuses to think about her father moving on.

“So,” she says calmly, fixing her gaze on Arthur, “are you going to tell me about your unfinished business?”

Chapter Text

Despite the growing feeling of guilt in his stomach, as though his subconscious knows something that he doesn't, Mr Gold makes his way back to where he left Iridiana.

Things seem a little better than last time, but there are no heroes in sight to draw the girl. Something feels off. Eerie.

Mr Gold heads to the graveyard, sensing magic in the air from a recent portal. The kid wouldn't have gone through that, would she?

She was far too smart for that surely.

Mr Gold hurries to the gravestones and starts checking their names.

Everyone's left. Apart from Iridiana, her grave standing upright beside her father's.

The sight makes Mr Gold's skin itch in agitation. It's a good sigh, really, that she's still here to find, but… A child's name on a gravestone bothers him. Especially her's. The fragile child has so much potential. So much love. So much character.

Right. About time he found her then.

Mr Gold scours the Underworld, doing his best not to draw attention to himself. He starts to compile a list in his head of every place of note when he and the heroes were here together. He determines an order to their search.

But he notices blood spattered on the pavement across Main Street, near the Blind Witch's diner.

The dead don't bleed like that.

It could be Hook's blood, Mr Gold tells himself. Hades gave the pirate on hell of a thrashing years ago.

But Mr Gold's gut is telling him that's not what's patterned at his feet.

Mr Gold holds out a hand and gestures carefully.

Closes his eyes in magical confirmation of the horror.

What the hell was he thinking, leaving a little girl here all alone?

He ties to determine which way to follow the blood prints, but after a while they just… stop.

Mr Gold tries a tracking spell on the blood. He's not very surprised when it doesn't work, but it ought to. Why isn't it working?

What is he missing? What is he forgetting?

Why is there something burning in the back of his brain like he half knows what's going on?

Think. Think. If he had taken a memory potion then to protect himself from knowing too much…

No.

He wouldn't know who Iridiana was then.

He wouldn't know how much he wants to keep her safe.

But surely there wouldn't be any reason to put Iridiana's life at risk?

The Blind Witch comes out of the diner and approaches Gold. “Thought I could smell your magic,” she comments.

If she notices that Mr Gold is over a decade older than the last time she saw him she doesn't mention it, although there's still too much magic in his being to age like a typical human specimen. He's been pickled in dark magic for too long.

“You're looking for the little girl with the beating heart,” she surmises.

Mr Gold feels something twist in his gut. “Yes.”

“You're not going to find her,” the Blind Witch tells him. “Not you.”

Mr Gold steps forwards swiftly. “Who finds her?” he demands.

The Blind Witch laughs mirthfully. “Someone from your past.”

That could be anyone. The dark One's sent enough souls down here.

“How do I find the girl?” Mr Gold asks a little frantically.

The Blind Witch closes her eyes and inhales deeply. She gestures loosely with an arm. “The trail picks up again over there.”

She opens her blind eyes and stares directly at Mr Gold. “Smells delicious, doesn't she?”

That's not a threat, just a taunt, but it puts panic in Mr Gold's gut. He races after the trail of blood, ignoring the way the witch laughs breathily in his wake.

There's so much blood.

Mr Gold follows it for what feels like forever.

Until he finds the wraith water. Where he destroyed Milah.

Iridiana's blood saturates the stones.

Chapter Text

Hook opens the door to Henry's bedroom and is startled to find the boy is not alone. Violet stands quickly, a worried expression on her face, and her half of Henry's earphones falls away.

Hook gives both teens an assessing look. They give him guilty expressions.

“I thought you were grounded for running off to New York with loverboy here?” Hook questions slowly.

Violet smiles in a way that confirms the statement.

“Um… she… still is,” Henry admits. He steps forwards earnestly. “You won't get her into trouble, will you?”

Hook looks between each of them assessingly. “Do either of your moms know that Violet's here?” the pirate asked, feeling like he would rather not be the babysitter in charge.

“Um, no,” Henry sighs. “But Mom's been busy all day talking to Aunt Zelena about Hyde and my other Mom's still working.”

Hook has hardly seen Emma all day, and in truth, it feels strange being in Regina's house, especially as the responsible adult. Hook heaves a sigh then gives Violet a reassuring grin. “Fine, I'll pretend I don't know she's grounded.”

Violet breathes out in relief and smiles gratefully. Henry opens his mouth to speak, but Hook holds up his hand.

“In return,” he says firmly, “I need something from you, a bit of assistance.”

“Anything,” Violet agrees.

Henry gives Hook an interested look. “What do you need help with?” An amused smile spreads onto his face. “The thermostat?”

Hook sighs wryly. “I'm not even going to look at the strange technology Regina owns.”

“Then what?” Henry asks.

Hook considers how to phrase his question, and wonders yet again if his plan is ridiculous. “Your storybooks,” Hook states. “I need to know if you've read anything about a particular person.”

Henry sits down on his bed with a quizzical expression. “Sure, that should be easy. Who are you looking for?”

Hook smiles at the ceiling feeling foolish. “I, um, don't have a name for her. I was hoping I could describe her appearance and circumstances and that might prompt your memories.”

Violet lifts two storybooks and hands one to Henry. She sits beside him to open the other. “What's she like?” she asks.

“A young mermaid,” Hook answers. “Or… a girl who can transform into a mermaid...”

“The girl you and Grandpa met in the Underworld?” Henry questions.

“Aye, that's the one,” Hook agrees.

“She didn't have unfinished business to keep her there,” Henry states. “I didn't write anything down for her.”

“She might be trapped though,” Violet muses. She flicks through the illustrations before her. “What does she look like, when she doesn't have a tail?”

“A bit younger than you both, I think,” Hook replies thoughtfully. “Long, pale, wavy hair like an opal.”

“'Like an opal'?” Henry queries.

“Like a… very pale, whitish blond… Like Elsa's, almost, with these… pale colours through it. Pale pink, coral, blue, lilac...”

“Magical hair?” Henry asks.

“I don't think so,” Hook muses. “Dyed, I think. Possibly very faded colours?”

“Did she have roots?” Violet asks.

Hook glances at her. “'Roots'?”

“In her hair,” Violet expands. “If she was trapped there long enough for her hair to fade, she would have roots where her natural colour had grown in.”

Hook shakes his head. “I didn't notice,” he admits. “Her hair was naturally pale so it would have been hard to tell. Her eyebrows were pale. She was pale everywhere. Like she had been kept away from the sun.”

Violet gets to the end of her book. “I don't see anyone like that,” she sighs. “What about you, Henry?”

A knock at the door makes them look up.

“Come in?” Henry calls.

Emma walks in, her gaze dropping upon Violet. She smirks but makes no comment about it. “Regina stopped by at the station to say she was still plotting, so we're having dinner together tonight.” She smiles at Violet. “Will you be joining us?”

Violet looks embarrassed. “I better not, my dad might notice that-”

“-You were here?” Emma finishes. “He came by asking after you earlier. I said you were probably with Henry, who was safe with Hook.”

“Thanks for the heads up about the extra kid, Swan,” Hook states with a roll of his eyes.

Emma flinches oddly in response.

Hook gives her a concerned look, but she smiles awkwardly at him in dismissal. “So,” she says, “what have you guys been upto?”

The teens look at Hook for permission. He nods freely.

“Trying to find that girl from the Underworld in any of the storybooks,” Henry explains.

“Did you?” Emma asks.

Violet shakes her head and glances at Henry.

“There's nothing,” he sighs. “It's strange.”

Emma gazes at the book in his hand with another strange expression. “Perhaps her story just hasn't been written yet,” she suggests.

Hook puts his arm on her in concern at her strained expression. She frowns slightly but smiles at him. “Can we talk later?” she asks softly.

“We can talk now?” Hook suggests.

Emma gazes at the teens, her lips pressed together uncomfortably. “After dinner?” she suggests.

Henry heads to his bedroom door. “Do you think you know your way around my Mom's kitchen enough to cook in it?” he teases.

Emma laughs a little despite her tension and puts her hand on Henry's scalp. “Not a chance,” she admits.

“Granny's it is,” Hook declares. “I'm going to turn into a lasagne.” He glances at Emma. “Would you still love me?”

Emma purses her lips. “If you turned into a lasagne. I don't know, that might be a hard limit.”

Hook pretends to be appalled, and Emma tries to smile at his antics, but there's a sadness in her eyes that concerns him.

Despite his worry, Hook is relieved to be out of Regina's house, with the onus on his as the supposedly responsible adult if anything were to go wrong.

Emma is worryingly quiet on the walk, but Henry and Violet fill the air with chatter.

David is standing at the counter as the group enter the diner. “I figured Snow's been home with Neal all day and after today's shift I'm too tired to cook,” he explains as Granny hands him a bag of takeaway cartoons.

“I'd have thought she'd have wanted out of the house,” Hook comments.

David gives them a smile. “That would necessitate dressing or bathing. Neal's started teething.”

“I guess I dodged that bullet with you,” Emma tells Henry, ruffling his hair again. Her expression is off, and Hook notices how David recognises it.

“Grandpa?” Henry asks.

David looks at Henry, smiling despite his visible tiredness.

“Hades never got to use Zelena's time travel spell, did he?” Henry asks.

David looks surprised. “Not as far as I know,” he replies with a questioning tone. “Why?”

“Just thinking,” Henry explains. “We couldn't find any information on that girl you met in the Underworld.”

“P-perhaps there would be more of this girl's s-story to be found in the Land of Untold Stories,” Jekyll muses from a nearby table.

Hook and David note how Emma glances around quickly. She is clearly unsettled.

“Possibly,” David says. “But I think we have a more pressing need to tackle Hyde first.”

“V-very true,” Jekyll agrees dully.

David gestures with his food. “I better take these to Snow before they get cold.”

“Bye, mate,” Hook replies, mentally taking note to question his friend later about Emma.

Ruby comes over as Violet and Henry slide into a booth, chatting merrily.

Hook leans closer to Emma as Granny moves away to bustle around in the background. “Is everything okay, love?”

“I don't know,” Emma admits. She feels guilty for the worry on Killian's face. She sighs, “I'm probably blowing things out of proportion, ignore me.”

“Tell me when you're ready, Swan,” Hook responds calmly, brushing her chin affectionately with his namesake.

“Am I ever ready for anything?” Emma mutters, nudging him into the booth.

“Should we make a plan about Hyde?” Henry asks.

“Let's just eat just now, okay kid?” Emma requests.

The other give her analysing looks.

“I'm fine,” Emma insists with a sigh. She tells Ruby, “I really need some coffee.”

“You really need to share more,” Hook mutters.

She doesn't smirk or hit him, causing Hook to look at her. Something is clearly wrong despite her protests to the contrary. He reaches over and puts his hand on hers comfortingly.

She looks up and gives him a smile, but her gaze is troubled.

They agree on the plan, and Emma gets up to visit the restroom. Smiling politely at the others, who look close to returning to bickering, Snow squeezes out and follows her daughter.

Emma almost jumps as she notices her mother behind her.

“I thought I was the one getting no sleep,” Snow comments tartly.

“Maybe it's like sympathy pains,” Emma mutters.

“You look like death,” Snow states.

“Wow, thanks, Mom,” Emma sighs. She shrugs uncomfortably. “Probably just the effects of the past few days. It's been hard.”

“Harder than Hook seems to realise,” Snow points out. “You haven't told him yet, have you?”

“I've been trying to,” Emma sighs. “But how… How do you even tell someone you love… something like that?”

Snow bit her lip and pulled Emma further into the restroom, checking there was no one around to overhear.

“When I met David's mother,” Snow began, “she was very sick. Dying. And I couldn't… I couldn't have children. Ruth managed to switch the little amount of enchanted lake water we had so that… although we couldn't save her life, I would no longer be cursed barren by King George.”

“Obviously it worked,” Emma surmises, feeling a little stunned.

“There must be something we can do,” Snow insists. “Just… so you have that option. If you want it.”

Emma was uncertain whether she did want the option; whether she would even be a good mother. However, losing the option she had taken for granted… it hurt.

And she was sure telling Killian would hurt too.

“But this doesn't mean you don't have to tell Hook,” Snow warns. “You can't keep secrets from someone you love. Especially not something as big as this.”

“I know,” Emma sighs. “I will tell him. I just hope he'll forgive me.”

“He loves you,” Snow says in reassurance.

“Is that enough?” Emma asks.

“Probably,” Snow says. “But you won't know if you push him away by not giving him the chance to show you.”

Emma heaves a deep sigh. “Mom?”

“What, sweetheart?” Snow asks.

“There's something else,” Emma admits.

Snow shivers as though something icy has reached her stomach. “What else?” she asks with foreboding.

“That little girl in the Underworld who didn't belong there,” Emma says very softly. “What if..? What if my deal with the witches impacted on that girl's life? What if she's..?”

Chapter Text

Seated by the Sea of Lost Souls, the young girl with pastel hair swings her legs and gazes out towards the horizon. Her arm is bandaged at her side, blood already seeping through the once iridescent fabric.

The wraiths watch her with interest.

Iridiana watches them back, wondering idly what they would do if she unfastened the makeshift bandage around her arm and threw it to them to perhaps fight over or consume. Or perhaps merely ignore.

She was infinitely more interesting after all: the girl with the beating heart alone in the Underworld.

For now.

Iridiana takes a deep breath then intones, “Rumplestiltskin, Rumplestiltskin, Rumplestiltskin.”

At first nothing happens, but she waits, and waits some more. She was mostly confident that this would work, but the fine hairs on her arms begin to rise with foreboding. The wraiths watch silently. Perhaps he won't come.

But he does.

“Hello, dearie,” Rumplestiltskin announces, circling her arrogantly. He's younger than she's used to, with darker, wavier hair, but it's him.

The girl's shoulders slump forwards with relief. “I'm glad you're here.”

Rumplestiltskin looks around them at the Underworld in general and the crowding wraiths in particular. “Well yes, I imagine you are,” he replies. He smirks. “Time for a change of scenery, is it?”

“I've got something to make a deal with,” Iridiana says slowly.

Rumple raises his brows and approaches closer. He smells like old leather and bad decisions. “What would that be?”

“Information...” she replies. The word drifts a little in the air as Iridiana feels sticky blood drip between her fingers.

Rumplestiltskin laughs dismissively. “I know how to visit a library, dearie.”

The girl tilts her chin warily. “Information you'll want,” she retorts.

“Really?” Rumple purrs.

Flexing her fingers as the liquid pools between them, Iridiana swings her feet together as though they are still joined as a tail. The only escape of her own she has been capable of. The girl stares at them for a moment then nods and looks this version of Rumplestiltskin in the eyes bravely.

She needs him. He is her escape.

“You've been tricked,” Iridiana announces.

Rumplestiltskin freezes for a moment then approaches uncomfortably closely. There's a threat in the nearness which the man Iridiana knows would never direct towards her.

“Explain,” he growls.

The girl crosses her thin arms. He notes the vivid bleeding across her limb and the way she choses to ignore it. Iridiana declares, “You need to promise to help me first. I'll tell you and you help me; that's the deal.”

“I could just make you tell me,” Rumple whispers ominously in her ear.

The girl smirks. “You could, but you like me.”

“I wouldn't go that far,” Rumplestiltskin replies, making a face. Her certainty is intriguing. She knows something that he doesn't.

And that wicked mouth is familiar. Why is it familiar?

She leans back on her arms like she is actually capable of putting weight on them both. “Well I like you, and want to tell you what's wrong, but I'm waiting on you agreeing to my terms,” the girl announces precociously.

Rumple sighs and waves his hands dismissively. “Fine, you have a deal. Tell me.”

Iridiana leans up with a comfortable familiarity that sets his nerves on edge and whispers in Rumple's ear.

He stiffens. The information clearly infuriates him, but he pulls back and surveys her steadily. “How can I help you?”

The girl swallows and murmurs something to him. There's a heaviness to her voice like he ought understand, but he doesn't.

Rumple nods, and with a puff of smoke they find themselves in the Land of Untold Stories. “Cheerio, dearie,” Rumplestiltskin announces.

“Wait,” the girl cries.

He gives her an unimpressed look. “That was all you asked for, dearie.”

“Oh, I have all I need now,” Iridiana replies, tilting her head to indicate their surroundings. “But you might want to know that whilst the needle's too spent to make an antidote for Belle and… and your baby, the spinning wheel itself will work.”

Rumple steps closer intimidatingly. “How do you know that?”

The girl sneers dismissively at the threat. “You think this is the first time you've helped me time travel?”

Rumple glowers at her. “Yet I don't remember that?”

“The next time hasn't happened yet in your time line,”Iridiana expands thoughtfully. “But by then your child is safe and well. It's okay.”

Rumple exhales. “Anything else I should know?” he asks dryly.

“Well, here's where things get a little sketchy,” the girl replies. “You've told me that in your timeline you meet a captain off the coast of here, on the little island to the east, and get passage back to Storybrooke to make the antidote. But I think that happened before I was born, or when I was very young, so I don't know much about that.”

“...Captain Hook?” Rumplestiltskin grimaces.

The girl's gaze flickers but she shakes her head beneath the shaggy, pastel waves. “No. A girl. You said… You said that she had a memorable appearance and that… and that someone called Regina, who I think you know by now, called the captain 'Polly'.”

“So I'm looking for a Captain Polly, who knows Regina, off of the east coast of this land, back in my timeline?” Rumplestiltskin queries.

“I… don't think her name's actually Polly,” the girl says carefully. “I think Regina was… teasing, because the captain seemed a bit eccentric. Dressed with a lot of colour, like a parrot.”

“Right, so I'm looking for a human parrot,” Rumplestiltskin replies.

The girl nods and watches him disappear. Iridiana stares at the remaining smoke until it too leaves then she turns around and wonders how she is going to survive in this strange land. Utterly alone.

The throbbing, screaming ache in her arm has receded a bit. Iridiana raises it to her gaze, finally feeling a bit less weak and dizzy, and notices the bleeding has finally stopped.

Iridiana quickly unwinds the scrap of bloody material. Peeling it back from the ugly wound carefully, she feels a slight rush of warmth in her chest.

Maybe she's not so completely alone.

Rumple's forced the open edges of the wound back together. It'll probably scar, but it will heal.

Now if only Iridiana could find someone to help with the rest of her.

Chapter Text

Mr Gold stares at the glittering red puddle at his feet for a long time.

He could – and will- go back and check the gravestone, but something burning in the back of Mr Gold's brain tells him that the wraiths didn't get Iridiana. That something else happened. Something he cannot remember.

Is he supposed to remember?

If Mr Gold tries to regain the memory walled up in the back of his skull… will it be something he would be better not to know?

She's not dead. Iridiana is not dead. She's a child.

...Yet that is such a lot of blood.

You can't get far with that amount of blood loss unless someone else helps you. Or takes you.

Where is she?

Mr Gold cannot bring himself to move for a long time. When he does, it is with reluctant purpose, kneeling on the uneven stones to collect as much of the child's blood as possible. Perhaps he can somehow track her with it above the surface.

Even as he does so Mr Gold is almost entirely skeptical.

He feels like he has aged decades when he returns to his own time.

Hook seems to age just as much when he sees Mr Gold has returned without Iridiana. The former pirate slumps for a moment, then storms forward menacingly.

“Where. Is. She?”

Mr Gold keeps his back straight but his expression is harrowed. He says absolutely nothing about the blood.

“She's not there,” the former Dark One says heavily.

Regina's eyes narrow. “What do you mean she's not there, Gold?”

“Like I said, she's not there,” Mr Gold says hoarsely.

“Then you do a locator spell-”

“I tried,” Mr Gold says, raising a hand tensely. He takes a breath. “I tried.”

“I don't believe I'm hearing this,” Hook snarls.

Regina lifts a palm to steady him. “Can you explain any further, Gold?”

He says, “Unfortunately, I couldn't find her. I searched all over… She's not there.”

Regina presses her lips together and looks to Hook. He doesn't seem to know whether to feel murderous or grief-stricken.

Regina swings her head back to Gold. “Then where is she?!”

Mr Gold considers. Heavily he responds, “My only interpretation is that she called me and that timeline's version of myself answered her.”

“If she called you, she might have been in trouble!” Hook snarls. He paces, feeling entirely helpless. He wants to go out looking for his daughter but has no idea where to go.

“If she called me, she had probably seen enough and wanted to leave. There is a chance she has asked to be taken home,” Mr Gold points out.

“Why wouldn't she want to come home?” Hook roars.

Mr Gold presses his lips together.

Regina tries to be tactful. “She might need to process what she's seen, Hook.”

“She wouldn't have been traumatised if he hadn't meddled!”

“Given the option between seeing her mother barter her happiness or having her mother tell her she wished Iridiana hadn't been born I'm not certain you understand what traumatises a child,” Mr Gold says coolly.

“She's got ME she's fine!” Hook declares through gritted teeth.

“Then where is she?” Mr Gold asks cruelly.

“I'd know where my daughter was if you hadn't abandoned her in the Underworld!”

“And she wouldn't have asked to go if she wasn't hurting,” Mr Gold says coldly.

“And now we can't find her.” Regina looks at Gold. “Could you go back earlier and find her?”

Gold shakes his head soberly. “I hardly think it's a good idea to have three of myself running about the same place in one timeline, do you?”

“So… We'll send Regina. You can show her how,” Hook suggests.

“I didn't exactly use a spell,” Mr Gold says.

Regina stares at him thoughtfully. “What do you mean?”

Mr Gold gestures offhandedly. “I felt a pull...”

“Like your magic had been there before?” Regina surmises.

Hook turns in frustrated confusion. “But your magic's been there too. You were there!”

“Not that kind of magic,” Mr Gold says softly.

Regina glances at Hook. “The pull of magic you've already cast. Theoretically if you go back in time, the magic would exist from that point in the past.”

The vial of Iridiana's blood seems to burn in Mr Gold's pocket. How he got to the Underworld hardly seems important.

Chapter Text

Iridiana has spent the majority of her twelve (and a bit) years in a small town, and the utter vastness of the Land of Untold Stories has left her feeling stunned. She has wandered for as long as she can, gazing with bewilderment at the raucous, bizarre goings-on around her and occasionally glancing up at air balloons when the crowds thinned long enough for Iridiana to feel safe doing so.

The air is overwhelmingly thick with noise and scents.

Iridiana has no idea where to go, or how she is going to survive in this strange place with no one to help her. Yet she wanders along in bleak fascination, not succumbing to any strong emotions. Iridiana feels like she should be more panicked, and wonders whether she has stunned herself into an apparently calm state. She feels frightened, but not in big enough proportion to what she knows to be a massive, terrifying life change.

Iridiana is scoping for potential places to bed down in the noisy, warren-like streets when she begins to notice familiar sounds associated with the sea. She looks up for gulls and feels a wave of relief flood her body at the sight of masts in the distance.

Ignoring the tenderness of her bare soles, Iridiana finds the energy to keep going towards the docks.

Desperate to be on a ship and unsure what else to do, Iridiana methodically begins to approach each likely (in so far as she can tell) ship asking whether they are looking for a cabin boy, cook, or anything at all.

She has to get on a ship. She has to.

Eventually an old man takes pity on her and asks whether she has any sailing experience. Iridiana urgently rattles off an earnest response.

He seems surprised and leans forward, squinting at her as though he wonders whether he's taken her for younger than her actual age. “How did you come about learning all of that?” he asks.

“My dad is a-” Iridiana pauses, considering that she has no way back to him and ought to remain untraceable. “Was a captain,” she amends.

The old man notes her correction and pained expression. He looks over her bare feet and makes an assumption Iridiana does not correct. “A recent loss? That's why you want a job on this crew?”

Iridiana feels a twist of guilt, she's never really lied before, especially not to manipulate someone kind into helping her, but she agrees. “I've nowhere else to go.”

The man glances at her bandages and stained, torn dress. “You lost your ship?”

“Everything but the clothes on my back,” Iridiana answers softly. She feels more than a little sick then, as she realises everything she has ever loved or owned or known has been washed away from her.

Including the taint of being unwanted, so maybe everything else is a fair trade.

She just won't think about Dad.

“Well, welcome aboard,” the old man states, gesturing her onwards. “We've like as not got some old shirts and trous you can wear, save you manning the rigging in those skirts. Might be able to scrounge up some boots for you if you're lucky.”

“Um.” Iridiana has a good feeling from the man and wants to be honest with him about at least one thing. “Is there… somewhere private I can speak to you?”

The old man nods and leads her to what are clearly the captain's quarters.

Iridiana hesitates. “Are you sure the Captain won't mind?”

The old man laughs. “Pet, who did you think you were talking to?”

Iridiana blushes instantly, unsure how to word his common touch in a polite manner.

“It's because I'm as old as sin, isn't it?” the Captain teases, fingering his white beard. Laughing off her protests, he leads her inside his quarters.

Iridiana hovers at his large desk, suddenly frightened of what she wants to say. Her stomach roils with the possibility he might in response cast her away from her only life line in this land.

“Well get to speaking,” the kindly man prompts.

Iridiana lightly grips her upper arms -mindful of the fresh scarring- and begins, “Before you take me on, you should know… well...”

To the Captain's astonishment the girl sits on his desk and transforms her legs before his very eyes into a glittering white tail of mother of pearl hues.

“The trousers might not be a great idea,” Iridiana states warily.

The man tries not to stare too much at her beautiful tail. Breathtaking little creature. “Your father, the Captain, did he take a mermaid as a wife?”

Iridiana considers agreeing, adding to her new identity, but she doesn't like the lie. It feels too unnecessarily dishonest. “I wasn't born this way,” she says, changing her tail back to her natural legs. “Magic.”

“Well if you must be cursed, one against drowning ought suit you to working on a ship,” the Captain says. He lifts his gaze from the little toes that were moments before large fins.

“It's not a problem for you?” Iridiana questions in surprise.

“You're a strong swimmer?” he asks.

“Yes,” Iridiana replies, unsure of the direction he is taking with the question.

“Then we'll know who to call for if anyone goes overboard,” the Captain says as if all is settled. “Let's find you somewhere to room away from the men.”

“Thank you Sir,” Iridiana responds.

“The name's Captain Hogwash,” the old man adds. “Horacio Humphries proper, but everyone knows me as Hogwash.”

Iridiana Jones seemed too painful a name to hand over. The girl thinks of her father's ship. “I'm Rogers,” she says.

Chapter Text

Emma frowns as her husband and Regina let themselves inside the house with grim expressions.

“It's late,” Emma says. “Has something happened? Is Henry okay?”

Hook tries to reply but he can't find the words. Saying it out loud is too real and far too painful.

Regina seems to notice. “Iridiana's missing,” she announces.

Emma stiffens. “Oh...”

She immediately knows that that should make her feel bad, but it doesn't, not exactly. In fact, it feels like something tight in her chest has relaxed.

Except she can't show that in her face. The others are already frowning.

And… there is a part of her that feels bad. She feels bad for the blatant distress on her husband's face. He is devastated.

And Emma cannot display any of that evident worry honestly, and it hurts him worse.

“She'll come back,” Emma says, trying to sound reassuring and feeling guilty for that strange surge in her chest that hopes the unlovable girl won't.

Emma remembers making that deal years ago and she does not regret it. That deal protected her family. Her real family.

When Hook came back, Emma didn't even think of the deal at first: she was far too caught up in the elation of having her True Love returned.

Iridiana wasn't exactly planned. It would have been too cruel to plan.

It was cruel to keep her.

A product of True Love, begotten by a product of True Love, and Emma could not love that girl if their lives depended on it.

Impossible to love.

And not just mother's love. Any love. Emma couldn't love Iridiana as the child of her beloved, or as the half-sibling Henry adored, or…

Emma just couldn't love her.

Struggled to even like her.

Emma knew that Iridiana tried hard to be likable, or to avoid Emma's ire, and it wasn't the kid's fault, but… Emma resented the child. Deeply. Iridiana was the biggest and only problem in her marriage, and was the cause of so much strife, regardless of Iridiana's best intentions.

So what if the girl has gone? It might be the best thing for this family. Iridiana is the only thing tearing them apart, and if she's gone, once Killian's grieved… they can all get on with their happily ever afters. They can be happy.

The Jones family cannot ever be happy with unlovable Iridiana around.

Even as Emma tries to force reassurances and platitudes from her tongue to comfort Hook, Emma knows that he resents her for this. He is blaming her, for making the deal, for not loving the girl, for Iridiana leaving, and he hears the hollowness of Emma's words.

Regina looks between them. She understands how the couple feel and it makes the brunette frown in deep pity.

Emma turns away. Iridiana has done the best thing that the girl ever could: she's gone. And yet, seeing that pain on Hook's face…

Emma starts to hate her daughter more than a little bit.

Chapter Text

Iridiana is staring silently out at sea when she hears the heavy tread of a man nearby.

“Rogers.”

The girl turns at the voice of her new Captain. “Need something?”

“No, but you do,” he scoffs. “Come with me.”

Iridiana's face falls. “Did I do something?”

He gives a dry, crooked smile. “No, which is why I called you away from your very important task.”

Iridiana swallows. Her action had been idle, but she did check first with other members of the crew that there was nothing that needed help doing.

Hogwash chuckles. “Do you think I'd lash you, child? Please breathe.”

Iridiana tries to nod quickly and breathe at the same time, which takes a bit more effort than usual. The Captain leads her into his quarters and her heart plummets: what could he possibly mean to scold her about that he wouldn't do publicly?

Hogwash crosses to his desk, nailed to the floor, and pulls something out of a drawer. He nudges Iridiana towards a chair. “Sit.”

She stares at the comb in his hand. “I-”

“I mostly had daughters,” he states wryly. “Sit, please.”

Iridiana obeys, but turns her head to watch him warily.

Hogwash unfastens the remnant of her braid and starts to comb very slowly through the ends. Her hair is matted by the wind and coated with brine, making the hair stiff, but the Captain's touch is patient and gentle.

Iridiana's quickened, nervous pulse begins to slow back to normal and she relaxes against the back of the chair.

“Not so torturous, is it?” the old man asks, sounding amused.

Iridiana gives a small smile. “You haven't hit a tug yet.”

He chuckles. “Didn't I just tell you I raised girls? Do you take me for some amateur?”

“What are they like?” Iridiana asks.

Sadness washes across the Captain's face behind her head, but the girl hears the emotion in his voice as he responds, “Just the one left these days. Storm. A beautiful, wild, spirited girl. And I've a boy. Works on another ship in these parts.”

“I'm sorry,” Iridiana says slowly.

Hogwash shrugs and begins to braid her hair expertly. “You've faced loss yourself lass.”

Iridiana experiences a twist of guilt in her chest, almost as painful as the separation from her father. She cannot find any words and the Captain respects her silence as something more honest than it is.

Hogwash prompts the girl to stand when he has finished taming her hair. He cleans the comb, dumping salt and dead, matted hair into his waste paper bin.

“Here, this is for you,” Hogwash states, pressing the comb into Iridiana's hand. “I presume you didn't bring one with you.”

Iridiana swallows, staring at the gift. “I boarded with very little.”

“I noticed.”

He lets her go, and Iridiana is surprised to see shore when she steps outside. The Quarter Master catches her eye and she pockets the comb, running over to accept a duty.

A friend of the Captain's is invited onto the ship the night that they dock. Iridiana offers to hang back and help serve in lieu of a cabin boy, as the crew are mostly glad to be ashore and she has little pleasures to find in taverns or brothels.

Everything in the woman's bearing and clothing makes Iridiana's heart sink. Hogwash's 'friend' has been careful about her entry onto the ship and Iridiana can notice now that the Captain has been considered in the staff remaining on board, but Iridiana knows royalty when she sees it.

Hogwash introduces the woman as 'Florrie' and Iridiana is so flummoxed she almost curtsies as a princess herself. She stumbles into the pose proper for her current 'position' and desperately hopes that her clumsiness is merely mistaken for foolishness.

Florrie's eyes glitter at the girl but she says nothing.

Iridiana pours wine and is supremely relieved to be soon dismissed.

Unfortunately Iridiana's room is directly beside the Captain's quarters and she can hear bits of the conversation through the wall.

“What's the story behind your new girl?” Florrie asks.

“She has nowhere to go; her family has gone. I'm grateful my children have never been put in that position, perilous as my work has been.”

“You do realise what she is?”

Iridiana swallows.

“She says her father is a Captain. Was.”

“And she also claims her name is Rogers, but you've seen her bearing. Did you see her fumble that curtsey?”

“Can you see a little lady, or a princess even, being as comfortable on the rigging as that child? She has the sea in her blood.”

“Pirates take noble ladies as wives when they have the chance,” says Florrie. “That girl's blood is as blue as the sea.”

Iridiana gets up and leaves her room. She does not want to hear a word more.

Chapter Text

Hook waits, and waits, and waits, and waits, but his oldest daughter does not come home.

He rages at first, desperate to take some action that will reunite him with his child. He is blunt with Emma but he reserves most of his ire for the Crocodile. Hook is quite happy to take the crooked man's life, but instead Mr Gold makes a point that instantly douses the righteous fire in Hook's belly.

“If Iridiana really wanted to come home, she already would have.”

The words cut deeper than any cutlass could, and Hook staggers away. He does not go home, because he's not quite convinced in the point of that, and instead strides down to the shoreline where he taught his little girl to swim.

She doesn't want to come home.

He knows it. Hook knows it deep down in his heart, because Iridiana isn't helpless, despite her malnourished confidence. His girl is powerful, resilient and clever, and if she wanted to be here, then she would be.

But why would she want to come back? There is nothing but misery for her here.

Hook stares at the waves and considers his offer to his daughter: to split their family for the sake of her sanity (and everyone else's). A little part of him whispers that Iridiana didn't want to live with him, found him lacking as a father, as a man, as a person, because after all he had failed so completely to make his daughter feel like she belonged in the town, much less in the family.

Hook tells himself that it's nonsense: it's plain obvious that his daughter loves him back.

She hasn't come back because she doesn't want to make anyone else suffer. She knows the loss of a parent and she won't subject her younger siblings to a parental separation and the pain and bitterness that would come with it.

She hasn't come back because she is alone here. Her father, and Henry, and Regina, and Belle and Gaston and even Gold openly care for her, but it isn't enough. Won't ever be enough. Not to cancel out all the cruel resentment and isolation and those looks that people give her. Not entirely pitying. Those looks that say that Iridiana has brought misery and her family would be less troubled without her.

Iridiana has brought joy. Hook would not ever in any circumstances trade her for anything, especially not an easy life.

She's his daughter. His beautiful, loving, loyal, firstborn little fish of a daughter, the product of True Love. Actual, real, True Love, ironic as that is.

She is wondrous.

His child is an irreplaceable treasure, and she is gone.

Gone because he failed to make her feel like she belonged. He has failed to make her feel loved enough. To make her feel enough in herself.

It takes days, but Hook does eventually go home. He's not sure why until he walks inside and sees his remaining family. He loves them. Dear God, how he loves them. He just can't lose anyone else.

Emma looks up at him with red ringed eyes and her shoulders hunch in expectation of rebuke. It twists Hook's gut. He loves her. Despite everything, he also knows that the woman loves him too.

He blames her, he does, but he knows it can't be helped.

Hook sits down with his family and tries to be okay with what remains of it.

There are arguments between he and Emma, there were bound to be, but it hardly seems long before they fall into a pattern and just leave the festering wound well alone, as much as they possibly can.

Emma seems relieved for the most part, as though she can finally breathe, but no matter how much time passes, Hook finds her eyes on him. Pitying. Because he won't ever recover from this, and no matter how much the situation relieves her, Hook will never heal.

And he doesn't.

He hides it as best he can, he has a family to raise, but Iridiana's absence is an ache that remains, worse than losing his hand ever stung.

Jack and Odette are too young to understand, but they are unnerved by the change. Hook does his best to fill up the gaps with his love, but he feels empty.

As much as he tries to be normal, Hook cannot bear it when his eldest daughter's birthday approaches. Always a time of stress and strife, it has never hurt him quite so much.

He spends a week out at sea with a flask and wet eyes. When he eventually comes home Emma doesn't chide him with as much as a look about it.

It feels like a kick in the stomach that Iridiana still has not returned home.

Chapter Text

It takes the passing of a few years before Iridiana begins to understand the value her crewmates place upon shore leave. The ship has become her home and the men her family, and that almost makes up for the ache in her chest that the memory of Daddy leaves raw.

She has coin in her pocket to spend, and pretty bar wenches to flatter, and shore leave is an utter lark.

“Wait up, Rogers, you dog!” a crew member calls as a number of them merrily follow the teen's path to a well-frequented tavern.

She laughs easily. “I'm half fish and I'm still swifter on land than you!”

The men chuckle and a few make ribald comments about being all man that have her sniggering disparagingly.

“You sure about that?” Iridiana grins. She's grown in confidence during her years on Hogwash's ship.

A few of the men roll their eyes. More striking than her growth in confidence, is her growth into a striking young woman. She is strong and lithe, with pretty hair which still carries the kiss of her magic, but it's her mouth which draws the most attention. Shapely and amused lips like her father's dress the charming tongue she has unconsciously inherited from him also. And it can be wicked.

Iridiana's eyes sparkle as she regards his crew mates. She's almost about to say something which will have them in merry stitches, when she realises with a start that she's happy.

Her expression turns blank and she slows, falling into steps with the others dazedly.

Happy.

Iridiana lets the others sling their arms around her and herd her into the tavern. Her drink is delivered with a wink but the crew cast Rogers a few confused glances.

“Something wrong?” the Quarter Master asks.

Iridiana shakes her head, trying to dislodge the stunned feeling, and falls back into the comfortable routine shore leave provides. She even gets a kiss from a handsome sailor positively taken by her teasing silver tongue.

Iridiana's glowing happiness does not last. As she stumbles towards her quarters that night she gets an uneasy feeling.

Without fully understanding her instinct Iridiana bypasses her own door in favour of her Captain's.

Her heart plummets as her gaze falls on the aged man.

Hogwash is slumped on the floor, grey in the face and causing the young woman's pulse to spike. She races to his side.

He regards her through pain-fogged eyes. “Lass.”

“Are you alright?” she asks quickly as she drops to her knees beside him.

He regards the ceiling for a while, chewing on words, then admits, “I've had a long life, Rogers.”

Absolute icy horror spreads in Iridiana's chest at the words. “You're not..?”

The Captain gives her a tired, fond look. “I am, pet.”

The young woman feels like something has gripped hold of her heart and is twisting. “Please,” she whispers, “you can't.”

Hogwash takes her hand comfortingly. “Not much choice in the matter, Rogers.”

Hot tears burn Iridiana's eyes, and why is she crying when he isn't?

He wipes them away. “No need for that, child.”

She sniffles. “I need you.”

Hogwash tugs her plait lovingly. “You are stronger, and better, and brighter than you think. Don't you worry.”

Iridiana clutches the wrinkled, leathery hand around her own. “Please don't go...”

“You won't be alone,” he reassures her.

Iridiana sniffs and wipes at her face. “It's not home without you.”

His eyes turn moist for a moment. “We're sea and star dust, child. You're home whenever you hear the waves or see the skies.”

The young woman nods slowly.

Hogwash nudges her. “Help me up. Let's go look upwards together once last time.”

Salted tracks pool in Iridiana's collar bone but she acquiesces and tenderly helps her frail Captain onto the deck.

The soft conversation they hold under the stars that night stays with Iridiana. The Captain tugs weakly at her hair as the sun rises, commenting on how it mirrors her hair, and she almost admits to having a younger sister named Odette.

But she doesn't.

They watch the sky together instead, and later Iridiana deeply grieves her loss.

The ship is passed to Hogwash's grown son. He reluctantly returns to captain the vessel with none of the amicability or fairness of his father.

The crew swiftly despise him, and he them, but none more so than Iridiana.

“I won't have a woman on my ship, much less a siren,” he tells her.

Iridiana is drowning under the loss of two father figures, and the loss of her home seems inconsequential.

Hogwash has bequeathed her some rubies and a pistol inlaid with mother of pearl. The young woman steps back onshore of the Land of Untold Stories with them and feels no less lost than the first time.

Chapter Text

Regina wakes with a start. Something has unsettled her, but she is uncertain what it could have been.

She looks around the dark room: nothing appears out of place.

The brunette pulls herself out of bed with a wrinkle of her ordinarily smooth brow and wanders her home. Nothing seems out of place but that does not soothe her.

Something is absolutely wrong. Yet what could it be?

She can hear her son Henry sleeping in his room, back from college for the holidays (mostly to see Violet). Zelena and Robyn also seem settled.

Could something be wrong with Emma?

Wait.

Regina closes her eyes. Stars, and grief, and the scent of brine...

Iridiana. Regina feels her legs wobble for a moment, but something makes her certain that something has happened with Iridiana.

It's been years, but… now that Regina considers, there is something familiar lingering… Everyone's magic has a particular presence of its own, and it has been such a long time since Regina has sensed Iridiana's own magic, but…

That was Iridiana's.

The girl's probably not aware of doing anything if the grief in Regina's dream is anything to go by. The child had after all disappeared long before her magical education had been completed.

Heightened emotions and magic are a powerful thing.

Regina flicks her gaze to the time and wonders whether it is too uncourteous an hour to call in on the Golds.

Perhaps Iridiana woke Mr Gold too.

Regina nods her head decisively and changes out of her nightclothes. Leaving a brief note, she wanders out into the black night.

The brunet relaxes a little as she approaches the pawnbroker's shop. There is a light illuminating a room and sending a glow into the mostly dark street, which suggests Rumple probably is awake.

Mr Gold looks up as Regina approaches the door. He unlocks it with a swipe of his hand.

“Trouble sleeping, dearie?”

Regina curls her lip. “You had it too, then?”

He nods. “I did.”

“Do you suppose she's alright?” Regina asks dubiously. “She seemed devastated.”

“Devastated is better than dead,” Mr Gold responds starkly.

Regina considers. “Could you focus on the stars? Could you pinpoint where she is?”

“It's not the stars from this world, but beyond that I couldn't tell,” Gold responds.

Regina frowns. “Do you think Hook would know? Or Belle? If we could pull out the memory, like what was done with Emma's dream catchers...”

Mr Gold glances up at her with a strange expression. “You don't think that's cruel?”

“Cruel how?” Regina protests.

“To give him hope. He's adjusting,” Gold states.

Regina makes a face. “Do you ever really adjust to losing a child?”

“No,” Mr Gold admits hollowly. “But if we give him a clue that we might be able to find the girl, and we can't, or… she refuses to come home… That'll break his heart.”

Regina considers. “What if we only tell Belle? Try to find Iridiana ourselves?”

“She'll tell Hook,” Gold sighs. He pinches the bridge of his nose. “But I can hardly not tell her; we don't have secrets between us anymore.”

Regina clutches her arms in strained contemplation. “Iridiana's lost, and alone, and hurt. Surely we need to risk whatever we need to, in order to at least try to ensure she's safe?”

Mr Gold quirks one brow. “Not get her home?”

“Safe, I said,” Regina mutters.

Mr Gold nods and leads Regina through to the back of his shop. They are both completely unaware that Emma had bolted up in bed beside Killian at the same time Regina and Rumple had awoken.

Emma has no idea why she's crying, but her husband holds her, and listens as she rambles oddly about the stars in her dream.

Chapter Text

Iridiana is completely oblivious to the way her grief has used her magic. She has no idea that anyone is still looking for her after all this time, and would never believe for a second that Emma could possibly have felt anything.

If Iridiana had known that her family back in Storybrooke still cared and were actively trying to trace her, perhaps she might have been tempted to go back somehow. She feels raw, and empty, and broken.

Leaving a loving father behind had hurt, but the pain of her other father figure dying is vivid in her mind. She does care for the rest of her crew mates, but every grieving face was a reminder that Hogwash is gone.

He is never coming back.

The rubies he bequeathed her hang heavy on her hip, and Iridiana supposes she could do anything now. She has enough to start up anywhere.

That doesn't really feel like freedom, because where can she possibly go? Hogwash's ship is the only place that ever felt something like home.

She supposes she could visit a tavern for a while. The young woman has plenty of wealth now to find some entertaining amusements and take her time pondering her next move.

Iridiana does not do that.

She strides along the docks instead and pauses before a reasonably large ship. She could ask for work, but she pays for passage instead to wherever the vessel will go. She needs to be anywhere else, and she isn't quite ready to take orders from someone new. Not yet.

Truth be told, Iridiana isn't ready for another ship either. She had known every knot of wood and thread of rope upon that vessel, and held affection for them.

This new ship Iridiana treats with much less delicateness, and its crew none at all. She feels colder. The stilted simplicity with which she talks resonates as a challenge, and by the time they have reached a fresh port she scares most.

Being feared feels both odd and familiar to her. Iridiana vividly and bitterly remembers being isolated and bullied as a child in Storybrooke. However, back then the isolation was because she was a pariah and the other children perceived how vulnerable that made her. Here the crew sense something brittle in her, but are afraid.

It's a curious puzzle, but Iridiana cannot bring herself to care overmuch about it. She is miserable, and sarcastic, and dry, but why should that matter? Why would anyone find that frightening?

Iridiana has barely glanced at a reflective surface since her loss, but even if she had she might have missed what the others see in her.

Her expression is closed and dangerous, her eyes deadened. Her limbs are tight and sing with resentment. She is grief and defensiveness and pessimism.

She is unsettling.

Iridiana tires of the wary looks after a while and takes to stalking the decks only when most of the crew are asleep. Her haunting seems to unsettle them all further.

They are relieved when they dock at a faraway port and watch Miss Iridiana Rogers stride into the crowds away from their ship.

Unobservant strangers bump and jostle her and it sends a spark of something up Iridiana's spine: it's the closest she has come to being touched in months.

More observant strangers do not touch her. They sense or see the young woman and get out of the way. Iridiana wonders whether something innate makes her a leper, or if the overwhelming, frustrating, heartbreaking loss she feels spills out of her pores.

She loses anyone who cares.

Alone, alone, alone…

This is no good. She needs work or she'll go mad.

Iridiana thinks hard, but there is nowhere she wants to work other than upon a ship, even though being onboard hurts a little bit (more than a little bit).

She wanders into a tavern and orders something to fill her twisting stomach. Food does not help, but the pretty bar maid seems more intrigued by Iridiana than afraid, which is a mildly welcome change. They speak for a while, their conversation merely punctuated by the necessity of serving other patrons.

“There's a place going on a monster-hunting ship,” the bar maid muses. “If you've the mettle for that.”

Iridiana has plenty, and little else to occupy her. She gives the wench a kiss and a tip for her time and information, then heads out to find the recommended ship.

Apparently monster-hunters like 'scary'. They accept Iridiana onto the payroll without much question.

It's hard work. The job is to her taste but the people aren't, so Iridiana jumps ship again. At least this time she has an idea of what she wants to do with herself.

Even if she is still utterly alone.

Chapter Text

Iridiana hops onto the latest ship with a cold confidence that deters a number of her new crew mates from calling out to her. Young women on such vessels are still not the norm, but those in this business are dangerous and she is no exception.

The First Mate notices Iridiana and hurries over to greet her briefly. “The new Diver, wonderful, we've heard good things about you.”

Iridiana inclines her head a little, lowering her eyelashes slowly in acknowledgement. “Where do you need me until we get out deep?”

The First Mate gestures around at the crew making haste around them. “Just spot something that needs doing and pitch in for now. I'm not sure where our Boatswain is.”

Iridiana nods, and searches out the hands scraping barnacles and crystalised salt from the ship's hull above the water line.

“Toss me a tool and I'll get the deep ones,” she offers.

One of the men sits up on his heels and gives her a skeptical look. “Won't you dirty your skirts?”

“I'm your new Diver,” Iridiana explains dryly. She takes one of the spare tools and dumps her guns.

She swoops into the water and begins working.

The men start to look each other warily when she doesn't surface again.

After longer than a human's lungs could stand, Iridiana breaks the surface of the water. “Still alive,” she comments, eyes glittering in cool amusement, then returns to the depths.

She works long and hard, earning the respect of the other men working with her long before a new member normally would.

She pulls herself out of the water, wringing her plait out over the ship's side, and follows them to the mess hall.

There's a rather interesting young man sat nearby them as they file along the huge, much abused table.

“Whatever, Your Majesty,” one of the crew beside him sneers. The 'liege' looks up with interest as Iridiana sits down trying to squash her wariness. That phrase sets her nerves to rattling even when it's not directed her way.

She stares at the sailor from underneath her damp hair as soon as she notices his direction turn from her. It's almost certainly a playful nickname, but she searches his features anyway. If he is of royal blood she might recognise him, and if she recognises him, then he might recognise her.

Thankfully, the man's face does not seem familiar, although it's pleasant enough to look at.

He looks back around, and Iridiana feels a bizarre thrill of fright as his gaze meets her's. His eyes trail openly from her face, to her still damp plait, to the brutal, deep scar on her arm.

“Hello there,” he drawls.

Iridiana tenses her jaw and nods, a little rudely. “Hi.”

“Our new Diver,” one of the men at her side explains.

“Ah,” he says. “That explains the drowned appearance.”

She stares at him coldly. She doesn't need new friends.

“I'm Seven,” he carries on regardless.

Iridiana raises a brow. “'Seven'?” she drawls skeptically.

“Long story, better suited to a long night,” Seven declares. “Do you have a name?”

“Iridiana,” she growls coolly. She almost follows up with 'Rogers' but that seems tied up with her life on Horacio's ship, and it's been so long she doubts anyone will be looking for her. “Iridiana Jones.”

“Welcome aboard,” he smiles. His mouth makes her uneasy.

Everything about him makes her uneasy. Iridiana throws her gaze back down to her plate and focuses on eating. He seems to recognise that he has been dismissed, and smirks at her from across the table.

She glances up at him warily when he seems distracted in conversation with his peers. He has clever eyes, pursed lips, and strong arms. He talks with his hands, nimble fingers dancing along with a light in his eyes.

He makes her painfully anxious and she cannot understand why.

He glances over at her with a smirk as though he can feel her attention. “Has anyone given you a a tour of our ship yet, Jones? I could, when you're ready.”

Jones. It's been so long since she's heard that. Iridiana glowers at him and crosses her arms defensively. “I'd rather chew my own arm off,” she sneers.

He grins at her, eyes sparkling playfully. “Ah. I did wonder about that scar. Not enough of n appetite for the whole thing before?”

Iridiana laughs despite herself. The noise startles her inwardly. She realises she hasn't laughed genuinely (or perhaps at all) since before Hogwash's death.

The Diver stretches and draws away from the table without a word. She can feel eyes on her as she departs, especially Seven's, but she's lost the habit of caring what others think of her.

Iridiana climbs back up to the top deck and familiarises herself with it slowly. This is her new home for the present. She feels oddly apathetic about it.

It gets dark early here at this time of year. Iridiana crosses over to the side of the ship and leans her arms against the solid wood. She watches the sun disappear into the horizon and the stars begin to appear.

It twists her gut to gaze at them, but it's a bittersweet pain. She stares at them until she realises her skin is icy to the touch.

“I miss you,” she whispers to the sky, then retreats downstairs to her sleeping quarters.

It feels typical of her luck these days that she bumps into Seven on the way down. He's alone, and looks over her intently. Iridiana is glad she has not cried. She's certain that even in the poor lighting Seven's disturbingly perceptive gaze would have picked up on it.

Surprisingly, the man does not waylay her. “Goodnight Jones,” is all he says, an odd sincereness to his tone, then he walks away into the gloom.

Iridiana's heart hammers afterwards as though he had pinned her to the wall and cut her skin.

Chapter Text

Gaston is, by and large, a good boy. He's a little bookish, but he has broad shoulders that curtail much teasing about that, and he's a bit of a dreamer. Gaston is fascinated by the objects in his father's shop, always wanting to know the stories behind them.

He's always been moony, even before his childhood friend ran out into a winter night and disappeared. He knows vaguely that his father helped with this vanishing act, and he's seen the friction that caused, but Gaston knows he won't be given the whole story. He asks everyone involved in an almost apathetic way, and pieces together details on his own.

What information Gaston is left with is not wholly illuminating, but it's certainly interesting. There's no secret to his father's magical past, but Mr Gold rarely uses his abilities these days. The stories fascinate Gaston, even the dark ones.

Something dark always shrouded Iridiana, even though by herself she was wit and light and courage. Gaston admired Iridiana. Robyn and Neil claimed to find her weak and disturbing and disgusting in ways they couldn't fully justify (“She's unlovable”; “She's ugly”) but Gaston didn't agree with any of that at all.

Iridiana had a pale, otherworldly air, with wispy, wavy hair that shone oddly and smelt like magic. Iridiana was fearless in her play, never shrinking from the harsh dares Neil and Robyn suggested. She could climb a tree or a mast or a rooftop like it was nothing, and look down and smile without getting dizzy or scared. She could swim harder and faster than anyone, and sometimes she's swim so far from shore Gaston was sure she'd spent all day in the ocean, learning things there he and the other children never would.

She was glorious, laughing and spinning in the sparkling water like it wasn't cold at all. She had a heat all her own, that made Gaston feel safe and brave and happy. He'd have spent all day in the water with Iridiana, splashing around without a care in the world, if she wasn't so attuned to his shivering and always sending him back to get warm.

She didn't belong on the land. That was the real problem. In the water she was free, but on land she was awkward. All angles and doubt, brushing sand from her bare legs and trying not to look hurt by whatever Robyn said.

Gaston still felt a little guilty about that. He did stick up for Iridiana then, but perhaps not enough. Surely Iridiana heard enough hurtful things from her own mother without being bared to the cruel things Robyn and Neil often said?

That's probably why she left.

Gaston is definitely guilty about that. He's also guilty that he stayed friends with the pair, but how else was he supposed to fill the hole Iridiana left?

He imagines adventure. Gaston likes to believe that some day he will go far from Storybrooke. Be a real man, with stories of his own. And he'll find her.

Iridiana.

Their eyes will meet and she'll recognise him, even though he has grown from a shy boy into a capable, wandering, handsome (he hopes) man. She'll know him anywhere. And he'll know that colourful hair and huge, secret smile anywhere.

She'll tell him of her adventures, and he'll have something to tell her right back.

But that's a daydream, and he keeps it to himself. Instead he reads his mother's books and asks about his father's stock, and wishes he had adventures of his own.

Gaston's parents often go off on their own to talk, bowed over books filled with stars. Sometimes Regina joins them, and she makes him nervous, so he stops lingering when she visits.

But he looks over the books afterwards, memorising the constellations of other worlds and wondering why they matter.

Hook swings by the library one day and asks to see certain books. Gaston recognises them at once as the ones his parents and Regina pore over almost religiously. The request seems to make Gaston's mother go grey, and she presses her lips together as she fetches them.

Hook spends a long time flipping through the pages but doesn't seem to find what he seeks.

Gaston stares up at the stars above Storybrooke that night and wonders what patterns they make above Iridiana, wherever she is.

Chapter Text

Iridiana does her best to keep to herself. She works hard and takes on neglected duties on her own initiative, quietly glad of the distraction. Her crewmates are generally uneasy with her obvious distaste for their company, but she more than pulls her own weight aboard the vessel, so Iridiana gains a quiet respect that grants her the space she desires. She might not speak much, but she always pitches in an extra pair of hands to the hardest and heaviest chores. Almost everyone is willing to allow her silence in exchange for her efficient help.

The young man with strong arms and sparkling eyes is not akin to the rest of the crew.

He hangs over the side of the ship as Iridiana pulls herself out of the water. “Jones.”

Iridiana looks up and brushes strands of her sopping wet, briney hair from her face. Seven gives her an earnest smile, offering her a hand up.

She presses her lips together and shakes her head. “Move. Please.”

Seven steps aside obediently and allows Iridiana to pull herself onto the deck. She turns and wrings out her loose plait over the edge. She can feel his eyes on her.

Shoulders stiffening, Iridiana softly growls, “What?”

Seven rolls his eyes and smiles. “Always so unfriendly.”

Iridiana pulls a knife from the sheath on her hip and reaches for a rag to wipe the salty water from the blade. She pops off her harness and spreads it on the deck to dry under the sun. “And yet you persist,” she mutters.

Seven crouches and helps unfasten its various pouches to speed the drying process. “Perhaps I'm lonely.”

Iridiana cannot help but sneer. “Of course you are,” she says dismissively. Seven merely smiles at the sarcasm in her voice.

Iridiana finishes and stands, the floor warm underfoot and water dripping from her skin and clothes. She wants to stalk off, but she lingers, uncertain of her reasoning.

Seven watches the guarded emotions cloud Iridiana's face and rises slowly to his feet. “We're wanted in the Captain's quarters when you're ready,” he says softly.

Iridiana is unsure why she waits for a split second before reaching for her outer skirts and buckling them over her wet ones as she strides across the deck. Seven walks along at her side, close enough to make her uneasy, but a far enough distance to suggest a respect for her personal space.

The Quarter Master, Sailing Master, and a few other crewmen are seated around the Captain's table. He throws Iridiana a towel and takes his own seat.

“New job. Take up a pew,” he tells the pair.

Without looking at Iridiana, Seven pulls out a chair for her before taking his own. Iridiana gives the barest nod of acknowledgement despite his adverted gaze. She lowers herself into the seat and mops at droplets of saltwater with the corners of the towel she has draped around herself.

“Hunting a giant,” the Captain announces.

Seven glances upwards uneasily but gives a deep nod.

Iridiana gazes around at the others. “What do you need me for?”

Seven pats the map before them. “You'll be after his heart.”

Iridiana blinks. After a beat she asks the table, “What?”

“The giant keeps his heart outside of his body,” the Quartermaster explains.

“In a well,” the Captain adds. “A cavernous one. A Diver's skills will be necessary.”

“A duck inside a well,” Seven says.

The young woman arches her brow. “You want me to catch a duck?”

“No, they want you to take an egg from a duck,” Seven says.

“You're familiar with this one, Seven?” the Captain asks.

“Heart inside an egg inside a duck inside a well,” Seven rhymes off. “I'm aware; I haven't had at him myself.”

The men around the table nod reasonably. Iridiana looks at Seven long enough that he catches her.

“I'm experienced with giants,” he explains to her with an unusually uncomfortable expression.

Iridiana stills and looks directly at her peer for a moment. He's a reasonably strong build, but he doesn't look like a giant hunter to her. Or at all, really. “I see,” Iridiana says.

Seven inclines his head at her words, but he barely speaks for the rest of the meeting. Iridiana watches him leave.

One of the other men catches her attention and gives her an easy enough chore which eats up the rest of her evening. Afterwards she climbs back up to the deck and watches the dark skies and thrashing waves. Despite her long, gruelling hours she rarely finds sleep, choosing to fill her sleepless nights mentally charting the stars.

Iridiana is startled to find Seven reclining in the dark staring out to sea. She considers walking past him to her usual spot but hesitates.

Having tuned out the nearby footsteps as mere bustle of his crewmates, the young man turns at the sudden absence of the noise. The waves continue to lap noisily against the ship as he blinks in surprise at Iridiana.

She squints back at him and uneasily steps towards Seven. He stares at her bare feet for a few moments, unusually lacking any annoying comment for her.

“Okay?” Iridiana asks reluctantly.

Seven considers before nodding wearily at her. “Fine. Thanks,” he murmurs. His tight shoulders, even in the dim lighting, suggest otherwise. Iridiana presses her lips together. She feels ill equipped for this sort of interaction.

She kicks his boot lightly. The leather is warm from his body heat and the unexpected sensation startles Iridiana with its unusual intimacy. She swallows but holds her ground, pulling her foot away.

Seven meets her eyes, wearing an abnormally guarded face, then drops his gaze quickly. “It's alright,” he says softly. “You can go do your thing. I'm just brooding.”

Iridiana's chest rises then falls. Hating herself a little bit, she gets down on the floor with him. “Brooding is my thing. You might as well have company.”

Seven's eyes widen in surprise in a way that makes the young woman feel guilty. He's never behaved in a way that merited her frosty manner.

Except for the fact that he's friendly, and friends are the last thing she wants. Kind of.

That's hardly his fault.

Iridiana's so busy chiding herself inwardly that she almost misses Seven's whisper.

“Thank you.” He wets his lips tiredly and looks…

“So it's a long night,” Iridiana blurts.

Seven looks disorientated for a moment. He frowns questioningly at her.

“Long story for a long night, you said,” Iridiana reminds him.

Seven chuckles weakly and brushes his hair back. “Oh. Right. I did say that.” He leans back further. “You might feel more comfortable killing the giant with me if you don't hear it until afterwards.”

Iridiana considers. “I'm not afraid of giants,” she tells the dark.

“What about killing?” Seven asks.

Iridiana shrugs, her stomach twisting. “It's a job I suppose.”

Seven purses his lips. “Of course. You're tough, right?”

“What makes you say that?” Iridiana asks.

“You don't need anyone,” Seven says.

Iridiana's voice catches in her throat. “...Right,” she agrees eventually.

“You ever killed a giant before?” Seven asks. He indicates her scarred arm.

“No,” Iridiana replies. She brushes her fingertips over the rippled skin. “But I just need to get an egg.”

“I'll keep you safe,” Seven declares.

Iridiana arches a brow at him. “I can look after myself.”

“From a giant?”

“From anything,” she says coolly.

Seven smiles weakly. “From my charm?”

Iridiana splutters before sneering, “I'm immune.”

“Must be the only one,” Seven mumbles.

Iridiana gives him an unimpressed look. “You're clearly dreaming. Come on, it's late; I'll take you back below.”

Seven's lips twitch but he doesn't say anything wicked.

Iridiana reaches out a hand to help pull Seven to his feet. His hand connects with her damaged skin and he fumbles. “I'm sorry!” he says quickly. “I didn't mean to touch-”

Iridiana gives him a bemused look. “It doesn't hurt.”

“You hold it to you like it hurts,” Seven says. The woman looks down at her arm but he explains, “Not just now… in general. You do. And besides, it's personal, I shouldn't tou-”

Iridiana sighs and yanks the man to his feet. “I don't mind,” she tells Seven. “This once.”

Chapter Text

Iridiana stares down at the well she is supposed to enter, feeling a deep wave of trepidation and discomfort. Seven stands at her side. “Don't worry about the giant; I'll sort him.”

“More worried about the long way down,” Iridiana mutters, shucking off her more cumbersome weapons.

Seven looks at her. “Didn't think you were afraid of deep water?”

She makes a face and swings her legs onto the worn stone of the well. “I'm not.”

He winks. “You look scared.”

“Yeah, of the drop,” she snorts. “Go do your job.”

“Yell if you need me,” Seven states, pushing away from the well.

Iridiana's gaze lingers on him as she tries to process the inflection of his words. Seven seems comfortable under the scrutiny. Few people even dare meet her eyes these days, so his soft expression sets Iridiana's nerves jangling.

“I better go keep him distracted,” Seven says at last. “Get the duck's egg before he squashes me, yeah?”

Iridiana grabs the bucket and climbs in to the cramped space before beginning to lower herself. “I'll try.”

The narrow, aged well opens up into a cavernous drop and Iridiana cannot help but wonder how the giant ever got down here in the first place. At first her descent is in gloomy near darkness but the lower she goes the more she cannot deny there is a glow beneath her.

Iridiana's muscles are starting to ache. Eerie blue light begins to colour them and she risks looking directly down.

Water.

Glowing water.

Iridiana is uncertain whether to feel entranced or just trepidation. She decides not to jump into the water but instead lowers herself all the way whilst in the well's bucket.

It relieves her more than she would like to admit that the water does not seem corrosive. Iridiana warily examines her surroundings. Where the heck is the stupid duck?

It seems as though the water has carved out a warren of underground caves, although the water line is much lower than it seems to once have been. Some sections of the cave reflect back the glow of the mysterious water via sproutings of irregular crystals.

Where is the duck?

Iridiana grimaces at the thought of getting into the water to look for the cursed creature. She looks around one last time then fearfully dips a finger in the water.

Nothing happens. It's just water.

Breathing a sigh of relief that startles her in its severity, Iridiana vacates the bucket and flicks out her tail.

It looks strikingly pretty here. Iridiana tears her gaze away and swims towards the nearest stretch of wet stone.

*

“Belle, what are you doing?”

The librarian looks up with wide eyes as her husband approaches. The large book in her grip falls from her hands and she fumbles to prevent it hitting the floor.

Mr Gold stares at the spellbook between their feet. “Belle...”

His wife sets her face determinedly. “The dreams must mean something, Rumple.”

“That doesn't mean that you should be meddling in-”

Belle's warning look makes Mr Gold's mouth snap shut.

She nods at his silence. “Either make yourself useful, Rumple, or let me get on with things.”

Gold sighs and bends to pick up the book. He looks at the crushed pages and quickly discerns what his wife has been looking at. “Do the Jones' know what you're doing?”

“No,” admits Belle uncomfortably. “But if Emma didn't want to be used in a spell maybe she shouldn't leave bits of herself where anybody could find them...”

Mr Gold blinks and chuckles despite himself as his gaze falls on a vial containing a single golden hair. “The morally upstanding choice I see.”

Belle's eyes glitter. “Some things are not black and white.”

The bell on the shop door announces someone's appearance. Mr Gold looks around but Belle walks past him unsurprised. She leads Hook into their home.

Mr Gold's face lines with worry. “Magic and prices, dearie...” he warns.

“My daughter's worth any price,” Hook says stoutly. He drops his hand down heavily beside Emma's hair and slices his palm open with his namesake.

Mr Gold sighs and watches as Belle performs the archaic spell she has found.

A ring of magic appears in the air before them. An image unfolds itself.

Bare feet walking over slimy black rock, leaving shining blue footprints behind.

“That's Iridiana,” Hook says breathlessly, his legs buckling a little as he recognises the constellation of tiny freckles on her skin. He clenches his cut fist tightly.

“What is that on her feet? Pixie dust?” Belle questions, squinting at the blue.

“No, that's… that's glowing water,” Hook says. “I've seen it on coasts during my travels.” He rubs his face. “But not… I've never seen it on black rock like that.”

“Well that's good, isn't it?” Belle says. “There can't be a lot of places with glowing water. We can narrow it down.”

Hook nods. As they watch, Iridiana starts to run and leaps across the slippery surface. She struggles with something fast moving in her grip and curses softly.

“Pirate's daughter,” Gold says softly.

Iridiana exclaims as whatever her prey is bites her sharply, and she rolls along the floor to keep from dropping it. The creature makes a dissatisfied noise, annoyed at being crushed, but Iridiana gasps as though awed.

Some sort of bird staggers away with wings outspread. Iridiana ignores its offended hisses. Reverently she picks up an odd egg.

“What's that?” Hook asks urgently.

Mr Gold arches a brow at the pirate for a moment then feels a surge of affection for his wife as she squeals softly in distress. Iridiana has broken the egg.

Something red glows within.

Is that a heart?” Belle yelps.

The men peer closer but before they can speak Iridiana is holding her prize aloft, grinning. She squeezes it experimentally.

Mr Gold blinks, his face greying a little. Little Iridiana never… She wasn't…

“What are ye doing?” Hook shouts at the image of his daughter.

“She's going to kill a giant,” Belle whispers.

“What?” Hook demands.

“Something I read… when I was younger… A giant hides his heart inside a duck egg,” Belle explains weakly.

“I can't watch this,” Hook says, dazedly stepping outside. Belle follows him feeling guilty and tries to search for comforting words.

Mr Gold stays. He feels utterly responsible for whatever darkness has entered the young woman. He should have known…

An alarmed shriek drags his attention back to the magical image. The heart has fallen to the rocks and an enormous fist encircles Iridiana. Its knuckles whiten as it squeezes.

Feeling sick, Gold cancels the incantation. There's no way to save the girl, and the others don't need to see her death.

*

Iridiana hits the water, hard, and it's only her magic that protects her from drowning. She kicks out her tail and tries to return to shore, gripping her aching chest heavily.

Seven steps around the fallen giant and shoves the remnants of the crushed heart into a pouch. “Sorry,” he pants. “I couldn't keep him away once he clutched his chest...”

Iridiana groans and drags herself out of the water. “I squeezed the stupid thing then stopped. I should have just killed him.”

Seven's eyes widen and he rushes towards the young woman. Her torso is mottled tan and purple: bruises from the giants fingers.

“Was your first giant this tough?” Iridiana asks, her breathing painful.

“Mine? No. Mines were mostly all trickery,” Seven states. “Can you stand?”

Iridiana allows him to help her to her feet. Hair drips in her face as she frowns and asks, “You've never killed a giant before now?”

“Not deliberately,” Seven mutters.

Iridiana sighs and punches his arm weakly. “Great. I'm glad you didn't tell me. You can tell me that story as you get me back to the ship.”

“Sure,” he says. He looks her over with open concern, his grip on her hugely protective. At first Iridiana is too distracted by the pain of her cracked ribs to notice, but eventually she cannot help but feel the intensity.

It takes them some time, but Seven manages to help Iridiana back most of the way to the ship. Some of their crew have come out to investigate their long absence. They ask questions that Iridiana is too strained to answer, but they get her back safely. Seven fields the questions briskly, his attention focused mostly on the Diver.

Their superiors ask questions on the ship, but Seven merely throws the bag of giant's heart dust at their Captain and demands a Healer.

“I'm fine,” Iridiana gasps.

“You're not,” Seven retorts stoutly. “Sit down.”

Iridiana hesitates then obeys. She tries not to look at the naked concern in his eyes. “I'll heal,” she says with difficulty. “I just need some rest.”

“You would know, I suppose,” Seven murmurs. Iridiana notices he has been stroking her arm soothingly and wonders how long for. She knows she had been leaning against him… did he even let her go when she sat down?

She hates being touched, so why doesn't she tell him to stop?

Seven notices the direction of her gaze and flinches back, blurting an apology. “Do you… Should I leave?”

Iridiana considers. Seven seems to wilt before her eyes and she does not understand why.

She pushes out her arm. “Keep my mind off of the pain,” Iridiana mutters.

Seven brushes his fingers reverently over Iridiana's scarred arm. He can feel her racing pulse through the thinnest parts of her skin, and his lingering fingers feel like they could map out entire worlds. Iridiana cannot think of much else when he gets so close.

Not even the pain.

Seven is quiet. She knows he wants to ask what happened, to her arm, and perhaps to her in general, in order to make her so reserved, but Iridiana stays silent. She won't tell him.

Seven listens to Iridiana's laboured breathing. “So, I was a tailor once...” he begins.

Chapter Text

“Ah! Kids! No!”

Hook would recognise that faux-horrified exclamation anywhere. His lips twist upwards of their own accord quite before he knows they are doing it. It is only the ache of the unused muscles in his face that make him realise he is subconsciously… happy.

How dare he?

Killian brushes the fingers of his one good hand against his traitorous face and freezes at the door. Monster. He's a monster just like his father, who thought that one child's loss could be replaced with another.

The floor seems to swim beneath him and it's the most queer feeling for someone all but born with sea legs.

But then he hears them laughing: the four of them. The family composed of Emma, Henry, Jack and Odette is a happy one.

And yet he's standing out here in the hallway feeling guilty for smiling at their mirth.

Hook feels sick. He's supposed to be a husband and father.

Of course he wallows in the loss of his child and spends much of his time searching for her. Of course of course of course: it is the most natural thing in the world.

But he's going to miss out on four more beloved family members if he does not shift the balance back towards them and their needs. He needs to be a present, loving member of this household.

He needs to be a father.

Killian admits to himself that he needs to be a husband.

Hook has never been a coward. Nothing will keep him from his family. He has True Love for God's sake, and three of his four children borne from it. He has so much and he has focused only on his loss.

Hook steps through to the family room and feels physically injured by the way his gambolling family falter at his entrance. They look guilty. The looks on their faces say he has them believing they shouldn't ever enjoy themselves now that Iridiana is… adventuring.

Killian won't have that.

He strides forwards with a wide smile that feels so odd and heavy on his face and drops down by Emma's shoulder.

“I've missed you,” he decides with deep, gruff feeling, and leans in as he rests a hand carefully on her pale, swanlike throat.

Emma looks astonished for a moment, then her eyes flicker tearful and confused. 'Really?' they scream.

Killian hates that vulnerable look and himself for allowing it to become resident on his wife's face. He kisses her with every bit of affection he has, and he is taken aback by the forceful way she pulls him towards her mouth.

Henry laughs nervously. “We, uh, we're still here guys...”

Hook breaks the passionate kiss and peppers his wife's face with several more. “Sorry, lad. Come here, come here. Daddy's missed you all.”

His youngest happily clamber over them and giggle at the attention, but Henry holds back, watching the others fondly.

Killian hooks the overgrown boy around the leg just as Emma tugs her eldest forward with an assertion that, “That means you too, squirt.”

Henry yelps, and Hook wonders when he least heard this laugh. When he last caused this laugh. He claps an arm around the boy's shoulders.

“I'm sorry I haven't been present recently, son. I'm going to work on that,” Killian states sincerely. “You have my word.”

Henry nods quickly. “I understand, Dad.”

“You're a good lad,” Hook reaffirms, because heck, when was the last time he say that?

Henry looks embarrassed by the prolonged attention. “I know...”

Emma smiles at him and squeezes his arm. “Hey kid,” she says with a smile, “why don't you go stick some popcorn on? We'll order some pizza and have a family movie night.”

She looks at Killian quickly. “If that's okay with you?”

He rolls his eyes and pulls her against his chest. “Quality time with my family? I'm all in, Swan.”

Henry twitches his lips at his stepfather. “And you thought you'd escaped being educated on all the films you've missed from the real world.”

Hook laughs and musses the young man's hair. “I'm game, son.”

“Peta Pahn!” Jack demands.

Emma gives a guilty little hiccup of a laugh into her hand. Hook narrows his eyes at his wife, careful to keep his expression blatantly warm and playful. “Have you let our kids see that vile cartoon movie with that… that pirate… with the… hair?”

Odette giggles and grabs his leg.

Emma bites her lip slowly. “Maybe?”

“To the brig with you, wench!” Hook teases.

Emma crosses her arms with a grin. “And who'll order the pizza, oh fearsome pirate?”

Hook pauses. “To the phone, we- To the phone, princess. Please and thank you. Dear wife.”

Henry makes a noise that sounds suspiciously like the crack of a whip but looks away. Hook gives his stepson a confused look for a moment, but then Emma picks up the phone and asks for everyone's preferences.

Movie night is the best thing Killian can remember in a long time. He curses himself for being shortsighted and negligent. Odette sleeps on his lap and for once it doesn't feel like a physical blow to watch one of his daughters grow up. It feels like a pleasure and a privilege.

He is going to focus on that. He is going to remember that.

About all of them.

They are a pleasure and a privilege he could lose so suddenly.

He won't take them for granted again.

Emma braves putting her hand out across towards him.

She hasn't done that in a long time. His swan, she is so brave. So loving.

So worried.

Killian takes her hand, squeezes it, and kisses it. “I'm sorry, love.”

The blond opens her mouth guiltily. “Killian, me t-”

Hook squeezes her skin firmer to pause her words. “Let's draw a line in the sand. From now on, it's not about blame. We'll focus on making the best of what we still have.”

Emma looks tearful. “I love you, Killian.”

The man leans over their sleeping children to embrace her. “I know that, Swan. I love you too, wife.”

Chapter Text

“Saved your butt again, Your Highness,” Iridiana grins.

Seven splutters, choking up sea water. “There's got to be an easier way to get you to touch me.”

Iridiana stares at him for a second then bubbles with laughter. There is a rare easiness in their company, even after another close call with a mystical creature, and it doesn't feel odd at all when Seven flirts with her.

Her hands are still on his wet chest. “Come on, Lothario. Let's get you back on the ship.”

“I wouldn't blame you for lingering a while,” he says.

Iridiana looks around at their surroundings and her expression softens thoughtfully. “It is beautiful here,” she muses.

“I meant your spectacular company,” Seven scoffs.

Iridiana flounders in surprise for a moment and Seven grabs for her in fear that she might choke on sea water.

“Great, I almost drowned a mermaid,” he deadpans to her, “no one is ever going to believe that story.”

Iridiana splutters to clear her lungs then rubs her face. Sea water clings to her eyelashes casting dazzling rainbow glares as she tries to focus on Seven. “You just don't have a trustworthy face,” she teases.

Seven guffaws. “At least I have more than one expression. Everyone who meets you worries that you'll slit their throat in their sleep!”

Iridiana splashes him. “And yet you don't take the hint!”

“You wouldn't hurt me,” Seven says with comfortable certainty.

Iridiana freezes then her expression drops and she turns towards their ship. “We should go. Come on.”

Seven frowns in confusion. “Iridiana? Hey, wait...”

The young woman merely growls softly in acknowledgement and heads towards their vessel. Seven follows as quickly as he can with the handicap of having no tail. “Hey, what just happened? Are you mad at me?”

“Why would I be mad at you?” Iridiana mutters.

Seven's forehead wrinkles. “You are mad at me. What did I do? I'm sorry...”

“You didn't do anything,” Iridiana snaps.

“Then what-”

“Why don't you learn to swim better?” Iridiana grumbles abruptly. She turns around with glinting eyes. “I'm sick of saving you.”

Seven falters. “I thought...”

“You don't think at all!” Iridiana retorts. She strides across the deck. “Keep away from me.”

Seven scurries after the woman immediately. “Hey, what the hell?”

She ignores him. Seven can see tension radiating from her wet shoulders as she storms away. He stumbles as he tries to catch up now they are on level footing.

“Hey, fish girl!” Seven cries out. “I'm not finished talking to you!”

Iridiana slams closed the door of her small quarters: a boon of being a female on a predominately male crew. Seven hammers on the weathered wood. “Hey! Explain!”

Iridiana stares at the door and growls softly, cursing herself, Seven, and the situation. “Go away!” she calls. “I'm changing into dry clothes.”

“You're a liar, Iridiana Jones, now open this door,” Seven retorts.

“Leave me alone!” Iridiana roars.

Seven flinches back for a moment, startled and wounded, then hammers more fiercely on her door. “Not a chance! Open this door and talk to me, or I will stay here all night. No one on this crew will sleep through my yelling, and they'll hate us both come morning!”

“I don't care if everyone hates me!” Iridiana shouts back derisively.

Something in her voice makes Seven frown. Certainty. There is the certainty in Iridiana's voice of someone who has already weathered being universally hated.

What was the last thing he had said before she baulked? That she couldn't hurt him?

“Iridiana Jones if you don't let me in to talk to you I am going to kick down this damned door,” Seven warns.

Iridiana's gaze flickers. She stares at the closed door and sneers, “Like when you killed those giants or those soldiers?”

She takes a startled step backwards as the door shakes under the force of a loud blow. Seven has kicked the door twice more before she can exclaim, “What are you doing?”

“Weren't you listening?” Seven pouts. “I'm going to make you talk to me.”

“You're going to break the damned door is what you're going to do, you fool,” Iridiana rebukes.

“Then let me in!” Seven cries out in exasperation. He shoulders the door for good measure.

“You're gonna hurt yourself and break the door; stop it,” Iridiana chides.

Severin squares his now sore shoulders as she opens the door with a resentful look of dry affection.

“You are such an idiot,” she says acerbically.

“You're the one running away and locking a door on your best friend,” Seven retorts. “What the hell?”

“I swam away,” Iridiana corrects. Before Seven can reply she holds up her hand for pause and screws up her face. “My what now?”

“Oh shut up; I am obviously your best friend,” Seven sneers. He lets himself inside and sits down on the weathered trunk where Iridiana keeps various weapons.

The woman stares at him.

“What?” he responds. “How is that even a question? We spend all our time together. We risk our necks to save each other's asses all the time. We laugh at each other's stupid jokes to the extent other people think we're crazy. Of course we're best friends.”

Iridiana closes the door softly and slowly steps closer. “Am I your best friend?”

Seven looks at her as though she is incredibly stupid. “Is there someone else you'd suggest?”

“I'm your best friend,” Iridiana says wonderingly.

“Of course you are,” Seven agrees.

Iridiana turns and opens the door again. “I need to leave. I… need to hand in my notice.”

“You… what? Wait!” Seven protests, leaping up and crossing the distance to grab for the woman's wrist.

They both freeze as his fingers curl around her scarring. The scar.

Seven has noticed that Iridiana does not like other people touching this arm. He has also noticed that over time she has allowed him to touch this skin again and again, not seeming to notice anything unusual in it.

She has clearly noticed now.

“Should… Do you want me to let go?” Seven asks.

Iridiana looks conflicted. She nods tightly; her shoulders are panicked but there is a softness around her eyes.

Seven releases his fingers gently. “Don't go,” he compels.

Iridiana swallows. “I have to.”

“No you don't,” Seven insists. “Why would you?”

“You can't get close to me, Seven,” Iridiana insists in a voice both certain and pleading. “You can't.”

“Way too late for that,” states Seven. “What's wrong?”

“You mustn't,” Iridiana warns in a painfully strained voice. “It… It's not good for you.”

“What are you talking about?” Seven derides.

I'm cursed,” Iridiana blurts for the first time since she left Storybrooke. “You can't be near me. I bring pain to the ones I love.”

“You haven't brought me pain,” Seven says.

“I don't love you,” Iridiana states darkly.

Seven looks at her in assessment and whatever he sees lights his face in a way that scares Iridiana silly. “You know how I feel about you, right?” Seven asks softly.

“No,” Iridiana says.

Seven is unsure whether she means that she doesn't or just to stop talking. He reaches out his hand slowly and inches his fingers towards Iridiana's.

She permits it. Her pulse races; he can see it jumping in her neck.

“I always thought you just didn't like me back the way I like you,” Seven says. “And being your best friend was still a million times better than being nothing to you at all.”

“Even if I didn't notice?” Iridiana asks softly.

Seven looks at her. He creeps his fingertips up her hand and ghosts them over the deep scarring of Iridiana's arm. She stares at him, his hand and his face, and she does not move away.

“Part of you trusts me,” Seven says.

Iridiana stares into his eyes. Her chest rises and falls. Her fingers tremble and Iridiana's gaze drops down to Seven's mouth.

He licks his lips nervously. “May I?” he asks.

Iridiana nods. She does not know what she is agreeing to but she thinks she might just let him try anything in this moment.

Iridiana feels a shock of fear as Seven lifts her arm and raises the scars to his mouth. He pauses and looks up at her to give further permission.

Iridiana is uncertain whether she remembers to breathe. She nods.

Severin's presses soft lips to her skin. His lips should not be nearly so soft in the elements they sail in, and even his stubble is gentler than Iridiana imagined. Except Iridiana had never imagined this.

She pulls her arm away and Seven looks at her instantly.

She pushes her cracked lips onto his.

Chapter Text

“Hey Jones?”

Iridiana smiles blissfully and inclines her gaze towards the man. “What, little tailor?”

Seven's cheeks turn briefly but decidedly pink for a few moments in response to the pet name she has given him. These days Iridiana could honestly be described as actually affectionate towards him, but she only uses that nickname in public when she is in an exceptionally good mood.

Seven hopes that good mood will serve him well tonight. He takes his crew mate's hand and pulls her to her feet. It seems important that she see the stars on the water now, even though they see the sight throughout their time on the ship. Seven tugs Iridiana through the crowded tavern towards the door.

Iridiana chuckles. “Does it embarrass you so much you want to leave? That's not very brave, is it, little tailor?”

Seven turns his head and grins back at her. “Trust me; you're going to be calling me a brave little tailor before this night's through.”

Iridiana yanks him out of the way of a bar wench laden down with a wide tray of glasses. “I won't be calling you anything if you get squashed flat. Look where you're going!”

Seven winks at her. “How can I do that when I only have eyes for you?”

Iridiana hits him lightly in amused disgust.

Someone bulky blocks their path. Seven stumbles back. “Whoops, sorry my friend.”

The stranger glowers and squares broad shoulders. “I'm not your friend.”

Iridiana apologises and tries to guide her companion away. “What is with you tonight?” she murmurs. “Are you already drunk?”

Seven takes her hand. His is shaking oddly. “I'm nervous, alright?”

Iridiana's heart rate picks up and she looks him over in concern. “Wh… What for? Are you alr-”

Her question is interrupted by the stranger from earlier grabbing Seven's shoulder and spinning him back around. “Hey.”

Iridiana's hand goes to her sword and the other bats the large man's thick wrist away. “Watch it!” she snaps.

“My problem's not with you, girly,” the stranger states dismissively. His eyes are narrowed at Seven.

Seven sighs and lightly taps his own weapon before showing open palms with an expression of reasonability. “Look, not tonight, alright?”

The big man pushes him. “Yes, tonight. I recognise you.”

Seven sighs. “I wish you hadn't done that,” he says with a shrug.

“What are you g-”

Iridiana's sword tip nudges just under the stranger's jaw. The tavern is crowded but it's not the first time she has pulled her blade in cramped quarters.

“Like I said,” Seven continues, “you shouldn't have done that.”

Iridiana narrows her eyes at the large stranger and pushes her sword close enough to nick his skin. “I'm possessive,” she warns. “Back off.”

Seven does not have the sense to sweep their surroundings but as the stranger's gaze flicks guilelessly away from the pair Iridiana takes note of those rising from a nearby table and hastening closer.

She jerks her head at Seven. “Get outside.” Iridiana does not wait to read his face before turning her attention back to the stranger at the end of her blade. “We're leaving,” she says, “if any of you follow us I'm going to have to take that as an intention to fight.”

The broad-shouldered man does not have room to slide away or knock down her blade. He gives her an ugly look and grunts disagreeably.

Iridiana pulls back swiftly and pulls Seven out of the tavern by his collar.

“I'm not a child you know,” he complains good-humouredly once they are outside. The chill of the night calms Iridiana's breathing a little and she looks the man over as he readjusts his collar ruefully.

“You can't fight for toffee,” Iridiana points out. She looks over his shoulder towards the tavern doors.

“Seven with one stroke!” Seven retorts with a dry grin.

Iridiana rolls her eyes. “Spin doctor,” she says fondly. Her features narrow thoughtfully. “You look really shaken. Who was that?”

Seven rubs the back of his neck and shrugs. “That's not… I don't really remember him.”

“Is something the matter?” Iridiana asks. Her mouth puckers in suspicion as she comments, “You've been jumpy all night.”

Seven swats away the question dismissively but the gesture is strained. “N-nothing to do with them. I wanted-”

He stops talking as Iridiana throws him behind her. She's strong and he stumbles a little before turning to follow her gaze.

She sighs as a small group from the tavern approach. She spreads her feet into a fighting stance.

“You can leave as you please, girly,” the stranger with the cut neck announces.

“Our quarrel is with him,” a woman in the group adds.

Iridiana draws mismatched, well cared for pistols. “I don't share my toys,” she says coldly.

Seven snorts fondly behind her and draws his own weapon.

The approaching gang do not care for Iridiana's guns. They rush her fearlessly and she momentarily greys as her first close range shot is a kill.

Two attackers attempt to pin her arms and Iridiana swipes metal across a nearby face. The noise is unpleasant.

Iridiana twists to survey Seven and notes he has already lost his weapon to the large man from the tavern. Iridiana calls out and throws the least cantankerous of her pistols. Seven snatches it gracefully and shares a fleeting look with her before firing into the chest of an attacker.

Iridiana fires the remaining five or six rounds into those around them. She's fought before, many times now, but shooting strangers dead at point blank range still makes her cringe inwardly.

Those remaining look towards Iridiana as she holsters her spent gun. She meets the leader's eyes and draws her sword.

The cut stranger rushes towards Seven with his blade. Iridiana storms after him and spins in the dirt to face him. She feels an ache travel down her arms as the blade she rises meets his. The large man is strong and she shifts her footing to try to push him off.

“Your Royal Highness!” the woman from the tavern calls.

Iridiana freezes and looks to the cry. Her attacker sweeps her blade aside to land in the dust and Iridiana feels the sudden fright of realising she cannot react in time to save herself. She reaches for another weapon regardless as the muscle-bound stranger before her weighs up the satisfaction of cutting her down first or moving along to Seven.

The big man's eyes glint and Iridiana knows he has made his decision. She waits for his blow in the hope of sweeping in towards his bulk and burying her dagger in him when he brings his sword down to her.

He does not get the chance. The woman who had called out -not, Iridiana now understood, to her, but to Seven, prince of the trolls- skids across the dry mud at their toes. Darkness streaks across the dirt after her leaking from a bright red wound.

The sight stuns the cut stranger and he turns blazing eyes on Seven.

“Your kingdom can burn,” Seven declares coldly.

The large man roars and throws himself towards the smaller man. Iridiana cannot get between them in time and Seven's reflexes have never been as sharp as her's. Iridiana screams out in alarm as the broad blade pointed at her so recently skewers Seven with a sickening noise.

Iridiana flies at the attacker and throws herself at the back of his neck. She'll climb him and cut his head right off.

Some of the other strangers from the tavern approach. Iridiana kicks out at one and struggles as they try to pull her from their leader. As she attempts to twist from their grasp Iridiana sees someone bend and pull the sword from Seven's chest.

Iridiana howls and rends an attacker with her short blade. She dives down towards Seven but the big brute grabs at her and she cannot break free. She surrenders her blade and kicks out at the cut man's jaw and hands as she is dragged to the floor by another.

She wrestles the grip and kicks out at nearby legs. She hears a shout as a tendon of someone's knee snaps from the force of her kick and doubles over at the wrong angle agonisingly.

Iridiana tries to shrimp towards Seven, who is struggling to get up from the floor. Someone grabs her hair and she claws at the bigger hand, twisting and thrashing angrily.

The cut man crushes his boot into her chest. Iridiana gasps for breath and attempts to swipe her blade along the back of his leg.

He kicks her face and as her jaw explodes in pain she feels her wrist erupt in fire. Her fingers spasm as her dagger falls to the dirt.

The big man grins at her, kicks the dagger away, and approaches his real target.

Iridiana finds herself weaponless again. The brute is so much stronger than her. In desperation she throws her arms out against the blade headed to finish Seven.

He cries out in alarm as it tears through her skin but if Iridiana screams herself she does not notice. Instead she stares at the light which emanates from her scarred arm in response to the blow.

Their attacker stumbles back in shock and sudden wariness.

“Go,” Iridiana growls at him. She is surprised by the dark authority of her voice.

The large man is white faced and he runs. It won't be far enough for Iridiana not to track him down later, but right now she has no thought of revenge.

She grips Seven with her gouged arms. “Are you okay?”

He gives a low chuckle that sounds frighteningly wet. Blood bubbles at Seven's lips as he watches the light flashing across the gash in Iridiana's scar tissue. It's knitting itself back together with a golden string of glittering light. The others run too.

“What is that?” Seven asks.

Iridiana glances at the spectacle for a moment before pushing her bright wound against the sickly, dark dampness of Seven's chest. “I don't know,” Iridiana mutters. “Old magic. Maybe...”

The golden light does not jump from her skin to his. She feels herself sag. Her aching arms are doing nothing to stem Seven's rising puddle of blood. It floods over her inner elbow at last and dulls the light flashing within the garnet pool.

Seven leans up heavily on his own elbows and shushes Iridiana's immediate protest. He kisses her scalp gently and presses his lips together silently at the red flecks he leaves in strands of her hair.

His calm panics Iridiana. “Seven...”

He hushes her again. Her eyes are wide with horror and her shoulders are trembling.

Iridiana shakes her head fiercely. “Don't you dare, little tailor. Seven, I mean it, don't...”

Her tears wet his face and suddenly she is on his mouth, kissing him desperately. Seven coils his arms around her, putting the last of his strength into an embrace Iridiana will remember.

Both of them have seen death before, and Iridiana hates herself for the ugly sobs she cannot contain. She feels wickedly selfish for making Seven's last sight something so awful, but she cannot stop the raw weeping which shakes her form.

Seven touches Iridiana's scars gently, his grip weaker than she wants it to be. “I was going to ask you… if you'd still keep me in the dark about your arm… you know, if I put a ring on your hand...”

Iridiana blinks quickly in astonishment and pain. Tears are thrown from the wet spikes of her eyelashes to the bones of her cheeks. “Seven, you don't..?”

Seven tries to hide a grimace of pain and hunches closer to kiss her clumsily. “You don't have to wear it, but it's… It's in my pocket. You're never alone, alright?”

Iridiana shakes her head and pushes her forehead hard against his. “No, no; don't you leave me Seven, I...”

He smiles softly in regret. “I know, love. I know. I'm sorry.”

Their crew mates find them by Iridiana's screams when Seven leaves. She scrabbles at him when they try to pry her away and her magic combusts outwards with the force of her grief.

Mr Gold, Regina Mills and Emma Jones sit up suddenly in their respective beds. They have to blink away the sight of the stars behind Iridiana's eyes but nothing shakes the feeling of horror that rises up her throat and chokes them.

Chapter Text

Iridiana has to leave the ship after Seven's death. She can't bear it. Everything about the vessel is somewhere he will never be again, and…

She needs to be somewhere that he has never been. Somewhere where she can trick herself into believing he does not and never has existed.

Most of her crew mates are quite aware of her close bond to Seven and try to be sympathetic, but the ugly, dry crackle of her raw magic advises all but the most persistent to give her space. Iridiana's not in the mood to accept their comfort and she shrugs them off sharply.

She gets off of the ship and away from pitying eyes.

None of the dockers seem to give her much attention, which feels odd but is not entirely unwelcome. It's easy enough to find the Quartermaster Iridiana had met a few nights before in a tavern. He'd heard of her: the siren that saves sailors from the deep, able to walk on land as her father was a captain. The young woman who can slaughter a sea beast at any depth.

He's happy to take her as crew. He doesn't mention Iridiana's reason for changing vessels. The entire area has heard of Seven's public, rather dramatic death. Or at least, many people heard Iridiana's screams and stories wove themselves together as they do in small towns.

She gathers sparse few belongings other than her weapons and follows the Quartermaster to her new ship.

Iridiana is not interested in making friends, but it catches her interest when she sees a female sailor trotting beside the Sailing Master carrying what is likely a new map.

The woman feels Iridiana's attention. She turns around and winks.

Iridana raises her hand in greeting and turns to stare at it. She feels surprised that her body can react to anything so naturally when she feels such an ache in her chest.

“Be careful of the witch,” a sea dog blurts, giving Iridiana a genuinely concerned look.

She blinks, flustered, and transfers her attention from her hand to the sailor. He gives the woman with the Sailing Master a decidedly hostile look.

“She's a witch?” Iridiana echoes.

The grizzled man nods and opens his mouth to say more, but some of his crew jostle him and persuade him to go back to work. Iridiana stares after the other woman for a beat then hurries after the Quartermaster. He hasn't noticed her absence and nor does he not Iridiana's inattention as she continues to ponder the alleged witch.

It's been so long since she has been around someone with magic. Iridiana wonders whether this woman might prove helpful in guiding her how to control her magic. Iridiana cannot deny that in her grief her magic is unpredictable and hostile.

People shouldn't allow her near them.

Iridiana's work on the ship is not difficult, but she struggles passing the nights. She cannot sleep except in moments of overwhelming exhaustion and then she is plagued by dreams of blood and death and loss. Worse still are the dreams where Seven is alive and well and lovingly pledges his life to her.

Iridiana stays awake as long as she can.

The sight of stars makes her feel sick at first, but being out on the deck in the open air seems to be a much smarter choice than to be around so many people in close quarters feeling as she does.

“Isn’t it past your bedtime?”

Iridiana startles at the voice and reaches for a weapon as she turns.

She faces the alleged witch, who smirks as though Iridiana’s guns and knives are a laughable choice of recourse.

“I like to be alone,” Iridiana says. She knows now would be the perfect opportunity to instead ask about magic, but any companionship right now feels exhausting and wrong.

“I tell myself that too,” the witch says bluntly. She is young, not far off Iridiana’s own age, and she swings herself into a precarious seating position.

“Quite a drop,” Iridiana says slowly.

The other woman shrugs. Iridiana wonders whether she has it left in herself to dive after the witch should she fall overboard.

“So what happened to your face?” asks the witch.

Iridiana looks to her in confusion and surprise. She hasn’t seen a mirror in some time. Iridiana raises her hand to where the witch’s gaze falls and flinches in surprise at the pain which blooms from the touch. For a moment Iridiana does not understand, but then she remembers the kick to her jaw just before she lost…

Iridiana feels sick.

Some sort of understanding moves through the witch’s face as Iridiana’s own darkens. The witch sits with her all night and says nothing else. Iridiana appreciates it somehow and does not move away.

The witch sits with Iridiana the next night, and the next. Iridiana starts to take note of the way the rest of the crew avoid them both, treating the witch as far more volatile a threat despite the way Iridiana is certain the air around herself seems thick with threat and ugliness and cursed air.

It takes Iridiana time before she remembers to ask for the witch’s name. She feels stupid for forgetting, but Seven’s death has left her so numb Iridiana is a little surprised that she remembers to do so at all.

The witch looks at her. Her eyes are wide and wild in her pale face, dark hair falling down past her shoulders like a veil. “Storm,” she says.

That dislodges something in the back of Iridiana’s brain but the diver is uncertain what.

They don’t say anything for the rest of the night, or the next. Iridiana takes note that Storm is an agitated thing: a ball of nerves and unspent energy wrapped in long sleeves and thin layers of dark fabric.

She’s so pale the blue of her veins cut through Storm like marbled lightning patterns which pulse beneath pale, misted skin. Flecks of salt sit in Storm’s hair catching the lamplight dimly as the distant stars above them.

She’s pretty.

It takes weeks and weeks before their ship reaches the ocean it is meant for. Storm for all her trembling energy is a masterful, patient hunter and that energy erupts into something fierce when she chooses to.

Iridiana likes her.

Storm’s magic is like nothing Iridiana has seen before. The witch sees the questions in Iridiana’s gaze but waits a month for the other young woman to speak them.

Storm sniffs the air around them as though she can smell the grief in the magic leaking from Iridiana’s pores. She’s amenable to teaching Iridiana a few things but she does not say so in words; she instead uses small touches and actions.

Iridiana appreciates this. She can mimick small actions. She thinks she may have lost the ability or energy to talk. Her chest feels hollow since Seven’s death. If there are words somewhere within there Iridiana cannot find many of them.

It feels like stretching out unused muscles. There’s something natural but tiring about the feeling. The season has changed by the time it occurs to Iridiana to ask exactly what Storm can do. It’s another three weeks before she actually asks.

Storm considers for a long moment. An unreadable expression flickers across her face then she looks to the night sky. She stills.

It suddenly seems very quiet.

Storm tosses her hand in a motion strangely caught between casual fluidity and fierce control.

Everything goes dark. Iridiana cannot help a soft noise of distress as the stars above them dim to nothing.

Storm seems to stare at Iridiana in the blackness then Iridiana feels air move between them. The lights return.

Storm does not seem tired in the slightest, but she does not immediately return to her shivering self.

“Aren’t you frightened to have so much power?” Iridiana asks in a dry whisper. Her voice sounds unfamiliar to herself.

Storm regards her with those hypnotic, large eyes. “I am the dark, sweetie. It wouldn’t do to be afraid of myself.”

Iridiana stares at her. Storm stares back, then tilts her head calculatingly. “When was the last time you brushed your hair?”

Iridiana blinks, considers, then swallows in numb embarrassment. She cannot remember.

“I get it,” Storm says, and Iridiana gets the odd feeling that the witch girl might. Storm takes a comb from her pocket and it is only when she starts ever so gently working her way through the knotted bottom of Iridiana’s matted waves that the diver realizes why Storm seems so familiar.

Iridiana chokes, feeling a burning in her aching chest. Her eyes water.

Storm turns her around and stares at Iridiana in an attempt to understand. Without a word the brunette pulls Iridiana against her chest.

Iridiana lets out a hoarse, humiliated chuckle and reaches up to wipe the wetness from her eyes. Storms gaze falls on Iridiana’s scarred arm despite the gloom.

Iridiana is not ready to talk about that. She squeezes her eyes closed and thinks of how she tried so hard to keep the blood within Seven’s chest.

Storm holds her close. Iridiana remembers the murmurs of an illfeeling, gossiping crew about supposed scars on Storm’s chest. Iridiana wonders whether being burned by lightning would hurt anything like this empty, screaming ache within her grieving chest.

Chapter Text

Most days, Storybrooke goes about its business almost entirely as though Iridiana never existed. Those who carry her memory about with them daily are for the most part a minority and they do their best not to make things uncomfortable for others by being so bold as to mention her.

One after the other, people found it easier not to mention Iridiana. After a while, that willful silence became habit. Eventually, it wasn’t even a conscious action. Iridiana Jones was gone, presumed (by most) to be dead, and was largely forgotten.

There are two main exceptions to this community-wide amnesia: Iridiana’s birthday, and the anniversary of the day she disappeared.

If Killian is honest with himself, these are not the only significant days he finds to mourn deeply. He misses his eldest daughter every Christmas, every father’s day, every first day of term, every… bloody… holiday… Every milestone of his family’s. Every time Iridiana’s peers do something or achieve something or experience something that he never got to see Iridiana do. He has chosen not to miss her as openly or as deeply, but he still misses his baby girl every day.

Twice a year his family and their community allow him to express his pain in small amounts. He cannot break down for the sake of his remaining children and the comfort of those around him, but on these two important days per year Killian is permitted to acknowledge that he had another daughter once and she is gone and he will never, ever, stop loving her.

Mary Margaret and David liaise with Granny and the community to mark these days of quiet, polite mourning with a shared meal at the diner. It’s a ridiculous effort, and Iridiana would hate it, but Killian knows they mean well. So he doesn’t mention how Iridiana hated being the centre of the community’s attention and hated being in town. Iridiana hated Granny’s lasagna because it meant being in the company of people she felt uneasy around, and Iridiana would bow her head and stuff her face with that damned lasagna rather than risk making conversation with anyone.

Iridiana is not here to eat any lasagna so Killian bows his head over his own and moves it around his plate. Emma does her best not to get in anybody’s way on this day and flits about the diner awkwardly. She speaks with her parents and David and Mary Margaret take it in shifts to make strained small talk with Killian.

Odette and Jack do not really understand the purpose of the days of grieving. The try to look solemn when candles are lit and stay quiet when the adults make small speeches, but for the most part the children do their best to escape to play. Henry does his best to mind them, being their favourite, but the loss of his half-sister stings, and his other mother Regina usually swallows her own grief to take his younger half-siblings off of his hands.

Henry takes a seat opposite Killian. David hovers for a moment then understands his cue to leave.

“She’d have preferred to be at the coast,” Henry says.

Killian looks up in surprise. “Aye, lad,” the former pirate says.

Ruby brings over two hot chocolates with cinnamon. She doesn’t say anything, and her lack of something bright or cheeky to say is telling in itself. She smiles weakly and walks back with a more subdued step than usual. Iridiana may have been considered difficult to love, but she was not unloved in the community.

Belle cries openly every year, but she has stopped blaming her husband. It seems more important to honour Iridiana’s memory and share the grief with those most hurt by the absence of the sweet, lonely little girl.

Regina tries and fails every year to avoid eye contact with the Golds. They share so much in the prolonged looks that it’s almost a conversation. They don’t talk about the dreams, but their gazes speak loudly.

Belle circulates the gathered crowd sharing grief and condolences in a socially acceptable and remarkably normal way. Mr Gold stays close-lipped for the most part, but always makes the effort to sidle to Hook’s side and exchange a few gruff, pained grunts. The men are not friends, how could they be? but they share a deeper pain than most of those gathered, and it is impossible for the pair not to acknowledge that. They both loved Iridiana a great deal.

Gold notices Robyn is across the room with Neal. The man frowns and scans the diner: he had expected his son Gaston to be with his annoying little friends.

Gaston seems entirely absent amongst the crowd. Mr Gold walks through the room towards his wife and murmurs his son’s name in question. Belle looks around, confirming that the boy is not present, and purses her lips with concern. Gaston took Iridiana’s disappearance much harder than Storybrooke’s other children.

“He’s probably outside,” says Gold. “Don’t worry; I’ll check on up on him.”

Belle nods. In most situations she is the better person to talk to someone about feels rather than her husband’s stiff attempts. Their son is an exception: Rumple and Gaston have a close relationship.

Mr Gold steps outside and wanders the diner’s small al fresco area. There are small lights strung together overhead with the intention of making the space a welcoming one but there are plenty of shadowy areas which remain. Gold spies movement in the gloom beside the building and limps over.

It’s not Gaston. Grumpy leans against the wall with a paper bag clutched in his swaying fist, and Gold can smell the contents of the open bottle within on the dwarf’s breath and exuding from Grumpy’s pores.

Mr Gold had forgotten how fond the dwarf had been of Iridiana. The girl was a warm-hearted loner and Grumpy had responded well to that.

Fat tears cling to Grumpy’s stumble as he gives Gold a mild sneer. “What?”

“I was looking for Gaston,” Mr Gold says. He doesn’t know why, but he adds, “I miss her dreadfully too.”

Gold turns and leaves to continue his search. Grumpy watches the former Dark One’s receding back silently for several beats before he calls out. “She loved you a lot!”

Tears prick Mr Gold’s eyes. He turns and gives the dwarf a solemn nod. “She was difficult not to love.”

Chapter Text

Long after Iridiana’s wounds from the deadly brawl are forgotten her emotional scars remain. She avoids the company of her crewmates with the slight exception of the witch, Storm, but on the whole sticks to her own space.

Iridiana spends a lot of time taking out the sword, short sword, dagger and pistols which failed to save Seven. Part of her wants to discard or destroy them. Part of her wants to clean them. All of her wants Seven back.

Every last atom of her hurts with the lack of him.

Sometimes the tension is too much and the weapons rattle and shake; Iridiana’s frustrated grief bursting forth from her pores in unspent magical energy.

Storm knocks on her door, not for the first time.

“Do you mind?” she drawls. “You’re leaking right through the ship and I’m getting some especially nasty looks from our crew.”

“Tell them I have magic too,” Iridiana says numbly. “They’re stupid if they don’t already know.”

“Tell them yourself; I don’t talk to them if I can help it,” Storm scoffs. She stays by the door. “Are you alright?”

“Of course,” Iridiana says bitterly.

Storm rolls her eyes and pushes at the door. The slime of salt and damp barely coats her fingers as the thick static of Iridiana’s magic tries to push everything out and away.

Storm pushes back, and the door disappears. She returns it to its place once she has crossed its threshold.

Iridiana twists to look with an openly tired and somewhat annoyed expression at the dark-haired woman. “Let yourself in, why don’t you?” the diver mutters.

“If they bother you so much replace them,” Storm says.

Iridiana flinches and looks with a swift, protective urge to her worthless weapons. She shakes her head quickly.

“There’s no point running away if you carry what hurts you with you,” Storm says bluntly.

Iridiana blinks and considers. She picks up the pistol she had given Seven and holds it closely to her bony chest. It does not smell like him.

“Some things you can’t save,” says Storm. She turns back towards the door. “Reign your magic in,” she says as she leaves.

Iridiana stares breathlessly after the witch.

Iridiana tries hard, and wills her screaming nerves to calm just enough to make her weapons clatter back to their natural relationship with the world’s gravitational pull. The noise seems to clear some of the noise in her head and Iridiana shakes away the tension and ringing within her ears.

She flops down on her hammock. The rest of her weapons dig into her and she twists angrily to unbuckle her harness. She rips it from her body and tosses it to the floor. Residual magic makes a small flash as it lands, and Iridiana stares at the tiny, colourful trail of smoke.

She sighs.

Storm says nothing about the fit, or the next one. Iridiana feels a growing gratitude and affection for the witch’s silence, but Iridiana knows no way to voice that and wouldn’t want to anyway.

She likes Storm. She likes how Storm walks around not caring at all what the others thing of her and utterly refusing to get along. Storm keeps mostly to herself and Iridiana relates to that.

Storm has a fascinating command of the weather. Iridiana sees why the ship’s populous keep the witch despite their naked dislike of her. Storm doesn’t care about the crew but she commands the waters and the skies and she keeps them all safe.

She destroys a predatory pirate ship that comes their way with more magic than Iridiana has ever seen spent in one go. Their attackers are smote by lightning and waves and perish in smoke and angry water.

Their ship remains unharmed by the crew are not duly grateful. They mutter about the witch mistrustfully and eye her disgustedly.

Iridiana hates them. Selfish blackguards and scoundrels all. Their disloyalty to the one soul who defends their underserving flesh husks makes Iridiana wish them ill.

Storm notices, but she does not tell Iridiana to stop or that they deserve such virile. Storm says nothing at all but she sits with Iridiana long into the night and the water is a little choppier than usual whenever the men try to eat.

Storm is slow to show that she has demons of her own. She ignores how the crew treat her and she works without complain. She does her job and makes only the rare, cutting, sardonic joke to Iridiana about the fickle sailors.

Iridiana knows the truth however. The diver does not need to see the scars over Storm’s blue lightning scars to know who the dark-haired, quiet, aloof witch is.

“Why don’t you let them all drown?” Iridiana asks Storm after the witch saves their vessel from a heavily toothed giant squid and the survivors are predictably ungrateful for their unended lives.

“Why should they die?” Storm asks. Her eyes are dark and questioning and wise all at once.

Iridiana does not know how to explain her frustration. “They don’t appreciate you,” she says slowly. “They owe you their lives and they don’t care.”

“They wouldn’t save mine in return,” Storm muses. She raises her brows at Iridiana. “Would I want them to?”

Iridiana is shocked into silence. She remembers Storm in the graveyard, and Iridiana aches at the longing for her father and perhaps even the rest of her childhood. “I don’t want you to die,” the diver whispers.

“Urgh, don't be such a bore, 'Diana,” Storm complains. It's the sort of accusation which inevitably cuts Iridiana to the core.

It hurts, because despite Iridiana’s every intention of never loving anything or anyone ever again, she cares about Storm.

Storm, who might be her internal mirror image give or take a few years. Storm, who makes Iridiana feel less agonizingly, overwhelmingly alone under the stars.

“Befriending me is chronic idiocy, you know,” Storm says almost cheerfully.

Iridiana’s heart hurts. “I know. I don't mind.”

Chapter Text

Gaston remembers choking and burning. He remembers water in his lungs and tears in his eyes and Robyn’s mocking voice turning tight and small and frightened.

Gaston remembers floundering and finding nothing beneath his feet and thinking he will die, and he remembers feeling Iridiana suddenly being there.

Gaston remembers the shaky relief of understanding Iridiana was saving him, and submitting gratefully to her strength as she pulled him out of the rip zone.

The water had looked calm. Gaston hadn’t understood about meeting tides and the necessity of the current pulling back out in order to come in and crash unthreateningly against the wet expanse of sand they had been playing in earlier.

Gaston expected Iridiana to call him stupid – Robyn certainly would have- but she didn’t. Iridiana’s tail became legs and she stumbled forwards, half dragging him onto the sand and half simply collapsing.

Gaston coughed and cryingly vomited up salt water. He felt humiliated and helpless, but then he felt Iridiana’s hand on his back. She thumped it helpfully, forcing out more trapped water and air, them rubbed his torso comfortingly.

Gaston’s ears were full of water but he noticed the crashing of the waves become noisier and more irregular as Robyn and Neal splashed their way through the water towards them.

Robyn was unusually speechless. She approached quickly but lingered impotently at their side. He saw her pale toes curl into the wet sand anxiously.

Neal staggered after her, panting. “Are-Are-Are you alright?” he looked up at Iridiana with wide eyes. “Is he alright?”

“You’ve drowned him, but he’s not dead,” Iridiana said coolly. “Take him home.”

Neal nodded and reached for Gaston, who was still stunned and spluttering softly.

“We’ll get in trouble,” Robyn said sharply.

“You shouldn’t have been out in the water. Not alone, and near the rip zone, and with the weather like this,” Iridiana responded.

You go,” Robyn said poisonously. “What makes you any different? This is your fault.”

“If you’d let me have something that was actually mine you wouldn’t have nearly killed Gaston,” Iridiana snapped back. “Take him home.”

“This is your fault,” Robyn insisted again, and she stormed off down the beach in a fit of temper. Neal hesitated then grabbed their things and ran after her.

“You’re terrible friends!” Iridiana called after them both. She took Gaston’s arm and led him over to his own things. “Come on,” she said gruffly.

“You don’t have to come,” Gaston said quietly. She let go of him immediately, stung.

“I don’t want you to get in trouble,” Gaston added quickly. “It wasn’t your idea for us to try to catch up to you.”

Iridiana was quiet; her lips pressed together tightly. Gaston coughed pitifully.

She sighed. “I’m not leaving you alone,” she said and then she helped him home.

Iridiana didn’t deserve to get into trouble but she almost did: Emma was always quick to anger. Gaston’s parents had talked Iridiana’s mum down, but Iridiana had shrunk in on herself anyway. Gaston felt terrible.

“We shouldn’t have been in the water,” Gaston had said.

“You wouldn’t have gone into the water if it wasn’t for her,” Emma snapped. “You’re not stupid!”

“We can’t swim as well as Iridiana can,” Gaston said, “we shouldn’t have followed her.”

“It was Robyn’s idea,” Iridiana said.

“Why would Robyn want to follow you?” Emma sneered.

“Why do you think?” Iridiana responded with frustration. It was no secret around Storybrooke that the bolder girl was a bit of a bully, and could not stand Iridiana.

Gaston sighs and sits down on the cold sand. The night is dull but not yet dark and most stars are still hidden by twilight clouds. The sea is mostly grey and roars softly as he stares out towards the horizon.

There’s never the splash of Iridiana’s beautiful tail in the water anymore. Gaston remembers her strange, wary smile but his memories of her face are fading.

Iridiana saved him. Iridiana was unhappy and alone and persecuted, and yet she saved him for no other reason than because she could. No one had asked for her help.

Iridiana saved him. Gaston was drowning and frightened and surely dying and Iridiana had saved him.

Iridiana was miserable and vulnerable and they were just kids but she saved him and he didn’t save her. Iridiana was gone because no one -no one!- saved her.

The water looks calm where the rip zone lingers. Iridiana had taken him back to the beach once he was no longer grounded for taking such a silly, dangerous and nearly deadly risk. She had stood them at the edge of the water –not quite stepping in, because she took quiet notice that he was afraid- and showed Gaston the difference between ordinary waves and the dark, flat, deceptively calm-looking outline of rip currents. Some rips looked milkier or more turbulent than others, but once Iridiana gave Gaston this lesson he always managed to identify the dangerously enticing sections of the water.

“If you ever get caught in a rip again,” Iridiana said solemnly (but with a lack of judgement that Gaston appreciated), “try to float and determine which direction the rip is taking you… straight out or at an angle? You want to swim to the side of the direction of the flow, never against. A rip current is stronger and faster than any human and you won’t win against it.”

“You did,” Gaston had said quietly.

“I’m not normal,” Iridiana had said uncomfortably. She glanced away and continued, “If you’re too tired to swim you or can’t get to the side where its pull is weaker: just go with it. Most rips won’t take you very far and will spit you back out close enough that if you save some strength you should be able to swim back to shore without drowning from exhaustion.”

Gaston swallowed from the blunt way she said ‘drowning’ after his recent accident. Iridiana noticed, glancing at him quickly, then away. “If you struggle again keep your arm up and if I see you in distress I’m come.”

“I’m not going back in the water again,” Gaston said quickly.

“Good,” Iridiana said.

Chapter Text

The first time Storm kisses Iridiana it is swift and without warning. Iridiana barely has time to register what is happening before Storm steps back lightly. Her dark hair is standing on edge with the static shock of Iridiana's entirely short-circuited magic.

“I thought you were going to bring the mast down on us all if I didn't distract you,” Storm says. “Do you know how much energy it would take me to get this vessel to harbour without sails?”

Iridiana blinks like a flickering screen, illuminated but frozen.

“You should come with me when our time is up here,” Storm suggests. Their contract ends when they reach port and Iridiana has not considered this option at all. Whether she moved on to another ship or stayed on for affreightment (a new contract with whoever wanted to send the vessel out after some monster or treasure) previously meant little to Iridiana.

Her heart is pounding fiercely and she is already stunned by the pressure of Storm's briny lips on her own cracked skin. Iridiana's hand twitches towards the hilt of her nearest weapon before she registers that she does not feel threatened exactly.

Her mouth is dry, but she is not scared. Not exactly.

“You said not to be your friend,” Iridiana says.

Storm's eyes carry a murky, unreadable expression. Something thrashes above unfathomable depths, and if this witch's blood is of the ocean that might explain why something of the dark-haired young woman feels like home.

“Wise advice,” Storm says cryptically.

“The last person I kissed died,” Iridiana says before she can process her own words.

“Suits me,” Storm says. “I'm neither here nor there most of the time.”

Iridiana shakes her head slowly. Her chest is tight as she yet again pictures Seven bleeding out beneath her touch. “He-”

“No,” Storm says. “Me. I'm the last person you kissed.”

Something about that makes Iridiana's legs wobble. “You kissed me,” she whispers at last.

“So you kiss me then,” Storm says.

Iridiana nods slowly. She merely considers the option for days and days and days. Storm accepts this with placid grace.

When Iridiana decides her response to the suggestion is to throw Storm bodily against the wall one night and offer a kiss so bruising it feels like a threat, Storm calmly wraps her fingers in Iridiana's coloured hair and pulls her closer.

For some time all they do is kiss, then they separate and go to their respective beds without discussing this new development.

The abrupt kisses become a habit during the following nights and days. Some are harsh and some are tender, but all go entirely unmentioned by either young woman. This suits Iridiana. She has no words for this situation. Storm seems to find the situation one that does not need verbal dissection either.

The issue comes when they start… touching. Their bodies have brushed with some vigour and hands have briefly traced warm landscapes, but the kisses have by and large been just kissing.

Iridiana has been with women before. All of them have been tavern wenches she could sail away from, and she is particular about how much she lets them touch her.

The first time Storm hikes up her skirt Iridiana does not resist, and does not want to resist. The first time Storm brushes Iridiana's scarred arm by happenstance it makes Iridiana feel physically sick, and the first time Storm deliberately reaches for the marked skin Iridiana almost teleports herself overboard.

Storm cannot fail to determine the darkness of the magic which binds Iridiana's arm together. “It's just skin,” Storm says all the same the next time she shares her hammock.

Iridiana says nothing. Striped arms wrap around her and she watches Storm's pulse cut brightly through narrow veins beneath the more transparent patches of skin.

“It's just skin,” Storm says again.

“It's not just touching,” Iridiana says.

Storm is quiet. She is no more comfortable with love than Iridiana is, even if she is often more tender than Iridiana's usual tavern fare.

“Don't fall,” Storm whispers late into the night.

Iridiana hears the warning and wonders whether she was meant to. It sounds directed at them both.

Chilled, Iridiana listens to the waves that surround them. Beside her Storm's breathing deepens and evens in sleep.

Iridiana eases away from the warm press of Storm's skin against her own. The hammock sways unhelpfully and Iridiana catches sight of her weapons harness on the floor. The rubies which decorate her dagger hilt gleam in the flicker of the diminishing candlelight.

Iridiana swings her booted feet over the edge of the hammock's rough fabric, stained with the scent of themselves, and Storm catches Iridiana by the hair just before the young woman's toes hit the floor.

A flash of Storm's father's hands in her hair flashes before Iridiana's eyes unwelcome and unbidden. Iridiana whirls around, eyes instantly wet, and looks down at her lover.

Storm is still asleep. Her fingers are curled innocently through Iridiana's braids, colourless in the gloom. Iridiana's fingers tremble as she untangles the touch and finally hops onto the floor.

Iridiana kneels and retrieves her harness, placing her weapons back properly in their places. She stands slowly and tries to focus on her task as she buckles herself in.

It feels impossible not to stare at Storm as the woman lies alone in the hammock they shared mere moments before. Storm's fingers twitch in her sleep as though reaching out for Iridiana's familiar tresses. There are no scars visible upon her bare arms in this near-darkness.

Iridiana reaches for Storm's hand. The skin is warm and-

Iridiana throws herself back and flees up to the deck. Her breathing is so ragged she chokes and splutters, heaving, panicking, head pounding, hands shaking, so close to being sick. The cutting wind outside chills her face and she realises her cheeks and neck are soaked in tears that keep coming.

Iridiana stumbles over to the bulwark and stares down at the darkness. She can barely see the water but she can hear it over the sound of the wind that whips her hair around her.

Iridiana unfastens her harness with fingers already numb from the sudden coldness of being above deck. Her weapons fall to the ground with a loud thump. She yanks off her boots and tosses them away from the scuppers out of habit and not any care for them in this moment.

She climbs up onto the bulwark and judges the wind absently. It is behind her, and won't batter her back against the side of the ship.

She dives. She swims.

Iridiana stays out in the water and watches the sun rise. She watches the ship warily from afar as the crew begin to wake and go about their business.

Storm appears at the side of the ship, presumably led by Iridiana's boots, and holds up Iridiana's forgotten skirts. “Are you lagan or swinging the lead?” Storm asks.

Iridiana flicks her tail fins softly. “Just couldn't sleep,” she says. “Toss me a rope, will you?”

Storm hefts up the hawser used for mooring the ship and tosses it overboard. “You better be quick, or our rapscallion mateys shall certainly be receiving an eyefull.”

“Yes, yes, I'm a strumpet,” Iridiana mutters. She swims towards the heavy rope and transforms her tail to legs as she climbs her way back up onto deck.

Storm holds out Iridiana's clothing, which Iridiana fastens. She then pins Storm to a wall and kisses her hard, all teeth and desperation. Storm kisses her back and says nothing more of the matter.

Storm is gone a day after they reach port. Iridiana looks for her, but once she determines her witch is safe she does not follow.

Chapter Text

Being alone does not suit Iridiana Jones, whatever she might tell herself otherwise. She moves from ship to ship making few friends and leaving the moment she fears she might.

She returns to monster hunting. She's good at it, and the crews which do so don't find her coldness too peculiar. They sense her dark moods and her power and leave her well alone.

Iridiana does not think much about it after a while. She accepts her position as a loner and her growing reputation as a cold-blooded, skillful cutthroat.

It does not occur to the young woman that she has a brittle shell and vulnerable insides.

Iridiana thinks she likes who she has become. She feels safe in herself.

Then her crew pull a creature onto the deck and Iridiana's comfortable world view is shattered. That looks like a woman. Her crew have pulled a woman onto their vessel by force and what-

Iridiana freezes before she even realises she has stormed across the deck with indignant, warning crackles of magic sparking in the air around herself. All Iridiana notices is the way the supposed magical creature views her with alarm.

The crew -who are known to kill for money- have what looks like a woman at their feet, and really aren't that nice any one of them, it's obvious from the instant one spends time with any of them, even if one has not just been abducted by them, yet this creature widens her eyes and gasps at horror at the sight of Iridiana?

Iridiana feels something in her chest drop and chill worse than jumping into the seas. She recoils when the other magical woman looks upon her with sheer terror and tries to kick herself backwards. She would rather bury herself further amongst the crew who had kidnapped her by force than be near Iridiana.

Iridiana had gone to help the prisoner, to call off the brutishness of her peers. She hadn't expected to be a subject of fear herself. What was there to be afraid of?

Iridiana had known she was cold and harsh and dangerous enough to make the vile crew flinch, but she hadn't truly known it was how she was seen i>even when she wasn't trying until she'd seen herself reflected in that panicked gaze.

The crew see the alarm on Iridiana's face and rejudge their catch.

“What is this?” Iridiana asks them sharply.

“She's not a woman,” one of the crew announces as though he thinks that is the reason for Iridiana's response. They might be monster hunters, but they are not slavers.

“And what is she?” Iridiana demands. The woman at their feet between them cringes at her raised voice and it makes Iridiana feel so very sick.

“A shapeshifter,” another of the men declares quickly. The group around her make noises of assent and pass a peculiar skin coat to Iridiana. The woman at their feet flinches at its rough handling.

“What is this?” Iridiana asks. She accepts and examines the coat – more of a hooded cloak really- with careful consideration. It feels magical, and tied to the supposed shapeshifter in some way, but Iridiana has never encountered its like.

“It helps her transform!” one of the men answers. “Filthy witch.”

Iridiana raises her eyes from the clothing to the man. The coldness in her expression makes him shudder even before the thick waves of magic which always surround Iridiana crackle audibly in warning. “You don't seem to mind magic any time I keep this ship from the bottom of the sea during storms,” Iridiana says crisply.

The man is pale, and the fellows around him are also. “Th-that's different!” he exclaims, but doesn't explain how.

“Since when do we snatch up and sell witches?” Iridiana demands icily.

“She's not a human witch,” a man declares. “She's from the seas!”

Iridiana examines the cloak further. Seal fur perhaps? Surely too heavy to swim in. “We had a sea creature to capture and you didn't inform me? Why was that?”

The men have no immediate answer.

Iridiana dumps the cloak on the woman at their feet, who desperately snatches it like it was her own newborn returned. “We don't trade women,” Iridiana says firmly. “we don't sell people!”

Some of the men look tempted to argue that a shapeshifter from the seas is not what they consider a 'person' but none dare to.

Instead one pipes up, “When we get to shore, she's worth-”

“I don't care what she's worth!” Iridiana bellows, and the magic from her pores cracks like lightning.

“Some of us almost drowned catching this witch,” one brave sailor argues.

The other men grumble their assent warily.

Iridiana curls her lips disgustedly. “Name your price for her. She's mine now.”

The shapeshifter woman is staring now, but Iridiana does not dare look. One of the man hazards a price, higher than he thinks Iridiana can possibly pay, but she simply takes some small rubies from her person and scatters them on the floor. “Take your ill-gotten blood money then,” Iridiana says, and the crew scatter to collect the precious jewels.

Iridiana gives the other woman an uneasy look. Far too human to sell or kill, Iridiana does not regret buying the other's freedom. She does, however, dread the thought of potentially having purchased a companion.

“Where are you from?” Iridiana asks.

The other woman looks guarded. “The others like me are long gone. Long before any of you came.”

“I don't intend to hunt them,” Iridiana says coolly. “I intend to get you away from here. Home.”

The shapeshifter stares at Iridiana hard, and Iridiana does not like it one bit. The sailors and hunters who have sized her up for threat and usefulness did not look at her like this, and it has been a long time since anyone looked at Iridiana and openly assessed whether there was any good left in her.

There is not, Iridiana is sure of it. She is finally the daughter her mother thought she had.

The woman on the floor takes a deep breath. “I am already far from home,” she says.

“We're not far from port,” Iridiana says. “You can find travel from there.”

The woman considers, and nods. She looks exhausted. “What's your name?” she asks.

Iridiana blinks in surprise. “It's… Iridiana,” she says at last. “What do they call you?”

“Shapeshifter,” the woman answers derisively.

Iridiana makes a face. “I meant-”

“Kelpy,” the other woman says.

Iridiana holds out her hand dubiously. She's grown adverse to physical contact. She asks, “Like the horses?”

Kelpy takes the proffered hand and gets unsteadily to her feet. She seems unimpressed by Iridiana's grimace and responds, “No; like the seaweed.”

Iridiana lets go and steps back. “Oh, you're a weed. Figures,” Iridiana mutters.

Kelpy stares at her.

“Nevermind,” Iridiana says. She sighs. “You can have my room until we reach shore. The men don't go there. I can sleep elsewhere.”

“Am I so monstrous?” Kelpy asks.

“Being near others is monstrous to me,” Iridiana says, and if it was some sort of perceived kinship, monstrous women together at the potential mercy of the harsh crew, that caused Iridiana to forsake the bounty Kelpy would have brought for the chance instead to be kind, well Iridiana is not self-aware enough these days to consider that.

She shows Kelpy to her room and gathers the things she imagines she will need, lest she have to invade Kelpy's space in future.

“There's more than enough space to share,” Kelpy says.

“You'll choke on my magic,” Iridiana says.

“Will I?” Kelpy says skeptically.

Iridiana pauses. “It isn't bothering you?”

“Not particularly,” Kelpy says.

“Most people can't be in close quarters with it,” Iridiana says softly. It's been true, of late. The more she is around people the more she feels like she is choking, and the more suffocating others find her magic in the air around her.

“Most of the time I have a tail,” Kelpy says frankly. “I don't lose my sensibilities over a bit of magic.”

Iridiana does not know why she suddenly feels shy. “I… often have a tail too,” she admits.

Iridiana does not understand why, but in the following days when they reach shore she finds herself using many of her remaining rubies to secure both Kelpy and herself passage on another ship.

Kelpy seems in no rush to get home to a place her people have abandoned, and Iridiana has no home to go to, so once they are far away they take up work together on a new ship. And then another. They have several successful hauls, and almost enough together to buy ample shares in a ship. After a particularly difficult quest, they have the finances required.

Iridiana does not question why she is pooling her resources or sharing her time. She does not dare.

They barely speak together, but how Kelpy can swim! Iridiana enjoys chasing Kelpy's dark, seallike shape through the water, and it's almost like having a friend.

The pair buy into a small monster-hunting ship. It lasts well until their first encounter with a krakken, but they are both familiar with loss and strong enough swimmers to return to shore.

Strangely, they feel rather blessed to have survived, and between what bounty belonged to those who did not, and what the two women had squirrelled away offshore, Iridiana and Kelpy have enough for a bigger boat that might just survive a krakken.

“Where to next, Captain?” Kelpy asks.