Emma and Regina's original foray into the astral had been relatively straightforward. Their spirit bodies had soared above the town, traveling along a slender path of gleaming silver. They had glanced down at Storybrooke, marveling at how tiny the houses looked when viewed from such a high vantage point. Sweeping over the bay, they had flown towards the stormy expanse of the open sea, finally landing on Leroy's boat.
Later - as they readied themselves to depart for home, something happened. One minute they were standing on the deck, saying goodbye - the next they were elsewhere.
"Where the hell are we?" Regina asked. She shivered in the sudden bitter cold, her breath condensing to a misty cloud.
"The between-place," Emma grimly replied.
"This is different from before - I don't understand."
The blonde sighed. "I don't either - but for whatever reason, here we are." Icy gray mist eddied about the women, and what little light there was shone dimly, as if filtered through a pane of frosted glass. Nervously, she surveyed their peculiar surroundings. "Look - there's the path!" Barely visible in the murk, the spirit road seemed to stretch into infinity, a glittering lifeline of silver that would lead them home.
"Which direction do we take?" Regina wondered.
Emma closed her eyes, focusing on the images of Killian's handsome face, and that of their young son. After a moment, she pointed straight ahead. "That way."
"How can you be sure?"
Cautiously, Emma and Regina stepped onto the path, and started to walk. There was no soaring here - It was slow going, like wading through cobwebs. Hands clasped, their eyes flickered uneasily to the ominous darkness that lurked on either side of the path. The silence was eerie, almost palpable. After a few minutes, there came the faint sound of footsteps, as if someone was following close behind them.
"Did you hear that?" Emma whispered.
"Yes." Regina frowned. "Is someone following us?"
The women turned as one, and stared back down the path. There was no one there. For a few tense moments, they stood perfectly still, straining to hear. Nothing. With a sigh of relief, they continued along their way, but every so often, there was that same soft patter, as if someone was quietly stalking them through the enveloping grayness. Emma could feel a presence watching them. She shuddered, remembering the warning that Killian had given them - that things lurked in the between-place that were better left unknown.
The journey seemed to take forever. It was difficult to get one's bearing in this strange formless world, and the cold was penetrating, making it difficult to focus. The only beacon was the glinting silver of the endless path, leading them towards Storybrooke, and their slumbering bodies. Several times they faltered, and each time, Emma gripped Regina's hand so tightly she knew she must have been hurting her. But it wouldn't do to start drifting. If they did - they might be lost forever in the astral.
About two hundred feet ahead of them, the path abruptly ended at an elaborate arched doorway. It stood open, glowing brightly in the mist. Behind them, was the sound of running. Heart pounding, Emma glanced back, and to her horror, saw a shadowy form rapidly approaching. She couldn't tell if it was human, or something else. Whatever it was, the thing radiated an aura of menace and seething hatred. Extending her free hand, she concentrated on launching a fireball towards their pursuer. Nothing happened. She tried again, still nothing.
Alarmed, Regina also attempted to conjure fire, but to no avail. She stared down at her empty palm, and scowled. "What's happened to our magic?"
"I don't know - But we better do something fast, or we're toast."
"What do you suggest?"
"Run like hell!"
Frantically, the women raced towards the door. They were almost there, when Regina suddenly twisted her ankle, and stumbled. With a cry of pain, she fell to her knees, bringing the blonde down with her. Quickly struggling to her feet, Emma pulled her friend upright, and with her arm wrapped around the other woman's waist, dragged her towards the aperture. Their mysterious attacker was almost upon them. "Don't let go of my hand," Emma directed. "Or we'll never get out of here." Regina nodded, too out of breath to answer. Her ankle throbbed, as if it was on fire. Briefly, she wondered how it was possible for their spirit forms to feel pain. Gritting her teeth against the discomfort, she forced herself to keep up with Emma. The last few moments were a nightmare of fear and frenzied movement, with the creature's howls of rage echoing all around them. As they reached the end of the path, Emma felt something brush past her, just before she and Regina, still connected, tumbled through the portal, into the light.
"Beloved - Can you hear me? Wake up, please wake up."
Slowly, Emma's eyes fluttered open. "K-Killian?"
"Thank the Gods!" The pirate flashed a relieved smile, and gently caressed her cheek. "How do you feel, Swan?"
Emma groaned. "Like a Mac truck hit me." She was lying on their own berth in the captain's cabin of the Jolly Roger, snuggled beneath their familiar velvet quilts, and attired in her favorite gray tee and sleep shorts. Beside her, seated on the edge of the bed, was Killian. Emma smiled, and reaching up, wrapped her fingers around his. She was surprised to see that it was evening. The room was shadowy, the only illumination the soft glow cast by the filigree lantern hanging over the desk. She attempted to sit up. Dizzy from the effort, she groaned again, and immediately flopped back onto the mattress. Her throat was dry and scratchy, and even under the heavy covers, she felt chilled, as if the frigid atmosphere of the between-place still clung to her. "How long have I been out?"
Killian bent his head, and tenderly kissed her on the lips. "You were unconscious for two days, beloved. We knew you had returned to your body yesterday, but were unable to awaken you. We were all beside ourselves with worry. But now you're back, and that's all that matters."
"Two days?" Emma asked. "What about Regina? Was she out that long too? And did everyone get home safely?"
"Everyone is safe - We returned to the harbor without further incident, and Regina is awake. She came out of the spirit slumber almost immediately. In fact, she and Robin, and your parents, just left the Jolly Roger an hour ago, utterly exhausted from keeping vigil. Henry is in his cabin. I'll send him to you in a moment, and then call the others with the good news that you've finally awakened." He squeezed her hand. "Are you hungry? We were able to give you water and broth while you were asleep, but you must be famished."
"Yeah - Now that you mention it, I am," she replied. "But I also feel cold and achy - like I'm coming down with something."
"Regina felt much the same, when she awakened. Now - What would you like me to bring you?"
"Chicken noodle soup would be good, with maybe some buttered toast - and a cup of hot cocoa, with cinnamon. I don't think I can manage anything more than that."
"As you wish, beloved," Killian winked, and stood up.
Yawning, Emma slid further under the covers. "It's so weird - I feel tired, and yet I was asleep for two days."
"Aye, 'tis indeed very strange." The pirate gazed at her, his expression thoughtful. "You were asleep, Swan, but t'was not a natural slumber. Traveling between realms at any time can be exhausting - and as John Dee warned, doubly so, when you journey in the astral. Anyway, I'm happy to say that any sleepiness you're experiencing now is perfectly normal."
"Well, that's good to know." She yawned again. "I'm just grateful to be alive."
"I share that gratitude," Killian murmured. He'd been frantic while Emma was unconscious, terrified that she might somehow still be trapped in the astral. Neither he nor Regina had been able to awaken her with their magic, and none of the pirate's spell books had offered a solution. Desperate, he had even consulted Rumple, who, with Belle's urging, had tried his best to end the uncanny slumber. But that attempt had also failed. Finally, to Killian's profound relief, Emma had awakened on her own. There was still much he didn't understand about what had transpired with her and Regina in the astral - and who (or what) had conjured the vortex. For that matter, Leroy was still missing. But these questions could be dealt with later. For now, all Killian cared about was that his beloved had returned to him, unharmed. He took her hand, and kissed it. "I'll be back soon with your repast, Swan. Try and get some rest."
"Thank you," Emma said softly, her eyes following his tall, black-clad form as he left the cabin. While she felt utterly drained, it was good to be safely home with Killian, and their son.
Henry's nervous pacing reminded Killian of Emma, who was also wont to pace, when anxious. The boy's expression reflected his bewilderment. "I just don't understand why Mom took so long to come to - and what attacked them in the astral?"
The pirate set down the wooden spoon he'd been using to stir Emma's soup, shifting his attention to his son. "That's what I intend to find out - but for tonight, lad, I don't want your mother upset. She's been through a lot, and she needs warm food, and a natural recuperative sleep. Let her rest, and tomorrow, I promise we'll all tackle this together. Okay?"
The boy grunted his agreement, and with a sigh, sat down on one of the galley stools. "Okay," he replied, with another long sigh. "Dad, this is all really scary. First the storm and that vortex, then both of my mothers lost in the astral." He gazed up at his father, his eyes stark. "When Mom didn't wake up, I was afraid she wasn't coming back to us."
Killian turned off the burner under the cast iron pot, and quickly moved to Henry's side. He hugged the boy, his own eyes moist. "Believe me, Henry, my fear was just as great as yours - But your mother is safe now, and for that, we must be grateful." The corners of his mouth tilted in an encouraging smile. "I will keep you and your mother safe, no matter what - and as she would be the first to tell you, I always keep my promises."
Henry nodded. "I know you do, Dad." He suddenly grinned. "After all, you're the captain of the Jolly Roger and a sorcerer - That's a pretty tough combination to beat."
"That's my lad." Killian removed the pot from the stove, and deftly poured the steaming, noodle-rich broth into a pottery bowl. Setting it on a black lacquered tray, he added a spoon, linen napkin, and plate of perfectly sliced whole-wheat toast, oozing with butter. He handed the full tray to Henry. "Here, please take this to your mother, and tell her I'll be along shortly with her cocoa."
Killian smiled his thanks, and as Henry left the galley, he opened the built-in cabinet above the long work counter. Reaching inside, he selected Emma's blue ceramic mug, and the supplies he needed to make her drink. Though he could have easily created it with his magic, he preferred to do these sorts of domestic chores by hand. As the pirate busied himself with the soothing ritual of heating milk, chocolate, and sugar in a small pan, he reviewed the disturbing events of the last two days. It was obvious that a rogue magician had targeted his family, possibly with assistance from someone else. Dangerous and decidedly hostile, this enemy also possessed a cold-blooded intelligence. With ruthless efficiency, it had separated them from each other, so that it could trap Emma and Regina in the astral. But to what purpose? The threat couldn't have come at a worst time, what with their impending nuptials fast approaching. Tomorrow, he'd discuss the situation with Emma, and together, they would devise a suitable course of action. In the meantime, he would strengthen the protective wards around the Jolly Roger. Forcing his thoughts to calm, he sprinkled cinnamon over the top of Emma's cocoa. In truth, he felt as uneasy as his son, but it wouldn't do to further alarm the lad.
It was well after midnight. Henry had earlier departed for his quarters, worn out by the day's events. Except for the creaking of the ship's timbers, and the sound of the waves lapping against the Jolly's hull, all was still. The moon shone through the big picture windows of the master cabin, bathing its interior with silvery light. Curled up beneath the covers, Emma had finally drifted into a natural healing slumber, her pale hair fanned across the pillows. Quietly, Killian laid his cutlass on the stand next to the bed, kicked off his boots, then stripped off his black shirt and jeans. The powerful magic he had poured into the wards had taken a lot out of him. With a weary sigh, he climbed into bed, and carefully, so as not to wake her, wrapped his lean body around Emma's. He laid his dark head against hers, breathing in the comforting scent of her lilac perfume.
For a long time, Killian tossed and turned, unable to rest, reliving those terrible moments when he had thought Emma lost to him. Just as he was finally on the verge of sleep, he sensed a presence lurking nearby. His eyes snapped open, and in an instant, he was fully awake. Scanning the cabin for danger, he reached for his weapon, and sat up, the thick quilts falling aside. There was nothing there, but he could feel something outside, probing for weak spots in the wards he'd set around the ship. His hand closed around the sword's hilt, as he silently slid out of bed. The presence, reeking of malevolence, suddenly hurled itself against the barrier around the windows. An intense blue light flared, the air crackling with energy, and a psychic howl of sheer agony pierced the silence, as the interloper was brutally repelled. Injured, it still hovered in the air, just beyond the range of the barrier. Killian could hear it growling. With a grim smile, he raised his sword, and using it as a wand, shot a blast of pure magic towards his foe. Another shriek, and the thing fled into the night.
Serves you right, you miserable bastard, Killian thought fiercely. Whatever it was - it was hurting, and now gone. He glanced at his beloved, who was still asleep. Somehow, the wards had prevented the creature's psychic screams from waking her, and for that, he was thankful. Throwing on his jeans, he padded down the hall, cutlass in hand, to check on Henry. The lad slept, his breathing deep and even. Relieved, the pirate returned to Emma. As he lay down beside her, she stirred, and turned to face him. "Killian, is everything all right?"
Wordlessly, he pulled her into his arms, and kissed her. Breasts flattened against his chest, she eagerly returned the kiss. Sensuously, she twined her tongue with his, burying her hands in his hair, and murmuring his name, as he trailed fervent kisses down her neck, and along the delicate line of her collarbone. Emma shifted in the bed, and awkwardly tore off her clothing, impatient to bare her skin to the delicious warmth of his touch. Almost swooning with pleasure, she arched her back, and moaned, as he suckled each lovely breast. Killian drew her closer, burning with love and need, and at her urging, thrust into her softness. With a sweet trill of passion, she dug her nails into his back, moving with him in ever deepening cadence. As they merged, and their ecstasy reached triumphant crescendo, they both cried out, their joined bodies enveloped by wave after wave of brilliant color and radiance.
Afterwards, utterly sated, the lovers fell peacefully asleep in each other's arms. And somewhere in the darkness, the presence raged in a torment of bitter jealousy and hate.