And suddenly there was silence. Deafening and absolute.
Emma’s eyes flew open and still there was nothing. Nothing but the deathly quiet.
Nothing but the empty void of black holding up her weight like a corpse in suspended animation.
She shook her head from side to side as if to clear it but her neck moved sluggishly behind her, trying to catch up; her hair feeling unnaturally heavy as it swam next to her cheek and blocked her eyes that couldn’t see anything anyway.
And then the panic that had consumed her being a few moments before barreled back into her with a life-saving vengeance.
She needed to breathe.
She flailed her limbs roughly through the murky black, clawing her hands into the nothing to propel herself forward. She thrashed and kicked wildly against the sodden denim that was threatening to pull her down into the terrifying depths below until she finally noticed that the pressure around her ears was lessening.
Good. Maybe she actually was heading in the right direction.
Today would be an awful day to die.
Emma broke the surface of the sea unexpectedly, the inky water merging into the sooty night sky as she coughed and sputtered, gasping the dearly-needed air back into her burning lungs. The obsidian bubble the realm had wrapped itself in made everything blurred and disjointed as she twisted about in the ocean and tried to absorb her surroundings.
Bleary eyes blinked the world back into focus, the chaos around her just as jarring as the renewed cacophony in her ears.
Curses detonated in splashes of brilliant color, popping and crackling with spite while the banging of cannon fire ignited the air above her like falling comets. The vibrant blasts littered the moonless night with sharp pangs of light that brought everything into stark contrast, only to plunge the world back into its heartless darkness seconds later.
The ship was sinking. And fast. The hull was cracked and the mast had been set ablaze, the inferno shooting up into the sky like a beacon of defeat.
And from what Emma could still see of the deck, the side of good was not winning. Metal swords clashed together and daggers imbedded themselves in flesh. Bursts of erratic magic exploded without warning. Phantoms whipped through the sky like wraiths. Ghosts of shadowy children disintegrated into thin air only to reappear on the other side of the ship, cackling with bloodlust and gnashing their teeth.
For a moment she spotted two familiar faces. David and Killian collided their backs together; the demons encircling them both as Charming slashed his weapon down on one of their beady heads. A hook sliced through the air and a pistol sounded. More puffs of smoke. A gruff grunt and the prince shoved the pirate off of him.
Wait. Who’s fighting who? Were we betrayed?
Killian took off in the opposite direction as someone screamed and part of the Jolly Roger’s rigging snapped off and plunged into the sea a few yards away from where she was, the plummeting wood creating a vortex of suction underneath the water.
And there was the silence again, the undertow dragging her back down into its gaping maw.
No. You are not dying today Emma Swan. Get back on that ship and help your family.
That Charming stubbornness she had inherited was actually coming in handy.
The second time the blonde broke the surface she was a little worse for wear. She choked on the choppy waves threatening to drown her as she attempted to tread water, searching frantically around her for something to hang on to. A life boat, a piece of driftwood… hell she’d even settle for clinging to a damn mermaid right about now. Anything to keep her afloat.
A tousled mat of brunette hair bobbed into her sight-line over the surf for a second before it disappeared.
Emma’s heart nearly beat out of her chest as every cell in her body electrified itself in terror.
A breathy “Mary Margaret” colored her voice before she was racing for the clearly unconscious form as fast as she could, doing her best to dodge the debris falling into the pitching ocean around her. Drifting face-down among the waste scattered by the ongoing confrontation onboard, it was a miracle Emma had even seen her in the first place.
Dread coating her stomach like a sickness, she grabbed the woman by the collar and yanked her face out of the suffocating water, praying her mother was still alive.
But it wasn’t her mother. It was the Queen.
Disappointment and relief briefly warred for dominance in her chest before she ultimately made a choice that would change her life forever.
“Goddamn it,” she swore to no one.
Ever the White Knight, the blonde quickly wrapped her right arm around Regina’s torso and held her tightly against her own body, ensuring that the mayor’s head would remain above water, and started swimming.
The sea surged around them, the tumultuous waves crashing against the side of her face and pulling her off-course as she tracked her way towards the wreckage floating nearby. Emma gulped in a mouthful of seawater as the tiny woman’s weight almost dragged her down into the ocean a few times; the Queen’s waterlogged clothing making her heavy and unintentionally cumbersome.
Paddling forward with the use of only one arm, Emma miraculously made it to a group of wooden planks that were still sealed together in one piece. Perhaps it had once been part of a boat deck, she didn’t know, but it looked like it wasn’t going to break apart anytime soon… and that was good enough for her.
Emma clamored ungainly onto the small platform, most of her energy drained from hauling the mayor through the choppy surf, and braced herself to heave the Queen’s limp frame up after her. The sea dipped and swelled dangerously, and Emma allowed herself a small chuckle as she flung Regina aboard. She could almost hear the mayor’s belittling remarks about how to properly manhandle royalty bouncing around in her head.
The makeshift raft was too small. The lower half of Regina’s body was still dangling in the water and Emma’s ass was trying its hardest to tumble off of the corner she had perched it on. One of them was bound to fall off with the way the sea was rolling about like a thing possessed. Emma wondered if they looked like shark-bait from below.
The Queen was an ashen complexion and her sodden hair clung to her face in unruly strands. Emma immediately pressed two fingers to her neck and prayed for a pulse.
She breathed. She could barely make it out over the feverish beating of her own heart but it was unmistakably there. A pulse. Regina had a pulse.
Emma needed her to wake up. Now. To magic them all to safety with a haughty flick of her wrist. To stop this nightmare before it consumed them all.
And so Emma slapped her across the face.
A red mark bloomed on the brunette’s cheek, but Regina did not stir.
That wasn’t good. None of this was good.
Panic seized her heart anew as she desperately scanned the vicinity for help, now only about ten yards away from the massacred ship. The battle was raging on above her head and Emma found that she wanted nothing more than to be let back into the fray, to defend the people she loved and kill those son-of-bitches who had deemed to attack them in the first place. But she was stuck here, in the water with a badly-wounded Queen, where she was of no help to anyone.
A frustrated snarl left her lips just as she glimpsed a splash of dirty-blonde hair sprinting past the starboard bow.
“David!” she called out over the ruckus. Her voice sounded pitiful and sad even to her own ears. “David! I’m down here!”
Her father’s features lit up with relief when he saw them. “Emma! Snow! You’re alright!”
“It’s not her,” Emma croaked back, still trying to swallow some of her own spit down her parched larynx. The amount of saltwater she had inhaled churned in her stomach unpleasantly. “I have Regina.”
Charming’s face darkened. “I will find her. I always do.”
And for the first time ever, Emma didn’t find her parent’s love-sick catchphrase disgustingly corny. It was said with such unerring sincerity and reverence that she actually found herself drawing some mild comfort from idiom.
The prince ducked as a dagger whizzed by his head and planted itself into the helm. “Throw a rope down and I’ll pull us up! I can help you!” Emma hollered.
But David was suddenly gone from the side of the ship. Shrieks echoed through the air and a body nose-dived from the crow’s nest in a lifeless tangle of limbs, hitting the water with a repulsive thud before it sank beneath the surface. Water sloshed over the side of her improvised dinghy from the splatter the corpse had made and Emma had to bury her fingers into Regina’s ruined blazer to keep the Queen from sliding back into the sea.
When Charming finally reappeared at the side of the ship his face was splattered with blood. “No!” he shouted down. “Get away from here! It’s not safe!”
Emma felt her face fall along with her heart. She was not about to lose her family again. “Absolutely not,” she argued, fighting hard to keep the tremor out of her tone. “You can’t fight them all off by yourself! Let me up!”
“Don’t be a hero, Emma,” he spat back. “We need the Savior alive when we get to the island. Your safety is more important than ours.” And in that moment her father looked ages older than he should have; his face so much more gaunt than she could ever remember seeing it before.
“Don’t make me leave you,” Emma pleaded, and her voice cracked in spite of herself.
“We’ll meet you there.” He briefly flashed her a dashing smile that any other day she would have believed, but today it didn’t reach his eyes. “I promise.”
No sooner had the words had left the prince’s mouth, a smoky hand wrapped around his throat from behind and jerked him away from the ledge, fully disappearing into the brawl of lost boys and pirates and who the hell knew what else. Emma made to cry out but the sudden pair of piercing red eyes glaring down at her from over the railing killed the sound in her throat.
David’s sword sliced the creature’s head clean off its shoulders before it had a chance to do anything about her presence; its cranium tumbling into the sea while its body was left to slump lethargically against the bow.
“I mean it, Emma! Go now!” were his parting words before he vanished from sight for the final time.
With tears stinging in her eyes and dripping onto her neck, Emma paddled as fast as she could away from the battle, feeling more like a coward than she ever had in her life. She was the Savior for Christ’s sake, and she had just willingly abandoned the people she loved so that she could fight another day. She sobbed and sobbed until her tears tracked rivulets of wetness down her chest to drop off of her fingers, where her sadness was once again claimed by the sea.
For amidst the mayhem of attacks and defenses, no one noticed the small raft steadily rowing away from the skirmish. Or the two women that had taken it hostage.
The blonde’s arms were burning with fatigue and her legs had given up kicking at least fifteen minutes ago. And her head was already throbbing with a beginning of a massive migraine. It felt likeshe was running on fumes and determination alone.
“Come on, Regina. We’re almost there,” Emma rasped to the woman who had yet to show any sign of life other than the minute pulse in her veins.
The fingers of her left hand had gone completely numb due to how hard she was clutching the mayor’s blazer. The thought of having to navigate the looming island without Regina by her side made her fist only clench tighter around the fabric, and she tried not to focus on how cold the Queen’s skin had become.
When their dingy little raft scraped the bottom of the ocean floor Emma could have cried with relief. Losing her grip on the planks but keeping a firm one on the mayor, the structure tipped to the side and unceremoniously dumped the two women onto the damp sand, the coarse surf lapping at their waists and shoving particles of silt up their pants with every rolling tide.
They were a sorry sight. Emma grunted as she crawled on her hands and knees up the shore, dragging the Queen’s limp form behind her. The brunette’s clothing was thoroughly saturated with seawater and Emma barely had the remaining strength to haul the Queen up the length of beach by herself.
But she did it, stumbling and cursing all the way. And as soon as Regina was clear of the waves Emma collapsed on top of her, panting and exhausted. Saltwater from her golden hair dripped copiously onto the Queen’s unresponsive face.
She rechecked the pulse and shook the woman’s shoulders. Patted at her face and rolled her onto her back. “Come on, man,” Emma murmured desperately. “You can’t leave me to rescue our son by myself.”
Saving this woman’s life was becoming sort of a hobby of hers.
Emma started the compressions to the woman’s chest and attempted to ignore the way Regina’s crisp white shirt had turned translucent in the waves, sticking to her olive flesh like a second skin and exposing the black lace bra she was wearing underneath.
She pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed, hoping to force the scourge from the Queen’s lungs with her hands alone. When that garnered no result, she grimaced lightly before she took a weary breath and pinched the mayor’s nose shut. Then she made to crash her mouth against Regina’s.
Her lips had almost brushed the Queen’s when Regina’s whole body suddenly convulsed and she projectile-vomited saltwater and bile all over Emma’s form. The blonde jumped back from the sickly woman in shock as Regina continued to spew the contents of her stomach onto the beach, hacking and gagging in the most undignified manner she had ever seen.
The Savior’s heart went out to her as Regina crumpled in on herself and retched the murky liquid violently into the sand until all she could do was dry-heave. A few pitiful whimpers fell from the brunette’s lips as she spit the last of it into the ocean and Emma rubbed what she hoped were soothing circles into Regina’s shoulder blades. In an attempt to leave the Queen with what was left of her pride intact, Emma elected not to point out that the puke now covering her abdomen was sure to make the sheriff reek for days.
“Welcome back.” The words the brunette had whispered at the well so long ago echoed on Emma’s cracked lips and she turned a feeble smile toward the Queen. Regina’s hands were trembling as she clutched at her still-nauseous stomach and curved her wide brown eyes to meet Emma’s green ones.
Regina’s were still shining with disbelief, “What happened?”
“Not sure. But whatever it was, we never saw it coming.” Emma’s deadened tone was serious but she shrugged as if this wasn’t an issue. She wouldn’t, no she couldn’t, let it be an issue. Because if she did Emma was sure she would fall to pieces.
Regina made to move but a sudden dizzy spell shook her back onto her ass, her arm crumpling underneath her weight. Emma pressed a firm hand down on her shoulder, “Don’t try to get up just yet. You pretty much drowned out there.”
“I’m fine,” Regina snapped, slapping the blonde’s hand off of her shoulder like it was a pesky fly. “You should be more concerned about yourself.” Her gaze flicked over Emma’s face and her eyes glimmered just the slightest bit, with… was that fear on the Savior’s behalf?
Emma hastily wiped at her face with the back of her hand, accidently rubbing sand into the cut on her cheek as she did so. She winced and ground her teeth at the sensation, but remained just as obstinate as her counterpart. “It’ll heal.”
Regina rolled her eyes at the blonde before she took in their surroundings; her frown only deepened. “Where is everyone?”
A heavy sigh breezed through Emma’s lips before she honestly replied, “I don’t know.”
Out on the sea, Emma could barely see the burning remains of the Jolly Roger further clouding the night sky with billows of sulfurous smoke, the massacring flames licking up its sides and destroying the wood of the ship Killian loved to brag about so much. Her eyes glazed over as she tore her gaze away from the unsettling sight and forced herself to stand. “They were on the ship.”
A low growl came from the brunette woman at her feet. “I’m going to murder that traitorous little imp. I’ll rip his heart out myself if I have to.”
Emma stared at the shivering Queen, wrapped in her uncomfortably wet clothing and hugging her knees, and tried to force down the anger that immediately surged through her veins upon hearing Regina’s words. She assumed that the mayor was referring to Rumpelstiltskin and she internally fumed at the new information. Of course there would be some underlying plot to all of this that she had no idea about.
But an abrupt movement in her periphery stilled her thoughts and the edge on her voice had Regina’s head immediately snapping up in alarm.
“I think that’s gonna have to wait, Your Majesty.”
The beach suddenly looked impossibly small compared to the ominous jungle on their doorstep; the shoreline sinking into the forest like quicksand. And through the foreboding trees that had sunk their roots into the silt of the coast, almost seeming possessive of their land imbibed with corrupted magic, came the chilling sound of a beating drum. Chants of war rang out with it in the distance; the sinister mantra resounding throughout the wilderness like a death march made only more horrifying by the fact that it was being sung by what sounded like a slew of slaughtering children.
But this was not what had grabbed Emma’s attention. For where the tangled undergrowth near the beach had created imposing shadows where there were none and the leaves whispered together like secrets, straining ears could just barely pick up the scuffle of ambushing feet scurrying through the brush.
And as the women gaped, frozen to the spot, the rustling in the bushes slowly drew closer and closer to where they had washed ashore.
Something was coming for them.
Emma quietly unsheathed the knife from her boot while Regina awakened a fireball in her palm.
Neverland was waiting.