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we'll make our home on the water

Chapter Text

For some reason, Emma thought they’d pass through the portal and end up right at Neverland. Instead, they spend what feels like forever aboard the Jolly Roger, sailing the vast blue-green oceans, no land in sight, the water stretching on endlessly all around them.

After a while she loses track of how long they’ve been there. It could be weeks, it could be months. There don’t seem to be any seasons, and the weather is always the same, every day sunny and bright and warm, the cloudless sky a tranquil, azure blue.

It should be peaceful, and it is, at first. But then it starts to get to her. It's just, Emma didn’t realize just how quiet it would be on the water, how once there were no televisions or iPods or cell phones, that things would just be silent. It bothers her more than she thought it would, that oppressive, endless silence that makes her feel nervous and on edge.

There are only four cabins below deck. For the first few days, Emma stays with David and Mary Margaret, but the cabin is very small, just a narrow set of bunk beds recessed into the wall and about two square feet of floor space. It gets very cramped, very fast.

Emma ends up moving in with Regina after that, figuring that between Hook's leering innuendoes and Gold's barely contained anger, she’s actually the lesser of the three evils.

The first few days are rough, both of them adjusting to being around each other that much, sharing the same space and putting up with each others’ annoying little habits. But they get into a rhythm surprisingly fast and it’s about a million times better than those first couple of nights crammed into David and Mary Margaret’s room.

Besides, other than the occasional snide remark, Regina’s a surprisingly good roommate. She’s neat and she doesn’t snore and before too long, she and Emma become, well, not friends exactly, but not not-friends either.

Those first couple of days are pretty busy anyway, all them learning how to crew the ship -- finding their sea legs and guiding the rigging and manning the helm -- so by the time they all go below deck for the night, they’re so exhausted they don’t really have the energy to argue with each other.

At first, it’s kind of exciting, an adventure, but eventually they all start to get bored and frustrated, the endless, unchanging sailing making them all annoyed and snappish.

Even David and Mary Margaret start arguing, their united front seeming to crumble in the face of the endless days at sea. Hook spends hours pouring over his maps, mumbling things about directions and currents and tide changes, and Emma can tell something’s not right, that they should have gotten where they need to be by now. Gold spends most of his time below deck in his own cabin, only venturing up above board a couple of times a day to pace around the perimeter of the deck, the repetitive tap of his cane sometimes the only thing that breaks the silence for hours at a time.

For their part, she and Regina spend their time carefully not talking about Henry. They take turns cooking meals for everyone and keeping the cabins neat and orderly, both of them driven by this kind of quiet desperation to do something, anything, to make it feel like they’re not just wasting their time floating endlessly in the sea while their son is trapped somewhere far away.

*

Emma’s not sure how long they’ve been at sea when they finally catch a glimpse of the island, just a vague green blur that breaks the endless sea of blue, but just the sight of it is like a shot of adrenaline, and she feels more alive than she has in weeks, her body suddenly alert and her heart pounding in her chest.

According to Hook, it’s less than a day’s travel away, and he seems confident that they’ll be ashore by nightfall.

But then, after what must be hours of sailing, they’re no closer, Neverland still just a blip on the horizon, as far off as when they first saw it.

“I don’t get it,” Emma says, frustrated as she grips the edge of the ship’s rail, willing the island to get closer. “Why aren’t we there yet?”

“Maybe it’s a trick of the water,” Regina suggests, standing beside her and squinting into the late afternoon sunlight. “An optical illusion of some kind?”

“I don’t think so,” Emma says. “We’ve been sailing for hours and we’re definitely not any closer.”

“It’s an enchantment, dearie,” Gold says from right behind them, making Emma jump a little. He’s rarely up on the deck at this time of day, and she gets the sense that he’s just as frustrated as they are that Neverland remains just out of reach. “A powerful one at that.”

“What kind of enchantment?” Emma asks, just as Regina says, “So how do we break it?”

Gold smirks, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “The enchantment only permits children to reach the island. Everyone aboard this ship is much too old to set foot on Neverland’s shores,” he tells Emma before glancing over at Regina. “And as for how to break it, your majesty...well, that remains to be seen.”

“Then start seeing to it,” Regina orders. “We can’t find Henry without getting on that island. And if Greg and Tamara can get ashore then so can we.”

“Of course,” Gold says, still with that smirk. “Your wish is--” he starts, then stops, his eyes narrowing as he shifts to stare at something over Regina shoulder.

Both Emma and Regina turn their heads, following his gaze. There’s a line of boats heading their way, a small dark caravan cutting through the clear blue of the water, and Emma gets a bad feeling in her stomach.

“Who are they?” Regina asks, but Gold just shakes his head, reaching up with his free hand to shade his eyes from the glare off the water.

“No idea,” he says, leaning heavily on his cane and taking a couple of steps closer to the railing. “But I doubt they’re the welcome wagon.”

In the distance, the boats are moving fast, getting closer to the ship by the minute. “Hook!” Emma finally calls. “Who are these guys?”

From over at the helm, Hook pulls out his spyglass, pointing in the direction of the boats. “Damn it,” he says, turning the wheel quickly in the opposite direction, the ship lurching so much that Emma loses her balance, stumbling into Regina.

Regina catches her by the waist, holding Emma up, keeping her from falling. They stay like that until the ship rights itself somewhat, Regina’s arms strong against Emma’s body, the two of them keeping each other steady.

“Man your stations, mates!” Hook yells, and then they’re all off in different directions, Mary Margaret and David emerging from below deck looking rumpled, the two of them dashing for the rigging up near the prow, while Emma and Regina and Gold head for their positions at the masts.

“Who are they?” Regina yells to Hook, sounding as frustrated as Emma feels.

“The Lost Ones!” he yells back, but he sounds strangely excited.

They work together to try to outrun the boats, pushing the Jolly Roger as hard as they can, but they can’t seem to shake them. No matter which direction they turns or how fast they move, the smaller boats gain on them, staying right on their tail.

It must be part of the enchantment, Emma realizes, and a knot of anxiety forms in her throat as she pulls on the rigging, turning the sails to direct the ship away from the island.

*

By nightfall, Emma’s hands burn from holding the ropes, her fingers throb painfully and blisters dot her palms. Even with all their work, the ship apparently hasn’t made any progress either towards or away from Neverland.

Hook finally says they should just anchor the ship for the night, that they’ve done all that they can for now.

The Lost Ones have them surrounded in minutes, a dozen rowboats circling the Jolly Roger like hungry sharks, the boys cloaked in black, faceless and eerily silent as they float in the dark water.

Emma and Mary Margaret and David help Hook get the ship battened down for the night, while Gold and Regina cast quick a protection spell, something that should be enough to keep any outsiders from boarding the ship.

When they finish, a dome of glittering purple mist hovers around the ship, and Emma can feel the tell-tale buzz of magic in the air, bright and electric.

After just a couple of minutes, one of the rowboats breaks away from the circle, cutting swift and silent through the black water. When it hits the thin sheen of magic, the boat ignites in flames, and the boys jump overboard with muffled yells, swimming frantically through the dark ocean to the remaining boats.

Gold and Regina watch the boys with cruel smiles, the light of the spell reflected brightly onto their faces, and Emma’s surprised to realize she’s smiling right alongside them. Sometimes it scares her, how much she’s changed since they left Storybrooke.

None of the boats approach the ship after that, but they don’t leave, either, just stay where they are, bobbing silently in the water.

They all stay awake that night, the six of them standing tensely around the deck of the ship, keeping a wary eye on the Lost Ones, cloaked and silent in their eleven remaining boats until they finally vanish into the early morning mist.

*

After that, they agree to keep a nightly watch, working in pairs to make sure the spell keeps working, that the Lost Ones don’t find a way past the enchantment.

They pair up in the ways they always seem to these days--Mary Margaret and David, Emma and Regina, and then Hook and Gold ending up together by default. The two of them seem to have at least managed to form a kind of grudging understanding, neither one of them attempting to kill the other, which is nice.

Emma and Regina volunteer to take the first night watch, both of them too on edge to sleep anyway now that they’re finally in sight of Neverland, finally one step closer to getting their son back.

The air gets cooler after sunset, the wind picking up a little as Emma and Regina pace the deck, both of them keeping a watchful eye for the Lost Ones. The shimmery dome from the spell is still bright, and the deck of the ship catches the light from the pale purple haze of the magic, giving everything onboard a strange, violet glow.

After a couple of hours, Emma’s back starts to ache, the tension from the past two days finally starting to get to her, and she goes lean on the rail of the deck, looking down over the edge of the ship. Below her, the water is dark and deep, a quiet black void that seems to go on forever.

She’s not sure how long she's been standing there when she hears a splash, and she looks up to see a fin crest the water a few yards from the boat, splashing once before sliding gracefully back under the surface.

The moon is bright enough that it casts a glare on the water, and Emma squints into the darkness, trying to make it out. She thinks it may be a dolphin, or even a whale, and she leans forward to get a better look, pressing herself closer against the edge of the ship.

“Do you see something?” Regina suddenly asks from right behind her, making Emma jump a little.

“Jesus, Regina,” Emma says, holding a hand to her chest, her heart racing. But when she turns around, Regina’s watching her with a worried look on her face, her eyes scanning the water for trouble, and her annoyance abruptly fades. It’s been a long couple of nights.

“I think there’s something out there,” Emma tells her, keeping her voice low and nodding at a spot in the water where the waves are still rippling slightly. “Dolphins, maybe. Or a whale.”

In the water, the fin flips up and then down with a quiet splash, like it's waving at them. “There!” Emma says, excited. “Did you see that?”

Regina nods, walking slowly over to where Emma's standing, her eyes trained on the dark water. “I wouldn’t let them hear you call them whales, Miss Swan,” she says, coming up next to her, leaning her elbows on the rail and gazing out into the sea. “They’re quite sensitive, you know.”

“Who are?” Emma asks suspiciously, glancing sidelong at Regina. As she does, something splashes in the water just a few yards out and Emma turns in time to see a fin disappearing below the surface of the waves.

“The mermaids, of course, dear,” Regina says, nudging Emma’s shoulder with hers. She’s still looking out at the water, but Emma can make out her small half-smile in the pale moonlight. “You wouldn’t believe what silly, vain little creatures they are.”

“Mermaids?” Emma asks skeptically, wondering if Regina’s just screwing with her. “Seriously?”

Regina nods, just as the fin emerges again, waving playfully in the cool night air. “And don’t let them fool you,” Regina says, glancing over at Emma, her face suddenly serious. “They’re seductive but quite dangerous.”

“Oh,” is all Emma says. Just once, she’d like something in this world to be what she expects, for something to make sense.

The two of them just stand like that for a few minutes, their sides pressed together and watching as the fin flips a few more times, like it's dancing for them before vanishing, leaving a trail of ripples in its wake. For a while, neither one of them says anything, and Emma glances above them to look at the stars. The constellations are different here, strange patterns that Emma doesn't recognize.

Finally: “We’ll find him, won’t we?” Regina says, staring down at where she’s gripping the deck rail, her knuckles bone-white against the flaking yellow-painted wood. Like the rest of them, she’s wearing thick-soled boots and a heavy twill jacket. The blazers and skirts lasted about two days before she traded them in for more sailing appropriate clothes, and it’s strange how much smaller she looks when she’s not being Mayor Mills or the Evil Queen.

“We’ll find him,” Emma tells her. Regina looks pale and tired, dark circles beneath her eyes, her face scrubbed clean of make-up, and before Emma can think too much about it, she reaches over and puts one hand over Regina’s where she's still holding onto the rail so tightly Emma's worried it might crack.

Regina's breath hitches in her throat, but doesn’t pull away, and the tension in her hands relaxes a little as Emma brushes the pad of her thumb lightly over the back of Regina's knuckles.

“We’ll find him,” Emma says again, as much to herself as to Regina. After just a moment, Regina turns her hand over so that their palms are pressed together, lacing their fingers together. Regina's skin is cold, and she's got the same callouses on her fingers that Emma does, her thin fingers rough from their time on the ship.

"We will," Regina agrees with a decisive nod, and then squeezes Emma's hand gently. In the distance, Neverland's nothing more than a shadow, barely visible in the moonlight.

They stay like that for the rest of the night, their hands clasped between them as the ship sways gently in the ebb and flow of the tide and the stars disappear, the sky turning from black to grey with the dawn.