Emma Swan hummed to herself as she strolled up the walkway to Regina and Robin's home, playfully splashing through a small puddle. The spring afternoon was chilly, rain falling steadily from a dark cloudy sky. Good thing she'd worn her heaviest coat and waterproof boots. Neatly pruned rose bushes lined both sides of the gravel path, their masses of tiny new leaves glistening with raindrops. Above the sodden expanse of lawn, the pale walls of the house rose majestically, and Emma could see that the silk drapes of the big picture windows had been flung wide.
As she reached the front door, it opened to reveal a smiling Regina. "Hi Emma - Come on in."
"Hey, Regina." Emma wiped her boots on the welcome mat, and stepped inside, water dripping from her knit cap and plaid jacket. Shrugging out of the wet coat, she pulled the cap from her head, and then hung both items on the clothes tree beside the door. "That's better," she murmured, shaking out her long blonde hair. "Where's Mom and my kid bro?"
Regina gestured towards the back of the house. "They're in the kitchen. Snow and I have been baking, so It's warm and cozy in there."
Following Regina into the spacious kitchen, Emma waved cheerfully at her mother, who was perched on a tall stool at the kitchen bar. Beside her, little baby Neal lay peacefully asleep in his carrier, oblivious to the world.
"Hello, dear," Snow White said, smiling over the rim of her cup.
"Hi Mom." Emma sniffed appreciatively. "Mmmmm - it smells yummy in here. What did you guys make?"
"Chocolate chip cookies," Regina replied. "And we also made a huge pizza, with lots of cheese, grilled chicken, and organic veggies. We'll pop it in the oven when the guys get back from fishing, and serve it with salad, and a nice bottle of wine." As she handed a plate of warm, freshly baked cookies to Emma, a fond grin creased her face. "Help yourself."
Emma selected a cookie, and took a big bite. "Perfect!" she declared, moving to the bar. She bit into the cookie again, and with a sigh of contentment, dropped onto the stool next to her mother.
"Tea?" Snow asked, setting a clean cup and saucer in front of her daughter. Emma nodded, her mouth full of cookie.
Regina picked up the porcelain teapot. Steam rose in a fragrant cloud of mint, ginger, and cinnamon, as she carefully poured the herbal mixture into Emma's cup. "So, how are the wedding preparations going?"
Emma lifted the cup to her lips, and blew on the tea to cool it. "It's going great - We're almost finished, with just a few things left to do."
"I wish you'd let your father and I help you with the wedding," Snow said wistfully. "I don't understand why you insist on doing everything yourselves."
Emma smiled to soften her words. “It was sweet of you guys to offer, but Killian and I want our wedding kept simple, so it's just easier to do things our own way. Besides, you and Dad already have a very important role to play during the ceremony.”
Her mother immediately brightened. "Yes, we do – and it’s an absolutely lovely honor."
“Anyway, since I stayed in town today, I met with Belle at the florist shop, to look at flower samples."
Snow's expression was curious. "That sounds like fun. What did you choose?"
"Well, there were so many amazing flowers, it was a little difficult for me to decide. But Belle had some great ideas, which worked perfectly with what I'd been envisioning. And she's able to provide everything at a very reasonable cost too." She took a sip of tea. "It's going to be beautiful, but I can't tell you guys anymore than that, because I want to keep it all a surprise until the wedding."
"I'm sure it will be wonderful," Regina commented. "But why not just magic it all up?"
"Well, since I created my bridal gown with magic, I wanted to go the more traditional route with the flowers. Besides, why not give some business to a friend? When Moe retired, Belle took over the florist shop, and she's doing a brilliant job. It gives her a nice business of her own, and pays better then the library, although she still works there part-time. You know what a devoted book worm she is."
"What does Rumple think of her new enterprise?" Regina asked.
"Well, it's really entirely up to Belle, isn't it? But as far as I know, Rumple is being very supportive."
"As well a husband should be," Snow put in tartly. "Speaking of husbands - and lovers..." She winked at Emma and Regina. "What on earth induced our men folk to go out fishing in the pouring rain? I just hope that Henry and Roland don't catch a chill."
"Actually, I was tempted to go with them," Emma replied, draining her cup, and reaching for another cookie. "But it's been awhile since Dad and Killian had any time off, so when Leroy invited all of us to go out on his fishing boat this morning, I told them to just go on their own, and I'd cover the sheriff's office today." She bit into the second cookie, savoring its sweetness. "With some time out for flowers and goodies, of course."
"David and Leroy wanted me to come along, but I told them I'd much rather stay on dry land," Snow said. "It's way too cold to take the baby out on a boat."
"It was nice of Leroy to invite Robin and the kids," Regina murmured.
Emma raised an eyebrow. "Were you included in that invitation?"
"I was," Regina admitted. "Must be an awfully big fishing boat to accommodate that many people. Frankly, knowing how Leroy feels about me, I was surprised to be invited. In fact, he was strangely insistent that I should come along - he was quite pushy about it, too. But I declined, since I don't like roughing it - Especially not in the rain. Much nicer here in my own lovely warm kitchen."
"That it is," Emma agreed.
"You know," Snow ventured. "Leroy was pretty pushy with me too - Almost to the point of being rude."
Emma frowned, and stared into her empty cup. "Hmmm - Now that I think about it, this is all damned odd. Usually Leroy only invites Killian and me, or Killian and Henry, to go fishing with him. It's a little ritual he started after Killian saved his life last year. Besides, it's not a very big boat, and Leroy's not particularly social. Yet this morning, he wanted all of us to come along - and with a storm brewing." She glanced up, her jade eyes meeting those of her mother and Regina. The sudden alarm on their faces mirrored her own.
The storm hit, just as they decided to leave the open sea, and head back to port. Wind whipped across the slate gray water with a vengeance, flinging torrents of icy rain and sea spray into Killian's face, as he struggled to keep Leroy's battered fishing trawler afloat. Waves washed across the deck, almost sending David, who stood beside him, overboard. A few feet away, Robin Hood was clinging to the railing, his body angled to shield Henry and Roland from the sudden deluge.
"Get them below!" Killian yelled. "Bigger waves are coming!" Frantically, he turned the ship's wheel sharply to the right, as another towering wave suddenly appeared, and crashed over the boat. For a moment, they were nearly submerged, then as the wave ebbed, the little vessel righted itself, water streaming from its decks. As it sank into another swell, Killian chanced a glance around. Robin was herding the boys to the hatch, and in a moment, they had safely disappeared below decks.
"Where the hell is Leroy?" Killian shouted, straining to be heard above the fury of the storm.
"I don't know," David yelled back. "Was he swept overboard?"
The pirate shook his head. "I haven't seen him in the last five minutes, but I don't think he's in the cabin, or overboard. It's the strangest thing - One moment, he was standing at the wheel, scowling as usual -and then, just as the storm hit, he literally disappeared into thin air. Thank the gods, I was nearby, and able to grab the wheel."
"Something's not right," David agreed, bracing himself against the rising wind. "Is it normal for a big squall like this to just appear out of nowhere?"
Grimly, Killian steered the boat through another enormous wave, attempting to turn the craft towards the safety of the bay. "Aye, sometimes the weather can take a sudden turn for the worst - but I sense this is something else entirely." He scanned the sky, uneasily noting the heavy rain clouds darkening the horizon. Lightning suddenly arched overhead, and with a booming flash, shot towards the boat. It glanced off the prow, and the smell of ozone and burning wood filled the air.
"That was damned close!" David cried.
"We can't take much more of this," Killian replied. "We must get back to harbor before the storm takes the boat - and us with it - down into the depths!"
As the craft rocked violently in the surging waves, there was a deafening roar, and an eerie glow materialized about four hundred feet ahead of the prow - a glittering mass of purple energy that spun darkly above the water. Desperately, Killian turned the wheel with every bit of strength he possessed, and as the boat fought the sea, he flung out his hand, hurling the bright light of his magic towards the vortex that was inexorably dragging them towards its maw.