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++ Emma ++


Groaning expressively, I feel consciousness swim woozily through my skull and flesh, which all ache abysmally. What the hell happened? The last thing I remember is negotiating my deal with the giant and rushing back to free Hook from the pile of rubble before I was gonna chain him in place so that I could get the hell out of here...

Something is wrong, seriously wrong. There are all sorts of body signals rushing in that are not mine. They are nothing like mine. After twenty-eight years in my nice, familiar body, I know what I should feel like.

This is not my body.

I don't know what the hell this is.

It's big, lumpy, uncomfortable and... well, cold. Some of the sensations are familiar, but just don't feel right. Blinking my eyes open, I’m confronted with a hazy, unfocused image that might be my arm, it's hard to tell.

What the hell?

Reaching towards my watering, inexplicably unfocused eyes, I yowl in pain as I rock my head back with a hard fist in the eye.

"Son of a...!"

Several things register at once, several impossible things. Rolling onto my back reveals that the bizarre body sensations are not my imagination. My voice is completely foreign and I am nearly stark naked.

Blinking wildly against the pain and tears, my contact lens falls out, causing familiar panic. I hate losing the damn things and how the hell am I going to see in this foreign place and...

Focus, Emma!

The hand cupped protectively near my face is not mine. God, I’m getting sick of that thought. It's a big, masculine appendage, attached to a thick, powerful forearm... and it's responding to my brain.

Shrieking in alarm and shock, I scrabble backward, as though I can escape the impossible. Rugged stone rasps over my palms and ass and heels, crashing into my back as I reach an obstacle and stare in mindless horror at my body.

Thickly muscled and distinctly male, its both mine and completely alien. The utterly incongruous sight of that flaccid dick lolling out of my hot pink thong makes me half giggle in hysterical despair. What the hell has happened to me?

The left eye, free of my contact lens, is completely in focus, a sensation I haven't experienced since puberty. Warily, I reach up with one of the strange meathooks and rub at my right eye with the callused heel until the other lens starts to slip so I can blink it out. Yep, not imaging what I’ve been staring at, now in perfect 20/20 clarity.

Gingerly sitting up is finally too much for the strained thong. For a moment I can feel how painfully tight its pulled against my crotch and hips, and then the left side snaps loose. My clothing is lying with half the seams torn out in some perverse parody of those police chalk outlines of a murder victim like in those old movies.

Oh my fucking god, what weird shit has magic done now?

Jerking my eyes away from my new body, I see a hand peeking out from beneath the rubble that buried Hook. That is the last thing I remember before waking, reaching in to pull him out... Only now, peeking out from his black embroidered shirt, is a delicate and distinctly feminine hand.

That solidifies it. I am not imagining this. Carefully getting onto my hands and knees-- how the fuck am I supposed to control this gangly, massive body-- I creep over and grab for that small hand. As I did with my eye, I smash my fingertips into the floor by overreaching, and whimper in pain.

"Focus, Emma," I whisper in my strange new voice and reach out slowly until I can curl thick fingers around the small hand and pull carefully. It doesn't take much effort for the slender, female body to slide out of the hollow beneath the fallen roof pieces and I stare. Head lolled off to one side where I dropped her... him, whatever, she looks sweet and pretty and innocent. A long head full of lustrous dark hair makes me reach up, cracking myself in the head again, to feel that my own hair is short and thick, the rasp of stubble startling my skin as my fingers brush against my cheek.

It's like... we've kinda switched. Hook's still dark-haired but has close to my build and long locks. Grabbing the left arm confirms that the stump is still there, the wicked silver hook hanging loosely. I appear to be a bit bulkier and more muscular, but have short hair and a scruffy beard.

Moving cautiously, wary of damaging my hands any more, I grab the black leather pants that are a half million sizes too big on the transformed Hook. Wriggling around, I manage to shove my ungainly legs into them after peeling off the painfully tight socks, one of them splitting in a massive run that would make nylons cry. An effort to get into the tall, soft boots doesn't work and I leave my companion in the shirt and vest so each of us is only half naked. Then I doggedly go back to my original plan, grabbing the shackle to put it around Hook's small wrist, but pausing as I note a strange symbols etched into it. Could this be the cause of our genders being switched?

The last time I had this much damn trouble standing up, I must have been in diapers, or drunk out of my damn mind. Wavering like a sapling in a hurricane, I’m up for only a moment before collapsing in a heap.

"This bites."

After several falls, I manage to retrace my steps and grab Jack's sword, hoping I don't stab myself to death. I notice a pile of dusty scraps of fabric nearly as big as this new body and realize that I should cover up more than I am. So I haul my booty back to the pirate and painstakingly rip one of the rags to strips and tie the woman up before stuffing her back into the hollow beneath the stones. With effort, she'll be able to wiggle loose, once the shock wears off. The rest of rags I use to cover up my cold torso and wrap more of them around my waist, before doing the same with the golden chain and shackle that had been originally meant for Hook. Stashing the sword at the small of my back, I also grab the ripped remains of my brown leather jacket to fumble around until the compass falls out of the pocket. At least this hellish transformation won't be for nothing. Hanging the compass around my neck, I take one last glance at where Hook's body is hidden and stagger for the entry hole the giant uncovered for me earlier.

Some rational part of me knows I’m panicking, driven on by shock and pain.

That animal fear forces me down the damn beanstalk, every motion of this unfamiliar body threatening to make me fumble, and I can imagine my strange new body smashed to chunky salsa against the ground far, far below. Somehow, my slips never quite completely yank me away from the massive plant stalk, though there are some terrifyingly close calls that will probably give me nightmares.

Yet despite everything, the ground is actually growing closer, a sign of hope that balances out the panic and exhaustion still dogging me after all these hours of climbing and everything that happened at the castle in the clouds. More than halfway down, another surge of fear blasts coldly through me as I remember my instructions to Mulan.

Ten hours.

If I didn't make it back in ten hours, she was to hack the beanstalk to the ground, my safety be damned. And some well-honed survival instinct in the back of my brain is screaming that I’m running out of time.

When the violent ripple of power races up the beanstalk, it's both a terror and a relief from the unknown. This is how it will end. Too far from the ground for my body to survive a fall with a plant as big around as a lighthouse and hundreds of feet tall.

Really, there are some days that I just miss my plain, pathetic life before Henry showed up on my doorstep.

My body, still frighteningly clumsy, but doggedly clinging like a burr, is still moving. I'm driven on by the small figures of my companions below, the promise of solid ground and trees and safety. Well safety compared to what the hell I’m doing now.

Scrabbling, falling and catching a leaf bigger than my new torso, I rush as much as I can. Jamming my aching, half-frozen feet into every nook and cranny they feel out, grabbing at every handhold, moving with some lizard-brained instinct that I just let take over in hopes that maybe I might actually survive.

When the ground does finally drive the breath out of my oversized body, it is not with deadly force at all, though it does jar the hell out of me. Absolutely wasted from the physical and emotional effort, I can only pant and try to calm myself.


++ Mary Margaret ++

Foregoing my attempts to beat the daylights out of Mulan for threatening my child, I hear the noisy grunt of impact around the far curve of the beanstalk. In a heartbeat, my quarry is forgotten and I am up and moving, crying out Emma's name.

But the huddled figure is not my Emma, but a heavily muscled man I’ve never met before.

Whoever he is, he cringes away as though expecting violence and I’m completely at a loss.

"Who the hell are you?"

Breathing heavily, he doesn't move for a moment before his head tilts up and I’m looking into a pair of wet, miserable eyes.

That are a mirror of my own.

Like some cheesy damsel in distress, my hand flies up to cover my gaping mouth and I actually step back. And narrowly miss impaling myself on Mulan's damn sword. Unsurprisingly, I can sense Aurora hanging back, her confusion clear.

"I...," the strange man starts to say, the deep voice cracking alarmingly. "I touched something, me and Hook. And... and I woke up like this!"

He's wailing like a frightened child and, despite my shock, I cannot resist that primitive plea for aid. So I push down Mulan's threatening blade and make my way over the strange, handsome man... who is my daughter. He shies away like a terrified animal when I wrap gentle arms around his head, pressing the short nap of darkly gold hair to my shoulder. "Emma, Emma, it's going to be okay. I'm here. Shhhh..."

One thick arm bashes me in the stomach, but I ignore the hit as it finally manages to snake around my waist in a suffocating grip. Emma is bawling, a complete loss of control I wouldn't even believed she is capable of.

But even the strongest and most reticent of personalities would be shattered by... this.

It takes a few minutes for Emma to calm before she... he jerks his head back and stares at me, owl-eyed. Despite the shock of this magical transformation, I find myself relived to see strong hints of James in the handsome face.

"You're not freaked out."

Smiling lovingly, I brush a hand over his forehead and soft bangs. "Oh, sure I am, but I would know your eyes anywhere. After all, I’ve been looking at them my whole life. You said you touched something?"

"Uh, yeah, yeah," Emma stammers, clearly trying to get her... his act together. "I think it was a gold shackle and chain I was going to use on Hook. I brought it with me, but no one else better touch it, in case I’m right."

A wide-eyed Mulan steps up beside me, pauses and then takes a half-step back. After giving herself a shake, she kneels by Emma's feet to peer at them. "You've cut yourself. Sit still."


++ Mulan ++

Whatever the truth is about what has happened to Emma Swan, it has no bearing on my treatment of the scraped and bloodied soles. Wounded feet can be a death sentence to a soldier who must walk and that cannot happen. We have too many things to accomplish in order to return our companions to the world from which they came.

So, rather than stare and feel helpless and useless, I do what I do best and make myself useful.

"Aurora! Will you bring me the waterskin?"

Shaking off her shock, she does as asked. I use a small piece of bandage to scrub off the bare feet before using a small amount of salve and wrapping them.

"You will need some sort of shoes to protect your feet."

"Here," the strange, masculine voice says roughly and she... he clumsily unwinds a ragged bundle of leather from the mass of rags he wears. "Use this. It's useless to me now."

"Your jacket. But this is not unlike your armor. I can't. When you return to yourself, you can have the jacket repaired."

"Mulan," Emma sighs, and for a moment it's easier to see the strange and powerful person that I have been traveling with, despite this stunning transformation. "It's just a jacket. I only thought to grab it because I actually had the brain cells to remember this."

We all stare at the heavy gold compass that he lifts from where it hangs around his neck. "You found it," Snow White breathes in wonder and her smile is luminous. "I knew you would."

With my dagger, I measure the length of his feet and roughly hack out soles from the brown leather. "I need something for laces."

"I have something that might work," Aurora volunteers as I punch small slits around the mock sandals. A length of fancy silk cord glittering with silver thread dangles at my shoulder.

"Did you tell her to cut it down?"

This is a conversation that my charge and I should not be listening to, but retreat would call attention to us at this point. Snow hides her hurt in the lecturing tone and Emma squirms uncomfortably, making me grip his ankle so that I can finish with the sandal.

"Yes. I couldn't risk..."

"We go back together, that is the only way. Do you understand?"

Mother and child share a hug, with little hesitation over the stunning changes wrought on Emma.

"Yeah," he murmurs quietly and sits still while I finish with his feet and stand to offer a hand.

"Let's get you upright to check the efficiency of my work."

Neither of us is expecting the strength of the pull and I manage to not sprawl all over him, but not by much. The familiar eyes blink owlishly, but I regain my balance and hold up a hand to stop the apology.

"Don't pull, just keep your arm and torso muscles tense. Ready?"

This time he manages to help me lever him to clumsy feet, hissing with pain. I don't let go, letting him use my hand and shoulder for balance as he tries to adjust. I am reminded of learning to live in the weight of armor, how clumsy and heavy and awkward it made me feel.

"Got it?" Snow asks gently as Emma's now large and very masculine body struggles to balance.

"For now."

"Good. Now, let's go get that dust from Cora."

"Yeah, and go home."


++ Emma ++


It felt like we'd walked forever and exhaustion was black around the edges of my vision by the time we finally stopped. At least the others allowed me to collapse in an uncomfortable pile to pass out, knowing I would be useless in helping with camp. I can barely coordinate this stupid body and even digging a latrine would be past my capabilities right now. My sleep is mostly dark, but plagued with visions of what may happen when others that know me see me like this. I'm tortured with fears of how I will survive this clumsiness and this quest we're all on.

I have never felt so fearful or useless in my life.

A poke in the shoulder pushes back the darkness and that strange, deep voice moans, my chest vibrating in sympathy, my uncomfortable new body aching and stiff.

Dammit. Not a bad dream then.

That insistent hand pushes at my shoulder, rolling my limp self over and I blearily blink my eyes open. Mulan almost smiles, her eyes as gentle as I’ve seen. "We do not wish to wake you, Emma, but we must press on."

Grunting and mumbling, I accept her helping hand again, sitting up and letting my blood flow remember where the hell it's supposed to go in this new body. Suddenly I get a nasty, sharp need from the vicinity of my bladder.

"Oh god," I groan harshly, really, really wanting for this to just not be happening. "Help me up, quick, or I swear I’m going to embarrass myself."

On unsteady feet, I hobble away from her, waving off a concerned Mary Margaret and nearly sagging against the nearest tree.

When I woke to this incomprehensible change, this mundane need had never occurred to me, but there's no getting away from it now. With my forehead braced to the scratchy bark, I slowly move clumsy, shaking hands and yank open the laces on the front of the stolen leather pants. Blindly, I fish out that incongruous and painfully sensitive organ, emptying my aching bladder and groaning in painful relief. Frankly, I’m shocked I didn't wet myself. At least it's easier to clean up, though the idea of shaking the stupid thing makes me cringe. Getting everything respectable again is painful with my klutzy hands, but I manage to get laced up semi-decently before stepping away from the tree that braced me though the whole ordeal

"Thanks," I murmur and pat the bark before stepping around its bulk to face my companions again.

Without acknowledging what they may or may not have heard, they bustle about, a meat roll shoved into my hand as our few things are shouldered and we move out. Part of me wants to object to carrying nothing but my skin and sword. The rest of me is grateful for the break.

A long time passes in relative quiet, only Mary Margaret and Mulan speaking to compare notes on navigation. When we break for lunch, I collapse once again, barely rousing for water, a few cold veggies and a drumstick of something I can't even identify.

I'm never going to get used to this bizarre place...


Aurora's hesitant voice rouses me from a light doze and I blink up at the girl. She still looks unnerved, not that I blame her, but is making a good effort to hide it.

"What happened to Hook?"

Not the question I would have expected at all. The memory of the dark-haired woman left in that arrogant jerk's place fills my mind's eye and I have to hope that he... she got out safely. Haltingly, I retell what happened at the giant's castle, knowing all three of them are listening. Even once we get underway again, I continue to pour my guts out, until I’m too weary to speak and plod along in a numb haze.

Even Aurora waking from a nightmare late in the day as we break for the evening, babbling that she met Henry is some bizarre netherworld, barely cuts through my daze. Luckily, some part of me, not driven insane by this impossible change, remembers that I have a beat up picture of Henry in my jacket pocket. And, by some miracle, Mulan has kept the scraps.

"The boy you saw in your dream, is this him?"

"Yes, that's Henry."

"That's impossible. It was a dream." This is baffling and I just can't get my head around it. Weakly, I add, "How could you dream of my son?"

"I have no idea."

It's obvious that it kills Aurora to not be more of a help. I understand her feeling helpless; I understand it all too well.

"Maybe it wasn't a dream."

Okay that makes us all stop and collectively stare at Mary Margaret.


Yes, that really is all I manage to stammer out.

She and Aurora talk about red rooms of flame, about sleeping curses, about a way home through a dream. Feeling sick at the thought of home, I want to just give up, make them leave me here, curled up on this floor of this damn impossible forest. My life as I once knew it is over, time and time again this has happened to me since Henry showed up on my doorstep. What will happen now? I am trapped in the body of stranger, clumsy enough to endanger my life, unrecognizable to the boy I’ve grown to love.

Sniffling miserably, I can't even find the strength to stir when heavy boots crunch close, leather armor creaks and the rustle of a cloak on the forest floor brushes my ears. "When I lost my homeland," Mulan speaks very, very softly, like the breeze high in the trees. "I too wanted to give up. However, I found that there is always something to live for, Emma Swan. Come, let us help you find a new task. Take my hand."

And, with no strength of my own, I can only rely on hers.


++ Mulan ++

I do not like the risks that Aurora is taking for these strangers, but I do understand it. In honor of my vow to Prince Phillip, I have attempted to talk her out of it, but she is stronger than she seems and is adamant about her choice. I will respect that and help as best I am able.

At the moment she is sleeping, keeping her vow to speak with Henry in the netherworld. Snow fusses over her transformed daughter, who looks like he would bolt if he could. That is a situation that will require a light hand, a blade of grass in a breeze, not a great tree in a typhoon.

As though the universe has heard my thoughts, bodies suddenly burst from the undergrowth, stinking of death. The horde is sticky with putrid blood, skin rotting away and gaping wounds where hearts should be. I think they may have been the other survivors from the camp, but they are monsters now. They will not take us, not while I have breath to fight. Roughly, I shake Aurora, for as always, she is my top priority.

Thankfully, she finally begins to rouse, even as I bash away one of the lumbering undead.

"Henry wasn't finished!"

"The time for that is over."

Driven by my need to protect this nearly helpless woman, I grab her, fight my way through the shambling horde, and leave the strangers behind. Even as she objects, voice shrill and angry, I push her hard, crowd her body with mine; all the while hacking at the walking corpses with the gaping, stinking holes where their hearts should be.

People I once knew that Cora has killed mercilessly.

And somehow she has given them some sort of false life and set them upon us. Later, when we are away from this, I will be very, very disturbed.

Were there so many of us, adrift in the empty world that was once home to so many more? They keep coming, challenging my strength, my skill, my determination. But, at long last, I begin to best them...

Only to find that I have failed anyway.

Panicked, I search in vain, finally brought up short by Snow's arrow, aimed between my eyes.

"They took her. Aurora's gone."


++ Emma ++

Battered and sore and shocked as hell to be alive, I stumble after Mary Margaret and Mulan, tripping and somehow managing to pick myself up over and over again to continue on. I have never hurt like this, an all over body soreness that has reduced me to little more than an animal, trying to survive.

Some giant black bird had swooped out of nowhere earlier to land on a completely calm Mary Margaret's shoulder to deliver a message. Well, if I needed proof that she really is Snow White, I guess talking to birds would do it. Cora has Aurora and it hasn't been easy to keep Mulan from away from the compass still slung around my torso.

We have one last shot. The sleeping potion that Mulan gave me to knock out the giant is made from some sort of poppy. We're crashing through the forest like women... people possessed, driven by desperation and fear for our loved ones.

Everything is fuzzy, my ears, my lungs, my eyes. At this point I have no idea if that's just my condition or my fixed eyes were some sort of brief fluke. Maybe this... thing is wearing off?

Mulan is saying something about dead woods and poppies, forcing me to focus. That makes me notice that Mary Margaret looks agitated.

"You okay?

"Yeah, I’m fine."

Without thinking, I grab her arm-- too hard of course-- and jerk her to a halt. "Hey, wait. Wait. No, you look nervous. This netherworld... how bad is it? What's it like?"

She clearly doesn't want to answer, eyes shifty, but sighs and gives in, pulling at me to keep moving. "It's like you're, umm... lost, drifting in the dark. No one to talk to, nothing to do except think of all the people that you love, and how you'll never see them again."

"Henry was lost in that dark too, because of me." My anguish runs deep, this failure to the son I’ve grown to love. Mary Margaret pauses again to peer at me curiously.

"What are you talking about?"

"He tried so hard to convince me I was the savior."

"Stop it," she tells me, clearly exasperated. This is a side to my former roommate I haven't really seen before. "Stop it. No one would've believed Henry's stories."

"But his mother..." I choke on the word, "should have."


++ Mary Margaret ++

It's time for me to step up and reassure this adult child of mine. Somewhat roughly, I shake a heavy shoulder to refocus her... his wandering attention. "Okay, you want to play the blame game? If I hadn't told Cora about Regina's true love, Cora never would have killed him. Regina wouldn't want revenge. The curse never would have happened. We could spend all day trying to figure out why each of us should feel guilty, but it won't help us get home."

Those big, wet puppy eyes should be outlawed, they're nearly irresistible. "You really think we're going to make it back?"

Adoring this person, no matter what form he may have, I curl a hand over his shoulder and smile. "If there's one thing your father's taught me, it's not to give up. Now, it's time to go back to sleep."

Emma is still conflicted, but follows me anyway as we hustle to catch up with Mulan. She has thankfully found the flower, a beautiful scarlet gem in this dense forest.

"It's beautiful."

Ignoring my admiration, Mulan cuts the delicate bloom and busies herself over it. Somehow, the loss of the rare flower hurts and I don't quite understand why.

"I'll use my dagger to crush the seeds," Mulan explains even as she goes about the task. "We're doing this the old-fashioned way."

Paralyzed with nerves, I find a cushioned spot at the base of an enormous tree and settle down. My fear is sharp and memories of that hellish place make it difficult to not broadcast to a clearly worried Emma. She... he, is still plenty astute, despite his own trauma.

"The powder's nearly ready," Mulan volunteers as though reading my thoughts and I try to be analytical about this.

"How long will the effects last?"

"It's difficult to say. Maybe an hour, or much less."

"Well, I shouldn't need much time. As long Henry's in there when I am."

Carefully folding himself up, Emma scoots close enough to take one of my small hands in his. "I'll be right here. Say hi to my son for me."

I want to say something to be reassuring, or to be reassured myself, but there are no words forthcoming. The hazel green eyes, dark with worry and vulnerability are the last thing I see as Mulan blows the dust at me and darkness closes in.