A/N So, I hope you don't mind, but I've gone backwards a bit. While waiting for inspiration to strike from the latest episode (2x08), episode 2x02 just aired in my country and I thought I might fill the gap between the time Mulan and Aurora found Emma and Snow (end of 2x01) and when Cora emerges from the gloom inside Emma and Snow's prison (end of 2x02). So if you haven't seen any of that, spoilers ahead (except for the parts I've added)! Although, from what I just described, didn't I just spoil you anyway...?
Muffled voices called through a fog, thick and murky.
The impact of a thick, woody object could be felt far below.
"Why don't we just kill them?"
Those were the first words Emma Swan heard as someone's staff once again connected with her side.
She felt closed in, surrounded on all sides. Something hard on one side, like debris left over from a run-down building, crumbly and sharp. And something soft on the other side. Warm and familiar...
Her own voice screaming. She never screamed. What made her have such an uncharacteristic reaction?
Emma opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was Mary Margaret's face. It was then Emma realised that the something soft on her other side was, in fact, her friend-turned-mother. And her hand gripped Emma's jacket at the collar as if she were clinging to life itself.
What is she doing here? Emma wondered. What are we doing here?
Where exactly was here?
"One of them's waking up."
And it was at that moment that Emma really woke up.
And she remembered.
The swirling purple/black vortex made by Jefferson's hat. A thin, whip-like hand wrapping around her leg, dragging her into the abyss meant only for the wraith. And then the screaming.
Who wouldn't scream at that?
Emma blinked her eyes and focused on Mary Margaret. Her friend looked peacefully asleep. But, the vice-like grip on her jacket told Emma she was anything but peaceful.
"Hey. Get up!" the voice demanded.
Emma turned her head. Her eyes locked onto a woman in what appeared to be some sort of warrior's costume. Then she saw the sword gleaming in the sunlight and recalled her battle with a dragon, what felt like eons ago.
Probably not a costume...
Emma forced herself up onto her hands and stared in curiosity at the woman standing beside the warrior. Her clothes were strange too, but not half as fierce.
"Who are you?" the warrior demanded again. "Why did you send the wraith to us?"
Emma opened her mouth to speak and then promptly shut it again. What was she supposed to say? She didn't know who this warrior or her companion were, she didn't know where she was, though it clearly wasn't the airless void Regina had made it out to be. And she didn't know if Mary...
Emma looked down to see Mary Margaret opening her eyes and squinting in the light. Taking in the situation, she became alert in a hurry and sat up beside Emma. After sizing up the warrior woman and her friend, she turned to Emma.
"Are you ok?" she asked quietly, her eyes wide with concern.
Emma's reaction to such a question was immediate.
I'm freaking out.
"I'm fine," she said automatically. She swallowed. "You?"
Mary Margaret nodded to indicate she, too, was quite alright.
"Enough with the happy reunion," the warrior woman said belligerently. "Get up!" This time she drew her sword and Emma and Mary Margaret both scrambled to their feet and stepped over the debris from what they'd broken with their fall.
What do we do? Emma thought, as the woman continued to hold the sword up, ready to cut them down with a wrong move. Knifepoint she could handle. Maybe even gunpoint.
There was no precedent for swordpoint. Nor was there a precedent for the way Mary Margaret held her arm and pulled her back a little, so that Emma stood slightly behind her.
A barrier between Emma and danger.
There was something in Mary Margaret's stance, something in her steady gaze, the way she held her shoulders, that seemed to ease Emma's mind somewhat.
While Emma floundered, Mary Margaret exuded confidence.
And it was at that moment that Emma remembered who Mary Margaret was supposed to be. And it was as if their roles tangibly switched through the air. Emma was the weak link. Emma had no idea where they were. Emma had never had to fight against someone with a sword.
"Who are you?" the woman asked again, taking a step toward them.
Mary Margaret shook her head.
"We will tell you nothing until we have answers of our own," she said defiantly.
The warrior woman sneered and jerked her head toward her companion.
"Get the horses." She remained still, glaring at them for long minutes until the other woman arrived with a pair of horses. She sheathed her sword and disappeared around one side of the horses, rummaging around in some sort of pack.
Mary Margaret looked back at Emma. She smiled briefly, as if to reassure her.
"It's ok. She won't kill us."
Emma raised her eyebrows.
"You sure about that?"
Mary Margaret nodded.
"She wants answers as much as we do. She'll take us somewhere she can keep us contained. Hopefully, it'll be a town or something. Then I might be able to get my bearings."
"Mary Margaret, where are we?" Emma hated how plaintive and small her voice suddenly sounded. She was a grown woman, not a child!
"I'm not sure yet," Mary Margaret replied honestly. "But, I think we're closer to my kingdom than we are to Storybrooke right now." She watched as the warrior approached them, her hands full of ropes. "Just follow my lead. We'll be just fine."
The warrior tied Mary Margaret first, as if she instinctively knew that she was the bigger threat. Emma watched in disbelief as the ropes were knotted and checked over. She should fight, shouldn't she? Wrestle that sword away from the warrior and cut their way to freedom. The thought had barely entered her head when she saw Mary Margaret shake her head slightly.
As if she had read the look on Emma's face.
So, Emma allowed her own wrists to be bound.
The first jerk forward caught her by surprise and she tripped, sprawling on the ground and landing on her knees. She winced as she felt skin being grazed beneath her clothes.
Mary Margaret reached forward with her bound hands and grabbed Emma's arm, pulling her to her feet. As she withdrew, she ran her hands along Emma's arm, a touch meant to reassure, give comfort. And Emma, to her surprise, found herself wishing it would last a little longer. That touch seemed to be the most normal thing that had happened in days.
"No more talking!" the warrior snapped from astride the horse and began moving forward at a walk which was slow for her horse, but somewhat uncomfortable for the two prisoners struggling behind.
It was impossible to establish any kind of rhythm. The ropes jerked Emma and Mary Margaret this way and that and if there was a slight obstacle, the horse simply stepped over it while the two prisoners were forced to stumble over and through. It didn't take long for the constant rubbing of the ropes to cause a welt to appear on Emma's wrists and even less time for it to be a constant source of burning.
And, still, they stumbled on.
Emma tried to shut her mind down and walk on autopilot. She was aware of Mary Margaret glancing over at her occasionally and felt almost relieved that the warrior woman had forbidden them to speak to each other. What kind of conversation could they possibly have anyway? Perhaps Mary Margaret would want to 'talk' the way she had tried to back in Storybrooke. When Emma had shut her down with a guilt trip about "which curse was worse."Emma wished they could stop so she could think, so she could get her head around all the strange happenings of the past few days, but the constant movement meant she couldn't concentrate on anything other than the next step. This time it was she who unwittingly looked over at Mary Margaret, still walking determinedly, stoically. She didn't have time to look away when Mary Margaret caught her eye and smiled encouragingly.
And, despite her efforts at remaining distant and unaffected, that smile was all it took for Emma to take the next step.
And the next.
Eventually, they emerged from the hilly landscape and were led out into the open and walked along some kind of grim shoreline. The day was grey and chilly and the air was damp. It didn't immediately smell salty so Emma couldn't tell if it was the ocean or a giant lake.
"What is this place?" Emma couldn't resist calling out.
The warrior stared long and hard toward the horizon before answering.
They walked toward a spit of land half covered by a wispy mist. At least the path leading toward their destination was more dirt than debris now. After another mile or so of being dragged along, they arrived in some sort of village. The atmosphere was subdued until the people working there spotted the prisoners and reacted with surprise, even shock. Their meagre possessions and dirty clothes reminded Emma of images she had seen on TV.
"It's like they're refugees," she said to Mary Margaret.
"We're survivors," came a snappy reply from behind her.
Emma was so preoccupied with what she was seeing that she didn't notice the plan Mary Margaret was putting into action until she heard a voice shouting her name.
Her head whipping around, Emma's response was automatic and she charged off with Mary Margaret. Somehow she passed her and ran ahead.
If we can just make it to the trees, we have a chance, Emma thought desperately. She spurred herself on until...
A thump. A groan.
Emma looked back to see Mary Margaret motionless on the ground, her bound hands stretched out in front of her.
Emma was sure her heart stopped beating for a second at the sight.
No. No. No. No. No.
"Mary Margaret!" she called out hoarsely, running back and dropping to her knees beside the unconscious woman. She turned her over. "Mary Margaret!" As their captors surrounded them, she looked up at them in horror. "What did you do?"
The warrior remained unfazed by her outburst.
"Take them to the pit," she commanded and Emma felt herself being grabbed from behind and dragged away. As she was manhandled along, she tried to stay in view of Mary Margaret, as if to reassure herself that she was ok. It was at that moment that Emma felt the real fear that came from knowing she was alone. If Mary Margaret wasn't ok...
They were led to a door and Emma was pushed inside the pit. A moment later, the guards brought Mary Margaret in and dumped her unceremoniously on the ground. Emma felt a surge of anger and protectiveness. Had they no compassion?
"Be careful! Be careful!" she cried shrilly, in a panic. She sank to her knees again and carefully turned her friend over, quietly urging her to wake up. She gently shook her, her breathing becoming more shallow as her fear heightened. This couldn't be happening. This couldn't be happening...
"Do you need help?"
Emma turned toward the voice, peering into the shadows. What now? After everything, what could possibly happen now?
"Who are you?" she asked nervously, trying to see through the gloom. She waited as a figure slowly emerged.
"A friend," came the response. As they stepped into the light, Emma watched as a woman appeared, a kind of calm smile on her face. Emma didn't move from Mary Margaret's side as she stared at the woman. She waited for her to speak.
"My name's Cora."