Disclaimer: I don't own Once Upon a Time, nor am I affiliated with Adam Horowitz or Eddy Kitsis. Title of the story is taken from a song by Carina Round. For the hat-trick of things I do not own, see basically everything.
A/N: Hello, this is something I've had floating around my head for awhile. As you'll see, I've tweaked some things around for the purpose of the story. Please let me know what you think, reviews are very much appreciated (: Enjoy!
Emma winced as she slammed into the ground. She had no time to register pain; she had thrown her sword away on impact and her heart pounded with the need to retrieve it. She lunged forward for it, only to shout out in frustration as Hook caught her ankle and dragged her back towards him. She caught a glimpse of his face, snarling and victorious, before Mulan's startled cry caught both of their attention.
The bag containing Aurora's heart flew over their heads, about to plummet straight into the portal. Hook's sharp eyes followed the bag and without warning he took several quick steps closer to the vortex, his fingers still gripped around Emma's ankle. She struggled instinctively against his pull, not realizing what he was doing until it was too late. Using Emma as a means of counterbalance, he had leaned as far over the portal as he dared and was rewarded when the bag fell neatly onto his outstretched hook. Yet he was already dangerously off-balance, and a combination of the effort it took to hurl the bag to a safer place and Emma trying to kick her way out of his grasp proved to be his undoing. The ground around the portal crumbled away underneath Hook's boots and Emma saw a flash of panic in his eyes before he fell backwards. To her own horror, he would not let go of her ankle. Her fingers scraped painfully along the dry earth and rocks as she was drawn closer and closer to the portal's edge but she was unable to find something to anchor herself to. Emma glanced around wildly but her friends were too far away to help as she slid further downwards. She saw the heart land with a soft thud a safe distance away and registered relief before the portal swallowed her whole.
"Em-!" Mary Margaret's scream was cut off by a crashing roar in Emma's ears. Though the portal was in a lake, Emma felt like she was falling through a wind tunnel. She wasn't drowning, which was a fear that had flashed unformed through her mind in the initial moment of descent, but her breath hitched every time she tried to inhale. A curious weightlessness inhabited her body and made the sensation of being pulled down all the more unpleasant. She needed something to hold onto but only air slipped through her outstretched fingers. Thin streams of silvery water twisted around the circular edges with them as they fell, glowing in the darkness. Emma wanted to reach for them but experience told her to think better of it. In spite -or perhaps because of - the dim illumination, she couldn't see Hook. Logically, he would be somewhere beneath her (and God, was that a sentence she would never say aloud) but she had a feeling that magic portals didn't subscribe to the laws of physics.
Had Mary Margaret - or, God no, Cora - jumped in after them? Emma couldn't find her voice to shout out and wouldn't be able to hear a response anyway. Panic, as sharp and biting as the portal's storm, clutched at her chest. Returning to Storybrooke without Mary Margaret was never part of the plan and she hated thinking that she would-
The world shifted and Emma found herself being propelled upwards through a great body of water. Her train of thought derailed completely into incoherent terror until her head broke the surface. An instinctual gasp for air burned her lungs. Waves rolled around her, submerging her just as an attempt at another breath turned into a mouthful of saltwater. She spluttered against the taste, shocked for a moment, before survival instinct brought her back to reality. She kicked against the dragging tide and her heavy clothes and was rewarded with a few more seconds of oxygen. Through the waves Emma could see that chipped tiles, faded with age, covered high-reaching walls. Far above, a sky the color of deep pink loomed. Confusion struck - where am I? - until a new sensation distracted her. The pressure of a solid grip around her arm, hard enough to bruise, fought against the tide to drag her closer and, after a tense moment, won out. The sharp sting of saltwater was replaced by something solid. The world still felt like it was rocking even as her waterlogged clothes weighed her down and Emma tried to grip onto the smooth, slippery tiles. The deep green floor was cold against the cheek she pressed onto it but she couldn't muster the energy to think, let alone move. For a few precious moments all she could do was breathe, gulping in the air so greedily that she almost choked.
"Well. That is a compromising position."
A shot of adrenaline jolted Emma back into action. She rolled herself over onto her back and reached for the sword that, she remembered to her dismay, was no longer there.
"Ah," Hook said, warning her off any further movement the way an adult would admonish a disobedient toddler. He stood over her, the sword that he had somehow managed to hold on to pointing dangerously close to her chin. Emma held eye contact, defiant even as her heart thudded in her chest. She shifted herself into a semi-reclining position using her hands as support. He tracked her every move.
"Looking for your sword?" Hook asked, a spark of victory igniting his eyes. His voice carried easily despite the crashing river beside them. Smug and dangerous and dripping wet, he had never looked more like a pirate. "Seems like you misplaced it. Bad form, sweetheart."
"Bad form is killing someone who can't fight back," she answered, glaring up at him. Though the cold tip of the sword wasn't touching her skin she could almost feel how her throat would slice open under it. She tried not to gulp, instead doing something useful and devising a back-up plan if Hook decided to attack. She couldn't clear her mind enough to think properly and so the plan amounted to "dodge the sword".
At Emma's words, something cold flashed across Hooks' face. It was hard and merciless and gave his beauty a cruel edge, but he relaxed it into his usual self-assured mask before Emma could put a name to the darkness.
"Fortunately for the both of us, I don't intend to kill you."
Emma found this difficult to believe in her current position. Hook read her expression with faint amusement, looking for an instant much more like the man she was used to dealing with than the pirate threatening her life.
"If I wanted you dead, it would have been easier to let you drown," he said, and after a moment sheathed the sword and offered out a hand. Emma stared at it, certain that there was some trick she was missing. Hook kept passing over chances to kill her, first by the portal and now in the river, which could only mean that he had something else in mind. Well, she wouldn't be a pawn in his whatever game he was trying to play. She pushed herself up, ignoring his offer of help, and brushed away the hair that had plastered onto her skin.
"Where are we?" she asked, scanning her surroundings for any hints as Hook pretended not to notice her rejection.
Hook had pulled her onto a ledge mere inches above the waterline that stretched on in both directions as far the river itself, though it was barely wide enough to allow two people to stand side by side. Another bank mirrored their own across the water that, on reflection, seemed smaller than when Emma was drowning in it. An intimidating room, no doubt, and not one that led to answers. Fighting against the frustration and panic that tightened her chest, she turned back to glare at Hook who was shaking the excess water from his long coat with an almost bored expression.
"Where did you take us?" Emma demanded, wishing she still had her sword.
"You mean this isn't your precious Storybrooke?" Hook asked, flicking an unimpressed glance around the space. His tone infuriated her; his dry sarcasm was just as unwelcome as he was.
"We're by a river in an old room, Hook, what do you think?"
Emma wondered if there was any chance at all of her stealing his sword from him. The knowledge that the chance was slim to none aggravated her further. Hook, unaware of Emma's internal debate, shrugged carelessly.
"That perhaps you had over-exaggerated the virtues of your little town. No place like home, after all."
Without warning, the river ceased its churning and lay in perfect serenity. Emma hadn't realized how loud the roaring had been until they were left in eerie silence.
"That's discomforting," Hook said with barely a glance at the water.
"Why are you not panicking right now?" Emma asked, suddenly suspicious. He couldn't have planned this. There was no way. It didn't make sense…but then, she wasn't operating on pirate wavelength.
"After the first few times of being stranded in an unfamiliar place, you learn that panicking is entirely useless," he explained, his eyebrow raised at her narrowed eyes. "If you're contemplating hysterics, be a dear and let me know. I should like to be elsewhere."
Hatred spiked through her. She had been this damn close to returning home after fighting for so long only for Hook to have abandonment issues at the worst possible moment. It should have been her and Mary Margaret going through the portal and it should have landed them back in Storybrooke. Now she was lost, confused, and being with Hook seemed worse than being alone. He had dragged her into hell and he didn't even have the decency to seem sorry about it.
"You don't want to know what I'm contemplating," Emma said darkly.
"Something more original than murder, I hope." Though his words were easy, the vaguely teasing tone didn't reflect the severe look in his eyes. "I expect great things from you, lass, I hope you're not about to disappoint me again."
Emma wasn't about to revisit her betrayal on the beanstalk. It could barely even be classed as a betrayal; she had done what she had to do against a man she hadn't dared to turn her back on. She would do it again given the chance.
"Don't worry," she said, refusing to let the comment affect her. "The method I would use to kill you is pretty genius."
He held her gaze coolly.
"Glad to hear it."
This was no longer the familiar banter of their first encounter. It was verbal sparring, with each trying to get the upper hand and cut the other. Emma didn't want to be the one to propose a truce, even though she knew they couldn't continue like this if they wanted to have a chance at returning home. Despite how it had ended, they had made quite the team on the beanstalk and working with him again could work in her favor. They just needed to stop sniping at each other. She folded her arms across her chest, trying to ignore the way her clothes dripped with every little movement.
"The ashes and the compass didn't work. Why?"
Hook's fingers dipped below his collar and produced a thin, crudely made necklace. He moved his hand away and the makeshift pendant rested against his shirt.
"The bean," Emma said, frowning at it.
"Apparently even the restorative waters of Lake Nostos have their limits," Hook said, tucking the bean back into his shirt. He didn't trust Emma and wanted her to realize it. "The water must have revitalized the bean, creating a portal which conflicted with the wardrobe ashes. A shame we left the compass behind." His smile held a bitter edge. "Seems all that work on the beanstalk was for naught."
Again, Emma was not interested in his attempted guilt-trip. Instead of answering she looked into the water, which remained as still and smooth as a sheet of glass. The river seemed more like a swimming pool now that she could see its floor and walls, covered with the same tiles that adorned the rest of the room. She tried not to dwell on how easy it would have been to lose herself in the waves and hit her head. Perhaps she should at least acknowledge Hook saving her life. But no, it had been his damn grip that had pulled her down in the first place. They were even. Her focus moved away from the tiles and onto her own reflection.
"Can't you just throw the bean back into the water?" she asked, watching as the water mouthed the words back to her.
"This water isn't from Lake Nostos," Hook replied, following her gaze. "Likely all that would happen is that we lose our one chance of returning to familiar shores."
"Our?" Emma repeated, eyebrow arched.
If Hook was annoyed at being caught out, he didn't show it. Their eyes met in the reflections and a slight smile curled at the corner of his lips.
"Well, we could go our separate ways but I'm learning it's unwise to bet against you, love."
Emma looked away first, pretending that she was unaffected by his compliment.
"That why you're so calm?"
"No one I'd rather be stranded with," he replied, but again bitterness poisoned his otherwise teasing tone.
They stood in silence for a moment before Emma pulled herself together. They had to leave; the sooner they found out where they were, the sooner they could find a way to escape.
(They, Emma noted with derisiveness. She had cast her lot with Hook without even realizing it.)
"The riverbank's got to lead somewhere," she said, her eyes sweeping from left to right. "Pick a direction."
Emma had expected a taunt about her bossiness but Hook only looked back to the water. She watched him, curious as he made mental notes on the sorts of things she supposed only pirates and sailors knew about.
"Go right," Hook said after a minute with no uncertainty in his voice. Emma pushed aside the confusion over how he could be so sure about information gathered from motionless water.
"Right it is." She held her ground, even though taking the right path meant that she was in the position to lead. "After you."
Hook, to her infinite lack of surprise, didn't move.
"I don't think I'm quite ready to trust you again just yet, darling," he mused, and while there was undoubtedly truth in his words, Emma felt like he was just saying it to be difficult. "How do I know you won't push me into the river?"
"Because I'm not twelve years old?" Emma returned, pushing away the visions of doing just that. When Hook merely raised an eyebrow, she changed tactics and scoffed. "A pirate who's afraid of a little water. Who'd have thought."
Hook's smile was devoid of warmth. "You weren't so dismissive of the water when you were drowning in it."
Emma couldn't argue this point and Hook knew it. If he was waiting for some sort of thank you for saving her life, he remained disappointed.
"Just walk," Emma said, nodding to the path on the right.
"Always so insistent that I go on ahead of you," Hook murmured, glancing at her as he passed. "I wonder what it is you're wanting to look at."
The last bits of my sanity flying away, Emma thought, wringing her hair out as best she could and avoiding the splash the drops made on the tiles. This was more out of habit that anything; a tiny bit more water would make no difference to her drenched state. The tumultuous river had sprayed over onto the floor tiles, making walking a perilous task. Emma was torn between watching the floor and making sure Hook wasn't about to try anything. Her eyes flicked up and back down again as they walked, always keeping as close to the wall as they could. Emma's fingertips grazed the cracked tiles, careful to avoid any sharp edges.
"I'll be keeping the bean," Hook called back casually. "Insurance. You understand. It isn't that I mind being chained up," he continued when it became apparent that Emma wouldn't answer him. "But a little warning next time would be appreciated."
"You really need to get over that," Emma muttered, quietly but unavoidably reaching her breaking point. She was separated from her family with no idea how to get back, soaking wet, in a strange place with a man she couldn't trust, and she was pretty certain that the saltwater had ruined her boots. Usually footwear wouldn't rank high on her list of problems but, damn it, these were good boots.
"Only one way I can, love," Hook replied. Emma didn't have to see him to picture his dark expression,. "And I won't tell you what way that is while I have my back to you."
Probably wise, Emma decided. They walked on in silence, with only the occasional squeak of their shoes against the slippery ground to ease the tension. Emma was little more than defenseless whereas Hook not only had a weapon but the training to use it.
"How'd you manage to hold onto your sword?" she asked after a moment, curiosity getting the better of her.
His shoulders shook with a smug laugh. "I'm a pirate."
He gave no other explanation though really, Emma supposed, no other one was needed. Though she never would have thought it before, maybe it had been a good thing growing up feeling like she was being attacked from all sides with no one to trust. Hook was a danger to her, and despite his pretty face and charm and unsettling ability to read her, she wouldn't forget that.
After awhile the paralleling banks widened and met in a fusion of cracked tiles, sealing away the river. Hook strode in the center of the path while a cautious Emma remained close to the wall. She didn't trust that the newly appeared floor wasn't about to drop away, but soon she didn't have a choice. The walls sloped in, presumably meeting at a point ahead of them, and forced her to once again walk directly behind Hook. She could barely stretch out her arms without them hitting a wall.
"Not a fan of the architecture," Hook commented. His role of sassy interior designer made Emma smile despite herself; his vague ridicule of the place distracted her from her anger and fear.
Grass struggled up through the cracks in the floor tiles until it overwhelmed them completely. Emma shook her head, confused, but reminded herself that she couldn't judge a land of magic based on the laws of the world she called home.
They walked on the thin grassy strip just long enough for Emma to question if she had previously undiagnosed claustrophobia. When Hook finally came to a stop, Emma was trying very hard not to panic. She peered over Hook's shoulder, her panic swiftly changing to bewilderment.
"A door?" she asked, squinting at it.
Sunlight bled through the cracks where it had not quite fit into the walls, creating a door of light when in reality Emma was sure it as only made from common wood and perhaps a lick of paint. Still, she was happy to see it; sunlight meant an open space which meant no more tight enclosures.
"Aye," Hook said in response to her question, resting his hand on the doorknob. "Let's hope we don't need a key."
Emma was unconcerned. "I can pick the lock."
Hook was silent for a moment. Then an amused, half-admiring, "Of course you can," escaped him. Emma wasn't entirely sure that he meant to say it, and so waited in silence for him to open the door.
The doorknob turned with a satisfying click and the door opened after a slight push. Sunlight flooded the corridor, bouncing off the tiles and blinding Emma until she had to raise an arm as a shield for her eyes. A motion ahead told her Hook had done the same thing. They stood immobile until their eyes adjusted.
"Usually, I would insist that the lady goes first," Hook said, pressing his back flat against the wall. Emma, lowering her own arm, saw the way his eyes lit up. It had nothing to do with the sunlight and everything to do with mischief. "By all means, try and wriggle past me." He was rewarded with a stony silence. "No?"
The mischief was tempered by her rejection but didn't vanish entirely. He flashed her a smile and edged out of the corridor. As he faded into the light, Emma fought the wild theory that she was dead and this was the Light that everyone spoke of seeing. If this turned out to be true, she would be having some serious words with whoever she saw on the other side if they thought that arguing with Hook was a suitable way to pass a short time in purgatory.
She took a deep breath (there's a chance this is another portal, she reasoned) and stepped forward. Warmth and light overtook her world. A sweet scent removed all traces of the damp tiled room she had left behind and soft rustling trees filled the silence left by the stilled river.
The feeling of peace disappeared the moment Emma was able to check her surroundings. Unnaturally large flowers loomed over the small clearing they had stepped, displayed in lurid colors. Emerald grass as tall as an ogre lay beyond, overshadowing a border of severe men standing shoulder to shoulder. It was at this that Emma froze. Each impassive man was dressed in a pure white tunic and held a long blood-red staff topped by a diamond-shaped…diamond? Emma blinked, focusing on the staff as though she had no other worries. As far as weapons went, diamonds weren't the most cost-effective way to go. Damn it, she wished she still had her gun.
"Gentlemen!" Hook greeted, spreading his arms wide as though he meant to hug them or welcome them into his domain. Emma noted how he could fully inhabit a space he had only taken five steps into and a grudging admiration arose. Hook made to move across the clearing but apparently thought better of it, coming to a stop in front of Emma. For every step he made, the men took three towards them.
"Don't fight the guards," Hook murmured, barely audible. He didn't look at her, his eyes fixed on the advancing men. "This is what we want."
"Guards?" Emma asked, her eyes snapping from guard to guard as they moved steadily inwards to form a tight circle around them, broken only by the gaping door that led back to the river. "What do we want? Where are we?"
It unsettled her that Hook had no desire to try to and escape. He didn't seem one to back away from a fight unless a greater benefit lay elsewhere. She didn't trust him but she trusted her ability to battle her way out even less.
"Just do as I do," Hook advised, standing up straighter and walking forwards.
Worse advice had never been given, Emma was certain, but in this instance she did not have much of a choice. She watched as the guards gripped Hook by either arm and marched him forward into the tall grass beyond the clearing. Ten other men surrounded him, creating a formation that Emma would not have wished to tackle.
When the men came for her, she didn't struggle. Their fingers were tight on her upper arms and they maintained a steady pace. The remaining guards formed rank around her, leading her to believe that they considered the newcomers very important or very dangerous. She had a feeling it was the latter.
Up ahead, Emma heard Hook's valiant efforts to make conversation. Unacknowledged topics ranged from the weather to, bizarrely, local sports teams. Emma shook her head at the pirate Captain's efforts to charm his captors, though her amusement was replaced by shock when she heard his next question:
"So, what's happened in Wonderland since I left?"