The sun was slipping behind the dreaming spires, casting the square in hoary violet shadows, by the time Emma and Harry pelted up the steps of the Bodleian, joined the last tour of the day, and unobtrusively edged away from the rest of the group while the guide was pointing out the intricate lierne vaulting on the ceiling of the Divinity School. They squirreled around a corner, back into the corridor, and Harry, posing as a confused new student, asked where the underground passage would be. They were pointed in the direction of something called the Gladstone Link, and hurried downstairs before anyone could ask for their credentials. Emma was turning in every direction, waiting for something evil to leap out from the supply closet, but the Link proved to be a regular study space, filled with bookshelves and photocopiers and other items of decidedly non-demonic provenance. A few headphone-wearing students were turfed into piles of papers, wearing the glazed look common to everyone forced to endure an eight-week quarter, and paid no attention to their entrance. Nothing else appeared out of the ordinary: no bloodstains, no signs of an epic battle, or so on. In fact, Emma grabbed her young accomplice by the shoulder and muttered, "Are you sure you did that right?"
"Positive." Harry frowned. "This is the only underground passage. It has to be here."
"Well, it's not." Emma held out a hand. "Let me see that paper again."
Harry dug in his pocket, then stopped. "No," he said, half to himself. "I don't think – "
"You don't think what?"
"It was just a hunch. But – " Harry gestured to the door across the room, which so far as Emma could see, was some kind of entrance into a service tunnel. "That is a passage."
Emma hesitated, then moved closer. According to the placard on the wall, this was a section of the old conveyor, the system formerly used to shuttle books from one reading room to another, preserved for historical interest. She couldn't see what it would have to do with anything, but out of the desire to cover all her bases, reached for the knob. Not that it was going to be unlocked, it was just a nicety, unless she was going to –
She had no idea what happened. But the instant she touched the door, a sensation like a silent shriek ripped through her, so strong that it knocked her sideways and she couldn't remember how she'd gotten there, only that she was down on one knee and gasping as if she'd just been running for miles. She was vaguely aware of Harry hovering anxiously above her, and hoped she hadn't screamed in the middle of the library; they were already starting to attract a crop of dark looks from the carrels. "I'm fine," she hissed. "I just – "
"What?" he whispered. "What is it?"
"Something. Something just. . ." Emma straightened up. "We need to get in there."
Harry eyed the door dubiously. "I take it we're not just going to call the janitor?"
Despite herself, she snorted a laugh. "And tell them what? I think I dropped an earring?"
"It couldn't hurt." He moved to touch the door gingerly, clearly bracing himself for the same kind of shock, but didn't seem to feel anything. "I can't imagine we're going to be clandestine about this if we just barge in. Or – "
Emma wasn't listening. That heat was still burning her fingers, the same way it had when she'd unraveled the cipher in Wendy Darling's will: the undeniable taste and touch of magic. She shouldered past him, braced herself, and put her hands to the door again.
The sensation was somewhat less this time, not quite as much like seizing hold of a live wire, but she still felt it slice through her chest. Wincing, she moved her hands, connecting a star map of sparks, and closed her eyes. She had the instinctive sense that she shouldn't try to force it, but rather that she had to succumb to the emotion. That she had to let down her ever-present walls, and admit to herself just how much she wanted, needed to find Killian. Let it flow through her, and not think about the fact that she was able to use magic here at all was due to Neverland. She'd changed Neverland, she didn't need to fear it, she wasn't going to shrink from it. It was raw and unformed and dangerous, but it was still hers, and this power had been given to her for a reason. She might still be iffy on the whole savior business, but it didn't matter. That wasn't who she was here. Just Emma.
She thought the metal was growing warmer under her fingers, but didn't want to break her concentration long enough to open her eyes and look. Likewise, she hoped that Harry was making himself useful in some capacity, perhaps a low-level spell to keep the students' eyes glued to their books so they wouldn't interrupt at an inopportune moment. Come on. Even if this landed them in hot water with irate librarians, it would be worth it. That was, assuming they could even get the fucking –
The door gave way when she wasn't prepared for it. One moment she was still leaning into it, and the next she was stumbling through into a cold steel tomb that smelled like dust – and something else, something that made her take a deep whiff and frown. The stale, metallic scent of dried blood clogged in her throat, registering in the back of her brain before the rest of her consciousness had caught up. Then it did, and instinct took over.
"Killian!" Emma sprinted the fastest forty-yard dash ever, down the tunnel to where the motionless black-clad form was sprawled facedown, head glued in a halo of scarlet-brown to the cement, handless arm outstretched as if to protect himself from some invisible enemy. She knelt at his side, fumbling for the pulse in his wrist. It was there, but so faint and ragged that it took her a moment to find it. "Killian. Jesus Christ. What the hell. Oh God, what the hell. M – Harry – whatever the fuck your name is!"
He popped around the door, opened his mouth to ask what was wrong, then saw it and blanched. He vanished again to call 999, and what Emma had hoped to be accomplished in secrecy was instead carried out in front of half the gaping Bodleian, as the paramedics arrived, got Killian onto a gurney, and wheeled him out, while the curators insisted they had no idea how he could have possibly ended up in there, rubberneckers and tourists crowded around, and students shot them baleful stares for causing such a ruckus in the sacred precincts of the quiet study area. Emma and Harry waded through the excitement to the ambulance, where he caught her arm. "I'll look into this," he said in an undertone. "You go with him."
She didn't have time to argue. "Fine. And how are we supposed to get in touch again?"
"Here." He scribbled something on a gum wrapper. "It's my mobile number. Good luck."
With that, he melted into the throng, and Emma pulled rank on the paramedics to let her aboard. They turned on the siren and squealed out – it was always a difficulty for vehicles to wend their way through Oxford's narrow, cobbled, pedestrian side streets – until they hit the High, and didn't stop until they arrived at the hospital in Headington, a few minutes later. As Killian was whisked off into the trauma center, Emma was offered a chair in the waiting room and a cup of tea (an amusingly British comfort, perhaps, but she needed it) and an interlude to compose herself. But if she'd thought she was home free, she was mistaken. A pair of police sergeants introduced themselves very politely, asked if she'd have a moment to talk, and sat down and opened their notebooks. "Mrs. Jones, there's no other way to put this. If there's any information you can give us on your husband's activities, we'd very much appreciate it."
Emma opened her mouth to correct them, then once more decided it wasn't worth it. She had bigger fish to fry. "What's going on? Is he under arrest or something?"
"He's not, but. . ." The officers looked deeply uncomfortable; she doubted it had been their idea to interrogate her while Killian was still in surgery. Likely somebody was getting sent back to the corporate sensitivity seminar next weekend. "You'll be aware of the ongoing case regarding the incident at his place of work, I'm sure? As well, we've just received a telephone call from the Bodleian. Their security footage clearly shows your husband breaking in, causing property damage, forcing his way into a restricted area, and otherwise. . . I do hate to suggest anything of the sort, but is there any chance he could have staged the one at his office as well?"
"I have no idea," Emma said tightly. "Partly because I had no clue this had even happened until a few hours ago. And because I'm pretty sure he didn't do this to himself."
"Of course, of course." They jotted down a few notes. "You do have our best wishes, of course. Is there any way we can be of assistance to you?"
"I – " Emma opened her mouth and shut it. When Killian woke up, she was going to throttle him. "I don't think so."
"One other matter." The questioning officer looked even more uncomfortable. "As a matter of protocol, we're going to obtain a warrant to search both his flat in Oxford and your permanent residence in London. Is there anything you'd like to declare?"
"My son is there. If you're just going to come into the house with the full-court press, then at least let me call and warn them!"
They agreed, and Emma dialed Elsa, to give her a heads-up on the whole ungodly situation and that it was definitely going to be an overnighter. She couldn't squelch the suspicion that the nanny was secretly delighted at having a crisis to handle, but was grateful for the level-headedness with which she was doing so. Yet Emma's composure cracked significantly when Elsa handed the phone to David, and her son's confused voice echoed down the line. "Mom? What's going on? Is Daddy okay? Where are you? Are you coming home soon?"
"Everything's fine," Emma lied through her teeth. "Your dad is just. . . a little bit banged up. I'm not sure what happened, but I'm going to find out. I'll be home hopefully tomorrow, all right? As soon as I get this sorted out. Be good, all right? Do your homework and eat your veggies."
David paused. "Okay," he said, in a strange tone she'd rarely heard from him. It was too old, too cynical, as if he knew exactly what was going on and they were conspiring to keep it from him. But before she could think what, if anything, to say, he told her goodnight and hung up.
Emma sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. This was what she had feared would happen the moment she saw Pan on her doorstep, when she'd been so fucking stupid as to invite him back into their lives. Not even four days later, and things were utterly falling apart, crashing down in flames. As much as she wanted to be angry with Killian for everything he'd kept from her, she was coldly and hideously aware that she was just as guilty. She had to remember what she'd said. Pan wasn't really her son. Henry, if he'd ever even existed, was dead. This was a monster, and she'd thrown him a giant hanging curveball right over the heart of the plate. Neverland's coming. Neverland never leaves us. Pan never fails.
It grew very late. At last, a nurse's aide emerged to tell her that Killian was out of surgery. He was going to be all right, but if he'd been found a few hours later, it could have been a different story. He had injuries consistent with blunt-force trauma, a mysterious state of affairs considering that no one else had been seen entering or leaving the section of the library where he had been found. Once more, they pressed her for any information, but Emma didn't have it. She just followed the nurse down the hall to his room.
Killian was swaddled in a white robe and blue hospital gown, unconscious. He was hooked up to a profusion of beeping monitors, his stump looking oddly pathetic taped up in gauze and an ace bandage. Emma sat down quietly on the end of his bed, eyes searching the battered and bruised contours of his face; he looked as bad as if he'd been hit by a car. She nodded at the nurse, who made a discreet departure, and waited until he began to stir, grimacing. When she was confident that a minimally functional degree of compos mentis had been attained, she stood up. "So."
Killian grunted in pain, stared up at her, and tried to say something, but couldn't seem to remember it. He rattled at the handcuff holding his other arm to the bed – clearly, they were treating him as a potential felon until further notice. "Again? Fancy this, do you?"
"Never mind. What happened?"
Unaccountably, he grinned, dark and lascivious. "Oh, but you do know just how to care for a wounded man, love. If you want to come a bit closer and find out which parts of me are intact?"
"Killian! What the hell? This is not the time to try to pull the innocent act. Talk. If you don't, you have a lot of sore places. I can make you hurt."
"You look good," he mumbled fatuously, eyes unfocused. "Commanding tone. Chills."
Emma realized just then that her dearest, darling fiancé was utterly blissed out of his mind, might not even be aware that she was her real self, and could not be otherwise roused to give a single fuck about the seriousness of the situation. She was just wondering what might be a sufficient shock back to reality, when Killian said conversationally, "Where's Cora?"
Emma went cold. "What?"
"Cora," Killian repeated. "It was her. Should have seen it." He grimaced again.
"Cora?" Emma's memory of this particular individual was muddy, but what she did recall was alarming enough. Killian had told her about it upon returning to Storybrooke in a mad lather, after David had been taken to Neverland. Something about a witch he used to know, who he'd encountered in the Enchanted Forest, retrieved a magic compass for, and then betrayed. Clearly, Cora hadn't taken it well, as most business accomplices wouldn't throw your son down a magical portal to another world if a deal went bad. The one who had been in cahoots with the Home Office and thus with Pan. It was the least encouraging name Killian could have uttered short of the ringleader himself. "So where is she?"
"No idea." Killian grimaced again. "Hang Cora, anyway. Come here and keep me company, darling. With a bit of tender loving care, I should be entirely satisfactory for your needs, which is more than I can say for other bad days."
Despite herself, Emma couldn't keep a wry smile from plucking her lip. "You idiot. You're the only man in the world who'd try to hit on a woman while flat on his back and completely gorked out of his gourd on medication. At least it's me and not someone who might think you were just a pervert." She sat down again rather hard, reaching out to stroke back a lock of grimy dark hair. "Son of a bitch, Killian. You scared me to death."
He had enough presence of mind to look vaguely sheepish, or perhaps that was just the morphine. He turned his head with a muffled grunt of pain to kiss her fingers, then stopped with a look of stupefaction when his mouth actually touched her hand. She could see his face freezing, to be replaced by a dawning expression of horror. "Bloody hell!" he blurted out. "You're real?"
"Surprise." Emma raised an eyebrow. "Yes."
"I thought you were a hallucination," he mumbled, looking aghast. "Bloody hell. You were being too gentle to be the real thing."
Emma felt a vague prick of shame, as "gentle" wasn't the word she herself would have chosen to describe her bedside manner. "What did you expect me to do?"
"Ream me out for being a selfish bastard and tell me you were done with me?" He cocked a dark eyebrow. "It would have been justified, after all."
"I don't think that would be useful to either of us." Emma sat back. "Look. Killian. We can't do this. We can't play at being a team and being partners and instead just keep sabotaging ourselves all the time and let other people manipulate us. I need to know everything about what has been really going on, and I need to know it now. Otherwise, we can just quit pretending."
He stared at her, then nodded slowly. But he had just opened his mouth when the door opened, and a cohort of doctors and police officers entered, looking uncomfortable. "Pardon, ma'am. But that's been five minutes, and we're going to have to ask you to leave now."
"Because he is, at this moment, a suspect in a crime, and that is sufficient reason to – "
"Really? How do you know?"
"Ma'am, he is on the surveillance footage." The constable's patience was clearly not infinite. To Killian he added, "Do you deny breaking into the Bodleian, Dr. Jones?"
"Hold on a damn second!" Emma angrily shot to her feet. "What the hell kind of interrogation is this? What happened to due process? How about a lawyer? Or, I don't know, any time when he's not shackled to a hospital bed and out of his mind on meds? I want him out of that thing, I want him properly taken care of, and then maybe we can get to the bottom of this. Someone just tried to kill him, and if this doesn't look like an attempted-murder investigation by morning, I am personally ensuring that heads roll. Unless you think he broke his own ribs and concussed himself on purpose, just so no one would suspect anything?"
She was practically spitting fire by the time she finished. The avenging Agents of Justice all looked somewhat shamefaced, but not ready to back down altogether, and Killian fumbled for her hand with his stump. "Emma," he murmured. "Lass, I – "
Emma squeezed his wrist, then let go, still never taking her attention off the authorities. "So," she said. "I'd think about what you're doing. Hard."
After a brief and muttered conference, they decided on discretion over valor, and beat a smart retreat, leaving Emma and Killian alone again. He glanced up with a crooked, admiring smile. "Quite passionate, Swan."
"Oh, shut up," Emma said, but without heat. She blew out a sigh and dropped back into the chair at his side. "So. Got any ideas?"
"As to how we'll prove I didn't do something that I did? I'm quite sure it was Cora posing as me to ensure my face got caught on camera, as I was otherwise most diligently careful to avoid it, but I did break in after hours, and everything else they said. Not that I'm at all proud of it, and wouldn't fault Wadham for sacking me on the spot, but I couldn't let her hurt. . ." Killian trailed off, tense and troubled.
"Yes, but if you were breaking in to, I don't know, steal a priceless manuscript or something, why would you be in an abandoned, disused underground tunnel? Unless they thought you were going to crawl out a vent in a reading room?" Emma twisted a lock of hair in frustration. "Surely they have to see that something doesn't add up here?"
"Emma." The grimness in his tone, and the fact that he'd called her that and not one of his usual nicknames or endearments, made her head snap around. "Listen to me. We're facing Cora, do you understand? Cora. As bad as she is on her own, when she has Neverland magic at her free and easy disposal. . ."
"That barely begins to cover it. There's going to be no evidence. Nothing to catch her. Nothing to point to anyone but me, and why it should ruin my career and my life. She is a bloody demon."
Emma sat silent for a moment, staring at the floor. Then she lifted her head and locked gazes with him. "So somebody had better stop her. Her and Pan."
"Don't," Killian warned urgently. "Don't go after them on your own. I know you're a tough lass, but you can't take them on alone. Here's what I want you to do. Do you suppose you could manage the old girl on your own?"
"What? You mean the Jolly Roger? I – think so." It was mainly a matter of activating the right enchantments and taking a few navigational headings; after that, the ship essentially sailed itself. Killian had taken her out for several practice runs in the summer, although it always seemed to cooperate much more for him than it did for her. It was amusing to Emma that the other woman in his life, even if made of wood and canvas, could be so jealous. "Why?"
"I want you to take David and go back to Storybrooke." Clearly seeing her face fall, Killian hastened on, "No, not for good. Just while I'm laid up here in the hospital. You need to go there, find out what this magic is doing, if it's spreading, the effects it's having. There could very well be something there that can help us defeat our terrible twosome."
"Maybe," Emma said slowly. "But you realize that that something is almost definitely going to be in Gold's shop? He's still missing, you know. Nobody's seen him since Neverland, and I'm guessing he left that place locked up pretty tight."
"And you're telling me you wouldn't break in if needed? Or that you wouldn't be able to leverage a single ally? You're the savior, darling. They'll be falling over themselves to help you."
"I just. . ." Emma raked both hands back through her hair. "I'll admit it's the only good plan we have. Or plan at all, really. But if we're going to be a team, a real team, we need to be one, and I can't just leave you here, injured and alone, for whatever Cora wants to try next. And I can't just yank David out of school for a few weeks either."
"Fair point." Killian frowned. "Anyone looking after him?"
"I got a temp nanny. I could probably get her to stay longer if I had to. But Pan – Henry – he's been at our house, he knows where it is, he could just stroll in and kidnap David again if he knew that neither of us were going to be around to stop him – "
"Bugger." Killian frowned. "Then there's no choice. You'll just have to take him out of school. Say it's a family emergency. We can't run the risk of exposing him to that kind of danger again."
Emma nodded heavily. "I just want you to come."
"Love, I would like nothing better, you know that. But as I can presently barely sit up on my own, much less anything else, I would be a dangerous and time-consuming encumbrance, when it is absolutely vital that we stop Cora and Pan now. We don't have the luxury of waiting for my broken bits to mend. I'll be fine here. I promise."
Emma paused, then nodded again, biting her lip. "All right," she said, not as steadily as she would have liked. "Let's do this."
"Aye." His gaze never wavered. "Together."
"Even if we're apart." With that, she leaned down and kissed him gently, breathing him in, drawing his lip between her teeth, having to fight off the sudden and sinister conviction that she wasn't sure when or if she would see him again. "I love you, you idiotic, blockheaded, overly valiant one-handed son of a bitch. Take care of yourself, okay?"
"As you wish, my lady." He settled back with a small grunt of pain, and closed his eyes. "Likewise."
It was almost dawn by the time Emma got back to the apartment, crashed for a few hours, then hauled herself out of bed, made sure to lock the door behind her, and bogged off to the train station. She was almost there when she remembered Harry. Despite herself, she couldn't shake the idea that it might be useful to take him along to Storybrooke. It would keep him safely under supervision just in case, possibly cause him to slip up and reveal his true identity, and account for the reality that no matter how independent and determined she was, there was the fact of her being almost six months pregnant and having a seven-year-old kid to look after. Not that she was going to rely on Harry for bodyguard duty, as he looked as if the only weapons he had ever wielded were an iBook and a nonfat latte while attempting to write the Great British Novel, but still. He'd been handy in a pinch thus far. And if he did turn out to be up to no good, she'd order the Roger to string him up and throw him overboard into the Atlantic. It would be a long and grueling dog paddle back to Marylebone, especially in skinny jeans.
With a sigh, Emma stopped on the street corner, dug her phone out of her pocket, and thumbed in the number he'd given her last night. It rang twice, and then he answered. "Hello?"
"Hey. It's. . . me. Emma. You nearby?"
"Meet me at the train station in twenty minutes. We've got a new mission."
"Awesome!" For a moment he sounded like a little boy on some silly undercover operation, and it made her smile involuntarily. "Be right there."
Sure enough, it wasn't even ten minutes later when he came gamboling up, looking as fresh as a daisy and clutching a large Costa Coffee, which might account for some of the perkiness. As they headed into the station together and checked the board for the next train back to London, Emma said, "So what did you find out?"
"Not much." Harry sighed. "Whoever did that, they were good at covering their tracks. I couldn't even get any real traces out of it. I'm sorry, I – "
"Killian told me who it was." Emma put her ticket through the barrier. "Someone named Cora. That ring any bells?"
Harry screwed up his face. "I may have heard it somewhere?"
"Think harder," Emma advised him. "And just so you know, I have a thing with lies."
"Like a superpower. Because you're magical. You just haven't been trained."
"Yeah, I guess so," Emma said tiredly, as they stepped onto the train. She wished she knew how to give him the proper power to just write Pan out of existence, but she didn't. So she had to go around the long way, undertake this dangerous and uncertain journey with the promise of God knew what waiting at the end. "So, then. Here's what we're going to do."
Harry sat back. "I'm all ears."
By the time they'd made it back to London, paid Elsa and sent her on her way, packed a few bags, and headed to David's school to pick him up and apologetically explain that he was going to be unavoidably absent for the short-term future, Emma was so tired she was almost seeing double, and wondered bitterly to herself if the savior ever got a day off, or if it was just one fight after another, bad moment after bad moment, piling up and avalanching on each other. By the time they had David in tow and had caught a cab down to the docks, she was almost willing to tune out and leave Harry in charge for a few damn hours, just for a change. But this was her duty. Her job. Time to roll up her sleeves and deal.
Killian's pride and joy was berthed at the end of a quay, looking like an ordinary vessel and certainly not like an old and magical pirate ship that had traveled through several realms and was now going to speed them back to a formerly cursed little town in Maine where a bunch of fairytale characters were (hopefully) going to help them defeat a wicked sorceress and a psychotic preteen. The three of them headed aboard, starting their preparations for departure, and Emma couldn't help but notice how deftly Harry handled the lines. "You look like you've done this before," she said casually. "Tall ship enthusiast?"
"Oh. . . no. I. . . my father taught me. A while ago." He looked uncomfortable. "I can steer, if you want to go below. It's pretty cold up here."
Forcing back a jolt of unwelcome surprise, Emma managed an offhand smile. He just so happens to know how to handle it? What the hell. "I'll do it. The Roger can be pretty temperamental and disobedient if she doesn't know you."
Harry shrugged, yielding, and Emma stepped up to the wheel, taking a deep breath and flexing her fingers. Moment of truth, if the ship was going to let her do this without Killian around. She grasped hold of the handles, willing the magic to life, as the sails let out and lashed themselves into place, as the capstan started to rattle and raise the anchor. It was a feeling of pure freedom and power, and despite everything, it made her smile. She could understand why Killian loved the sea so much, why it was in his blood. It made her want to roam far and fast as well.
The Roger backed out, picking up speed, the wind scraping her hair back from her face as they got underway. Emma figured she'd stay at the helm at least until they were out in the Channel; from previous experience, she knew that the voyage shouldn't take longer than overnight, this not being your average wooden sailing vessel. Killian had told her something once about it being the fastest ship in this or any realm, which made her wonder if there was a ranking table for these sorts of things. There was so much she didn't know about the magical world, about the fact that she was supposedly such an integral part of it, which made her wish that they didn't have to be returning to Storybrooke on an urgent mission to stop evil (her parents, oh God, she had no idea how she was even going to start to explain this) but could just be going at Christmas, as planned, with Killian. No. Of course not.
Darkness was falling swiftly. Harry and David had gone into the cabin, but Emma stayed at the wheel, watching the coastline blur and fade into the horizon. It was peaceful up here alone, watching the wake froth white, feel the thrumming wind of their speed, the ship responding to the small adjustments she made. I guess they should call me Captain Swan. Apparently, the question of whether or not the Roger had accepted her was settled, and she couldn't help a small proud grin from stealing across her face. Just a little longer up here, then she'd head belowdecks and see about some –
The first flash didn't register, faint and far off. Nor the second one, not really. It was only the third which made Emma jerk up and glance to port, frowning. The open ocean was flat, black, and tranquil in every direction – except for that one. There was something there, dark and distant but drawing closer fast, and unless she was completely seeing things (something else that she'd heard happened at sea, but she didn't think she was) it looked, very oddly, like another tall ship.
She blinked hard. It didn't go away. It breasted another wave and then it was less than a thousand yards away. Undoubtedly a ship just like the Roger, but much larger, with spectral, tattered sails and eerie, flitting lights, trailing a plume of icy fog. And then, as a fourth flash lit up the night and a thundering boom nearly knocked Emma off her feet, she realized in sudden, paralyzing horror what it was.