He wasn’t certain how long he’d been sitting on that filthy floor, but it was long enough that he’d given up trying to pick his way free from his bonds – damned useless hook – and had resorted to a constant stream of chatter, if only to fill the time. He abhorred boredom.
And maybe the Giant would grow tired of his prattle and set him off early; though, the beast had been ignoring him quite well for hours.
“I’m getting my scarf back, I’ll tell you that,” he told the Giant, rolling a coin between his knuckles. “Hardly, sporting I’ll say. I tend her like a proper gentleman, and she swans off.”
He chuckled a bit at that. “Poor choice of words.”
The Giant, however, was looking at him with a heretofore unprecedented amount of interest. “Did you say she was injured?”
Killian held up his good hand, palm out – the chain clinking as he did so. “Cut herself on that ruddy beanstalk of yours,” he said, and wiggled his fingers. “Wasted good rum too—“
“QUIET!” The giant roared, and the sound of it reverberating around the treasure hall toppled a man-high pile of crowns, several of which went rolling into Killian’s legs.
The Giant, astonishingly spry for his size, was on his feet before Killian could finish trying to hook a particularly splendid tiara with his boot and was thundering towards him.
“The beanstalk?” He demanded, and the floor shook. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Killian answered, after a suspicious pause. “..why?”
“The stalk is poisoned.”
“Poisoned?!” Killian was on his feet, desperately fighting the manacle that chained him to the wall. “Why the bloody hell is it poisoned!?”
“You do not know war,” the Giant growled, and then – astonishingly – Killian was free. The links of the chain clattered to the stone floor around him, shattered by the giant’s hands.
“I can give you the antidote – but she must drink it before sundown.”
“How long have I been chained here?”
“Nearly six hours.”
He almost missed a step. “I’ll never make it down the beanstalk fast enough.”
The Giant grunted and looked around. In one great hand he seized a gilded cage from amidst the heaps of treasure – the same cage he and Emma had fought over climbing only hours ago – and overturned it. Killian didn’t know what beast had once been held in that cage, but it had housed only gold for years now. Scepters and ornate scabbards fell out, coins upon coins hit the floor with a musical staccato and rolled in all directions; the Giant cared for none of it.
When it was empty, he heaved it over his shoulder, gathering up the massively long chain that had once suspended it from the high ceiling. “I will lower you down.”
“Never knew you giants were the joking sort.”
The Giant scowled at him. “It’s four hours til sunset.”
He swallowed hard. “Point taken, mate.”
The antidote was kept in an old wooden drum and as Killian watched the giant reach in with a bottle he could hear the glass scraping bottom – was it enough?
The bottle reappeared – full and opalescent blue; the Giant stoppered the cure and handed it gingerly down. Killian took the fragile vial in his good hand. The antidote. For Emma.
Emma who’d left him chained in a Giant’s castle.
Emma, poisoned and dying.
Emma with sunlight in her hair.
“How am I going to find her in time?” Panic, foreign and unsavory, rose up in his throat.
“Take this,” said the Giant, and drew from his breast pocket a small handmirror.
The frame was ornate, wrought with vines and just-blooming roses, but the glass it held was shattered, some of the shards missing.
“The enchantment holds. Tell it what you seek and it will guide you there.”
Killian had to run to keep up with the Giant’s booming steps, but then they were in the courtyard – that damned beanstalk looming up from its center – and he couldn’t help himself from asking:
“Why are you doing this?”
The Giant frowned as he hefted the golden cage off of his shoulder. “She had every reason to kill me—“ he rumbled.
Killian snorted. “Me as well, I suppose.”
“--and she didn’t.” The Giant finished, and Killian fell silent. “A human like that is worth saving.”
Chest tight, Killian made sure the mirror was secure in his belt and the antidote tucked safely inside his vest, then he climbed into the golden cage, shutting the door behind him.
“Agreed,” he murmured as the ground dropped away; he sensed the Giant had heard him all the same.
“Hold on, pirate,” the Giant bellowed, and then he was thrown from the castle wall, cage and all.
“Emma, are you alright?”
Emma waved off Mary M—her mother’s—concern; though, she couldn’t help but look back over her shoulder again, scanning for the pirate’s silhouette on the horizon.
Snow dropped back to walk with her daughter, her hand resting easily on the curve of her bow. “So,” she said pleasantly. “Are you going to tell me what happened up there?”
Snow sighed. “You come down from that beanstalk alone, with the compass. You tell us to go – okay. You tell us not to make camp ‘til nightfall –okay.” Her eyes slid sidelong to Emma, who was just waiting for the punch line. “But you’ve hardly said a word for hours.”
Emma looked ahead where Mulan was leading their way into the valley, Aurora never a step or two behind, her hands full of wildflower. She was chattering brightly, though Emma couldn’t make out the words. She shot her mother a dry look. “I thought Sleeping Beauty there was making enough conversation for the both of us.”
Snow managed to look both exasperated and fond. “She means well, Emma. And she’s been under that curse for a long time.”
Emma laughed. “Yeah, well…I think I’ve had quite enough of curses.”
“Something you have in common,” Snow pointed out brightly. Emma only groaned.
Up ahead, Mulan had stopped and was signaling them to do the same. “It’s nearly dusk,” she said as mother and daughter brought up the rear of the party. “We’ll camp here tonight. We should be nearly out of troll territory, but even so…we should be able to see them coming.”
Snow nodded her approval. “I’ll see if there’s anything to eat,” she said, shouldering her bow higher before heading off towards the woods. She sent a reassuring look back at Emma, but the blonde still felt anxious.
It didn’t help that she felt little better than useless as her mother went off to shoot dinner like Annie Oakley, and Mulan efficiently set about pitching their tents and digging a fire-pit. Even Aurora had found her way to pitch in and was gathering kindling for the fire.
She was sore and irritable – not to mention paranoid that Hook was about the come bounding over the hill looking for revenge – and the last thing she wanted to do was try and make conversation with Sleeping Beauty, of all people. But – honestly? – standing around was worse.
“Mind if I help?” she asked, joining Aurora at the forest’s edge. Wind had blown plenty of twigs down, even a few small branches – there’d be no shortage of wood tonight.
“Of course,” the young princess said brightly. She looked horribly out of place on this adventure, still in her silks and gown, but then again, so did Emma. The crook of one arm was already filled with firewood.
Emma walked behind her, bending to pick up a good sized stick and twirling it in one hand.
“Did you kill him?”
Emma stumbled, nearly dropping her stick. “Excuse me?”
“Hook.” Aurora looked unaffected by Emma’s shock, her heart-shaped face glowing a little from the exertion.
“No!” Emma exclaimed; shocked and a little offended by the suggestion. “Of course not!”
Aurora just smiled. “Good. Mulan thought you ought to have, but I told her you must have found another way.”
“Were you talking about me the whole time?” demanded Emma, still a little taken-aback by the sudden turn in conversation, and even more-so that she’d somehow walked right into it. She threw her one stick into the trees out of spite.
“Well, I was.”
“He has quite lovely eyes, you know,” Aurora said suddenly, and Emma found the coy way in which she looked over her shoulder at her unsettling.
She made a noncommittal sound; not willing to be dragged into that particular line of discussion. It could only lead…well, nowhere good.
“Of course, it was hard to tell,” the brunette continued. “Seeing as they were always on you.”
“Geezus!” Emma exclaimed, fighting down the flush that she could feel rising to her face and the sudden memory of Hook’s lips against the skin of her fingers.
“I think I’m done with firewood.”
“Oh, Emma,” Aurora couldn’t help laughing; though, she looked contrite. “I’m sorry, don’t be angry.”
She met Emma’s thin-lipped expression with her own sweet smile. “Here, take this back to Mulan—“she said, offering out her already collected bundle of sticks “—and I’ll finish gathering by myself.”
Emma obligingly held out her arms – still pink-faced – but when Aurora shifted over the bundle the sticks fell between Emma’s arms, her hands obstinately refusing to obey.
Confused – and a little embarrassed – it wasn’t until she met Aurora’s widening eyes that she realized the princess had grabbed her wrist. She hadn’t even felt it. She looked down and saw the dainty fingers, saw them curled around her wrist, but...there was nothing.
“Shit,” she breathed.
Aurora was a little more vocal.
“SNOW!” she screamed and ran for the clearing, dragging Emma behind her. Mulan had her sword out as they crashed into the campsite, and at the panic-stricken look on Aurora’s face only raised it higher.
“Are we under attack?” the warrior demanded—but before Aurora could answer, Snow was racing out of the forest from the other side, chest heaving with the effort.
“What is it?” she demanded.
The look on Snow’s face as she whirled to face Emma was indescribable. She reached for Emma, touching her shoulders, her face, as if to assure herself that her daughter was still in one piece. She shook her head. “No, she’s fine. Right, Emma? Right – you’re fine?”
A dull ache had started in her elbow, a pain that throbbed even as she lifted her arm between them and turned her hand palm-upward. In the light of the clearing it sparkled gold.
It was a breath – a prayer – that fell from Snow’s lips. She tried to pull the scarf from Emma’s hand, but it was frozen solid and glittering.
“She’s been cursed!”
“No.” Mulan’s fingers ghosted over her hand, tracing the skin upwards to where it grew pale again and jumped beneath her touch. “She’s been poisoned.”
Emma gave a wry smile. “Told you I’d had enough of curses.”
“Can you stop it?” Snow demanded.
Mulan shook her head, “I can slow it down. Aurora – do you know the Bellot plant?”
The princess was white as a sheet, but she nodded jerkily. “Phillip showed me,” she whispered.
“Gather as much of it as you can find – it will delay the effects. Go!”
Aurora ran off into the pinkening-sky, her cape a lavender sail behind her, and Mulan turned back. “Help me get her jacket off.”
“What is it?” Snow asked.
“I didn’t steal anything!” Emma argued. “He gave me the compass!”
“I’ve never seen it before,” Mulan admitted. “But there were stories…”
She met Snow’s eyes and looked away. “It was the Giants’ answer to Jack’s poisoned sword. Any human who tried to steal their gold…was turned into gold themselves.”
Realization dawned on Emma. “The beanstalk…”
Mulan nodded. “It must have been laced with it.”
They had finally wrestled her leather jacket off of her, but Emma almost wished they hadn’t. Gold tendrils had crept up her left arm from the poisoned cut and were already curling around her shoulder. The sunlight caught on tiny flakes of gold across her collarbone. What she’d shrugged off as soreness had been her body slowly turning into metal.
“Hook betrayed us,” Snow swore. Her grip on Emma’s forearm was almost painfully tight.
Dismay flooded through her—
Have I told you a lie?
--and then left just as quickly. She remembered those eyes – those ‘quite lovely eyes’ – when clapped him in irons. The shock in them.
“No,” she said quietly. “He didn’t know.”
“You don’t know that, Emma! He was working for Cora—“
Emma shook her head. “He didn’t know,” she said again. “I’m sure of it.”
“I can’t feel my feet.”
“Come on, you blasted mirror!”
Killian shook the thing, impervious to its distressed bleating. His lungs burned from running, but though he’d been at it for hours it felt no closer to Emma and her party.
“Get me to Swan!”
It bleated again – its fragments pulsing against his demand – getting shriller as he shook it again. “You know what I mean – take me to her. Show me the way to Emma Swan.”
The moment the words left his lips, he could feel the magic surge through the handle. It still remembered it’s old enchantments, and though he was forced to stop every so often to make his request again, it was growing stronger the closer he got.
The glass shone faintly blue and for the first time, a picture formed in the looking glass. It was fragmented and incomplete—but he could see Emma.
She was lying beneath a tree, mouth moving though he could not hear the words – and he let go of the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. She was being tended to by the princess – that tiny slip of a girl – who was covering the whole of her left arm in sodden leaves.
Then a breeze miles away from him blew through the tree above Emma, shifting the canopy and sending slender rays of light down through the branches. The hollow of her throat sparkled unnaturally in the sun.
Then the mirror sparked violently and went out.
Emma was gone, but the mirror was still alive in his hand and when he pointed it towards the Valley it hummed.
Mulan checked the dressings, peeling back the Bellot leaves from Emma’s upper arm. As soon as it left contact with her skin, the flesh began to darken and turn gold. She pressed the leaves back down – maybe too hard, but Emma couldn’t feel it anyway.
Her right hand, both legs to the knees, and her left arm nearly to the shoulder were solid gold. The transformation was moving faster as night grew closer, she was already starting to lose feeling in her right hip, though Aurora had plastered Bellot leaves underneath her shirt. It was only delaying the inevitable—but try telling her mother that.
She and Mulan had been arguing for an hour about whether or not there was a mystic lake nearby and if they could even reach it before Emma succumbed completely. Mulan had finally left, in what amounted to “a huff” for the taciturn warrior, to find a climbable tree high enough for her to get a good look at the surrounding terrain.
Emma turned her head as Snow sat down beside her again, her eyes on the far side of the valley and the quickly setting sun. It would take even longer to find that supposed lake in the dark.
“This place sucks,” Emma announced.
Snow laughed, just a little, before growing somber again. Her eyes wandered, checking methodically for new patches of gold.
“It has it’s up and downs.”
Emma was never one to beat around the bush. “I’m sorry—“
“This isn’t your fault!”
“But Henry, you have to look after him—“
“Emma! You’re coming back with me; you’ll be there to look after him yourself.”
“Mary Margaret.” Her chest was starting to feel heavy. “I’m trying to be realistic here.”
“So am I.” She pressed the warmth of her palm to Emma’s forehead. “There’s no realistic way I’m going to lose you.”
Half an hour had passed and they’d moved a little ways off, but Emma could still hear them. Barely able to move, but apparently her ears would be the last to go.
“—no lakes, Princess. Not for miles.”
“That’s not possible. The Rainbow Lake lies just outside the giants’ borders. I’m sure of it.”
“Maybe long ago,” Mulan said quietly. “But much has changed since you were taken.”
Emma’s voice made both women turn; the princess in question had stood up suddenly. “Do you hear that?” she asked.
And then they did. Something was crashing through the forest, making no effort to be quiet. And it was heading straight for them.
“Protect Emma!” Mulan ordered and drew her sword, facing off against the treeline. “Who are you? Show yourself!”
“Well it sure as hell ain’t the bloody Blue Fairy,” came the response.
And Killian Jones staggered into their campsite.
Aurora pushed past Mulan, needing a closer look as the pirate took in great gulps of air, flushed and sweating, all but doubled-over. “You ran all the way here?!”
“Might have done.”
“This is Belle’s mirror!” exclaimed Snow, and he let her take it from him and cradle the old mirror in her hands. “How did you get it?”
“A gift from the Giant—to get here before sundown,” he answered, regaining his breath. “As is the antidote. Help me lift her head.”
Snow was too stunned to do more than gape at him, so the task fell to Mulan – as sharp and efficient as ever.
Those careful hands raised her up to drink, and Emma’s eyes – those beautiful blue eyes of hers, now spiked through with gold – met his. She blinked as she focused on the pirate’s face, in clear disbelief. “Ki-Kill-i-an?”
He grinned, pulling the stopper out with his teeth. “That’s right, love. Quite the merry chase you’ve lead me on.”
“Drink up,” he told her, and only when he saw the milky blue potion pass her lips did the fear – that tight, dark thing – unclench. He caught the last drops from her lips with a swipe of his thumb, relieved and feeling almost unwarrantedly fond.
“You have treasure in your eyes, darling.”
Her mouth quirked, but he would never know if it would have been a smile or a frown—the gold had crept up her neck and – before his very eyes – was reaching its veins up over her jaw.
The poison was still killing her.
“It’s not working!” Snow keened, echoing his own thoughts.
“Emma, dear, come on…” he murmured, as if he could cajole her into stopping the poison. She blinked rapidly, the muscles around her eyes tightening as she fought to keep control of her face.
Her breath came in huffs, jaw hardening against speech, but eventually he made out what she was trying to say. Henry.
He looked to Snow. “What’s she—“
“It’s her son.” The princess was crying. “Henry’s her son.”
Killian touched Emma’s cheek. It was already growing clammy. “The one you’re trying to get back to,” he said, and suddenly he understood.
Her eyes were bright with more than just gold, and that twisted, dark and knife-like in his gut. But Emma – brilliant, stubborn, impossible Emma Swan—did not cry.
“P-please…” she breathed out—and that was worse.
“Look at me, Swan,” he growled, and knew he had her full attention, the wisp of her gasp brushing his face. “Emma – I swear to you…I will find a way back to your world—to your boy. I swear on my life he’ll be safe.”
She blinked slowly, so slowly—as if it was an effort just to open her eyes each time, but she did, and Killian felt them bore straight through him.
“I’ll kill anyone who touches him,” he whispered; and he could see in her eyes the precise moment she believed him—the moment she let go.
Gold frosted her eyelashes like melting snowflakes and suddenly they were too heavy for her to keep open. Emma sighed, barely audible, and he could feel her slipping away.
Snow’s voice cracked across the silence. His good hand clenched into a fist. How many women would he have to watch die in his arms, powerless to save them…?
One-by-one they turned to stare at Aurora—for it was she who had spoken. Her small fists were clutching at her cloak, but there was something fever-bright in her eyes as she said it again, louder this time; “Kiss her.”
“What?” But Mulan was cut off by Snow’s strangled cry.
“Oh, god. She’s not breathing!”
“There’s still time—“
“She’s been poisoned, Aurora.” Mulan was firm. “Not cursed.”
No one expected the shove, least of all Mulan, who staggered several paces from the surprising force of it.
“If you are EVER going to trust me,” Aurora shouted. “Trust me now!”
Mulan hesitated, visibly taken aback, but held her resolve. “It won’t work…”
“It will work!” she insisted. “It’s the only thing that can – but he has to do it now.”
Killian had no idea what they were saying—but Snow was right: Emma wasn’t breathing. “Someone tell me what the hell is going on!”
Aurora ignored him. “Snow?”
Snow looked lost for the first time since he had known her. No longer regal and fearsome, but…small.
“The sun is setting.” Mulan was right; it was nearly at the horizon.
Aurora’s shout seemed to break through Snow’s daze and that steely resolve was back.
“Do it,” she ordered. And for the first time in living memory, Captain Hook floundered.
“You have to kiss her,” Snow repeated, “—quickly! Before the sun sets!” As if it made all the sense in the world, and then – suddenly – it did.
Of course he ought to kiss her. What else was there?
He brushed a curl back from the smooth gold of her forehead, feeling it crystallizing beneath his fingertips. Emma Swan, the girl who bested pirates.
“KISS HER, HOOK!”
Emma’s lips were cold and hard beneath his own. It was wrong, so wrong – in all his imaginings since the blonde had first pulled a knife on him, he’d never thought the first kiss would their last, that she would be frozen and soundless under his touch.
He pulled back just as the red swell of the sun met the horizon, bleeding out across the valley and burning in the shine of Emma’s golden skin like her body had been set aflame.
She looked radiant.
Cold crept into his heart as each second passed and nothing happened. He sat back on his heels, unwilling to take his eyes from her face. He found her hand – unconsciously, without looking – and traced the frozen curve of her fingers,
Snow began to sob in earnest, her back tracing a curve of grief over her daughter’s prone body.
“It was too late,” Aurora whispered, her doe-eyes brimming with tears.
Mulan said nothing, but bowed her head – honoring the other warrior the only way she knew how. Snow’s crying the only sound in the silence.
Something cracked softly and Mulan was immediately at the ready, sword drawn – scanning the darkening woods for the would-be attackers. Killian too looked wildly about for a shape in the trees – had Cora caught up to them so quickly?
But it was Snow’s strained “Emma?” that made them realize the source of the sound.
A thread-thin crack had spread from the corner of Emma’s mouth to her temple, the curl Killian had so carefully shifted coiled like a snake above it. CRACK! Another had split the smooth expanse of her throat in a jagged line downward, and before it had even reached her heart it was spidering outward.
Snow fell back, her eyes wide. But Killian tore the Bellot leaves from Emma’s arms, following the cracks as they crisscrossed her shoulders, her wrists—there were so many he thought she’d turn to glass and shatter.
And then she did.
Light burst from every thin crack and everything was blinding and bright, the force of the blast knocking Aurora off her feet. Killian held fast to Emma, blinking through his blindness—and when he could see again, golden dust was falling like snow all around them.
And Emma’s skin was soft and warm under his palms.
She gasped and sat bolt upright, knocking into Killian and groping wildly as her lungs burned for air. He held her fast, the bite of her nails into his back nothing compared to the wild-bird beating of her heart against his chest. She coughed clouds of gold into the air around their heads, heaving and gasping until there was nothing left but air.
“All right, love?”
Emma took another great, shuddering breath. “You’re all sweaty.”
Killian laughed. He laughed and laughed into her hair, and held her because she didn’t ask him to let go—and when she whispered “Thank you” into the hot skin of his neck, he knew she meant “I’m sorry.”
“Not to worry, lass. I’m sure I’ll think of some way for you to make it up to me,” he murmured, letting his fingers tangle in her sunlit hair and—was he imagining it? some soft sound like a sigh against his shoulder?
“A proper kiss for starters,” he suggested boldly—to the outraged cry of Snow and Aurora’s tittering laughter.
He was a pirate after all…