Four and a half weeks ago…
Killian fell into a heap face down on the grassy ground and lay there for a moment trying to catch his breath while waiting for his stomach to stop churning.
He hated portals.
He could feel the sun beating down on his back and eventually rolled over then forced himself to stand. His right ankle gave out as soon as he put his weight on it and he let out a hiss of pain as he stumbled slightly.
"Wonderful," he muttered irritably to himself.
Looking around he could see that he was in the Enchanted Forest but it wasn't until he glanced behind him that he realised where exactly. With a jolt of recognition he closed his eyes against the force of the feeling that threatened to overcome him. Of course he'd wind up here. He'd been thinking more of Emma than the castle when he'd left Storybrooke. It was no wonder the portal would drop him at the place where he'd first felt the stirrings of affection for her, not to mention where, not so long ago, he made the sacrifice that would help him find her again.
Opening his eyes, his gaze fixed upon the giant beanstalk that stood before him then followed the trunk upwards until it disappeared into the clouds. At least he knew the 'where', now he just had to figure out 'when' he was.
His heart gave a hopeful little flutter when it crossed his mind that he could be back at the time that they'd climbed the beanstalk together. It'd mean he'd get a chance to see Emma once more, even though he had no idea whether he'd ever find his way back to Storybrooke again. He wasn't even sure he'd want to…
He'd just begun to hobble towards the huge plant when the sound of thundering hooves echoed from behind. Forgetting his injury for a moment, he turned too quickly and let out a cry of pain as his ankle gave out. Sinking down onto one knee, he saw two horsemen hurtling towards him closely followed by a coach with two more riders bringing up the rear. They obviously had no intention of stopping and he realised that if he didn't move, he was going to die.
"Make way for his Lordship," one of the horsemen suddenly yelled at him.
Gritting his teeth against the pain, Killian stood up as they bore down on him and tried to take a step. He felt his ankle give again then someone unexpectedly grabbed hold of his arm and yanked him out of the way just in time.
He stumbled unsteadily as the carriage and horses dashed by at a reckless pace. They churned up the soft ground causing him to raise his arms defensively as tufts of grass and dirt sprayed all over him and his rescuer.
Once they'd passed, Killian muttered an oath and brushed himself off then looked over at the large, rotund man who was flicking clumps of grass off his own clothes. His eyes widened in recognition and a small smile lifted his lips.
He'd wondered if he'd see him again.
"Thank you," he said gratefully to the sometime giant.
Anton glanced over and gave him a nod. His long dark hair was tied back neatly but there was mud in his beard and on his face. The pirate had no doubt that he looked in much the same state.
"After our last meeting, I didn't expect to see you back here," the giant commented with a slight frown, "Was your search unsuccessful?"
And that settled the 'when'. The smile, such as it was, fell from Killian's face and he shook his head.
"No, quite the contrary. I found Swan, brought her back to Storybrooke, defeated the Wicked Witch…and then she left again," he told the other man in a clipped, dispassionate tone.
The giant looked surprised then sympathetic and opened his mouth to obviously say something but Killian was in no mood to hear it. Emma had made her choice and he was powerless to do anything about it. Talking about it only made him feel worse and offered no resolution, so as far as he was concerned there was little point.
"Who the bloody hell was in that carriage?" he asked with obvious annoyance before Anton could voice any thoughts on the subject of a certain Saviour.
The giant frowned at the sudden change of topic but something in the pirate's face must have warned him against continuing because instead he answered sourly, "That was Sir Guy of Gisbourne. He's a bloodthirsty tyrant that rules with an iron fist and kills anyone who opposes him."
"Marvellous," Killian commented wryly looking down. The name scratched at a faint memory inside his mind but he couldn't quite remember what it was, "And what lucky realm has the honour of his leadership?"
When his flippant query didn't receive an immediate response, he glanced up and had a sinking feeling just by looking at the giant's face that he knew the answer even before Anton finally replied.
Emma sat in her parent's apartment and nursed an untouched, rapidly cooling mug of coffee as she stared unblinkingly at Anton lying unconscious on their couch.
He'd been that way since he'd come through the portal.
Since he'd come through the portal…not Killian as she'd so fervently hoped it would be.
She'd run into the barn so full of anticipation and excitement, his name ready on her lips only to stop dead in her tracks when she saw her father crouched down over the giant.
She hadn't been able to take it in at first and had looked wildly around in case the pirate was standing off to the side just waiting for her to notice him. But he hadn't been.
There was just Anton and her father and silence.
"I'm sorry," the prince had finally said as he'd glanced up at her apologetically, "I really thought it'd be…" He'd trailed off with a shake of his head then had turned back to Anton and continued, "He hit his head hard on the ground when he fell through. He's out cold. We'd better get him back to our place."
Emma had just stared at him dumbly, feeling as though she'd been kicked in the gut and all the air had been sucked out of the room. Unable to move, she'd almost given into the urge to scream out her frustration or better yet hit something…but in the end, as always, she'd managed to control it.
Years of protecting herself from crushing disappointment had served her well as she'd taken a deep breath and determinedly pushed down the aching desolation that had crawled up her throat, threatening to choke her.
"I'm fine. It's fine," she'd forced out in a fairly normal voice. She'd stepped forward, her body feeling jerky in its movements as she'd bent over to help her father turn Anton over onto his back.
There was a small bump to his temple and slight discolouration that she'd known would bloom into a hell of a bruise. Between them they'd managed to drag the man to Charming's truck and bring him to the apartment.
On the way the prince had called Robin and he, Regina and Henry were waiting for them when they arrived back. The archer had helped Charming carry Anton up the stairs, but not without some difficulty as he wasn't the lightest of men. The queen had watched their attempts with a raised eyebrow and faintly sardonic pout before commenting wryly that she was glad the giant had at least had the foresight to eat a mushroom to reduce his size before he'd jumped into the portal.
Emma would have smiled if she wasn't so dammed unhappy.
Once Anton was safely on the couch there had been nothing left for them to do but sit and wait.
Every minute that ticked by Emma could feel the tension coiling that little bit tighter within her until she threatened to snap.
Henry was doing his best to cheer her up while at the same time trying not to upset Regina. Even though he'd stayed with her the previous night it seemed she wasn't quite prepared to share him with anyone else just yet after their lengthy enforced separation.
Her parents kept giving her concerned looks that she returned with wan smiles in the hopes they would stop, but it only succeeded in making them worse.
Regina, too, when she wasn't trying to get Henry's attention kept glancing her way. After seeing the recrimination lurking in the other woman's gaze though, Emma resolutely decided to ignore her and focus entirely on Anton, willing him to wake up.
There were so many questions she needed answering and she had a gut feeling that the giant would be able to provide them. It couldn't be just a coincidence that he'd come to Storybrooke through a portal in the exact same place that Killian had left. She just wasn't able to figure out how those two would ever work together, they'd hardly been friends.
She ran an agitated hand through her long hair and took in a breath, trying to ease the stifling feel of the atmosphere that seemed to thicken and press down upon her as time stretched on. Even Henry seemed to sense it and had quietened, opting to go and play a little with his uncle in the baby's room.
A soft groan from the direction of the couch had her suddenly straighten up in her seat, eyes widening in anticipation. The oppressive tension around the room seemed to lighten a little as another moan, louder this time, cut across the silence. Emma quickly stood up then hastened over to where Anton lay. Charming joined her while Robin and Regina moved to the back of the couch along with Snow.
Slowly, the giant's eyes fluttered open to see everyone staring down at him expectantly. He looked blank for a moment then raised his hand to his head with a grimace and pushed himself up to sit. His gaze darted briefly from one person to another as he got his bearings before flying back to the Saviour as his mouth dropped open in surprise.
"Emma?" he queried in disbelief, "But…Hook said you'd left."
"Hook?" she repeated, feeling her heart lurch, "You saw him?"
Anton nodded and Emma felt relief like she'd never known suddenly flow through her body making her sag slightly. He'd made it through safely and not been lost somewhere in the past. She was thankful for that at least.
"So where is he?" Charming asked, "He must have set up a portal in the Enchanted Forest otherwise you wouldn't be here."
The giant looked at the prince and shook his head.
"I came through using a magic bean," he told him, "I've been growing them again. Not all the plants here were destroyed and I was able to save one and take it back home when the curse was broken. I've managed to produce a small crop from it."
"Okay, so why didn't Hook just come with you?" Charming pressed in confusion.
Anton glanced over at Emma, his expression clearly that of one concerned that he was going to say something she wasn't going to like. She tensed as he looked back at her father and steeled herself for whatever he said next.
"In your absence the Enchanted Forest has been forcefully taken over by Prince John. His ally, Sir Guy of Gisbourne, has taken up residence in your home and the people are being persecuted. He is a cruel man."
"I know him well," Robin interjected grimly, "Not many who cross his path live to tell the tale."
"I always knew Prince John had eyes on the kingdom," Charming muttered angrily, "I didn't think he'd go that far though. I take it Hook knew about Gisbourne before he went to the castle?"
Anton nodded then continued, "He wished to return and tell you straight away but none of my plants were ready to harvest. He'd hurt his ankle coming out of the portal and stayed with me a couple days to see if any beans would grow while he rested it. When they didn't he decided to take the chance and go and try to gather the items he needed to set up the portal anyway."
"That idiot, why didn't he just wait?" the prince groused irately.
The giant briefly glanced at Emma again before adding, "When he left he told me that if he didn't return within a month then he had likely failed and I was to come and tell you myself."
Emma drew in a sharp breath at that, her heart picking up its pace at the implication of Anton's words. Failed. As in caught. As in...
"You think he's dead," she stated flatly, her voice devoid of any emotion even though inside she was a slowly falling apart.
Anton met her gaze steadily, a look of sorrow etched into his features as he slowly nodded his head. Knowing how Gisbourne dealt with anyone he considered a threat, there was only ever one outcome.