Five days ago…
Killian hurriedly shoved the unicorn bone into the small leather bag he had found in Regina's bedchamber then checked the list she'd given him to make certain that he had all the items required.
Satisfied that he'd procured everything needed he touched the paper to the lit candle he'd taken from the corridor and watched the list flare up into flame.
Black ash floated lazily to the floor and he scrubbed it away with his boot leaving a dark streak upon the stone underfoot. Picking up the candle he pulled the hood of his cloak back up and checked in the mirror to ensure he was invisible once more.
He quickly strode to the door then blew out the flame and stood still for a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness. Moonlight streamed in from a large window giving him just enough light to place the still lightly smoking candle down on a nearby table before he cautiously opened the door and peered into the quiet corridor.
In the distance he could hear the sound of music and the low hum of many voices that he knew came from a ball that was being held in the great hall. It was the reason he had decided to wait an extra day before entering the castle. With that many people in attendance it would be an added insurance that he would get in and out again undetected.
He stepped out into the dimly lit hallway then looked both ways before stealthily making his way back towards the staircase that would lead him down to the castles' entrance. Gisbournes' guards, dressed in black tunics with red piping, stood sentry at various points along the way. He held his breath and slowed each time he passed them by, treading carefully, but thankfully none of them seemed to be aware of his presence.
He made it safely to the stairs and quickly began to descend, the sounds from the ball getting louder with each step. Once he reached the bottom, he glanced around out of habit as if he could be seen then shook his head at his own folly and allowed himself a small, relieved smile.
He was actually going to get away with it.
The pirate had just started for the door when the sound of a muffled scream from across the foyer made him freeze and turn around. He spied a door off to the left and then another, louder scream cut through the air confirming the room beyond to be the source. It was definitely a woman and she sounded scared, in pain. He tensed slightly expecting people to come running but it seemed those attending the ball either didn't hear her or didn't care.
The pirate's jaw tightened at the thought of a woman in distress and he automatically took a step forward then stopped.
What was he doing?
It wasn't his problem.
He had to get back to Storybrooke.
He hadn't come this far to risk it all now…
Determinedly he turned back to the castle entrance and tried hard to ignore the little internal voice that condemned him for not going to help. It was useless he realised, briefly closing his eyes as he reluctantly acknowledged that he couldn't in good conscience just walk away.
How times had changed…
"Bloody hell," he muttered to himself as he spun around then set off as fast as his injured ankle would allow across the foyer, the telltale sound of his footsteps easily lost among the combined noise of the party and yet another scream from the woman.
He slowed as he reached the room and saw that the door was ajar. Whatever was happening inside was either quite the common occurrence or whoever was in there had no fears of being interrupted.
He looked through the gap and not seeing anyone he slowly eased the door open so as to not draw any untoward attention. Two guards stood nearby but as he stealthily slithered into the room he noted that their focus was on a man standing a few feet away.
He was tall and lean with eyes as black as coal that matched his expertly styled hair and neatly trimmed beard. In his right hand he wielded some kind of mahogany staff that had a golden filigree topper within which was set the bluest sapphire he'd ever laid eyes on.
A pained groan dragged Killian's gaze from the gem and down to the woman on her knees at the man's feet. Her head was tilted back and the pirate had a sudden flash of recognition as he took in the look of agony that contorted her familiar face.
The witch from whom he'd purchased his cloak.
Killian watched in horror as her very soul appeared to be being sucked out of her and into the now glowing gem. As quietly as possible he drew his sword with the intention of running the man through along with the two guards. It wasn't the best of form to use his invisibility to his advantage but he couldn't find it within himself to care.
Sometimes it was good to be a pirate.
He raised his arm then felt a shift in the air around him and a slight pull on the cloak. He paused and glanced around with a frown then noticed that the bearded man was staring straight at him with a surprised, and not at all happy, expression.
"Damn it," he murmured as he looked down at himself and realised that the jewel had somehow drained the magic from the cloak.
He felt rather than saw the guards behind him move and he turned abruptly, levelling his sword at just the right angle to block an oncoming blow from one of the men. Metal clanged loudly as he deftly used his hook to then deflect another attack from the second guard. The first man swung again and the pirate parried expertly before lifting his leg and kicking his assailant in the stomach causing him to double over and fall to the ground. The other guard tried to stab Killian in the side but he caught the sword with his hook then punched him hard across the jaw, knocking him out cold.
With the first guard still on the floor groaning, the pirate turned to the bearded man and held out his sword towards him.
"Let her go," he demanded brusquely.
He could tell that the man wasn't used to being spoken to like that by the way his jaw clenched and his eyes sparked with barely contained fury. He was unarmed however and unlikely to engage the pirate so Killian pressed his advantage. He took a couple of steps forward then swung his sword at the staff and knocked it out of the man's hand across the room.
Martha exhaled sharply then fell forward onto her hands and tried to draw in shaky breaths.
Killian bent and placed his hook carefully around her arm then hauled her none too gently up off of the floor, never taking his eyes off of the bearded man in front of him.
"Come on, lass, we need to get out of here," he stated urgently as he moved backwards and took her unresisting form with him.
The guard that he'd kicked in the stomach sat up suddenly and reached out to try and stop them but the pirate gave him a swift boot to the face and he collapsed back unconscious.
Martha stumbled a little as they left the room and Killian hurried them towards the castle entrance.
"You have to keep going," he urged as he all but dragged her along with him.
"I know," she replied as she seemingly tried to gather her wits, "Thank you for saving me."
"We're not free of danger yet," he warned her as they finally made it outside into the crisp night air.
The cool temperature seemed to perk her up a little and she picked up her pace as shouts rang out from inside the castle rallying the guards. They had just made it across the drawbridge when the sound of men clattering up the stairs that led to the ramparts reached their ears.
"Run!" Killian ordered and pushed her ahead of him towards the forest as a sudden whooshing noise alerted him to the first volley of arrows that showered over them, "Faster!"
She did as he told her and he followed close behind shielding her as much as possible. All they had to do was to make to the trees and lose themselves in the depths of the forest then they'd be safe…for a day or two at least.
A second rush of air sounded and Killian ducked his head as more arrows fell around them. Sharp pain suddenly lanced through his left shoulder causing him to gasp in its intensity and his steps faltered momentarily as an arrow found its mark and lodged itself in deep.
"You're hurt!" Martha exclaimed as she glanced back at him and saw that he'd fallen behind a little.
"Just keep going!" he shouted, gritting his teeth against the combined pain of his shoulder and the throbbing of his ankle as he forced himself to run again.
The sound of a third wave of arrows slicing through the air gave him an extra boost of adrenaline and then they were in the forest and crashing through the underbrush to safety.
Emma let out an 'oof' as she landed heavily onto her front out of the portal and lay there for a moment catching her breath. One by one the rest of the party from Storybrooke fell just as inelegantly onto the ground beside her with loud groans and mild expletives.
They all got up and despite the serious nature for their journey there, Emma couldn't help but smile wryly at hearing Regina grouse about the grass stain she'd incurred on her perfectly pressed grey pants.
The blonde looked around then felt a pang of nostalgia as she saw the beanstalk climbing high into the sky in the distance. It felt a bit like coming home again in a really surreal way.
"We need to get moving," Charming announced, taking charge.
"Here, take this just in case," said Anton holding out his hand.
"Thanks," the prince replied as he took the small bean that lay in the giant's palm, "Could come in handy."
Anton smiled then nodded and turned to the rest of the group before bidding them all a farewell. He would not be joining them on their quest at Charming's behest. There was always the chance that Killian would return as planned and he wanted to ensure that someone would be there to let him know what was happening.
They watched him walk away then the prince looked at the others and gestured to his right.
"The castle's this way. If we start walking now we should be there by early morning," he predicted hopefully then turned his gaze to Emma and added, "We can ask around the village and find out if anyone has seen Killian."
She nodded her agreement then Robin stepped forward and made his own proposal.
"Might I suggest that we head for my camp first? Some of my men didn't come over with the curse as they were…otherwise engaged in a neighbouring kingdom," he explained a little awkwardly, "I would imagine that they have returned and are lying low, especially if Gisbourne is around."
"Is it far from the castle?" Charming asked, ignoring the fact that the thief's men had no doubt been on a less then lawful excursion to the other realm.
"It wouldn't put us out more than a couple of hours and at the very least we would be able to have some supper there. My men might even have news if we're lucky."
The prince glanced at his daughter then at Regina and as neither woman seemed to have any objections he nodded his assent.
"Lead the way," he offered with a smile.
Robin nodded and set off in the direction of his camp. Regina walked with him and Emma did her best to ignore the dart of envy that pierced her heart as she saw their fingers tangle together.
What right did she have to be jealous of a couple finding love?
She'd had it within her grasp and chose not to grab it with both hands. Now all she could do was hope against hope that she would get a second chance.
Emma trudged on in relative silence, glancing up from time to time as she did her best to not trip up on any tree roots. The forest was getting denser, the path slightly less obvious and a sudden bittersweet memory from not so long ago popped into her head causing her to smile slightly.
'You know something, Swan? Whenever you're around I inevitably find myself tracking through some manner of woods or forests courting danger.'
"Some things never change, Killian," she murmured to herself as she played those words and others he'd spoken to her over and over in her mind finding a little solace in her memories for once.
Maybe it was being back in the Enchanted Forest that did it but knowing this was where they'd first met and would meet again if she had her way seemed to bring a comfort she'd not been able to obtain back in Storybrooke.
It held her in good stead and passed the time as the small group walked on not stopping for anything more than a comfort break if one of them needed it. It had long since grown dark and Regina had used magic to light a couple of fallen branches in order for them to find their way.
Eventually Robin stopped then turned back to the others.
"We're nearing the camp," he told them softly, "There should be someone on guard so stick close by while I let them know I have returned."
They nodded their agreement and watched the archer head off into the forest. Time stretched on and Regina began to shift her feet restlessly as she avidly searched the gloom for sight of her love.
"Where the hell is he?" she muttered anxiously.
"I'm here," came his voice from the darkness suddenly making them all jump a little. A glow appeared ahead of them then grew brighter as he approached with an apologetic smile that he directed at the queen before saying, "I'm sorry I was not quicker but if you follow me I'll take you to my friends."
"It's about time," the brunette groused as she started towards him.
The archer merely smiled knowing that she was just covering up her concern behind a brusque manner. He was well acquainted with his soul mate's desire to protect herself still, even with him. It frustrated and endeared her to him all at the same time.
He turned and headed back through the forest with the others in tow and a few moments later he led them to a small clearing. A modest fire blazed at the centre of the camp with what appeared to be rabbits being cooked over the flames on a long skewer.
Emma glanced around at the four men that immediately stood up and bowed slightly as soon as they saw the women enter and she gave them a tentative smile.
"This is Much, Gilbert, Wat and Gamble," Robin established as pointed to each man in turn, "Little John's cousin, Arthur, is doing a quick tour of the perimeter at the moment so I'll introduce him when he returns."
As if on cue there came a sudden commotion from nearby trees then a large man burst into the clearing all but dragging a clearly frightened woman with him.
"Arthur!" Robin exclaimed in surprise before his gaze slid to the curly haired woman the other man held by the arm, "Who's this?"
"She won't say. I found her sneaking around the camp," the fair-haired man explained as he released her.
"I wasn't sneaking, I just wanted to make sure that you weren't Gisbourne's guards before I approached," she clarified, her voice wavering slightly. She glanced around the group then looked between Regina and Emma obviously hoping to garner some sympathy from members of her own sex as she appealed earnestly, "Please…I have a friend who's been badly hurt. He needs help soon or I think…I think…" She broke off unable to complete her thought but they all understood what she'd implied.
Robin continued to eye her a little suspiciously but as Emma studied her fraught features could see that she wasn't lying. The woman cared for her friend and if he was as bad as she said then it was only right that they should try and help her...even if it did prove to be too late.
"She's telling the truth," the blonde stated quietly before asking the woman gently, "Where is he?"
The woman's relief was almost palpable and her body visibly lost some of its tension as she gave the Saviour a grateful smile.
"He passed out a few minutes ago and I dragged him behind a fallen tree for protection," she explained quickly, "It's not far. I can show you."
"I'll go," Charming announced firmly, "If he has to be moved then I can do it."
"I'll come with you," Robin offered as he grabbed his crossbow, still a little cautious even though he was well aware of the Saviour's uncanny ability to detect falsehoods.
Arthur and Gilbert also decided to go and as Emma watched them walk off she glanced over at Regina who gave her a look that said if she was wrong she would make sure she paid.
Letting out a sigh she began to pace back and forth in front of the fire while she awaited their return. Wat shyly offered her some tea but she politely declined and continued with her pacing. It couldn't have been much more than ten minutes later when she heard them coming back and at a far more rapid pace than they'd left.
"Quick, put a blanket down," her father called as soon as he entered the clearing half carrying, half dragging a cloaked figure with Robin's help.
She did as he asked then stood back as he and Robin carefully eased the lifeless man down on top. Her father shot her a concerned glance as he stood up then reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Emma…" he began softly, but whatever else he was about to say was drowned out by the sudden rushing in her ears when Robin moved away and she got her first good look at the unconscious form at her feet.
She swore her heart stopped for a moment only to resume again seconds later, the beat a harsh staccato rhythm in her chest as she whispered the name of the man lying prone before her.
The man she'd crossed worlds to find.