A/N: Well, this is it. First off, Happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans. Second, I do not own OUAT or its characters. This is the last chapter and I want to acknowledge youtube's KillianHook, the OUAT Wordpress Transcripts website, the good folks at tumblr for all their in-depth analysis (vickyvicarious, buttercupsandhooks, Screwball Ninja, and onceuponamirror, specifically), my good friend and sounding board Florencia7, who is quite an amazing writer herself, and for everyone who has read this story and provided feedback. I am so glad it's been as fun for you to read as it was for me to write. Thank you, thank you for everything.
"Hey...so, um, we need to talk about how today's going to go." It's not quite the approach he would have taken, but among the things he gives Swan credit for, earning people's trust and admiration is one of them. In fact, the woman turns and shifts so she sits across from Swan and listens to her with her hands in her lap.
"I know you must really be looking forward to going back to your family..." she begins. The woman gives an eager nod.
"I don't know how long it will take to pay you back for rescuing me, but I will. I promise if there is ever anything I can do for you, name it."
Ha. You're about to be held to that, he thinks.
"Well...I'm going to hold you to it," Swan says, tensing a little. "Believe it or not, I need you to come with me. That's the only way for both of us to get back to our families as we know them."
Predictably, the woman's face falls a little. Blinking a few times, she glances back behind her before scooting back a few inches.
"We're from the future. Magic brought us here and magic can take us back, but changing things in the past means that the future may be a little different." Her fingertips spread over her cheeks. She heaves a sigh. "I know that doesn't sound like it makes a lot of sense."
"What are you saying?" the woman asks her. She stands all of a sudden, which prompts Swan to stand and for him to hold out his hand.
"I changed the past when I saved you. Regina would have killed you otherwise."
"We have no idea what will happen if you return to them. Now." Taking a breath, he continues for her. "In the future, Regina casts a Dark Curse that sends most of the people from this land to another. There are a few...other minor events here and there, but as of right now, in the future, your family is there, and they've believed you to be dead all this time." It sounded so much better in his head. He's sure he's only confused her more. The backing up is not a good sign, he thinks, watching her face tighten into an expression of mounting fear. That's just what they need—her to think they're crazy people intent on taking her back somewhere and doing unspeakable things to her.
"You can't stay here," Swan reiterates, still not acting as though she regrets her choice. "You were supposed to die hours ago."
"I don't understand." The woman shakes her head, her smile the patient, controlled one people have when they want the other person to see reason. With every passing second, she's growing more sure they're insane. "I just want to get back to my family."
"They need to believe you're dead because that's what they've always thought," he explains. To gamble on them being in Storybrooke harbors its own risks, but none so dangerous as leaving her here. "Trust us," Swan adds.
"All due respect...but I don't trust you or believe you..." Exhaling, he looks over at Swan, who shoots him a quick look before stepping around their companion. It's a silent conversation, and a vague one, all he can gather from her face is an "I'm going to do it." Well, whatever works at this point, as he rather dreads having to drag a woman kicking and screaming back to the Dark Castle. Somehow, she understands his silent "Go ahead" and positions himself...for what, he doesn't know. He just knows to be right in front of this woman going on and on about them kidnapping her or some rot as Swan smacks her in the head with a tree limb.
"Well, then, I guess we're kidnapping you," she sighs, letting the tree limb fall. He sets the woman on the ground after she falls right into him. She's out cold and, while it does remind him a little of being fed to the ogres if he doesn't tell her the truth, it is tremendously nice when Swan's resourcefulness is opposing someone else and not him. He can't help but laugh.
"I always knew there was a little pirate in you, Swan!"
And she takes it as a compliment, flashing a proud little smile at her cunning. Yes. This will be a good day. He can put up with carrying their friend over to the castle, they will return home, the three of them, and anything else will be gusts of wind in the sails.
"What happened to her?"
He won't tell her it's adorable that her face instantly changes into that of a naughty child caught red-handed by their father, even though David doesn't appear the slightest bit furious.
"She's...resting. What's up?" Fortunately, he had tucked her arm under her head when he had put her down.
"Have either one of you seen Snow? She went to the stream but she hasn't..." Trailing off, he begins patting his pockets and vest with encroaching fear. "The ring! She took it!"
"Really?" Stop it, Swan. It's funny enough already without you playing ignorant. His open book should not look so damn thrilled about theft...but he can't deny it's an all-too amusing situation. "Do you know where she might be headed?"
"She was seeking passage on a pirate ship. There's only one way to get to the harbor from here. The troll bridge!" Hoisting his supplies over his back, David takes off. And from that point on, Henry's book...and grandparents...only ever talked about love and epiphanies, so they can part ways. Or at least they could if Swan wasn't hitching up her skirts and starting after him.
"Swan, wait. The bridge—isn't that where you want them to be? Isn't that where Snow saved your father from the trolls?"
"Yes, but the only reason she was able to do that was because she had a weapon, the dust." He nods.
"Which she's already used on herself. Bloody hell..." Like looking after children...
"Come on! They're going to need help!" Their friend, well, she doesn't show any signs of waking up soon, so, of course they can add troll-dispatching to the day's events. Might as well view it as fun as he doesn't imagine some swarm of fairies is just going to swoop down and carry the trolls off to Pixie Hollow...
"...you can't get married without this." Through the foliage, he watches Snow hand out a pouch. It feels as though he's watching the actions play out much slower than normal, for he needs to take in every little look, every little way they mirror each other as they stand across from one another. David opens the pouch and sifts through the contents until he finds the ring and holds it up...stalling any way he can. Killian hadn't ever believed himself to be sentimental, nor someone who could revel in someone else's good fortune, but this...knowing what they don't...well, their souls seem to know already, at least know this is someone who will change their lives... This is worth watching a hundred times.
"I know, not your style, right?" David asks Snow. Prince Charming asks Snow White.
"Well, there's only one way to find out." It's an impulse that motivates her to take the ring and place it on her finger, the action so quick that she needs to pause and hold her hand up for an eternity to examine it, to contemplate what wearing that would mean. It's taken their breaths away, and, even while hiding in the bushes away from them, Killian has never felt closer to them. Snow White and Prince Charming had been...unattainable. They were little more than characters whose story he had heard in snippets from innkeepers and old men perched on crates outside the taverns, characters who shared a love so strong and so deep and so unreachable it didn't feel real. That hadn't changed when he'd met them, but now, now there is nothing left but a warm, pure feeling as he realizes their romance had once been nothing but awkwardness and instinct.
He knows too well how it feels to be so inexplicably drawn to another that fighting it feels sensible and futile all at once.
He needs to look over at Emma and see what this means to her, smiling when she laughs at her own tears.
"It's okay, Swan. Not everyone gets a chance to watch their parents fall in love."
"Well, wherever you're going, be careful," he hears David say, tearing his gaze off of Emma. The feeling he'd had this morning, that everything would fall into place today, returns in full force. "If you need anything..."
"You'll find me?" Snow asks, so hopeful.
"I almost believe that," she breathes, her words so quiet they're almost impossible to decipher.
From this point, he doesn't know what to expect, knowing little of what happened between this moment and the two of them usurping King George and Regina for their kingdom, but the sight of Snow and David slowly, reluctantly, walking off in separate directions floors him.
"They're heading away from each other."
"No, it's okay," Emma tells him. "That's how it happened the first time. It took my parents a while to accept their feelings."
"Must run in the family," he notes. David looks back at her. Snow looks back at him, and there is something in Emma's tone, something fragile, that tells him she isn't talking about just her parents.
The desire to see this day through to its end, to go back, hell, to just be in Storybrooke again keeps his stride energetic and quick in spite of the woman strewn over his shoulder. Henry, David, Snow—even the foreign sights and sounds seem like nothing less than exciting. It feels more like a celebration than one last step in the process, the return to the Dark Castle. He and Swan haven't spoken since they watched her parents part, the eagerness to return dealing out all manner of ridiculous ideas to conserve energy.
The doors open by themselves and he doesn't care that no one escorts them in or that Rumpelstiltskin hasn't been tapping his heel and glancing at his clock. No, in fact, the man is where they left him, in the dining room with rays of sunlight hitting square patches of the elongated table.
"We did it!" Swan announces.
"Your parents are together?" Rumpelstiltskin asks without looking up, nor without any surprise in his demeanor.
"They're right back on track. We're ready to go!"
"I see. And you brought some luggage." He points at the woman's rump, which is inconveniently the only part of her he can see.
"Long story," Swan says, nonplussed. "So how's the portal coming? Can you open it?"
What? It sounds more like a grievous error...like he didn't add enough enchanted snowflakes or dragon's breath to some potion. An oversight, not an impossibility. He's the Dark One. He's Rumpelstiltskin, the creator of the Dark Curse.
"Then what are you working on?" Swan asks, her face frozen in shock.
"Oh this is for me. A forgetting potion. I know too much about my future. The only way to protect it, is to forget it."
"What about this wand? You said it could help us." Something's not right. He couldn't just ignore their plight, not when Emma Swan is the only bridge he has to get him from here to Baelfire. They had a...he recoils. They had no deal. No deal had been struck.
"Well, apparently, only those who use the portal can reopen it, so unless you can wield magic, I'm afraid you're going nowhere!" he sings, tossing the wand to her like he would toss a bone to a dog. "Can you? Thought not."
You don't believe in your parents, or in magic, or even yourself.
Neverland is a place where imagination runs wild, and, sadly, yours doesn't.
When have you ever taken a real leap of faith?
"You just expect us to stay here? What about protecting your precious future?" he growls at him. She can do it. Somehow, the Savior can take them back and Rumpelstiltskin, who looks more and more like a crocodile again with each passing second, can resume his calculated misdeeds as planned. Not again. He won't stand around and let someone so much more cowardly than her berate her, make her feel the way she's always felt about herself.
"Well that's exactly what I'm going to do!" He throws him a mischievous grin.
"He means to kill us, Swan." He unsheathes his sword, feeling ready. Bloody hell, they will go home today, whether that atrocious laughter agrees with the notion or not.
"No! I mean to put you someplace safe, someplace even I dare not go, where I store the magic that is too dark or too unpredictable even for me!"
She tries one more time to reason with him...or beg him...but the purple smoke eclipses everything else. It wafts around him before vanishing, revealing a gray, cavernous place with section after section and no door. No sword, either.
"No," Swan breathes. He sets their friend down so he can survey the room, or space, rather, better. She's back in her Storybrooke clothes, and he feels his leather collar against his neck again. This must be the infamous vault. Rumpelstiltskin's castle probably had scores of secret passageways and nooks for magical items and yet this was the one everyone hoped he never experimented in, the magic contained in here far beyond anyone's imagination.
Giving into the temptation to see if his regular face has returned to him, he shuts out thoughts that the mirror in front of him could be possessed and looks into it.
"Well at least he did us one favor. I'm devilishly handsome again."
And Emma Swan is not amused once again. She walks off in one direction in search of anything that can help, so he walks in the other, opening a few cabinets. In one black one, he pulls out a trophy-like urn, ornate but unremarkable to the touch. The joke is on the Dark One, stuffing them into a veritable museum of magical items. One of these can surely be of some use.
"Wait! Don't touch anything!" she shouts. "If Rumple's afraid of this stuff, there's got to be a reason!"
It's more the urgency in her voice than any danger he feels from the urn that prompts him to set it down on a pillar.
"I'm just trying to figure a way out."
"I don't think there is one," she mutters. "What's the point? You heard what he said. He can't open the portal."
"But you can." This look, one that makes it seem like she's given up on him replaces the one of terror she used to give him as his least favorite, the most exasperating one. "All he said we need is magic. You're the Savior, Swan. You can do it."
"Not anymore," she whispers. "I lost it."
And that's bothered him since the moment she said it. If the damned flying monkeys all returned to their normal selves, why hadn't she? For what possible reason could there be for her alone to not have been restored as if Zelena had never existed?
"When Zelena died, all her spells were undone. Your powers should have been restored."
"Believe me, if I could make it work, I would. You think I'm faking it?"
You couldn't fake a thing for long if your life depended on it, he considers snapping back, but that's the problem. It's not fake if you believe it.
"I think not having magic makes it a hell of a lot easier for you to run back to New York and pretend to be somebody else!" he all but bellows at her. He's clearly shocked her, for she's taken aback, speechless. Well, good. He doesn't want to hear another blasted word on some life based on lies being better for her than what's real. "Listen to me, Swan. You're not. It's time to stop running."
"You think I don't know that?" she whispers back to him. "Yes, I run away. That's how I've always survived, but, believe me, I want this to work! I want to go back! I want to stop running!"
He reads her anyway, and it's truth.
"What's changed your mind?" he finally asks.
"Watching my mother die," she says after an eternity, after reading him right back. "Thinking she was dead...you saw what happened. I was so relieved when she was okay, and I hugged her, and you know what I saw in her eyes? Nothing." Her eyes brim with tears at just the mentioning of it. "She didn't know who I was. I had saved her and lost her, too. And that's what I've been doing to her ever since I met her." She lets a miniscule smile touch him because, through this horrible ordeal she's been through, it makes her fully aware of one thing—she is loved. There's no need to deny or suspect or push away... "It's got to stop. When Henry brought me to Storybrooke, he told me I was the Savior. I didn't see what he was really doing. He wasn't bringing me back to break a curse; he was bringing me home."
Her eyes sear into his, not at all embarrassed she's told him all this. Locked in on him, she smiles.
"Neal was right."
"About what?" he asks, finally finding the strength to speak.
"You don't have a home until you just miss it, and being with my parents these last few days, but not really being with them—I've never missed them more. Storybrooke is my home."
He sees the white light emitting from the wand, but only out of the corner of his eye. A selfish part of him wants to admit that he knows exactly how she feels. He's gone long enough without having a home and pretending he doesn't want one. From the moment she first left him, he missed her. Whether he was angry with her or dismissing her as a distraction or fighting every instinct, he missed her. An involuntary smile widens across his face.
"What?" she asks, smiling back.
"Look down." The moment has to pass. After all, they have people to return to, and, as much as all her words touched him, he looks forward to a day when she doesn't need to pour them out like that, when they haven't been bottled up forever. When she can just be. That will come to pass, he tells himself. He has yet to see her fail. "I'd say you've got your magic back. Now shall we go?"
He doesn't know if she has to recall the portal itself. With how tightly she has her eyes closed and how furrowed her brow is, he'd guess it has more to do with recalling the feelings associated with it, her impression of it. It appears, a familiar, fiery orange abyss just like before.
"Well done, Swan," he says, picking up their traveling companion and diving into the portal, into the future.
He'd feared for a split second she wouldn't be there on the other side with him. But he feels the dust and dirt around him fly up and her body hit. The little grunts and curses sound like music. He helps her up and glances around at the barn, the outskirts of Storybrooke.
"Can you do me a favor and fill her in? Make sure she doesn't freak out?" she asks, still holding onto him, but looking over at their friend, waking up and bound to have more than a few questions.
"Where are you going?"
"I have some people I need to see," she blurts out in breathless excitement and takes off running. It's not like they're not going to the same place, he thinks, reaching down and helping the woman to her feet.
"Easy now. Portals tend to knock the wind out of you," he begins, helping her dust the dirt off the sleeves of her dress."
"You, you were actually telling the truth," she breathes, eyes widening at the barn.
"Welcome to Storybrooke." He cringes as he says it, taking a moment to let her gain her bearings and take in these new surroundings. He knows, this is just the beginning.
"Odds are they're at Granny's. That's where most of the town seems to be right about now. We'll...we'll head over there and maybe, I don't know, do you think you need a doctor?" He's not good at this, but then he unleashes a silent laugh. Who better to acquaint her with the disorienting aspects of this land than someone else who lacks the implanted knowledge and memories of the curse? He feels quite the old hand in comparison to her. "What's your name?"
"Come on. Some food, some medical attention if need be, and we'll get you to your family."
Granny and Ruby take over Marian duties for a little while. Amazing how all one has to do is tell them they traveled through time and all of a sudden, he can sit down with a drink and take a breath. It's still with him, the feeling that the day can only bring good things, and it has so far. Storybrooke. Prince Neal...even from outside he hears the announcement. In spite of the chilliness in the air, he decides to wait before he pays the proper adulation, when the urge to boast about how he knew David and Snow before they even liked each other passes. They can bask in their second product of True Love in peace a little while longer.
Swan comes out the door, away from the boisterous party, and takes an exuberant seat next to him, as if in anticipation for something.
"So...do you think Rumpelstiltskin's right? I'm in the book now." It's the way she says it, with gravitas. It's a heady thing, he'll admit. "He said everything besides our little adventure would go back to normal. Do you think that it is?"
She knows the answer to that, her tone too conversational to convey any real worry, and he did just see her wedged in a booth with her family, so...he considers. He considers waking up on the floor of his cabin wondering where that beautiful woman from the tavern went, wondering if he'd ever see anything so gorgeous again.
"He's right. Otherwise I'd have remembered that damn bar wench I kissed." She mirrors his smirk.
"How would that prove anything?" she challenges him, banter not really something they'd been allowed to have much of since the ball.
"I know how you kiss. I'd have gone after her. But I didn't. My life went on exactly the same as before." His hand twitches, aches to touch her, especially after her breath hitched just for a moment. It's a new kind of jittery in her, one that moves and speaks out of looking forward to something rather than expecting a fight.
"Yeah, must have been the rum," she teases. Or a solid punch in the face. From himself. He takes a great deal of comfort in the fact she knows it happened, too. Otherwise it would still feel unbelievable.
"Everything's back to normal," he sighs. It makes even the way the tables out here amid the ivy and the lights seem a feat, an achievement. "You're a bloody hero, Swan." The soft, muffled music from in the diner, the crisp nip in the clear air—it all feels tied to her.
"So are you! And I wanted to thank you, Killian." She pauses, and he has to fight the impulse to pull her to him and course his lips down her neck to get her to say his name again. "For going back for me in the first place in New York. If you hadn't..."
"It was the right thing to do," he swallows, his heart going a mile a minute. She'll ask how, and he's tired of the two of them not sharing.
"How did you do it? How did you get to me?"
"Well, the curse was coming, I ditched my crew and took the Jolly Roger as fast and as far as I possibly could to outrun it." It sounds rather easy when he retells it, and, in hindsight, it was.
"You outran a curse?" She raises her eyebrow.
"I'm a hell of a captain." It elicits a laugh. "And once I was outside the curse's purview, I knew that the walls were down. Transport between the worlds was possible again, and all I needed was a magic bean." Because all I needed was you. Because all I've ever needed was you.
"Those are not easy to come by." He could keep quiet on the rest, be overly ambiguous on that trade. He wouldn't want her to feel guilty as it was solely his decision, and he's never wanted her to feel obligated to him in any way...but she poured out her heart to him in the vault, and it wasn't the first time she'd told him things he knows she wouldn't tell anyone else. And no secrets between the two of them, no need to read the other, sounds so bloody wonderful.
"They are if you have something of value to trade." He looks down.
"And what was that?"
"Why the Jolly Roger of course," he says quickly, efficiently. Her eyes widen, fascination and appreciation taking over.
"You traded your ship for me?" she whispers.
"Aye," he whispers back. As many times as necessary.
It's so natural this time, cupping her face and responding in kind when she leans in to kiss him. How she's even still in her chair, he can't fathom. It's as heart-racing as before when they kissed the first time, that heightened consciousness taking over so he can hear the inner workings of his own body, most notably his blood flowing through him, but it's how right it feels this time. It gives him something he hadn't had before, allowing him to run his fingers through her hair and sit up to match the tantalizing way she's gripping the back of his head, her other hand on his chest. His eyes still roll back in his head, even as she breaks away.
But it's nothing compared to how she looks at him, like she's seeing him for the first time and taking all of him in. He doesn't have to read her to know it's not self-delusion or wishful thinking—she loves him. Her forehead falls against his and the tip of her smile brushes his own as he pulls her back in. Being with Emma, the idea that she could love him somehow becoming truth had been such an awfully big adventure and yet it's still not enough. It's time to show her without holding back what she means to him, to bring her the peace she's brought him, to have everything that falls into a happy ending, which, really, is nothing more than home.