A/N: I finished it. I never thought this day would come, but it has. My first multi-chapter and now it's finally over. I'm so grateful for the feedback I got on this, I never anticipated that people would actually like it, so thank you all for your support and your patience.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, not my world. Just my imagination borrowing them for a bit.
Killian wakes abruptly, his eyes open wide before he's even fully sure he's awake. He's gasping for air, though it comes easily now.
He's back, back in Storybrooke, in the Charming's loft, alive.
And he can breathe.
He sits up slowly from where he's sprawled on the floor somewhere in the kitchen, expecting his back to pull painfully with each movement he makes, but there's nothing, no sign of any of the trauma he so recently became accustomed.
He nearly gasps again when he sees them.
David and Mary Margaret, still asleep on the floor
He knows they're not who they were in that cursed story book, he knows, but he can't help the speeding of his heart, the race of his blood through his veins, and the twist of fear in his gut.
He forces himself to take a breath, and then another, trying to calm down, forcing himself to quell the absolute terror he can't control, but his fingers won't stop trembling, his legs itching to carry him as far from there as possible.
He stands, trying to ignore the fear, stuffing it down somewhere far from consciousness, but he knows he has to move, to go somewhere, anywhere else, to get his body to fully relax. He looks around, the mess of Henry's backpack strewn around the floor, the Charmings passed out on the rug near the stairs.
He rushes from the kitchen and up the stairs, his whole body shaking now. Get a hold of yourself, he berates himself silently, but he can't, not after everything that never happened.
He leans his now-healed back against the brick wall in Emma's bedroom, the sleeping royals behind him below. His heart pounds painfully in his chest, his breath coming shakily and all too quickly.
He hears them moving downstairs, beginning to wake. They're talking, their voices a gently rippling in the air that he can't bring himself to listen to carefully. It's too much effort to try to slow his racing heart, it's all he can do as he frantically tries to figure out a way out.
The door opens below, and her voice cuts through his fear, clearing the way like a gust of wind through the fog.
"Where is he? Where's Hook?" Emma asks.
"He was there, right before we got dragged away," David replies.
Killian clenches his fist, his fingers still shaking, but he forces himself to calm, forces himself to take slow breaths, until he can feel the quick thumping in his chest begin to slow.
"Everyone reappeared where they were before this whole mess started," Emma continues. Her voice is soft, quiet, and he can hear her uncertainty, her worry.
He pushes off the pillar and slips what he hopes looks like a grin on his face as he leans against the railing.
"Yeah, sorry about the mess," he manages to say, his words clear despite the tremors that still shake inside himself. She looks up at him, the panic on her face melting away as she smiles, and he feels some of his own fear slip away. "I really needed to find that book, and I'm usually a bit tidier."
She dashes for the steps, and he's grateful she's coming to him. He's not sure he's ready to go down yet, to be so close to the ones who tried to kill him. He turns toward the top of the stairs to see her flying toward him, her hair a golden blur behind her as she throws her arms around him tightly.
"Killian," she murmurs as they fall back onto the bed, and he can't help the laugh that slips out as she lands on top of him on the soft blankets, and she giggles in his ear. He doesn't think he's ever seen her so happy, so relaxed, so relieved.
She sits up slightly and links her hand in his, and he realises his fingers are finally, finally, still.
"How many times do I have to tell you, love? I'm a survivor," he says with a grin. "Look, I didn't mean to cause any panic. I woke moments before your parents and came up here. Is Henry…?"
"He's fine," she says, her hair falling around her face as she looks down at him. "Henry's fine. I'm just, I'm glad you are, too." Her eyebrows furrow and she adds, "You are, right? You're okay?"
He nods, still grinning. "Aye, as if nothing happened."
She frowns, watching him closely. She pulls him up by his jacket and he sits, her weight still comfortably pressed against his legs as he does.
"But it did," she says softly, her hands moving to his chest.
He tilts his head. "Pardon?"
"It happened," she sighs. "All of it. You were hurt and you helped us and then you nearly died, more than once. It might have been erased from reality, but it was real, to us."
"I suppose it was," he allows, nodding slowly. "But there's nothing left of it now, Emma. Everything's back to normal."
"They tried to kill you," she says, looking at him, really seeing him, and he knows she's aware of the depth of his fear. "Killian, my father stabbed you in the back and came back to finish the job." She shudders, and he can see the range of emotions in her eyes, no doubt mirroring his own.
"That's why you were up here, wasn't it."
He can't hide from her, just as she never could from him, and he nods, swallowing hard. "I know it wasn't them," he whispers, ashamed of his weakness once more, a feeling he thought he'd be rid of away from that infernal alternate tale. "I know, but I can't…" He breaks off with a shake of his head. This isn't who he should be, here, this isn't who he could be, cowering in terror of something that never happened.
She reaches up to brush his hair from his face, her fingers lingering against his cheek. "It's okay," she says gently. "We can stay here as long as you need."
He nods as he leans into her hand, his eyes closed and he just breathes, something he will not take for granted in the near future. She's quiet, but he can hear her thoughts.
He looks up at her, meets her gaze, and smiles gently.
"That was real too, you know" he says quietly. Her eyes widen, she wasn't ready, and he doesn't want to push. Magic or not, True Love or not, she's all that matters, and after being with her in the book but not with her, he's never been so glad to see her again, regardless of what their future brings. He could only imagine how it felt for her, with her memories intact the whole time, so close to him but so far away at the same time.
"We don't have to talk about it, if you-"
He doesn't see her coming.
Her lips crash into his, stealing the words from his mouth. She's grabbing his jacket, pulling him closer, and he hungrily returns the kiss, pouring more love than he ever thought possible into it. His hand comes up to hold her head, one of hers is reaching behind his neck, threading through his hair in the back and sending tremors of a completely different kind through him. He missed this, missed her, the softness of her lips, the feel of her hair through his fingers, the press of her nose against his as they pulled apart for air, her forehead resting against his, breath mingling in the space between, neither of them unwilling to be apart for even the slightest moment as they recover.
He never wanted to push, and in the end, he didn't have to, the words slipping from her mouth quietly as they sit on her bed.
"I love you, Killian."
The air leaves his lungs, he's unable to draw in more, but it's a different feeling than what he painfully experienced all too recently. This time, the tears that fill his eyes aren't from desperation, but a different sort altogether. He gasps, breathing as deeply as he can before letting it out in a stuttered sigh.
"I love you, Emma."