He never thought dying would be so complicated. One time in his life, some had told him that dying was easy. Living was hard. And yet, Killian Jones had still feared death the way any mortal would. Dying was unknown, and that was terrifying.
Now that he had died, however, he found himself underwhelmed. Here he was in the in between, the Underworld. Somewhere beyond this plane was the land of the living, and the land of those passed over. Killian found himself in limbo. This was the place people went when they were dead, but they still had things they needed to do. Of course that's where he would end up. Killian's one and only task for centuries had been revenge for Milah. It was what he lived for, and he understood that once he achieved it, he would have nothing. Had he died getting his revenge before he changed back from Captain Hook to himself, he doubted he would have been sent to the Underworld. He would have been done, his life work complete. He wouldn't have ended up here.
But then he fell in love with Emma, and she reminded him so much of his older brother. Guilt that he'd choked down over centuries sprang back up. He felt shame for the first time in so, so long. He wanted to be the person his brother had loved again. He wanted to be the man he swore he'd be just to spite his father. He wanted to be a man worthy of Emma's love, who deserved to love her the way he did. And he fought for it. And he worked for it. He made the amends that he could, and every day regretted the ones he couldn't. He died fixing his mistakes, saving the woman he loved and her family who had slowly become his family as well. He died a hero.
But he still wasn't finished. He had promised Emma a future, and in dying that was gone. There was nothing he could do about that now, and he feared that he would never be able to move on from this in between with that regret left in the air. And he had another outstanding regret as well, one he would never willingly speak of. Killian had orphaned his younger brother. He had left the lad alone with the corpse of their father cooling in the doorway, with no one there to love him. When his father had abandoned him, sold him into slavery, he at least had his older brother. His younger brother had no one, and that was his fault. And that was yet another regret he would never be able to amend.
Killian supposed he would be forever stuck in this in between. He had too much left undone. May as well get comfortable, he guessed.
He was trying to find a place to settle, wondering if spirits of the Underworld slept, when he felt a presence behind him on the street. Wayward souls walked aimlessly up and down the streets of a dilapidated looking Storybrooke, staring off into a far away distance, unseeing, unhearing. It was disturbing to Killian, and he wondered just how long it would take for him to do the same. But the presence behind him felt different than the lost souls that he hurried around. This one felt real, present, aware and determined. It sent a chill up his spine, and as he stood in the middle of the street that would lead him to the docks, he wondered if he should turn around or simply keep walking. He felt nervous, afraid.
It was the realization that he was afraid that got him to turn around and face the soul behind him. There was nothing to fear now. The worst was over; he was already dead and there was nothing more terrifying than that.
If his heart could still beat, however, it would have been racing when he saw the face of the person standing behind him.
Curling brown hair, and light, familiar eyes. Killian held his breath and thought this couldn't be real.
A smile he'd missed for centuries. A chuckle he thought he'd never hear again.
"Killian," said Liam, his older brother. As Killian stared wordlessly, Liam's face went from surprise and disbelief to gleeful hope. He rushed over to him, grabbing the tops of his arms and shaking him. "Killian! Oh gods, it really is you. Brother, how I've missed you! I've looked for you for...forever." Killian stood stock still as Liam wrapped him tightly in his arms.
"I searched and searched. And I never found you. I gave up - oh so long ago I gave up. I thought you must have never come here. You must have died fulfilled and I would never be able to finish my business and move on with you. But you're here! Oh brother, you're here." Liam pulled back from Killian and cupped his face. He grinned like a man seeing water for the first time in months, lost somewhere in the desert. Tears threatened to fall from his eyes, and he placed his forehead against Killian's.
But Killian was still shocked. Liam... was here? In the in between? What unfinished business could he possibly have? And while Killian was certainly happy to see his brother deep down inside, he couldn't speak. He still hadn't fully become the man worthy of being Liam's brother, and he felt a very pointed shame in that. But also... he was stunned that his brother was here and waiting for him. Waiting for so long simply because Killian refused to die until he took the Crocodile with him. His brother had been stuck in the in between all this time, unable to move on, and that had been apparently his fault.
"Why are you here?" Killian finally asked, his voice breathy and disbelieving.
Liam pulled away and nervously scratched behind his ear. It was a family trait. "Unfinished business of course. Why is anyone here?"
Killian shook his head. "No, brother... why? What is it you've left to do?"
"Ever..." Liam looked down at the ground and swallowed. "Ever since Father left us, I... I had made it my purpose in life to make sure we were alright. That you were alright. To spite Father, we needed to grow old and die happy. I needed you to be alright. I needed to make sure you were happy. I needed to take care of you."
"Brother, that's not - "
"Oh, I know. You never asked me to. I had just decided that was my purpose. And I never got the chance to see it through. But you're here now. And you've apparently some unfinished business as well."
Liam smiled, and Killian let out a dry laugh. "Aye. That I do."
"Then we can both move on, finally. I'll assist you in fulfilling whatever it was you couldn't do in life, and that will fulfill my purpose as well. And then we can move on together." Liam sounded so hopeful that Killian wanted to agree with him. Of course it would be that simple. His brother made it sound as if they could be passing over tomorrow, moving on to better things. It wasn't that simple, though.
"My unfinished business cannot be completed here, Liam," Killian informed him sadly, looking down at the street.
"Because the people I need to tend to are still alive."
Liam smiled a somber sort of smile, one full of understanding and empathy. "Aye. That generally is the way of things here. I hadn't expected anything else."
Killian stared, confused and hesitant.
"Letting go of the living isn't meant to be easy, brother," Liam continued. "Just as letting go of the dead is not. Both sides must grieve. Both sides need closure. It's a common tale down here. Your statement comes as no surprise to me. That is the way it is for me as well, or was until your arrival. Took you damn long enough to join me, hasn't it?"
The Jolly was the Jewel here, and Killian supposed that was because of Liam. He'd only been in the Underworld for a few hours, so it made sense that he hadn't left enough of an impression for the world to adjust to him yet. There were many things about the world that Liam still didn't understand despite having been here for centuries. The world shifted and moved as time went on, as does the living world, but in ways that the inhabitants don't always understand. Sometimes things fall apart for no reason, and some days a building will suddenly appear where there hadn't been one before.
Sleep was not required. It was something those that were still aware did. The ones that were lost, however... They walked aimlessly.
That was a fate that was inevitable if it was impossible to fulfill one's unfinished business. Eventually, after years or decades or centuries of being stuck, the souls gave up. Their minds became a haze. They lost time. And it continued like that for eternity - or until something made them wake.
Liam had wandered. And when Killian fell into the world, something in the back of Liam's mind told him it was time. Something told him he had hope, he could move on. Something told him his brother was near. He felt it.
So, when Killian had laid down in his old quarters from a lifetime ago to sleep, and he felt a strange prick in the back of his mind, he felt dread. His unfinished business involved Emma and his younger brother that he'd never spoken to. And if he was feeling the very thing Liam had described to him, then that meant one of them had died.
Killian sat straight up in his bunk, feeling an icy chill in his veins.
"Liam!" he called as he scrambled out of bed, rushing into his brother's quarters. "Liam! Liam, wake up!" He almost fell onto his brother as he shook him awake.
"Killian? What's wrong?" Liam asked in a worried tone as he sat up. Killian's panicked state made him alert, sleep falling off of him instantly as he looked upon his brother's distraught expression.
"I felt it," he whispered, his voice heavy with concern and grief. "One of them is here."
Liam let out a slow breath. The brothers spoke for hours upon returning to the ship - of Killian's life, of his unfinished business. He told Liam of Emma, of how she brought him back to himself. He told Liam of his namesake, the boy he had orphaned for his father's crimes. He told Liam of his regrets and his hopes, and how they probably had a long time to wait before either of his tasks could be accomplished. And Liam had told Killian it would be fine. They were together, and neither of them was going to lose themselves. Not while he was around. It had been so long since Killian felt safe, he'd forgotten what it was like. Emma had started to give him safety, finally letting him know she loved him. But the moment he knew, she was whisked away by a self sacrifice, and he'd never had a moment to feel at home and loved. Not fully. So of course he would jump to his brother again, seek him out for comfort and guidance. It was like pulling on an old, beloved sweater. He'd forgotten how nice it was to be able to depend on his brother.
"Then let's find them," was his brother's response, resting his hand on Killian's shoulder. If one of them was dead, there was nothing they could do about that. But they could find closure with them. They could be one step closer to moving on.
Seeing Emma running towards him with tears streaming down her face and happy smile to her lips normally would have made Killian's heart leap. She had been looking for him. She was happy to see him. She was rushing towards him with hope in her features. But Killian felt dread. If she was here, she was dead. She had died soon after he had, and that was not what Killian had wanted. His heart hurt knowing his love had died after all. His own tears fell down his cheeks as he opened his arms for her to run into.
"Killian!" she exclaimed as she sought comfort in his embrace, buried her face into his neck and held on for the dear life she had just departed. "I found you, I found you," she chanted.
"What are you doing here?!" he yelled, his voice thick with emotion. "You aren't suppose to be here, love. Emma, what did you do?" He pulled away from her to see her face, hoping a small hope that this wasn't real. She couldn't be here. She had to still be alive, moving on and finding the happiness she deserved and he wanted so, so much for her.
"Did you really think I'd let you go?" she asked, her voice cracking with the tears she was still shedding. "Did you really think I wouldn't come for you?"
"Please don't tell me this was intentional, Emma..." If she ended her life to find him, he would never forgive himself. He never wanted that for her!
Emma frowned. "Of course it was intentional. You think I walked through a portal by accident?"
It was Killian's turn to frown. "A portal...?"
And then it clicked for Emma. Her face softened, and she gasped. "You think I'm dead..."
And why would he think anything else? "You're in the Underworld, love... How else would you have arrived?"
Emma smiled at him, resting her hand against his neck and rubbing his jaw with her thumb. "Gold opened the gate. We walked in to find you."
Killian opened his mouth to ask what she meant, but that was when she noticed the man standing behind him, looking at the two of them with a proud and happy smile softly appearing across his face.
"Who's this?" Emma asked as she pulled away from him. She may have dropped the embrace, but her hand sought out his and gripped it. She was not going to let go of him, he realized.
"The best man I've ever known," Killian answered reverently. "This is my brother, Liam Jones."
Liam nodded in way of greeting as Emma looked sharply between the two. "Your brother?" she asked after a moment of shock. Killian nodded, smiling at her reaction.
"I've heard tale of you, Emma Swan," Liam spoke. He approached them slowly, then stuck out his hand in a very military fashion. "It is both wonderful and sad to meet you now. I'm sure you can understand why."
Emma finally let go of Killian's hand so she could shake Liam's. "It's uh... nice to meet you as-" But her sentence was cut off with a start when Liam pulled her suddenly into an appreciative hug.
"Thank you for loving my brother while he was alive. Thank you for everything you've done for him."
Emma stood still in Liam's embrace, and Killian wondered what must be going through her mind after being thanked for such a thing. She didn't respond, and Liam apparently hadn't expected her to. He released her with his smile still in place.
"Why did you come for me, Emma?" Killian asked once Emma and his brother were fully separated.
Emma laughed sadly. "Did you really think I wouldn't?"
"Why would you? We've said our goodbyes, love. Even if I am glad to see you once more, it is going to be painful to say goodbye again."
Emma laughed again. "Easy fix. Don't say goodbye."
"You're not staying here."
The smirk on Emma's face was really confusing him. "No, I'm not. And neither are you."
She laughed once more at the expressions the brothers were mirroring.
Emma lead them to where the others had been holding up. Everyone looked to be emotionally distraught, yet also relieved. Apparently whilst Emma had been off searching for him, the past came back to haunt their family. Regina looked particularly worn out. And it made sense. There must have been a lot of people down here for her to confront. But she had to have known that, and yet she came to help find him anyway. Killian was honestly touched, though he couldn't find it in himself to speak that just yet.
Killian received hugs. It was surprising to him, yet also cathartic. He was pleased to know that he had touched these people. He was only certain that Emma cared for him. The other affections he thought he'd received were not so certain, but finding that Snow White, the Prince, Regina, Robin, and Henry had all willingly come for him made him feel cared for in a way that he never had before. He'd always had one person, just one. It was foreign to him to have many. The Crocodile stood off to the side as Killian was greeted. The man was there because he had to be, because Emma was blackmailing him. While Killian was not at all pleased to find that the darkness he sacrificed himself to destroy was still around, he found himself smiling proudly at Emma. Oh yes, there was definitely a little pirate in her. He loved her all the more every time he saw it.
They explained the plan to him. He could cross over to the world of the living for a brief period of time, much like the Dark Ones had. And once he was there, Emma would split her heart. They would share one, just as Snow White and the Prince had.
"Emma, that could kill you!" he exclaimed, unable to believe that the others hadn't put up such a protest.
"Only if we aren't True Love," she explained with a smile. "Killian, you died for me. And I came to hell for you. What makes you think we aren't?"
Killian watched her closely. Her smile was so certain, her expression so filled with love. He had tried True Love's Kiss in the past, and every time it had failed. As much as he knew with certainty that she was the closest thing to True Love he would ever have, he couldn't believe that he was hers. At least one of those kisses would have worked by now if they had been.
Emma moved towards him, placing her hand gently against his cheek. "Part of being True Love is believing that we are, you know."
"I know," Killian told her. He swallowed. "But love... what if I am not capable of True Love. Then this plan of yours would kill you. I can't let you die for me."
Liam started laughing. Killian pulled away from Emma and stared at his brother with a mix of disbelief and anger. "What the devil is so funny about this, Liam?"
"Not capable?!" his brother exclaimed, still chortling like someone had told the best joke he's ever heard in his life. "You? Not capable of love? Oh please! Killian, you are the most loving person I've ever met!" Liam was wiping away tears as he spoke, and Killian simply blinked. "Who the hell would extend their life for centuries to avenge someone if they couldn't love deeply."
"This isn't the same, Liam. True Love is - "
"I know what it bloody is, Killian." Liam snorted. "And you honestly think you are incapable of it? What a joke! You've had True Love for centuries, and you were unaware? Why, brother, I knew you could be dense at times when your heart took over your head, but this is stupidity to the highest level."
Killian continued to stare. And Liam shook his head.
"Really? You've still no clue, do you?"
"Liam, be frank."
With a roll of his eyes, Liam strode forward. "True Love isn't just romantic, Killian. Family can have True Love as well. And brother, I truly love you. And you truly love me." He winked at Killian, then patted his shoulder. "If we did not have True Love, then I would not be able to tell you to get the hell out of here and leave me to my own devices once again."
"Liam - "
"Hush, Killian. It will work."
Liam looked to Emma, and she stepped forward to place her hand in Killian's. "It will," she told him. "You just have to want it." Killian stared at Emma for a long moment, drinking her in. Her face was full of hope and love, and he could almost feel his heart beating again. It would work, she was right. And that scared him. It scared him because Liam was also right. He truly loved his brother, and if Emma's plan worked, then Liam would be left completely alone again.
But Liam cut him off once more. "Will be fulfilled when you leave here."
Killian shook his head. "How can you be so certain?"
Liam shrugged, smiling. "I just am."
Regina had had enough of the whole situation, it seemed. She stood from her seat and strode over to the three. "Alright pirate, are you coming or not?"
Killian glanced at Regina, then looked between his two True Loves. They both looked so hopeful, Killian couldn't help but feel a bit of hope bubbling inside of him as well. He'd get to finish his life missions. He would get to have his future with Emma. He would get the chance to correct his mistakes with his younger brother.
"Aye... I'm coming."
How they had all managed to fit on that one little rowboat was beyond Killian, but they had somehow. Emma had hardly released his hand since she found him, running towards him with tears streaming to her face. She released his hand with a kiss to his cheek as she stepped into the rowboat. He and Liam were left on the shore.
Killian turned to Liam. He looked at his brother sadly, knowing this would be goodbye for hopefully a long, long time. Liam looked at peace, though. He smiled proudly at Killian.
"You've got your chance to finish things, Killian," he started, taking a step towards Killian. "So you better go on and have your future. Live your happy ending. And right that wrong."
Killian nodded, not speaking for fear that his voice would crack.
"You will succeed. You may have lost your way for a while, but you're back. And you're the man you've always wanted to be. The man I knew you could be."
Liam silenced him once more, pulling Killian into a crushing hug. "I love you, Killian. I always have. I always will."
Killian nodded into Liam's shoulder, silently crying onto his brother's shirt. This was it. This was goodbye, the one he never got the first time around.
The hug could only last so long. The ferryman grunted, telling them their time was ending. Killian pulled away first. It was like a bandaid, Emma had said once. Do it fast.
"I better not see you again for a long time, brother," Liam told him sternly. His own voice was cracking, and Killian saw tears runing down his face as well. "I mean it. You live, and you be happy. That is the only way I can be as well."
Killian took a step back, one foot into the rowboat. He held his hand out, still grasping Liam's. "Goodbye, Liam," he said finally as he second foot entered the boat.
"Goodbye, Killian." And then Liam let go of his hand. Fresh tears rolled down both of their faces as the ferryman pushed the boat away from the shore. Emma curled herself up under Killian's arm and held him close as he silently cried. Liam watched from the shore. He looked sad, but at peace. After a few moments, Liam's form shimmered. He was disappearing. Killian stared, unblinking, as his brother vanished. He feared that should he blink at all, his brother would be completely gone when his eyes opened, and he wouldn't have gotten every last second that he could with him.
But still, Liam's form had vanished far too soon.
"He's gone," Emma observed quietly.
"He moved on. Just as he said he would."
Emma rested her head against Killian's shoulder as the boat rowed on towards the gate, towards the land of the living. "What wrong was Liam talking about?" she asked him suddenly.
Killian sniffed, his tears having not completely dried yet, and placed a kiss to the top of her head. "I'll tell you when we're home."