"You can have him back."
"Just like that?" Emma asked, instantly suspicious at how easy he was making everything. She was no expert, but convincing the Lord of the Dead to release a soul from his kingdom shouldn't be as simple as just showing up and asking him politely.
Well, she hadn't been entirely polite to the well-dressed man who stood in between her and the fucked-up version of Storybrooke that greeted them when they got off the creepy boat. Threatening to "knock him on his Armani-clad ass" when he'd asked why she had gone to the trouble of trying to rescue a "broken, one-handed dead man when there were so many living ones with two hands to choose from" probably wasn't the best first impression she'd ever made, but screw it, she wasn't in the greatest mood at the moment.
Hades smiled, but it was cold and most definitely not reassuring, "Just like that."
He rolled his eyes, clearly exasperated, "It's the Underworld, Emma. Of course there's a catch. I'll give you a hint, nothing can be left behind in order to return to the land of the living. Not a single speck of the man that is Killian Jones can remain here when you try to cross the barrier back to the world above because if it does, he will not be able to leave. You get one chance and one only to make the attempt, mess it up and he stays behind while you won't ever be able to come back until...well, the day you die."
The prospect of knocking him on his ass was becoming more tempting by the second and she was so tired of all these damn riddles and cryptic bullshit as she yelled, "What the hell does that mean?"
But Hades was already gone, vanishing in a blink while everyone shifted uneasily behind her. They didn't have much time so they split up, her parents going one way, Regina, Robin and Henry another, and Gold quickly disappearing around a corner without a word while their backs were turned. She trusted the newly restored Dark One about as far as she could throw him, but she knew he couldn't leave the Underworld without them. It was an all or nothing kind of thing.
"So here goes nothing," she muttered, touching the chain around her neck and feeling the reassuring weight of the ring hanging under her sweater, nestling snug and warm between her breasts.
Emma set off for the docks with Hades's warning rolling around in her mind and nagging her as she went.
Nothing can be left behind.
The docks weren't where they were supposed to be, freaking nothing was where it was supposed to be and somehow she wound up on the beach instead, boots sinking wetly into the damp sand as she tried to get her bearings.
"Can I be of some assistance, milady?"
Pure, sweet relief flooded through her at the familiar voice and she turned eagerly, his name already on her lips, "Killian-"
But the man that greeted her was not the one she was expecting and she trailed off, frowning. That face she knew so well was younger, softer, and the dark hair was much longer, pulled back into a ponytail (a ponytail?) at the nape of his neck. He was dressed in a uniform that looked like something out of a painting or a history book, white pants, navy jacket with a high collar, and one of his hands was resting lightly on the hilt of his sword.
One of his hands.
He had two.
"Killian, you're...you're…" she said weakly, chewing on her lip and looking him up and down.
"Lieutenant Jones of His Majesty's Royal Navy, at your service."
He actually bowed, clicking his heels together and peeking up at her with those too-blue eyes. Lieutenant Jones. It twigged in her mind and she realized that this was Killian from before his brother died, young, and earnest, and looking at her with only curiosity and not recognition furrowing his brow.
"May I be so bold as to inquire how you know my name, Miss...?"
"Emma," she answered, feeling her shoulders slump, "Emma Swan."
She had come all this way to save him, and he didn't even know who she was. The pain was like a sudden hammer blow to the ribs and it must be the same as how he had felt when he found her in New York, was this some kind of karmic payback for how badly she had hurt him with her rejection then? It wasn't bad enough that she had to watch him die and feel a piece of herself die along with him, now she had to deal with-
They'd talked once, late at night with an open bottle of wine and the ghost of old memories between them on the deck of his ship and he'd told her about Liam's death in a quiet voice with the hook resting casually on her thigh. How they'd served in the navy and been betrayed by their king, how his older brother had died in his arms and he'd looked up at the stars above after recounting the sad tale, swallowing heavily and saying that, "A piece of me died that day too."
What if it was actually true? What if this version of Killian was that piece, that bit of his soul that he'd lost that terrible day along with his brother. Hades had said that nothing could be left behind...what if she didn't just have to find her Killian, what if she had to find all of the others, too?
"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Swan. But you didn't answer my question. I've a bit of time, I'm waiting here for my brother, you see, so if you'd be so kind as to oblige?"
She looked at this him, with the ridiculous cravat tucked into his collar and the polished boots and the ramrod-straight posture. He wasn't the man she loved.
She looked at his eyes, at the familiar tilt to his lips when he gave a bit of an extra, cheeky emphasis on the word pleasure. He was the man she loved.
Now for the hard part – telling him that without sounding like a complete nutjob and making him run away screaming just like she had practically done in New York.
"You don't know who I am...but one day we'll meet and fall in love and I'll be stubborn as all hell about admitting it but you never give up on me and then I do something really, really stupid and you begged me not too, but I did and you died and I've come to the freaking Underworld itself to give you half of my heart so you can come home with me where you belong."
His eyebrows shot higher and higher as she babbled at him, practically taking flight right off of his forehead while his jaw was somewhere around his knees. Tears were burning behind her eyes and she swiped at them angrily, "I know there's no reason for you to believe me, and I know it sounds crazy-"
"It does, lass, I have to confess. Is this some kind of jest or prank? Did the crew put you up to this, the cheeky buggers? Or my brother? It was Liam, wasn't it?"
Emma exhaled, frustrated beyond belief and feeling a growing sense of despair deep in the pit of her stomach, "No, it's not a joke. And I don't have the time to tell you the whole story...but, I'm asking you to do the one thing it took me way too long to do when we first met...and trust me even if it is the craziest thing you've ever heard. You told me once to trust my gut and it would tell me what to do and you were right, it told me to believe you when all the evidence said that I shouldn't. Please, Killian, what is yours telling you, now?"
He glanced down at the hand she extended to him, fingers clenching slightly and suspicion on his face. But slowly, ever so slowly, he reached out, palm sliding neatly into hers and clasping gently.
"Why does this feel familiar?' he asked in a whisper, looking down at their joined hands, "Why do I feel that I know you, even though I've never seen you before?"
"Because you have. You just don't remember."
Lieutenant Jones took a few cautious steps forward, his hand grasping hers a little firmer.
"Well then, Emma Swan. What do you say we set sail?"
A laugh bubbled up out of her at the familiar words and he smiled, obviously pleased. She was reaching for his cheek when he suddenly faded away and she found only empty air.
"No! No, Killian, come back! Come back!"
The sound of applause came from behind her and Emma whirled around, magic pulsing white in her palms as Hades picked his way delicately across the beach with a smirk that she desperately wanted to wipe off his face with her fist.
"Well done you," he said, still giving a slow, sarcastic clap with his gloved hands.
"Where is he?" she bit out from between gritted teeth.
"Oh, he's fine, don't worry. He's waiting for you to convince the others to follow you as well. But not all of them will be so easy to win over as the good Lieutenant. Chop chop Emma, the clock is ticking even down here."
Hades vanished again, leaving nothing but a smooth stretch of sand with not even a single footprint in his wake. She let out a puff of air as her hands dropped back to her sides, so she had been right and there was more than one Killian Jones running around down here. Well, she had come to bring all of him home and she wasn't about to give up now.
"Killian, hold on. It doesn't matter how many of you there are, I'm coming for every last one."
Despite what Hades had said the next Killian she found was easy to convince – it was the shy, sweet deckhand who had died for her and Henry in Isaac's book. He knew her instantly and was horrified at first to see her, thinking that he had failed and she was dead too. When she reassured him that no, she and Henry both were very much alive and had come to rescue him and bring him back to life his eyes had gone wide with shock before he burst out with the biggest grin she had ever seen.
"You really did all that for me?"
It both broke her heart and warmed it, to hear the tremor in his voice and to see the way his hand (singular) shook. But then the hook was around her waist and this Killian Jones was kissing her like his life (or unlife, whatever this was) depended on it. She melted against him, hands clutching at his shirt and kissing him back just as fiercely. He might only be a lowly deckhand and not a captain, but he was still a pirate and he had her pressed against a stone wall before she could blink, pressing his hips flush into hers. A needy whimper rose in her throat and she ran her fingers through his hair, refusing to break the kiss even to take just a single breath and feeling light-headed and almost drunk in his arms.
But then, she had always felt that way when they kissed, no matter what the circumstances.
When he faded away it was probably a good thing, she reminded herself that she was on a deadline and didn't have time to drag him to the nearest flat surface (she wasn't picky) and show him just how much she had missed him. Still, she had to take a moment to catch her breath and fix her crumpled sweater, feeling the ring again as it got caught on the edge of her bra and she had to tug it loose. Emma felt the shape under her fingers, rubbing it like a talisman and pushing off the wall with the heel of her boot. One more down, who knew how many more there was to go?
It turned out there was a lot.
And Hades was right, some were a bit more difficult than others. The Killian who had died in the field of middlemist flowers thought that she was still the Dark One and fought against her, assuming she was going to do exactly what she had done and tether him to Excalibur. He begged and pleaded and it hurt so much to remember that he had begged and pleaded and she hadn't listened, and she'd cried and he'd held her at arm's length, wary and unsure. But somehow she managed to get through to him, telling him that she would leave if he really wanted her to go, that he'd been right and what she'd done to him was unforgivable, but he was wrong about being too weak to fight it and he was so much stronger than he thought he was.
"You did it, Killian. You defeated the darkness and you saved us all. You saved me."
His face ran a slow gamut of emotions at the words, just like it had when Nimue tried to choke her.
"I did?" he asked, still doubtful.
"You said that you were being the man you wanted to be. You were a hero...my hero, Killian."
Her reply was a half-laugh, half-sob when he finally took her hand. The wound on his neck disappeared and so did he, but this time it felt right, there was no dark magic flowing in her veins and darker intent behind her words. She took off at a run, not to find another Dark One in the forest as she'd done that day in Camelot, but to find another Killian Jones in the twisting labyrinth of the Underworld with new tendrils of hope taking root in her heart like the sudden bloom of flowers in spring.
Hades watched her pass, saying nothing this time but looking pointedly at his watch. Why did he even have one down here? All the clocks in town were stopped, save for the one in the tower that slowly ticked off the time she had left before they would be forced to leave. There was no place for the living in the realm of the dead, he'd warned, no food for them to eat or water for them to drink. She could feel eyes on her, an unseen gaze watching from somewhere in the shadows, but she ignored the prickling at the back of her neck and pushed on.
In what was The Rabbit Hole back in the world above they all sat with beers in their hands but she noticed that the levels in the bottles never dropped no matter how many swigs the patrons took. Emma found another one in there, at a table with dice and men who were probably once part of his crew. It was a familiar scene, and just like that tavern back in the past he didn't know who she was but she didn't have time for a slow seduction. She managed to get him outside and away from the crowd, but when she started telling him her story he insisted that he had only ever loved one woman and one woman only and it sure as hell wasn't her. This was the man who had died when Milah did, the reason why he never thought he'd be capable of ever letting go and loving again.
Until I met you
It hurt and it hurt a lot to think of how much he must have suffered, all those years chasing revenge with nothing but her name on his arm and memories that must have grown more and more faded with each passing day to sustain him. Until I met you.
Emma told him her own secrets, maybe not her darkest one but pretty damn close to it, that she didn't think she'd ever find love again either, not after having her heart so thoroughly broken so many times that the pieces were far too shattered to ever be made whole again. But he had told her something once, that if a heart could be broken it meant that it still worked and he was right. She'd been too scared to admit it at the time, but it was true.
He was standing with his back to her, shoulders hunched and hand clenching at his side. The rings on his fingers caught what little light there was from the Underworld's perpetually twilight sky and gleamed against the pale skin of his fingers. She told him the stories he had told her about his rings, how they were trophies taken in anger and blood. Killian froze completely as she talked, while she pulled the chain out from under her sweater and rubbed her thumb over the silver band and gleaming stone before holding it out.
"But not this one."
"Where did you get that?"
He had turned his head just far enough to see and when he caught sight of his brother's ring he whirled around with the leather of his coat snapping at his legs, repeating in a voice that rose angrily, "I'll not ask you again, love, where did you get that?"
"You gave it to me," she said, the memory washing over her again. A piercing-eyed, smouldering pirate who loves you.
Who loves you.
Killian shook his head, backing up and protesting, "But….Milah. My Milah."
Emma took a step forward, refusing to falter now, "You loved her very much. A part of you still loves her because that's the kind of man you are, the kind who never forgets the people he loved."
Neil. Graham. Walsh. The ones who still had pieces of her...and she had pieces of them. Just as her parents did, and Henry, and her little brother.
And Killian Jones.
For a moment she thought he was going to snatch the chain from her and run, his eyes darting to it and then to her other, outstretched hand.
He didn't kiss her like the other one did, he didn't squeeze her hand with reassurance or even smile, but it didn't matter. The simple press of his palm on hers was enough, and then he was gone.
Henry's voice came out of the fog and she followed it, her thighs burning with the effort and her heart beating frantically in her chest. She finally found the damn docks at last and they were all there (save Gold), standing on a pier. Her son pointed out over the water, towards a familiar shape making its way back towards the town.
"We tied Grandma's scarf to Grandpa's sword and used it as a signal flag," Henry explained, while she draped one arm over his shoulder and watched the white sails ripple and snap in the wind.
The Jolly Roger sailed neatly into place with the captain standing at the helm, dark hair lifting in the breeze and blue eyes fixed firmly on her face. Robin caught the rope he tossed and her father helped tie it down while the wooden gangway was lowered into place.
"Permission to come aboard?" she called, voice cracking just a little bit.
She was in his arms in a blink, burrowing as close to him as she could get while a hand stroked her hair and he murmured in her ear, "Oh Swan. What did you do?"
He'd yelled it at her once, when she'd given up her magic to save his life. But it wasn't an accusation this time, Emma felt the hook at the small of her back as he pulled her even closer and buried his face in her neck, shoulders shaking as he whispered it again, "What did you do?"
"I believe this is what you'd call a dashing rescue."
She felt his mirth, the chuckle against her skin and his soft hair slipping through her fingers when she pulled his head up so she could see his face, "I've come to bring you home with me."
Killian's eyes crinkled at the corners and his thumb traced the edge of her lips, "So you have, my princess."
Everyone else was still waiting on the pier, giving them a bit of privacy to laugh and cry and kiss, just the two of them, before they joined them on the ship and Henry forgoed any teenage aloofness to hug Killian almost as tight as she had. Her father hugged him too, while Robin clapped him on the back and Regina smiled. Killian's eyes went comically wide when her mother kissed him on both cheeks before throwing her arms around him, and he looked at Regina over her shoulder and winked, "What about you, Your Majesty?"
"Dream on, Killian," Regina shot back, but she returned his wink before clapping her hands together, "Now come on pirate, we've got a heart to split and another boat to catch."
"Come again?" he blinked, and Emma took his arm and started explaining quickly as they all started trooping off the ship.
Hades was waiting for them on the dock.
Robin pushed Henry behind him while Killian stiffened and Regina conjured up two fireballs in her hands.
"Don't even think of backing out on the deal now," she warned.
"Or what?" Hades taunted, flicking a finger in Regina's direction and making the fire go out, "Your magic doesn't work here, as your mother quickly learned. Yeesh, what a piece of work she is. But don't worry, I'm not here to stop you, I'm here to see you off."
"So I did it," Emma said, clutching Killian's arm a little harder, "I found all of him and we can leave now."
"Sure. You are free to go."
Suspicion flared in her gut and she felt her eyes narrow. She wasn't the only one, everyone else looked completely unconvinced.
"No," Regina frowned, echoing her thoughts, "Nothing is ever that simple. I know nothing is ever that simple. Emma, are you sure that you found… all of him, whatever that means?"
"I don't know."
She felt as helpless as she had when they had taken him away and his hand had finally slipped from hers, falling back down the moment she let go with no sound but her own wracking sobs echoing in her ears. Emma clutched his hand again now, alive and not, thinking over every version of him she had found out there like a child trying to collect a full set of baseball cards. How many pieces could there possibly be, how could he have possibly lost so much of himself and still been the man who fell in love with her? Hades had called him broken but he wasn't, he was like her, scarred and lonely and she would turn the whole Underworld upside down to find every last bit of his soul before she'd risk trying to leave.
"Swan, it's OK, if this doesn't work just remember that I love you."
He was the one who was dead and he was trying to reassure her. Just as he had done before she had taken the sword, and she was going to completely lose her shit on Hades if he didn't stop it with that smug little grin, no matter what the consequences.
"Well, Emma Swan?" he said expectantly, "Time's up."
"Not so fast."
Beside her Killian went utterly still, an extraordinary expression crossing his face that had her pulling on his arm with sudden worry, "What? What's wrong?"
Hades actually stamped his foot and turned, "You. Stay out of this."
"Not a bloody chance in...well, here."
The owner of the voice appeared from behind a boathouse, a tall man dressed in a uniform that was strikingly similar to the one Lt. Jones had worn, though his jacket was more elaborately decorated with gold epaulettes and braid. He had curly brown hair and a familiar set to his shoulders, and as she looked between Killian's stunned face and the newcomer's smiling one, his identity was clear in a heartbeat.
"Brother," Killian croaked, "Is that really you?"
Hades stepped between them, jabbing angrily in Liam Jones's direction, "You should have moved on centuries ago."
Liam didn't look cowed by the Lord of the Dead and Emma liked him at once, "I had unfinished business. Had to look after my little brother."
"Younger," Killian corrected, and Liam's smile grew wider.
"No Killian, in this case, it's very much my little brother."
He went back to the boathouse, beckoning someone with his hand and crouching down, "Come on lad, it's alright."
The breath caught in her throat when the child came into view, clinging to Liam's hand as he gently urged him to walk. He was barefoot, dressed in a striped nightshirt that was much too big, and he looked up at them with blue eyes that took up about half of his face.
"Me," he finished with a heavy swallow, "When my father left."
He was so young and looked so fragile, and he had that look in his eyes, the one she had in the few pictures of herself at that age.
Liam settled his hands on his little brother's shoulders, "Killian, this is Emma. She's come to take you home. I've been watching you, lass. You found all of them except this one. And you're clearly stubborn enough to keep my stubborn arse of a brother in line, it's a pleasure to meet you at last."
She moved towards them, bending down to little Killian's level, "Would you like to come home with me, Killian?"
He looked back up at his brother, whispering, "Liam?"
Liam tousled his hair, "Aye. Go on."
The little fingers reached out slowly, but instead of taking her hand the boy suddenly flung himself into her arms, knocking the wind from her lungs with the force of it and she let out a startled, "Oof."
His skinny frame was as light as a feather, and she wrapped him in a fierce hug before he faded away like the others. Liam stepped into the void he left, squeezing her more gently before stepping back and lifting her hand to his lips, kissing the back and making a blush rise in her cheeks. He gave her a knowing look and one eyebrow rose.
Clearly, the Jones brothers had a few things in common.
Liam looped towards Killian and they shared a great big bear hug, voices rising and falling with excitement while Hades fumed. Introductions were made all around, and Liam also kissed both her mother's hand and Regina's. Her father looked a bit annoyed and Robin lowered his chin, but they put any jealousy aside and shook Liam's hand.
"Can you come back with us too? Liam, there has to be a way for you-"
"No," he interrupted, one hand on Killian's shoulder, "It's time for me to move on and sail beyond this realm at last."
"On the Jewel, of course."
He nodded towards the Jolly Roger. Killian's face fell, but he managed to smile back and nodded too.
"Aye, brother. She is your ship too."
Regina looked regretful, "I hate to break up the family reunion, but we really need to go. We have to find Gold and-"
"I'm right here, dearie."
Hades brightened, running a finger down his lapel, "Now this should be interesting."
Gold strolled into view and he wasn't alone. A dark-haired woman accompanied him, dressed in leather pants and a coat that reminded Emma immediately of Killian's. She was striking to look at and it wasn't just the outfit, she had high cheekbones and an abundance of curly dark hair that flowed over her shoulders as she walked. Killian went still again, his only movement was the tremble of the hook against his thigh.
"Another happy reunion," Gold snarked, smugness radiating off of him, "two lovers, brought together again at last."
Milah's eyeroll was as epic as anything Henry could produce when Emma told him to put the Xbox away and do homework and she glared at her former husband, "Enough, Rumple."
She looked at Killian and hesitated for a moment, but it was Henry that she went to first.
"Hello, Henry. I'm your grandmother, Milah."
Neal's mother. Killian's lover. The ghost who had haunted both of them in different ways for so long.
"What a prick," Regina muttered under her breath. Emma met her eyes with visions of Marian flashing like neon signs in her brain, but the other woman didn't try to rub it in.
Milah gave Henry a pat on the back, not quite a hug but there was clear affection on her face before she looked over and Emma felt her back go straight.
"Emma….I heard you knew my son."
"Yes," she answered, wondering wildly what else Milah was going to ask or say. Gold seemed positively gleeful over her shoulder, clearly expecting some kind of catfight to break out.
Milah's mouth opened, but she seemed to reconsider what she had been about to say and gave a small shake of her head, "I would say that I wish I could get to know you, and I do, but I think I actually know all I really need to."
Her gaze drifted over to Killian for a moment and was heavy with emotion. Emma didn't dare look at his face right now to see what was reflected there.
He didn't have to come back with them. He could stay with her.
"Take care, Emma. Take care of both of them."
She reached out and Emma took her hands, squeezing lightly and giving a nod.
"I will. Thank you, Milah."
They walked side by side to the end of the pier, voices pitched too low for the rest of them to hear. Regina started berating Gold in a biting whisper while Emma felt her mother's hand on her shoulder. She turned into the embrace, pressing her cheek to Mary Margaret's coat. Everyone tactfully turned away, save Gold and Hades, giving the former lovers some privacy. Emma's eyes closed and she felt the wool under her cheek, slightly scratchy like the wool blankets that draped over his narrow bunk on the ship.
"Time's up! Last call to return to the land of the living...or not."
Hades tapped at his watch again, voice dripping with contempt, "All you live souls, that concludes our tour. Don't forget to tip the ferryman, or he may just miss your stop."
Milah and Killian were standing very close, not kissing or embracing but with their foreheads touching in an intimate gesture that made her heart stop. But she had taken away his choice once and she had vowed not to do it again. She held her breath when they came back, pulling away from her mother and waiting to see what he would do.
His hand slipped into hers and his voice rumbled in her ear, "Ready to go back to the real Storybrooke, love?"
Liam gestured to the Jolly Roger, "Help me with the ropes, brother."
"Need a first mate?"
All heads turned to Milah, a smile playing at the edge of her lips as she directed the question to the elder Jones.
"Know anything about sailing, love?"
It was Killian who answered, "Aye. She's a fine sailor, and she knows the ship almost as well as I do."
Liam nodded, "Well, some company on the journey wouldn't be amiss. Welcome aboard."
Gold started to move forward, "Now wait just a minute-"
"Ah!" Hades stopped him with an arm across his chest, "They no longer have unfinished business and you can't interfere here, not as long as your heart beats in your chest."
One final farewell and the ropes were untied by Robin and her father while Liam and Milah pulled the gangway back. They both stood on the deck, waving goodbye as the ship started to drift away. Killian waved back, they all did, except for Gold.
"Come on," Emma said, giving the hook a gentle tug, "Let's go home."