A/N: Hi Everyone! As promised, here is a new chapter! Thank you to everyone who read and/or reviewed my last chapter. You guys are my favorite things about writing. I hope you enjoy the chapter. Afterwards, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Well enough waiting, let's do this! Ladies and gentlemen—Chapter 23!

Disclaimer: If I owned anything from OUAT, Granny would make me a cup of hot cocoa with cinnamon everyday!

This chapter is dedicated to my amazing fan, Emilee Amethyst! Thank you for your reviews! I loved your Swan Lake themed CaptainSwan story. I hope you enjoy the chapter!

Chapter 23

The woods of Camelot drift back to sleep as Emma and Killian grapple with their situation. Left by Treun in the middle of enemy territory, the Dark One stays near the only person he trusts. Sensing her spirit downcast, he attempts to lighten the mood.

"She seems—pleasant."

The Savior groans, "That's an understatement."

"Do you think we're safe here?"

Emma detects his apprehension, which mirrors her own. But discovering the hidden regret and pain beneath Treun's fortress makes a part of her trust their rescuer.

"Well," Emma answers. "We aren't going anywhere without those papers. So we might as well stay."

As she situates herself next to a bed of straw, the Savior finds the Dark One staring intently at her.

"What's troubling you, love?"

The Savior's mind drifts back into a fog. Everything about the arrow scrambles her mind into a blur. She takes a deep breath, unsure of how to explain it to Killian.

"It's—it's Treun's arrow. It's like—I've seen it before."


"See—that's the thing. I can't remember. But I think I've seen it recently."

"Well, you'll figure it out, Swan," he reassures her. "I've yet to see you fail."

Green eyes intertwine with blue as Emma feels the warmth of Killian's hand. His gentle grip anchors her to hope and faith. If only she could protect him from the darkness and its power.

"You should sleep, Killian," she says, finding a weariness far worse than her own. "I'll take the first watch. Just in case we have any unwanted visitors."

"No, Swan," he replies. "I'll do it."

"I wasn't asking. This isn't the time to act all—"

"Emma, I won't sleep," he confesses.

His words startle her. She wants to chalk Killian's refusal up to chivalry, but perceives it is for another reason.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean—I can't sleep, love. It's just too hard with the voices."

The Savior shudders. For a brief time, she ignored the idea of Killian's torment. It helped her cope with the guilt and fear she still harbors. But his words inflict pain, as she realizes that her pirate never left his dungeon.

"What are they saying?" she asks, trying to understand more.

Like a thousand knives stabbing a wounded animal, the voices scream agony into the pirate's head.

They're coming

You can't protect her

They will torture her

They will kill her

She will die

Dread follows panic into the crevices of his chest, but the pirate blinks his eyes and returns to his Swan.

"Nothing I can't handle, love," he insists.

He knows that the Savior uses her superpower when a sober look spreads across her face. Knowing that he cannot diminish her fear, he prays that Emma doesn't hear the pounding of his heart. It threatens to beat itself out of his chest as the pirate confronts his greatest enemy.

The Savior watches the war that rages in the Dark One's mind helplessly. Seeing his eyes twitching and his hook rattling in the dirt, she knows he does not fully divulge the anguish he suffers.

"I'm sorry."

Her words release Killian from his trance. He looks up, bewildered.

"What are you sorry for?"

"Everything," she confides. "The darkness, all of this—"

"Stop," he responds. The Savior shivers when she feels his hand cradling her neck. He leads her eyes to meet his own.

"Swan, please don't apologize," he says, her guilt cutting him like a blade.

His head rests against her own. As his breath wisps across her skin, Emma feels a tear slip from his eyes onto her cheek. "I don't care what hell I've gone through. If I had to do it all again, I would do it a thousand times over."

Her eyes close, as she learns how deep Killian's love for her goes. His choice was not a spur of the moment decision. It was an intentional act, upholding the promise he made to her on Mary Margaret's couch in the loft all those nights ago.

With gratitude mixed with sadness, she responds, "I know."

Fairytale's unlikeliest pair spend the next few moments soaking in the warmth of each other's hold. Though he dreams of staying this way forever, the Dark One's pensive smile eclipses the storm he weathers.

"Swan, I need you to promise me something."

His serious tone alarms her. Despite her reservations, the Savior would give anything to alleviate Killian's anguish.

"Name it."

"I need you to promise me—that if the time comes—you will do what must be done."

Immediately, Emma draws back. Like a bullet sinking into her chest, his words steal her breath. She quickly cracks the code she never wanted to hear.


"Swan—" he says, bringing himself closer to her.

"Don't," she warns, pushing away the comfort he offers. Torment enrages Killian as he watches Emma put back on her impassive armor. If only her walls were made of sand and not the scars from the cowards who betrayed her trust.

"We have to talk about this."

"No, we don't," she argues, activating every protective mechanism she has.

"Don't do this, Swan. Don't put your walls up."

"Killian, I am not going to kill you," she swears, drowning in terror.

"Emma, please," he begs, choking on the heartbreak in his voice. "I've already destroyed so many lives. If I go back under—if Merlin cannot help us put an end to the darkness—I don't want to hurt anyone else. I don't want to hurt you. You have to do this—for the protection of all."

"All?!" she shouts, recoiling further from her captain's warmth. "What about us?! What about our future?! Who's protecting that?"

Tears begin to stream down her face as the gravity of their predicament grows. All of her worries pommel her at once: her magic running out, people suffering, the darkness winning, Killian dying. His request rips her heart until it bleeds. How could she kill the only man she ever loved? Why have the destiny and power to give others their happy ending only to literally put a sword through her own?


"No!" she clamors, her cheeks drenched in tears. "You don't get to give up on us! I won't let you."

"Listen," he pleads, his calming voice bringing her back to earth. "I'm not giving up. And I promise you that I will always fight for you and our future together. I just—I just need to know that if—if this doesn't end the way we hope, you'll do what is necessary to protect those we love."


"Please, Swan. You're the only one I trust."

Her heart shatters into a thousand pieces. All Emma wants is to wake up from their nightmare and go back to standing in front of Granny's jukebox. Though she holds an enormous amount of magic as the Savior, against the darkness she appears as powerless as the maiden locked in the tower of Isaac's story.

Overwhelmed at the sense of defeat, Emma decides to unleash her only weapon. Impulsively, Emma presses her lips onto Killian's. Her heart races and knees quake as she trembles at the thought of losing Killian. He anchors her against him with his hand and hook gently pressing into her back. The feeling of her heartbeat against his own blows wind into the pirate's sails.

He loses himself in the sensation, yearning to convince her of his devotion to their happy ending. He deepens the kiss with a desire to ignore the impending unknown, and a possessive need to defend the Savior from his demons. The desperation in his kiss makes nerves go haywire throughout her body. His touch strips off her armor and smashes her walls to pieces. Willingly, Emma melts into his arms, craving to feel something real in the midst of mystical forces and unknown futures. If humans could survive without oxygen, she would surrender to the pirate's passionate kisses and never leave.

Her fingers tousle his hair and her arms find their home around his neck. As his lips sink deeper into her throat, Killian plunders her mouth like a pirate pillages treasure. No matter what happens, the Dark One vows to save his Swan. The darkness cannot have her. Helpless to save Milah, he will not let Emma suffer the same fate.

Their lips maintain their lock on one another until Emma forces herself to come up for air, lest she faint. It reminds her of the first kiss they shared in Neverland. Trembling and breathless, her hands cling to Killian as his head rests upon hers.

"I love you," she professes, eyes closed and gasping for air.

She gives it freely and without reservation. But the worry buried in her declaration wounds the Dark One. Incapable of taking away an ounce of her anguish, he strives to console her.

"I love you."

It is his promise, Killian's faith in their happy ending. Their love is the only ammunition they hold against the darkness. No matter what comes between them, their devotion to each other tethers the Dark One and the Savior in an unbreakable bond.

"Promise me, Swan."

He must know an answer. It is the only way he will survive the arduous battle he endures. As he stares at his most precious treasure, he watches her smile away the tears lining the brims of her eyes.

"I promise," she whimpers.

Once they teach themselves how to breathe again, Killian notices Emma about to collapse from exhaustion.

"Go ahead and sleep, love. I'll keep watch."

Seeing the desperation in his heart, Emma raises her white flag. She plants one soft kiss on Killian's lips before she shifts into a comfortable position in the hay. As her eyelids drift into oblivion, Emma rests in the assurance that her pirate keeps her hand secured around his own.

And he will never leave her behind.

Like a grain of rice threatening to tip the scale, Robin of Locksley's life hangs in the balance. With injuries too severe to treat and Dr. Whale in another realm, his fate rests in the hands of Maleficent's daughter. It only takes a moment for her to understand why Sir Ector needed to find her and asked for her help.

But doubt thunders through her fingers. Even though she healed Emma, her inexperience leaves her to wonder if she can replicate her light magic once more. Dark magic is what she knows, but that will not save Robin.

"Lily, you have magic," Sir Ector reminds her. "Kay told me that's how you saved Emma."

"That was one time," she explains. "I'm not sure I can do it again."

"Lily—you can do this," he proclaims. "Trust yourself. "

Bile threatens to crawl back up her throat. The pervading scent of decay does nothing to alleviate her nausea. Her fingertips quiver as she ponders the amount of light magic required to save Robin's life.

Nevertheless, Maleficent's daughter will never forgive herself if Robin dies in her arms. Given her brief interactions with both Robin and Regina, she knows his death would devastate his lover. Even if darkness resides in her, even if she cannot rediscover the light within herself, she must try.

Closing her eyes, she searches her feelings for light magic, silently praying for the elusive force to appear. Moments later, a small surge of it flows from her hand. Sir Ector watches with astonishment as Lily wields magic across the archer's broken torso.

Even though magic heals Robin's broken bones, it does not minimize the pain to perform such an act. The thief winces and contorts in agony. His screams resound through the walls of stone, only to be muffled by the knight's hand over his mouth.

"Shh," Lily soothes, longing to ameliorate Robin's pain.

Slowly, but surely, blood from his wounds dissipates into the air. His bones sink back under his skin as the swelling vanishes from his sapphires. Finally, all outward evidence of Robin's torture disappears.

When magic ceases to flow from Lily's hand, the archer's old defenses spring into action. He vaults up, reaching for Sir Ector's neck.

"Robin! Robin!" Lily shouts, pushing him back onto the cot stained with blood. "Calm down! It's okay! It's me, Lily. It's okay."


Nottingham's thief may be alive and healed by Maleficent's daughter, but the loss of blood causes weakness to linger.

"You're still in Arthur's castle," she explains, watching the fog slowly lift from his mind. "This is Sir Ector. We—we can trust him."

Though she expects the archer to have a hundred questions about his ordeal, only one crosses his mind.

"Re—Regina," he moans. "Where is she?"

"She's still locked in the dungeon," the knight answers.

At those words, Robin breaks through Lily's hold and springs up. "I have—I have to—I have to save her," he pants, his lungs starving for air.


"No," he says, shaking his head. "She's—she's in trouble."

Lily observes the thief stumbling towards the door. Sweat drips profusely down his forehead as his knees quake, threatening to collapse beneath him.

"You can barely walk," Lily rebuffs.

"I don't care," he huffs, crawling to the door. He nearly makes it before Sir Ector's armor hinders his quest.

"Sit down for a moment, son," he orders. "I promise you, she's okay."

"For—forgive me if I don't believe you from personal experience," he responds sarcastically.

Ignoring the knight, Robin brushes away Sir Ector's arm, only to crumple to the floor.


"Lily, I'm fine," he assures her. Despite his desire to save Regina, Robin's body collapses beneath him. It leaves him no choice but to let Lily and Sir Ector help him back to the cot.

"Just listen," the knight pleads. "I promise you, no harm will come to Regina or any of your friends."

"How?" Robin questions.

"Because Arthur needs them as leverage," Lily realizes before the knight gets the opportunity to explain. "He means to use us to get to Hook."

"Unfortunately, he will not need them for that."

At those words, both Robin and Lily turn and stare at the knight.

"What are you saying?" the thief questions. "Answer me!"

Trepidation covers the knight's countenance. Lily detects the answer is not the one she wants to hear.

"The witch finished making her locator potion. Arthur is on his way to find the Dark One."

The sound of a flickering stoplight stirs Emma awake. The sensation of cold and jagged concrete replaces the feeling of straw poking her skin. Her eyes open when she no longer feels the pirate's hand around her own. The confusion in her head exceeds the fog surrounding her.

Treun's cabin is gone. Killian is gone. Instead, Emma finds herself in a place all too familiar. It takes one stroke of a clock, one chime of a simple bell, and the smell of salty air for her to solve the mystery. Looking down, she finds her garments of Camelot restored to her typical red leather jacket, boots, and jeans. One tap on her shoulder makes Emma jump three feet in the air.

"You could've picked a better spot to sleep."

Emma's heart drops to the pit of her stomach. That voice. She knows that voice. It haunts more of her dreams than anyone knows. Turning around, the Savior finds a sight she thought she buried six feet underground.


The petty thief gives a subtle smile. "Hey, Emma."

He doesn't get a chance to say another word before the Savior leaps into his arms. Her embrace conveys the thousands of words she wants to say to him.

She buries her face in his shoulder. It's him. The khakis, the scent of beer and tobacco on his jacket, the plaid scarf draped on his shoulders (a trait he shares with his son), and the calluses on his hands recount everything about Emma's first lover.

Frightened and perplexed, she finds the courage to leave his shoulder and meet his eyes.

"How? Are you—"

"Dead?" he says, finishing her sentence. He solemnly nods. "Yes."

"So this is a dream?" she asks, using her brain to piece together this shocking puzzle.

He watches her mind travel in a hundred different directions. Knowing their time remains short, he gestures for her to follow him.

Taking his hand, she discovers an unnatural cold. How could this be? How could he be here? The last time she saw him, she watched the life drain out of him as he sacrificed himself to save his father.

A short stroll later, Emma registers the sound of iron meeting the pavement, she peers up to find Granny's Diner sign illuminating the empty street.


Still baffled, Emma complies and takes a seat at the wrought iron table. She watches Neal sit across from her.

"No drinks?" she teases, attempting to keep the bewildering situation lighthearted.

"Maybe some other time."

The Savior nods, realizing Neal came on important business.

She dreamed of this moment for months. She thought about all of the things she would say. But when fate gives her a second chance, Emma's mind goes blank.

"How's our son?"

His words bring her back to the present. Instantly, a flood of her memories with Henry overwhelms her. She thinks about all of the milestones their son reached without his father by his side. Since Neal's death, Henry tried his hand at driving, shaved for the first time, and tied his first tie, all of which she wishes Neal would've taught him. Recently, he even told Emma of his plans to ask his crush at school to go with him to his first school dance.

"Good," she tells him, hiding her sorrow. The last thing she wants is to add more pain and regret to Neal's mind as he studies her expression. "He wakes up looking more and more like you every day. He misses you."

Neal nods, a genuine smile sprouting on his features. "I miss him too."

"Why are you here, Neal?"

"I was sent to help you."

"By who?"

The petty thief laughs, remembering the teenager who always wanted to know every detail about every heist.

"Call him—a friend."

Emma frowns, knowing she cannot pry the secret from Neal even if she tried. "You never answered my question earlier. Is this a dream?"

"A vision," he informs her. "He thought it would be easier for you to hear it if it came from a friend."

"Hear what?"

"That's difficult to explain—"

"Try me," she challenges him.

When Neal hesitates, she chuckles. "Come on. It can't be that bad. Are you going to tell me that this isn't Storybrooke?"

"This isn't Storybrooke, Emma."

The revelation stops the Savior in her tracks. Her superpower works to find the petty thief speaks the truth.

"This sure looks like it," she responds, gesturing to the town.

"It's a picture," Neal explains. "He thought this, making it resemble your beloved town in Maine, would help you understand."

Leaning across the table, he points behind her in the direction of the clock tower.

"Look down that street, Emma. There is no light. What do you see?"

With Neal's clarification, the pieces start to fall into place.


Turning around, she finds him confirming her suspicions.

"Each of these buildings represents a realm of story that exists or once existed. The buildings with light are the realms still intact, ones trying to keep the darkness at bay."

"And the other ones?" she questions, referencing the buildings with no lights.

"Gone," he answered. "Annihilated to the point where no one survived, and the realm vanished from existence."

To her dismay, it isn't just one building with no light or any color remotely close to it. She grimaces as she reflects on the thousands of lives destroyed by evil. Her anger flares when she considers what the darkness robs her of, including her happy ending with Killian.

"Emma, the darkness is growing," he tells her. "Ever since the Apprentice's death, it's become volatile, spreading to new realms and destroying others. The final battle has begun."

"What about Killian?" she asks, the pirate being her priority. "I thought as the Dark One that he—"

"Yes," Neal responds, finishing the Savior's thought. "In theory, the Dark One can contain the darkness. However, things have changed. For one, my father embraced the darkness and slowly learned to control it over hundreds of years. Because Hook refuses to embrace it, he cannot control it. And with the Apprentice dead, the only major force stopping it is Merlin, making the darkness very dangerous. It's a lot for one person to contain."

"Two," she corrects him. "Killian holds the darkness too."

"For now," Neal concedes. "He's fighting it. But you're not sure how long he can keep it contained, are you?"

Her somber expression tells the fear she cannot confess. With her magic now damaged and unpredictable, dread fills her soul. For she knows the day approaches where she will no longer be able to save Killian from the hold of the darkness.

"So how do I stop it?—all of this?" Emma asks, gesturing to the town.

"There's only one way."

"Okay—any hints?" The Savior's frustration at Neal being nonspecific grows.

Amused at the sight of her head spinning, he obliges, "To defeat the darkness, the light of a true hero must overcome it."

Emma's eyes roll as she crosses her arms. "Care to explain?"

"You already know," he tells her with a confident nod.

She reciprocates his gesture with a cold stare. "No, I don't. I thought the asking for you to explain made that pretty obvious."

"That's all I'm allowed to tell you."

"Come on—"

Before she protests further, the petty thief leans in. A serious expression twists his features. "Emma—I wish I could tell you. But you must figure this out on your own. You're the only one who can. Look inside yourself. You'll find it."

"But Neal—"

Suddenly, a sharp pain strikes Emma. The table rattles as she violently grabs her chest. It overtakes her, robbing her lungs of oxygen.

"Emma? Emma, what is it?"

No. It cannot be. How? It must be something else. It has to be. As the pain radiates through her body, a single tear escapes her emeralds.


She knows this pain. She hoped to never feel it again. But another shock of it surging through her system makes her realize the reason for it.


As the Savior succumbs to a lack of oxygen, her agony escalates. Amidst the pain and terror that batters her mind, she holds one thought. No longer does she hear Neal, but only a resounding scream.

Emma jolts awake. Spinning her head in each direction, she finds she lays in the middle of Treun's straw. Sunrise approaches, but the Savior's heart plummets to the pit of her stomach. She no longer senses a hand around her own. Killian is gone. When the pain remains, she knows her nightmare becomes her reality.

The Dark One currently squeezes a human heart.

A/N: Uh-oh! Here we go again! On a positive note—Robin's alive! Yay! Chapter 23 is complete! Thank you for reading. For clarification, I wanted Emma's dream/vision sequence to be similar to the one she had on her way to the Underworld in 5x12. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the chapter! Comments and critiques are appreciated and welcomed as they make me a better writer for you guys. Don't forget to favorite and/or follow this story if you haven't already. Things are about to get interesting. Stay tuned. Thank you for all of your support!

Until next time,

C.M. Singer :)