Leave yourself behind, my love

For once, Ariel wakes up before him and the sun touches her cheek tentative and slow, and the light pours over them cocooning them in the peaceful absolute silence of the aftermath. In here, where the sea can't disturb them, where no past can shatter them, she knows contentment. She feels certain affection for their bed and the memories they've created here, but above all, she loves the perfect neutrality of the sheets that surround them, of the moonlight that watches them and the sunlight that raises them, everything about this place is about promises and hopes. Before last night, in their cabin there had been no hard words, no resentments, no crippling histories that could touch what they had, like it was made of thunder storms and sea tides, undefeatable.

But her doubts and her pining for a past that doesn't exist anymore almost broke her seaman. She pauses, the revelation lighting fast and illuminating. "Why are you so surprised he's breakable?" she reprimands herself. She has witnessed many times that, concealed between words and kisses, under those sky eyes and sad scars, dark hair and darker past, hides a man who's broken enough for the both of them. Killian Jones is a man with chains under his muscles, with old pains tattooed over his heart, with shadows in his smile. She loves it all, the light he gives her with his love and infinitude, and the darkness that pulls him under, that makes him frayed. If she didn't, she wouldn't know a thing about being human. Because she's realized loving him is finding every crack and every fissure in his armor, and fixing him with acceptance and adoration. She understands he has darkness woven into his soul, affliction etched into his breathing, and mostly, he has the frenzied desire for salvation, unknown probably even to him. He needs to be loved. She always thought he was the savior, she was the dreamer. However, she recognizes his longing for a love that heals him, that stitches his wounds back together. She knows he hungers for passion, the maddening and joyful sensation of intensity, and laughter and freedom, and lust that carries you like a waterfall, no absolution, no control, only the surrendering to a love that's so complete, so forceful, breathing it's too painful without it. He longs for tenderness and gentle loving, because he believes himself void of those qualities, she knows he needs the warmth of a song in the middle of the sunset, the soothing of a declaration in the interlude of the night, and more often than not, he longs for the symphony that her heart plays, he delights himself in mastering her beating and molding it to his. But she failed him with one single aspect of true love: the fidelity of forever, the faith of years without doubt or intention of ever parting, the reliability of coming home to her arms, to her heart, every single night, forever. She grasps now her mistake: in the arms of the ocean, devotion rushed out of her. She let her love flow like a river, back to sea, but she was always a mermaid meant for the land, for him.

He stirs for a moment, and for a second her heart and her breath pause as he mumbles something in his sleep. He's so arresting with his dark golden beard and his luscious lips and his scar, he's such a wonderful miracle she was given. Having a human life wasn't enough, she was given true love. She never even dreamed such happiness was possible, it's like his heartbeat was the melody she was always meant to sing, but her heart forgot during these lonely nights when the sea tempted her back. She remembers now, now and forever she'll sing for him.

The regret is eating her inside, like acid was poured in her veins, like all the love she's felt turned into poison, drowning her in hurting. She's so angry at herself for not being good enough for him. In a way, she still feels like a child, like the little mermaid who escaped a life of boredom and traded all her cards for an adventure, for legs. How silly of her to think she could heal a man broken beyond his own possibilities. If she's a seashell, that stands against waves and currents and storms, he's a ship, and wood is easily rotten under the curse of many years.

The tears warm her cheeks as they pour, and she's looks out the window, the sunrise tender like his smile and a compliment when she first learned to dance. As the sun touches her cheek, like he has done so many times, she turns her face, she's undeserving of that happiness. She tries to avoid sobbing, so she doesn't wake him up. But it's as if he sensed her, as if her sadness was a broken lightouse he had searched across many seas until he found it and fixed it, because he moves and holds her gently. She sighs and he kisses her fingertips one by one as she touches his face.

"Killian" she whispers, but he shakes his head and continues his ministrations. He kisses the inside of her wrist and he mumbles against her skin.

"Not yet. I had the most splendid dream. I believe I was promised forever with a red-haired mermaid." he teases and she sobs, and he opens his eyes alarmed. She takes his breath away, because adoration is clear in her features, even if she's crying in earnest.

"No no, my love, don't cry please. Come here." she buries her face in the crook of his neck and he sighs. As her tears soak his naked chest, he kisses the top of her head with tenderness and she shakes with silent heartbreak.

"I can't forgive myself for hurting you." she mumbles and he's baffled for a moment. He never imagined her regret over this, over losing the ocean, yes. But over his pain? He chuckles for a moment and she gasps, surprised and hurt.

"Killian Jones, what the bloody hell is wrong with you?! Why are you laughing at this?!" she chokes out as she tries to crawl off him, but he holds her tight and buries his laughter in her fiery curls. He feels the warm of her blush in her neck and her cheeks, he's very fond of her angry blush. But he feels her impatient glare even if he can't see it and he laughs quietly before he faces her.

"Ariel, love is a tricky thing. It's volatile and it changes its mind, it's a sword fight between hearts. Some blood is always spilled for the sake of love. Even when we devote ourselves to one person, how can that love stand still against time and circumstances? You can't ask a ship to stand still against a storm's power. And just the same, you can't ask my heart not to be a little battered by your love. We change and love changes us and I've hurt you and you've hurt me." she sobs at that final sentence and he cradles her face and thumbs away her tears. Her eyes are big and bottomless, an ocean of his own and he feels he holds the universe in his arms as she stares at him with rapture.

"Sweetheart just because our love was laced with doubts, it doesn't make it less true. It makes it stronger. No matter what comes between us, fear and curses and even the entire ocean, we've defeated it, together. You belong with me, remember?" she nods weakly and gives him a shaky smile and he feels time went back and he's seeing her for the first time, hair full of sand, heart full of hope, and a smile that brought back to life a heart that wasn't supposed to beat anymore. He kisses her brow and the sigh she gives him warms the trail her tears painted over his heart.

"I was promised a mermaid last night. Should I start calling you Ariel Jones then?" he whispers over her heart as he kisses her chest and edges toward her belly bottom, licking and nipping. She giggles and her voice comes out in squeals as he tickles and bites her.

Mr. Smee turns around and takes the breakfast back to the kitchen. John sees the trays and laughs, a knowing grin in his face. Smee shakes his head annoyed, but he's relieved Ms. Ariel is back at the Jolly Roger. The mornings are not complete without her laughter.

Her red curls are burning with the sunset light, and she's splashing him as she runs away from him on the beach. She runs faster when he tries to grab her and her muscles tense and her legs look honeyed and golden after a day under the sun. She makes a path on the wet sand and even if it's a bit hard for her to run, she carries on, running away from him. Her strength leaves footprints on the sand and he can't help but wonder if the same strength made her walk into his heart, without a second glance back, without a consideration for his old wounds. She's laughing and yelling at him to catch her, and the tide resonates with the echoes of her laughs and the music of her voice. He smiles and waves back as she stands against the dying sun and her face is hidden in shadows, much like when she was hidden in doubts. With the sun behind her like a halo, she's a gift he never expected and fought hard to avoid the temptation of opening, but a gift he will spend the rest of his life protecting.

She beckons him closer and the moment he's about to hold her, she twirls and starts running in the opposite direction. Her laugh is unrestrained and her eyes glow with the daylight that escaped the horizon and he closes his eyes for a moment.

"Please let me be with her for long. Please, whoever is listening, whoever demon or angel has watched me for years. I know I don't deserve to be happy after all the wrong choices I've made. But she's my light and I will work during every breath I take, every morning I wake, every beat of my heart, to deserve her. I'm asking for a lot, but I will do anything to keep her with me."

He believes his own thunderous thoughts have escaped free from his mind when he hears a roar coming from behind him. He turns and sees Ariel running towards him and when he holds her, there's a dread and tightness around her eyes, like she can't take much more of the ache and difficulties they've gone through these past days. He hushes her and pulls out his sword. Wishes be damned in that moment, if he can't have forever, at least he'll die giving her that. She gave him a forever from the moment her legs failed her and she fell in his arm, until right now, when she's pressed herself against him.

The sea parts and from swirls and waves fighting against each other, a vast man swims towards them. His beard is silver and green, the sea and the light from the bottom of the ocean floor combined to make this man's hair; his face is strong and serious, and a million thoughts flash on his eyes, like fishes on a coral reef intriguing whoever views them. Ariel gasps when she sees him and she takes a tentative step towards the water, the shore pulling her closer, the strength of the king of the sea calling her to him; but she holds Killian's hand, drawing him behind.

Even when the seaman comes closer, and two young mermaids swim behind him, her faces fierce and determined, their eyes searching his soul, his weakness and stopping on their joined hands, Killian stands his ground, not letting go of her hand, but not coming with her. This is the moment he knew would come, the moment dread promised him, the moment vows are broken. But he will not shatter, not in front of her. If she leaves, she'll go freely and joyfully, and he'll stay behind, accepting the reality of what was never meant to be his.

The king and princesses stop a few meters away and Ariel covers her mouth with her hand, the tears' salt mixing with the ocean breeze that tangles her hair. The old king is silent as he stares at her, his face is inscrutable, made of storms and wreckage and infinity. Her sisters swim closer to her and the tallest glares at him and pulls her to her arms. Ariel sobs as the mermaid whispers to her in a tongue he can't understand. The other inspects him as she holds her sister hand, but he composes his eyes to be dead, dead as snow, dead as a heart without nothing to hold.

"I heard your calling, Killian Jones." the king's voice silences the shore.

Killian turns, and for a second intrigue blazes in his eyes. But hope is a treason he's not willing to risk. He schools his expression to be like the gray fog of the afternoon, unfeeling, unmoving, patient and cold.

"Indeed I made a wish not long ago, my lord. But a visit in person was not what I expected."

The tall mermaid flashes her teeth at him, the long canines telling their own tale of seduction and death.

"Insolent sailor, do you have any idea who you're talking to?"

He turns and Ariel's eyes are soft and pleading. Defeat burns in his veins and he turns to the old man who came back for his daughter.

"Yes, I know who he is. My apologies, my lord."

There is a knowing glint in the green eyes of the sea king, as Killian's reaction was exactly what he expected. But the tall sister is not quite appeased.

"That's it, father? You'll let him talk like that? I should rip your tongue for that, useless human. I knew you were trouble from the moment I had to save my sister and you."

His eyes widen and the mermaid comes threateningly close to him. A voice forgotten and buried under the pain of nightmares from the past days comes back to his mind. A promise of love doomed. "You'll love her to ruins, you fool." She was the voice he heard when sinking into unconsciousness.

"Thank you mermaid, I owe you our lives." he tells, his voice humble and low.

"I didn't do it for you, futile sailor. I did it for my sister. I wouldn't let her drown because she chose an imbecile human for her savior." she scoffs and Ariel lets go of her sister's embrace and comes to stand in front of Killian, shielding him from her sister's wrath.

"Aquata, don't you dare insult Killian. You're the fool, you're vindictive and spiteful. He has saved me more times than you know. He gives my life a purpose."

"Little sister, you threw yourself off board because of his unawareness of you." her other sister says, but her face is regretful and melancholic.

"Adella, he's a human, as I am now. You don't see this, because it's a truth hidden deep inside the human heart. It's called forgiveness. I forgave him for that, as he did yesterday for my mistakes. Humans wrong each other, even if they love each other." she turns to her father and the tears are reflected in the old king's eyes. "I love him, papa."

Her father looks at Killian for a moment and he opens his arms, his eyes are soft, the waves at the morning are in his stare. But her decision is the strnght of the waves at twilight, stern and brave, overpowering and decided, touching the sand with the possessiveness of a lover. She turns and kisses Killian and the kiss is a promise of a life together, it's a remembrance of her words. She's choosing him.

"Young man, you don't deserve my daughter. She's the finest treasure of the sea, she is my pride and joy." King Triton whispers, and even his low voice is the breaking of rocks under a strong tide.

"But she's happier with you than with any wonder the sea could offer her. You asked for a long time. I'll give you this. For as long as the sea is my kingdom, you'll be together."

Ariel's smile is an eclipse during the highest moon and she squeezes his hand before running to her father. The pair holds one another, the bittersweet desperation of the parting in that hug.

"Father please don't do this! Can't you see he's a fool and a thief!" Aquata screams and the shore empties at her anger.

Ariel turns and there's rock and tempest in her green eyes, and Killian sees her as the mermaid princess she once was.

"No sister. He's a pirate." and pride pours from her voice and he feels his heart pounds with glee and admiration.

"Are you sure this is the life you want? This is man you choose to give yourself to?" Adella questions her, but her face is forgiving and sad.

"Yes." she simply says, and her father kisses the top of her head.

Aquata simply swims back to the depths without a glance back. King Triton holds his hand out for Adella and she goes to him. The pain of departure is evident in the way the sea has calmed down. Ariel walks back to Killian and when she hugs him, he mouths to the king: "Thank you."

"Take care of her, Killian Jones." Adella whispers and the sea opens and they swim back.

Ariel buries her head in his chest and sobs, letting go of a past than she loved, but he's not jealous of the sea anymore. Just this one time, the fates were kind to him.

"Ariel" he whispers and she looks up to him, a small smile gracing her poignant face. He frowns and opens his mouth, but her small fingers cover his lips.

"Forever Killian. I'm yours. I love you much, darling. More than anyone on the earth, more than everything in the sky."

"Is this real?" he asks her and she brushes a kiss to his lips and the magic of true love fills his veins once more.

"As real as eternity."

The end

A/N: So this is it, the end of this journey has finally come. And today is my 21st birthday, so I'm really happy to upload this today. I hope you liked my fic as much as I enjoyed writing it. I wanted to thank you, especially on my birthday, because writing this and every review and message I got, made me realize something I had forgotten: I love words, I had always wanted to write, but I never dared, and you guys have encouraged me so much, I'm forever grateful. So thank you for giving me that. I'd loved some reviews to hear what you thought of this ending. Cheers bbs, and thank you for reading.