A/N: This is more in line with my "dark" oeuvre, but fear not, I'll be putting out more fluff shortly. It's sort of a prequel to Sirens, referring to the sacrifice Aurora made for Hook, and it reads like a fragment of a larger story, which it basically is, but I have a hard time structuring plots and writing things in proper order. I'm a character writer at heart, anyway =B
Disclaimer: Don't own OUAT or related Disney properties, although I could make a few suggestions for additional villains...

Dark Spirits

by Victoria Squalor

They had moved Aurora into the pawnshop. Despite his and Mulan's initial objections, Snow had insisted it was perfectly safe, and besides, they'd all take turns standing watch over her to make sure nothing else happened—as if there were so many worse things that could.

Killian hated it. Amidst the trinkets and toys, the clunky furnishings and pointless dust-collectors, she looked like an ethereal statue, sparkling as if she'd been coated in diamond dust, glowing ever so faintly with the aura of magic that kept her in this state. Like a rare and valuable sculpture, only missing an exorbitant price tag. It was sickening.

But not half as sickening as the truth of the matter, or the way it made him feel.

He'd told her half a dozen times if he'd told her once, to butt out of his business, of his right to vengeance for Milah and his severed hand. She'd shook her head at him, sadly. Vengeance…there was a time I cried for vengeance, and called it justice. If you did slay the Dark One, Killian, what would that gain you?

Satisfaction, Your Highness, he'd replied coldly. If you're quite done with the morality lecture…you look a bit peaky. Perhaps you should take a nap. The blood drained from his face at the mere memory of the words.

Damn it, she had no right to barge in like that. He'd been fully prepared to die, after that treacherous slag Cora had just abandoned him there with her former master—ready to die like a man, at least. The sound of Aurora's voice shrilly calling his name had disoriented him; he hadn't seen anything but a blur before him, before the blast of dazzling light that shattered all around him into tiny embers, followed by an eerie, deafening silence. And when his eyes finally came back into focus, he beheld her in a state of confusion, as she stood glittering and frozen before him—and behind her, Rumpelstiltskin stood watching too with much the same expression.

And then he'd gotten away. Killian hadn't chased him. His legs hadn't seemed to work at the moment anyway. He couldn't seem to do anything but gape in disbelief at her, a dumbstruck sentry until Mulan and Emma had arrived, the others following close behind.

He'd been here since they'd moved her, despite the women all insisting he needed rest, the one called Ruby rather enthusiastically offering her couch. He hadn't even taken off the black wool peacoat he'd been donning ever since his arrival in Storybrooke, in an attempt to blend in somewhat—although that was more or less negated by his prominent hook. He'd refilled his flask with whatever low-grade dark rum passed for drinkable in this town—barely fit to clean a cut, but he'd been downing it anyway. It wasn't doing much to alleviate his mood.

Nor did Mulan, when she walked in to find him slumping in a chair. She'd barely said a word to him during the whole ordeal, and he had fully expected her to unleash a torrent of righteous fury on him; instead, she only folded her arms over her chest and looked disapprovingly at him.

"What are you doing?" She appeared to have raided Emma's closet, trading in her ornate warrior garb for a basic zippered jacket and black leather trousers, though the sword was still strapped to her back.

Killian raised his flask. "Getting shitfaced, what's it look like? Join me in a spot of rum, warrior maiden?"

Mulan narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth, then closed it again. "No, thank you," she finally said, after a moment's hesitation in which she clearly struggled with the words. "I'm not partial to dark spirits."

Her choice of phrasing made him chortle darkly in spite of himself.

"You're supposed to be watching Aurora," Mulan continued, her voice steely. "Not drinking."

"I am watching her. She's right there, see?" He pointed toward the princess, her sparkle no less muted in the dim electric light. "You planning on nipping out tonight, Aurora?" He laughed at his own unanswered comment and took another swig. "Guess we're all staying in, then."

Mulan seized the lapels of his peacoat and yanked him to his feet so quickly that he dropped his flask in surprise, the last trickle of rum seeping onto the floor. Now, there's the righteous fury, he thought.

"This must all be very funny to you, pirate," she hissed, her face suddenly an austere and frightening mask. "These silly little notions of love and honor—two things that you couldn't possibly comprehend, no matter how long you live."

Killian felt his mouth twisting into a scowl, ready to protest, but those ferocious dark eyes had him temporarily cowed.

"Aurora's safety has been my responsibility ever since Phillip was taken from us. I have guarded her in his place, as he would have wished, and because of you, I have failed him."

"Because of me?" Killian couldn't believe this. "Begging your pardon, milady, but I didn't throw her up as a human shield. She ran into the path of that curse of her own accord." The more words that tumbled out of his mouth, the angrier he grew at the stone-still princess. "I was prepared to die. The stupid little girl just—"

Mulan cracked him across the face so hard that her knuckles came away bloody. He gaped at her, white-hot pain seeping into his nose, feeling not so much outraged as that he had deserved it—most of all from her.

"That stupid little girl," Mulan went on evenly, as if she had not just given him a nosebleed, "saw something in you that was apparently worth saving. I can't imagine what, although I suspect you hoodwinked her into seeing it—through smooth words and deceit, the same way you obtain everything else."

Killian snorted derisively, although inwardly he was cringing at the memory of the last thing he'd said to Aurora. Quite the antithesis of smooth, actually.

"More than anything, though, I can't accept that she'd throw away Phillip's sacrifice for a common blackguard like you—much less that she would try to imitate it." A shadow passed over her face. "She had no right. He didn't make that sacrifice for her alone."

Killian was desperate to change the subject, if only to divert his thoughts for a moment. "This, uh, thing with…Phillip? Am I to take it there were three of you in this relationship? Sounds a bit kinky—not in a bad way, mind you."

Mulan regarded him coldly. "I traveled with Phillip a long time before we found Aurora. It is…natural to develop feelings for a close companion and brother in arms. But I also understood that he had a destiny to fulfill—to free her from her curse, to wed her, to reign at her side. I knew that going in. None of it mattered. I…I loved him, yes. But I did not covet him. His happiness was paramount, and that happiness lay with Aurora. And it would have, if…things had happened differently." Her smoky topaz eyes grew distant, no longer focusing on his face. "Before the wraith took him, he turned to us…but he did not face us. His last words were 'I love you'. He did not mean that for his betrothed alone. It was a gift to both of us…as was his sacrifice. It was done out of love."

He stared at her, speechless. Mulan looked as surprised as he did at herself for divulging it all. She abruptly tore her gaze from his and released his coat, pushing him away. As she did she caught sight of the tattoo peeking out from beneath his sleeve. "Is that a tribute, pirate? To someone you have lost? Loved?"

"Yes," he answered shortly, unwilling to spill as much as she had. He was already starting to sober up.

"Would you have given your life in her place?"

Killian remained silent, remembering how he'd watched the Dark One sink his hand into Milah's chest as if it were made of putty. Had he not been restrained, what would he have done? Thrown himself in the way? It would have made little difference; they'd have both been killed.

"I thought as much," Mulan said, after a moment's pause. "Then you did not love her. Not really. You failed her, and now you have failed Aurora."

"But I don't—" I don't love Aurora, was what he intended to say, but the words stuck fast to his tongue and would not come out. He didn't understand why. The princess and her tiresome night terrors were so beyond his concern, and yet…she seemed concerned about him all the time. He had done nothing, nothing to her to warrant that kind of concern, that care, that—

"It doesn't matter if you don't. She loves you." Mulan's words cut him to the quick, sharper than any steel. "You owe her a great debt, pirate, whether you wish it or not. And make no mistake. I will see that you repay it." She retrieved the empty flask from where it had fallen on the floor. "Finish your watch and sober up. I'll return to relieve you in the morning." She turned on a heel and swept out of the room without a parting glance, her swirl of raven hair swishing behind her.

Killian stood for a moment in her wake, keenly aware of the volume of his own heartbeat. He turned back to Aurora, closing the distance between them in several long strides, and gazed into that immobile face for a long time.

"Why?" he whispered, cupping her cold cheek in his palm. "Why did you do it? I don't—I don't understand you."

Aurora gazed back at him, her aquamarine orbs wide with…not fear, he thought. She wasn't afraid, she couldn't have been, to have willingly walked toward what she believed was certain death. His frustration boiled up inside him, pricked hot at the back of his eyes, until he swallowed it back. He didn't know her at all. Who was this princess, who cast aside her mind and sanity for a kingdom, and her life for a cowardly codfish of a pirate?

She loves you. The warrior woman's words still stung, though the sting did nothing to silence the howl of protest that rose up inside.

She can't love me. I've done nothing to earn it. She can't.

He tried to picture her gallant Prince Phillip, his imagination conjuring some fresh-faced, clean-cut strapping lad on a snow-white steed, all nobility and poise and gilded armor. A man befitting this fragile and yet strangely resilient rose, one who would eagerly go to war in her name, who would just as eagerly have his soul sucked out to keep her safe.

"And you went from that to a filthy pirate," he said aloud. "Your standards have taken quite a nosedive, Princess."

Killian wished more than anything at that moment that his words would incense her enough to melt this magical frost, that she would spring to life at once and start screaming at him, calling him blackguard and scoundrel and coward and any other host of names, even that she would bloody his painfully sore nose even further. But she remained still as death, her face permanently fixed in an expression of crystalline anguish.

If only I could do as your prince did…kiss you and make everything better. He pondered it a moment. Well, why not? Can't hurt.

He stroked her cheekbone with the pad of his thumb, watching her marble-hard skin glisten in its wake. "Forgive my impetuosity, Your Highness," he murmured, leaning forward to press his lips to hers.