A/N: Happy Superbowl Weekend! Yes, yes, I know that OUAT has been pushed back BECAUSE of the Superbowl, but might as well enjoy it! =) A quick update for you guys here. Thank you to all the reviewers and supporters! Let me know what you think of this installment; I'm curious to see how you're enjoying the story so far and where you think this is going! Happy reading! xx IFHD

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Chapter 13: Ever After

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Inspired by:

"Ever After"
By: Marianas Trench

Once upon a time
I used to romanticize
Used to be somebody, never mind
Don't miss it that much now
I think it's sinking in
Days that I wonder where I've been
In picture perfect porcelain
But I won't lose a pound

You say I would make a better liar
And never face the music when it's dire
And I breathe disaster, ever after
Don't pull away from me now

Don't you move
Can't you stay where you are, just for now
I could be your perfect disaster
You could be my ever after
You could be my ever after, after all
I could be your perfect disaster
You could be my ever after
Apologies, I'm not myself but I can guarantee
That when I get back, you won't believe
That you knew me well
Don't want to think about it
I'm fuckin' tired of getting sick about it
Now stand back up and be a man about it
And fight for something, fight for something, fight for something, oh

I would make a better liar
And never face the music when it's dire
And I breathe disaster, ever after
Don't pull away from me now

Nobody told ya this is gonna fold ya
We go marching in like toy soldiers
To have and hold ya over sold ya
They're marching like toy soldiers

Somehow don't you dare fail, fail me now, ever after
Somehow don't you dare fail, fail me now, ever after
Somehow

Once upon a time
This place was beautiful and mine
But now it's just a bottom line
Barely comes to mind
But ever after was mine
I'll be your disaster, ever after
So fire away

Goodbye

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Flashback - Fairy Tale Land

Killian spent the mockingly clear night taking to the ale once more. He sat alone in the same, run-down tavern where he had spent the last night with his father and their crew before they set sail for Neverland.

Just like he did on most nights nowadays.

It was difficult for him to erase the memories of what he had witnessed during The Ogre Wars, to exorcise from his mind the flashes of images of death, destruction and annihilation. He felt a violent chill run up and down his spine repeatedly as he remembered the lives he had taken of many a creature and the brutality that he had enacted for a cause not of his own - for a bloody cause that he had been forced to fight for. How was he even alive to reminisce about it all? He was certain many a time that he would've been run through by swords and spears, crushed and clubbed by Ogres, and engulfed in flame and magic. The once young man hadn't been a skilled fighter when the Dark One had coerced him into becoming a soldier - and, hell, he was barely even trained in the art of war when he had been deployed - but, somehow, he had somehow survived. He survived to the bitter end of the war. He was now a grown man, all intact - at least, physically - and was determined to set upon his quest once more.

The most important lesson that he had learned while he fulfilled the bargain with Zoso was that his will and tenacity knew no bounds - particularly when he had a score to settle.

"K-killian? Mr. Jones, is that really you?"

Killian twisted his head towards the origin of the incredulous voice. With his defences stilled for the time being, he surveyed the grey-bearded, eye-patched man for a few moments; his slight, short build bore no threat to the now hardened warrior. After a few moments of tapping into the recesses of his memories, recognition overtook his expression. "Mr. Starkey," he smirked, eyes alit. He gave his head a cock to the side. "Glad to see that you're still alive after all of these years. Have you plundered any villages lately?"

"Oh, lad..." Starkey removed his black hat with a trembling arm and placed the worn-out accessory upon his chest. The disbelief in his green eyes was hard to miss. "I have been searching for you for so long. I heard word that you had returned here to Providence, and..." the man became flustered as excitement and relief coalesced within him. "...Your father..."

In an instant, Killian perked up at this, his back straightening entirely. "What of my father?"

"Before he and the crew set out for Neverland, he commanded me to stay here to await your return and find you." Distinct tears began to well up in the older man's eyes. His voice began to waver as he took a seat across from Killian. "I cannot believe that I have finally succeeded."

The man's loyalty is something to be admired, Killian thought inwardly. "Aye, you have, and I thank you for your patience." He reached out his arm to him and squeezed his bony shoulder. "Any news of Blackbeard and the crew?"

"None yet." The older man's shoulders momentarily drooped at this; though, after a few moments, his eyes began to twinkle. There was renewed vigour in his voice. "But there is one thing that will lift your spirits."

Killian quirked a suspicious brow. "What, pray tell, would that be?"

"Come with me."

Beneath the canopy of the diamond-littered sky, the two men traced the very route that Killian, Blackbeard, and their old crew once had the night they had crossed the Dark One's path.

The night that ultimately changed Killian's life once more.

Killian felt slight discomfort at the flashes of memories of the last time he had seen his father, but he soon found out that this night would bring more hope than sorrow.

With a bounce in his step, Starkey confidently strolled towards what awaited them at the end of the docks.

Killian became even more confused. "What's the meaning of this, Starkey?"

In response, the older man merely placed two fingers in his mouth and gave out a high-pitched whistle. The signal was instantly heard and, before Killian could speak once more, a group of two dozen men gathered around Starkey and faced Killian with pride and strength lining their countenances.

"Welcome to the Jolly Roger," Starkey gave him a low bow, "Captain Jones."

End of Flashback

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Emma continuously replayed the conversation she had just had with Belle in her mind. The Sheriff herself could barely believe that she thought of resorting to exiling the pirate captain. And yet, what other choice did she have? Leaving Hook to rot in a mine somewhere - seeing as a jail cell couldn't hold him - would be inhumane. Then, informing Gold of what he had done to Belle would grant him an even worse fate - of which she would be an accomplice to. How was she going to keep the peace in her town short of killing someone...or witnessing someone being killed?

The dilemma that was Hook needed to be resolved.

Now.

Emma had been so engrossed in her own thoughts as she drove home that she didn't instantly notice the commotion spurring around her. When she realized that the mass exodus, as it were, involved every person that she was seeing, she eventually slowed the car's speed to a crawl as she made her way through the town's main street. When the townsfolk barely heeded her presence and continued to frantically leave their homes and establishments, the young woman finally resolved to park at the nearest curb and to exit the car. She hopped onto the sidewalk and caught sight of Ruby, who scampered towards her as they caught sight of one another.

The two women shared a brisk greeting, and the she-wolf immediately answered Emma's questioning glance with, "The dwarves have called out an alarm. They wish to hold an emergency Town Hall meeting right now."

"What?" Emma's eyes narrowed. She was the goddamn sheriff and wasn't even informed of this? With a quick check of her phone, she quickly realized that she had been receiving and missing a slew of phone calls from Mary Margaret, David, and Leroy. She inwardly cursed at her own carelessness as she placed the phone back in her jean pocket. "What happened?"

Ruby threw her a weak shrug and shook her head. "I don't exactly know, but we should get to the Hall as soon as we can. They're expecting you."

"Okay."

Ruby crossed her arms, as though to elicit some warmth. "Any news of Belle?"

"Yeah," Emma nodded curtly, slightly averting her eyes, "she's fine."

"...and Hook?"

Emma could only give her a stern look. Ruby instantly understood and frowned. The she-wolf thought to press the conversation further, but ultimately decided that her answers could wait.

They couldn't waste anymore time.

Without another word, they hopped into Emma's car and raced towards the Town Hall. The feeling of dread was palpable between them. They remained silent and only gave one another worried glances through the short drive. Emma didn't want to fear the worst, but she knew that a town alarm of this magnitude and haste wasn't exactly the venue for good tidings.

She just hoped to God that, whatever the issue was, Hook didn't have anything to do with it.

...Again.

The journey was a blur, and it didn't take long for the two women to find themselves within the Great Hall of the Georgian style building. Most of the townspeople were already gathered and seated inside, muttering amongst one another through the thick cloak of tension that covered the room. From a cursory glance, Emma could see that Rumpel, Belle, Regina, and a few others were still missing from the congregation. Would they even show? she a few more moments of searching, Emma caught sight of Mary Margaret, David, and Henry sitting at the front of the group, facing the stage.

"Hey, what's going on?" Emma said breathlessly as she reached her family, heart still on overdrive.

Mary Margaret's face was instantly awash with relief. She stood abruptly. "Oh, Emma, there you are!" she took her daughter in for a solid embrace. "I was getting worried! You weren't answering your phone..."

Emma eyed her ruefully. "Sorry, I didn't hear it."

The pixie-haired woman gave her a nod of understanding. "I'm glad you're alright." She greeted Ruby in turn. Then, her eyes instinctively searched for something behind Emma. Her voice edged slightly as she queried, "Were you with Hook? Is he here?"

It was evident to any onlooker that Emma didn't exactly desire to hear that name at the moment. The young woman's face and eyes hardened even further, her lips pressing into a thin line as she replied, "I was. But he's not here."

Mary Margaret could only eye her daughter questioningly before the dwarves stalked towards the front of the room. With approving nods from the crowd, Leroy stepped onto the stage and held out his arms to signal silence. Though the tension burned thick, the dwarf still managed to keep his composure and retain a solid tone in his voice. "We found dead bodies near the forest," he began, a slight snarl forming upon his lips. These mere words already elicited a wave of panicked whispers and gasps from the crowd.

David automatically stood and stepped forward, resolve lining his angular face. "Cora...?"

"But I thought Mary Margaret had killed her!" one of the townsfolk piped up behind him.

An eerie, tense silence engulfed the congregation.

Breaking the uncomfortable stillness, a voice called out from the back of the room, echoing through the walls: "That's where you're wrong."

All heads and gazes turned towards the sound of the deep voice.

Emma shut her eyes and snarled.

At the entrance of the Hall stood Hook, flanked by ten men. Though the captain was the only man who was garbed in pirate attire, the expressions that the other men wore and their erect demeanours as they strode inside made it clear to those present that their loyalty was to the man who now led them. The group of men entered as one unit, regarding the townsfolk - who stared at them with caution in their eyes - with intense, though nonthreatening, looks. The pirates, it seemed, were determined to make their presence known - to show that they were, truly, a crew once more.

"Cora is indeed alive." The confidence in Hook's gait as he walked with purpose through the atrium was conspicuous to all. What the townsfolk wouldn't have guessed was that the captain felt relief that he had his crewmen by his side, after all these years, and was able to assemble them that day to fight for his cause.

Emma couldn't help but open her eyes once more and turn towards him at this news.

Hook and Emma's eyes met instantly. She could discern his sapphire orbs searching for Gold for a few moments; but, when the pirate realized that his foe wasn't present, his attention turned back to Emma.

The townspeople remained noticeably nervous about the pirates' presence. In an instinctive manner, Emma reached for the handle of her gun. Undeterred by the silence and stares, the crew marched down the middle aisle in stride, with Hook leading the way. As they passed, Hook and Emma shared a quick glance; however, neither said a word to the other. Hook broke the contact first and motioned his head towards his crewmen. The pirates then stood at the front of the congregation and faced their new audience.

"Are you sure about this, Hook?" Mary Margaret joined her husband at the front of the pirates and took his hand in hers.

"The hearts were missing from the bodies." Hook informed them stiffly, contempt lining his expression. "I can only think of who could be responsible for doing that."

David persisted, his eyes instantly narrowed in suspicion: "And...how do you know that?"

Hook didn't react to the subtle accusation. Instead, his gaze darkened, with his focus on something far-off in the distance. Bitterness lined his tone as he muttered: "Some of the men who were slain were part of my crew."

A wave of silence spread through the crowd.

His confession caught Emma's full attention, and she quickly discerned that he was divulging the truth.

It was then that Hook met Emma's eyes. His gaze steadfast as he addressed her curtly: "Sheriff Swan, I propose that we find and detain the perpetrator."

All eyes fell upon the Sheriff.

Emma didn't audibly reply to this. Her face remained as hard as marble.

Hook took note of Emma's lack of response, though continued, undeterred, "Some of my crewmen have spotted her army of the undead. They are making preparations within the forest. We do not know when they will attack for certain, but we believe it is best to prepare as soon as possible."

The Blue Fairy placed her palm upon her lips. "She's...she's amassing an army?"

Deep murmurs instantly began to sound from the townsfolk. After a few moments of deliberation, their speech became more panicked.

Archie stood and stepped forward, brows furrowed with worry. "How does her magic allow her to do this?"

Mary Margaret faced him, her expression confident. "Cora may be powerful, but no matter what she's conjuring, there's always a price for magic - even here in Storybrooke."

The psychiatrist fixed his glasses. "What do you mean?"

"The creatures that were created from her magic and using her powers to take the hearts of victims..." David's eyes surveyed the crowd, then landed upon his wife. "...Surely, that weakens her."

"Whatever the case is," Leroy continued, eyes sweeping through the congregation, "we can't let her get away with this."

"In my eyes..." David bared teeth, "...she's declared war."

Hook had patiently listened to the audible deliberations of the townsfolk. However, David's latter statement stirred him to speech. The pirate nodded his head and met the prince's gaze. "I wholeheartedly agree. Preparations must be made."

Unease rippled through Emma. Now Hook was really their ally? She snorted inwardly. Or was this some kind of trick? No matter what it was, she resolved, he still needed to answer for kidnapping Belle. But when? She reconsidered the situation: no, Hook wasn't their ally. He only did what was advantageous for him, only enacted revenge for the wrongs that had been done to him. He would do whatever he needed to - cajole women, influence the weak, kidnap and threaten innocent people - in order to fulfill his desire for it.

He was just lucky that, in this case, the desires of the town were aligned with his.

Perhaps there was still use for him after all.

For now.

"My ship is stocked with weapons, and my crew will be at your service during this attack," Hook began, gaining the attention of those in the room once more. "If you, dear townspeople of Storybrooke, are in need of armaments or aid, you know where to find us."

With one last look at Emma, Hook turned on his heel and exited the hall, with his pirate crew trailing closely behind.