Once upon a time, a poor, stressed graduate student begged the forgiveness of her audience… Okay, so I know I said I would have this out shortly after my last post, but this became a monster all of its own. I had to beat it and tame it before this chapter finally agreed to be posted. Thank you so much to those of you who reviewed, favorited, and are now following this story!

To those of you anxious readers, cue the final exit from Emma's head. And loads of feels. All crammed into the longest chapter ever for this story. I know some of you are confused, and beyond ready to be out of Emma's head, but I felt it was necessary. And this chapter ties a lot of knots for us. Be patient with it. And please tell me what you think!

Don't own it. Or The Afters' "Falling Into Place".

Enjoy the read!

Chapter 24


"I was on the edge of a distant world

A shattered life with no where left to turn

Till I saw you there

And everything I thought had gone to waste

Was falling into place…

Oceans that I almost drowned in

I had to lose it all

Just so I could find out you were there to break my fall…"




Before the ice even melted from Killian's feet in the cemetery, he was swept into another whirlwind of memories. Too weak to force his way into one, the maelstrom chose, instead, to spit him out (so it seemed) into another moment of Emma's past.

And another.

And another.

Killian Jones lived every foster home, every breakup, every disappointment, every lonely night that Emma had harvested across twenty-eight years. Time held no power there, and so he was thrust backward and forward throughout the span of her life. He saw her first steps. Her first smile, first laugh. Her first fall. He was there when she ran away for the first time, only to be scooped up by the arms of officers and dumped back into the ever-enticing foster care system. For yet another family to glean its monetary compensation in return for ignorance of Emma's welfare. He was there for her first broken bone, when a boy named Joe on a metallic jungle pushed her off. He was there when she cried harder for Joe than for her arm. Killian watched the sick and careless world mold her into the woman he found himself falling for. He looked on as her face narrowed with a severe hardness, jaw constantly set and eyes a storm of pain and loneliness. The Emma Before. Before he had met her. Before her family had found her. Not once, though, did he leave her. There was never a memory he did not try to ease, soothe, or comfort in some way. She was never alone, and there was hardly a moment he stopped trying to fix undoing the wrongs that had been done to her.

In her final memory, he found her in a house flooded with a younger generation. Loud music thundered in the small space, the sound resembling something akin to murder. As though someone were being filleted alive. He winced at the bass infiltrating his eardrums, keeping his hook hidden within the confines of his coat as he squeezed through a crowd that washed up against him like the tide.

When he found her, she was swaying to the beat, a boy's hands planted firmly on her thighs. Pulling her closer.

Hook had half a mind to break the boy's neck, but instead, he barged his way through the crowd and wrapped his good hand around Emma's wrist, tugging her towards him a little rougher than he intended.

"Hey!" the boy shouted, stumbling back when he lost his grip on Emma. She collided into Hook's chest. Emma looked up at him with wide foggy eyes, barred behind black, thick-rimmed glasses. He flashed her an award-winning grin, prepared to accept her thanks for being her savior. Instead, her astonishment melted into full-on rage and she slapped him. Hard.

Growling, Hook wrapped his arm around her tightly, containing her savagery for the moment. He held her barely struggling form against him; she was too intoxicated to keep up her fight. Hook looked over her shoulder, pinning his glare on the boy she had been grinding on—his eyes were unfocused and he was too busy rolling up his sleeves, as though setting up for a brawl.

He raised his fists, which looked more like melting putty, taking a wobbly step toward Hook. Hook, in turn, promptly removed his hook from his jacket and snagged the boy's shirt, jerking him closer as he twisted the shirt up to his neck, silver glaring at the boy's suddenly very alert eyes.

Hook snarled, thrusting the boy away from them. "Piss off, wanker."

Without a second glance, he steered Emma confidently through the crowd, to a small washroom adjacent to what looked like a kitchen. Or, at least, he assumed it was a kitchen. It was difficult to tell where the customary sink and stove were due to the sacrificial altar of alcohol currently stacked atop the counter and being worshiped by every available mouth not fused with a female or male body part. Hook paused, abhorring their shoddy attempts to make the alcohol go from their hands to their mouths. Bloody waste… They scampered off quickly, though, as a brief silence in the air resumed with further screaming and a pounding he could feel in his ribs.

Refocusing his attention, he nearly had Emma inside the loo when she expertly slid from his grasp like an escape artist, making a sloppy sprint for the kitchen. He reached out to catch her shirt with his hook but he missed, quickly delving his arm beneath his coat and glancing around, expecting stares or shrieks of mayhem. But the mass of teenagers around him were too sloshed to notice the weapon attached to his arm. Sighing with relief, he made his way toward the kitchen. And halted sharply. It was empty: Emma and the bottle of tequila she'd been making headway for, gone.

"Bloody hell, take my eyes off you for one bloody second, Swan," he grumbled, making his way through the kitchen and around to its second entrance back into the scene of the rat arsed mob.

One step in, he froze as someone grabbed his coat, pulling him back. He twisted around, a girl with smeared makeup still pinching the tail of his leather coat in her hand. "Oh. MyGod. Is this for…real?!" she shrieked, working the material between her fingers. Sneering, Hook ripped his coat out from her hand and took a threatening step towards her.

"Can you or can you not stop doing that?"

She squealed, the sound reaching an inhuman pitch. "You are real! God, I could just take you home with me, you and this outfit, and—"

"Where. Is. Emma?" He felt if he ground his teeth any harder, they would shatter.

She began nodding enthusiastically. "Emma, yeah, I could be your Emma." And then she licked her lips. Actually licked her lips as the proximity between them drastically began to close off. Disgusted, Hook pushed past her, his eyes raking over the room desperately. He had to find her. He had to get her somewhere safe. And this—this orgy—was nearly as far from safe as she could get.

He froze. Bloody hell, what if this was how Henry had been conceived? And, gods forbid, he was about to walk right in on it…



He'd been there too, when she was swollen with child in the confines of a jail cell. And further back, when she had practically been a pirate herself, traipsing about and pillaging whatever she needed. With him. Neal, a name whose surface he had barely scratched when picking apart her mind what seemed like decades ago in the Enchanted Forest. But the glimpse he'd gotten—of Baelfire—he knew more about the has-been boy than even Emma knew. And, now, as Hook's eyes scanned the room, from Neal's behaviorisms in this world, and from what he had gathered of Baelfire in his, he was quite confident this was most definitely not how one would meet a Neal.

Still. That didn't mean Emma was impervious to intimacy, particularly when under the influence of alcohol.

Uttering a low oath, Hook maneuvered his way through the crowd and kept a sharp lookout for a blonde head, swept back into an up do. After nearly getting mauled by at least four women and, astonishingly, one young man, a break in the crowd allowed him the room he needed to press forward and try another quarter of the house. His voice grew hoarse from shouting her name. The more rooms he tried, the more distressed he became as he caught couple after couple engaged in intercourse.

"I swear to gods, Emma…" he growled out, leaving the threat to hang anonymously.

As if in answer to his warning, he picked up on very distinct laughter coming from two rooms further down. When he opened the door, it took him a moment to spot her. A circle of girls and boys were gathered around a collection of rum and shot glasses, all of them frozen and staring at him. He was quick to notice that every female jaw was dropped and gaping at him, while Emma's stood stubbornly closed and resolute. She glared daggers at him before lifting one of the smaller glasses to her lips and knocking her head back, eyes never once leaving him.

She was bloody challenging him!

Infuriated, he felt his nostrils begin to flare furiously. He held her gaze as he made his way over to the circle which eagerly widened for him. He squatted down and settled between two girls, never once taking his gaze off Emma. A shot glass was thrust into his hand as one of the girls next to him clumsily filled it to the brim and then some. She giggled apologetically. Without looking away, he quickly downed the glass, savoring the burn as it slid down his throat. He wiped his mouth on the back of his wrist, thrusting his glass out for another. Emma raised her eyebrows, tilting her head to the side. She nodded at him.

"We," she began, her words strung together in a series of slurs, "are in the middle of a very, very, life-altering game of," she paused for dramatic effect, "Never Have I Ever. And you, my good sir, are interrupting…our…very…engrossing game."

"My good sir!" a boy echoed before tilting his head back and guzzling at a bottle of what looked like whiskey.

"By all means, love…engross me." His sultry voice flowed smooth as silk with an edge of husk, a tone he had acquired over years of practice in bedding women. But the desired effect seemed to only ricochet off Emma and immediately send every other female in the room into a frenzy.

Unyielding, Emma maintained eye contact as she expertly filled up her own glass, passing her confiscated bottle of tequila around the circle. "I have a feeling, my good sir, that you have little to no understanding of this game."

"My good sir!" The echo was beginning to grate on his nerves.

"Your assumption would be quite correct, lass."

"Simple. Everyone takes a turn. Telling truths about something they have not done. If someone else in the circle has done it…down the hatch." Hook quirked a brow, a smile tugging at his lips. So this was how she wanted to figure him out.

Staring down into the mouth of her glass, Emma began the game. "Never," she said, finally flicking her gaze back to Hook, "have I ever had sex with a woman."

He tilted his head back, relishing the burn of whiskey. This time, he reached for the glass of tequila—never his fancy—but he figured he would take Emma's challenge down to the last straw. Glancing down to ensure his hook was still safely tucked out of sight in the folds of his coat, he quietly refilled his glass.

Four more rounds passed before him, mere child's play as the turns ranged from Never Have I Ever Been To Disney World (all eyes appraised him when he asked what sort of a world was that) to Never Have I Ever Skydived (though why anyone would ever want to dive into the sky was beyond him). When it was Hook's turn, he found he could not help the feral grin breaking across his face as he stared Emma down. "Never have I ever been so turned on by a British accent before."

Nearly everyone in the circle drank to that. Emma froze, practically glaring a thousand daggers into him as she finally, reluctantly, held the glass to her lips and swallowed.

Three rounds slipped by. Emma looked Hook over for a moment longer. "Never have I ever had such an infatuation with all things leather."

"You say it," he grumbled, refilling his glass from the previous round, "as if it's such," he swallowed the shot, "an incorrigible thing." It was difficult for him to ignore the stares and swallowed shots from the other girls in the circle.

When it was Hook's turn again, he settled his gaze hard on Emma, who had managed to cozy up to and nuzzle another strange male in the circle, her eyes never leaving Hook. Taunted, he nearly crushed the shot glass in his fist. He forced himself to swallow back rising bile and breathe. He was suddenly over the drinking sport, more than ready to sweep out and leave her to whatever hell she had conjured for herself in her head. It was not his business. For him, it was torture, and he would rather chase down another memory than to sit and watch her flaunt herself. But the faster he worked through her memories, the closer he was to freeing her from her own mind, once and for all. To keeping her safe. Focus, Hook. This isn't real. This isn't real. You need to bloody get her the hell out.

Grinding his teeth, Hook forced himself to calmly set the glass back on the ground, staring down its tiny well. He needed to get her out of there. Get her safe. That was always the plan. From the first memory, that had always been his plan. And so, as he looked up and searched her face, Hook wet his lips, preparing his next move. The lie burnt his throat before he even said it, but he needed some sort of emotional leverage to get her out of the room. To get her alone. "Never have I ever lost someone that was my responsibility." Jeremy. He knew she would think of Jeremy. And from the draining color in her face, Hook knew he had guessed correctly. Rather than down the shot, though, she just stared at him, mouth pinched, eyes attempting to narrow as they lost their drunken focus.

He half expected her to say something, or to even hurl the glass at his face, but instead, she shook her head and was suddenly pulling herself up, tripping over her own legs to get to her feet. Tequila bottle back in hand, she stumbled out of the room. Hook was hot on her heels, though, the final call of "My good sir!" befalling his ears as he finally caught up and grabbed hold of Emma's elbow, tugging her through a door and slamming it shut.

He braced himself for a fight.

But he never got one.

Instead, in the darkness, he listened to her distance herself as much as possible—a distance that was not quite feasible in what Hook realized to be a closet. The alcohol swished in the glass bottle, and he heard her take two more gulps before gasping, her breaths quivering and raw. As though she were on the verge of crying.

After a few more shaky exhalations, Emma quieted. "Wrong game, douchebag."

"This isn't a—"

"We hadn't gotten to Seven…Minutes in…Heaven…yet. You forfeit all rights." She blew out a breath. "Cheater."

As if in gesture of her accusation, a light suddenly illuminated the cramped closet, blinding Hook. He winced, scrunching his face at the offending brightness. Emma, too, seemed surprised by the light, though by the looks of it with her hand wrapped around a cord attached to the glass bulb, their temporary blindness had been her doing. Still, she reared back her head, unintentionally crashing it into the wall behind her. A loud crack! caused even Hook to flinch and his arms instantly shot out to box her in and up, trying to hold her upright. Her gaze slanted.

"Why," Emma breathed, her head tilting forward heavily, "do you have a massive…fish hook…for a hand?" She laughed breathily. "Whoops!" Her legs gave way, but Hook managed to catch her, hoisting her up between him and the wall.

"Bloody hell, Emma, you're drunk," he muttered, trying to maneuver his good hand to the back of her head to check for injury.

She shot him a look and scrunched up her nose. "Iamso…not," she mumbled back, enunciating the 't' heavily.

"As a connoisseur for every kind of alcohol there is, and my liver as an expert witness, I do believe I've seen it in myself enough to know what drunk looks like. Now, love. C'mere." He gently turned her head to the side to get a better look.

"Neverhave…I ever…been in love," she whispered suddenly, her tone more of horror than one of frustration.

It was Killian who leaned back, taking in the way her unfocused eyes desperately scanned his face, as if looking for some sign of camaraderie in her statement. Some sign that, maybe, they were alone together. Two lonely strangers brought together by fate and alcohol. But out of some stubborn honor for Milah that he could not squash, it was Hook who plucked the dangling tequila bottle from her hands and took a long, hard swig. That was enough to finally set the world aglow for him, his skin tingling and a pool of heat flooding his stomach. Not real. Not real. But bloody hell, it felt real.

Emma slid down the wall a fraction of an inch, as if the weight of his silent confession were pulling her to the ground like gravity. She shut her red eyes from behind those thick-rimmed glasses of hers, her up-do now messy and splaying against the wall behind her. "Never," her words sounded garbled, "have I…ever…been…loved."

It was a statement that held eighteen years of pain within it, a kind of pain Killian found he couldn't even describe, even if he'd bloody tried. Her pitch broken, her tone melancholic, it reminded Killian of the tide going out, sweeping sweeping sweeping back until there was no more pull and everything beneath was laid bare.

He slid down the length of the wall with her to the floor, pressing his forehead against hers. Gently, he drew her curled-up-form between his legs, her shoulder leaning heavily into his chest. Emma's head was bent forward, and from the way her shoulders began to quiver beneath his arm, he knew she was crying. Killian reached around, gripping the bottle of tequila in his hand, and hoisted it under her chin, tapping it against her lips.

She looked up at him, lifting her glasses to wipe at her reddened eyes, before allowing them to settle. She stretched her wet fingers, wiping them along his shirt, the hint of a smile ghosting her face before it vanished in confusion. He lifted the bottle higher, its circular edge lightly drumming against her lips. "You'll have to drink to that one, love."

Emma blinked at him, her eyes searching his face. Killian felt as though for the first time, of all her memories, he was finally getting closer to the real her—and she was looking right into him, peeling back the layers with her superpower. But now, more than ever, Killian knew it was true. She would find no lie in his words.

"Never have I ever been loved," she whispered the words again, tilting her lips back and away from the bottle.

Killian shook his head, the realization of what he was about to do becoming more of a relief than a weight to his chest. "You, love, are very, very wrong. Drink up, sweetheart."

Emma's eyes sought his. She sucked in a sharp breath, foggy gaze clearing. "You?" she asked incredulously, her tone vibrant as if his very implication had sobered her up.

He just looked at her. And he knew. This was how he was going to save her.

What seemed like hours later saw Killian rousing a sleeping Emma from the closet. He forced several glasses of water down her and watched as she shakily swept back her hair into a neater up-do, adjusting the glasses on her face and offering him a hesitant smile before sweeping past him. He escorted her out of the house which was nestled snugly between adjacent buildings that mirrored each other—apartment buildings, she called them. She told him other things. How she was now legally free, she had put it. She had nowhere to go, from the sound of it, but it hadn't mattered. On the cusp of homelessness, hence the drunken festivities, she had felt a celebration was in order. Because no one, not ever, would harm her again. Not unless she allowed it. Killian followed her down the busy, winding streets, dodging the blatant stares of strangers and keeping close to Emma as though he were her shadow. She continuously glanced behind at him, as if assuring herself that the dashingly handsome man behind her was in fact still following. And the corners of her lips would tug upward slightly before she would turn back around and maneuver her way expertly through the sea of people that washed up against them. Finally, they broke through an alley and she paused, turning to face him abruptly. She smiled, hesitantly, but it was the first time Killian though she didn't look quite so broken.

"So this is the part where you ask for my number and then never call me again," she laughed hesitantly.

Killian opened his mouth—to say what, he wasn't sure—but Emma held her hand up, silencing him.

"Let's just…leave it to fate, okay? If we meet again, it's meant to be."

Killian's face softened. "As you wish, Emma."

Her eyes raked over him before nodding hastily and walking away, further down the alley. He barely registered her grabbing a long, iron prod, curved at the end. But, just as Emma's memory began to pull at him, sucking him away from her past, he caught sight of a very peculiar dome-shaped vessel as she approached it. The last thing he saw was yellow.

Turning her back on the security gate had been one of the hardest things for Emma to do.

It left her out of breath and sick, her stomach tangling in knots as her heart begged her to stop and just, for a moment even, toy with the idea that perhaps this man really did care. But if he had, Emma argued back sharply, he would have told her. The truth. Whatever truth it was, he wouldn't have kept it to his damn self. And his moment of self-preservation had cost him any leap of faith she may have been willing to take.

Still, her stubborn resolve was not enough to ignore the way her feet felt like lead, growing heavier with each step. The way her lungs seemed to collapse as if she had lost her only source of air. And the way her heart nearly ceased beating, as if it had lost its will to keep her alive.

Frustrated, Emma forced one foot ahead of the other, keeping her eyes glued to the end of the long hallway, shrouded by gates, where, at the end, she could see an open door. Dark and ominous, but it was her only way out now. She squinted. Gate H3.

The closer she got though, the more she began to notice things. Like pictures, tacked up where ads typically plaster the walls. But they were strewn with faces—faces like the ones in her photograph the Scot had stolen from her. The faces she had given up to get this far.

There was one with the boy, clutching a book as he grinned dimples at the camera, his feet caught in a blur. They were dangling from what looked like a wooden playground castle, flurrying back and forth in his excitement and childish inability to hold still.

It took Emma a long time to drag her gaze away from him and onto the next image, pressing forward. That same woman from the photograph, with the short, black pixie cut, was smiling with her eyes at Emma, her mouth partially masked by the apple she was biting into. And the man she had seen from the photo was braced affectionately behind her again, sword tucked into his belt with his arms wrapped tightly around her small frame. Hands splayed possessively over her stomach. His lips were tipped up at one side, smiling somewhat arrogantly at the photographer, as if he knew they would make Sexiest Couple of the Year. Or Most Fairytale-Like.

There were other images, too, of a grandmother with half-mooned glasses and swept-up hair arguing with a long-haired teenager in a rather risqué outfit. And then there was a man wrapped up in a brown suit with a Dalmatian tugging him down the street on leash, as though the dog were walking him.

And then there were photographs of Emma, holding a door open as the boy from earlier photos stooped beneath her arm to get past her into a room. There she was again, hovering over the same boy in a hospital bed with tears welling in her eyes and lips puffed on the verge of a sob.

As if those weren't enough, she found herself flat-out halting in front of the smallest picture, framed by driftwood and stained with streaks of blue. It was of her and him—Hook, or Killian—riding something that was covered in scales. As if that unnamed beast weren't bizarre enough, she found her attention was caught by the way they were almost kissing. Frozen in an instant of time, a snapshot, Emma surveyed how his hooked arm was holding her against him protectively, her back to his middle. His hook was carefully positioned away, out of harm—protecting her from himself. Emma was shocked by the way her photo-self had twisted and leaned back, inviting and open and completely vulnerable to him. Hook—Killian—had his good hand cupping her jaw, thumb caught in mid-stroke across her cheek. And that look on his face, one brow cocked, yet lips softened in an unmistakable smile—no sneer, no cocky grin. His hair was tousled slightly as if a gust of wind were combing it about. He looked more real in that photo than he had looked to her in the past half hour or so of interacting with him. His eyes, an icy blue, pulled her in, and she imagined, had she actually been there in that moment, with him looking at her like that—she would have done anything for him. For anyone to ever look at her like that.

They looked perfect together.

And for some odd reason, Emma felt her chest twist in a familiar pang of jealousy, as though she were jealous of herself and this moment she had lost and not been able to keep. The fantasy of it all was quickly slipping into a reality.

She wanted that.

She needed that.

And from the overwhelmingly passionate look on her face in the photograph, she was never going to get it with anyone else but him. She had never looked more helpless and completely okay with it, with any other man—not even Neal. There had always been some sense of reservation, some inability to accept reality with him. Always waiting for the next heist, always on her toes, always on the run. There was never any stability with him. And the moment it had been offered to her, he had plucked it back again, leaving her pregnant in jail.

Emma reached out, her fingers tracing over their faces. She swallowed, her bottom lip giving way to a tremble.

Quick to make up her mind, Emma turned her head to stare down the long walk where she had come from. She prepared herself to take one step forward, when she froze.

A faceless person was walking towards her. Briskly. More like a cross between walk and jog. Emma pressed herself back against the wall as the individual—face a blur—whisked past her toward Gate H3. Emma opened her mouth to call after them when another person bumped into her roughly. She grunted, tugging herself out of the way as suddenly a flood of faceless people came hurtling down the terminal. And no matter how hard she pressed herself back and out of their way, she found herself continuously swept into the flood of blurred faces, knocked down, stepped on, but always pushed closer toward Gate H3.

She was beginning to regret leaving him. Now more than ever.

The current felt wrong, and the closer they shoved her towards Gate H3, the more her face heated with apprehension, her stomach tumbling in knots, and her entire body humming with an energy, a need, to get out and get back. To how things were.

And then she saw it. A slight tunnel had formed between the massive crowd. Emma dove for it, plunging her body through the temporary opening. She was nearly at the edge when a firm hand ensnared her wrist and jerked her backwards off her feet, slamming her hard into the ground. She winced, her head connecting sharply with the tiled floor. Emma watched as the floor disappeared beneath her. Someone was dragging her. She glanced backward, but the face was turned away.

"Oh no you don't, you sonofabitch," Emma snarled, throwing her free arm through the air to clamp her nails down on her captor's bare wrist. She grit her teeth, repulsed by the way the skin tore so easily beneath her nails, hands now wet with blood. The figure paused, its face casting a shadow over her. But the harder she stared, the more familiarity began to fine the edges of its face, sharpening the dull sketch of blurs into dark-blonde scruff, shaggy hair, and stony gray eyes. A name itched at the back of her memory and she licked her lips, testing it. "Graham?"

The moment his name tumbled from her lips, the rest of the details hardened, framing his body in a dark leather jacket, brown vest, gray button-up shirt, and neatly tucked neutral tie. His dark khaki pants were speckled with drops of his blood from where Emma had clawed at him, but he paid it no heed. His sheriff's badge was gleaming at her from where it hung on his chest. Rather than conform to the lifelessness around them, he turned to face her and squatted down, her wrist still in his grip.

"Emma, we have to go. Now." His accent lilted, a tone of vulnerability pleading with her.

"What do you mean, we have to go? Graham, what is going on?"

"We have to get you out of here. On your way. You've spent too long in this place, and the longer you stay, the more you lose. Emma, please, just," he raked his free hand through his hair, casting a meaningful glance at Gate H3, "Come with me. We'll go. Together. You and I. But it has to be now."

She bit her lip, working the skin between her teeth as she searched his face for some kind of a lie. "Graham," she spoke slowly, her eyes flitting over his face in alarm, "what are you doing here?"

He sighed agitatedly. "What does it look like, Emma, I'm rescuing you."

Emma's face softened, her lips twitching into an unrelenting smile of sadness. "I'm supposed to be the savior. Saviors rescue themselves."

His gaze burned. "Not this time. We're going to get you out of here."

"Hoo—Killian," she corrected herself sharply, "said that I'm stuck in my head."

"I'm going to get you out," Graham nodded, looking away towards the crowd that was beginning to thin as it funneled through the doors of Gate H3. He looked…nervous. His tight grip never loosened, but Emma could feel his sweaty palms against her wrist. Her eyes honed in on the throbbing pulse at his temple, where beads of sweat were beginning to collect. Where his skin paled like ash. Like death.

"He said my only way out is with him. That nothing else was real."

He shot her a glare at those words, and Emma instantly clammed up, her mouth ramming shut before she could say anything else. Something was very wrong.

"And why wouldn't I be real, Emma?"

He waited a beat but when she continued to stare at him, he suddenly yanked her to her feet, towing her none-too-gently towards his desired gate.

Months of emotion—feelings she had locked away tight—bubbled to the surface. In one swift move, she had jerked her arm from his hold, regaining the upper hand as he whirled on her. She shoved one finger into his chest, desperate to keep her bottom lip from quivering as she met his hollow gaze. "Because," she forced out, pulling him back to face her and nearly hissing the words. But they dissolved in a whimper of "You died. In my arms." His pallor faded, ashen and sunken. As if her very words were destroying him. Or revealing his destruction. Emma felt sick, her stomach in knots, but she swallowed back her fear, desperate to get the words out, words she had bottled and saved for God Knows What. "I was there. And I couldn't—I couldn't bring you back." She blinked back tears that brimmed and flowed over. But the look on his face, a mask of reservation with two pools of history and depth and memory and humanity, kept her from pulling back into herself and snatching the words back from where they hung between them. Something of him, the real him, was there. But it was small. A miniscule piece. Her Graham had left a long time ago.

As if reading her thoughts, he reached up. Emma tensed, prepared to fight back, but she kept still, even as he quietly tucked a strand of hair behind her ears.

And it was like a flood. The dam had been broken.

"Graham," she sobbed, quivering against his hand, "I could have…you know I could have."

"You still can," he responded, just as cryptically. "We can go, now, you and me. Come with me, Emma." Despite the sincerity in the words, his tone was just as disconnected, like a child trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It couldn't be forced. No matter how hard he—if it even was Graham—tried. Emotion was lost here, and it took everything Emma had not to let her own feelings fray into a million pieces.

She shook her head, thinking back on that night in the sheriff's station. "It was my fault just as much as it was hers. If I hadn't pushed, if I had just backed down, you would still be—"

His hand shot out to regain his grip, refocusing on the gate and tugging her with him. Emma dug her heels into the ground, frustrated as tears streamed down her face and she grit her teeth, her shoulders shaking. She tried to breathe. Tried to live.

"I can't fix what happened, or fix the choices I made," her voice cracked. "But that doesn't mean I don't have a choice now." He continued to pull, ignoring her. "Graham," she all but screamed. He never turned, never gave the slightest hint that he had heard her or her heart. Emma cast a glance over her shoulder, longingly, in the direction of the security gate. Graham gripped her arm tighter, digging his nails in. She nearly tripped over her feet, her eyes still caught on the corner down the hall. Where she found herself wishing for him to show, to round it with that confident stride and that stupid, cocky grin.

Graham suddenly swung her around, bracing her by her shoulders and forcing her to face the gate. He stared her down, his eyes unbelievably full of disgust. His upper lip curled back. "What do you have left, Emma? What have you got, besides a son you abandoned?"

Emma shut her eyes, her forehead tense and lips pursed. Sealed tight against an answer she wasn't ready to admit.

But luckily, she didn't have to.

"What have you got?" he demanded again. And out of nowhere—

"She's got me, you bloody son of a bitch." Emma's eyes flew open at the sound of bone on bone, Killian's fist driving hard into Graham's jaw. He collapsed. Emma instinctively reached out for him, caught between protecting herself and checking on Graham. But it wasn't Graham, she reminded herself. Still. Just as her hand reached for his shoulder, his form twisted and melted into a pile of ash, swept away with a steady breeze that was beginning to pick up.

Emma turned her eyes in horror to Killian. He straightened, flexing his fingers as he squared his jaw, dipping his head to stare back beneath darkened brows. Challenging her. As if he wanted her to hate him for what he had just done. He was bracing himself, she could see. Waiting for her to start yelling at him again.

"What are you doing here?" she breathed.

"Saving you. Again."

"I didn't want your help." But even as she said it, the words echoed back in her head brokenly and foreign. A lie.

"Yes, well, that would explain why your maelstrom-like cage suddenly ceased to hold me captive." He waited a beat, waited for her to interject. When she didn't, he sucked in a long breath. "It slowed. And I fought my way through." His gaze flickered down.

Emma's eyes suddenly caught sight of a dark stain spreading across his shirt. Despite the black, she could make out the damp material. "You're hurt."

He smirked before shrugging. "Flesh wound."

Emma froze, suddenly angry. She took a sharp step towards him. "Don't…don't do that."

"Do what, princess?" He stood his ground.

"Deflect!" she snapped. "Act like it doesn't bother you!"

A shadow fell across his face, his eyes befalling a strange color of gray. He stepped closer, shoulders square with hers as he cocked his head to the side, face a stoic mask. Killian remained quiet, his brows tipping up. Daring her to continue.

"I pushed you away. I forgot you. I didn't want to remember you. I trapped you in a goddamn whirlwind of metal and ice, for Christ's sake. And it's like you…don't…stop. And I want to know why. Because, all I've ever needed to do before was push, and they would leave. But you don't get it. You just keep coming, and it's exhausting, and I hate that the only thing I feel that's left to do…"

She exhaled, her gaze dropping.

"…is to pull you closer."

Emma could feel the tension leave his shoulders, his defenses falling. He shook his head but kept his distance, as if allowing her to make the first move. "Don't fight it, love, please. What you're feeling now is real. Don't lock it behind that savior façade you burden yourself with. You aren't meant to protect the world alone."

Emma turned her head to the side, looking down at his hook. "How do you know what I'm feeling is real?"

"Because, gods, Emma, I feel it too."

He closed the gap, his hand reaching around to stroke the back of her neck. His eyes dropped down to her lips before resettling on her quivering gaze.

"You wanted the truth, Emma?"

She nodded, her heart racing as a flood of apprehension threatened to strangle her chest. The air around them had become thick, but Killian pressed on, dragging his hand down to cup around her ear, his fingers still braced at the base of her skull. His thumb drew forward, brushing against her cheekbone as light as a feather, fluttering and nervous. He unconsciously lifted his bad arm up before using the crook of his bicep to corner Emma's elbow—as close to efficiently holding her as he possibly could without ensnaring her. He was giving her her freedom. The opportunity to escape. And that scared Emma more than the words that were about to fall from his lips.

An anxious smile broke across his face before he managed to pinch it back into place. His brows furrowed. "The truth, Emma, that was truth…no longer is." At the blank expression on her face, Killian's eyes shifted over her shoulder before refocusing. "What I mean to say, love, is that what once was truth no longer applies. For all intents and purposes, it may as well be a lie now…if that comforts you, at all, whatsoever." He paused, taking a moment to work the tension out of his jaw. "The truth was…I force-fed you the magic bean for reasons that were entirely selfish. They had no gain other than to give myself a way into your world once I had acquired my heart. A heart I had rid myself of a long time ago. In part because I could not bear the emotion it gave me, the weakness that came with it, accompanied by memories and a history too saturated in passion and adventure, I opted to get rid of it, per Cora's assistance. But, as you know," his eyes grew sad, "all magic comes with a price."

Emma swallowed, struggling to follow, to comprehend what the hell he was saying. She bit her lip, however, knowing that it mattered to him, and somehow, for some odd reason, it mattered to her too. "What happened?"

"She cast a spell on my hook to allow me to remove it myself, a means I wanted to ensure it would not end up in the wrong hands. Emma," his gaze grew cold and steely, "you cannot imagine the pain I endured. To escape weakness. To escape death. So that I could live, knowing my heart was tucked away safely, out of sight, out of mind. So that I could fulfill my vengeance and not die in the process of getting there. But something went wrong. The moment it was withdrawn, it was as if every moment with Milah had been stolen from me. I could not recall her face. Our time spent together. All of it, everything that empowered me, vanished. And in its place, only her name. And Rumpelstiltskin." Killian's face, already shadowed, darkened as he dipped his head slightly, staring at Emma's shoulder. "I became bloody consumed with the idea of him, with destroying him, and all for only a namesake. I could barely recall why, save for the sense of death, and her name. Rather than fight for love, I fought for pure and utter rage. I breathed vengeance, I was vengeance, and this," he gestured sharply with his hook, "was a daily reminder of Rumpelstilstkin. Not of what I'd lost. But of what I continued to lose day-in and day-out as years followed." He closed his eyes. "I lost my humanity."

A pregnant pause hung in the air. Emma's mind swirled with his words, but she found herself unable to piece them together. And she wasn't sure she wanted to. She forced herself to shut it off, like a light switch. Pretending it was happening, or had happened, to someone else was much easier. A coping mechanism she'd perfected throughout her life—or at least, she thought she had. Her confidence in her past was waning. The only thing she was sure of then, in that moment, was that she wanted to break the silence. It felt…appropriate…to comfort him. But at the same time…no.

"And then I found you. You clever, stubborn wench." He shook his head once, chuckling lightly beneath his breath. "You saw right through me, lass. And when I learned who you were, who your parents were," Killian's tone grew somber, "I knew you were the key to my vengeance." His eyes flashed to hers, like ice cutting and breaking. Emma shuddered, leaning back ever-so-slightly but Killian held her upright, not quite ready to let go despite how easy it would be for her to pull away completely. "Aye, I could have stuck by Cora's side, but I had no desire to be her pet any longer. I was ready to call the shots. Only you never bloody listened. Not once."

He laughed, suddenly, a stark contrast to seconds before. It was…nice. And, honestly, Emma preferred Laughing Killian to Dark And Brooding Killian.

But his demeanor changed as swiftly as it had come.

"I needed leverage over you, Swan." He lifted his head, cool and calculating. "I couldn't risk you trying to leave. So I gave. And I took. And it seemed the only logical place to hide such a valuable possession was the one place I lacked it. Your heart…" his hand slid from around her neck to the skin of her chest, delicately, "…was mine. But that, too, came at a cost. No other heart should have nicked even the slightest scratch in my thirst for vengeance. But yours…the heart of the savior…tore down a barricade of ice and let in decade upon decade of…history. And I bloody hated you for it." He smirked. "Fret not, my abhorrence hardly lasted a moment. You are, after all, quite the entrancing witch, Swan.

"The truth was," he breathed, shoulders burdened with the weight of centuries passed, "despite my insistence, and your belief, you could have traveled with your mother. The counter spell on our leather braces kept you from travelling back home. But that," he annunciated, "is where things got rather…murky. I had stolen your heart, a heart you needed to survive a land without magic. To cross the barrier into it. Without which, you would have died." A flood of pain washed over Killian's face. Emma watched it overshadow his features, his icy gaze clouding over like a storm. He was waging an internal battle, that much she could tell. With how passive his features changed, and how impassive his stiff posture stayed. Erect. Distancing himself from his own personal truth. And from the looks of it, his words had become his own personal hell, too. "I would say I was protecting you with the cuff, but it was really more of a liability, to ensure you wouldn't go gallivanting off to another magical world without me. And we'd both be trapped in our separate, isolated miseries, for an eternity."

The wind around them—wherever it was coming from—had picked up, gusting around Emma and Killian. He carefully twisted their positions so he was braced against the wind, protecting her from it. She looked up, watching as his hair was violently tossed about. Emma's eyes caught on blurs around them, but Killian caught her jaw in his hand, forcing her to keep her attention on him.

"The longer we wore the cuffs, the more connected we became. Any two of a kind in this world has power, Emma, a sort of true love for objects. The closer we were, physically, the more intimately I came to know you. And with the Dargnell's curse, leaving you became an impossible option that I had long ago foregone considering. But, Emma," her name on his lips sent a chill up her spine, "it was no longer magic compelling me to stay by your side. Because, truth was, I could have left you the moment I saw fit. I had a heart—any heart will do to cross—and I could have taken your blood. All of it. To ensure there was enough for my return. But, rather than kill you," he swallowed, his brows furrowing further, forehead creasing, "I saved you. And if, love, you had asked me then, as I'm sure you did, countless times, I would have never told you the truth. The only truth that exists now. The only reason I find myself living and breathing to protect you. To bloody keep you safe."

His hand found its way to the base of her skull again, his fingers threading through her hair. Emma's head tilted slightly back against his hand, desperate for physical contact. For comfort. She allowed him to cradle her.

"The only truth I've come to know, across the decade I searched for you, is this." His lips dipped in, lightly brushing against hers. "Emma Swan, my heart is yours." His gaze burned into hers. This felt right. So so right.

"And I would have never offered it to anyone else. Not even…" he trailed off, Killian's lips twitching as he refrained from saying, what Emma guessed to be, another woman's name.

He pressed closer, as if it were even possible, swaying slightly from side to side as his head dipped down again, eyes never straying from hers. "Until the day I die…"

She let out a shaky breath—

"Emma Swan, I love you."

—and breathed him in.

His lips ran across hers slowly, not hesitant but confident in waiting for her. Skin on skin, a spark jolted through her, and before she knew what she was doing, she threw her arms around his neck and crushed her lips to his. Killian's head tilted, slanting his mouth over hers to gain better access. His arms wrapped around her waist and he hoisted her against him, his hook carefully angled away from Emma. She tugged him closer, never feeling like they were close enough, and she had a painstaking feeling that perhaps they never would be. She held onto him tightly, throwing herself into the kiss, into him, into whatever it was they had. Or would have. With each breath they shared, a memory resurfaced. Followed by another. And another.

When Emma opened her eyes, their lips still searching and nipping, she remembered. Everything. She pulled back, her lips centimeters from his. He opened his own eyes, searching her face in confusion.

To say Emma was overwhelmed was the understatement of the century. His truth, combined with her memories, weighed heavy on a heart she no longer had. Yet, he had been honest with her. And he had given her more truth than she had asked for. She wanted to be angry, but despite his betrayal, she felt she didn't have it in her anymore to be angry. So, Emma looked up at him and smiled hesitantly, afraid that if she pushed this—in either direction—they would break.

Killian tore his stare from her, glancing quickly over her shoulder before a flash of something—excitement, passion, terror—she could not tell, flared across his face.

"Love, we're back."

His tone was anything but glad.

She watched as he straightened, drawing her into him possessively, before leveling his gaze at something over her shoulder. Emma started to turn but Killian remained firm, holding her tightly against him and tucking her head into the crook of his neck.

"We are not alone." He swallowed, pressing his cheek to the top of her hair. The embrace felt like goodbye.

A voice cut through the stillness like a knife. "Well, well, well. You have been busy, haven't you, Hook?" The voice's breathy laugh felt like a slap to Emma's face. "And you brought me an apology gift. My very own savior. How thoughtful." A pause. "I accept."




Oh boy…you all are going to hate me for that cliffie, huh?

Go ahead.

Tell me all about it.