This took me a little longer than I thought it would, but I hope this will explain some of the lose ends during the previous chapters.


part five

Well, well. If that isn't the Captain himself.

His breathing was still ragged, and had he not been so deep within the thick forest, he might have taken the words for a mirage, an echo of times long gone. As he turned, everything still burned from her touch, her gentle eyes continuously staring at him in his mind, the echo of her soft sighs and tender words lingering. She had invaded him, had crawled under his skin, and not even the distance and dull greyness of the forest could wash her away.

He stood strong, not letting anything cause a crack in his stance.

Cora. She smiled at him, a smile he knew well. A smile that went hand in hand with a sharp pain in his chest, memories of her hand inside it, curled around his heart when it had still beat there.

It has been a long time. The smoothness of her words, always chosen well, never spoken without necessity, caught him off guard. Above all, he remembered her wickedness, not her solid and unshakable exterior. A wall he had only once seen to crumble but a little. I see you have found yourself in trouble once more.

In his head, he could still see the bright colors of Wonderland, the wicked grins and confusing corners. In his many years, he had traveled to countless places. Out of all of them, it was the last he wanted to see again. What do you want? The mere presence of a woman he had loathed for almost two decades now drove his hook further into the tree, and he struggled to remain calm.

Without replying, Cora took a few slow steps towards him, the hem of her midnight blue gown brushing against the dry undergrowth, breaking the silence of the forest. We helped each other once before. Killian did not move an inch, never recoiled, took no step back when she stood right in front of him. It looks to me as if we might both require each others assistance again.

He remembered all too well. His hook inside her chest, as empty then as his was now, the wicked grin on her face. Her hand clawed around his heart, so close to finally, finally taking his life. A life that, at the time, had been fueled by revenge, by a blood lust too profound to allow him to see clearly. Her words still burned in his memory, a proposition he had had no choice but to take, taking her back to her daughter, the promise of finally exacting his revenge, of taking the Crocodile's life, pumping his blood furiously. Never had he gotten the chance, Cora's corpse, or what Regina believed it to be, immobile and almost peaceful, watching on as Regina tore out his heart and locked it away. Cora had disappeared, leaving him behind empty and unsatisfied.

You never lived up to your bargain. A flash of hatred began to ignite inside of him, something he never thought he could feel again this fiercely, not without his heart. Something had changed, something he could not yet explain, and it crept through his body slowly, almost unknown. I never got my revenge.

But you got to live. She was so close he could feel her breath, smell the scent of death that seemed to linger on her skin. He wondered where she had gone, how she had spent the last twenty years, her daughter believing she was dead, while he was frozen, chasing down demons that were planted in his mind. His need for revenge slowly fading, memories of the woman who had died in his arms slowly forming into a story, ceasing to be a memory. And now I can help you get what you want.

At what price? Everything came at a price. He had learned that long ago, when his father had taught him to steer a ship and had abandoned him, when his brother's life had been spared and he had still died in his arms, when the woman he had loved had followed him and died in his arms, too, when he had trusted in a promise to finally fulfill his life's only purpose and had lost his own heart. Nothing came without prize, and this woman, this witch, was no exception.

I can help you get back your heart. Slowly, her hand hovered above the emptiness of his chest, no warmth radiating off her fingers, protected by leather gloves. Is that not what you want? Her words seemed much like poison, running through his veins, tempting him. It was what he wanted most, yet he did not trust the woman, not more than he trusted himself. I can make you feel again.

How do you know all this? His voice was merely a whisper now. Once more, she had found his weakness, had taken him by surprise, picking the one thing that could break through his cold exterior.

Dear Captain, why do you think you're still alive? Killian could feel his eyes widen, the realization sinking in sharply. It all made sense, his long months roaming the realm, trying to push away any thought of Emma, attempting, and failing, to erase her touch and voice and scent and smile from his mind. Long nights spent waiting for the inevitable, for his heart to crumble in fiery fingers. After failing to kill the Princess?

It had been Cora all along, turning him as well as her daughter to puppets in her game, always hidden in the shadows behind the stage, orchestrating every move to lead it down the path towards her victory. He wondered where all of this was leading, what this wicked woman had on her mind. With each breath they took in silence, staring into each others heartless and cold eyes, having more in common now than ever before, Killian began to think that even back then, when she had promised him his revenge and had watched on as her daughter tore out his heart, it had all been planned, thought trough meticulously.

What is that you want in return? His woods were hushed, like venom slipping past his icy lips.

The grin on her face widened for a brief moment, as if in anticipation, tension rising until eventually, it fell, and her lips turned into a thin, menacing line. You.

What?

Cora took a deep breath, inhaling so strongly that Killian saw her chest rising under the restraint of her corset. Wordlessly, she turned on her heels, walking away from him slowly. All he could do was watch her back as she retreated. Everything she had said still lingered in his mind, and the temptation to take her offer was too grand. It might be his one and only chance at a glimpse of his old life, at a flicker of hope for a new future, a fresh start.

Regina. When Cora finally resumed speaking, her steps faltering, the sound of her daughter's name was shadowed by a deep bitterness. All these years she has worked in silence. Finally, almost disappearing behind the trees, she turned, the look in her eyes too dark, too consuming. There is a curse coming, my dear Captain. One that will take every living soul to a new land, and there, you will not remember who you are. Once more, a wicked smile spread across her aged face, yet there lay something hidden beneath it. What is was, Killian could not tell entirely. For a second, he took it for compassion, then it flickered into sadness, before all emotion was drained from it. Or that you ever loved the dear Princess.

He had no confirmation to indicate she was telling the truth, nothing but a foul and unexplainable sense of trust, one he had allowed to guide him before. One that had failed him before. Still, he could feel his heartless soul betraying him, before he could stop the words from spilling.

What shall you have me do?

Cora smiled then, truly a smile more than an evil grin. He knew nothing lay behind the simple gesture, that she was as incapable of loving and caring as he was. The only difference, and he clung to it now as she stepped towards him again, was the circumstances of how they had lost their hearts. Her own hands ripping hers from her chest and hiding it from the world, by choice, to rid herself of her weaknesses. And his helplessness and he watched his own heart disappearing into a box, longing as much for the ability to feel as his lungs required air. I can protect you from the curse, and when the time comes, you will assist me in reaching that new land. You will have your ship, your heart, your memories.

Understanding washed over him then. Cold, harsh, painful. But not Emma.

Cora shook her head slowly, and while he could feel the emptiness of his chest throb painfully, he knew there was no other way. There had never been a way for them to be together, and the thought had only crossed his mind a handful of times - never had he allowed it to take over his thoughts, to drag him into an abyss of pain and hopelessness even less merciful as his life already was.

You will have the chance to save her.

It would be more than enough.

.

Why he had decided to leave the hook buried beneath a tree in the woods that night, he could not tell. Perhaps to stop himself from climbing the tower to Emma's room once more – he never would have managed without the hook. Perhaps to bury the part of him he feared. Perhaps something had told him the night would take this turn.

Had he kept it, he would have been dead by now.

Roaming the empty and dark alleys that lined the castle, he had been much more careless. Perhaps it was an unconscious decision, perhaps he had wanted to get caught. To end this. To pay for all the lives he had taken.

When the guards had stopped him in his tracks, had asked questions about his name and what he was doing around the castle at this time of night, the truth had lingered on his lips. That he was Hook. That he was the man that had appeared in the princess's room months ago, threatening to kill her. Sent to end her young life. That he was the man the realm was looking for, who had inccocent people trembling in fear.

Instead, he told them the name of a sailor he had once known, hundreds of years ago when he still had dreams, that man now long dead, his grandchildren perhaps already growing old somewhere in this world.

They dragged him into the dungeons, and he put up no fight, not when they asked about his hand and inspected the skin under his brace, not when they shackled him to the wall, not when they wanted to know everything about him and shook his shoulders roughly when he repeatedly told them he was merely looking for a place to sleep.

In his mind, Emma's face flickered up brightly and kindly, unlike the damp and cold cell they kept him in, until it eventually, by the cruelty of loneliness and night time, morphed into Cora's, aged and cruel, her words like a chill in his memory, reminding him of the deal he had made.

To die now, in captivity, would mean the end of the bargain, the end of everything he was fighting for. Slowly, fire crawled back into his veins, and he sat up straighter against the cold stone, breathing steadily.

Waiting.

.

It had been so many months since Killian had first scanned the light armor of the royal guards, back when spring had blossomed and he had watched them patrol next to the princess. Back then, he had known they would prove no obstacle.

He had been right.

To get inside the walls of the castle had proved to be much too easy, and he had moved through the darkness of the night like a shadow once more, his hand curled tightly around his own furiously beating heart. Its red glow filled the corridors ominously, like a promise of bloodshed and death.

In the years to follow, he could barely remember how he had pushed past the surprised guard, had dragged him into Emma's chambers before he had the chance to unsheathe his sword. Everything had happened in a blur. The continuous beating of his heart in his hand, foreign and frightful, Emma's shocked yelp as she stumbled out of her bed, scrambling onto her feet to run towards him

For a splint second, Killian was distracted by her, the way she had burned herself into his mind too relentless. He could not escape her. Memories of her lips whispering his name, of her touch and smile flooded him, his feet growing roots as he found himself unable to move. Weeks had passed since he had last seen her, since he had watched her turn into a blurred line with the trees and soft remainders of falling rain.

Killian!

Almost too late did he realize the guard was wrapping his fingers around the handle of his sword, and Emma's cry of his name began to fade into silence, a darkness taking over he knew too well, a dark veil clouding his every sense. Dimly, he felt himself move, felt the muscles in his arm ripple as he drove the hook forward. More recalling from his memory than actually taking notice, he felt skin giving in to sharp metal. A part of him recalled the scent of blood, and somewhere in the distance he heard a piercing shout.

Blood. Flesh. Death. Torn skin. Darkness. Pain. Guilt. Rage.

For the longest moment, there was nothing but earth-shattering silence, throbbing in his ears like a painful echo, nothing to fight it with, nothing to help him out of the abyss that had swallowed him. There was nothing to hold on to, nothing to pull him out of the icy waters, flooding his lungs, making it impossible to breathe.

Somewhere in the distance, dull and contorted, he could make out a soft, yet desperate plea. A voice speaking to him from the silence, words that reminded him of his name. Slowly waking him, wrapping a cold hand around his.

He wondered, for a moment, if the hand was going to pull him under completely, end the misery he found himself strangled by. Yet, with each moment that passed – achingly slowly and burning cold – he found himself growing warmer, found the words echoing louder. The pleas turned into cries. Something soft and delicate brushing across his fingers.

His fingers. Clenched tightly into a fist, something warm drumming beneath his vice grip. Sharp pain shooting through his chest.

Killian.

He took a deep, sharp breath, eyes widening as he returned. A blurry childhood memory overcame him, of a young and foolish boy tripping and falling into the depths of the sea, begging to the gods above for the darkness to finally take him, for the pain to end, only to burst through the surface, fresh air flooding his aching lungs.

In this moment, looking down at the hook that was still buried in the guard's neck, coated by crimson, running blood, he felt like he had back then, re-awaking. Yet, the relief was short, like it had been when he was a boy, pain following immediately, and entirely without mercy.

Killian, please. Her words were hesitant, washed away by the tremor of her tears, and for the longest moment, he chose to stare into the dead eyes of the man he had just killed instead of facing Emma, and the hurt and terror he had caused. Once, he had thought himself brave, for all the adventures he had taken on, even, in a twisted way, for all the lives he had taken. Yet, in this moment, trembling as Emma's fingers pried open his own, he felt no bravery left inside of him at all. Too afraid was he to face her, to face the bloody keeping of his promise to her. A promise he never should have made. To witness the beginning of what they might have been in a better world, knowing that this beginning was tied with its end.

Look at me. He could not. Not an ounce of strength seemed left inside of him, washed away by guilt and shame. By crimson blood.

Never would he have been strong enough to face Emma, not until her hand – and when had all the blood gotten on her pale skin? - cupped his cheek, and turned his head towards her. Everything he had feared was there, as clear as the iron smell of blood and the warmth of it against his skin. The tears that were trailing down her cheeks, eyes as red as her hands, crimson stains all over her white nightgown. Horror and fear leaking from every pore, and she stared at him in disbelief, in fright, and in sadness. It was this sadness that flickered most clearly across her features, her lips trembling as she took him in.

Silent words poured from his lips, words he could not utter. Apologies and explanations.

Killian. It was almost impossible for him to distinguish his name, and had he not seen her pale lips form the word, he would have taken it for a trick his mind was playing, still dazed, still not quite here with her. A strong tug threatened to pull him back, a feeling all too familiar, one that intensified with every life he took. Each time, it became harder and harder for him to come back, to escape the shadows.

Still, he could not speak, but eventually, his senses returned, and his eyes fluttered down to where Emma was still prying his fingers lose. He understood without words, and released the tight fist he had formed. Between them now, glowing and much less black than he had expected, beat his heart, in the open palm of his hand.

Slowly, he looked back up at Emma, and saw her eyes fixed upon his, not even flickering down towards his heart. She simply moved, so delicately he barely noticed, moved forwards on her knees, until she was face to face with him. Her fingertips ghosted across his palm, before the weight of his beating heart was suddenly gone.

Gaze drifting downwards once more, he took in the sight of her pale and bloody hand wrapped around his heart.

I love you. He spoke the words as if he had not formed them at all, as if the presence of his heart alone was working itself into his mind, into the empty place where it belonged.

Emma's eyes were still focused on his, staring so deeply into them that he was utterly sure she could see the darkness inside, could see how lost he was. How strongly the lack of a heart affected him, how much the dark pull threatened to take him away, to pull him under. Still, at the same time, he could see from her stead-fast gaze how strongly she was avoiding the sight on the ground, the dead guard she had probably known all her life, whose name and family were no strangers to her, whose blood was all over her.

He sighed, once more looking down at his heart, and this time, he could feel Emma's gaze following his own. There it lay, red and furious, pumping against the gentle fingers that held it. If this was all the peace he was offered – his heart held, not locked away in box, but softly in her hand - it would be enough.

You did it. So broken was her voice, trembling from the tremor of her tears. It killed him to hear her in such pain, to watch her fingers dance across his heart, a sad symphony playing somewhere in the distance, not yet to be heard.

He was so torn, the sight of his heart in her hands both soothing and unsettling, and the need to see her, to drink her in as long as he still could clouding his mind. His breathing was becoming furious, and he marveled at the steady beating of his heart, while a dusty memory told him it should be beating raggedly now. I promised.

Emma drew in a raspy breath, nodding carefully as her eyes flickered towards the dead guard. Outside, the wind was leashing against the walls of the castle, the sky growing even darker despite the late hour. He knew there was not much time left, that the sand was falling in the hour glass, one that had never truly been filled.

This was over before it had ever truly begun. They were. And he had allowed it.

With shaking fingers, Emma moved to place his heart back into his palm, as if urging him on to do what they both knew needed to be done. But this was not how he had painted the picture in his mind. If these few minutes together were all they were to ever have, he needed to make them count. No. He reached out to wrap his fingers around Emma's. I want you to do it. Softly, he pressed, until her fingers were once more curled around his heart. Carefully, he applied more pressure, too irresistible the need to hold her tightly. A sharp pain shot through his chest at the motion. Emma sucked in a frightened breath, looking at him with wide, tear-filled eyes. Please.

For a moment, Emma hesitated, eyes narrowing in doubt and a hint of curiosity. Over and over, her gaze flickered down towards their entwined hands, the red glow that radiated from their touch almost soothing, despite the cold and the prominent smell of blood. Killian almost missed it, but for a brief second, the smallest hint of a smile danced around the edges of Emma's trembling lips.

Her free hand lifted slowly, until she cupped his cheek, warm and soft against his dark stubble, and he allowed his eyes to flutter close, relishing her tender touch.

It happened so quickly, too fast for him to take notice of the harrowing pain or Emma's frightened gasp. Heat suddenly flooded through his veins, burning hot, setting him aflame. He was a torch, bursting with light, eyes wide open yet seeing nothing in the room surrounding him. Breathing was impossible, his lungs shut. Completely immobile, time passing around him.

Images flashed past his eyes. His mother's kind smile, his own small hand securely wrapped in hers. A bowl of steaming soup in front of the fire, shoulder to shoulder with Liam, whose laugh echoed in his ears. The fluttering feeling in his stomach the first time he had set foot upon a ship, marveling at the diamond lights that were scattered across the water's surface. The prickling sensation of sunlight touching bare skin. His desperate hand clinging to his mother as they took her away, pale and hollow-eyed. Dead. The tears on Liam's face, his hand digging deeply into his shoulder. Their father's pride as they stood behind the helm. The heat of rum as it dripped down his throat. Elation and excitement at the sight of the horizon. Milah. Her smile and the echo of her laughter. His brother turning cold in his arms. The husky voice of his father as he wished him goodnight, the last time he ever saw him.

Memories mingled with dreams, and it became almost impossible to distinguish them. The golden shine of a sextant, children running along the beach, laughing. The rush of the sea ringing in his ears. A white veil, as smooth as silk between his fingers as he lifted it. The salty taste of the sea upon his lips. A baby's tiny fist around his finger. A wicked laughter in the darkness of the never-ending night of Neverland. Grey hair and dried skin, like paper. Black, thick droplets of death soaking into his skin.

The warmth of a heartbeat in his chest, the steady rhythm drumming in his ears. With a deep breath – when did the air begin to taste so sweet? - his eyes began to see again, everything blurring until it disappeared. Until only she remained.

Emma.

The expression on her face was almost unreadable, a dance of fear and joy, smiling as the tears continued to run freely, shivering as she narrowed her eyes, her trembling hand still pressed firmly against his chest, just above where his heart was beating, faster and faster the closer he leaned into her touch.

She was right there in front of him, so close, and he felt so overwhelmed, truly felt it. His hand reached out before he even made the decision, resting against her cheek, feeling the warm wetness beneath his palm. She was burning up, a furnace beneath his touch. I love you. He repeated the words in a heady whisper over and over as his hand roamed her neck, her shoulders, speaking them against her cheek, her lips, the soft tresses of her hair, her pulse point as it beat furiously.

Almost furiously, he wrapped his arm around her, careful to turn the deadly tip of his hook away from her, still knowing that the blood was soaking her dress. She seemed to care little, her own hands roaming his back, grabbing his hair, pulling his body against hers as sobs wrecked her and she whispered soft words into his ear he could not understand. I love you. I love you. Over and over, because he needed her to know, needed her to remember the words, remember the way they felt, even if she was to never remember him.

Still on their knees, their bodies were pressed together tightly in a desperate embrace, tears were beginning to form in Killian's eyes, burning and turning Emma's features into a blur of pearls and gold. The pain of knowing she would never remember this again, it filled his heart with a sorrow so agonizing he began to wish for her to rip it out again. Forgive me, he murmured into the skin below her ear, inhaling her scent, trembling in her arms.

In his tight embrace, he felt Emma stirring, pushing at his chest slightly, enough for their eyes to meet, so close that he could see the different shades of green that were shining like jewels, still coated in tears. Forgive you? Her fingers found his, interlacing them, a tightly knitted web he clung to.

The faint smile on Emma's lips began to fade as she must have seen the terror in his eyes. The guilt and shame, the anger and rage, all his love for her and all the pain that burned in his veins. More than anything, he needed her to understand, needed her to know that he was not giving up, that all he had done, all that was to come – he would not forget her, would never let her go, not until the day she would send him away.

His mouth opened, lips trembling, trying desperately to form the words. Yet nothing but silence filled the room, and he fought against the pain inside of him to speak up. To tell her the truth. He had never lied to her, yet to have kept this from her, to have hidden away this secret, it felt as if he had lied, any way.

Still fighting for the right words, a quiet rush suddenly interrupted the silence, and Emma's eyes widened as she fixated a point over his shoulder. He understood. Their time was up, the last grain of sand had fallen.

Outside, the world was still growing impossibly darker, raging in fury as Emma scrambled out of their embrace, onto her bare feet. She took no notice of the pool of blood she was standing in, soaking the hem of her nightgown.

Killian did not dare turn around, not yet. Just one more second, one last look at Emma's face, even now that it was contorted in fear.

It's time to leave.

He knew Cora must have been eying him, because Emma's gaze now flickered restlessly between him and the woman standing behind him. Confusion masked her face, and it broke his heart when she took a slow step backwards, the night so dark that no moonlight reached the room anymore.

What is happening? She looked at him where he was still kneeling on the floor in a sea of crimson, her eyes flickering between fear, betrayal and hope. It reminded him of how she had looked upon him all those months ago, when he had sneaked into her room for the first time, intending to drill the hook into her heart and watch the life drain out of her with each fading beat. Back then, she had taken him in with fear and caution, yet an underlying sense of trust, the thin line between hope and determination that he would not kill her.

In this moment, he saw all the hope slowly fading, saw her fighting against her own heart, stepping away from him further. His own heart began to tear, and it hurt more than it ever had when it was outside of his body, far from his reach.

His hand reached out towards her, coated red, gleaming angrily in the candlelight. It's a curse. So many words he needed to say, so many apologies, so many tears he wanted to shed, so many ways he wanted to tell her how she had saved him. It's coming. The Evil Queen, she-

There is no time, Hook. Cora's steps had been silent, and suddenly, he felt her weathered hand on his arm, pulling him to his feet. Emma followed the movement, shock etched upon her face.

What have you done? The words slipped from her lips in a harsh whisper, veiled by tears that now began to run down her ashen face once more. All the warmth seemed to have gone, all the softness dried up.

Cora pulled him away from Emma slowly, and he found no strength to fight her. He had made a deal, had known this day would come. To watch Emma slip away from him, the thought planted in her mind that he was doing this to hurt her, to serve the darkness she had always known resided in him, it hurt more than losing her in the first place. He could not leave her behind like this, not when she thought that he was truly the man everybody else saw him as. Hook. A killer, no mercy, no remorse. None of that was truly him, and she had buried the flickers of it, had brought to life the man he had once been.

Whispering her name, he felt his feet moving against the stone floor, his arm still reached out towards her. Emma, whose back was now pressed against the wall, almost disappearing in the darkness. And still, the world grew darker, so dark now that even Emma's eyes drifted towards the sky outside, the brutal storm clouding the horizon. With eyes widened in horror, she looked back at him.

I will save you. His voice was raised now, strength returning, fighting against Cora's grip. I promise. Something in the echo of his words seemed to crawl beneath Emma's skin, like a key, a hidden message. Words he had spoken before, in the woods, when she had opened herself to him and he had burned himself with her. The terror in her eyes grew no less, yet a softness seemed to return, a sadness he had seen before. I will find you.

The last thing he saw before everything turned as black as the starless sky was a lonely teardrop falling from Emma's cheek down towards the ground, towards the trail of blood she had smeared across the cold stone floor.

.

In the distance, dark clouds made their way towards them, so dark they stood out against the night sky. Flashes of green illuminated the sky, a purple glow lingering on the ground. He stood still, next to Cora, looking up at what was coming. Now that the time had come, he wondered whether or not he had made the right decision. Perhaps, and thinking so even more now that his heart was beating furiously in his chest, he should have let the curse take him along with everybody else, erase all his painful memories. If Emma loved him as much as he loved her, perhaps they would have found each other, even if they could not remember.

The tears on her face were burning themselves into his mind, and he could think about nothing but the pain he had caused her. Around them, the night continued to grow darker, and when Cora used her staff to send a bright ray of light into the sky, he held his breath.

Above them a shining, yet almost invisible layer spread out, glistening against the darkness as the heavy clouds came closer and closer, angry and flashing. Emma. She must be with her parents in this moment of defeat, or so he hoped, the scene that had taken place in her room mere minutes ago probably not having gone unnoticed. Killian felt more tears prickling in his eyes as he imagined her fear in this moment, fear of the unknown, her pain at his betrayal.

The curse won't last forever. Cora spoke for the first time since she had dragged him away from Emma, since she had taken him here, a corner of the realm he did not recognize. It will end. His eyes only focused on her briefly, the sight of her causing his stomach to twist. Perhaps her words were meant to console him, yet he only felt more lost, more ashamed of himself. When it does, Regina will truly have lost everything. Then, she will need me. Never had he understood, had been stunned by how Regina could have sent him to murder her mother – the first time she had sent him out to kill, the first of many, and how foolish had he been back then to trust it being a one time thing – and for Cora to bear such resentment towards her own child. And then, our quest will resume. In ten years, there will be a savior. She seemed to hesitate for a moment, and he looked at her then, away from the purple clouds now directly above them. A child.

Ten years? Ever since she had told him about the curse that day in the forest, she had not revealed much about the nature of the curse, and he wondered now how much she truly knew, and why.

You won't even notice. You will be frozen. He felt his chest contract painfully, the prospect of more years spend in a trap where time meant nothing adding another burden to his weary mind. Too many lifetimes had he spent alone, battered and broken. Until your child breaks the curse.

At first, her words echoed in his mind, his eyes too occupied with the frenzy of bright green lightening above their heads. Then, slowly, the wording trickled into his conscious thoughts. My child? His eyes dropped back towards Cora, standing next to him with an unreadable smile on her lips, eyes as dark as the sky above them. I don't- It all burned brightly behind his eyes then. Emma's face, her urgent touches, her soft skin, the heat of her, his name on her lips, the tears she had shed for him. Terror spread through him as cold as ice. No...No.

Staring into Cora's deceptive eyes, he shook his head madly, muttering the word no over and over. I lived up to my bargain, Captain. Your ship is at a nearby port. And you have your heart. You can feel again.

With a curt nod, she turned on her heels, determinedly walking towards the edge of the forest, no more words spoken, no more explanations, and he would have buried his hook in her back could he only still find it in him to do so.

His hand in a tight fist, dried blood still covering the skin, he looked back up at the sky with tears in his eyes. Yes, I feel. Finally, a sole tear spilled over, trailing across his cheek until he felt it part from his skin, dropping onto the dark ground beneath his feet. Cold.

the end