The minutes ticked by. She didn't have a watch on her, but Emma was sure if she did it would show that the night was just crawling by. No matter what she did, she could not get comfortable. She continued to toss and turn. It didn't help that David's normally quiet snore seemed to be tens times louder than it normally was tonight. How could he sleep after today? How could any of them sleep? Yet, they all were.
Emma couldn't blame her restlessness completely on David's snoring though. Their failed attempt at retrieving Henry from Pan's camp was still weighing down on her. They were so sure Henry would be there, but found neither Henry nor Peter Pan among the boys Regina had knocked out with a spell so they were forced once again to retreat back to their own camp. Emma was getting more frustrated by the minute with not knowing where her son was and felt that any time she spent not searching for him was time wasted. But they all needed to rest. She knew that. Hook was right; they needed to survive themselves if they wanted any chance of finding him. Resting was just not something she was going to be able to do.
Rolling her eyes far back into her head, Emma let out a loud, frustrated sigh and threw her hands in the air admitting defeat. There was no way she was going to get any sleep. Not on the hard ground she was laying on at least. She stood up and gathered her blanket and feeble attempt at a pillow and set out in search of a softer area of the forest floor not too far from their camp. Even though they had been on the island for a week, there was still no telling what was lurking in the Neverland jungle; it would be stupid to wander far away. She circled the campsite a few times, half looking for a new place to sleep, half attempting to rid herself of the anxiety and worry coursing through her. She finally found a cozy spot tucked between some bushes far enough away that everything was silent. Emma positioned her blanket and pillow accordingly and laid down. The ground wasn't any less soft than the spot back by everyone else, but at least it was quieter. She might be able to get some sleep.
But her mind had other plans as it always did. It just kept spinning. Thoughts of Henry kept whirring through her brain mixed with recollections her earlier conversation with Neal. She felt selfish for moving her concentration from Henry even for a second, but it was something that needed to be dealt with. Having the looming cliche love triangle clouding their judgement was not going to help them on their quest to save Henry. She knew how she felt about Neal and he needed to know that there was no future for them. Stringing him along would be a cruel fate to bestow upon anyone. She had to tell him, and soon.
Yet, she hadn't felt the need to say anything to Hook. Her view of him had completely changed over the last week. He wasn't the selfish pirate willing to do anything to get his revenge on his crocodile anymore. No, instead he was there, with her, with her family, doing everything in his power to help them get her son back. He had even risked his own life to save the life of her father, who was far from his best mate. Emma knew it was all for her. He made that very clear in Echo Cave when he had confessed the secret of his love for her, all thanks to that kiss.
It was a spur of the moment thing. She was feeling good and the tension had been looming for quite some time. It was just a one time thing. But it stuck with her; there was no denying that. She pushed it onto the back burner, of course, as her main focus was, and should be, her son, but there was something about it. There was something in that kiss she was not expecting to feel, something more than passion. It was certainly passionate. She'd be lying if she didn't say it was one of the most passionate she'd ever had. But what made it more was the feelings that came with it, feelings she was not expecting to have, feelings she hadn't felt in a long time, not since she was with Neal. It almost felt like...
No. She thought to herself. I can't think like this right now. Not with Henry still out there somewhere. It's not fair to him.
She forced her eyes to close even though her brain didn't shut off. If she couldn't mentally rest, the least she could do was make sure she physically rested herself.
The minutes crawled by as Emma continued to toss and turn. She was about ready to give up when she heard footsteps coming towards her. Not wanting to make it known that she was awake, Emma cracked her lid open to see if she could get a view of the approaching figure, but it was too dark to make out any distinct features. Her fingers moved quietly to the hilt of the cutlass, ready to strike once the figure got close enough.
In an instant, Emma grasped her weapon and whipped it up into the air towards the stranger, quickly hopping up on her feet in the process.
"Bloody hell, Swan!" Hook called out.
Emma's heart stopped when she realized it was the pirate. "What the hell, Hook? I could've killed you."
Hook chuckled slightly. "And you almost did." He looked down at his chest to check for cuts. "Looks like I got out of the way just in time."
Lowering her weapon, Emma collapsed back onto her blankets feeling even more awake than she was before. "What are you doing here?"
Hook took a step towards her. "I came back from circling the perimeter of the camp and saw you weren't there so I went to investigate," he said as he sat down next to her. "I gathered you couldn't be far when I saw your entire sleeping arrangement to be missing."
She felt herself subconsciously move closer to him. "Yeah, I couldn't sleep. David's snoring was making my skin crawl."
He took a moment to study her, cocking his head like he always did when he looked at her like that. Hook knew right away that David's snoring was not the reason for her restlessness.
"We'll find him, Emma," he said gently. "You'll find him."
Emma felt her guard slip away, but she didn't care. She was so used to it happening around him that it was more of a comfort to her. Finally, she felt like she had someone she could confess her darkest secrets to without the help of a cave. It was something she hadn't had since she had lost a friend in Mary Margaret and, instead, gained a mother.
She swallowed thickly. "I'm not so sure anymore." Tears started welling up in her eyes. "We've been tricked so many times. Maybe there isn't a way to win Pan's game."
"There's always a way to win," Hook reassured. "Don't give up hope, love."
"Glad to see you have confidence still," Emma sighed.
"As should you." He reached out, hesitating for a split second, and placed his hand gently on hers. "Emma, the minute we begin to lose faith that we'll find him is the minute I know we won't."
Emma smirked and looked down at his hand covering hers. She couldn't believe he just said that.
"What is it?" Hook asked.
"Nothing," Emma said, a small sign of amusement showing on her face. "It's just... my mother told me the same thing when we first got here."
"And she's right. I refuse to give up hope and so should you."
She gazed up at him, her lips curling into a clever grin. "When did you become such an optimistic person, Hook?"
The pirate curled his fingers around her hand as he returned her gaze, giving a soft smile. "When I met you."
Emma's breath was taken away by those four words. It was hard to comprehend the fact that her very existence had on this one man, a man that had been in such a dark place for so many years. He had found his way back out of the dark when he met her. She had never had that kind of an impact on someone before in her life. It was overwhelming, but heartwarming.
He pulled his hand away from hers and waved it nonchalantly in front of him. "I'm sorry, Emma," he interrupted. "I don't mean to take focus away from your son."
"I just want you to know how I feel about you," he said quickly. Hook stood up and brushed the dirt off the bottom of his leather pants. "I suppose I should let you rest."
Hook turned on his heel, but was halted when Emma reached up and grabbed his hook to stop him. He twisted his head back towards her as she stood up, using his hook as an anchor.
"Didn't want me to leave without a goodbye kiss?" Hook said flirtatiously.
Emma smirked at his comment. She knew now that his innuendos were nothing but a defense mechanism he puts into place, especially when it involves her. Keeping hold of his hook, the cold steel strangely warming her fingers, she turned him back around to face her straight on and looked him right in those bright blue eyes.
"Thank you," she said simply.
He didn't need her to say anything more. Everything that needed to be said was in those two simple words. He knew what she meant even if she didn't know it yet and it was something she needed to discover for herself. Pushing her towards it would do nothing except push her further away from him and that was the last thing he wanted to do. But he couldn't help the need to do something more.
Hook lifted his hand slowly towards her face, allowing her a moment to reject it if that's what she wanted, but she did no such thing. Her eyes never drifted from his as his fingers weaved their way into her hair and curled around the back of her head. He felt her pull his hook towards her slightly, accepting the motion that was being put forth. Flicking his eyes down at her soft, parted lips, Hook leaned in, feeling Emma close the gap between them and stroking her other hand up his arm until it rested on his shoulder. Their lips pressed together gently, lovingly. They breathed one another in just as they had done before. Their mouths danced a slow, beautifully synced waltz, one that neither of them had ever experienced. It was perfect.
Emma broke their touch, more reluctantly than she thought. All the feelings she had felt the first time they had kissed came rushing back, this time more intensely than she had ever felt. She kept her eyes closed, feeling his warm breath spread across her face as he spoke, their faces still touching.
"I love you, Emma," he whispered.
She opened her eyes, her long lashes grazing across his cheek as she gazed up at him.
Emma's mouth curled into a soft smile. The genuineness behind those three simple words was hard to resist. A part of her wanted to act on them, but another was screaming at her to run, as it always did, reminding her of the obligation she had to Henry. She couldn't get mixed up in this now. This was something that could be dealt with later. It had to be.
Hook could feel her walls building back up around her as she took a half step back from him and immediately brought his hand down from where his fingers had been tangled up in her long, blonde locks.
"I'm sorry, Emma," Hook said promptly, realizing he had probably overstepped his boundaries.
"It's ok," she replied, turning her back to him and bringing her hand up to her lips and touching the wetness from his that remained on them. "You go back to the camp and get some sleep. It's pointless for me now."
"Are you sure, love?"
"Yeah. I wouldn't be able to sleep even if I tried."
He stared at her curiously, trying to find the meaning behind those words.
"Go," she insisted. "I'll be fine."
Hook nodded his head. "If you insist."
She watched him walk away back towards the camp, his leather coat swaying in the slight breeze coming through the trees. Emma couldn't believe what she was feeling, yet it was consuming her. Though she was still sick with worry over Henry, the love that he gave her filled her with hope once again that they would find him. Hook gave her hope. And that was something someone had not given her in a long time, not even Neal.
Hook. Captain Hook. Of all the fairy tale characters that she could have fallen for, she chose to fall for Captain Hook - or was it Killian Jones she had actually fallen for?
Either way, now was not the time nor the place to try and sort through those feelings. She had a job to do. She needed to get her son back and thanks to the pirate, she was more determined than ever to do so. And he would be there. She knew it. Killian Jones was going to be there for her every step of the way and she couldn't be more grateful for him.
Emma, not bothering to gather her blankets and pillow, picked up her cutlass and walked in the opposite direction from Hook. Her mind was swimming and she needed to regain focus. Circling the perimeter and checking for Lost Boys would do just that so she set off, her mind storing away the feelings from that kiss to be sorted through later.
Unbeknownst to her, Neal, having heard Emma get up and wander off from the camp earlier, was sinking down to the ground, realizing his chance to win her back was fading quickly. She never looked at him the way she looked at Hook, but he wasn't about to give up. Not until she told him there was no hope. He would fight for her if there was even the slightest chance.
She had to do it. She needed to get it over with. It couldn't be avoided anymore, not with how far everything had come over the last few days. The timing was horrible, but then again, there was never going to be a perfect time for it. It was now or never.
Emma looked over and saw Neal sitting in his tent studying the coconut which they had the Shadow trapped in. His return was something she was still having trouble with, but was glad her mother had talked her into finding him. Without Neal, they wouldn't have known that trapping the Shadow would get them all a step closer to getting off the island. Now all that was left was finding Henry. She buried those bitter and angry feelings deep down back inside her just as she'd always done. They had to work together if they wanted to get their son back and harboring those feelings would get them no where. Neal's presence was good, if not for a way off the island, but simply for the sake of Henry. Her son had his father back. Telling him of Neal's death was one of the worst experiences of her life and one that she never wanted to go through it again, at least, not until she was old and grey. But it was time that Neal knew the truth. Since he had confessed that he still loved her, it was only right that she be the one to tell him. It would be too cruel for him to find out on his own.
As she took a deep breath, Emma shuffled over to Neal's tent. He didn't notice her standing behind him so she cleared her throat to get his attention.
"Emma," he said when he realized she was there.
"Hey," Emma said awkwardly. "Can we talk?"
Neal nodded. "Yeah, sure." He scooted over on his blanket to make room for her and set down the Shadow's coconut prison as she sat next to him. "What's up?"
Emma looked at the face of the man she once thought of starting a life with. The pain that she had shoved down inside her was starting to slowly creep its way back up. A part of her wanted to run. She still loved him. A part of her always would. She knew that. He was her first love. He was Henry's father. He was always going to be in her life because of Henry. But she couldn't keep leading him on this way. It wasn't fair to him. If there was one thing she was going to do to him that he didn't do to her, it was to be fair. Did he deserve it? Maybe not, but Emma she wasn't about to do to him what he did to her. She wasn't going to take the easy way out. She wasn't going to run. Emma was going to tell it to him straight.
She opened her mouth to say something, but Neal interrupted her, almost anticipating what was about to come out.
"Before you say anything, Emma, I have something for you."
Emma watched as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the keychain she had worn around her neck for ten years. Her eyes shut briefly, allowing herself to absorb the sight of the one object that held so much meaning. She knew he would want to give it back to her; she just wished it wasn't now. Not in this moment.
"Neal..." she started.
"Look, I know I screwed up, Emma," he continued. "And I know I don't deserve you, not after everything I've put you through." His eyes tried to find hers, but she kept them facing the ground. "I was a coward. I should have been the one to go to jail. Not you. You have every right to feel the way you do. I know that. But..." He paused for a moment and played with the keychain in his fingers before continuing. "But I know you never stopped loving me. And I've never stopped loving you. I still love you, Emma, and, I'd like you to have this back." Neal held the swan keychain he had given her so long ago in the palm of his hand and stretched it outward to Emma.
She stared at the object in his hand, pressing her lips together as she tried to find the right thing to say to him. There was no easy way to say this. Emma swallowed thickly, her throat having gone completely dry, and looked up at Neal sadly.
"I'm sorry, Neal," she said hoarsely. "But I don't love you. Not in that way. I can't accept it."
His face dropped in defeat and she breathed deeply in an attempt to gather her emotions. She was determined to get through this without crying. Too many tears had already been shed from the hurt feelings surrounding him.
"You're choosing Hook then?" Neal asked.
Emma blinked a few times, trying to wrap her brain around what he had just said.
Hook. This had nothing to do with Hook. This was about Neal. This was about her feelings for Neal and his feelings for her. She could not return them. She would never be able to return them. The bridge between them was far beyond repair and it wasn't fair to him nor to herself to let this hang in the air longer than it needed to. Even if Hook wasn't in the picture, Emma still would not choose Neal. It was not right. They were not right. The only "right" thing that came from them being together was Henry. And that's how it would remain. She wasn't choosing Hook over Neal.
"I'm choosing me," Emma said finally. "We aren't meant to be together, Neal. Whatever we had is in the past and that's where it should stay. Too much time has passed and the damage is far beyond repair. It wouldn't be fair of me to try to fix something that I know can't be fixed." She allowed a single tear to drop down her cheek as she looked Neal in the eyes. "I'm sorry."
Neal sighed. "I'm sorry, too. I wish there was something I could do to change your mind." He paused. "Whoever ends up with you will be a very lucky man. I'm just sorry I screwed up my chance of being that man." He scrunched up his face in an effort to control his emotions. "I love you, Emma. I always will."
Emma gave a small smile. "I know. And a part of me will always love you too." She placed her hand lightly on his shoulder. "You're a good man, Neal. You're a good father and that's what matters to me. You'll find someone someday and she'll love you more than I ever could."
A part of her wanted to lean in and kiss him one last time, but she knew better. It would do nothing but complicate things more than they already were. Instead, Emma rubbed her hand that was still on his shoulder gently up and down his back before getting up and walking away. She stopped after a couple paces and turned back to him.
Reaching behind her, Emma grasped the hilt of the cutlass strapped to her back and unsheathed it. She held it out for him to take.
"This belongs to you," she said. "I don't feel right keeping it."
Neal stared at the weapon then back at her. "What are you going to use to fight?"
"David has more swords," Emma reassured. "Please take it."
Neal reached up and took his old cutlass from her followed by its sheath which she lifted over her head and handed to him as well.
"Thanks," he said.
Emma nodded. "You're welcome." She gave a half-smile. "Now, let's go get our son back."
She tucked the covers underneath her son's chin, worried that he was not warm enough. He had been through hell and back over the last week. Between being tricked into giving Peter Pan his own heart to being almost drowned by mermaids, Emma honestly thought she was going to fail in her task to bring him home. But all of that was over now. They were safely aboard the Jolly Roger and, thanks to Tinker Bell's pixie dust, sailing through the sky back to Storybrooke.
A soft knock came from the other side of the door of the cabin followed by Neal's voice.
"Emma? Can I come in?"
Emma got up from where she had been sitting on the edge of Henry's bed and walked quietly to the door, opening it and allowing Neal to enter.
"Is he still out?" he asked.
"Yeah," Emma replied. "Like a light."
Neal sighed. "Can't say that I blame him. The kid's been through a lot."
Emma nodded her head in agreement and watched her son sleep peacefully. She hoped that he was dreaming of nothing but fighting dragons and riding horses. God only knows the kind of nightmares he might have thanks to the darkness of Neverland.
"You look like you could use some sleep yourself, Emma," Neal said.
"Yeah," she agreed. She hadn't had a restful night since she was last back in Storybrooke. "I just don't want to leave his side."
Neal reached over and gave her a side-armed hug. "He's safe now," he reassured her as he rubbed his arm quickly on her shoulder and released her. "I'll stay with him. You go rest."
She was grateful for Neal in so many ways. He had been a huge help in retrieving their son despite having to be a team player with people she knew he didn't fully appreciate. But more importantly, she was thankful for the fact that things between her and Neal had not become bitter or awkward after she had turned him down. In fact, they had been better than she could have ever anticipated. Neal had accepted everything and hadn't made any notions of anger or resentfulness towards her, or Hook for that matter. This gave Emma great relief to know he could still easily be a part of Henry's life and hers without things being complicated.
Emma knelt down next to the bed her son was sleeping soundly on and gave him a sweet kiss on the forehead. "Come get me when he wakes up."
"You got it," Neal replied.
Shutting the door behind her, Emma looked to her left at the rest of the cabin doors. Getting some sleep would do her wonders, but something inside was pushing for her to go up the stairs in front of her instead. She knew exactly what was at the top of those stairs. He was up those stairs, more than likely standing at the helm of his ship. He would be the only one up there too. Everyone else was getting much needed shut eye before they reached there was no avoiding it at this point. She couldn't hide behind the mission to save Henry anymore. Then again, she didn't feel the need to hide anything anymore.
When they had first arrived in Neverland, he was still Hook, the ruthless, selfish, not-so-trustworthy pirate that she had an odd connection to. Never in a million years did she think he would actually charm her. But now her view of him had completely changed. He wasn't the stab-happy pirate she had known for the past year. Neverland had changed him. He was a captain, a good captain, a leader, who looked after his crew as he lead them through the treacherous jungle to rescue her son, a boy he had never spoken to. He was an honorable man. He was Killian Jones. And she was in love with him. It was time for him to know that.
Emma took a deep breath and stared at the stairs. Neverland had changed them all. She was no longer Emma Swan, the orphan. She was Emma Swan, the savior and the princess. And, for the first time in her life, she felt loved by more people than she ever thought possible. She had a family. She had a mother and a father and a son, something she always knew in her head, but never felt in her heart, not until she went to Neverland. There was just one piece missing: her partner, her soul mate, her true love. But it wasn't missing anymore. She had found him. Emma had found her true love and he was waiting for her at the top of those stairs.
She knew it the first time she had kissed him. There was so much more behind it than passion. There were sparks, those cheesy fireworks that were only ever talked about in sappy romance novels, and she felt them. He had felt them too. He made that clear in the cave and, for the first time in her life, she didn't feel the need to run away. No, instead, she wanted to run towards him. She wanted to go to him, to let him hold her in his arms, to kiss him again.
But it was never going to be that easy. It never was for Emma Swan. Her past had found her again and this time she couldn't run from it. She had to face it head on. Coming to terms with it was a welcome relief, one that she had sought for so long and never thought she would one day find. But she did, and the weight that was lifted off her shoulders because of it had never made her feel more free. It was finally time to take advantage of her new found freedom. It was finally time for her to get her happy ending. All she had to do was climb those stairs and take it.
Her heart raced as she placed one foot on the bottom step and began to climb slowly up the stairs. A smile spread across her face knowing that this was it. This was her time. This was the last piece of the puzzle to her happy ending. She opened the hatch leading up to the deck and looked around for a moment.
There he was, as predicted, standing at the helm of his ship, his hook looped around the wheel and his hand holding a compass. Not just any compass, but the compass she had used to get herself home before. Now he was using it to get her and her family home.
The green glow from the pixie dust's magic hung in the air illuminating things that would have otherwise been lost. Emma could make out his face, calm, almost expressionless, but soft. She could see the brightness of his blue eyes as they scanned out to the horizon. It took a moment for him to realize she was there, but his gaze finally found her and it instantly brought a smile to his face.
"Did you need something, love?" he asked.
Emma didn't say anything. She stepped out onto the deck, closing the hatch behind her, and strode quickly over to him, taking the stairs up to the helm two at a time.
He opened his mouth to speak again, but didn't get the chance to utter a single syllable before Emma placed her hands on his face and pulled him in for a deep, passionate kiss.
She had chosen. He knew it. He could feel the weight of her decision float away as she pressed her lips against his. This was it. She was it. This was the start of their happy ending and he wasn't ever going to let this one go.
The pirate dropped the compass almost instantaneously on the deck and wrapped his arm around her waist and kissed her back. Emma moved her hands down, curling them around his his neck, her fingers sliding into his smooth, black hair.
Minutes passed. Neither of them knew how many. Neither of them cared. When their lips finally parted, they took a moment to drink in the aftermath, breathing each other in, perfectly, effortlessly in sync.
He opened his mouth to speak, but she pressed a finger to his lips, the dampness of hers still lingering on them, to keep him from saying anything. Emma's eyes traveled up from his lips to his eyes. They had never looked so bright, so full of life, full of hope. And she had been the reason for it.
A smile unlike any that had graced her face spread across it as she took a breath and spoke.
"It's always been you, Killian. I love you."
The corners of Killian's eyes crinkled from the warm, loving smile extending across his face. He knew it deep down from the moment he met her that she was it. She stayed with him. Even through his continued quest for revenge, he stayed with her and he never wanted her to leave. Emma had brought out a side in him that he had long since forgotten. She brought back the man of honor. She brought back Killian Jones. And in that moment, though the hook remained, the notorious name that came with it vanished and nothing but the honorable captain remained.
She had chosen him. Emma Swan had chosen Killian Jones. And he would be there for her until the end of time.
"I love you, too, Emma."
Their foreheads pressed together, noses brushing against one another as they held each other, smiling more than either had in years, immersing themselves in the pure elation brought on by their love.
Killian's hand traveled up her back into her tangled blonde curls as he wrapped his other arm around her waist. Emma twisted her arms behind his neck and closed her eyes, feeling him move in gently towards her.
The captain and the princess pressed their lips together, the smiles on their faces softened by their affection and love for one another.
Never before had either of them experienced a kiss like this - so passionate, so pure, so timeless. This was a kiss only like those Emma had read about in fairy tales. It was a kiss of true love. And they knew it. They had found each other.