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Their Way By Moonlight

Chapter Text

The road wound through the woods, a pale streak through the darkness, dimly illuminated by the ancient headlights of an equally ancient blue pickup. Rusty around the edges and stiff in the door hinges, but with a well maintained engine that purred reassuringly in the heavy darkness of the night, the truck had been expressly chosen for its nondescript reliability. Behind its wheel a man worked the gearshift with his right hand —the only one he possessed— steering the vehicle using a special prosthesis fitted into the brace on his left wrist. When the road straightened again the man shifted in his seat, rolling his shoulders and flexing his legs, trying to stretch his stiff muscles. Driving an automobile was not unlike steering a ship in many ways, he reflected, but the hours of sitting did put rather a strain on his old bones. 

He glanced over at the boy in the passenger seat, curled up in it in a way that seemed uncomfortable, his head propped awkwardly against the window. His brown hair was mussed and sticking to the glass and the man noticed with a mixture of amusement and exasperation that he still had that infernal beeping device clutched in his hand. Even in sleep he couldn’t let the thing go. 

He looked like his father when he slept, the man thought, though when awake his expressive face and eyes always recalled his mother. 

As the man steered the truck around another curve, lights from a motel and rest stop appeared on the left. It might be a good idea to stop for the night, he thought, refuel the truck and get some proper rest. According to the navigational device he’d rigged to the dash they weren’t much more than two hours from their destination and he judged it preferable that they arrive the next morning; their appearance was bound to cause enough of a stir without them turning up in the middle of the night. 

He pulled into a parking spot in front of the motel, and shook the boy awake. 

“Wha— where are we?” he asked, blinking sleepily in a way that reminded the man painfully of his mother. 

“We’re going to stop here for the night, lad,” the man replied. “Get some sleep, in a proper bed. I’m going to go secure us a room, you collect the luggage.” 

“‘kay Dad.” 

The man smiled. 

 

“I need a room for the night, please. Two beds.” 

“How many occupants?” The man behind the motel desk tapped at his computer, not looking up. 

“Two. Myself and my son.” 

“Where’s the boy now?” asked the desk clerk, still tapping. 

The man’s thick eyebrows snapped together at this invasive line of questioning, but he’d learned that staying inconspicuous meant putting up with a number of things that would have triggered him to take violent action in his old life. “He’s in the truck.” 

This appeared to be a satisfactory response for the desk clerk was silent for a moment, tapping away, apparently engrossed by whatever he saw on his screen. 

“You got some ID?”

The man handed over his driver’s license, his breathing calm and heart rate steady as the clerk examined it and recorded the information on his screen. He had no need to worry. If anyone were going to spot the fraud of the small plastic card it would not be this man behind the desk. The forgery was an excellent one, and the man’s recent experiences had confirmed his suspicion that the people of this realm would only look closely at a card when they had some reason to suspect that the bearer intended to misuse it. The nearest thing to critical assessment he had yet encountered was a woman who’d informed him that the picture was far too flattering to be real. His heart had stuck in his throat for a moment before he’d realised she was attempting to flirt. 

The clerk handed his license back and tapped for a further minute or two before reaching behind him and grabbing a key off a hook attached to the wall. “One room for one night, two double beds. Here’s your key.” He handed it over, and the man felt a wave of relief that it was a heavy, substantial metal one, and not one of those flimsy bits of plastic that he never failed to struggle with. “Checkout’s at eleven.” 

“We’ll be gone well before then. Cheers,” he replied, taking the key. 

“You a Brit, then?” asked the clerk, looking at him for the first time. 

“Aye.” That seemed to be the consensus of this realm based on his accent and speech patterns, and he knew that when one was trying to remain inconspicuous it was best to quietly meet expectations. 

“London?”

“Bristol.” His research suggested that the historic English naval port was the closest thing this realm possessed to the city where he had attended the naval academy, a city long since lost to the sands of time. Although the haze of that same time had settled heavily on the memories of his years there, far more heavily indeed than his youthful face would suggest, he recalled them as some of the happiest of his life. Bristol seemed a fitting point of origin for the man he was claiming to be.  

“Huh,” grunted the desk clerk, his brief spark of interest clearly extinguished. 

The man nodded and returned to the truck where the boy was waiting, a suitcase, duffel bag, and battered leather satchel at his feet. The man slung the satchel over his shoulder and scooped up the duffel with his blunted left arm, leaving the boy to handle the wheeled suitcase. “Room 5, lad,” he said, then indicating the suitcase “Are you okay with that?”

“Yes,” sighed the boy, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. He always took the suitcase and always had to reassure the man that he could handle it. 

The man opened the door with ease, thankful again for the style of the key, and automatically tossed his bags on the bed closest to the door. Once they were securely locked in the room, with the curtains tightly drawn, he withdrew a large, gleaming hook from the satchel, clicking it firmly into his brace and sighing in relief. He had come to appreciate many of the wonders of this realm, including the remarkable medical technology, but as impressive as the new mechanised, lifelike prosthesis buried in the duffel bag was, nothing carried deadly reassurance quite like his hook. The likelihood of anyone, or anything, having followed them on their winding path from New York was slim, but he was taking no chances. 

The room they found themselves in was both odd and familiar, with the grim, grimy aspect shared by the many others they had inhabited on their journey— the stiff and serviceable bedding, the solid furniture, the black box whose controlling devices were barely functional all exactly what he had come to expect. Yet something in this room called to much older memories of a more faraway place. Something about the pattern on the bedspread, the colours of the walls and curtains, the large iron tub in the bathing area, the old-fashioned key. Perhaps the influence of their destination was more far-reaching than they had expected, the man thought. Perhaps some of it was seeping out. 

The boy removed his coat and scarf, hanging them carefully on a hook by the door as the man watched in approval. He wheeled the suitcase over to the far bed then flopped himself down upon it, still holding his beeping device but not looking at it. The man could sense he had something on his mind, and waited. 

“How much farther is it?” the boy inquired, after a long silence. 

“Another two hours or so.” 

The boy nodded, but did not move. 

“Are you sure you’re prepared for this, lad? You know it won’t be—”

“It won’t be easy, I know. We’ve talked about it enough. I’m ready.”

“It’s okay to be nervous, you know. I certainly am.” 

“At least you’ve seen her recently.” 

“Not the her we’ll see tomorrow. It’s going to be painful, meeting that her.” 

“I know, Dad—”

“You know with your head, but you may still be surprised by the reaction of your heart.” 

The boy sighed, suppressing another eyeroll, for which the man was grateful. His mother would certainly not have suppressed it. 

“You should get some sleep, lad. Would you like to use the bathing room first?”

Bathroom, and yeah, thanks.” 

He slid off the bed and headed for the bathing area, careful not to leave his device behind, the man noted with an internal sigh. He picked up the controllers for the black box —the television, he reminded himself with a grimace. Appalling name. Nothing good ever came of blending Latin and Greek— and fumbled with them for a moment before identifying the correct sequence of buttons to turn it on and locate a channel broadcasting the local news. His hand clenched on the controller as anxiety twisted and rose in his gut, gripping his throat tightly for long minutes before slowly, gradually relaxing as the broadcast revealed that nothing out of the ordinary had occurred that day —if one discounted the seagull that had taken over the pet food aisle of a supermarket and forced its closure, that is. The man discounted it.  

Further exploration revealed that the television was able to receive precisely five and a half channels. One was showing the news, another a comedy programme he had never found amusing, the third a film he and the lad had watched some months ago. The fourth and fifth channels featured the baffling athletic ritual known as “football,” and the half appeared, from the audio, to contain some rather explicit sexual activity, though the blurred and flickering images failed either to confirm or deny. The man observed this in amusement for a moment or two before recalling that the boy would be finished with his ablutions soon, and turned the television off. This realm’s peculiar attitude to sex was something he doubted he’d ever grow accustomed to. 

Pulling a thick book from his satchel, he lay back against the pillows and read until the boy reappeared, clad in his pajamas and still clutching his device. He crawled into his bed and fiddled with the device for a few seconds before placing it on the table next to his head. “I’ve set the alarm for seven,” he said. 

The man knew he would awaken naturally well before that hour, but he nodded. “That will give us plenty of time,” he replied. “Get some sleep now, lad.” 

“Mmmmm,” said the boy, his eyelids already drooping. The man watched him until he was fully asleep and snoring softly in a way that sent another brief stab of agony through the man’s heart. The boy’s mother made that exact noise when she slept. 

Once assured the lad was asleep, the man retreated to the bathing room, drawn by the large, surprisingly ornate bathtub, wrought in iron with clawed feet and gracefully curved copper piping. He fiddled with the taps, pleased when hot water gushed forth at a generous rate. As the tub filled the man removed both his clothes and the heavy leather brace strapped to his left arm. He was going to have to wear the prosthesis for their arrival the next day so he may as well give the old stump a good clean, he thought, with the merest trace of his old bitterness. He slid into the faintly steaming water, sighing as its heat eased the ache and strain from his muscles. There were days when he could swear he felt every one of his years, even if he decidedly did not look them. 

Tomorrow, he feared, would likely be one of the hardest days of his life. And for him, that was truly saying something. 

He sighed again, deeper this time, closing his eyes as he leaned his head back against the curve of the tub. He forced his mind to clear, forced away the thoughts of the day he both craved and dreaded, allowed himself to be soothed by the gentle lapping sounds against the sides of the tub as the warmth of the water and the strain of the day lulled him into sleep. 

 

He is in a large, airy room painted in dusty blue with creamy trim. Wide bay windows with generously cushioned seats below them stand open on one wall, the breeze that flows through them bearing the crisp and salty scent of the sea. At the centre of the room is a large bed with a sturdy wrought iron frame and the softest mattress he’s ever known. Curtains billow around the bed and at the windows, light linen ones that match the room’s wooden trim. The sheets are cool and smooth, and she is there upon them. 

“I wasn’t expecting this tonight,” he says, sliding into the bed and taking her in his arms, the heat of her skin a delightful contrast to the sheets. She sighs in contentment and nuzzles her nose into his neck. 

“I wanted to see you before you arrive tomorrow,” she says. “To— to warn you about something. Something I think you need to know beforehand, so you don’t overreact and spoil the plan.” 

“I think I can be trusted to carry out a plan,” he grumbles. 

“Of course you can, but you do have a temper, babe.” 

“Aye,” he agrees. “I do at that. So what is this something?”

“It’s—” she begins, but the words seem to stop in her throat. “I’m— It’s about my— my—” She struggles visibly and he wishes he could help, but he knows he can only be patient. “It’s how I’m— argh, damn it, no, I can’t say it.” She looks distraught for a moment as she tries to work out how to tell him what she needs him to know, without telling him. “Just be prepared for my— my personal circumstances to be not quite what you expected,” she says finally, clearly frustrated with herself.   

He’s not surprised that she was unable to say what she wished to. They have learned that the dreams allow them to discuss anything, so long as they both already know what it is. Conveying new information, however, may be done only obliquely, and with caution. He holds her close, stroking her hair in a way he hopes is reassuring. “I don’t really have any expectations to speak of, love. We’ve tried to prepare for anything, the lad and I. But I’ll keep that in mind.” 

She relaxes and snuggles closer and for a moment he pushes it all away, the worry, the anxiety, the anger, and just relishes this, her, this miraculous thing they share that allows her to be in his arms despite the hundreds of miles that separate them. He wants to stay there forever in the peaceful place they made for themselves alone, wants the monsters and demons and villains that plague them to vanish away and just let them be. Let them have their love and their boy and their life. It’s all he wants. He holds her tightly against him, treasuring the smell of her skin and the feel of her hair, knowing that the next time he sees her will break his heart. 

“I love you,” she murmurs, reading his mind. “Don’t ever forget that.” 

“I won’t." 

“Promise me,” she says fiercely. “Promise me you won’t give up, no matter how hard it gets.” 

He wonders if he should be insulted, but realises that the plea is more for herself than for him. “I promise you, my love,” he says firmly, “I promise I will never give up on you, on us. I couldn’t. I would die first.” 

She nods, then kisses him, her passion tinged with anxiety. “Make love to me,” she demands, and he chuckles. She is beautiful when she’s bossy. He kisses her, open-mouthed and hot, as his hand buries itself in her hair and he drags his handless wrist down the curve of her body, pressing it between her legs, right on the spot that makes her moan. She’s brought him here without the hook, despite how much she loves the cool metal on her skin, and he knows that means she wants it soft and slow and blisteringly intense.

She bucks her hips against his wrist, moaning at the friction of the roughened scars against her clit, and he watches her. Watches her eyes flutter closed and her face flush pink with pleasure. She’s hot and dripping wet against him and he loves it, loves making her fall apart just with this, but tonight he wants to be inside her when she comes. He pulls his wrist away, chuckling at her whimper of protest, and pulls her mouth back to his, kissing her deeply, his tongue dancing with hers in the way he knows makes her wild with need. He could write books on how to pleasure her, give seminars on the subject, and he brings all of his knowledge to bear as he caresses her, his thumb across her nipple, his cock through her folds, his fingers tracing along all her sensitive places until she is gasping and pleading beneath him.

“Please,” she whispers, “Please.” 

She is only submissive like this when she’s feeling insecure, when she needs his strength to comfort her. He files that information away for tomorrow, and sets about making her feel cherished and protected. Carefully he reaches out with his mind and manipulates the dream as she taught him, dimming the room until only the bed is visible, shifting the pillows to create a cocoon around them, focusing her mind on him alone as he nestles between her thighs and thrusts himself into her, smooth and deep and true, perfect as only dreams can be. She throws her head back against the pillows, her hair in chaos behind her, and rocks her hips in time with his thrusts. 

“You feel so damn good,” she moans in his ear. “So perfect inside me.” 

“And you feel perfect around me,” he replies, “Never anything but perfect.” 

He knows, of course he does, that the dream has filed all the rough edges off their lovemaking, the awkward angles, the ruder noises, the concerns about pregnancy and the young sons who like to enter rooms without knocking, yet he still means it, as he knows she does. Whether it takes place in dreams or reality, nothing has ever been as perfect as them joined like this in the physical expression of their love. Nothing else could even come close. 

She wraps her arms and legs tightly around him and he buries his face in her hair, quickening the pace, angling his hips to hit her just right every time. Her breath begins to hitch and her fingernails dig into his back, and soon she is coming apart around his cock, squeezing it, milking his release from him. He moans into her neck as he comes, her name on a gasping breath as he rides it out as long as he can before collapsing onto the bed and pulling her close, holding her as their breathing slows and evens. They lie entwined for as long as they can, foreheads touching, gazing into each other’s eyes, clinging to the precious moments of their time together as it nears its end. 

“I love you,” they say in unison and the man woke abruptly in the ornate bathtub, shivering, the water around him cold and milky with his semen.

Better than on the bedsheets, I suppose, he thought wryly, pulling the plug to let water and seed drain away. As efficiently as possible he used the attached shower hose to rinse himself off, lathering his skin and hair with the contents of the small bottles beside the tub, then drying quickly and preparing for bed. 

It was a long time before he slept again.   

 

The morning dawned grim and grey to match his mood. Clouds lowered over the treetops, heavy as the fatigue that weighed upon his shoulders, a testament to his restless night. The boy at least seemed rested, his eyes bright and alert as he scoffed his breakfast in the grimy diner attached to the motel. The man ate at a more measured pace, dutifully fuelling his body though he had no real appetite. 

“You saw her last night, didn’t you?” inquired the boy. “I can tell.” 

“Aye,” the man replied, staring moodily into his coffee cup. 

“What did she say?” the boy asked, somewhat hesitantly. The man suspected that this clever lad had divined something of the nature of their dreams, if thankfully none of the details, and was ever careful not to ask anything too personal despite how he clearly burned with curiosity. 

“She couldn’t say much,” the man replied. “Though she hinted at some… unpleasantness regarding her personal circumstances.” 

“What do you think that means?” asked the boy around a mouthful of eggs and pancakes.

“Chew your food first, lad. I don’t know what it means.” He had his suspicions, but wasn’t prepared to share them with the boy. “Have you any thoughts?”

The boy swallowed hugely and gulped his orange juice before answering. “Maybe she has a weird job or something. Like maybe she’s— I dunno, a garbage man or a dog catcher.” 

The man smiled at that despite his mood, entertained as always by the boy’s expansive imagination. “Perhaps you’re onto something,” he played along. “What other jobs might she do?”

The boy grinned widely and launched into an increasingly absurd litany of potential employments that soon had the man laughing despite himself. He felt lighter as he paid their bill and walked back to the truck with his hand on the boy’s shoulder. Not for the first time he felt grateful for the lad’s presence, for his cheerfully upbeat nature and ceaseless optimism. 

As they turned onto the road the boy attached his device to the truck’s dash and after a short squabble they settled on a playlist to carry them through the rest of their journey. 

“Classic rock,” sighed the boy in the tone of one who suffers greatly. “Of course. Typical for someone as old as you.” 

“Oi, lad, less of the ‘old’, if you please, I’m only thirty-four,” said the man with a grin. “It says so on my driver’s license.” 

The boy snorted a laugh. 

“And what’s more, I’ve heard you singing along to this song on more than one occasion,” retorted the man. 

“I have not!” The boy was indignant. 

“I may not be your mother, lad, but even I can spot a lie that blatant,” the man teased. “Why, just last week in the shower-bath—” 

“It’s just shower, and that’s so not true…” 

The forest they drove through grew denser and darker as they progressed, its shadows taking on an ominous aspect as mist began to rise from the ground, swirling around the moss-hung trees and muffling the usual woodland sounds. Within the truck the playful bickering between man and boy soon devolved into a who-can-sing-the-wrong-words-loudest contest, handily distracting them from the gloom of their surroundings, and by the time they reached the outskirts of their destination they were bellowing about the dawning of the age of asparagus at the very top of their lungs, almost loudly enough to drown out their anxiety over what lay in wait for them. 

 

Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     ~Oscar Wilde

Chapter Text

They crossed the town line at just after ten thirty that morning. The sign was just as they remembered it, rising up on their right from the unfamiliarly dense forest. They held their breaths as it passed, waiting for an explosion, a crash, a flash of light. A barrier keeping them out. But there was nothing, and they exhaled in unison, exchanging bright grins, relaxing as they cruised on through the forest. That forest was… troubling, thought the man, taking proper notice of it for the first time only once they had crossed the line. It looked otherworldly, in a very exact sense of that word. This forest did not belong to this realm, to this land where magic was so scarce it was relegated to tales of fantasy. It sent a prickle crawling up the back of the man’s neck, a prickle with which he was all too familiar. That prickle had saved his life on many an occasion, and it did not come upon him without good reason. He smiled at the boy, not wishing to alarm him, and made a mental note to explore the forest as soon as he could. 

He wondered why she hadn’t mentioned it. Perhaps she thought it unimportant. Or more worryingly, perhaps she hadn’t noticed. 

Soon the buildings of the town began to appear around them, both familiar and different, as is the way of things we know well but haven’t seen in a long while. More than two years had passed since they had stepped foot in this place, and while the man had not spent sufficient time there to have any real grasp of what may have changed or remained the same, the boy had called it home for the first eleven years of his life. 

“Anything stand out to you, lad?” asked the man.

“No…” the boy sounded uncertain. “It looks like I remember, but also… not? Like it’s right, but something’s off.” 

“That’s probably to be expected, if our theories are correct,” said the man. 

“Yeah…” 

“Do you see anything you think is cause for concern?” 

“Not yet.” 

They drove slowly along the main street. More slowly than necessary, perhaps, but the man was very conscious of the posted speed limit. The last thing he needed was to attract the attention of law enforcement by speeding, he thought. He would surely attract quite enough of it just by existing in this place. He had learnt a great deal over the past year about remaining inconspicuous, not an easy lesson for a man for whom reputation and renown had once been everything, but he knew that even with his newfound knack of blending in he would not be able to help standing out in a place like this. It was too small, too infrequently visited, and once the upright hero-types took notice of him they would naturally be suspicious. They always were. There was just something about him that triggered the ire of the morally sound.

He had no idea why that might be. 

Their navigational device directed them off the main thoroughfare and towards the water, down a quiet street to a building whose sturdy, square design and tall windows loudly proclaimed its industrual origins. Constructed of pale brown brick with a double row of darker bricks delineating each of its three storeys and with oddly elaborate decoration along its roof and cornices, the building was both entirely typical of what the man now knew was the industrial aesthetic of the 1930s, and also markedly different. 

Ordinary yet not, he thought. Like everything in this town. 

“Wow!” cried the boy, leaping from the truck and running to the door, his concerns forgotten as he was swept up in enthusiasm. “This is great! This’ll be perfect, don’t you think? Dad?”

“Aye, lad, it will certainly suffice,” the man agreed. Perhaps a bit too close to the docks for his personal taste, he thought with a very familiar pang, but the space was bright and the building had character, and he was already picturing what he wished to do with it. The ground floor for the shop, the one above for storage and an office. The top one would serve as their residence. He could picture it all in his mind’s eye, and despite himself he began to feel excited. It was a bloody relief to finally be doing something, after months of plotting. “Come, help me unload.” 

Together they detatched the tarpaulin that had been secured over the bed of the truck, revealing stacks of cardboard boxes and planks of wood wrapped in bubbled plastic. These they began to transfer into the main room of the building, stacking the boxes in a corner then assembling the planks into tall, wide bookshelves which they arranged artfully throughout the room. 

“We’ll need more,” said the man, surveying the results of their efforts with satisfaction. He tapped on his own small communication device —set to buzz and not to beep— making notes of what they had done and what they would need. “But this is a solid beginning. Would you mind getting on the book and placing an order for more shelving, and also ask them to deliver that inventory we have on hold?”

The boy nodded eagerly, too excited even to correct his terminology (“Why can’t you just say laptop? I know you know that’s what it’s called.” “It looks like a book, it opens like a book. It even says ‘Book’ right there upon the front, love,” “That’s the brand name, babe,” “Which only serves to emphasize how it is effectively an electronic book.”), and pulled a square, flat item from the leather satchel, placing it on a table before him and flipping it open. He sat down and began to tap energetically upon it, faster than the man could ever hope to do, even with all his practice. There were some things that just worked better when you had two hands. 

“Can we get that sofa too? The leather one? It would look great over there under that window, and people like to have a place to sit.” 

“Aye, go on then, lad. I believe you’re right.”

The boy tapped for a few moments longer, then shut the book with a satisfied click. “All done,” he said. “It should be here the day after tomorrow.” 

“Excellent.” The man looked around for further tasks, but the appeared to have come to a natural stopping point. 

“What time is it?” asked the boy. “I’m starving.”

“Aye, me too.” The man consulted his device. “It’s half past one. Let’s get a bit settled in upstairs then we’ll go rustle up some sustenance.”

They hauled the suitcase up the winding stairs along with several of the boxes. The third floor was one large, open space, airy and full of light from the wide windows. Kitchen units lined the wall on one side, and another corner had been walled off to form a toilet and bathing area. Along the wall opposite the door were two beds, each with a table alongside it and a chest of drawers. The beds were separated by a freestanding wooden divider, and each had a thick, heavy curtain strung between that divider and the wall, that if drawn would separate the sleeping space from the main living area and afford some privacy. Not a great deal of privacy, to be sure, but after weeks of living in each other’s pockets, they were both relieved to have at least some. At the centre of the room sat a generous sofa and a cabinet upon which sat a large, flat television. The floor was old, scarred wood, with colourful rugs scattered upon it, and the walls were the same bare brick of the building’s exterior.

“Cool,” said the boy. “I want that bed.” 

The man allowed him to drag the suitcase over to the bed of his choice. “Put your clothes away neatly,” he said firmly. “We can leave the boxes until later.” 

“Yes, Dad,” sighed the boy, opening the suitcase and beginning to pull clothing from inside it, tossing it onto the bed. The man retrieved his own clothing from the suitcase and took it over to the other sleeping space, arranging the trousers and underthings neatly in the chest of drawers and hanging the shirts on the metal bar attached to the wooden divider, which had clearly been installed for that purpose, and already had empty hangers waiting. 

“Hang up your shirts, lad,” he called, conscious of the boy’s propensity for shoving everything at once into the same drawer. “And use a separate drawer for your undergarments.”  

“I am, jeez,” came the grumbling response. 

A few moments later the man went to inspect the boy’s efforts, and finding them satisfactory clapped a hand on his shoulder. 

 “What do you say to some lunch, then, eh?”

The boy looked suddenly apprehensive as he grasped the full import of that question, but he nodded. “Might as well,” he said. 

They opted to walk, though the day was still damp and grey, to give themselves time to prepare and brace against what was coming. All too soon they arrived. The diner was achingly familiar to both, just as they remembered yet with the same air of not quite that pervaded the very air of this place. They walked slowly through the outdoor seating area then paused for a moment, just outside the door, letting the memories wash over them. 

“Ready, lad?” asked the man in a hearty voice. 

“Yeah.” The boy squared his shoulders. “Let’s go.” 

The bell jangled as they opened the door and every eye in the place turned upon them. The man nodded to the room at large, placing a steadying hand on the boy’s shoulder as the tense moment stretched on. Finally the eyes began to turn away, and they relaxed. 

The place was packed, every booth and table occupied, so they headed for the stools at the counter. The man sat down but the boy hesitated. 

“I— think I’ll go to the bathroom first,” he said. 

The man sensed he needed a moment alone, and nodded. “Shall I order for you?”

“Yeah, I’ll have a grilled ch—” he broke off. “A burger,” he amended. “I’ll have a burger. And fries.” 

The man nodded his understanding and a minute or two later placed their order with the stern-faced, grey-haired woman behind the counter. She recorded it on a small notepad, then looked up and indicated something behind him with a nod of her head. “Booth’s just opened up back there, if you’d like it.” 

“Aye, thanks.” 

He stood, turning to move towards the offered booth when a female figure emerged suddenly from the rear door, colliding forcefully with him. His breath stalled in his throat as her familiar scent assailed him and her hair flew up to brush his face in a silky caress. Automatically he reached out and caught her in a steadying grip, fighting with every fiber of his being against the urge to pull her tightly into a fierce embrace and just hold her, just breathe her in, just feel the comfort of her body against his, solid and whole and real

“Whoa, I’m sorry,” she laughed, stepping back and tucking her hair behind her ear. “Wasn’t watching where I was going, there.” She looked up at him and the laughter faded from her face as their eyes met. He watched as her eyebrows snapped together and suspicion clouded her expression. “Who are you?” she asked, her voice cool and with no recognition whatsoever in her eyes. 

The man had tried to prepare himself for this, they both had, but it still shattered his heart. Those eyes he’d last seen smiling into his, hazy and replete and brimming with love, were now sharp and assessing as they raked over him. 

He summoned a smile from somewhere deep within, the polite, innocuous one he’d practiced meticulously in front of the mirror in New York until it was flawless, displaying no touch of warmth or humour, not a hint of provocation or innuendo. Not a hint of who he really was. “Killian Jones,” he replied, relieved that his voice was calm and steady. He held out his hand, ignoring the memories that engulfed him of the first time he’d introduced himself to her, spitting his name at her feet, all challenge and defiance, without the proffered handshake in that instance as his had been unfortunately tied to a tree. He’d wanted her even then, he recalled; even consumed with the need to avenge his lost love he’d been impressed by her toughness, intrigued by her defenses. Enticed by her beauty. 

She hesitated a moment before placing her hand in his, giving it one quick shake then pulling back abruptly, forcefully, her scowl deepening. He glanced down in time to see her clench her fist against her thigh, her knuckles white. Killian knew her well enough to read the meaning behind the gesture and the excessive reaction to a simple handshake, and he felt a faint flutter of relief. She still felt the spark between them, even in her current state. There was hope. 

“I’m Emma Swan,” she said tightly. “Sheriff of Storybrooke.” 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sheriff.” He kept his voice neutral, disinterested, the voice of a perfectly innocent, ordinary citizen going about his business.

“Hmmm. And what are you doing in my town, Killian Jones?”

“Moving to it, Sheriff Swan. I’ve purchased the old cannery on the harbour road. Planning to turn it into a bookshop.”

“A bookshop?” she repeated, unconsciously attempting to mimic his accent. “In Storybrooke.” 

“Indeed.” 

‘Hmmm,” she said again. 

“You think the endeavour unwise?” he queried. “Do Storybrooke residents not read?” He should let it go, he knew. It was too early to engage with her like this, but he had never been able to resist challenging her, and he didn’t want her to leave.

“Well, yeah, of course we read, it’s just we have the library.” She had her hands stuffed into the back pockets of her jeans, but her body was unconsciously angled towards him. He took a risk and stepped closer. 

“Aye, and a fine one it is too,” he replied, “but my bookshop will specialise in rare volumes, ones not easily found in even the most comprehensive public libraries.” 

“And you think we’ll need these rare volumes?” She leaned even closer, close enough for him to count the dark lashes that framed her green eyes. 

“I have it on excellent authority that you will find them most useful.” His voice was a low rumble, every muscle in his body rigid with the effort of holding himself back, of not threading his fingers through that damned spun-gold hair and pulling her mouth to his, kissing her as he hadn’t done in more than a year. The air between them grew thick with tension and Killian tried frantically to think of something to say to break it, before he snapped and did something unforgivable. 

“Dad?” He released the breath he’d been holding and turned to see the boy standing in the rear doorway, eyes fixed on Emma Swan, his young face full of the same yearning sadness that Killian felt in his own heart. 

Emma followed his gaze. “Who’s this?” she asked, looking back at Killian and missing the boy’s pained wince at her casual question. 

“My son. Henry,” he replied. “Come over, lad, and meet the sheriff, Emma Swan.” 

“Henry Jones, eh?” said, with a small smile. “Not Junior?”

“No,” replied Henry, his own smile tentative but quivering with hope. “Just Henry Jones. My dad hadn’t seen those movies when he named me.” 

“Does he at least call you Indy?” Emma was smiling now, and her eyes had warmed. 

“No, and he won’t let me wear the costume either, not even at Halloween,” said Henry indignantly. This was true. Killian may have been new to this realm and to parenting, but he was a man equipped with abundant common sense and one not easily manipulated, even by wide-eyed pleading.  

“I offered to buy you the ridiculous hat, and I’m sure the sheriff would agree that a bullwhip is not a wise accessory for a thirteen year old,” protested Killian. 

“I have to back up your dad here, kid,” laughed Emma. 

“That’s what everyone says,” grumbled Henry, just as the waitress —Ruby, he seemed to recall— delivered their food to the booth they’d yet to sit in. 

“I believe our meal has arrived. Henry, why don’t you get started, I’d like just another quick word with the sheriff.” 

“Sure, Dad. Nice to meet you, Sheriff Swan.” For a second Killian thought Henry would throw his arms around Emma, but the boy resisted, instead holding out his hand. Emma shook it solemnly. “Nice to meet you too, Indy, I mean Henry,” she said, and the boy beamed.  

“Cute kid,” remarked Emma, as Henry slid into the booth and attacked his burger. 

“Aye.” 

“How dumb did you feel when you realised you’d accidentally named him after a movie character?”

“It couldn’t be helped,” said Killian. “He’s named for his grandfather. On his mother’s side.” Another truth, if not precisely the truth it appeared to be.

“And his mother is…?” She attempted to sound casual, but Emma had never been great at subtlety. 

“Gone,” he replied gruffly. “For some time now.” 

She looked repentant. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t pry.” 

“It’s not a secret, and if we’re to live here you’ll naturally want to know about us. We hope to become active and involved members of your community, if you’ll permit it.” He smiled his bland smile again. “It will take a week or so to get the shop set up, but once we’re open I hope you’ll come by and take a look. I have a knack for helping people find books they’ll enjoy reading.” 

“That sounds nice, actually. The old cannery, you said?” 

“That’s right.” 

“I’ll remember that.” She smiled at him, the familiar, warm smile he loved so much, and for a moment his mask slipped and he knew that every one of his feelings were laid bare on his face. Emma recoiled, her walls slamming back into place with an almost audible thud. “But now I think you’d better eat your lunch before it gets cold,” she said, as he silently cursed his weakness. He’d never had any restraint around her.

“Aye—” he bit back the ‘love’ with effort. “Nice meeting you, Sheriff.” 

“And you.” 

He watched her until she disappeared through the front door, then slid into the booth across from Henry. 

“She seemed all right,” Henry said. His mouth was full of burger, but Killian felt too emotionally drained to chastise him. “Like herself, even though she doesn’t know us. Maybe this won’t be so bad.” 

Killian couldn’t agree. Emma may have retained her sense of humour and her love of Indiana Jones, but she wasn’t herself. She didn’t know them, and she didn’t love them, and beyond that there was just something off about her. It was to be expected, and he had expected it, but that didn’t make it hurt less. 

“Maybe not,” he said, to appease the lad, and Henry grinned. 

Despite his turmoil he managed to eat his lunch. He was hungry after the morning’s labour, and breakfast seemed ages ago. After they finished he allowed Henry to order a milkshake, even taking a few sips himself, amusing the lad with his exaggerated grimace at the excessive sweetness of the concoction, and they left the diner laughing, feeling relatively cheerful, all things considered. The worst was over, he thought. He’d seen her, and she was fine. As fine as she could be, given the circumstances. Their plan was underway and soon she’d be herself again. He merely needed to be patient, and he was a very patient man.

Henry skipped on ahead and Killian, distracted by the boy, turned out of the diner’s outdoor gate only to collide once more with slender limbs and silky hair. 

Really? he wanted to snarl. Again? 

The fates had always enjoyed mocking him, but this seemed excessive. 

“We’ve got to stop running into each other like this,” said Emma, and he managed a smile at the mild joke. 

“Indeed—” he began, when his attention was caught by the tall, slender man behind her. A very familiar tall, slender man. One who inspired nearly as much hatred in Killian as Rumplestiltskin himself. His face wanted to twist into a feral snarl, his hand wanted to ball into a fist. He wished fiercely for his hook, imagined sinking it into the man’s neck and ripping out his throat, even as he forced his features to remain calm and his body relaxed.

“Oh, babe,” Emma was saying, and Killian had a brief and terrible moment of confusion, thinking she was speaking to him. But her eyes were on the monster behind her and the words she spoke ripped Killian open more viciously than his hook ever could. “This is Killian Jones, he just moved here,” she said. “Killian, this is my husband, Walsh.” 

Chapter Text

Killian Jones, over the course of his long, long life, had experienced many things he wished he could forget. At times he felt steeped in bloodshed, in the violence and cruelty that had defined him for centuries, both as perpetrator and victim. He had been inches from death more times than he could count, had been stabbed and shot and beaten, and wielded as a weapon by those even more villainous than he. Yet the memory that haunted his dreams more than any other was not of battles or murder or treachery, it was of the icy, claw-like hand of Rumplestiltskin as it plunged into his chest and gripped his heart, threatening to tear out what he had no right to touch. There were still nights when he jerked awake in a cold sweat, breaking free from dreams in which the crocodile had finished the job, had ripped his heart from his chest and crushed the life from it. 

Watching Emma introduce Walsh as her husband, Killian sincerely wished he had. All the torments he had suffered at that demon’s hands, or those of Pan, or Cora, or any number of others over the long tread of the centuries, not one of them matched this, the sensation of his still-beating heart torn from him not by his most hated enemy but by the woman he loved. 

It’s the curse, he reminded himself, forcing the reminder through the red haze of hatred and fury swimming before his eyes. Only the curse. It’s not real. 

Which did nothing to alter the hideous reality of Emma standing before him, smiling into the eyes of the creature responsible for their current miserable circumstances. The hideous reality that he had no power to stop her, to change this. Not here. Not yet. 

And so Killian did what he had always done when he found himself overpowered, outmatched, backed into an impossible corner. He survived. He forced down his pain, buried it as deep as it would go and prepared himself for action. 

It was a measure of how far he had already travelled down the path away from villainy that this action did not take the form of ripping Walsh apart, and damn the consequences. Such impulses, as temporarily satisfying as they may be, had never ended well for him in the past. The bigger picture, he reminded himself. You have a plan. Stick to the bloody plan. 

Not to mention that this realm tended to frown on violent homicide. Another thing that had taken some getting used to.

So he arranged his face into a polite smile, grateful for the hours of practice that helped it slide naturally into place, nodded at this man who had stolen so much from him, shook hands and took his leave. The moment his back was turned to them the mask fell from his face, replaced by a fearsome determination. “Henry!” he called.

The boy turned, his cheerful smile fading to nothing as he took in Killian’s thunderous expression and the straining tension in his posture. 

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s your mother,” Killian snarled, no longer able to keep the rage from his voice. “She’s married to Walsh.”

“What?” Henry stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk and Killian hustled him along with a hand on his shoulder. “But how?”

“It’s the curse, of course. Someone has a bloody vicious sense of humour.”

“Does he know? I mean, does he have his memories?”

“I’m not sure. No, lad, don’t look!” Henry turned his head back, looking chastened. Killian put his arm around the boy’s shoulders, partly in comfort, partly to ensure he walked quickly. “We mustn’t attract attention,” he said. “What we need is to get back to the shop and reconnoiter. Marshal our resources and make a plan. Come, hurry now.” 

Arriving back at their new residence they collapsed on the sofa and sat in silence, lost in thought as the minutes ticked by. Finally Henry spoke. 

“What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know,” replied Killian, feeling frustrated and useless. “I don’t know that there’s anything we really can do, other than stick to the plan. Though it’ll be a damn sight more difficult now to pull it off.”

Henry lapsed into silence again, but his face wore the expression it got when he was thinking hard. “We need to find out how much she thinks she loves him,” he declared finally. “I think that might tell us how strong the curse is.” 

“What do you mean, lad?”

“Well, I’m spitballing a bit here, but I think we might be able to gauge the strength of the curse based on how strong the cursed relationships are.”

Killian considered that, and nodded. “All right, I’m following so far, tell me more.” 

“Okay, so like under the first curse, my granddad was married to Kathryn, but he didn’t really love her. He thought he had memories of loving her, but his real feelings were for my grandma.”

“Yes, but wasn’t that because David was in a coma and wasn’t given his cursed memories until he awoke and Regina was able to— to download them?” Killian struggled to remember what Emma had told him of the circumstances under the first curse. “So they would naturally be weaker than memories that had been created by the curse, when it began?”

“Maybe, but I think it’s because Mom was already in Storybrooke, already weakening the curse. It wasn’t just my grandparents, everything started to change when she got here. I think if she isn’t certain of her cursed feelings for Walsh then it may be a sign that this curse is weakening. We need to know that. We need to… to test the limits of her cursed feelings. To test them against her real feelings.” He gave Killian a sidelong glance, reluctant to meet his eyes. “If you see what I mean.”

“Aye. You’re saying that what I have to do is seduce a married woman.”

“Er— yeah. I guess.”

“Well, it’s not as though I’ve never done that before.” Killian sighed and ran his hand over his face and through his hair, forgetting for a moment who he was speaking with. “Though I confess I feel rather less enthusiasm for the venture than I once did. Not to mention that no version of Emma, cursed or not, is going to be terribly receptive to the idea of adultery.” 

Henry snorted a small laugh, and Killian looked at him sharply, feeling a twinge of guilt. He should definitely not be speaking so frankly of such things in front of the boy. Henry was so precocious that Killian sometimes forgot he was only thirteen. “What, lad?”

“It’s just ironic.” Henry shrugged. “You and Mom committing adultery with each other.” 

‘Indeed, though I fail to see any humour in the situation.” 

“Gallows humour, isn’t that what they call it?” 

“Ah, but when you have actually stood on a gallows with the noose around your neck, even that humour doesn’t inspire much of a laugh.” 

“Wait, you were hung?” Henry’s eyes widened in fascination. 

“Hanged, lad, and aye very nearly.” 

“Wow, okay you have got to tell me that story!”

Killian found himself smiling, cheered as he always was by Henry’s bright enthusiasm. Although he greatly enjoyed entertaining the boy with tales from his pirating days, heavily sanitised of course, the case of his near hanging was one that would not easily be scrubbed up for teenage consumption. “Perhaps later,” he said vaguely. “For now I believe we have established our plan for the moment, distasteful as it may be, and there is still rather a lot of work to be getting on with in the shop.”

“I was hoping you’d forgotten about that,” grumbled Henry. 

“No such luck, my boy.” Killian clapped him on the shoulder, forcing cheer he did not feel into his voice. “Look lively, now! We have bookshelves to arrange!” 

That evening Killian took his time falling asleep, both because his mind was too agitiated for easy slumber and because he knew Emma would be waiting for him in the dream, and he feared what he might do when he saw her. Fury still simmered like a noxious potion in his gut, and anger management had never been his forte. 

He indulged in a long shower then spent nearly two hours attempting to read, forcing his attention to remain on the pages though the words danced before his eyes and refused to be absorbed by his brain. Gradually, despite his determined efforts, his body relaxed and his eyes drifted shut and he is in their bedroom, there among the familiar beloved surroundings as though nothing has changed, as though he could stand here assailed by memories of all the times they have made love in that bed and not feel the wrenching pain of all that has been taken from him. Emma is perched on the edge of the bed, waiting, looking apprehensive. With a snarl and a wave of his hand, Killian tears them away, brings them to the living area of his new abode, an acceptably neutral venue although its edges and corners are indistinct, his memory of the place too inexact to replicate it precisely. They are firmly clothed, clad in their typical styles. They need to talk, and he does not wish to attempt conversation whilst distracted by her naked form.   

She sits beside him on the couch and says nothing, waiting for him to speak. 

“How?” he says after a long silence, his voice an agonised croak. “How can it be him? How can he be here? I thought we’d dealt with him!”

“He did say he wasn’t easy to get rid of.” 

“Emma, you pushed him off the bloody roof! He turned to dust!” 

“Maybe that doesn’t destroy them, it didn’t in the dream.” 

“Flying bloody monkeys, of all the demonic things! And now you’re married to one!”

“Curse married!” she cries, her careful composure finally breaking. “It’s not real, Killian, you know it isn’t!”

“It’s real enough when you’re living with the bastard,” he snarls, “when you believe he’s your husband.” 

“Babe, I’m—” 

He winces as the endearment he secretly adores pierces his heart. “Don’t call me that!” His voice breaks. “That’s what you called him.”

She slides closer to him, reaches for his hand. He lets her take it, though her touch burns him. “Killian, my love, my soulmate, the only man in my heart,” she says softly. “I’m so sorry, but I tried to tell you. You had to have suspected this.” 

“Aye,” he says bitterly, “I suspected you may be— involved with someone under the curse, but I thought it would be Baelfire! He at least loved you once. He at least is a man. The idea of that heartless monster in your bed, touching you, touching my—”

“Shhhh,” she soothes. “Don’t think about it.” 

“How the bloody hell can you possibly expect me not to think about it!”

“I just don’t want you to dwell on it!” she says, irritation creeping into her tone, her own anger and frustration and guilt seeping through. “You know how you get when you brood. It just makes your darkness harder to fight, and I need you to stay in the light, Killian. For me and for Henry, and for yourself. We have to stick together, fight this together. But we can’t fight anything if you hold on to anger. Believe me when I say I hate this situation as much as you do— more, even, as I’m the one who actually has to live it— but we can’t stop it unless we stay strong, and stay together.”

He knows she is right, and though it does nothing to lessen his fury he is able to push it down again, and to take her in his arms. She sighs in relief, snuggling close. “I’m sorry, Emma,” he whispers. “I promised not to falter, and at the first challenge here I am, faltering.”

“It’s not faltering, you have a right to be angry. I’m freaking furious. I hate being stuck in this and I hate how much it’s hurting you.” 

They sit wrapped around each other for a long time as Killian debates whether to ask the question he needs an answer to, not wanting to disturb their pleasant moment but knowing he has to ask. He swallows hard, loathing the words as he forces them from his throat. “Do you love him?”

She buries her face deeper into his neck and he can feel tears leaking from her eyes. “I— I think so. I’m so sorry.” 

Even though he knows they are speaking of her cursed self, even though he knows none of this is her fault, he can’t stop the fury rising again, this time woven through with ugly streaks of jealousy. 

He clenches his fist, sending the dream whirling around them and they are back in their bedroom, naked, and she is handcuffed to the wrought iron headboard. She gives a startled gasp, pulls experimentally on the restraints then looks up at where he stands next to he bed. He dares her with his eyes to make something of it, knowing that she could whisk the shackles away as easily as breathing, knowing also that she won’t. She nods, and he knows she understands that he needs this, needs to work out some of his frustration and fury on her body. 

He has the hook now, sharp and gleaming in the soft light, and she bites her lip as he brandishes it. She knows he won’t hurt her, but the fact that the potential for pain is there excites her. Captain Hook excites her, and though Killian is sometimes not sure how he feels about that he is grateful that she loves all of him, even the ugly parts. 

He drags the hook up the inside of her thigh and over her mound, tickling the golden curls atop it, watching with dark amusement as she holds her breath and tries not to writhe. She wants the hook on her clit, he knows, he knows exactly how she likes to be touched with it, but tonight he is not in the mood to give her what she wants right away. He wants to torture her a bit first, wants her breathless and helpless, begging for what only he can give. 

He wants reassurance that he is the only man she loves. He knows he is, but tonight he needs to feel it.

He teases her with the hook through her curls a few moments more, applying pressure that has her squirming but not slipping it into her folds. Instead he traces patterns up her belly, around her navel then along the underside of her breast, dragging the sharp tip across her flesh just hard enough for her to feel it, not even leaving the faintest mark behind. Hundreds of years of practice have given him a finesse with this appendage, a delicacy of touch that seems incongruous to the heft and intent of the hook. She is whimpering now, though he doubts she is aware of doing so, her eyes shut tight and her hands gripping and releasing the headboard she is chained to. He brings the hook up to her nipple, circling it with the curved edge before pressing the tip into the centre of the hardened bud. She gasps, and the chain of the handcuffs clangs against the headboard as she struggles against her bonds. He applies pressure that falls just short of pain, and through the haze of her mindless arousal she forces out a single word. 

“More.” 

“What’s that, darling?” he inquires, as though he hasn’t heard her. “Do you wish me to stop?”

“No! More. H-harder.” 

His brow furrows slightly. Any harder and he will definitely hurt her, but he complies, increasing the pressure and tilting the tip until it sinks into her skin, not enough to draw blood but barely shy of it. She makes a low, keening noise he’s never heard from her before, part pleasure but part a twisted sort of yearning that springs from the same dark impulses that drove him to restrain her. She is doing penance, he realises, assuaging her guilt over hurting him by bringing pain upon herself.

Part of him wants to let her do it. Instead he pulls his hook away. 

“No—” she whines.

“Swan.” 

“Killian, please.” 

“You needn’t do this, love.”

“Yes I do, I need it—“

“Darling—” 

“Damn it, Hook! I need you to fuck me and not be gentle about it, and you know you need that too!” 

He hesitates. She is right, he is simmering with violence that needs an outlet, but he doesn’t truly wish to hurt her. A bit of teasing with the tip of his hook is one thing, actual punitive pain quite another. Killian is a broad-minded man but true pain has never turned him on. He’s known far too much of it for that. If she is determined to make amends to him —though there are none owed— she can do it simply by letting him have his way with her, putting herself at his mercy and letting him fuck her as he pleases. 

“Very well,” he says, “But we do this my way.” 

She nods eagerly and he returns the hook to her nipple, stroking its curve over the small pinprick of a bruise that has formed there, at the same time biting hard on the other breast, sucking another bruise into her skin. She thrashes beneath him, on-edge and desperate, and he chuckles against her flesh. This is the kind of pain he prefers to give her. She won’t be coming for some considerable time. 

He sucks a line of bruises along her collarbone and the curve of her neck as his hand slips slowly down her body, coming to rest between her legs. He presses the heel of it against her, rocking it gently, stimulating her clit without direct touch. Her heels dig into the mattress as she lets her legs fall apart, wordlessly begging him to touch her properly, but he ignores her plea. His cock is rock hard and aching, his hand already drenched with her arousal, but he pays them no mind, instead licking a trail up her neck, soothing the marks he’s left there, making her shiver. 

“Damn you,” she whispers, but there is no heat behind the curse. “Why can’t you just fuck me?”

“All in good time, my love.” This is torture, after all, and he is a very patient man. 

He reaches out with his mind and manipulates the dream, and shackles appear on her ankles to match the ones on her wrists, spreading her legs wide. He kisses down her belly and over her mound, nuzzling his nose into the wet curls. She is intensely aroused and she smells amazing, musky and sweet, his favourite smell in the world. He wants to bury his face in her cunt and lick it clean. Soon, he promises himself. Very soon.  

He kisses lightly over the damp hair, humming as he gets a taste of her, the vibrations making her buck her hips, her scream of frustration very nearly drowned out by the clang of the shackles against the bedframe. He waits. She is better at managing the dreams than he is, she could put a stop to this at any time, could reverse their places and shackle him to the bed. She’s done it before. But the dream remains unchanged, and he feels a rush of love for her. She understands. No one has ever understood him as she does. 

Slowly he parts her glistening flesh with his tongue and licks patterns through it with just the tip, still teasing, allowing neither of them what they truly want. She is moaning and twisting, straining to bring him closer to where she wants him, her range of movement limited by the shackles on her ankles. He licks deeper, caressing her swollen flesh with the flat of his tongue, dancing around her clit until she screams at him, damns him, and finally begs him in a broken voice to let her come.

This is what he has been waiting for. He drops a kiss onto her curls and sits up, taking just a moment to position himself before plunging his cock deep inside her. She’s so wet she squelches, and despite the tightwire tension in their bodies they both snigger at the sound. Normally the dream smoothes over such things but tonight they are both longing for what feels real. He removes the restraints as he begins to move inside her, and she wraps her arms and legs around him, blanketing him with her love and nourishing him with her strength. He thrusts hard and relentlessly, looping his hook through the iron sworls of the headboard, and she clings to him, letting him ride her, fuck her deep into the mattress. This is what they have both been craving, and it’s not long before they come, crying out in unison as pleasure engulfs them. 

They cling to each other in the aftermath. The dream never lasts long after they finish, and none of their attempts to prolong it have yet been successful. Her arms are tightly wound around his neck and she is crying again. 

“I don’t want to let you go,” she sobs. “I don’t want you to be a stranger the next time I see you.” 

His heart breaks for what feels like the millionth time, and he wonders at the resilience of the organ, how it hasn’t crumbled into dust ages ago. “I know, my love,” he says. “It hurts more than I thought it would. But we will get through this, somehow, you and I. Together.”      

She nods, but her tears are still flowing. He brushes them away with his thumb and smiles reassuringly even through his own agony, groping for the words she needs to hear. “I’ve not believed in much in my life,” he says finally, “But I believe in you, Emma Swan, and I will fight for you. I’ll never stop.” 

“I know you won’t,” she whispers. “I love you so much, Killian.” 

“I love you too, darling.” 

Killian woke with a start, as was common after a shared dream. Less common was waking to the sounds of sobbing from the other side of the wooden divider. Quickly he cleaned himself up with the tissues he’d left on the nightstand for that purpose and slipped on some pajama bottoms, slid his feet into the sheepskin slippers he’d lined up neatly next to the bed the night before, then padded silently over to Henry’s curtain. “Henry?” he said softly, wishing he had a door to knock on. “Are you all right, lad? May I come in?”

There was a moment of silence, apart from sniffling. Finally Henry replied. “Come in.” 

Killian pushed aside the curtain and approached the bed where Henry was curled, his tearstained face pressed into his pillow. 

“What’s this, my boy?” asked Killian gently, sitting down on the edge of the bed and brushing the hair from his forehead. “What’s troubling you?”

“I was just thinking about my mom,” said Henry. “And how she’s stuck with Walsh and she doesn’t know what he is. And my other mom, we don’t even know what her life is like now. And my dad, I— I kind of thought he might be with my mom here, but now we don’t know where he is either, and I just feel like everything’s wrong! I’ve got three parents and none of them know me. No one who loves me even knows who I am!” He sobbed again, and buried his face in Killian’s shoulder. 

Heart breaking yet again —how could it keep doing that?— Killian wrapped his arms around Henry and hugged him tightly. “I love you, Henry,” he said. 

“You’re just saying that to make me feel better,” said Henry, his voice muffled in Killian’s t-shirt. 

“I would never insult you with such a deception, lad. I know I’m not really your father, but I certainly couldn’t love you more if I were.” 

“Really?” The hope in Henry’s voice wrenched at him, and Killian tightened his arms. 

“Of course. How could I not? You’re Emma’s son, Baelfire’s son. Milah’s grandson. Very nearly everyone I’ve ever loved has had a hand in making you.”

“What about Rumplestiltskin?”

“Aye, well, let’s not dwell too heavily on his contribution, hmmm?”

Henry chuckled through his tears. 

“And even if that weren’t the case, I would still love you for yourself. Your courage and your optimism and your imagination have kept me strong throughout this whole ordeal. I truly don’t know what I would have done without you. Something dreadful, no doubt.” 

“No, you wouldn’t’ve,” said Henry earnestly. “Don’t think like that. You’re not a villain anymore, you haven’t been for a long time. A villain wouldn’t have taken care of me all this time, no matter who my parents were. And I love you too. Dad.” 

Killian smiled as tears prickled behind his eyes, touched beyond measure by Henry’s faith. Sometimes the lad was just so much like Emma. He stroked Henry’s back until he fell asleep, then eased himself away, pressing a kiss onto the boy’s hair before he left. 

The next morning they awoke to rain, sheets of water pouring down the large windows of their loft, lightning and thunder cracking and booming off the distant shore. By unspoken mutual agreement and after a quick trip to the grocery store, Henry and Killian spent the day indoors, arranging the shop and preparing for the delivery they expected the next day. In the evening they cooked dinner together, baked fish and vegetables at Killian’s insistence (and which Henry no longer objected to very strenuously; once Killian learned that the spices which in his realm were valued more highly than gold could be had in this one for mere sheets of their odd paper currency, he had taken to applying them lavishly to everything he cooked, vastly improving it in the boy’s opinion) and curled up on the sofa to eat it, watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Henry’s choice. Despite everything, in that moment Killian felt happy. He wanted this to be his life: Henry and Emma and quiet days where nothing happened, no lust for revenge, no looming threats or reasons to hurt people. He missed his ship, terribly, missed the freedom of the open seas, but he didn’t miss being a pirate. It occurred to him that if he’d been able to choose all those centuries ago, that young, upright, wide-eyed version of himself, if he’d had the luxury of choosing the path his life would take he’d have chosen this. A family, a respectable career, a peaceful existence. He knew he’d done nothing to deserve it, but he yearned for it nonetheless, and was prepared to do whatever was necessary to secure it. 

The following day dawned bright and sunny, with the fresh-washed feeling that comes after a heavy storm, and Killian declared that it was time for Henry to go to school. 

“You’re all enrolled,” he said, pouring milk into two bowls of breakfast cereal. “You just need to report to the principal’s office to collect your schedule.”

Henry made an indistinct noise that Killian interpreted as reluctant consent. 

“Do you wish me to walk with you?” he inquired. 

“No, I’ll be fine. I went to that school for years, remember?”

“Aye, of course. It’s still a new start, though.” 

“Yeah,” said Henry rather glumly, mashing the cereal with the back of his spoon.  

Killian wondered what this could be about. Henry was usually quite an enthusiastic student. “Is everything all right, lad?” he asked, attepting a casual tone. 

Henry frowned and thought before replying. “Are you sure I have to go to school today?” he said finally. You don’t need me here for anything?”

Aha, thought Killian. This must be what the books called “separation anxiety,” uncommon in children as old as Henry but not unknown, and quite understandable in this case. It had been just the two of them for so long Henry was naturally reluctant to go off on his own. “I’m always glad of your assistance, but you must go to school,” he said firmly. “And don’t forget, this is part of the plan. You’re our undercover agent, collecting intelligence. Report back to me this afternoon on anything you can learn about the curse and how it’s affecting people. What their new identities are, any hint of who might be behind this. You know what to look for. Your mum and I are relying on you.” 

Henry perked up slightly at this and nodded. “I can have a spy notebook, and write things in code,” he said, his clever mind clearly already forming plans. 

“That’s the spirit,” said Killian, smiling to himself as Henry began to eat his cereal. When he’d finished he collected his backpack and permitted Killian to hug him goodbye before heading out the door, the habitual spring still in his step. Killian watched him through the wide front window, feeling a small twinge when he disappeared around the corner. He missed the lad already. Perhaps separation anxiety went both ways. 

To distract himself, he made a cup of tea and went downstairs to spend a relaxing hour setting up the accounts for the bookstore. It was something he flattered himself that he was quite good at, having discovered to his considerable amusement that running a business was in many ways not dissimilar to captaining a pirate ship. As captain he had been responsible for keeping records of their takings and ensuring that each crewmember received his fair share, while as a business owner he would need to keep records of the store’s sales and he hoped eventually pay himself and any employees a salary. On his ship he had maintained inventories of their provisions, set and enforced duty rosters, made plans for where to hunt their next take — or how to grow his business, to use the terminology of this realm. All of which turned out to be skills he could transfer to the relatively sedate task of running a bookstore. Who would have guessed that all those years he’d actually had a profession that was considered respectable in this realm, he reflected with a smirk. Of course, the reputation for ruthlessness and bloodlust he’d taken great pains to cultivate was not exactly standard procedure for businesspeople in this realm, but from what he’d read about many of the more successful CEOs his methods had been almost tame by comparison.

He was startled from his musings by the sound of the shop door opening, and a voice calling “Hello? Is anyone here?”

Kilian rose and went down to the ground floor, startled into momentary dumbness at the sight of the woman standing hesitantly in the centre of the room. 

“Swan?” he said, once he had found his voice. “What are you doing here?”

Chapter Text

Emma hesitated outside the door of the old cannery. She wasn’t quite certain of why she was there, or the reason behind the irresistible compulsion she felt to see its disconcertingly attractive new owner again. He had invited her to come by, though of course he’d meant later— the bookstore wasn’t even open yet. But Emma hadn’t been able to wait. Two days had passed since they’d met, since that brief but oddly intense conversation in Granny’s, and she had been unable to get Killian Jones and his son out of her head. Something about them, about him, pulled at her, and it wasn’t just his striking looks, not even the beautiful blue eyes with their expression of profound, compelling sadness. It was something deeper. She felt somehow as though she knew him, and more astoundingly that he knew her, better than anyone, better even than her own husband. Although, she thought with a small start, as though the idea had only just occurred to her, Walsh barely even took the trouble to speak to her these days, much less keep up with what was going on in her life. She’d been meaning to talk to him about that, she remembered suddenly. Yes. She’d been meaning to talk to him about a lot of things, but when the time came to do so she always seemed to forget. Tonight, she promised herself, making a mental note. Tonight they would finally talk. She wouldn’t forget this time.

Gathering her courage, Emma reached for the doorknob with her right hand, the palm of which still tingled from her brief handshake with Killian two days ago, and as she opened the door she remembered how the night before last her sleep had been troubled by disturbing dreams. She could recall only wisps of them, but she was certain he had been in them, he and his eyes, doing things to her that she couldn’t bear to think about in the light of day. Things she couldn’t bear to admit she had loved. 

She really should stay far away from him. And yet here she was, in his shop. 

She pushed the door open and stepped inside, gasping at the sight before her. The room was simply lovely, bright and airy, with sunlight pouring in through the wide windows, dancing across the exposed brick walls and the antique looking dark-wood shelves that stood tall in four distinct sections around the room.  A heavy mahogany desk sat opposite the door, elegantly carved with nautical designs: ships and storms, mermaids and other sea creatures she couldn’t put a name to, all rendered in exquisite detail. Atop it was an antique metal cash register, as elegantly decorated as the desk, sitting alongside, Emma was amused to note, a decidedly modern portable card reader attached to an iPad. Someone had a taste for the ancient but enough sense to appreciate the modern, she thought.

She was so caught up in admiration of her surroundings that she didn’t notice Killian’s arrival until he spoke. 

“Swan?” The sound of his voice seemed to wrap around her, as deep and sonorous as she remembered, almost caressing her name. She turned to see him standing at the foot of the stairs. “What are you doing here?”

“Um,” she said, feeling abruptly hot and itchy. How was it possible that he could be even better looking than she remembered? Admittedly she hadn’t really had a good look at Granny’s, though she had definitely noticed his face, but now as he stood by the black wrought-iron staircase that wound in a perfect helix up to a hole in the ceiling, his expression briefly unguarded and searingly intense, she had an opportunity to ogle. 

He wore dark grey trousers in a soft woolen twill and an equally soft looking v-neck sweater in a shade of blue that made his eyes stand out even more. A tuft of dark hair peeked out just above the vee, and the itch in Emma’s palm flared to life again with the desire to touch it, to touch him. Everything about him seemed so eminently touchable. The sweater clung to his lean frame just tightly enough to show how fit he was, and his hair was tousled in a way that looked both deliberate and as though it could have been caused by fingers being run through it in the heat of passion. 

What? Emma shook herself. Where the hell did that come from? Remember you’re married. And it’s not like you know anything about the heat of passion, anyway. At least, that’s what Walsh always told her, what he always gave as an excuse for why he didn’t want to touch her. She was cold, he said. Too hard. Not enough. She forced back those thoughts, promising herself once again that she would sit down with Walsh that evening and discuss the problems in their marriage. She dreaded it, but she had to try. They couldn’t go on much longer like this. 

“Uh,” she tried again to respond to Killian’s question. “You said I should come by.” 

“So I did, though I didn’t expect you quite so soon. I’m afraid we’re not open yet.” 

“Yeah, sorry, it was stupid,” she said, turning away. “I was just passing and I thought— never mind, I’ll go—”

“No!” She looked back at him, startled at the vehemence in his voice. He flushed faintly pink and reached up to rub at a spot behind his right ear. “No, you don’t have to go. Please don’t, in fact. I’d be happy to, um, give you a tour? If you’d like.” 

He looked hesitant but also eager, like he really, really wanted her to stay. She smiled. It felt like a long time since anyone had actually desired her company. 

“Okay,” she said, a bit shyly. “I’d like that.” 

A bright smile broke across his face, warm and soft and with just a hint of something wicked beneath it. For a moment Emma forgot to breathe. God, he’s gorgeous.

“Well, why don’t we start here?” he said, coming to stand beside her and indicating the near corner of the room with his left arm. His sleeve was pushed up slightly and she could see the seam where his prosthetic hand joined his arm. She realised with surprise that she hadn’t noticed the other day that he was missing his left hand. He’s missing his left hand. Why did that fact seem so significant to her? It tickled at the back of her mind, like something she needed to remember but couldn’t quite pull from her subconscious. 

“So we’re still waiting on some inventory, but you can see the general layout of the shop,” he was saying. “Reference material is here at the front, with theory guides just here behind it. The practical manuals we have to be a bit more careful with, so they’re back in this corner, some of them will be locked in a special glass cupboard, available on request only. Then here in this corner we have the historical context.” 

Emma frowned, looking more closely at the titles of the books that already graced the shelves. Rare volumes, he’d said the other day, but these were all—

“These are books of magic!” she cried. 

“Oh, aye, did I not mention? That’s our specialty. Books of and about magic.”

She started to laugh, then trailed off when she noticed he didn’t join her. “But you’re not serious?”

“Very serious.”

“Books of magic.” 

“And about magic, aye.” 

“But— magic isn’t real.” 

“There are quite a number of people who would disagree with that assessment, Sheriff.”

“And you’re one of them?” Her voice was rife with disbelief.

“Aye,” he replied, and the sincerity in his face and tone were unmistakable. “I am.” 

She shook her head. “I would never have pegged you as someone with an interest in the occult. You seem so, I dont know, practical.” 

“Oh, I’m very practical, love, but that doesn’t mean I can’t believe in magic.” 

She wanted to deny his words, really it was so absurd, but she realised with another start of surprise that she was genuinely interested, almost despite herself, curious to the point of fascination. “Will you tell me about them?”

He exhaled deeply, almost as if he had been holding his breath waiting for her reaction, and gave her another dazzling smile. “It would be my pleasure.” 

Nearly two hours later they were sitting on the floor surrounded by books, and Emma’s head was buzzing with stories of witches and wizards, covens and cults, fascinating details concerning the history and practice of magical arts.  She felt like she had learned more in that short time than she had before in the whole of her life. Of course, her earlier education had been… it had been… what? She couldn’t recall. Frowning, she tried to remember where she had gone to school, the names of her teachers, fellow classmates, anything, but it was all a blank. 

“Emma?” She turned to see Killian looking at her inquiringly. “Are you all right, love?”

She should really object to that ‘love’, she knew, but couldn’t bring herself to. She liked it. It made her feel warm inside. 

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a bit distracted.” 

He nodded, and reached out to close one of the books. “We’ve been talking for a long time,” he said. “Perhaps we could take a break?”

She watched carefully as he used the prosthetic hand to close the book. The hand moved, she noticed, clearly it had some sort of mechanism operating it, but he seemed to mange it awkwardly, as though not quite used to it. She wondered how long he’d had— “When did you lose your hand?” she blurted, then flushed. “Sorry, it’s none of my business.” 

He looked startled, then smiled. “No, it’s fine. It’s been so long, I don’t mind speaking of it anymore.”

“How long?”

“Oh, years and years.” 

“What happened? Er, if you don’t mind me asking.” 

“Not at all. It was stupid, really. I was young, I got in a fight. Over a woman. Woke up the next day with no hand.”

“I’m so sorry.” 

He shrugged. “Like I said it was years ago.” 

“Mmmmm.” 

“What is it, Swan?” He looked almost expectant, like he knew the gears were turning in her head and was excited to see what they would spit out. She felt again the odd, unfamiliar sensation of being the focus of genuine interest. He truly seemed to care about what she had to say, for no reason other than that she was saying it. 

“It’s just— well, you don’t seem very comfortable with the artificial one. If it’s been so long, I guess I would have thought you’d be more used to it by now.” 

“Ah, well that’s explained easily enough. I lost my hand so long ago that the prosthetics that were available to me at the time were, um, let’s say primitive. This one however is quite new. State of the art, they tell me. It works by interacting with the electrical impulses in my muscle fibres, apparently. So you see, until quite recently I had a much simpler one, and this one, while far better in many ways, is taking a bit of time to adjust to.”

Every word he spoke was the truth, she could detect no dishonesty in his face or manner, yet she sensed it wasn’t the whole story either. He was leaving out important details. And she wondered why. 

As he spoke he adjusted the prosthetic with his right hand, drawing her attention to the thick, engraved silver band he wore on its ring finger. A wedding ring? she wondered. It must be. A man with no left hand would naturally wear his wedding band on his right, wouldn’t he? Especially if until recently he’d worn a simpler prosthesis, one with no fingers. 

She wondered, and not for the first time, about Henry’s mother. Killian’s face when he’d spoken of her in Granny’s had worn for a brief moment such a devastated expression, her loss must still be fresh and painful for him. In a weird way that made her feel better about having sought him out and spent so long talking with him. She was married, he a grieving widower, what harm could there be in a friendship between them? She certainly wouldn’t have to worry about anything coming of the fierce attraction she felt for him. Even if he felt it too, he would never act on it. He was very obviously still in love with his wife, and Emma somehow knew beyond any doubt that he was not a man to betray those he loved. 

“So, um, it’s ah, lunchtime,” he said, scratching behind his ear again. “And it seems we both could use a break. Would you care to join me? For some lunch?”

“Sure, I guess. Where were you going to go?”

“I—, uh, we live upstairs,” he gestured towards the staircase. “The third floor is a loft apartment, I was just going to go up and make a sandwich.” 

Alone with him in his apartment. Emma’s heart thundered. “A sandwich sounds great,” she managed to say. “Can you do grilled cheese?”

His face twisted for a moment into the strangest expression, half blissful happiness, half like he wanted to cry. “I can,” he said, his voice hoarse. “It’s my son’s favourite.” 

“In that case, I’d love to join you.” 

The grilled cheese was perfect, exactly the way she liked it. She told him as much, and was rewarded with another half-delighted, half-sad expression. “I’m glad I haven’t lost my touch,” he said, almost to himself. 

“What do you mean?” 

“Grilled cheese is— Henry’s mother’s favourite as well,” he said quietly. “Since we lost her we don’t make it as often as we used to.”

Emma didn’t quite know how to respond to that, so she crunched her sandwich in slightly awkward silence as he busied himself at the stove, avoiding looking at him until he slid a cup in front of her. “What’s this?” she asked in surprise. 

“Traditional Jones family accompaniment to grilled cheese,” he replied. 

She picked up the mug and inhaled over it. “Hot chocolate with— is that cinnamon?”

“Aye. It’s a bit odd I’ll grant you, and if I’m honest I prefer it plain, but that’s how Henry likes it.”

“Seriously? You’re telling me your son likes cinnamon on his hot chocolate.” 

“Aye.” He seemed to be watching her carefully. 

“Grilled cheese and hot chocolate with cinnamon is my favourite lunch,” she said. “You’re basically telling me that I have the same tastes as your thirteen year old kid.” 

“Would it help if I confessed to an affinity for it as well?” he asked, his face deadpan but with amusement twinkling in his eyes. 

“It might.” 

“Very well, I confess it, but you mustn’t ever tell Henry. I’d never get him to eat a vegetable again if he thought he could wheedle grilled cheese out of me every night.” 

“It’s a deal.” 

The earlier awkwardness was dispelled, and as Killian sat down to eat his sandwich Emma sipped her chocolate —it too was perfect— making it last as long as possible. There was no way she could justify staying any longer once lunch was over, and she didn’t want to go. She felt comfortable with Killian, and happy, things she couldn’t remember feeling in a long, long time. Later she knew she would need to analyse these feelings, but for now she simply wished to feel them. 

When the last drop was finally drained she set the cup down on the counter, then realised it might be nice if she took it to the sink instead and went to pick it up again, at the same time as Killian reached for it himself. Her hand closed around it first followed a second later by his, his fingers linking with hers in a way that felt so natural that it didn’t even occur to her to question it, simply laughing lightly as they released the cup but not each other’s hands. His thumb caressed her bare ring finger. “You don’t wear a wedding ring,” he said softly. 

She could barely breathe her heart was pounding so hard, the gentle movements of his thumb sending sparks coursing up her arm, reverberating through her whole body. “Um,” she said, trying to think. “No, I — I have one of course, but I don’t wear it.” 

“Why not?” 

“Er.” She tried to remember. There was a reason, surely? “I can’t with— with my job. It gets in the way.” Yes, that must be it. 

“Ah.” Something in his tone suggested he didn’t quite believe her, but before she could reply he had released her hand and turned away, picking up the mug and putting it in the sink. 

“I like yours though,” she said abruptly. Where did that come from? 

“What?” He turned, giving her an odd look. 

“Your wedding ring.” She reached out and took his hand again, this time caressing the silver band upon the third finger with her own thumb. “It is a wedding ring, isn’t it?”

He cleared his throat. “Aye.” 

“Henry’s mother.” It wasn’t a question and so required no answer, but he gave one anyway. “Aye.” The sadness was back in his voice, this time untempered by any joy.

Emma smiled, feeling suddenly swamped by sadness herself. She felt such a connection to this man, unlike anything she’d ever felt before, and she hated to think of him hurting. 

Briefly she allowed herself a rare, uncharacteristic moment of self-indulgence to wonder what it would be like to be loved as devotedly as Killian loved his wife. To be loved even after she was gone. To have such an emotion, from such a man. Swallowing back tears, she looked up at him. “She had good taste. This is exactly the sort of ring I would have chosen.” 

“She’s an extraordinary woman,” he replied, his voice rough with emotion, his eyes blazing with it. 

Emma nodded, wishing she knew why that remark left such a clutching, squeezing sensation around her heart. 

“Well I should go,” she said, releasing his hand.

He swallowed hard then gave her a small smile, a tight, guarded thing that squeezed her heart again. He looked so sad. She wanted to see the bright, wicked grin from earlier. 

“May I see you out?” he asked politely, his emotions under control again. 

She shook her head, already moving towards the door. “No, it’s fine. But thanks.”

“Any time, love.”

Her hand was on the doorknob when he spoke again. “Emma.” 

She looked back at him, gripped by the wild, irrational hope that he might ask her to stay. “What about your husband?” he asked. 

“Who?” She frowned in confusion, then remembered. “Oh, Walsh.” Why had she forgotten him? “What about him?” 

“Does he not wear a ring?”

“Of course he does.” Didn’t he? “Why do you ask?”

“It’s just that you said ‘would have chosen.’” Killian’s face was calm, but that intensity was back in his eyes. 

“What?”

“Just now, when you looked at my ring you said it’s exactly what you would have chosen. Not what you did choose.” 

There was that confusion again, swirling through her brain and blocking her thoughts. Why couldn’t she think? “I— I must have misspoken.” She rubbed her forehead, which had started to ache. 

He was silent for a long moment before replying. “Of course, I’m sure that’s it. Goodbye, Sheriff.” 

Emma smiled tightly and left. 

When she arrived home that evening, Emma sought out Walsh in his study. He didn’t like her bothering him there but she was confused, her head spinning with questions that needed answers. She’d spent the afternoon in her office with the lights dimmed, nursing her headache and making a list of all the questions she needed to ask him, everything that was odd in their relationship and in her life. It was a long list. Why hadn’t she ever talked to him before? She’d been unhappy for so long…

“What is it, Emma?” Walsh’s voice was cold.

“I just— wanted to talk to you. About some things.” 

He turned and fixed her with the icy, probing stare that never failed to make her tongue-tied and anxious. She wanted to flee, back to the relative safety of the living room, where Walsh rarely went. No! You need answers! Stay strong! 

“Some things,” Walsh repeated. 

“Y-yes.” 

“Well go on,” he waved his hand at her and adopted an expression of exaggerated patience. “We haven’t got all night. What are these ‘things’ that are suddenly so important?”

Emma had spent an hour memorising her list of questions, but now she could only remember one. 

“Why don’t you wear a wedding ring?” she burst out. “Why don’t I?”

“Of— of course I wear one!” Walsh looked genuinely surprised, his composure slipping enough to rejuvenate her resolve. 

“Walsh I am looking at your hand right now and it is bare,” she said. “Neither of us wear rings. I’m certain I have one, I remember it, but where is it? Why did I stop wearing it?” He gaped at her and she seized her opportunity, letting months worth of questions flood out. “And why don’t we do anything together any more? What happened to our friends? I remember— I think I remember that we used to go out, do things as a couple, with other couples. But we have no friends now, and I stay in alone every night. I feel like I never see you these days, you’re hardly ever home, you never want to have sex—” she broke off as a look of revulsion crossed Walsh’s face, crushing her, stopping the words in her throat. Your own husband finds you repulsive, she thought bitterly, and a small voice at the very back of her consciousness piped up with a single word. “Why?” 

What? thought Emma, and the voice elaborated. “Dont you want to know why?”

A memory flashed through her mind, although no, not a memory, it couldn’t be, but it felt like a memory. The blue, blue eyes of Killian Jones, warm with adoration, his deep voice, his hand in her hair. “You’re so beautiful, Emma,” he whispered. “So utterly, heartbreakingly beautiful.” 

“Walsh, what’s going on?” she asked, suddenly angry, furious, incandescent with rage. “There’s something very wrong here, and I think you’re behind it. Tell me what it is. Tell me what you’ve done to me!”

Walsh’s face twisted into a terrifying snarl and he grabbed her arm, pulling her towards him until they were nose-to-nose, drowning her anger in fear. “Why are you asking these questions all of a sudden?” he hissed, “Does it by any chance have something to do with our new neighbourhood bookseller?” 

“Wh— what?” Emma scrambled to lie, to protect Killian. “No! Of course not.” 

“You’re a terrible liar, Emma.” Walsh sighed, his face falling back into its usual supercilious, condescending expression. Still holding her arm he turned and picked something up from his desk, a small box in silver filigree, beautiful in a cold and terrible way. “Fortunately it won’t matter. Come morning you’ll be yourself again. Or one of your selves, anyway.” He opened the box with a flick of his thumb and blew a harsh puff of air into it, sending a shower of glittering grey particles flying into Emma’s eyes. She gasped, then collapsed. Walsh held her up with his grip on her arm, then gave her a shove back into the sofa behind her. “That should take care of you for now,” he muttered, looking down at her unconscious form. “It appears that the pirate works faster than I had anticipated. Of course very little that we anticipated about him has turned out to be true. How he even managed to get here in the first place is something I would very much like to know. He is supposed to be stuck in Neverland.” He paused, smirking. “The power of true love, I suppose,” he said, sneering the words. “But he’ll soon be dealt with, him and your son. And now, ‘wife’, off to bed with you.” He waved his hand and Emma disappeared in a puff of green smoke. 

When she awoke the next morning, alone in her bed as always, all her doubts and worries about her marriage along with all recollection of her confrontation with Walsh were gone. 

Her memories of the time she’d spent with Killian Jones, however, were not. 

 

Chapter Text

As soon as the door closed behind Emma, Killian collapsed against the kitchen counter and ran a shaking hand over his face. He felt like a puppet with its strings cut; held tense and controlled throughout the performance but unable to keep himself upright or control his movements once that guidance had been severed. He’d thought he was prepared for every eventuality, had rehearsed a hundred scenarios in his head. What he would do if Emma hated him on sight, if she were back with Baelfire, if the curse made her inaccessible to him somehow, if she were simply indifferent to him. What he hadn’t prepared for was for her to look at him softly, the familiar attraction sparking in her eyes, asking him questions about herself as she caressed the ring that had not left his finger since she had placed it there more than a year before.

He missed her so much. Killian pressed the heel of his hand to his chest, just above where his heart was still thundering, still going, battered and sore as it was. It was ridiculous to miss someone when they were sitting right next to you, but sharing grilled cheese and hot chocolate with Emma that afternoon, as they had so often done before, Killian had never missed her more. At least a hundred times he’d had to consciously restrain himself from reaching out to touch her, had to clench his jaw to hold in the words he’d longed to speak when she had asked him about his wife.

Don’t you know, Emma? It’s you.

He should never have invited her to lunch. Being near her in the apartment was far more difficult than it had been in the shop, but however fierce the pain of her company was that of her absence was worse. After a year of seeing her only in their dreams he hadn’t been strong enough to let her go again so soon. Not when her smile was so familiar, not when it was clear how unhappy she was in her cursed life.

Killian had suspected for some time that although she had her memories, Emma in the dreams was still partly under the influence of the curse. He suspected that it was this and not the dreams that prevented her from telling him what he needed to know, from speaking frankly about her life. Her belief that her cursed self loved Walsh seemed somehow... imposed on her, both asleep and awake, like a supplementary level of memory manipulation on top of the standard curse amnesia. Could it be that Emma was fighting back against the curse so successfully that she had to be given extra dose of it to keep her in line? If anyone could manage to throw off a curse singlehandedly, it would be Emma Swan. But who was administering this dose? Who was keeping watch on her?

He wished Henry would come home so they could talk about it. The lad was bound to have ideas.

A glance at the clock on his phone told him that it was just past two, Henry wouldn’t be back for well over an hour. Killian supposed he should do more work on the accounts, there was plenty to be done, but he doubted he’d be able sit still or concentrate. Now that the shock of weakness following Emma’s departure had passed he was feeling restless and antsy. He wanted to do something.

He decided to head to the office anyway, just to see if there was anything that might occupy his mind, but just as he was sitting down at his desk he heard the unmistakable sound of the shop door opening. Again.

Gods have mercy, he thought in exasperation, what is it now?

He went downstairs with his heart in his throat, forcing himself not to rush. When he saw who it was at the door a grin spread across his face even as he breathed a sigh of relief at finding himself greeted by nothing more alarming than a wide smile and a warm handshake.

“Bet you forgot I was coming, eh Jones?” crowed the man standing in the shop doorway, in a Queens accent so thick you could slice it and serve it on toast.

“Aye, I confess I did. I’ve had rather a lot on my mind, you know.”

“I believe it. Here I am though, as promised. Where do you want the stuff?”

Killian clapped the man on the shoulder, immensely cheered to see a familiar face that recognised him back, and followed him outside to a truck that was loaded with everything that Henry had ordered on the day of their arrival. This included a large leather Chesterfield sofa, which as the lad had predicted perfectly suited the spot underneath the large window at the end of the shop. Together the two men unloaded it along with a dozen boxes of books and enough wood to construct three more bookshelves.

“Well, this oughta keep you busy,” declared Frank McClelland, for that was the delivery man’s name, or at least the one he was using at present. He stood with his hands on his hips, surveying the shop, and when Killian came to stand next to him and offered him a beer he accepted it gladly, tapping the neck of his bottle against his host’s.

“Aye, and I’m grateful for it,” Killian replied, taking a long drink of his own beer. “I badly need a diversion, and something physical to do.”

“You’ve seen her then?” The question was casual, its tone was not.

“She left not long before you arrived.”

“She was here? Already? That’s quick work, buddy, even for you.”

“She came on her own initiative.”

“You don’t say,” said Frank McClelland thoughtfully. “Did she look at the books?”

“Aye. For over two hours.”  

“Huh.”

Killian turned to look sharply at this man he dared to call a friend. Frank McClelland’s round face was ruddy and good-natured, by all appearances that of a jovial man who enjoyed a drink or two most nights and who spent his days doing physical labour in the out-of-doors. His eyes were set deep into this face, surrounded by laugh lines and pouches of bloat, and thick, wiry eyebrows. Most people didn’t look at them too closely, allowing themselves to be distracted by the cheerful grin that stretched wide across his countenance or by the bulbous nose that was always red at its tip. This suited Frank McClelland perfectly, for if they had looked they would have seen that his eyes were a sharp, iridescent green, luminous and mesmerising, brimming with an intelligence that was not entirely human. Most people, if they ever were tempted to look into those eyes would feel a prickling of unease, a deep and primal instinct warning them to step back, to look away. But Killian Jones had never been most people, and he knew what Frank McClelland was. Setting down his beer he abruptly caught the other man by the shoulders and stared directly into those remarkable eyes.

“I think she’s fighting off the curse,” he said, fixing the thought of Emma in his mind as the green eyes began to glow, flooding his field of vision with their light. “Trying to break free of it herself. Can she do that?”

“She can.” The flat Queens accent was gone, replaced by a far more lilting one, calling to mind verdant hills and rainbows arcing over distant horizons. “Emma Swan is the product of true love, wielder of powerful light magic. She was born to break curses and curses cannot easily constrain her. Even unaware of her abilities her magic is strong within her. But be forewarned, Killian Jones.” The lilting voice took on a hint of menace as the edges of Frank McClelland blurred and began to glow with a shimmering golden light. His eyes burned brightly and Killian found he could not look away from them, felt himself being sucked in and subsumed, his own blue eyes drowned in a sea of green. “Despite the strength of her determination, of her magic, and of her love, she cannot fully break this curse through will alone. She can but weaken it, forcing the hand of her enemy to strengthen the fetters that bind her. The Caster is as powerful in darkness as the Saviour is in light, and without intervention they will ever remain locked in stalemate. To break this curse the Saviour must have aid from her true loves. Both of them.”  

She needs her true love. Killian grasped desperately at this thought, focusing his mind on it and it alone, clinging to the unravelling threads of his identity and refusing to let go until he felt the pull of Frank McClelland’s emerald gaze begin to weaken. Summoning every ounce of strength that remained in his limbs he pushed at the other man’s shoulders, propelling himself backwards into the wall, drained and trembling but free, and with at least some of the answers he needed. As he lay gasping against the cold brick the light surrounding the delivery man abruptly winked out, leaving the room feeling unnaturally dim in its absence. Frank McClelland calmly set his half empty beer bottle down next to Killian’s then retrieved a Mets cap from the back pocket of his jeans and pulled it low over his brow.

“Well, I should be going,” he said cheerfully, his flat vowels and nasal intonation returned in all their glory. “Long drive, you know.”

“Aye.” Killian stood up straight and offered his hand. “Thank you,” he said sincerely. “For everything.”

The other man shook it warmly. “My duty,” he said, “And my pleasure. You’re a man of remarkable strength and daring, my friend.” The fae twinkled briefly in his expression, then was gone. “Bring your family back to see me, as soon as you’re able.”

“I will,” promised Killian, and he meant it.

Once Frank McClelland and his truck had disappeared from view, Killian took out his phone again. Henry’s school day had just ended, he should be heading home now. He wondered if the lad would send a message to say he was on his way, or if it would be considered ‘nagging’ if he sent one. Killian had a horror of nagging. He was still weighing the pros and cons a minute later when the phone buzzed in his hand and he jumped slightly in surprise.

Henry: Going to walk around a bit, explore. Won’t be too late.

Killian sighed. Of course. The boy had been holding in his curiosity for days now, it wouldn’t be suppressed forever. He texted back. All right, lad. You know what to do if there’s trouble.

He wouldn’t worry, Killian promised himself. Henry’s judgement could be trusted. Tucking his phone back into his pocket he began to open the newly delivered boxes and arrange what books he could onto the shelves, wondering how Henry’s day had gone.

 

Earlier that morning:

Henry kept his posture straight and his steps sure until he had turned the corner and moved out of sight of the apartment window, knowing his dad would be watching and not wanting to add to his worries by any show of hesitation or reluctance. Once out of view, however, his shoulders slumped and he dragged his feet through the damp leaves at the edge of the sidewalk, slowing his pace. He had no idea what to expect at school, and though he was determined to carry out his role in the plan the prospect of returning to another place that should be familiar but wasn’t unnerved him.

All of Storybrooke was like that, he reflected, looking around him. It was the same, the same signs and storefronts, the same houses and yards and even some of the same cars he remembered from the days of the original curse, and yet it wasn’t. It was subtly different in a way he couldn’t put his finger on, a way that was all the creepier for being so elusory. A shiver crawled up his spine on spidery feet and he clenched his fingers on the straps of his backpack, forcing himself to keep walking like nothing was amiss. There was no one behind him, he knew there wasn’t, but the feeling of a coldly curious gaze observing him as he walked was hard to shake. It was the same feeling he’d had going through the forest on their approach to town. Though he’d said nothing, not wanting to alarm his dad, that forest was not what he remembered.

He supposed he’d have to alarm his dad eventually, but intended to put it off until he’d determined what exactly there was to be alarmed about. Creepy feelings and ominous woodlands weren’t much to go on.

Carefully he kept his face in bored teenager mode even as his every sense was on alert for anything that stood out as odd, and for even a glimpse of any member of his family. He stopped in front of Granny’s, taking his phone from his pocket and slouching against the fence, appearing to any casual observer entirely absorbed in whatever was on the screen. Teenagers on their phones were a common enough sight that he would attract no particular attention or give anyone any reason to look closely enough to notice how his eyes were darting everywhere but at the screen. Quickly he scanned the crowd within the diner looking for his mom —either of his moms— but couldn’t see them. The dwarves were all there, Leroy’s plate piled high with bacon, but no sign of Emma or Regina. As he loitered a gust of wind whirled up from the ground and spiralled around him, carrying some of the drier leaves along with it, its icy tendrils of air curling like fingers under Henry's scarf and up the back of his neck. He suppressed a shudder and took the hint; apparently whoever —whatever— had its eye upon him was not as easily fooled as the passersby who were going about their business, taking no notice of him. Pushing himself away from the fence he continued walking, deciding not to wait for the bus. It wasn’t far to walk, he’d be there in plenty of time and walking would allow him some quiet moments to think. Henry had never been certain why Storybrooke even needed a school bus. Perhaps it was just what the curse thought a small Maine town would have.

As he entered the school grounds he began to notice some familiar faces. Grace was there, and Ava and Nicholas, and all the other kids he’d known over his years in Storybrooke, all appearing from the outside very much in line with his recollections of them. Eerily in line, actually. Under the first curse Henry had grown almost used to aging when no one else around him did but it had been a slow process then, and the realisation that his former classmates were just the same as he remembered while he himself had aged more than two years gave him a jolt.

He searched their faces for any hint of recognition. There was none.

Reporting directly to the office as his dad had instructed, he introduced himself to the bored looking school administrator who nodded and handed him his schedule without comment. HENRY JONES was written in bold capitals at the top. GRADE 7. Seeing that name and knowing it was his still gave him a little thrill even though he’d been using it now for more than a year. Names had power; even if he hadn’t known that from reading his storybook he’d have deduced it from his own experience. There was rather a lot of experience to go by, after all, he’d had more names than most. Henry Jones wasn’t quite the same person as Henry Mills or even Henry Swan. Henry Mills was a wide-eyed boy, clinging to hope and belief as his only weapons against the dark curse that surrounded him, Henry Swan was a normal New Yorker. Henry Jones, though, he was a pirate’s son, raised to the cusp of adulthood by a clever and dangerous man, taught by him the knack of survival and perseverance when all the power and all the odds were arrayed against him. Henry Jones was a risk taker with no patience for bullshit who would do whatever was necessary to save the people he loved, just like his dad. Henry Jones could infiltrate this school and this town and gather the intel they needed to break the curse. He grinned to himself. Henry Jones looked forward to the challenge.

As a seventh grader his classes were in the junior high building. He decided to take the long way there, a way that took him past his old fourth grade classroom. Mary Margaret’s classroom. Slowing his pace as he passed it he was able to peer through the open door, but once again the person he sought wasn’t where he’d thought to find her. In her place was a man, one he didn’t recognise. Henry frowned. If Mary Margaret wasn’t a teacher, where was she? Who was she? What had become of his grandparents under this curse?

Aside from his absent grandmother everything else about Henry’s first day back at school turned out to be frustratingly normal. The kids in his class were the same ones who’d been in the seventh grade when he’d been in the fourth, with the only startling thing being the addition of three new faces that he immediately recognised as Lost Boys. So at least some of Pan’s old crew had been swept up in this new curse too, thought Henry. Interesting. Interesting yet in no way illuminating.

As he left school that afternoon he found that his feet were of their own volition carrying him not in the direction of his current home, but down the familiar-yet-not streets that led to his old one. He should go home, he knew, back to the cannery loft to report the day’s findings to his dad. But he couldn’t go back yet, not until he’d investigated further, until he’d found some information on at least one of his relatives. Taking out his phone he sent a quick text. Going to walk around a bit, explore. Won’t be too late.

The reply came with an alacrity that suggested his dad had been waiting to hear from him. All right, lad. You know what to do if there’s trouble. Henry nodded in confirmation even though there was no one to see him. He did know what to do if there was trouble. He’d been taught well.

The house was as he remembered, starkly monochrome, its precisely cut greenery casting twisted shadows in the long afternoon light. He’d hated its austere elegance as a child and wasn’t any fonder of it now that its crisp edges and gleaming paintwork seemed to shimmer with the unsettling quality that permeated the town under this new curse, coiling and amplifying it into something almost physically malevolent. Henry suppressed a shudder and gritted his teeth, pushing through the gateway and into air that did not want him there, moving determinedly forward in defiance of the house’s angry resistance until he stood just to one side of the living room window, hidden from view but with a clear line of sight on the scene inside.

Well, he thought, that’s basically the last place I expected to find her.  

The room was just as it had always been, its soothing neutral decor and crackling fire belying the stark rigidity of the hand that had shaped it, but the place on the damask sofa normally occupied by his adoptive mother was filled instead by his grandmother. Mary Margaret sat with her back straight and shoulders square, one ankle tucked behind the other and a book resting in her lap. She was dressed as Henry had never seen her before, not in the cute, retro style she had previously favoured but in a crisply cut skirt suit that recalled the same era as her former wardrobe, yet in a way that made her appear not gentle and approachable but coldly haughty. The suit was in a shade of pastel blue that should not have chilled his blood the way it did, nor should the three strands of matched pearls at her neck or the sharp tidiness of her hairstyle have caused his hand to tremble as he laid it on the windowsill, leaning forward as far as he dared to get a closer look. Her face was blank, devoid entirely of expression, and when Henry’s grandfather entered the room and she looked up at him it did not change.

David’s expression was equally blank, his clothing equally odd. Gone were the jeans and plaid shirts Henry had always known him to wear, replaced by tan chinos and a blue sport jacket. With a crest of some sort on the breast pocket. Henry blinked at the sight of that crest, shaken out of his alarm at this turn of events by a bizarre realisation. His grandparents were dressed up like dolls, perfectly costumed as stereotypes of wealthy WASPs of the 1960s, almost caricatures of them. Images he had seen in history books began to dance through Henry’s mind. John and Jackie Kennedy at Hyannis Port, on the campaign trail, in the White House, the brilliance of their moneyed gloss and attractive smiles concealing the fractured marriage beneath. Was that what this was?

Something tickled at the back of Henry’s consciousness, something he had heard, or possibly read. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. The indifference that now marked his grandparents’ interaction as they nodded to each other as people nod at acquaintances in the street. Mary Margaret picked up a small silver bell from the table at her side and rang it sharply, then returned her attention immediately to her book as David moved to the sideboard to pour himself a drink, leaning on his forearm against the mantel and staring silently into the flames beneath it as he sipped.

The wind that had chased Henry away from Granny’s that morning suddenly returned, more forcefully this time, driving frigid fingers of air into every gap in his clothing, wrapping around him, pulling at him, adding its strength to that of the house while its chill sapped his own. Henry acquiesced gladly to its demand; he hated being here and wanted nothing more than to get home and hug his dad, unburden himself of everything he’d learned today and let Killian’s sharp and logical mind break it all down and reassure him that they would be able to handle whatever the curse could conjure up. He began to turn away from the window, already anticipating the hot chocolate he knew his dad would make to warm him as they talked, when from the corner of his eye he saw the living room door open again, and the sight of person who walked through it froze Henry in his tracks.

She was dressed as a maid, because of course she was, in the black and white uniform he was pretty sure maids only wore in old movies. Another caricature. Her face was tired, haggard, with dark smudges beneath the eyes and lines of worry around the mouth, framed by dark hair that was limp and stringy and quite unlike the thick, well-tended mane she had always had, every day, for as long as he could remember. Not even Neverland had managed to render his mother anything less than perfectly coiffed. And yet here she was, looking so broken he barely recognised her, standing in front of Mary Margaret with her head bowed and her hands clasped loosely in front of her, awaiting instruction.

“Ah, yes, Regina,” said Mary Margaret, finally looking up from her book after allowing the silence to drag out just long enough for everyone to feel uncomfortable. “I will be dining alone this evening. I’m afraid Mr Nolan has other plans.”

David remained motionless against the mantelpiece, only his mouth curving into a bitter smile. He muttered something that Henry could barely hear, but it sounded like “I’ll certainly be making some.”

“Very good, madam,” said Regina, dropping a small curtsey before retreating from the room. Henry gaped. His dad was right. Whoever had cast this curse had a bloody vicious sense of humour. And a particular grudge against Regina.

Mary Margaret looked down at her book again. “Don’t let me keep you, David,” she said. David snorted and pushed away from the mantelpiece, draining his drink in one gulp and setting the glass back down on the sideboard with an angry thunk.

“Oh, you won’t,” he sneered and stalked from the room, letting the door bang shut behind him. Moments later he burst through the front entrance and strode purposefully down the path to the gate. Henry flattened himself against the wall of the house, but his grandfather didn’t even glance in his direction, instead sliding into a low-slung black sports car that could not be further from the beat-up old truck he’d driven before, and peeled away from the curb with a squeal of his tires.

Henry looked back into the room where Mary Margaret was still sitting, eyes still on her book. When the sound of David’s car had faded away she sighed and closed it, setting it aside as she rose and poured a drink for herself, tossing it back with an abandon that had Henry gawping again, and immediately pouring another. Henry stared, trying to process this development. He’d seen Killian and Emma drink like that once, one night when they’d thought he was asleep, but for them it had been a game, a challenge. Foreplay, though he knew they’d be mortified if they discovered he’d understood that. Mary Margaret’s drinking seemed to be driven by pure unhappiness, the simple need to forget. She filled her glass a third time and took a large gulp just as the door opened once more and Regina reappeared. “What is it, Regina?” she asked sharply.

“I beg your pardon, madam, but I forgot to tell you earlier. There wasn’t any kale in the market today, so I got arugula instead. I hope that’s all right.”

“It’s not all right, but I suppose it’s what I’ve come to expect from you,” snapped Mary Margaret, taking another long drink. “Have dinner ready at six. If you think you can manage that very simple task.”

“Yes, madam.” Regina curtsied again then turned to go and as she did she looked up and her eyes met Henry’s through the window. She gasped and stumbled, catching the doorframe to keep from falling, astonishment and terror in every line of her body.

“Wha’s wrong with you?” asked Mary Margaret, her words beginning to slur as she emptied drink number four. “You ‘ad better not be drunk.”

“No, madam, I— it’s nothing. I’m sorry.” She met Henry’s eyes again and hers implored him to go, run, get away from here! He heard the words as clearly as if she’d shouted them.

“‘Sthere someone ou’side?” Mary Margaret’s suspicious query spurred Henry into action. He pushed away from the wall and fled, as fast as he could go, letting the pull of the icy wind and the force that surrounded the house propel him forward, away from the appalling scene. He ran blindly until his lungs burned and his legs ached and he could go no further. Blinking away the tears that wanted to well up in his eyes he looked around, realising that he had unconsciously run to the old park where he had used to play, where his castle had been. The place he’d always felt safest in Storybrooke. Collapsing onto a bench he took out his phone and called his dad.

“Henry?” Killian answered on the first ring, his voice gruff with concern. “Is something wrong?”

“Yeah, I— I need you to come get me. I’m at my old park, it’s near the—”

“I remember. I’ll be right there.”

Henry sighed deeply in relief. His dad was coming. Everything would be okay. He closed his eyes and dropped his head into his hands, rubbing his head as the images of the scene he’d witnessed ran through it on an endless loop, unable to make them stop or to fully grasp what they meant. Soon he heard the sound of the truck pulling up, the door opening, and his dad’s footsteps running towards him. He leapt from the bench and began to run himself, meeting his dad halfway and slamming into his hard chest, letting his tears finally fall as Killian’s strong arms closed around him.

“What’s this, lad?” Killian stroked Henry’s hair, trying to soothe him. “What happened?”

“I went to my house,” gasped Henry, through his sobs. “My old house. It— it was awful. This curse is awful.” He pulled back, wiping his cheeks and looking up into Killian’s concerned face. “Dad, I think— I think my mom —Regina— I think she has her memories.”

Chapter Text

Killian hustled Henry into the truck, performing a quick, apprehensive scan of their surroundings as he did. Nothing out of the ordinary caught his eye, but he found that this did little to settle the unease that was brewing in his belly at the lad’s revelation. An uncursed Evil Queen, or at least an aware one, was… unanticipated. Killian very much disliked that which he failed to anticipate. 

The journey back to the apartment passed in silence. He glared at the road as he drove, his eyes flickering back and forth between it and Henry, slumped in the passenger seat, his face tear-streaked and  distraught. Killian forced down a surge of guilt. He wished there were a way to break this curse without involving the lad, but even Emma had finally agreed that his presence was essential if they wanted to stand any kind of chance. Even bloody Oisín —or rather, Frank, if he insisted— had confirmed it, that very afternoon. The Saviour must have aid from her true loves. Both of them. 

Perhaps if they had accepted this sooner they wouldn’t be in their current mess, he thought. If Emma hadn’t insisted on going to investigate on her own… but Killian shook those thoughts from his head. This was no time for recrimination. He had long since learned from bitter experience the futility of living in the past. What was done was done and they could only move forward, and Killian had certainly tried. Finding himself abruptly alone with a stepson who at the time had not fully trusted him, he had done the best he possibly could to build a solid plan, to prepare Henry for what had to be done. Perhaps his best efforts had not been enough, though he gave himself enough credit to suppose that nothing could ever really prepare someone for the experience of seeing their loved ones either strangers to them or trapped in misery. Or both. Although Henry had not yet elaborated on the exact circumstances in which the Queen now found herself, Killian could deduce from his reaction that they were not good. 

The drive was a short one and soon they found themselves in their kitchen, both relaxing noticeably in a place that already felt safe. Killian immediately began to prepare hot chocolate, without even asking Henry if he wanted any. Hot chocolate after a bad shock went without saying. 

“Did you make some earlier?” asked Henry as he watched Killian wash the milk pan. 

“Aye. Your mother was here for lunch.”

Henry’s eyebrows rose. “She was? What, already? That was fast.” 

Killian smiled wryly. “That does appear to be the consensus.” 

“Why, who else said it?”

“Frank was here as well, delivering our order. You were right about the sofa, it goes perfectly.” 

Henry’s troubled expression had been slowly easing as his fear receded, and now he broke into an actual grin. “I knew it would. I’m sorry I missed Frank, though, couldn’t he have stayed?”

Killian resisted the urge to scratch behind his ear. Henry had cheerfully accepted Frank as a magical authority, but there were some points on which he remained ignorant, and Killian intended to keep him that way. “Er, no I think he needed to get back. But he invited us to visit as soon as we’re able. All of us.” He smiled as reassuringly as possible and after a moment Henry nodded in acceptance. He sat down on a stool at the kitchen island, hugging himself tightly, and when Killian set a cup of chocolate, liberally doused with cinnamon and whipped cream, down in front of him he immediately wrapped his hands around it and brought it to his cheek. 

“I feel so cold,” he said. 

Killian looked at him with concern. “Drink up, lad, then tell me everything.” 

Around warming and heartening sips of chocolate Henry told Killian his tale, every detail of his walk to school, the odd, icy wind outside Granny’s, Mary Margaret’s absence from school, the presence of Lost Boys, and everything he had seen through the window of his old house. 

“My mom recognised me, I know she did,” he said. “She warned me to get away. And there’s magic around the house, it tried to push me away. It didn’t want me anywhere near it. The wind was there too, and stronger.”

Killian tried to keep his face neutral though his mind was racing. This was more worrying than he’d imagined. He’d need to see Emma in the dream tonight, and it was imperative to speak to Regina as soon as possible. 

A thought occurred to him, one that made his hand clench involuntarily on his mug. He and Emma were not the only people who loved Henry, after all. If Regina still had her memories… well, what better way to torment a mother than by keeping her from her child, conscious of the loss and perhaps in a constant state of worry over his well being, prevented somehow from going to find him…

All of Henry’s family was here, under the curse. All except the stepfather none of them knew about. Emma’s appearance in Storybrooke last year, cursed and unaware and without her son, could only have sent an awake and aware Regina into a frenzy of panic and worry over what could have become of him. 

That was truly cruel. Killian was no great fan of the Queen’s but the idea of such a fate befalling even her made him uncomfortable. He resolved to get a message to her as soon as he could, to reassure her that the lad was okay and they had a plan in motion. 

And if in her gratutude she agreed to help them carry out this plan, well so much the better. Killian may have reformed but at his core the pirate still remained, and altruism was not what you might call a mark of his character. He imagined there was rather a lot Regina could be persuaded to do in exchange for access to Henry, and a properly motivated Evil Queen could be a valuable ally.

“I’ve gotta talk to my mom,” said Henry. “To Regina. Let her know—” 

“No!”

Henry looked startled at Killian’s vehemence. “But—”

“We won’t let her suffer any longer, but let me be the one to approach her. For the time being I think it’s best if you keep your distance.” He held up his hand to still Henry’s protest. “No, Henry, listen to me. From what you’ve said this curse seems to be keeping a special eye on you, and who knows what it might be driven to if you attempt to speak to Regina. I’ll do it.” 

Henry’s face was mutinous, but Killian’s was implacable, and after a short standoff implacable won. “Okay, fine,” grumbled Henry. “But will you tell her I love her? And I miss her?” 

“Of course I will, lad.” Killian smiled and took Henry’s empty mug. “Now what do you say to pizza for dinner?”

The boy perked up at the prospect of the rare treat. “Really?” 

“Aye, I think we both could use it.” 

“Excellent.”

---

Emma is for some reason aboard an aircraft carrier about to lead a fighter jet attack on an unspecified enemy when her dream world shifts, adjusts, resolves around her into her bedroom. Not the dark room in Walsh’s house where she sleeps alone, but the breezy, softly coloured space she designed and built herself here in the dream. They built it, she and Killian. 

Killian. Her husband. 

Her real husband. 

Emma feels the now-familiar wrenching ache as the tangle of her altered mind straightens and she remembers that she is cursed, has been cursed for over a year, separated from Killian and Henry and unable to remember her parents or anyone else she cares about. The pain of it is always fresh, as each time she remembers is as though it were the first. 

This time, though, something is different. She realises that this is the first time even in the dream that she remembers —fully and clearly— the events of her cursed life. She remembers seeking Killian out and the time she spent with him, remembers how the intense pull of the attraction she has always felt for him was undiminished by the curse. She remembers leaving his apartment full of determination to finally speak to Walsh, remembers actually succeeding in confronting her false spouse about her unhappiness in their ‘marriage’. Rage surges through her as she remembers his response. He fucking drugged her or… or something. Again. She remembers now that he does this every time she begins to question… well, anything. He doesn’t like her asking questions. 

Killian calls him a monster and Emma can only agree. 

She is so caught up in her thoughts and her fury that she doesn’t notice Killian’s presence until he speaks. 

“Swan.” 

His voice affects her as it always does, soothing her even as it sends a curling tendril of lust through her belly. He lies down next to her and she launches herself at him, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist and burying her face in his neck, drawing comfort as she always does from his warmth and strength. It’s almost impossible now for her to remember that there was once a time when she hesitated to trust him, when she resisted the instincts that told her she could. She trusts him now, completely. Trusts him enough to leave her son in his care, enough that even when he is quivering with coiled rage barely concealed beneath the smirk and swagger of Captain Hook she still feels safe with him. Whatever tricks or disguises he may use to protect himself, under it all he is always her Killian, her love, the man who would die, would kill, before he allowed any harm to come to her or Henry. She is aware that her trust leaves her vulnerable to him in a way that she has never been with anyone in her life. Even in her youth and naiveté with Neal she had never opened herself up this fully. With Killian she can be completely herself, her once-formidable walls reduced to rubble and every particle of dust that comprised them swept away. The comfort of this deep intimacy with another person, the relief of it, is something that the old Emma, safe and alone in her personal fortress had never anticipated. She never imagined how much lighter burdens felt when they were shared, never realised that sharing them did not make her weak, or mean she couldn’t manage on her own. It just meant that she didn’t have to. 

She never has to be on her own again because Killian is always with her. Even when she can’t remember him.

He strokes her hair and murmurs soothing nonsense in her ear until she relaxes against him, braces herself and allows the awful words to tumble out, all in a rush. “I think Walsh is drugging me,” she whispers, holding on tightly as his muscles tense beneath her hands. “Or keeping me under some sort of spell. I— I don’t think he’s under the curse. I think he’s here to— to watch me. To keep me under control.”

“Well, that would certainly explain a lot,” Killian growls, the deep rumble of it vibrating across her skin. “Why you seemed to forget about him when we were together today, why you couldn’t explain why you don’t wear a wedding ring.”

“My wedding ring…” Emma remembers now what she was not quite able to call to mind with Walsh that evening, remembers why she was so confused once she’d truly noticed, actually thought about why she didn’t have a ring. Because she has a ring, of course she does. The one that Killian placed on her finger on their wedding day. The one they chose together, the twin of his own. 

She looks down at her hand. There it is, winking up at her, a slim platinum band marked with the same engravings she’d unknowingly admired on Killian’s version that afternoon. In the dream she always has it. But where is it in reality? Fury bubbles up in her again. “What has that asshole done with my ring?!”

“Ssshh, love,” Killian frowns slightly in confusion but he says nothing, tries to calm her even though she can feel the anger in him as well. If what she thinks is true, if Walsh is awake, then he has deliberately stolen not only Emma’s agency but more than a year of their lives. A year when they should have been basking in the blissful happiness of newlyweds as they built the foundations of their future. A year when they should at the very least have been together.  

“We have got to break this curse,” Emma snarls, “And soon. I want to smash Walsh’s fucking face in myself and I don’t want to waste any more time.”

Killian chuckles and his expression when she looks up at him radiates pride. She knows he’s calling her a “tough lass” in his head, and it makes her smile through her anger. She loves that he loves this side of her. 

He loves everything about her and that is something Emma still struggles to fathom. 

“Don’t worry, love, we’ll break it,” he says, a hint of the old swagger back in his voice. “I find this sudden burst of memory you’re having most encouraging. You’re fighting, something in you is always fighting to free you from whatever curse or spell has you in its grasp. And you’re succeeding, darling.”  

His faith in her simply never wavers, and Emma hates the feeling that this time it’s misplaced. “How can you say I’m succeeding? Nothing has changed!”

“Hasn’t it? You say Walsh drugged you this evening?” She nods against his shoulder. “Well. What precipitated that?”

“I— asked him why I didn’t wear a ring. Why he didn’t wear one. And why we never did anything as a couple when I had memories —curse memories— of us doing stuff together with friends.” 

“So effectively you challenged the precepts of your cursed life. And how did he react?”

“He—” Emma struggles to remember. “He asked me about you. He said did this have anything to do with you, and when I said no he— he took this box off his desk and— I remember him opening it, but after that everything is blank. I think maybe he blew something into my eyes?”

She feels Killian’s hand twitch as though it wants to clench into a fist, but he continues to stroke her hair. “You see? If you weren’t succeeding at fighting back he wouldn’t need to take such measures to keep you in check. If you weren’t so dangerous he wouldn’t watch you so closely.”

She wants desperately for him to be right, but she cannot squash her doubts completely. Even as his staunch support renews her resolve, they prickle at the back of her mind. “Now, love,” Killian continues, and she can sense the effort it is costing him to keep his voice even. He is furious, but he is controlling it. “Can you remember anything about this box?”

“It’s silver,” says Emma, “Ornate. About… three inches long by two inches wide? He took it off his desk, I don’t know if that’s where he always keeps it.” 

“Can you find out?” 

She nods. “I can try. I’m getting better at leaving messages.” 

“Excellent.” 

He is silent for several minutes and Emma waits. She can tell he has something more on his mind, but knows there is no point in trying to push. He’ll tell her when he’s ready, and in the meantime she intends to enjoy this rare opportunity to cuddle, something the dreams do not generally allow. Is it because they haven’t had sex yet, she wonders, or are the dream’s restrictions relaxing somehow?

She snuggles closer, tightening her arms around him, tracing the lines of the scars on his back with her fingertips, remembering the last time they had the luxury of just lying in bed together, that last Sunday morning in New York before she left for Storybrooke. Henry was at Avery’s and she and Killian slept late, had lazy morning sex then whiled away a good hour snuggling in bed enjoying a rare quiet moment with just each other, until the need for food and toilets finally forced them up. 

It was the closest thing they’d had to a honeymoon. 

“I saw Frank today.” Killian’s voice breaks through her reverie.

Emma starts. This is unexpected. “On purpose?”

“Aye. He brought us a delivery, books and shelves. And information.”

“What sort of information? 

“I asked him if you might be able to fight off the curse. He said yes you could but in order to fully break it you would need both your true loves.” 

“Henry.” Emma still wishes her son didn’t have to be dragged into this, though she is trying to accept it. 

“Aye. His role is crucial, as we suspected. Frank also told me that the curse caster is particularly powerful in dark magic, as powerful as you are in light, and you’ll spend eternity locked in stalemate unless you have help.” 

Emma frowns. This is not particularly surprising but she remains wary. “I don’t trust Frank,” she grumbles.

“No wise mortal does, love, but he’s a valuable source of information.” 

“When it’s reliable.”

“It is this time, I’m certain of it.” 

There’s only one way anyone can be certain with creatures like Frank, and Emma bolts upright when she realises what he’s saying. “Killian, you didn’t challenge him!”

He has the grace to look abashed, if not repentant. “I needed to know.”

“Babe, it’s too much of a risk!”

“It’s fine, Swan, I got out. Or he let me go, I’m never quite sure.” 

“Still, I wish you wouldn’t. He could just as easily decide to take you and I’ll have to go to some land of Nog or whatever—”

“Just another name for Neverland, love.”

“—and get you back! How am I supposed to do that when I’m cursed in fucking Storybrooke?”

“All right, darling, all right. I promise not to try again—” 

“Good.” 

“—at least until after we break the curse.” 

“Killian!”

He gives her his wickedest grin and a raised eyebrow, and she entirely fails not to let them soften her indignation. He has been weighed down, she knows, both in the dreams and when she saw him that day, weighed down by worry and by the burdens he’s had to shoulder alone since she left. The melancholy that has always been present in him has been magnified by it, pulled to the fore and so wrapped and tangled around him that the cheeky pirate she first fell in lust with has been almost completely obscured. 

Emma loves every part of him. But she’s missed that pirate. 

Killian gives her arm a sharp tug that brings her tumbling down onto his chest. He curls his hand around the back of her neck and pulls her mouth to his in a kiss that is intended to be reassuring, to remind her that he is still here and that every risk he takes is calculated to give him the best possible odds of survival. He is reckless but not rash, which he insists is a crucial distinction, and Emma supposes that this should actually reassure her but it never does. 

She couldn’t bear to lose him, and this alone ensures that she will never be rational about him putting himself in danger. 

She fists her hand in his hair, tugging the soft strands with enough force to let him know she means business, and takes control of the kiss, changing the angle to force his lips apart and plunging her tongue into his mouth. He meets it with his own, duelling with her, but when they finally break apart he holds back, waiting for her next move. He is ceding control to her, happy as ever for her to set the pace and mood, and Emma realises that what she wants more than anything right now is to make love to him, slow and sensual like that last Sunday morning. She wants to wrap her love around him like a blanket, like a shield, to protect him from the dangers he insists on courting and from the intangible ravages of his own sadness. 

She’s not sure if she can do that from the dream but she can damned well try. 

She calls her magic to her, flexing it experimentally like a muscle long disused. It’s been so long since she’s called it that the reserves are almost flooded. She pulls it into fine strands and weaves them together, weft and warp wound densely, as impenetrable as she can make it. 

She’s not certain how she’s doing this, wishes she’d had more time for training, but her instincts have always guided her well. She runs her hands down Killian’s chest, savouring the smooth skin and soft hair, the ridges of scar tissue, the firm muscles that leap beneath her fingertips. He sighs when she follows the path of her hands with her lips, wrapping her magic around him as she goes, securing it to him with every kiss. She checks the protection spell around his heart, relieved to find it still firmly intact, but reinforces it with this new magic weave, just in case. Kissing a trail back up his chest she finds him watching her with a curious expression. He knows she’s doing something with her magic but though he isn’t sure what he doesn’t question her and she knows he won’t. He trusts her.  

She leans down and kisses him deeply, softly, letting him feel her love even as her magic secures it around him. His arms come around her, his hand sliding down her back and over her ass, pulling her hips tightly against his. He is hard and hot between her legs and she rocks against him, making him moan into her mouth in that helpless way that she finds so empowering. She shifts the angle of her hips, lifting them until he slips inside her. He pushes in deep and she braces on his chest, arching her back to meet his thrust and seat him in fully. Then she begins to rock in earnest, finding her rhythm instantly as always in the dream. Her hair tumbles in messy waves around her face as she leans down, wanting to feel his skin on hers, the soft abrasion of his chest hair against her nipples. His eyes are hazy with passion, his expression awed as it always is when she is on top. She kisses him again, sloppy and wet, then whispers in his ear. “Talk to me.” 

Words begin to pour from his lips, by turns filthy and beautiful, breathy swears and prayers to the old gods, paeans to her beauty and to the feel of her body against and around him, heartfelt declarations of his love. Emma revels in it, feeds on it; what would once have embarrassed her she now craves. Her magic responds to the love that pours from him and she weaves it into her spell, strengthening the protection still further. 

His love for her will keep him safe, as much as hers for him. There is a poetry in that which he would surely appreciate. 

She ties off her spell and seals the edges, just as she was taught to do, then quickens the movements of her hips. Killian begins to gasp beneath her, his hand gripping her hair. He’s so close, just on the edge, but he is holding back, waiting for her. She loves him for that though it’s not what she wants tonight. She wants to watch him fall to pieces, wants to appreciate the look on his face when he comes. 

She squeezes herself tightly around him and rocks still faster, riding him hard in a way that would have her muscles straining anywhere but in the dream. He gasps her name in a desperate plea. “Emma… I can’t…” 

“Don’t, then,” she says. “Let go, Killian. I want to watch.” 

With a groan he complies, his arms tightening around her and his hips lifting her off the mattress as he comes. He’s beautiful in his release, she thinks, though he hates her using that word to describe him it’s undeniably true. His long eyelashes flutter over his flushed cheeks as his face relaxes into bliss. 

“I love you so much,” she whispers, almost too softly for him to hear, as her own orgasm begins to break over her. “Nothing is going to harm you.” He growls in the back of his throat and grabs her ass, grinding his pelvis against hers, the pressure on her clit sending her flying. 

He holds her tightly as she rides it out. “I won’t leave you, Emma,” he whispers into her hair, understanding as always what lies behind her actions. “Not ever, not for anything.” 

She knows he won’t, not intentionally, but despite his cocky assurances he is not indestructible. The last thing she does as the dream begins to dissipate is make one final check of the new protection spell, reassuring herself that he is as safe as she can make him, shielded against whatever may seek to take him from her. 

---

“You saw her last night,” said Henry, before Killian could even manage to open his mouth to wish the lad good morning. “What did she say?”

Killian sighed. He had lain awake for several hours after the dream had ended, trying to decide how much Henry could and should be told. He wished to conceal as little as possible but with Henry already so upset over Regina’s circumstances Killian had finally decided that the lad didn’t need all the gory details of Emma’s as well.   

He placed bowl, cereal, and milk in front of Henry before replying. “You remember your theory, that the strength of the curse might be gauged by the strength of the cursed relationships?” he asked. 

“Yeah?” Henry filled his bowl as full as it would go, and Killian silently resigned himself to drips and splashes of milk on the countertop. Again. 

“Well, I don’t think your mum’s cursed marriage is very strong.” Henry’s eyes widened in interest as he stuffed a loaded and dripping spoonful of cereal into his mouth. 

Afraid the boy might attempt to ask him why before he’d had a chance to chew his food, Killian rushed on. “When she was here yesterday afternoon there was a moment when she appeared to forget Walsh entirely, and last night she informed me that she had gone home afterwards and confronted him over some…inconsistencies in her cursed memories.”

“You think she’s fighting off the curse?” Henry asked, fortunately with his mouth empty. 

“That’s precisely what I think.” Killian beamed at him, pleased with the acuity of his insight. “It doesn’t seem to have a particularly firm grip on her, which I must say I find odd given your experiences with that wind and what you reported about Regina. For her to be uncursed, or at least aware, in such circumstances and not to fight back, there must be something powerful indeed restraining her. So why would it have a lesser hold on Emma? Perhaps due to her Saviour magic?”

“That’s why I need to talk to my mom, so we can find out—”

“We’ve discussed this, Henry.”

“But—”

“No, it’s too dangerous for you. Both your mothers would tear strips from my hide if I allowed you to take such a risk, and frankly I don’t have that much hide to spare. Now finish your breakfast and go to school, no detours this time.” Killian barely stopped himself from insisting on walking with him, at least as far as Granny’s. 

Henry looked like he wanted badly to argue but finally wilted under Killian’s very finest I-am-the-captain-of-this-pirate-ship-you-will-obey-me stare. “All right,” he sighed. “But remember what you promised to tell her.”

“I haven’t forgotten.” 

“Tell her we’re gonna break the curse, too. Give her hope.” 

“Aye, lad. You have my word.” 

After Henry left Killian tidied the kitchen and then the flat, collecting Henry’s dirty clothes and damp towels from his bedroom floor and putting them in the washing machine. The washing machine was the one device from this realm that Killian loved with unconstrained fervour. Perfectly clean clothing was a luxury he had rarely been afforded in his life, and he couldn’t get enough of it. 

Chores completed he headed downstairs, considering possible strategies for contacting Regina. He could hardly stroll up to the house and ring the bell, yet he didn’t really relish lurking in the bushes waiting in case she emerged. If only he had some means of getting a message to her. 

He’d think about it as he walked, he decided, perhaps the exercise would stimulate his mind. Opening the door he strode outside without looking, and found himself colliding —again— with Emma. 

Damn and blast it all to the icy depths of Davy Jones’ locker, he thought, as his arms closed instinctively around his wife, this is getting ridiculous. 

Unlike the first two times they’d found themselves like this Emma seemed in no hurry to pull away from him, instead clinging tightly to the back of his jacket and inhaling deeply against his neck. Killian held his own breath, waiting for her to move, wondering if she could possibly be remembering… Familiar scents could trigger memories, he’d read that somewhere, and Emma had always loved the way he smelled. Salty like the sea, she’d told him with a smile. And sometimes like rum. But always sort of… spicy? That’s the essence of you. 

She leaned infinitesimally closer, close enough that he could feel her racing heartbeat and hear the hitch in her rapid breathing. His arms were already around her, all he’d have to do was tighten them, just tilt her head back, and he could kiss her. His body begged him to do it, screamed with the need to feel her lips against his, really feel them, not merely to dream it. Somehow he knew that if he did she wouldn’t resist, but he couldn’t, damn it, it was too bloody soon. She didn’t love him, not this version of her. This was simply lust, the basic animal attraction she’d never been able to deny, even when he’d been her enemy. If he kissed her now the curse would be unaffected but she would not. She would feel guilty which would make her feel angry, and would certainly drive her away. 

He loosened his hold on her and began to step back when she looked up at him, the expression in her eyes so familiar that it stole his breath. She looked like she saw him, really saw him, as though she remembered…

“Emma?” he whispered, hardly daring to hope. 

She opened her mouth to reply when a sudden whirlwind whipped up out of nowhere, swirling around them, forcing itself between them, prying them apart. Emma stumbled back and wrapped her arms around herself as her whole body quaked with shivers, and when she looked at him again it was through cursed eyes. 

Killian swallowed back both his disappointment and his sudden bloodcurdling fear, and arranged his face into its bland smile. “Swan,” he said. “Won’t you come in?” He wanted her off the bloody street and out of public view. This was clearly the wind that Henry had described, and Killian greatly disliked its presence on his doorstep. He held the door open and Emma entered, looking grateful. 

“That’s a hell of a brisk breeze,” she laughed, though she looked uncomfortable. 

“Aye,” he agreed, subtly locking the door behind them as he ushered her into the shop, behind a bookcase and out of sight of the windows. “What can I do for you, Swan?”

She stuffed her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, looking awkward. “Um, I was just wondering… about those books we looked at the other day?”

“Aye.”

“Well, um, I know you’re not technically open yet but I was hoping I could buy a few.”

Killian’s smile warmed as hope unfurled in his chest. At least one aspect of their plan was going as predicted. Even under a curse, the pull that Emma’s magic exerted on her would not be denied. “Of course,” he said. “Which ones did you have in mind?”

To his delight Emma chose three of the books he’d recommended to her on magical practice and spell casting, paying for them in cash. When the sale was completed and he took out a bag for them, Emma began to shift her feet. “Um,” she said. 

“Did you not want a bag?” he asked in mild surprise. “These ones are actually made of corn starch, so they’re biodegradable—”

“No, it’s not that,” she said, “though that’s actually really cool. I was just wondering… I know it’s a bit weird but I was wondering if I could leave them here.” 

“Leave them here?”

“Yeah, I just— it’s just— things with my husband are a bit, um, weird right now, and I’d just prefer—” 

Hah, thought Killian, with a surge of pride. She’d obviously managed to leave herself at least one subliminal message. Of course she had, she was never less than brilliant. “Say no more, love. Of course you can leave them here. I’ll keep them in the desk for you, you’re welcome to come in and read them any time.”

She looked relieved. “Thanks.” 

Sudden inspiration hit Killian. “It’s no problem,” he said, “But I wonder if you would mind doing me a small favour in return.” 

Relief turned to wariness. “What sort of favour?”

“I need to get a message to someone, and for various reasons upon which I’d prefer not to elaborate, speaking to her directly is difficult. Would you carry a note to her for me?”

“Um, sure, I suppose. Who is ‘she’?”

“Regina Mills,” he replied, hoping the Queen’s cursed surname hadn’t changed. 

Emma’s brow wrinkled in bafflement. “The Nolans’ maid?” she asked. 

“Aye, that’s her.” 

“Why do you want—” she began, then shook herself. “No, never mind, it’s none of my business. Regina normally goes to the market in the mornings, if you give me the note now I can try to catch her there before she leaves.” 

“Perfect. Er, one moment.” Killian scrambled to think of how to convey to Regina that he needed to speak with her, that she should come to find him, in a way that only she would comprehend. 

The Queen was an educated woman, he reflected. Educated by the Dark One himself, who would surely have been thorough. Languages must have featured heavily in their curriculum. But which language to choose? Killian’s Elvish was rusty but in Latin he was still fluent, and Latin was a very common language in magical scholarship. Perhaps too common, but it was a risk he’d have to take. Quickly he tore a piece off the bottom of his notepad and scrawled a few words upon it. There, he thought. Obscure, but still comprehensible, if given just a little bit of added context. 

“Be sure you tell her it’s from the new bookshop owner,” he instructed Emma. “This is very important. Tell her the shop is called Jolly Roger Books, tell her where to find it, but don’t give her my name.” 

“From the owner of Jolly Roger Books,” Emma repeated. “Got it.” 

Killian handed her the scrap of paper, watching in amusement as she glanced down at it. She just couldn’t help herself, he thought fondly. Emma’s eyes widened and she held up the paper, showing it to him as though he hadn’t just written it.  

“What the hell is this?” she demanded. “What language— no, never mind. None of my business.”She scowled at him. “Though you have to admit it’s a bit weird, you sending secret notes in foreign languages to the deputy mayor’s housemaid.”

Killian’s brows snapped together, the cheeky reply he’d been formulating dying on his tongue. “Deputy mayor?” he asked sharply. 

Emma looked surprised. “Yeah. Mary Margaret Nolan. I guess you wouldn’t have heard of her since you only just moved here, but she’s been the deputy mayor for as long as I can remember.” 

Killian’s mind raced. “And who is the mayor?” he asked, carefully keeping his tone casually interested though his every nerve was buzzing. So Mary Margaret was in Regina’s house, but evidently not precisely in her shoes, he thought. This felt very significant. 

“Mayor Green,” Emma replied. “She’s my sister-in-law, actually.” Once again, Emma gave that startled jolt she did each time she was reminded of her cursed marriage. “Walsh’s sister. Zelena Green.” 

Chapter Text

It was a good thing she’d decided to walk, reflected Emma as she left the bookstore. She  could seriously use some time in the fresh air to clear her head. 

What was it about Killian Jones that got to her like this? He was just so... so...

Hot, her mind supplied. But it was more than that. He was so... comforting... so... familiar... so... baffling, she finally concluded. She could not shake the certainty that she knew him, though how that could be possible she had no idea. She knew only that standing close to him for that brief, intense moment at the door of the bookstore with the warm and warmly familiar comfort of his arms around her she’d found her mind awhirl with what she was prepared to swear were memories. Memories of him and his son —her son?— living together, being a family. Talking, laughing, arguing, cooking meals together, eating ice cream in front of the TV. Helping Henry with his homework, both of them tearing their hair out over his algebra problems, Killian breezing in and making them look easy. The light of understanding breaking across Henry’s face. Naval academy, love. Making Henry go to bed. Mo-om, can’t I just watch one more? Going to bed with Killian. Falling asleep in his arms, her head on his chest, the stump of his arm nestled in the small of her back. Sex with him —God, how could she remember that?— His hand on her, his mouth, the look on his face as he worshipped her body, the look on it when she reversed their positions and worshipped his. I want you the way I want to breathe, Emma. How he challenged her, blue eyes flashing, how they challenged each other, the push and pull of a loving relationship between strong-willed equals. I love you more than my life, Swan, but you are being bloody infuriating right now. —Oh, I’m being infuriating?Yes, and you’re wrong.

Above all she remembered loving, and feeling loved, by both of them, Killian and Henry, with an intensity that she was certain she’d never known with Walsh. 

You hate Walsh. Those words in her head, spoken in her own voice —how could it be hers— had galvanised her and she’d remembered, absolutely remembered, that they were true.

And she had, in that moment, hated the man she called her husband, felt a surge of vicious fury against him that was both terrifying and right. 

Then the wind had swirled up and around her and into her very bones, dousing her fury and clouding her mind. 

What an odd little fantasy, another voice, firm and controlling and stronger than the first, had declared. And it seemed so real. And Emma in her confusion could only recall that she had come to the shop to buy some books on magic. She wasn’t quite sure why, only that learning magic —learning about magic, obviously, magic wasn’t real— learning about magic was somehow imperative. 

But now the wind was gone and the voice was gone, and Killian’s presence and the calm of his shop had cleared away the fog brought by the wind and the voice and she remembered again. Remembered what she’d thought were memories —they couldn’t really be memories— and remembered how she’d been made to forget. 

He’d seemed to be feeling something too, she recalled, before the wind —Emma shivered— had forced them inside. He’d spoken her name with such… hope? Reverence? Whatever it was it had squeezed her heart, wrapped it in iron-hard bands of sadness and yearning that made the interference of the wind almost a relief. 

Almost. That wind was fucking creepy. It was malevolent. It wanted to confuse her, wanted her to forget. 

What was that all about? 

And what was Killian about, she thought, swallowing down the surely irrational wave of hurt and betrayal she felt as she recalled her errand. Sending notes to the Nolans’ housemaid, weird notes in foreign languages at that. Just how the hell did he know Regina Mills? To Emma’s knowledge Regina had never been out of Storybrooke… although she couldn’t actually remember… when had she met Regina? Had they ever actually spoken before? Emma was certain they had but couldn’t call to mind a single memory of it. 

She was beginning to realise there were a lot of things she couldn’t remember. 

She felt no closer to sorting out her confusion when she arrived at the market and spotted Regina loading up her shopping bags. The other woman’s appearance always showed the effects of exhaustion and anxiety —did it?— but today she looked even worse than usual, her posture stooped and the circles under her eyes cavernous.

“Um, hey,” said Emma, approaching with what she hoped was a friendly smile. “Do you need a hand with those?”

Regina jumped and stumbled back, her eyes darting around in alarm. “No, it’s fi—” she began, but Emma had already picked up one of her bags. 

“I insist,” said Emma, feeling her own anxiety increase after that weird reaction. Had she done something to Regina that she couldn’t remember? What could possibly make the other woman react to simple civility like it was a threat?

“Sheriff, it’s really okay.” Regina followed her out of the market, her expression frantic. “I can carry it.” 

“Look,” snapped Emma, suddenly tired of oblique communication and of feeling so confused. She wanted something direct, straightforward, comprehensible. “I don’t really want to carry your groceries. But we need to talk. I have something for you.” 

“Something… for me?”

“Yeah. It’s a note. Here.” She withdrew the small slip of paper from her jacket pocket and handed it to Regina. “It’s from the owner of the new bookstore that’s opening soon.” 

Regina took the scrap of paper from her hand and read it quickly. Emotions flickered across her face, surprise, fear, confusion, a faint flash of hope. Her hand began to tremble. “Who— who gave you this?” 

“I told you, the owner of the new bookstore. He said to tell you it’s called Jolly Roger Books. It’s in the old cannery building, near the harbour.” 

Regina was shaking so hard now Emma was afraid her knees might collapse. “Jolly Roger…” she whispered. “But that’s impossible.” She looked up and there was a sharpness in her gaze that hadn’t been there before. “What does this man look like?”

Gorgeous. Emma blushed as the word sprang into her mind. “Um, well, he has dark hair and blue eyes. So blue. Tallish, but not super tall. Just the right height. Scruffy beard, slender, but like, strong. His arms are strong.” 

Oh fuck, she’d said that last one out loud.

Regina gave her a sardonic look that seemed out of character. Did it? “Handsome?” she asked, in a tone with some definite snark. 

Emma bristled. She may be attracted to Killian but she was also married —was she?— yes damn it she was, and she didn’t like what Regina seemed to be implying. “He’s not ugly,” she replied coolly. 

“And does he—” Regina cleared her throat, her voice breaking over the question. “Does he have a— any children?”

“Yeah, a son.”

Regina’s hand gripped the sleeve of Emma’s jacket, knuckles stark white against the red leather. “Have you seen this son?” 

Emma reflected that this was probably the weirdest, most intense conversation she’d ever had. “Um, yeah. I met him in Granny’s the first day they arrived. Nice kid. Likes Indiana Jones.” She hesitated, unsure if it was wise to continue, but something deep in the depths of her mind urged her to say the words. “His name’s Henry.” 

Regina let out a whoosh of breath and her shoulders sagged. She whispered something Emma couldn’t quite hear but it might have been “Thank the gods.” 

“You all right, Regina?”

“Yes. Yes, I am.” Regina stood and straightened her shoulders, releasing Emma’s sleeve and taking her grocery bag. She seemed taller, and for the first time since their odd conversation began there was no fear in her expression. “Thank you, Sheriff. I have to go now, or I’ll be late. But thank you.”  

---------

Emma went home. She was meant to be out on patrol, but her bug drove her to her —Walsh’s, you’ve never felt at home there— house, and then her feet carried her inside it. Straight to Walsh’s study. 

He wasn’t there, and the door was unlocked. Emma had no idea whether it was normally locked or not, she’d never gone in before except to see him, and even when she knew he was home she tended to avoid it. 

Why do you do that?

That voice in her head, she’d heard it before. For as long as she could remember it had been there, popping up unexpectedly to encourage her or warn her or to remind her of things she’d forgotten, but since her embrace with Killian that morning it hadn’t shut up. It sounded so much like her own voice. Emma remembered —did she remember— hearing a recording of herself, someone had taken a video? —when was this— and she’d cringed watching it. Her foster mother had laughed —wait, what foster mother— and told her that everyone thought their voice was weird when they heard it from the outside. But Emma still hadn’t believed her voice really sounded like that. 

This voice sounded like that. 

Why do you avoid the study, Emma? the voice persisted. 

“I don’t know.” Her words reverberated off the dark-panelled walls, loud in the silence and unnatural stillness of the room. Emma shivered. 

The silver box was where she expected to find it —how had she known it was there— and when she picked it up she shivered again. It was cold, a coldness deriving from intent as much as material, and its gleam as she held it up in a dusty shaft of sunlight seemed somehow malign. 

What was it? 

That’s not important, said the voice. Look inside. 

Emma flipped open the delicate lid, nearly spilling the dark, sparkling powder inside as her hand began to shake in fear. 

Why are you afraid?

“This— this powder,” she said, to no one in the room. 

Yes?

“It’s dangerous.” 

It is. 

“But what is it?”

Take some. Find out. 

“Find out how?”

You know how. 

Emma pulled a clear plastic evidence bag from her jacket pocket —when had she put that there— and tipped some of the powder inside it. 

Not too much or he’ll notice. 

“I know.” 

She poured in what she reckoned was about a gram, then carefully closed the box and replaced it on Walsh’s desk, precisely where she had found it. 

A little to the left. 

Emma adjusted the box. Now it was precisely where she’d found it. 

Good. Now let’s get the hell out of here. 

-----------

Henry burst through the shop door and raced over to where Killian was shelving books, bursting with excitement. “Did you see her? What did she say? Is she all right?”

Killian turned and raised an eyebrow. “Hello to you too, lad, I’m fine, thank you for asking. How was your day?” 

Henry sighed. “It was fine. It was a school day. So did you see her?”

Killian braced himself. “Not yet.” 

“What? But Dad—”

“Now, don’t fly into a lather, Henry.” Killian held up his hands placatingly. “I’ve sent her a message.” 

“A message,” repeated Henry, in the tone of one who canNOT believe his ears.  

“Aye, a message. Telling her to seek me out.”

“Seek you out.” Henry’s face and voice displayed such a uniquely teenage mixture of frustration and petulance that although he knew he mustn’t Killian almost smiled. 

“Aye. I know it’s not what you’d hoped for, lad, but remember that until we really have the lay of the land here we must be discreet. That wind you described was outside the shop this morning and behaving very boldly indeed. Whoever is responsible for it seems to be watching us, and if I’m observed speaking to Regina there may be unpleasant consequences. Best to let her come to us. She presumably will know how to do so without attracting undue attention.”

Henry thought for a moment. “I guess that makes sense,” he conceded, though disappointment still laced his voice. “Do you know when she’ll be here?”

“No idea, I’m afraid. I’ve had to be a bit obscure in the wording of the note, but I expect she’ll understand. It will depend on when she’s able to get away without being noticed, I imagine.” 

“What did the note say?”

“‘Quaeris quid sit in libris.’ Can you translate that?”

“Um,” Henry hesitated. What with all the upheaval of the past few weeks and the long, tiring journey from New York they hadn’t had a Latin lesson in some time, but the boy had a good memory. “What you look for is in a book?” 

“Excellent. What you are looking for, or more precisely what you seek.” 

Henry nodded, frowning slightly as he thought. “So, like, the books in the shop. And also, maybe, my storybook?”

“Aye, lad I’m hoping she’ll think of both those things. We know she’s seen you so she’ll be seeking to know that you’re safe. We just need to connect the idea of you to the location of the bookstore. I’m hoping the note will be enough.” 

“I don’t know, Mom’s smart but that’s really vague.” 

“Indeed, but I asked your mum, Emma that is, she’s the one delivering the note—”

“Wait, Mom was here again?” Henry’s excitement returned in a rush. 

“—to explain who it was from and give the name of the shop. That should be sufficient.” 

“Sure, maybe, but Mom was here again?”

Killian grinned. “She bought some books.” 

“All right, Mom!” Henry pumped his fist in the air then bumped it against Killian’s. “Do you think she’s remembering? I think she must be remembering.”

“Er… maybe, but don’t get too—”

“Emma’s remembering and Regina will be here soon—”

“Henry—”

“—and we’ll break the curse and everything will be okay again!” 

“Henry, there’s still a lot—”

“Dad, I know we still have a long way to go, but come on! This is good! Isn’t it?” He grinned expectantly and Killian was helpless to resist. Just like Emma when she got on a roll, the lad was a force of nature. 

“Aye, I suppose it is. And your mum —Emma— she left her books here.”

“So she’ll be back.” 

“Aye.” 

Henry was practically dancing. “She’ll come back and she’ll find her magic and she’ll fall in love with you again and then we can break this curse together and…” 

Killian sighed and handed Henry some books to shelve, figuring the boy might at least make himself useful while he enthused. Henry’s positivity was impossibly infectious, and although Killian tried to follow his own advice and not get too carried away he felt his spirits rising under the influence of it. Despite everything there had been some positive developments, he reflected. Now they just needed Regina to figure out that note.  

-----------

Some hours later Killian jerked awake, every sense on high alert. The clock on his bedside table informed him that it was just past three am, and the instincts that had kept him alive for hundreds of years told him that there was someone downstairs in the shop. Rising silently from his bed he stopped to check on Henry —sound asleep; he slept like the dead, same as Emma— then crept downstairs, his slippered feet making no noise on the iron steps. 

He was nearly at the bottom when a voice emerged from a densely shadowed corner. A familiar, haughty voice. 

“Well, Captain,” it said. “I admit I did not expect to see you again.” 

“I’m often surprising like that, Your Majesty.” 

She stepped out of the shadows and into a shaft of moonlight that shone through one of the tall windows. Killian hissed in his breath, barely managing to keep his expression neutral. She was so different if he’d seen her in the street he might not have recognised her. 

“It’s all right,” she said. “You can gawp in horror, I know what I look like.” 

Killian pulled himself together, summoning every scrap of his old charm. “Regal as ever,” he said with a bow. 

“Don’t patronise me,” she spat. “I’ve been living in a nightmare for over a year, it’s taken its toll on more than just my face.” 

“I can’t even imagine how difficult it’s been,” said Killian and Regina blinked, taken aback by his sincerity. “I would have arrived sooner but we wanted to be as sure as possible of what we were dealing with before I did.” 

“We?”

“Emma and I.” 

“Emma? But— Emma is under the curse. I’m sure of it.” 

“Aye, she is. We have— other ways of communicating.” 

Regina opened her mouth to ask what he felt certain would be a very pointed question, but he cut her off. “There’s a great deal we need to discuss, Regina. Perhaps you’d like to sit down, and start by telling me why you chose to answer my note in the middle of the bloody night.”

To his relief, she followed him to the sofa without further comment, sitting as elegantly as ever, her posture straight and her expression cool on her ravaged face. “I’m being watched,” she said. “That’s why I’m here in the middle of the night. It’s the only time she’s not watching me. I suppose even she must sleep.” 

Killian frowned. “Who is ‘she’ and how does she watch you?”

“”She,’” Regina drew out the word with a touch of her old flair and drama. “Is Zelena, caster of this curse, and apparently my sister.” 

“Your sister?!” Killian recognised Zelena as the name Emma had given for Storybrooke's new mayor, but the revelation of her kinship with Regina seemed more pertinent. 

“Yes. Cora’s elder daughter.” 

“Cora—” Killian was incapable of speaking the name without a snarl. 

Regina waved her hand “Yes, but that’s not what you need to focus on here. The point is she watches me, constantly. She uses a crystal ball, one that lets her see everyone and everything in Storybrooke. I thought it best she didn’t see me meeting you, so I waited until the eyes on me were gone and I poofed myself here.” 

“Poofed? I’m afraid I’m not familiar with that term.”

“How odd, since it was your girlfriend who coined it. I transported magically.” 

“You have your magic?” Killian’s voice rose in surprise. “Why haven’t you used it? Against this Zelena, I mean?”

Regina hesitated. “Before I answer that, I need some information from you in return.”

Killian had expected no less. “Fair enough. Ask me anything you like.” 

“Well, to start how are you here? The last I saw of you was when you left us in the Enchanted Forest. How did you get to this realm? How do you communicate with Emma? And why is… why is my son here with you?”

Killian couldn’t help but but bristle at her tone, though he kept his temper firmly under control. The Queen had always brought out the worst in him, and she evidently hadn’t changed as much as her appearance might suggest. “I came to this realm not quite two years ago, using a magic bean,” he replied, rather stiffly. “How I communicate with Emma is for the moment not up for discussion and Henry is here with me because he is my son, legally that is, according to documents that I am assured are indistinguishable from authentic ones. He’s been in my sole care since Emma came to Storybrooke.”

The hauteur drained from Regina, and she seemed to wilt from the loss of it and the weight of her relief. “So… he’s fine?” she whispered. “He’s safe? No one has… hurt him.” 

“He is hale and hearty and as willful as both his mothers.” Killian offered a small smile. “I’ve looked after him well, Regina.” 

Her lips twitched in response but her expression was clouded with confusion, and possibly a hint of shame. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I don’t— why— why would you do that?” 

“The documents I have present the lie that he’s my son, but the truth is not that far off. I’m his stepfather.” Killian held up his hand for her to see, his wedding ring sparkling in the faint moonlight. “Emma and I got married, a few days before she left to come here.” 

Regina laughed, her moment of humility clearly over. “How the hell did that happen?”

“In the usual manner for this realm, Emma assures me,” he replied coolly. “There was a judge and a witness, and for the first time in my considerable experience neither were there to charge me with or accuse me of a crime.”

She rolled her eyes. “What I meant was how did you get Emma to agree to it?” 

“I knew what you meant.” His voice was calm but glacially cold, and she was instantly defensive. 

“Well, come on, Hook, can you blame me for being surprised? Your feelings for her have always been pathetically obvious, but hers for you…” 

Killian reflected that not so very long ago this blatant mockery would have hurt him, hit him right where he was most vulnerable. He would have lashed out, hissed and spat like the wounded beast he’d been, insisted that he didn’t care about Emma’s feelings or that she was merely the means to an end for him. But a great deal had changed in a short time, and now he simply raised an eyebrow.

“I tell you I’ve taken care of your son for a year and you reciprocate by suggesting my wife doesn’t love me? Bad form, Your Majesty.” 

He was astonished to observe that she actually flushed. “I apologise,” she said stiffly. “I just want to be sure I understand everything.” 

“All you need to understand is that there were circumstances which at the moment are none of your concern, that accelerated our courtship somewhat.”  

(They’d been at the kitchen island in their apartment in New York, he regaling her with tales about his day, she magically altering Henry’s birth certificate and creating one for Killian, when she dropped the bombshell. 

“I think we should get married.” She tossed it out casually, like she was reminding him to pick up the dry cleaning or asking what he’d like for dinner. 

“— and so I said to Frank — wait, WHAT?”

“You heard me.” 

“Did I, though?” He knew his jaw was hanging open but had no strength to close it. 

She squirmed under his astonished gaze. “It’s just— we’re faking all these documents, and it depresses me a bit. I hate all this… this subterfuge. I want at least some of it to be real. If we get married, you’ll be Henry’s stepdad. There’ll be a real bond between you.” 

Killian managed to close his mouth as he absorbed this. “You just want to marry me for the sake of the lad, then?” He tried to conceal his hurt, but she read him as well as he did her.

“And, you know, maybe a little bit for me too,” she said softly. 

A wide grin broke across his face. “So you want to be my wife,” he purred, leaning into her space, hips first.  

“Maybe I do.” 

“And why might that be, Swan?” He kept his voice light but they both knew the import of the question.

She flushed. “You know why.” 

“Aye, I do, but I’d like to hear you say it, at least once.” He attempted to tease, to sound like he wasn’t pushing for more than she could give. “Especially if you seek the honour of my hand in marriage.” 

She took a deep breath. “So… I might, you know. Love you. Kind of.” 

“You love me kind of?” He thought his grin would split his face. “And you think that sufficient to entice me to matrimony?”

“I love you a lot, okay?” she burst out, trying to look exasperated though her eyes were soft. “You are the love of my life and that scares the shit out of me because I have lost everyone I ever cared about and I can’t lose you too. I want something solid between us before I go. Something that binds us together.” 

His face softened as the grin and teasing both fell away and he reached up to cup her cheek in his hand. “There is nothing more solid or binding than what is already between us, my love,” he said softly. “But I have no objection to making it legal. Despite how I might have wished to be the one to do the asking.” 

Emma covered his hand with hers and dropped a light kiss on the inside of his wrist, allowing herself just a moment of open vulnerability before taking refuge once again. “Look, I get that you’re old but that doesn’t mean you have to be so traditional all the time,” she snarked, returning her attention to the documents.  

“Traditions exist for a reason, Swan.” 

“Sure, but is it a good reason…”)

“Hook.” Killian was startled from his memories by Regina’s sharp tone. 

“Aye,” he replied. “So there you have it, my Queen. Henry is safe, we’re both here and now if you’d be so kind as to tell me your tale. What do you know about this curse? How and why was it cast, and why haven’t you used your magic against this Zelena?”

“I don’t know how it was cast.” Frustration laced Regina’s voice. “It came out of nowhere, with no warning, and what’s most troubling is that it wasn’t the Dark Curse.” 

“How did it bring everyone to Storybrooke, then?”

“I have no idea. I just told you, I don’t know how it was cast. I only had time for a brief look at it, but I remember thinking that it looked like the Dark Curse but not, like a— a distorted mirror image. Many of the elements were there, even what looked like my own magical signature, but it was still all wrong.” 

“Odd,” said Killian, stroking his chin as he thought. “Henry said something very similar about Storybrooke itself, that it was the same but not. And I myself observed that the forest surrounding the town seems rather… off.” 

“Otherworldly,” agreed Regina. “Not like the forest that was here during my curse. I admit I haven’t noticed anything odd about Storybrooke, but I only go to the market and the house, and… well, my mind has been on other things.” 

Killian nodded in understanding. “If that’s the case, then how did you come to meet this Zelena?”

“She introduced herself to me,” said Regina with a roll of her eyes. “Zelena has a penchant for grandstanding. Really, it’s such a cliche. The bwah hah hah villain revealing her plan just so she can cackle at her victims. And this woman literally cackles. I like to think I had more subtlety.” 

“Weeeell,” hedged Killian, recalling some of his past interactions with the Evil Queen. “You had your moments, Your Majesty. And your… outfits.” 

“Says the man who spent two hundred years in a flamboyant leather coat,” she sneered. 

“Fair point.” He conceded for the sake of the fragile peace between them, though he loved that coat. This realm’s clothing simply did not compare. 

Regina clearly was thinking along similar lines, if her wistful expression was anything to go by. “Anyway,” she said, “Immediately after the curse was cast, Zelena had me imprisoned. I woke up in some sort of storm cellar, in a cage. I broke out immediately, of course, only to find Zelena outside the door waiting for me. She preened and paraded and told me her story about being my sister. I didn’t believe her, which made her furious. I tried to leave and she attacked me. We duelled, but… her magic is more powerful than mine.” Regina paused, scowling at the memory. “I lost, and she knocked me out again. When I came to I was back in the cage, only this time there was a crystal ball next to me. In it I saw Henry, in New York. There was a man watching him. Zelena appeared, and told me that if I challenged her again the man would kill him. She may have been bluffing but I couldn’t risk it. I agreed to all her conditions in exchange for her promise to keep Henry safe. I didn’t trust her, but what choice did I have?”

“No choice at all.” Killian had a terrible feeling that he knew who the man watching Henry had been, and he fought back the rage that threatened to boil over within him. 

Regina shot him a surprised look, then continued. “She told me that this curse was my punishment, for all the advantages I’d had that she had been denied. Being raised by Cora and trained by Rumple is apparently what she considers advantages, what she thought should have been her birthright. She said she wanted me to experience the humiliation she had felt, and so she made me servant to Snow White.”

A bloody vicious sense of humour, Killian thought again. This Zelena certainly had the measure of Regina. Nothing could be more precisely engineered to humiliate the Queen than being forced to bow and scrape to Snow. 

“I have hated every second of my life since then, but I got through it by reminding myself that I was doing it for Henry, to keep him safe. That didn’t make things any better, but it gave me a purpose, a reason to go on. Then one day I was on my way to the market and I saw Emma. I was thrilled because I thought she was here to break the curse, but after days went by and nothing changed I got worried. It seemed like whenever I went out I saw her but she was just going about her day, like everything was normal, and I didn’t know what she was doing, if she was cursed too or just pretending. I started to get desperate so I said something to Snow about the new sheriff. She said Sheriff Swan had always been in Storybrooke and asked me if I’d been drinking. That’s how I knew Emma was under the curse. But there was no sign of Henry, so… well, you can imagine how I felt.”

“I can indeed.” 

“I’ve barely slept in months, every dream I have is of him. My days hold nothing but mindless drudgery, leaving my mind free to wander, to imagine all the ways that he could be miserable and alone. It’s been hell.” 

“I’m so sorry for all you’ve suffered,” said Killian, and he meant it. He’d only been Henry’s parent for a year but he knew that in Regina’s shoes he’d have fared no better. 

Regina gave him an odd look. “I believe you are,” she said. “You’ve changed, Hook.” 

“Aye,” he agreed, uncomfortable under her assessing gaze, rubbing at that spot behind his ear before he could stop himself. “But I’m not the only one. According to Henry, Snow and Charming haven’t escaped this curse unscathed themselves.” 

“No. The famous True Loves have become No Loves,” she replied with a smirk. “So I suppose that’s something.”

“From what Emma told me of the first curse,” said Killian, thinking hard as he spoke, “David and Mary Margaret managed to fall in love as their cursed selves even though you had manufactured a wife for him, and done your best to keep them apart.”

The haughty sneer returned. “What’s your point, pirate?”

“My point, my Queen, is that this curse has taken, if you’ll forgive me, a far cleverer tack. Rather than attempting to keep the lovers apart it has put them together but made them wish they weren’t.” 

“Again, what is your point?”

“My point is why, and how? How does someone turn true love into indifference? And why would they bother? If this curse is intended to punish you, what is the point of punishing others as well? Is it mere malice or something more?”

Regina shrugged though her small frown told him she was intrigued despite herself. “Does that matter?”

“I can’t say for certain of course, but I think it might. Henry has a theory about cursed relationships that I think is worth exploring. What do you know about the rest of the town and what this curse has done to them?”

“Not much, as I said I spend all my time in the house or running errands.”

“Is that by your choice or is something forcing you? Could you perhaps venture out for what Henry would call ‘recon’?”

“No, nothing is actually stopping me from going out more, I just didn’t see the point. I suppose I could look around, see if I notice anything... interesting. Though I won’t be able to keep Zelena from finding out, as I said she’s always watching me.” 

“Any information you could gather would be extremely helpful. I didn’t spend enough time in Storybrooke before the curse to really get a sense of what might have changed, and I’d rather not have Henry do too much snooping. I believe your Zelena has been watching him as well.” 

What?!” she hissed, leaping to her feet, the Evil Queen abruptly returned in full force.  

“He’s fine—”

“He’s in danger! You have to take him away from here, immediately.” She stalked to the other end of the room, then turned on her heel and stalked back. Killian watched calmly. 

“I can’t do that,” he said. “We need him to break the curse.”

“Oh? And just how is he going to do that?”

“I don’t know, only that he’s an essential part of the endeavour.” 

Regina looked ready to explode, and Killian’s mind raced to find the words to placate her when an alarm rang shrilly and he jumped in his seat. 

“Damn,” she snarled, pulling her phone from her pocket. “I don’t have much longer. I’ll come back tomorrow, same time, and we will discuss this further.” 

“Aye,” he replied. Her tone brooked no argument and he reminded himself that he needed her on his side. 

“But before I go I’d like to see Henry.” She took a deep breath  “If that’s all right,” she added grudgingly, evidently aware that she also needed to remain on his good side if she wanted to see her son. 

Killian nodded, satisfied that they both knew the deal. “Of course. He’s upstairs.” 

Regina followed him up to the apartment, sitting on the edge of the sofa and twisting her hands anxiously as Killian rapped loudly on the divider between his and Henry’s sleeping areas. “Henry?” he called. “Sorry to wake you, lad, but will you come out here please?”

Henry groaned and mumbled incomprehensibly, but Killian merely rapped louder.

“Whatimzit?” the boy managed to enunciate, clearly still half asleep. 

“Never mind that, just come out here.” Killian rapped one final time for good measure. 

There was the sound of muttering and shuffling and then Henry emerged from behind the curtain, rubbing his eyes and scowling. “This better be good,” he grumbled. 

“I believe you’ll approve,” said Killian in amusement. “There’s someone here to see you.” 

“Someone…” Henry trailed off as he followed Killian’s gaze to where Regina had risen from the sofa and now stood, looking nervous. “MOM!” he cried, his eyes going wide. 

“Henry…” Regina opened her arms and he raced into them, squeezing her tightly. 

“Mom, I saw you and I was so scared…”

“I know, but I’m fine, really. Oh, Henry. You’ve grown so tall. Are you sure you’re all right? I’ve been so worried.” 

“I’m okay. I’m good. I’ve been with Da—, er Kill—, er Hook. I missed you. But I’m okay.” 

“Henry, I’m sorry, I can’t stay much longer. I just wanted to see you, to see that you’re okay and let you know that I am too. But I’ll come back tomorrow. I’ll see you again then?” She looked at Killian for confirmation. 

“Aye, I think he can miss a few hours of sleep to see his mother,” Killian agreed. “And I trust we can rely on your assistance, Regina? In breaking this curse?” He knew that they understood each other, but there was no harm in getting her explicit confirmation, particularly with Henry there to witness it. 

“Whatever you need from me,” she replied, “You can have. Now I know Henry is safe I feel much less like allowing Zelena to walk all over me.”

“Zelena?” Henry’s eyes were wide with interest. 

“Another time, lad.” Killian nodded to Regina. “Give your mum one last hug before she goes.” 

He busied himself on the other side of the room, allowing Regina and Henry privacy for their goodbyes. After several hugs and yawning hugely, Henry headed back to bed, and Regina approached Killian with a cautious determination that sat oddly on her confident shoulders. 

“There’s just one more thing I’d like to know, Hook,” she said. “How did you get Emma to remember you? The curse that returned us to the Enchanted Forest should have taken away her memories of Storybrooke and everything associated with it.” 

“Aye, and so it did.” 

“So how did you return them?”

“Oh, that was easy. She kissed me, and she remembered.” 

Regina’s jaw dropped. “But... that would mean...” 

He smiled blandly and gave her a small bow. “See you tomorrow, Your Majesty.” 

“Yes you will,” she replied, and disappeared in a swirl of purple smoke. 

Chapter Text

New York City, the previous year:

(Emma and Henry had just sat down to breakfast when there was a knock at the door. They exchanged surprised looks. 

“Someone coming over?” asked Henry. 

“No,” said Emma, eyes widening as the knock came again, louder and more insistent this time. “Henry, wait here,” she said, getting up and switching off the radio as she went to the door. She opened it, and gaped for a moment at the man on the other side. He was dressed head to toe in black leather, somehow looking much less ridiculous and far more attractive than he should have in such a getup. She had never seen his face before, but his eyes… she caught her breath. 

She knew those eyes. 

“Swan,” he said, looking at her like she was the most precious thing in the world to him, and she knew his voice too, recognised the way it spoke her name. 

“I know you can’t remember me, but—”

She did remember him, though. How could she not? He was literally the man of her dreams. 

Driven by instinct, she grabbed the collar of his absurd coat and pulled his lips to hers, into a kiss that was achingly familiar. 

Bright white light burst from their joined lips, and Emma remembered. 

She remembered him. 

She remembered everything.)

---

One month later: 

Killian hunched his shoulders against the bitter wind that swirled around the buildings as he went past, the tallest, greyest buildings he’d encountered in all his travels, the wind that was somehow colder than anything that had ever whipped off the sea and onto the deck of the Jolly Roger, somehow always blowing directly in his face no matter which way he turned. He almost wished that he had permitted Emma to wrap that scarf around his neck before he left, or gods forfend even acceded to her request that he do up all his shirt buttons. Though no, the buttons were a bridge too far; he’d rather be cold. Despite having accepted, almost with good grace, the practical necessity of wearing the clothing of this realm, there were some points on which Killian refused to budge. Habits forged over a lifetime were hard to break, and, as he had explained to Emma with exaggerated patience, he had lived at least three lifetimes at this point. Not to mention that precise buttoning and neckcloths reminded him of the navy. As long as he had anything to say about it, his buttons would remain undone. 

“Suit yourself,” she’d huffed, rolling her eyes. “But when you come home with frostbite, I will be saying I told you so.” 

Killian scowled. He was not looking forward to that I told you so. 

Wishing it didn’t feel so much like ripping away the last tattered remnants of his pirate identity, he slowly —and rather awkwardly, curse that useless wooden hand— managed to work the zipper of his new coat until the garment was securely —and yes, warmly, curse Emma too— fastened up nearly to his chin. He popped up its collar —that at least felt right— and rolled his shoulders, suppressing a sigh as his body heat began to collect beneath the densely woven wool. 

Emma was right, New York winters were a bitch. And oh, was she going to be bloody insufferable when he returned home swaddled like an infant against that insidious chill. 

He would have to find a way to distract her from her gloating, he thought with a smile, knowing that it was the daft, besotted smile he’d felt on his face far too often of late but unable as ever to do anything about it. He was daft, after all, and besotted, and every time his mind drifted onto thoughts of how things were now with himself and Emma, of the intimacy that had blossomed between them, he was powerless to prevent that smile from forming on his lips.  

His happiness terrified him. Even with Emma still pretending to ‘date’ the monkey-man, Walsh, trying to glean as much as she could about who he really was and why he was here, and how he could possibly have invaded their dream, even with the concern about what if anything had happened to her family in the Enchanted Forest, even with the uncertainty as to why and how their kiss had returned her memories, the past month of the two of them together had been bliss of a sort he’d never known before, better than anything he could ever have conjured up even in his wildest fantasies. Nothing in his imagination could come close to touching on the way it felt to have her open up to him, to break through her walls and finally know the real woman behind them. That wonderful, vulnerable, brave, flawed, compelling, extraordinary woman. The same woman who not long since had tensed defensively if he even stood too close to her was now lacing her fingers with his or combing them through his hair as they sat on her sofa watching movies, dropping soft, casual kisses on his shoulder or his jaw or his lips, surprising him by grabbing his shirtfront out of nowhere and kissing him properly until they were both hot and itchy and Henry was sighing pointedly and marching to his bedroom, making remarkably unsubtle allusions to “giving you two some freaking privacy” as he went. 

For the first time in the whole of his memory Killian was sleeping soundly through the night. Emma had warned him that New York could hold dangers for those who weren't careful, but her apartment was by far the safest place Killian had slept since he’d left the naval academy, free as it was from rival pirates or demon children, vengeful mermaids or krakens with scores to settle, any one of whom could appear at any moment over the horizon or from the depths of the sea prepared to rip apart his ship and slaughter its crew, starting with him. Pirate captains slept with one eye open or they slept with Davy Jones, simple as that. But Killian no longer had a ship or a crew or even a hook, at least not when anyone was around to see it. What he had instead was a welcome place in a small apartment, a haven of safety in a non-magical land with a sturdy lock on its door and a warm, soft bed full of the woman he loved so deeply he sometimes feared he might drown in it. Each night he sank into unconsciousness knowing that the next day would dawn with Emma’s nose pressed into the crook of his neck, snoring softly against his skin, her legs twined with his, and that if he woke her with a trail of kisses along her jaw or his fingertips over the curve of her hip she would grumble at the early hour but sigh into his touch, shifting to allow him greater access to her body. 

She told him her secrets and listened to his, listened with boundless empathy but no judgement, not flinching even at the most shameful tales of his darkest misdeeds. “I don’t care what you’ve done,” she said, laying her head on his chest, “Only what you do now and in the future. I’m glad you told me but it doesn’t change how I feel. I know who you are, Killian, and I’m always going to choose to see the best in you.” 

She hadn’t flinched even when he’d broken under this show of faith in him, when he’d squeezed her far too tightly and dampened her hair with his tears. She’d simply snuggled closer and stroked his back as he wept, whispering soothing words until all his tears were shed and slowly, slowly, Killian felt her love seep into his cracked and blackened soul and begin to heal it. He would be the man she saw, he vowed as she drifted to sleep in his arms. He would be worthy of her, no matter what befell them, no matter what it took.   

He had no idea what he had done to merit this turn of fortune, but while he wasn’t about to question it he also knew deep in his heart that it was temporary. Such happiness always was, for him. Killian Jones did not get to live a quiet and peaceful life in the company of the people he loved. Of that he was certain. 

 This would end. The only questions were how, and when. 

He turned the corner onto a wide street, louder and busier than the one he’d just left, teeming with people who all appeared intensely keen to be anywhere except where they were. He kept up his brisk pace as best he could, weaving through the crowd, but the rushing people rapidly became more numerous (Don’t take your walk at rush hour, Emma had said, he really should start listening to her) and when he came to the next junction he turned abruptly, not looking where he was going, wanting only to be away from the push and press of people. 

As he did so his elbow slammed hard into one of those many rushing people, connecting sharply with the man’s midsection. Killian winced. “Apologies, mate,” he began, turning, his expression apologetic until his gaze met those of his unintended victim and he caught a flash of electric emerald, a hue he hadn’t seen for the better part of half a century. 

For a moment he stood, stunned, unable to believe it possible that he could be standing here with this man, in New York bloody City of all places. Then anger flashed through him and he recovered. “You!” he hissed, and the emerald eyes narrowed. Killian made a grab for the man’s arm but he moved with astounding speed and before Killian could react the man’s fist had connected with his jaw and he found himself flat on his arse on the cold concrete of the sidewalk. 

Fortunately, Killian was no stranger to being knocked down and he leapt quickly to his feet, heading off in pursuit of his old friend. The other man moved quickly but the crowd was thick, and Killian, who had no qualms about using his elbows and an expression of snarling menace to get people out of his way, soon caught up. He clutched the man’s  arm and pulled him into a nearby alley, slamming him back against the brick wall of an Italian deli and clenching a fist in the front of his coat. 

The man winced at the impact and Killian took advantage of this brief incapacity to study his face. It was a good disguise, he thought. He’d never have picked this man out of a New York crowd or had cause to suspect he was anything out of the ordinary if he hadn’t recognised those eyes. They opened suddenly, the man having evidently recovered, and Killian had a moment of dizzy disorientation as the edges of his world glowed green, weakening him, the faint strains of harp music curling around his consciousness with an inexorable pull. “No!” he snarled, and pushed with all his strength against the man’s chest, breaking the eye contact just in time and stumbling backwards, shaking his head to clear it. “So it is you, Oisín,” he said, when he had his bearings again. “I must say you’ve got a bloody nerve, coming at me fists first.” 

I gotta nerve?” The voice was pure New York, nothing like he remembered it. A voice to match the face. “Who just tackled who in an alley, pal?”

“And who left whom in Neverland, mate? It’s I who should be punching you.”

“Neverland?” The man attempted a dismissive scoff, but Killian knew him too well. “You’re crazy—”

“Oh, no. No, don’t do that. Don’t play that game.” Killian straightened to his full height and looked the other man directly in the face, carefully avoiding his eyes. “I name you, Oisín, son of Fionn MacCumhaill, king of Tír na nÓg,” he said firmly, his voice resounding off the narrow walls of the alley, echoing into a space that did not exist in it. “I name you and I name your debt to me.” 

The man heaved a sigh that was heavy with the weight of ages, and the whisper of his breath bore the fragrance of rain-washed hillsides, and his skin began to spark and shimmer with an ancient magic. The New York face melted away and reformed into the youthful yet careworn visage of the last creature in whom Killian had fully placed his trust. The emerald eyes, now wide and clear and unobscured by the puffy flesh of his disguise, glinted with both menace and respect. “Very well, then,” he said, in a voice that held no trace of Queens but made Killian think of long nights under swaying trees, of music and dancing and drink that could make him forget everything, even why he should wish to remember. “Come with me, Killian Jones.” 

As he spoke, tendrils of light the same hue as his eyes curled up from the pavement where he stood, twining a winding path up the brick wall to form a shimmering doorway behind him. He stepped backwards through it, disappearing into a hazy gloom, and Killian, with only the smallest pause to wonder what the devil he was getting himself into here, followed. 

---

Roughly a year later:

A small sign in the window of the bookshop proclaimed it ‘OPEN’ when Emma arrived the following morning. She smiled to herself. The sign was so typical of what she’d come to recognise as Killian’s old-fashioned style, with the word actually engraved into a background of dark wood, its letters painted in a shade of blue that recalled his eyes, delicately highlighted in a silver that made her think of his rings. Rings, plural? prodded the voice that now seemed to be forever in her head, her own voice, urging her to think despite the haze of confusion that clouded her mind. How many rings does he wear?

She pressed the heel of her hand against her forehead, trying to stave off the blossoming ache behind her right eye. One ring, she thought. She was sure that Killian wore only one ring, his wedding ring. She could remember it clearly from just days ago, his hand in hers as she’d caressed the engraved band. He had one hand and that hand wore one ring, she was certain of it, so where did those other memories —how were they memories— of chunky silver jewellery come from then, of a blood red ruby winking as he gestured emphatically with his hand? How could she have memories of the thumb of that same hand tucked behind a belt buckle that seemed impractically, almost comically large? And was he wearing an earring?

Everything about Killian, from his shop to his clothing to the sign in his window was elegant and tasteful. Even his truck had a sort of style to it, old enough to qualify as an antique and meticulously maintained. Gaudy rings, huge belt buckles, dangling earrings and bright silver clasps on a leather vest, they all seemed so incongruous to the man she was coming to know, and yet also somehow perfectly suited to him. He’s a man who knows how to curate his appearance for maximum impact, whispered the voice. Everything about him now illustrated subtlety, spoke of someone who wished to remain inconspicuous. At least, as inconspicuous as anyone could be with his face and his magnetic charisma. But what if he didn’t? What if he wished to attract attention rather than deflect it? How would he dress then?

She had the oddest feeling that she knew. 

She pushed open the door and smiled again, trying to ignore the gentle warmth that rose in her chest at the sight of him, softening the tingle of attraction she always felt in his presence. The attraction at least she could rationalise; he was almost ridiculously good looking and she was a heterosexual woman with functioning eyes, of course she found him attractive. But the warmth was worrying. The warmth was more. 

He was sitting behind the large, carved-wood desk, a small frown creasing his forehead as he read the massive and ancient-looking book in front of him. She wanted to smooth that crease away with her thumb. With her lips. The urge to soothe him was almost irresistible.  

Stop it, she told herself firmly, you’re married. 

Yes you are, whispered the voice. To him

---

The previous year:

Killian emerged into a low-lit room full of objects that were indistinct at first, obscured by an eerie gloom. He blinked and peered into the darkness as slowly the haze of the doorway’s magic dissipated and the objects resolved, becoming recognisable as tall bookshelves, tightly-packed with volumes of all sizes and colours, illuminated by the natural, warm sunlight shining through the windows of what Killian now recognised as a small bookshop.

“Have a seat,” said Oisín, gesturing to one of two overstuffed armchairs that flanked a small table in a cosy corner of the room. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

Killian very much would like some tea, or even better a swig of rum, but he had played this game before. “I think, on balance, I would not,” he replied with a wry smirk and a raised eyebrow. 

Oisín’s eyes twinkled bright and viridescent in a face that now appeared not much older than Killian’s own, a narrow and noble face with sharp cheekbones and a pointed chin, framed by waves of hair as pale as moonlight. “You always were a clever man, Hook,” he said. “Worthy as both friend and adversary. It broke my heart, you know, to watch you wasting your considerable skills on vengeance.”

“Oh, aye? And is that why you left me behind?” Killian felt again a remnant of that old anger sparking back to life, recalled the burning sense of betrayal —another betrayal— when he’d realised this man he had trusted was gone, leaving him with no ally remaining in all of Neverland, no recourse but to deal with Pan.  

Regret flashed across Oisín’s face, brief but sharp. “Please sit, Killian.” His voice was low now, with a note of earnest regret that Killian had never heard in it before. “Sit, and share a pot of tea with me. No obligation, no tricks. You have my word.” 

“Your word,” growled Killian, his fist clenching involuntarily against his thigh.

“Yes.” The regret was stronger now, sorrowful and ashamed, but Oisín did not look away. “I broke my word to you once, long ago, my word that had been given in recompense of an invaluable service, and now I owe you a debt. I will ensure that debt is paid. I swear it on the honour of my father Fionn MacCumhaill and on the heart of my beloved, Niamh. There is no danger to you here, Killian Jones. Be welcome in this place.” 

Killian might lack Emma’s powers of lie detection but he knew Oisín, had fought for him and against him, had been drunk and rumbustious alongside him, had wept at his side in both joy and sadness, and despite the inherent untrustworthiness of his kind had always considered him a true friend. He could detect no trickery in the other man’s words, only a genuine remorse of the sort he had come to know so well himself. If there was an explanation for his erstwhile friend’s conduct in Neverland then Killian would like to hear it. He sat. 

Oisín nodded. “I’ll get the tea.” 

Killian took the opportunity of his brief solitude to observe his surroundings more closely. The shop was small and packed with things, but packed in such a way that it appeared more cosy than cluttered. The bookshelves stretched from floor to ceiling and the volumes they contained, from what Killian could observe from his chair, were both eclectic and haphazardly arranged. He noted half a dozen different languages that he himself could read and several more he had never encountered before. Some of the books were frequently handled while others had spent perhaps years untouched on their shelves, that much was evident from the dust patterns upon them, while the fact that there was dust at all suggested that this shop was not much frequented. The whole effect was of a private library from which any outside incursion, even that of someone come to tidy up, was forbidden. Yet the bustle and noise from outside the window told him that the magical doorway had not removed them from the middle of New York City. 

A mystery, thought Killian with cutting irony. How unusual for a king of the Fae.  

 Soon Oisín returned bearing a beautifully painted porcelain tea set upon a polished wooden tray. He laid it carefully on the table between the armchairs, balancing the tray between his hands as the rickety table wobbled and resettled under its weight. As he lifted the teapot to pour Killian’s attention was caught by the minutely rendered floral design on the delicate china, which as he watched appeared to move, waving as if in a breeze, though one that sadly failed to shift the dusty air within the shop… What shop? No shop, he was in a field, the flowers were moving, swaying gently, there was something at the corner of his eye— Oisín set the teapot down with a sharp thunk and Killian jumped in his seat, blinking rapidly. When he refocused his gaze the flowers on the teapot were still. 

“Milk only for you, as I recall,” said Oisín’s amused voice.  

“Aye.” He had grown complacent in this land without magic, Killian thought in disgust. He must remember where he was now, and whom he was with. 

Oisín tipped a splash of milk into both cups and set one in front of Killian before making himself comfortable in the other armchair and raising his own cup in toast. “Sláinte,” he said. “It’s not whiskey, but your good health all the same.” 

“And yours. Sláinte agad-sa.” They sipped together. 

 ---

Back in the present: 

What? What did you say?

You heard me.

No. 

No?

No, I’m not married to Killian. Of course I’m not. I can’t be. 

To who then?

To, um, to W —what was his name?— to Walsh. Yes. Walsh.

Come on, Emma. You know that’s not true. 

“Swan?”

Emma blinked, shaking herself out of the disturbing conversation in her head. Killian had looked up from his book and was regarding at her with that warm smile that made butterflies dance in her belly and she felt almost shy. 

“Um, hi,” she said, trying not to squirm. “So you’re actually open this time.”

“Aye, today’s the big first day.”

“Well, I guess, congratulations? You’re not having, like, a grand opening or anything?”

“No, I don’t plan to do much advertising of that sort. Word of mouth is best for a business like this one.” 

“Huh.” Emma didn’t know much about small businesses, but that seemed like an odd attitude for the owner of one to take. Still, Killian appeared confident. 

“So,” she said.

“So,” he echoed with just a hint of teasing.

Her lips twitched. “You said I could come by to look at those books I bought the other day.” 

“Indeed. They’re right here.” Killian retrieved her purchases from the drawer of his desk and handed them to her. 

“So can I just—” she gestured around the shop. 

“Aye, make yourself comfortable, love. There’s a sofa now,” he said, nodding towards it. 

“Oh,” gasped Emma, taking in the generously sized piece with its deep-set buttons and antique leather. “I love that.”

“Henry chose it.” The pride in his voice warmed her heart. 

“Kid’s got taste.” 

“He’s a clever lad.” 

She wanted to ask more about his son, had the strangest urge to ask all about his loves and hates and what he wanted for his future and what most scared him —why do you want to know those things?— but it seemed intrusive and a bit weird so she just smiled at Killian and took her books over to the sofa instead, making herself comfortable on the age-softened leather and opening the one on the principles of magical practice. 

Reading a book about magic made her feel faintly ridiculous; she wasn’t certain why she even wanted to read it or what she thought she might find in its pages. Obviously she didn’t believe in magic, didn’t actually think it could exist. She was a practical woman, she worked in law enforcement for fuck’s sake. Fantasy had no place in her life. She dealt in realities. 

She was just… curious. 

She began to read. 

Within minutes she was deeply engrossed in the book, so fascinated by the spells it described and the lore behind them that she wholly forgot where she was. She didn’t notice Killian quietly going upstairs and returning several minutes later with a cup of hot chocolate that he placed on the table at her elbow, though she did drink it as she read about how to store up magic in a sort of reservoir and call upon it when it was needed.  She didn’t notice that she was mouthing the words to the spells as she read them, didn’t notice her hand flexing on her knee as she read about how to summon objects. Didn’t notice the white light shimmering and sparking at her fingertips. 

But Killian did. 

---

The year before:

“You weren’t fit to come into this world,” said Oisín, setting his cup in its saucer and looking at Killian with eyes that held no threat to him now. “That’s why I left you behind. Understand, Hook, that you were mad in those days, obsessed with your crocodile. After Bae made his escape it was as though you lost your will to live, and once I learned you had succeeded in distilling the dreamshade I knew I couldn’t take you with us. You were reckless and didn’t listen to anything like reason, far too dangerous and unpredictable to bring along. Too dangerous to be let loose on this realm.” 

“Aye.” Killian felt a wash of shame at his friend’s words, made bitter by how deeply he understood that they were true. He had been mad, then, and untrustworthy. Perhaps betrayal had been what he deserved. 

“In my visions I saw the outlines of the Dark One’s plan,” Oisín continued, “and that it would soon bring him to this land. I broke my word to you not to thwart you or to protect the Dark One, but to protect the realm he would soon inhabit.” He paused to sip. “My realm.”

Killian’s own sip choked him. “Yours!” he spluttered. 

“Oh indeed.” Mirth brightened Oisín’s eyes again as he watched Killian cough and wheeze. “This is where I originate.” 

Here.”

“Well, no, not here, precisely, not New York. My native land lies across a vast ocean. It is a place far less prosaic than this one, less… functional. Far more open to the idea of magic and of creatures not quite human.”

“An ideal spot then, for the likes of you.” Killian sneered, having recovered his breath if not his dignity. 

“Oh, you may sneer, Hook, but while this is not precisely a land without magic, it is one where magic is extraordinarily rare, making its unusually high concentration in my land essential for the survival of my kind.” 

“So magic does exist here?”

“It exists in pockets, in corners, in the tales its inhabitants pass down through their generations. Here you are a children’s story and I a myth, though of course we are real enough in other lands. For those accustomed to magic navigating this place requires subtlety, a thing of which I know you are capable, but at the time of our departure from Tír na nÓg you could not be. Your anger and your drive for vengeance were too great. I left you behind with the intent to return once I had secured this land against you, and figured out what the Dark One intended by coming here.”

“And yet he proceeded with his plan unhindered,” Killian felt compelled to point out.  

Oisín drained his teacup, and seeing that Killian’s was empty as well refilled both before he spoke again.

“When the Dark One first landed in this realm I could sense his presence but not his location. He was obscured somehow in a way I’d never encountered before.”

Killian nodded; this made sense. “He was shielded by a curse. The curse that brought him here.”

Oisín gaped, for once so astounded that he allowed it to show. “A curse brought him here? From the Enchanted Forest?”

“Aye.” 

“What kind of curse could do that?”

Killian wished he knew. “A very dark and very powerful one, I am reliably informed.” 

‘It would have to be. Both of those things.” 

They sipped more tea. 

“At any rate, I waited,” continued Oisín, “As first the years and then the decades passed I waited for any sign of the Dark One’s power manifesting here, but there was nothing. Then one day about, oh, two years ago, something changed. For the first time I could see clearly where the Dark One was and that he had managed to amass some magic, far more magic than this land generally tolerates. Yet I could not move against him; despite being visible he was still inaccessible to me, shielded by a force I could not identify.”

“Likely by the remnants of the curse,” Killian speculated. “It had been broken, but traces of it in the form of a magical boundary still remained.” The memory of a gunshot, both quieter and more powerful than he had anticipated from the modern weapon, came unbidden into his mind and he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. The dark stain of blood spreading across an innocent woman’s shoulder, he remembered that too, and the blankness in her eyes as she fell across the invisible barrier surrounding the town. Her terror as Rumplestiltskin healed her, his own twisted triumph at his enemy’s despair. Killian’s hand clenched involuntarily on his teacup and he forced himself to relax before he crushed the delicate china. There were so very many things he had to atone for, he’d nearly forgotten about that one. Another entry on a shamefully long list. 

Oisín was watching him carefully, his expression kind. As if he knew what Killian was thinking about. More than likely he did. “And then,” he continued, once he knew he had Killian’s full attention, “I sensed him, fully and sharply and most surprisingly here, in New York City. Followed almost immediately by you.” He chuckled and shook his head, half in disbelief, half reluctant admiration. “I couldn’t believe it. How you managed to travel to this realm I don’t mind confessing I still have no idea.”  

“Probably because you never thought I’d take Pan’s deal. Obviously you didn’t, or you wouldn’t have left me in Neverland.” 

“That is indeed true.” Oisín’s eyes were sorrowful. “You took the deal, then.” 

“I did.” 

“I’m sorry.” 

Killian shrugged. “It was a desperate act by a desperate man.” And one I do not wish to discuss, his tone implied. 

“Quite.” Oisín cleared his throat. “Nevertheless, even Pan’s deal wouldn’t have brought you to this realm.” 

“No. I came here on my ship, first through a portal from the Enchanted Forest then simply out of Storybrooke’s harbour and down the coast to New York.”

“Storybrooke?” 

“The name of the town created by the Dark One’s curse. That curse brought him to this land but he had to wait until it was broken before he could leave Storybrooke and venture out in search of Baelfire-- that was his aim in coming here. Beyond Storybrooke’s boundaries he had no magic, so I knew that was when I had to strike.” 

Oisín nodded, as if Killian’s words confirmed a long-held theory. “I thought that would be the case. I knew you had the concentrated dreamshade and that without his magic the Dark One would be at your mercy. I travelled here as quickly as I could, arriving just in time to see you stab him.” His eyes twinkled with laughter that did not appear on his face. “That must have been satisfying.” 

“Oh indeed.” Killian may have come to regret, deeply, the harm his quest for vengeance had caused innocent people, but he was not so reformed that he didn’t still recall the satisfaction of his poisoned hook sinking into Rumplestiltskin’s chest, the culmination of over two centuries’ determined effort. The fact that it had ultimately come to nothing diminished that satisfaction only slightly. 

“Well I’m glad you enjoyed yourself, for my part I had quite the job undoing the damage you did.” 

“Undoing the damage… you’re responsible for the Dark One surviving?” Killian hissed. 

“There are consequences for killing a Dark One, Hook, consequences I’ve warned you about on many an occasion. Ones I did not wish to see befall you, despite how much you may have deserved them. I was unable to do anything to counter the effects of the dreamshade, but I did…nudge Baelfire’s memory enough to allow him to sail your ship back to this Storybrooke where the Dark One could access his magic. And I gave another little nudge to that pair of idiots who were doing Pan’s bidding in this world. Told them where to find you in that closet.”

“I’d wondered about that.” 

“They were easy to manipulate, no doubt why Pan was so fond of them, but Bae… well, he was also easy but seeing him was a shock. He had changed almost beyond recognition.” 

“Aye.” Killian’s hand clenched again as he thought of his Emma, young and alone and with child, incarcerated for Baelfire’s crime. Bearing and birthing Henry behind bars, giving him up because she couldn’t raise him alone. All because Bae had been a bloody coward, just like… “I thought he was his mother’s son, but it turns out he has quite a bit of his father in him.”  

“He always did. You didn’t wish to see it.”

“That’s probably true.” Killian had wanted so badly to have a part of Milah back that he had overlooked a great many aspects of Baelfire’s character which in retrospect may have foreshadowed the man he became.  

“But then once Greg and Tamara had taken me back to Storybrooke, you remained here, what, on the off chance I’d be back?” he asked. 

“No, I left New York shortly after you did. Then about a year ago I sensed her here, in this city, and so I returned as well. I knew it could only be a matter of time before you followed.” 

“Her? Whom?” Killian wasn’t certain why he bothered to dissemble, obviously Oisín with his gift of sight was as irritatingly well informed as he had always been. Perhaps he just didn’t appreciate being as easy as Greg and Tamara.  

His friend gave him a look of indulgent amusement, with just a hint of exasperation. “Emma Swan, of course,” he replied. “I sensed her connection to you during your first visit here, and by the time she returned it had grown considerably stronger.”

Killian’s eyebrows snapped together. He had never really objected to Oisín’s ability to divine the truth of things, but his relationship with Emma was personal.  It was private, for them alone. “What connection?” he growled. 

 “The cosmic ties that link you,” said Oisín, and Killian barely suppressed an eye roll. “They are remarkably powerful. A…” he paused, fixing Killian with an intense stare. “A soulmate connection?”

“A what?” Killian had heard of such things of course, but had always dismissed them as overwrought nonsense. 

Oisín bristled at his scorn. “I’m certain you heard me.” 

“Perhaps I simply couldn’t believe my ears. Whatever makes you think that Emma is my soulmate?” The idea displeased him in a way he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He loved Emma fiercely, had always felt intensely connected to her, but something about a soulmate felt… fated. Inevitable in a way he strongly disliked. Like they’d had no choice. 

“Do you dream about her?” asked Oisín, the intensity of his gaze unwavering. 

“Aye,” replied Killian automatically, then shook his head. “But that’s no proof of anything. She’s a beautiful woman and I desire her. Naturally she appears in my dreams.” 

“Yes I imagine she does, but as I believe you have already figured out it is far more than that. The dreams I refer to are no ordinary dreams.” He sat back in his chair, a small, irritating smile on his face. “Tell me, Hook. What do you and the lovely Emma Swan do together when you dream about her, hmm?”

Killian flushed, much to his annoyance. “I don’t believe that’s any of your business, mate.” 

Oisín’s smug smile widened. “I knew you were the shared dreams kind,” he said, all but smacking his lips in satisfaction.

“And just what the devil does that mean?” 

“There are many different kinds of soulmates. The ones who can share dreams are the rarest. I told you it’s a powerful connection, one unconfined by the rules and boundaries of physical space.  She’s been calling you to her, for nearly a year. That’s what I felt.” 

“I felt it too,” Killian acknowledged reluctantly. “I thought it was just me, missing her.”

 “In part at least it was. Being soulmates does not guarantee the development of romantic love, though it does facilitate it. You fell in love with her even without awareness of the bond that linked you, and when you were separated you missed her, and both those things… opened the conduits, so to speak, and allowed her to call for you even across realms.”

“But how could she, when she had no memory of me?”

“She had no memory and yet she still dreamed of you. That’s the magic, my friend, both the magic of the soulmate connection and her own remarkably strong magical abilities.”

Killian shook his head, scowling. “I don’t like this, mate.” 

“No,” replied Oisín, rather grimly. “I don’t imagine you do. You never were one to believe in fate, were you Hook?”

“Decidedly not.” 

“And yet you must.” 

Must I?”

Oisín rose from his chair and the air shifted around him, making him appear taller somehow, his hair flowing in an unseen breeze. “I owe a debt to you, Killian Jones,” he declared in a voice both deep and resonant, “And I intend to honour it. Since you no longer require my assistance to escape Neverland, instead I will aid in arming you for the battle which I have foreseen you are soon to fight. The first step is to help you understand the weapons you have already at your disposal. Come with me.” 

---

And present day again: 

To summon an object, call your magic to you and hold the image of the object in your mind. You must know the exact location of the object, and picture it and its surroundings in as much detail as possible. Then simply wrap your magic around it and pull it to you. 

Emma had walked to the bookshop that morning. Her bug was so distinctive,  everyone always knew where she was when she drove it, and she didn’t want anyone knowing that she was spending time with Killian —Who do you worry would find out?— or visiting a shop that sold books about magic. 

Her car keys were on her desk at the Sheriff’s station. They were just to the left of her computer keyboard, between her empty takeout coffee cup from Granny’s and the potted succulent that she’d had for over a month and somehow managed not to kill. Yet. 

As she pictured the keys in her mind she felt… something hard to describe, warmth maybe, or energy, strength, power perhaps. It felt like she was pulling it from the air into herself; she could feel it as it moved through her, coiled and waiting for her to direct it. She thought about her keys and it surged into her mind and wrapped itself around them, enveloping them in sparking white light, and then— 

The keys were in her hand. 

Emma leapt to her feet, sending the books tumbling from her lap to the ground, and stared in shock at the keys. 

It wasn’t— they weren’t— she couldn’t have— it wasn’t possible. 

“Swan? Is everything all right?” Killian had come running on hearing the commotion, and she turned to see him standing several feet behind her, a worried frown on his face.  

She shook her head. “I have to go.” 

“What? What happened—”

“Nothing, nothing happened. I have to go.” Panic was beginning to rise in her throat and all she could think about was getting away, going back to a place that felt familiar, and safe. 

“Is there anything I can do?” His eyes were soft with concern and… and something she didn’t want to think about and she couldn’t be in the same room with him anymore. 

She shook her head, backing away. “No! I just— I have to go, okay?” Hurt flashed across his face, squeezing her heart. She wanted to fling herself at him, bury herself against his chest and have him envelop her in a comforting hug. He gave the best hugs —how do you know that— and she craved his touch. He would make it all better, make the panic go away, and— and she had to get out, before she did something stupid. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. 

“Emma—”

“No, no please.” She stretched her arm out, stiff and locked at the elbow, willing him away from her. “I’m so sorry.” 

She turned and ran from the shop. 

---

And again one year before: 

Leaving Oisín’s shop Killian found that his feet carried him straight home despite the turmoil in his mind. He unlocked the apartment door with his own key, but for the first time since Emma had presented it to him this action was unaccompanied by a rush of pleasure at the trust it represented. 

Once inside headed straight for the rum. 

When Emma found him some time later he was sitting in brooding silence, forearms resting against the edge of her dining table and rum bottle within easy reach, glaring at the bottom of a crystal tumbler like it owed him money. 

She frowned. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know if I have the words.” 

Her lip twitched. “I find that hard to believe.” She grabbed a tumbler for herself and sat down next to him, holding it out. He raised an eyebrow but filled her glass without comment, almost smiling himself when she tapped it against his own. They drank in silence for several moments before he spoke. 

“Do you know how old I was when Liam died?”

“No.” 

He laughed bitterly. “Neither do I. We didn’t exactly celebrate birthdays on Silver’s ship. As near as I can recall I was six when my father left, meaning at the time of Liam’s death I was no more than twenty.” 

“Twenty…” Emma breathed, trying to imagine it. 

“Aye. Little more than a boy. A boy with no family, no kingdom, no career. Nothing but rage. Rage and a ship and a loyal crew.” He took a deep swig of rum. “We held Liam’s funeral on the deck of the Jolly Roger. That was customary when any member of the crew died but it was particularly ceremonial in the event of a captain’s death. As the acting captain and the ship’s only remaining officer I was expected to give the eulogy. It was my duty and also of course for my brother…” his voice roughened and trailed off, taking another swallow of rum before continuing. “Before I went up on deck I sat in the captain’s quarters for a long time, thinking about what to do. The expected thing, the wise, thing, would have been to go back to the kingdom armed with the information we had gathered about dreamshade and the dishonourable intentions of the king. But I was too angry for wisdom, and certainly too angry for the delicate diplomacy that would have been required to expose the king and his plan. So, as you know, I chose piracy. I chose to seek vengeance for my brother’s death rather than justice, chose the path that would feed my anger when I should have followed the one that would allay it. All my life things had been done to me, decisions made on my behalf without my volition, from indenture to the navy, even Liam’s protectiveness was a means of control over me. When he died I was devastated, but I was also free, for the first time ever in my life, to choose my path for myself. And I made the wrong choice.” 

He drank again, his lip curled bitterly, regret and self-loathing evident in every line of his body. “All these years,” he continued, “bloody centuries, I’ve wondered about the path I didn’t take, about the honourable life I could have led if I’d made a different choice. And now,” he practically spat the words, “Now I discover that there wasn’t any other path. There was never any choice.”

Emma wanted to hug him, longed to soothe away his pain, but she knew that he was in no mood for tenderness. “Babe, what are you talking about?” she asked instead, curling her hand tightly around her glass to stop herself reaching for him. “What brought all this on?”

He turned to face her, his smile bright and brittle. “I found out today that you and I are soulmates. That’s why we had those dreams.”

Emma blinked in disbelief. “Soulmates? Really? Is that a real thing?”

Killian nodded. “Aye, that was my reaction as well. I’d heard talk of soulmate magic of course but it always seemed fantastical to me, far too tidy a thing in a universe that is essentially chaotic. But I’ve seen the evidence, Emma, and it’s undeniable. We tick every bloody box. It explains not only the dreams but also how our kiss returned your memories when there was no curse here to break. It explains the connection that has always existed between us, before we were even on the same damned side. Even when you hated me.” 

“I never hated you.” 

“Well you certainly didn’t like me very much.” 

“You were kinda gross and offensive, to be fair.” 

“Aye.” He drained his glass, refilled it, and drank again. 

“I felt that connection though, you know,” she said softly. “Something in me, my gut or whatever, kept telling me to trust you, even when I knew I shouldn’t. That’s why I left you on the beanstalk. I didn’t trust myself or my reactions to you.” 

He nodded. “And for my part I found to my considerable dismay that I had a genuine urge to help you, even if that help came at a cost to myself. For the first time in centuries I wanted to do something that wasn’t purely selfish.” He smirked wryly. “Cora nearly bloody killed me for it.” 

“Did you let me win that swordfight at Lake Nostos? I’ve always wondered.”

He smiled, and this time it was genuine. “What do you think, love?”

She smiled back. “I think for the sake of my ego I won’t press you for an answer.” He actually chuckled at that, and she risked reaching out to place her hand on his arm. “But babe, all of that is in the past,” she said earnestly. “We’re together now, and honestly those dreams, they’re what made me able to open up to you, to let you past my walls. So… that’s good, right?”

“Aye, of course it is. Being with you, winning your trust and affection, it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. I can’t regret it, but…” 

“But what?”

“But it shouldn’t be possible. Literal centuries separate your birth from mine, love, had I lived a normal life I’d have been dead long ago. If you and I are soulmates that means somehow the gods, the fates, the… the fabric of the universe, whatever you will, it knew that I would live long enough for us to meet. And how could that be possible unless every detail of my life unfurled exactly as it did? Where was my choice, Emma? Where was my bloody free will? Was there nothing I could have done differently to forestall the awful things I did?” He emptied his glass once more but this time did not refill it, instead curling his hand into a fist on the table. “And the worst, the worst thought in my head right now is: Would I have? If I could go back, if I could choose, would I choose to forestall those deeds, to live an honourable life knowing it would mean that I never met you? And what does it say about my character if my answer is no? If I say that all my terrible acts, all the pain I caused, it was all worth it because it brought me here to you?”

“Oh, Killian.” 

“I love you Emma, so bloody much, and you have saved me, but saved me from the very thing that made it possible for you to save me. It’s— well, frankly it’s giving me a headache.” 

“That’s probably the rum.” 

“Aye.”

She leaned over the table and kissed him, first on his cheek and then when he turned to face her on his lips, softly, in comfort and support rather than passion. He sighed and stroked her cheek, resting his forehead against hers. 

“We have much to discuss, Swan,” he said. 

---

In the present once more:

Emma forced herself to stop running once she was out of the bookshop. Running drew attention. It looked suspicious. And there was nothing suspicious going on. She squeezed her hand around her car keys, feeling their sharp edges dig into her skin, painful and undeniably real. 

She’d just— forgotten she had them. That’s all. She must have decided that it wasn’t safe to leave them just sitting on her desk like that, where anyone could walk in and take them. That was it. She’d had them in her pocket and she’d just— taken them out, or something, while she was reading, and she’d been surprised because she’d forgotten about them… Yeah, that was plausible. 

...that’s a plausible excuse for grabbing me…

What? 

Killian’s voice in her head this time, so familiar but with a note of provocative flirtation she’d never heard in it before. 

Haven’t you? 

No, damn it, she thought at the voice, her voice, back again prodding at her from inside her own mind. I just met Killian like a week ago and he’s not my husband and my car keys were in my pocket the whole time. 

What else is in your pocket? 

Emma reached into her jacket and pulled out the evidence bag with its small sample of ominously sparkling grey powder. 

You’ve got to give it to him, he’ll know what to do with it. Go now. 

I can’t—

You can. You have to. Go! 

Emma turned around on feet that seemed to move without her conscious input. They carried her back into the shop, marching her straight to the desk where she held out the evidence bag to an astonished Killian, refusing to look at him or acknowledge the complicated range of emotions that flickered across his expressive face when he saw her. 

“Emma, are you all right?” God his voice was so soft and he sounded like he really cared, and—

“I’m fine.” She summoned a smile from she didn’t even know where, waving the bag at him. I just wanted to give that to you. I guess… you know what it is?”

“Aye.” He took it from her hand and placed it on the desk behind him. 

“Well.” Emma nodded. “Okay then. Bye.” 

She turned to go, but Killian caught her elbow. Her heart leapt and thundered and when his hand slid down her arm to grasp hers she swallowed a gasp and stiffened every muscle in her body to stop herself from lacing their fingers together and holding on for dear life. 

“Emma.” She wouldn’t look at him. She wouldn’t

“What?”

She heard him swallow, then draw an unsteady breath. “You can come back any time,” he whispered. “Your books will still be here.” 

Sparks crackled from their joined hands. Neither of them noticed. 

“Okay.” Her pounding heart was making her dizzy. “I will, I just— I have to go now.” 

“Aye.” He released her hand and she wanted to cry at the loss. “Whenever you’re ready, I’ll be here.” 

She nodded, and fled. 

---

And now the most recent time: 

When Regina returned that evening she poofed directly to the apartment where she found Killian sitting at the kitchen island, awaiting her. 

“Good evening, Your Majesty,” he said. “Or would it be good morning?”

“Does it matter?”

“It does not. Regardless of the time of day, I do hope you’ve come prepared to live up to your moniker, my Evil Queen. Because I have a plan.” 

Chapter Text

Killian calls Emma to the dream that night and when she appears he all but grabs her, pulling her to him and holding her tightly. “Are you all right, love?” he asks worriedly, stroking her hair. “Cursed you, I mean. Is she all right?”

Emma nods against his neck, but she burrows into him for comfort all the same.  “She —I— will be fine,” she says. “It’s scary at first, learning you have magic. I wish I didn’t have to do it twice.” 

“Aye, me too.” He breathes in the scent of her hair, always so soothing to him, though he is still agitated, even in the dream. “Gods, Emma, it was so hard to watch that this afternoon. I wanted so badly to hold you, it almost killed me to let you leave the shop.” 

“I wanted you to hold me too,” she replies. “Even cursed me can’t resist you.” 

He laughs, though his arms tighten around her. “Do you think you, uh, she is starting to remember?”

“She’s so close. I’ve managed to plant a strong enough suggestion in my head that every time she has a thought influenced by the curse I challenge it. It’s terribly confusing for her but I think she’s starting to break through.” 

“It’s so odd to be talking about your cursed self like she’s a different person.” 

“Yeah. Though she kind of is.” 

“Do you really feel that way?”

“Yeah, a little? I mean she’s clearly still me but it’s like the curse has magnified all my old insecurities and made her, I don’t know, timid. Which is something I have never been.” 

“No, indeed.” Killian shakes his head at the image. He has noticed that cursed Emma seems less confident than the real one but the idea of his fierce and fearsome wife being timid is so foreign he struggles to grasp it. “What do you mean by it magnifying your old insecurities?” 

“Oh, you know,” she tries to make her voice light and careless but he hears the hurt that still exists beneath it, “How I used to think I was unlovable.”

“Aye.” She’s spoken of this before, of how her experiences in foster homes and then with Bae— Neal’s abandonment she feared she would never know love. It twists his heart to think of her falling back into that place again, after how hard they’ve both worked to build the trust and love at the core of their marriage. “My darling, I wish—”

Emma pulls back from their embrace, just enough to look up at him. “Don’t go all mushy on me, pirate,” she says. “It just the curse. I know you love me, and Henry does, and my parents. Cursed me knows that too, she just can’t remember it.”

He nods, and leans his forehead against hers, stroking his thumb across her cheekbone, making her sigh as she runs her hands up his back, curling them around his shoulders and pulling him close for a kiss. He leans into it, into her, as close as he can get, wrapping his arm around her waist as tightly as he can. He wishes he never had to let her go. 

He will hold her like this again —really hold her, not just in their dreams— and soon. He vows it to both of them. 

“Let’s go someplace,” she murmurs against his lips. 

“Hmmm?” Killian is lost in her, and it takes him a moment to grasp what she is saying. 

“I love it here but I— I can’t explain it but I just feel restless and I want to go someplace else.”

“Where?” The dream allows them to go anywhere they can hold in their minds, though real places work best. 

“I don’t know,” she laughs. “Just someplace. Someplace peaceful.” 

He hasn’t known many peaceful places in his life, but there is one, one long gone corner of a crumbling realm that had once been a haven for him. He concentrates on it, reforming the dream around them, rebuilding it with stray pieces of his ancient memories.

They are standing in a wide valley with softly undulating grassy hills on every side and a lake in the centre that shimmers in a shade of blue Killian has seen only here, despite the breadth of his travels. Dawn is just breaking over the hilltops in streaks of pastel peach and lilac and a delicate mist is rising from the surface of the lake, over the ripples formed by leaping fish and the birds that seek them. Emma looks around, eyes wide, mouth slightly agape. “This is beautiful,” she whispers. “Where is it?”

He smirks. “Neverland.” 

“What? But— how? Why the hell did we go to that awful jungle when this place existed?”

“Because by the time you arrived this and many other places were long gone, and that awful jungle was all that was left.”

She frowns. “I know you said Neverland changed a lot while you were there, but… well I guess I didn’t realise how much.” 

“Aye, almost beyond recognition. When I first landed there Neverland was vast, a sprawling archipelago with a great diversity of islands and inhabitants. Fairies, pixies, people who called themselves Red Indians, Oisín and his Fae, gnomes and imps, centaurs and unicorns. The seas were sailed by other ships than my own, and teemed with merpeople, kelpies, and kraken while the skies were filled with manticore, griffins, hippogriffs—” 

“Hippogriffs are real?”

“Oh, aye. Unpleasant creatures on the whole, although if you can win their trust they are unfailingly loyal.” 

“Huh.”

“Pan’s island lay at the very centre of all of this, and as the magic drained from the land the outlying islands began to disappear until only that one remained, eventually fading to that darkened and grim version that you experienced.”

“No wonder he wanted to restart magic there.” 

“Indeed.” 

“So which island are we on?” 

“This is Brasil—”

“Brazil?”

He looks at her, surprised. “You’ve heard of it?”

She gives a small shrug. “Um, actually probably not. I’m guessing we’re not talking about the country in South America.” 

“No, indeed.” Killian calls up a mental image of the maps of her realm he has studied intensively, and smiles to himself. “Brasil was part of Oisín’s realm, an island shrouded in mist, visible for only one day every seven years. I used to make a point of paying a visit on that day, both to help mark the passage of time in a timeless land and also because as you remark it is beautiful. Peaceful as no other place I’ve known.”

“What creatures lived there?”

“Not a one, aside from the birds and fish you see here. Brasil was all but inaccessible, many ships tried to approach it but none succeeded.”

“So how did you get there?”

“Well, the Jolly Roger, as you know love, is no ordinary ship. She can navigate shoals where other ships would run aground, and she found us a place to land.” His voice is wistful and she squeezes him in sympathy; she will never be over how much he has sacrificed for her.  

“That must have been wonderful,” she says softly. 

“Yes it was. When Neverland’s magic began to fade, Brasil was one of the last islands to remain, protected as it was by its mist, and once it was lost for good, that was when I knew I had to leave as well.”

“So it doesn’t exist anymore?”

“No, at least not in the place where I knew it to be. But magic, as you know, is tricky, and who’s to say that it has gone forever and not simply moved to a more congenial location? Stranger things have happened.” 

“I hope so, I’d hate to think of this being gone forever.” 

He leads her to the side of the lake, drawing her down to lie with him on the soft beach there. The dream ensures that no sand clings to their skin as they caress, leisurely tracing the well-known contours of each other’s bodies, each finding all the spots that make the other moan, desire simmering hot between them but not boiling over. Emma lets her fingertips trail up and down Killian’s back, her other hand buried in his hair as she presses kisses along his jaw. “I love your jaw,” she murmurs between them. 

“Do you?” His own hand skims down her thigh.

“Yeah, it’s like ridiculously cut.” She hums as he tickles behind her knee. 

“Is that good?” 

“It’s really hot,” she gasps. 

“And is that good?” He breathes the words against her skin as he scrapes his teeth down her throat.

“C’mon, Killian, you’ve been —ah, mmmmm— in this realm long enough to know that hot is good.”

“Aye, love,” he growls as she licks the tender spot behind his right ear, “But I like to hear you say it.” 

“It’s good.” She purrs the words into his ear. “Hot is good and your jawline is hot.” 

“Well, darling,” he says, pulling back to look at her as his hand strokes over her hip and the dip of her waist to her breast, tracing the perimeter of her nipple, feather-light. “May I say then that I find your chin exceptionally hot.”

“My chin? Really?”

“Oh, yes. It has this little dimple that used to torment me.” 

Torment you?”

“With the desire to kiss it.” He does so, making her giggle. 

“That’s a weird thing to be attracted to.” 

“Weirder than my jaw?”

“All right, you’ve got me there.” 

His fingers continue to toy with her breast. “Would it make you feel better to know that the chin dimple was merely one of many features of yours that tormented me?”

“I don’t really like to think about you being tormented at all, to be honest,” she says with a small frown. “Especially not because of me.” 

Warmth spreads through his chest and he kisses her, slightly harder than he intends. “It was nothing you did, love, just that I wanted so badly to touch you but I doubted I’d ever be granted the privilege.”

“I know,” she whispers, stroking his face, “I understand that, and honestly yeah there was a time when if you tried anything I’d’ve kicked you so hard your nuts would’ve come out your ears—”

“Eloquent as ever, my love.” 

“—but now I just hate to think about you feeling that way, especially when we’re back in a situation where you want to touch me but can’t.” 

His hand leaves her breast to tangle in her hair as he kisses her again, wishing there were more he could do to ease her concerns. “I won’t pretend that things aren’t difficult at the moment, Swan, but it’s not difficult in the way that it was before. Now I know that the situation is merely temporary.” 

“And you didn’t know that back then?” she says with a small smile. “Not even after I kissed you?”

“Indeed not. ‘A one-time thing,’ I believe you called it?”

“You had to have known I didn’t mean that. Even I knew it, though I’d’ve died before admitting it.” 

“I hoped you didn’t, of course,” he replies, his hand on her breast again, just a brief caress before it slides lower. “But even then I knew what a stubborn lass you can be, and that whatever you might feel for me you wouldn’t accept it easily.” 

“You always could read me,” she gasps as his fingers find her slick heat, his thumb pressing against her clit as the head of his cock teases her entrance.  

“Open book, love.” 

She lifts her hips and he slides into her and they both sigh at the sensation. They rock in unison, bodies pressed tightly together and kissing softly, their pace unhurried, letting their pleasure build in layers like falling snow until they come with soft cries and panting breaths.

This time the dream allows them to cuddle; though they can sense that their time is nearly over there is none of the usual pressing urgency. Killian kisses Emma’s cheeks and her forehead and her chin and she cards her fingers through his hair.   

The dream begins to tug at them and he leans their foreheads together, abruptly recalling that he still has more to communicate. “I forgot to tell you before that the note you delivered did the trick,” he says. “I met with Regina last night and she’s coming back tonight. She told me that the curse caster is Zelena.”

“Zelena the mayor?”

“Do you know any other Zelenas? I thought it might be wise of you to warn your cursed self not to trust her. We don’t know exactly what she’s after with this curse, but I suspect that keeping you under control is a major part of it. Don’t do anything that looks suspicious, but at the same time be suspicious of everything she says and does.” 

“Okay, I think I can manage that.” 

He kisses her one last time, soft and sweet and yearning then the dream was gone, and his phone was beeping on his bedside table, reminding him that Regina would soon be making her no doubt needlessly dramatic appearance and he needed to be prepared. 

---

Regina rose from her bed the moment she felt Zelena’s watchful eye leave her. It was a few minutes earlier than usual, and she smiled to herself at the prospect of appearing earlier than Hook expected, perhaps catching him off guard, unbalancing him. She was just raising her hand to call her magic when she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the small mirror on the wall and froze in horror. 

She knew of course that her appearance had changed over the past year, that worry and sleeplessness had ravaged her face, abetted by her own lack of interest in anything beyond basic hygiene. Her hair was lank, her skin sallow and dry with webs of fine lines spreading from her eyes and deeper ones slashing across her forehead. Consumed by anxiety for Henry she hadn’t cared or even noticed, but now…

She couldn’t allow Hook to see her like this. Not again. Not when the flash of pity in his eyes the night before was still fresh in her memory. Not when he actually looked better than he ever had, at least in her estimation. Out from under the layers of leather and eyeliner he seemed almost normal, like he actually belonged in this realm. And just how the hell he had managed that was something she would dearly love to know. She’d always suspected he was cleverer than he let on, and it annoyed her that he always seemed to land on his feet no matter what was thrown at him, or where he himself was thrown. 

She would not be pitied by the pirate, she thought grimly. She would not cede him the upper hand. Not without playing every card she had. With a flick of her wrist she brought a swirling cloud of purple smoke up from the ground to engulf her. It quickly dissipated to reveal her looking very much her old self, her hair styled to perfection and her makeup flawless on her smooth skin, standing in the middle of Hook’s apartment… where he was waiting for her, lounging on a kitchen stool in that careless way of his that had always set her teeth on edge, examining his fingernails.  

He looked up and smirked at her, that damned eyebrow quirking, and her fingers itched to summon a fireball. So much for catching him off guard. 

“I do hope you’ve come prepared to live up to your moniker, my Evil Queen,” he drawled. “Because I have a plan.” 

Regina forced her magic back down. You can’t incinerate him, he’s your ally, she reminded herself firmly. As distasteful as the idea was she needed him, for the moment at least, to help her keep Henry safe and break this damned curse. Once that was done she could turn him back over to Emma and wash her hands of the pair of them. “Oh, really?” she snarked, relieving her irritation with sarcasm. “And what exactly does this plan entail?”

He indicated for her to sit on the stool next to his, with a sweeping, flourishing gesture… of his left arm. Regina blinked and her jaw dropped, for once startled out of her composure. The long sleeve of his grey henley was pushed back, revealing his bare forearm, unadorned by his hook or even the brace that held it. His arm simply ended at the wrist in a gnarled mass of scar tissue, still rough and red even after centuries. But why would he… Confused, she dragged her gaze from his wrist to his face. What she saw in his expression floored her, flooded her with a mess of emotions as unfamiliar as they were uncomfortable: comprehension, guilt, empathy

He hadn’t simply forgotten to cover his wrist, of that she had no doubt. Everything he had done in all the years she’d known him had been deliberate and calculated achieve some end. He wanted her to see him like this, and she had a dreadful suspicion that she understood why.  

He was levelling the playing field, giving up his advantage from the night before by letting her see him at his most vulnerable, as he had seen her at hers. He was letting her know that he wouldn’t use her suffering against her. He was asking her to trust him, and showing her she could. 

It wasn’t just the lack of hook, either. Without the eyeliner and pirate leather he appeared softer, younger —an odd adjective to apply to him— and though his henley was completely unbuttoned because some things at least never changed, he looked a far cry from the dangerous man she knew him to be. His pirate identity, his armour, was gone. 

He looked like he belonged in this world, she thought again, this time without rancour but instead with something approaching sympathy. Without the curse download she’d given to the Storybrooke residents, he’d have had to adapt on his own, a steep learning curve even for a man who didn’t also have to adjust to life with one hand and without the hook he’d used in its place for centuries. How had he done it? 

“I had Emma to help me,” he said quietly. “And Henry.” 

“What?” 

“You were wondering how I learned to function in this realm.”

“How the hell did you guess that?” she snapped, lashing out automatically against his irritating perception and this very unwelcome sense of kinship she suddenly felt. 

His eyebrow quirked again, but there was no provocation behind it. “I’m rather good at reading people,” he replied evenly. “And you and I, my Queen, whether we like it or not, are different sides of the same doubloon. We understand each other, always have. Things will go more smoothly if you can accept that and stop imagining incinerating me with one of your fireballs.” 

Her breath hissed through her teeth at this further obnoxiously accurate observation, though it occurred to her, a stray thought flitting across her mind, that he really didn’t appear to be trying to provoke her. His expression wasn’t mocking or sneering just tired, with lines of strain around his mouth and dark smudges beneath his eyes. This last year likely hadn’t been easy for him either, she realised in another uncomfortable flash of affinity. Emma gone, left to fend for himself and for Henry in a land that would still have been strange to him. She had suffered it because she’d had no choice. But why had he?

“Do you remember on the boat in Neverland—”  

“On my ship, yes.” 

“On your ship,” she conceded, thinking with an inner smirk that perhaps the pirate wasn’t wholly gone, “Do you remember what we discussed? About villains not getting happy endings?”

“Aye.” 

“You said if we didn’t get what we had fought so hard for we would have wasted our lives. Do you still think that’s true?”

He sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. “I’m not sure,” he replied, and there was a stark, naked sort of honesty in his voice. “These past few years have led me to question many things I thought were absolute, and I no longer believe that anything can be as black and white as heroes and villains. Those labels are simply too reductive to paste on anything as complex as a human being. Any human being.” He met her eyes with a steady gaze, leaving her in no doubt that he was speaking of both of them. “And as for happy endings,” he continued, “whatever the bloody hell that might actually mean, frankly I’m not certain I want one. All I want is my wife back, for my son to have his mothers and grandparents in his life, and for all of us to have some bloody peace. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen, not as a villain or a hero but just as a man who wants his family whole and safe again.” 

Regina stared at him, and as she did she realised that she saw him, fully and truly for the first time. This wasn’t Captain Hook she was dealing with, not anymore. This was Killian Jones, the real man underneath the pirate’s many layers of distraction and subterfuge. This must be what Emma saw in him, what she had fallen in love with and apparently married. Regina had always just assumed she had a leather fetish. 

He really had changed, it seemed, and so had she. Neither of them were truly villains anymore, though they were certainly not heroes, and perhaps he was right that such a stark and unforgiving dichotomy wasn’t a useful way to frame the world. Perhaps they were both just people who had made bad choices in the past and were now trying to make better ones, similar people on similar paths to redemption who were now fighting for the same goal. What he claimed he wanted she did too: Henry’s happiness and a bit of peace. To accomplish that they needed to trust each other. 

She took a deep breath and let her glamour spell melt away, removing her armour as he had his. She couldn’t help smirking slightly when it was gone, still needing to disguise how exposed she felt without it, still half-waiting for a cutting remark from him, for him to laugh and reveal it had all been a ruse to get her to show her weakness.  

Instead his eyes warmed and he smiled, and she felt her smirk soften until she was smiling in return, sealing their deal in a shared openness that stood in stark contrast to the toxic distrust and acrimony that had defined their associations in the past. 

“So,” she said, “Hook. What—”

“Perhaps you’d call me Killian,” he interrupted. “Hook is a name only my enemies use these days.” 

Trust, she reminded herself. “All right. Killian.Tell me about this plan of yours.” 

He gestured again at the stool beside him. “Have a seat Your Ma— Regina,” he amended when she gave him a Look. “And tell me what you make of this.” 

As she moved to sit next to him he withdrew a clear plastic bag from his pocket and handed it to her. She took it and glanced at the contents, drawing in her breath sharply when she realised what they were. “Where did you get this?” she hissed. 

“Emma brought it to me. Apparently her cursed husband has been using it on her, to manipulate her memory, or control her somehow.”

Regina held the bag up, frowning as the powder inside it sparkled  menacingly, catching the light as broken glass does, or a freshly honed blade. “Yes, that would make sense,” she said. “I’ve read about powders like this but I’ve never seen any. They are usually some sort of enchanted dust or sand. I believe that this must be soil from the sleeping poppy fields in Oz.”

Killian rubbed his forehead, an odd expression on his face. “So you’re saying it’s sparkly dirt,” he said. 

“Well, yes, basically.” 

“Wonderful. What is it doing to Emma?”

  “Different powders have different powers, but as this is the soil that produces the poppies that represent forgetfulness and mind control, I would expect it to have a concentrated version of those same traits. It would allow the person who wields it to control the memories of whomever they administer it to. You say Emma’s… husband has been using this?”

A muscle danced in Killian’s jaw. “Her husband under the curse, aye,” he replied gruffly, looking away but not before she caught the flash of pain and anger in his eyes.

She could relate very strongly to both of those things. Damn it. 

“But…” Her thoughts kept circling back to the one thing she couldn’t understand. “If Emma is not only cursed but also under the influence of this powder, then how did she know to bring some of it to you? Or to take it from her hus— her cursed husband in the first place? How do you know about any of this?”

Killian appeared to be choosing his words very carefully. “The answer to those questions is complicated and involves details that are personal and private between myself and my wife,” he said. “Ones that I am not comfortable discussing without her full consent. What I can tell you is that there is a part of her consciousness that remains uncursed and that part is able both to influence her cursed self and to communicate with me.” 

“That’s not much to go on, Ho— Killian.” 

“Yet it’s all you’re going to get, Regina. At least for now. Once Emma is free of any mind control she can decide how much she’s comfortable sharing with you.” 

His tone was unequivocal, and she knew she’d get no more out of him on the subject. “Well, all right, then let’s discuss practicalities. If you’re able to communicate with this uncursed part of Emma’s consciousness, and it can influence her cursed self, does that mean you can influence her thoughts or actions?”

“Within reason, aye, though it’s not a simple matter. Even cursed and mind-controlled Emma doesn’t take orders easily.” There was a tinge of pride in his voice. 

“No, I don’t imagine she does. Still, that connection could be useful.” 

“Perhaps. But I was thinking more along the lines of making use of this powder.” 

“What, on Emma?”

“Of course not on Emma,” Killian snarled. “She’s had more than enough of people trying to control her.” 

Regina had never imagined sympathising with the Saviour, but then she’d sympathised with the pirate earlier so why the hell not? “Well, who then?” she asked.

Killian quirked an eyebrow and his lips curled, and for the first time that night he looked like the Captain Hook of old. “You said that this Zelena is always watching you?” he said.

“Yes, pretty much always.” 

“Mmmm. And how do you imagine she would react if you… deviated from your normal routine?”

Regina began to have an inkling of where he was going with this, and her lips curled as well. “She would probably want to know why.” 

“Would she follow you? Confront you?”

“She might.” 

“Excellent. Here’s my plan…”

---

Regina’s alarm shrilled at 5 am sharp as it did every morning. She rose immediately from her feigned sleep, as she did every morning, showering quickly and dressing in the hated maid’s uniform —such a cliché— then heading downstairs to prepare breakfast for Mary Margaret. Egg white scramble with veggies, gluten-free toast, green tea. Every morning was the same.

Mary Margaret appeared at half past six, impeccably dressed in one of her cliché outfits, seated herself at the kitchen table and picked up the newspaper without a glance at Regina. Ten minutes later David stumbled in, poured himself a cup of black coffee, drank it in two swallows, and left. Not a word to either woman. 

Just like every morning. 

As Mary Margaret ate Regina packed her a kale salad for lunch then cleaned the kitchen. At precisely 7.15 Mary Margaret left for the mayor’s office. Regina cleared away her dishes and loaded the dishwasher, then went upstairs to make the beds and clean the bathrooms, and it wasn’t until everything was pristine and sparkling that she finally collected her shopping bags and headed for the market. 

Her face was impassive, the perfect mask of downtrodden submission she had perfected over the past year, though if she was honest with herself as the year progressed it had become less a mask and more simply what her face did now. This morning however it was unquestionably a mask, concealing the effects of her thrumming heartbeat and eager anticipation.  

As she walked Regina attempted to calm her nerves by looking around her with eyes for the first time intent on observation, taking in details about Storybrooke that had failed to register with her before, when she had seen the world dimly through the haze of her misery and fear. Henry and Hook —Killian— believed something was not quite right about the town, and observing it now Regina could see what they meant. This was not the Storybrooke of her curse, though she’d admit it was close. The layout of the streets was identical, most of the buildings and shop fronts were the same, but the feel of the place was wrong. The trees and plants were wrong, the sounds of the birds were wrong. The colours of the houses and of the shops’ signs were wrong, both darker and more faded than they should have been. The whole effect was like… seeing the town through a poorly judged photo filter, she thought, with the birdsong played on a synthesiser in the wrong key. 

An idea began to unfurl in her mind, just a tiny seed sprouting, pushing through the dirt and opening its delicate leaves to the nourishing light of the sun. Zelena came from Oz, she thought. Her magic dirt came from there. It stood to reason that the curse had also been cast from that land. Perhaps…

Then she saw him, and the seedling idea along with everything else flew from her mind.  

He was coming out of Granny’s with his coffee cup, as he always did. 8.45 every morning, as regular as clockwork, dressed for work in a grey pinstripe suit and white shirt with a pale blue tie. He looked good in it —she doubted he’d look bad in anything— but it was wrong on him. The pristine elegance was wrong, the neatly combed hair so wrong. There was a time when she could never have imagined missing the twigs and leaves that had seemed always to be falling off of him or the way he’d smelled of pine, but after a year of pinstripes she sometimes felt she’d give nearly anything to see him leaf laden and windblown again, bow slung over his shoulder, his eyes filled with a kindness no one else had ever shown her. She held her breath as he came down the path, watching him through lowered lashes, compelled by force of habit not to look directly at him. Then she remembered the plan. 

Standing up straight and squaring her shoulders she subtly but noticeably glamoured herself, smoothing away the bags under her eyes and brightening her cheeks and lips with a faint blush, arranging her hair in the style she knew he liked. She thought about Henry, and about him, and imagined the satisfaction of taking her life back from Zelena, then strode forward with her old confident step and walked straight into him. He gasped as hot coffee sloshed over the rim of his cup, burning his hand and splashing a series of brown stains across his starched shirtfront. 

So this probably wasn’t precisely what Killian meant by “Do something to get Zelena’s attention,” but Regina figured such vague instructions were open to interpretation and she’d missed his eyes. Even narrowed in annoyance as they were now, she’d missed them. 

“Oh,” she said, grateful her voice came out strong and sure, “I’m so sorry.” 

Those eyes looked at her for the first time since before the curse and widened just enough to be flattering. 

“I wasn’t looking where I was going,” said Regina, forcing herself to breathe normally. 

“Oh, it’s, um it’s fine,” he said, but he winced as he shook the droplets from his hand.

“No, it isn’t,” she said firmly, taking his hand and holding his gaze as she healed his burn, keeping him distracted with a small, coy smile so he wouldn’t notice as her magic soothed away the pain. “You must let me buy you another coffee,” she purred.  

He blinked, clearly unsettled. “That’s quite all right, um…” 

“Regina. Mills.” 

“Right, Miss Mills—” 

“Please, just Regina.” 

“Regina.” He smiled at that, such a familiar smile that her hand tightened involuntarily on his. “It’s all right, you don’t have to—” 

“I insist.” She let her hand slide up his arm to the crook of his elbow, tightening her grip just slightly as she turned him back towards the diner. “You shouldn’t have to go without caffeine just because I’m clumsy.” 

“Well, all right,” he agreed, and allowed her to lead him back to Granny’s door. She paused just before entering. 

“And what can I call you?” she asked, with another smile that threw him off balance again.  

“Ah.” He swallowed and blinked rapidly, trying to collect his wits. “My name’s John Wood.” 

Of course it is,  thought Regina in disgust, that woman has no imagination

“Well, John,” she said. “How do you take your coffee?”

---

As Killian stepped off the road and into the woods that surrounded Storybrooke  he had to forcibly suppress a shiver. If these woodlands had appeared menacing as he and Henry had driven through them just over a week ago, they were far more so outside the relative safety of the truck. Moss hung from gnarled and twisting branches that caught his clothing on their twigs, clinging like skeletal fingers as he passed. Cold mist swirled up from the ground and shrouded his legs to the knees, creeping into every gap in his clothing, making the hair on his legs stand up as goosebumps chased across his skin. Killian was prepared to swear that the force Henry had described trying to hold him back from approaching his old house was here as well. The further he advanced into the forest the more the trees seemed to close around him, threatening to swallow him up even as they made it clear his intrusion was unwelcome. More than once he caught a glimpse of a face in a tree trunk, just from the corner of his eye, but he strongly suspected that if he looked directly at it the face would not be there. The whole effect was utterly, creepily terrifying but Killian simply refused to allow himself to be cowed by plants, however menacing their aspect. He set his jaw and continued walking, not looking behind him, giving no sign that he noticed anything amiss. He was just a man on a lovely morning stroll through some picturesque scenery and he dared anyone to prove otherwise. 

He followed no particular path —there wasn’t really one to follow— but allowed his instincts to guide him. As a man who had passed nearly all of his 200-odd years on the sea he was not adept at travelling over land even in the best of circumstances, which these were decidedly not, and the simple act of putting one foot securely in front of the other without catching it in brambles or undergrowth or stepping into an unexpected rabbit hole or some such required so much of his concentration that little remained for navigation. 

As he stumbled on and the woods deepened, doubts began to creep into his mind. What the hell am I even trying to accomplish with this? he grumbled to himself as yet another thorny vine snagged the arm of his sweater. He’d come here on a whim, unable to shake the feeling that the forest held a crucial clue, that it simply couldn’t be so blatantly ominous for no reason. Centuries of survival had taught him to trust those unshakeable feelings, and Killian did trust this one, but there was quite a lot of forest and only one of him and he was beginning to think he may be wasting the opportunity provided by Regina’s diversion. If he could find nothing today they may not have another chance to distract Zelena. I don’t even know for certain what I’m looking for, he thought, as he stumbled over a large tree root and into a clearing. 

he stands in the yard of a farmhouse, icy wind swirling snow around him, chilling him to his bones. He looks for Emma, but she is not there… 

The farmhouse stood just at the edge of the clearing, a plain wooden structure painted white, exactly as it had appeared in their dream. The dream that had shown them the flying monkeys, and Walsh, the one that had driven Killian to cross realms to warn Emma of the danger it portended.

This was what he had been looking for, what his time-honed instincts had known was here. He headed across the clearing, feeling oddly exposed after the claustrophobic trek through the woods, observing as much of his surroundings as he could without obviously surveilling them. From the corner of his eye he glimpsed a small structure with a metal door protruding from the ground as he passed, secured with a sturdy-looking padlock, apparently some species of storage unit —this seemed to confirm what Regina had said about being held in a sort of cellar— but Killian continued walking. Venturing alone into a small space with only one door struck him as an excellent way to get killed or at the very least imprisoned, and neither of those options appealed to him in the slightest. And besides, his instincts told him the house was more important. 

He strode up to the wraparound porch, not troubling to make any attempt at stealth, and peered in the window. Killian was admittedly no great expert on land dwellings of any realm, but to his eye the inside of the house seemed in keeping with the outside; unadorned and practical, well suited to the simple life of hardworking farmers. 

In the middle of these bloody menacing woods it seemed very out of place. 

As did the large crystal ball that sat in the very centre of its kitchen table. 

“Definitely the right place then,” Killian muttered to himself as he moved over to the door. 

It was unlocked.  

---

Regina left Granny’s with a genuine smile on her face and a cup of coffee that “John” had insisted on buying for her, though he had given in to her insistence on paying for the cup to replace his spilled one. When they reached the gate he thanked her again for his coffee, she thanked him again for hers, she apologised once more for ruining his shirt, and he waved it away yet again, insisting that he had many more just like it and one stained one would make no difference. They grinned stupidly at each other until John recalled that he was about to be late to work and hastily excused himself, hurrying off towards the bank. Regina watched him go with a bittersweet ache in her chest, then turned and nearly walked into her sister. 

She had, of course, been expecting this. “Morning, Sis,” she said with a wide smile. 

“Regina,” hissed Zelena, baring her teeth as her eyes sparked with a fury that was second cousin to madness. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Just having some coffee,” said Regina, casually sipping said beverage. “Why do you ask?”

“Having some coffee?” Zelena’s eyes bugged as she repeated the words. “When your precious son is in danger? Have you forgotten our deal, sister?

Is he in danger though?” Regina retorted. “Or did you exaggerate the threat to him in order to keep me under your thumb?”

Zelena looked ready to burst with impotent fury and something clicked in Regina’s head. “You didn’t know!” she exclaimed. “You didn’t know that Henry has been safe all this time!”

“No,” Zelena spat, “I didn’t know that the pirate was in New York. My agent there failed me. He became too focused on the Saviour and failed to notice her lover.”  

Regina’s mind raced. Zelena was clearly unaware of Hook and Emma’s marriage, and almost certainly had no idea that they could still communicate. That was good to know. “And what did you think happened to Henry, when Emma came to Storybrooke without him?” she demanded, icy fury in her voice. “That he was what, just left alone to fend for himself in New York? How could you?” 

“How could I? Have you met me? There is nothing I wouldn’t do to punish you, Regina, to make you suffer. I would have left your brat to starve and far, far more, and I would have enjoyed it. And now, I am going to enjoy finishing you.”

Regina called on her magic, let it flow through her, amplifying her glamour spell and giving Zelena a good look at the full glory of the Evil Queen. She leaned in, matching her sister sneer for sneer. “Oh yeah?” she taunted. “You’ll have to find me first.” 

Purple smoke engulfed her, right there in the middle of Main Street, in front of morning commuters and dog walkers and a Granny’s that was still packed with customers. Let Mayor Zelena explain that

Re-materialising in the forest near where her vault had been, she closed her hand tightly around something in her pocket, sipped her coffee, and waited. 

Zelena appeared in a cloud of green several minutes later, hair wild and eyes sparking with fury. “How dare you…” she began, but Regina didn’t wait to hear the rest. She pulled her hand from her pocket and flung its contents at her sister’s face. The glittering particles she’d been holding flew towards Zelena’s eyes, where they exploded harmlessly into a green cloud much like the one that had brought her here. 

What!” cried Regina, and Zelena cackled in glee.

“Did you really think I could be defeated by the magic of my own land, sister? I may not have been born in Oz, but I have mastered it. And did you really think I wasn’t aware of you using the magic here? I control this town and everything in it, including its store of magic. I brought it here and it is tied to me,  and any time you dip into the reserves, I can sense it. I sensed you transporting two nights ago, and again last night. To steal my poppy soil, presumably. What else have you taken?”

Regina thought frantically. Zelena knew she had transported, but not where. She might not know about Regina’s alliance with Killian, and despite her boast she clearly hadn’t sensed Emma using magic the day before. Regina had to be careful not to give too much away. 

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” she taunted, buying time. 

Zelena laughed again, manic and still edged with fury. “Oh, I’ll find out eventually. I have spies everywhere, traps and alarms in every nook and cranny of this place. No one can do anything in Storybrooke without my knowledge, including,” her eyes lit with delight, “A certain pirate captain who is even now breaking into my farmhouse.” 

Damn it, thought Regina. 

“So if you’ll excuse me sister, I have a pest to exterminate. So lovely to catch up, we really must do this again soon. Ta ta.” Green smoke swirled and she was gone. 

---

Killian pushed open the farmhouse door and stepped inside, his every sense on full alert. The starkly furnished room was silent in an oddly dusty and neglected way considering that Zelena had clearly been there recently, evidenced not only by the crystal ball but also the jars of herbs and potions scattered across the countertops and the squat black cauldron on the stove.

“Subtle,” snorted Killian, and turned his attention back to the table. As he approached it the clear crystal ball became opaque then resolved into the image of Emma’s face. 

He started back in surprise. “Bloody hell,” he muttered, then leaned in for a closer look. Emma was sitting in what he recognised after some struggle as her office at the Sheriff’s station. Her brow was furrowed and she was tapping furiously on the keyboard of her computer, but every few seconds her eyes darted to the car keys sitting next to a coffee cup on the desk. Killian had no time to wonder how or why the ball would show him that or what it could mean or if it was even real, because there were footsteps on the porch approaching the open door. 

He looked up and immediately snarled, clenching both fist and jaw. 

Walsh stood in the doorway, a supercilious smirk on his face.

“Hello, Hook,” he said. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Walsh stood in the doorway of the farmhouse, a supercilious smirk on his face.

“Hello, Hook,” he said.

---

New York, one year previously

Emma moaned as Killian’s hand slid over her ass, squeezing it as he snagged his hook into her belt loop and dragged her up his thighs to settle her more securely in his lap. She writhed against him, grinding into his erection, triumphant when he growled “bloody siren” in her ear, his breath hot on her neck, his hand clenching on her soft flesh harder than he intended. She loved making him lose control, driving him past the point where his mind switched off and he ran on pure emotion. Despite his short, violent temper Killian was level-headed and deliberate in most of his actions, the heat and fervour of his emotions hidden behind tall, thick walls of the sort that were very familiar to Emma. As he had broken through her walls so had she broken through his, though Killian insisted that this was the wrong metaphor. 

“I took one look at you and they went up in smoke, leaving no trace behind,” he had said wryly. “I’ve never had any self-control around you, love. No one else could wreck me as you do, dash me against their shoals and make me glad to be dashed. You are a siren and I would happily be ensnared by your song forever.”

Emma wished she could scoff at this, shrug it off as she did most praise, but his unabashed adoration, the naked love in his eyes whenever he looked at her was hypnotic, like a drug, like medicine, healing the wounds in her soul. Killian’s love was her drug of choice, she was addicted to it, desperate for it, still unable to fully believe there was an inexhaustible supply despite his effusive declarations, despite that he was now her husband.  

She cupped his head and pulled his lips to hers, kissing him deeply, licking into his mouth as his hand tangled in her hair and she felt a rush of moisture surge between her legs. His obsession with her hair turned her on ridiculously hard, just as her love of both his hook and his stump did him. Their kinks fit together just as their bodies did, tight and perfect and better than anything either had ever known. 

She pulled his shirt free from his jeans and trailed her fingertips along his skin, her touch deliberately light enough to make his muscles leap in response. He retaliated by flipping them over in one smooth motion and pressing her down into the sofa as he kissed down her neck and his hand slid beneath her sweater to cup her breast and tease her nipple with his thumb. She threw her head back and spread her legs wider, her moan desperate now as he rocked his hips, grinding his erection against her core. 

“I want you naked,” she gasped, tugging at his shirt. “Naked and deep inside me and—”

And the doorbell buzzed, jarring in the sexually charged atmosphere of the room. 

“Who the devil is that?” Killian snarled against her neck, and Emma struggled to think through the lust clouding her brain. Someone was coming over, she dimly recalled, there was something she’d been planning to do before Killian came home early from work… then she remembered, and this time her groan was one of frustration. 

“It’s Walsh,” she said. “Remember, Henry invited him.” 

Killian sighed and let his head fall against her shoulder. “Aye.” His voice was still sinfully rough but she heard the concern in it as well. He had never loved her plan to continue ‘dating’ Walsh, delicately probing him for information —lately with the additional aid of some of the confounding spells she’d learned— but especially not in the past few weeks as Walsh had become more and more impatient with Emma’s reluctance to allow their ‘relationship’ to go further than a chaste goodnight kiss. 

Something was going to have to crack soon, she knew. She was nearly certain that Storybrooke had returned; Walsh’s twitchy response each time she mentioned her ‘lifelong wish’ to visit Maine all but confirmed it, and Emma was very nearly prepared to go. All the falsified documents were ready: Killian’s birth certificate and driver’s license, his college degrees and sailing certifications, Henry’s new birth certificate proclaiming him the biological child of Emma Swan and Killian Jones. Emma had no idea how long she’d need to be in Storybrooke or what she might encounter there, and if she was going to leave Henry in Killian’s care in New York she wanted there to be no question of his right to guardianship. 

Everything was ready and she was set to leave in two days. She just needed a few more bits of intel from Walsh. 

The doorbell buzzed again and Emma pushed on Killian’s shoulders. “Let me up,” she said and he reluctantly did, scowling as she stood and adjusted her clothes.  

“Be careful, love,” he cautioned, running his fingers through her hair to comb it. 

She smiled and kissed him. “I always am.” 

Emma buzzed Walsh in then went to wait in front of the elevator, remembering seconds before it arrived at her floor that she was still wearing her new wedding ring. 

“Shit,” she muttered, and performed a quick glamour spell to conceal it just as the doors opened and she looked up to greet Walsh with a smile. 

“Hey,” she said. 

“Hey,” he replied, leaning in to kiss her cheek. Emma suppressed her shudder of revulsion, well practiced by that point in pretending she didn’t find him abhorrent. 

“I thought we could go up on the roof,” she said. “It’s such a nice night out.” 

“Okay,” he agreed easily, draping his arm around her shoulders and steering her back towards the elevator. Emma forced herself to relax. She just had to get through tonight, she reminded herself, then she’d never have to see Walsh or put up with his passive aggressive attempts to control her again. 

“So how was your day?” she asked as they strolled out onto the roof, Walsh’s arm still around her shoulders. 

“Pretty good. I sold that huge dining table that was taking up so much space in the showroom. Place looks empty without it.” 

He chuckled, his eyes twinkling, and Emma remembered how charmed she had been by his eager, slightly dorky demeanour before she’d learned what he was. If Killian hadn’t come for her and returned her memories she would probably have dated Walsh for real, with everything that such a relationship entailed. The thought made her stomach roil, and she smiled brightly to conceal it. “That’s great!” she said. 

She slipped out from under Walsh’s arm to open the door and they emerged onto the pretty wooden roof terrace, equipped with a grill and a table, and some young trees that would provide great shade in the summer when they got a bit bigger, Emma thought rather wistfully. They sat down at the table and Walsh took her hand. “Hey, I’ve been thinking. You know how you’ve always wanted to visit Maine?”

Unease prickled between Emma’s shoulder blades. “Yeah?” 

“Well, how about we take a weekend trip up there? There’s a little town I know with a really charming little B&B. Henry can stay with his friend and you and I can have some time to ourselves. What do you say?”

Emma kept her smile in place though her thoughts were whirling. Walsh had always put her off any time she brought up Maine, clearly wishing to distract her from the subject, and now he wanted to take her there? What had changed? And was he really proposing to take her to Storybrooke? 

Subtly she called to her magic, pulling it from one of the pocket reserves that Frank had taught her to find, and sent a confounding spell at Walsh. Tendrils of white light curled out from her fingertips towards his temples, where they bounced harmlessly against the invisible shield of a protection spell. 

“What?” she gasped. 

  Walsh shook his head, his expression almost mournful. “Oh, Emma,” he sighed. “I really wish you hadn’t done that.” 

She laughed, trying to cover her confusion. “Done what?” she asked.  

“I really hoped I was wrong about you,” Walsh continued as though she hadn’t spoken. “You seemed so wonderfully oblivious that when Zelena said you were using magic on me, I couldn’t believe it. There isn’t supposed to be any magic here. So all this week I followed you, and I saw you going to that bookstore, learning magic, saw you with the pirate.” He spat the word, his face twisting into something dark and ugly. 

“Pirate?” Emma attempted to bluff. “What are you even talking about?”

“Hook,” Walsh hissed. “I know he’s living with you, I know you’re fucking him. Damn it, Emma, I can smell him on you.”

“You’re crazy—”

Walsh leapt from his chair and grabbed Emma by the shoulders, pulling her against him. “Don’t lie!” he shouted, shaking her when she tried to pull away. “Tell me how long he’s been here, tell me what he brought you that makes you able to do magic. Tell me and maybe I won’t have to—” he broke off abruptly.

Emma stopped struggling, alarmed. “Won’t have to what?”

Walsh shook his head, tightening his grip on her shoulders. “No,” he said, almost to himself, “You’ll never cooperate. There’s no choice. You have to come with me.” 

“Like hell I will.” Emma brought her knee up hard into Walsh’s groin, spinning away from him as he doubled over in pain. She looked desperately around for a weapon, just managing to get hold of a piece of pipe before Walsh grabbed her again. The Saviour on the roof with the lead pipe, she thought, swinging the pipe at Walsh’s head. 

He ducked clear of her first swing and when she swung again he caught the pipe, trying to yank it from her grasp. She tugged back, but for all her toned strength he was still stronger and with a burst of effort he wrenched it from her, stumbling backwards as he did, right up to the railing of the terrace. His eyes were bright and almost feverish, sparking with fury and what looked terrifyingly like madness. As she watched they began to glow red, and his shape blurred and shifted into the winged monkey she and Killian had seen in their dreams. He screamed, baring his sharp teeth, and Emma didn’t hesitate. She lunged forward and pushed him with all her strength and all her body weight behind her, her hands landing flat on his chest and toppling him over the railing just as Killian burst through the door. 

“Swan!” he cried. “What in blazes was that?”

Emma watched as the monkey that was Walsh fell, still screaming, and burst into dust on impact with the sidewalk ten storeys below. 

“A reminder,” she said, as Killian’s worried gaze raked over her, checking for injuries before he pulled her into his arms. “That we need to stop being complacent. Something is going on in Storybrooke and we need to find out what it is. We’ve waited long enough, Killian. I’m leaving tonight.” 

---

One year later:

“Hello, Hook.”

Killian sneered, brandishing his namesake attachment. Wearing it in Storybrooke was a risk, but then he and Regina had basically decided that the time had come to throw caution to the winds and also Killian hadn’t been keen to venture into the forest unarmed. 

“Walsh,” he snarled. “You’re looking hale and hearty. Suspiciously so, considering that when last we met Emma pushed you off the roof of our apartment building.” 

“Aren’t you forgetting our little meeting outside Granny’s last week? When I was with my wife?” Walsh taunted. 

Killian shook his head in mock disappointment, refusing to take the bait. “I was giving you the benefit of the doubt, you know, assuming you were simply cursed, as she is. I see now I was being too generous.” 

“Just as I was naive to assume that you would know what was good for you and stay away from her after you’d seen what I can become.” He held up his hand, which as Killian watched lengthened, sprouting coarse grey fur, the tips sharpening into claws, which he proceeded to brandish menacingly. 

Killian snorted. “Do you even know who I am, mate? I pursued my first love’s killer over centuries and across realms, and he was the bloody Dark One. Do you really think I’d do any less for Emma? That I’d just let you take her away from me, let you hold her under a curse, control her mind, and be too scared to come for her because you can turn into a monkey?”

He gave the last words a mocking, singsong intonation and Walsh’s face hardened with anger, his skin taking on a hint of an odd, sickly hue. He stepped into the room and waved his monkey hand over the crystal ball, which was clear again, the image of Emma in her office gone. “You know,” he said conversationally, though with anger still plain in his voice. “This ball is really terribly useful. It showed me your adventures with the Saviour in Neverland, your little… dalliance, I believe you called it? I could see even then that she was in danger of developing feelings for you, and that if I wanted to neutralise her I would have to remove you from her life, once and for all. The ball is never wrong about such things. So why aren’t you gone?” His voice rose shrilly on the final word.

“And just where do you imagine I ought to be?” queried Killian, who was beginning to put two and two together in his mind. 

“In Neverland, where I sent your ship.” 

“Ah. Curious that your ball, which is never wrong, didn’t inform you of whether I was actually on my ship before you went to so much trouble.”

Walsh’s eyes flashed fury and his greenish tinge darkened. “Yes that is curious. Though in a way, you being here now is actually better. Because it means I can do this.” 

He thrust his hand forward as though to plunge it into Killian’s chest, his face a rictus of triumph tinged with insanity, clawed fingers flexing in anticipation of crushing a heart when a bright flash of white light burst from Killian and he was flung backwards, hitting the far wall with a crash that shook the house. 

“I’m a bit confused as to how you’d think that would be better,” smirked Killian. 

Walsh had gone properly green now, visibly fuming as he scrambled to his feet and attempted to gather his wits. “What?” he shrieked. “How?” 

“I think you’ll find that Emma placed one or two protection spells on me before she left New York,” said Killian mildly. “Best not to go for my heart again, she tells me that the more you try the stronger the reaction will be.”

With an oddly high pitched scream of frustration Walsh shot a jet of green light from his hands right at Killian, where it fizzled harmlessly against the white glow of the protection spell around him. Killian gave an exaggerated sigh. “Really?” he asked. “After I just told you about the protection spells?”

Walsh attempted to calm himself, his nostrils flaring as he breathed deeply. “Is this what’s become of the feared Captain Hook?” he taunted. “Cowering behind his girlfriend, chasing after her like a puppy? Letting her protect his soft little heart?” 

Killian laughed outright at this, not even in mockery but in genuine amusement. “The cowering is debatable, but of course I’m staying behind Emma,” he said, “Only a fool would get in front of her, have you seen how powerful she is?” Walsh bared his teeth at this, and Killian’s observant gaze sharpened as he pressed on. “There’s a reason she’s known as the Saviour, you know. Product of true love, the most powerful wielder of light magic yet born, or so I am reliably informed. She has never been defeated.” 

As Killian spoke the green hue of Walsh’s skin deepened, his face narrowed and his eyes turned an icy blue. Killian smiled.

“Are you sure you’re all right, there, you’re looking a bit peaky,” he said. “Bit green around the gills, mate. Or should I say lass?

Walsh hissed in fury and waved his hand. Green smoke whirled up from the ground to envelop him and when it dissipated he was gone, replaced by a tall, slender woman with sharp features and wild, curling red hair. 

“Zelena, I presume?” remarked Killian.

“Oh, very clever Captain,” Zelena hissed. “You are proving to be a much more… challenging adversary than I had anticipated. However did you figure it out?”

“I’m afraid I’ve never been much of a one for the evil monologue,” drawled Killian. “Explaining all the details of my nefarious plan and so forth. I reckon that’s more your sort of thing. Shall we simply say that subtlety does not seem to be your forte, whatever form you take, and leave it at that?”

Casually, he reached into his pocket and pressed his thumb against the half of a compact mirror that lay inside, applying pressure until he felt the mirror go ice cold. Beacon sent. Now if he could just keep Zelena talking for a little longer…

Her lip curled and her hands glowed with green light before she remembered what had happened the last two times she attacked him and she attempted to calm herself. “Oh, but I insist,” she said, half-purr half-snarl.  

“Well my first clue came when Emma pushed Walsh off a ten storey building and he exploded into dust,” Killian replied. “Though she was always of the opinion that the fall alone would not have killed him, it was still something of a surprise when he then appeared in Storybrooke as her husband.” 

“She was right,” said Zelena. “The fall didn’t kill him. That pleasure I am reserving for myself.” She waved her hand over the crystal ball to reveal Walsh looking pale and drawn, his clothing ragged, shivering in what appeared to be a dungeon. “Once I am certain he can be of no further use. Though his misadventure in New York did prove that he could not be trusted with even so relatively simple a task as ensuring the Saviour did not return to Storybrooke.”

“Was that his role, then?”

Zelena was beginning to fume. “Yes. All he had to do was offer love and stability to a woman who’d never known any. To keep her happy and away from this town. How bloody hard could that have been?” 

“It would likely have been far easier if she hadn’t already found love and stability with me,” remarked Killian, unable to keep from goading her slightly. “I confess it surprises me that even with this all-seeing crystal ball of yours, not to mention your simian spies, you weren’t aware of my presence in her life.” 

“Naturally I didn’t think to look for you in New York, I had sent you away!” Zelena shrieked. “I sent your ship through a portal to Neverland, a portal only I can control. With the magic virtually gone from that place, it should be completely cut off from the other realms. You should have been stranded there forever. How did you get back?

Killian shrugged. “I never went to begin with. As I said before, it seems your ball neglected to inform you that I had traded my ship for a magic bean. To get back to Emma, you see.” 

Zelena shrieked again and before she could think better of it sent another jet of green light at Killian. Once again it dissipated with a gentle fizz the moment it struck the protective barrier around him. 

Killian rolled his eyes with exaggerated boredom and examined the tip of his hook. “Are we going to be doing this all day, love, because it’s growing a bit tiresome,” he drawled as the mirror in his pocket began to grow warm. Just a few more moments… “Perhaps you might entertain me with the tale of how and why you cast this most recent curse?”

“Oh and wouldn’t you like to know?” sneered Zelena. 

Killian rolled his eyes again, slowly, as if entreating the heavens for patience. “Yes, I would. That’s why I asked.” 

“Hah,” cackled Zelena as she spun on her heel, no doubt preparing to pace the length of the room as she gave her evil monologue, but before she could speak a fireball burst through the open doorway and hit her square in the chest. It was followed immediately by Regina, gasping for breath, her clothes torn and her face scratched and with evil-looking twigs clinging to her hair. 

“What the devil took you so long?” snarled Killian. 

“There’s a magical barrier around this clearing,” panted Regina. “I couldn’t poof directly here. I had to run through the forest and let me tell you, that forest does not want people running through it.” 

Zelena recovered quickly from the fireball blast and she stood glaring at them. “So, you’ve found an ally in the pirate have you sister? You think he can help you defeat me?”

“He’s doing pretty well so far,” snapped Regina.

“Hiding behind his protection spells,” Zelena scoffed. “But magic isn’t all I can bring to this party. You have no idea what I’m capable of.” Her lip curled into a vicious snarl. “Let’s see how well you both manage when something you love is in danger. Something like, oh, your precious son, for example.” 

Regina summoned another fireball but as she was pulling back her arm to throw it, it turned to cold green light and fizzled harmlessly out. Regina shrieked in frustration as Zelena cackled and Killian lunged at her, hook first. Before he could reach her she gave a final sneer and a flick of her wrist and disappeared in a swirl of green, still cackling as she went, and Killian’s momentum sent him flying headlong into the kitchen table where he lay for a moment, waiting for the ringing in his head to stop. When it did he rolled over with a groan to find Regina glaring at him. “Well, this is a disaster,” she said. 

“It is the worst case scenario,” he conceded, rubbing his temples.

“Worst case scenario, yes you might say that. Our plan has completely failed and Zelena knows we’re working together. We have lost the advantage of surprise, and now she’s after Henry.” 

“Ah, but we have one final tool remaining in our arsenal. Emma.” 

Regina looked tempted to call up another fireball. “Emma is cursed,” she hissed.

“Aye, she is,” agreed Killian, getting to his feet. “So we’ll just have to remedy that. Are you able to poof us out of here?” 

Regina probed at the magic permeating the air of the farmhouse and clearing. “Yes, I think so. The barrier seems designed to keep me out but not in.” 

“Good, then take us to the Sheriff’s station.” 

“The Sheriff’s station.” 

“Aye, that’s what I said.” 

Regina curled her hand into a fist and ground it into her hip. “Emma could be anywhere, she spends most of her morning on patrol, and I do not want to go on some wild goose chase,” she snapped.

“Don’t worry, she’s definitely at the station.” 

“And how can you be so sure?” 

Killian remembered the image of Emma in the crystal ball. “I’m sure,” he said.   Regina opened her mouth to argue further but he cut her off. “Trust, remember? Emma’s at the station, I’m certain of it. Now let’s go.” 

Scowling, Regina waved her hand. Purple smoke swirled up around them and they were gone. 

---

They reappeared on the sidewalk in front of the Sheriff’s station and Killian wasted no time, all but running through the doors with Regina on his heels. Emma was exactly where the crystal ball had shown him she would be, at her desk pretending not to think about the car keys she had transported magically the previous afternoon. 

“Swan!” Killian called and she looked up, a smile breaking across her face before she remembered the previous day and apprehension chased it away. Killian halted just outside her office door, realising with a jolt he had no idea what to say to her, or even precisely what to do. 

There was one easy way to bring her memories back. A simple kiss, the soulmate kiss, the same kiss that had already returned memories to Emma when he’d found her in New York. It was an option that had always been available, of course, from the moment he’d arrived in Storybrooke. But he and Emma had agreed that it should be kept as a last resort, hoping they would have enough time for Emma’s cursed self to fall in love with him so they could try for True Love’s Kiss, break the curse and bring everyone’s memories back, not just hers. They had hoped there would be time for that, before anything happened that required Emma to remember.

Well, thought Killian, that ship has bloody well sailed. 

Still, he had a feeling, the same sort of soul-deep, instinctual feeling that had guided him through the forest to the farmhouse, that the soulmate kiss was not the best option here. His instincts were telling him that Emma needed to remember on her own.

But how could he trigger her memories? Could he? 

“Er, is there something I can do for you, Killian?” asked Emma, who was beginning to squirm under his intense gaze.

He gave himself a mental shake, reminding himself that Henry was in danger and they had no idea how long it would take Zelena to locate him. “It’s my son,” he said, and Emma jumped from her seat in alarm. 

“Henry?” she cried, sounding so much like her old self that even Regina gasped.  

“Aye. We think he’s been kidnapped. Or— is about to be.” 

“What makes you think that?”

“It’s— a bit hard to explain. We were, let’s say advised of a threat to him.”

“Advised? By who?”

Killian sighed. “Zelena.” 

“The mayor?” Emma looked disbelieving, then frowned and shook her head. Killian recalled their last dream, how he had suggested to Emma that she should warn her cursed self that Zelena couldn’t be trusted. If she had, if she was even now pushing against the influence over her own mind, then there was a chance that telling her the truth, all of it, could help her break through. 

It was a small chance, but he’d have to risk it. Henry’s life might hang in the balance. 

“Listen to me carefully, Emma,” he said, taking a step towards her and holding her gaze. “This is going to sound insane, but I need to you to listen with an open mind. Right now you have a voice in your head, your own voice. It’s been speaking to you for some time now, trying to remind you of things you’ve forgotten, and it’s telling you now to trust me, and warning you against Zelena. Listen to that voice, love, it’s you. The real you.”

Emma gasped, staring into his earnest blue eyes. “How can you know that—” she began, then caught herself. “I mean, there isn’t any voice.” 

Don’t lie to him, Emma. It’s useless anyway he knows you too well, said the voice. 

 Her voice, there in her head, louder and more confident than it had ever been. 

You know he’s telling the truth. 

“No…” 

Killian was watching her carefully, his gorgeous eyes far too perceptive. “You hear it right now, don’t you,” he said. “Your voice.” 

She shook her head, trying to deny it through sheer force of will. “I don’t.” 

“Now, love, we both know that’s not true. Has she told you who I am yet? Who we are to each other?” 

He’s your husband. He’s Captain Hook. 

“Captain Hook,” she scoffed. Now that was just ridicu— 

“Aye.” Killian held up his hook and Emma’s eyes widened. How could she possibly not have noticed that his lifelike prosthesis had been replaced by a very not-lifelike huge pointy hook?

You noticed. It just didn’t register as odd because you’re so used to seeing it there. 

“I did tell you my original prosthesis was somewhat primitive,” Killian reminded her.

“That isn’t— that doesn’t mean— Captain Hook is fictional and you can’t be my husband we just met—” 

“No, darling, we haven’t. We’ve known each other for a few years now, and in that time we have forged a bond that is closer than any I’ve known in all my life. Which is saying something.”  

She continued to shake her head but he could see the doubt creeping into her eyes and he pressed on. “Would you like to hear some of the things I know about you?” he asked gently. “Your name is Emma Swan. Middle names are common in your realm but you don’t have one because you were found on the side of the road wrapped in a blanket with ‘Emma’ embroidered on it and none of your foster families gave you another one. You still have that blanket; it was the one thing you carried with you to every foster home you went to. It’s white, loose knit with your name in purple and a purple ribbon running through it.” 

Emma knew her mouth was hanging open, her forehead crumpled in confusion. How the hell could he know about her blanket? 

Oh, I think by now you know perfectly well how. 

“When you were sixteen you gave yourself the surname Swan as a symbolic gesture of transformation,” Killian continued, relentlessly. “My words, love, not yours, though you did concede that was the reason. This was right before you ran away from your final foster home and soon after met up with a man whose name, the one he told you, was Neal Cassidy, though he is actually Baelfire, son of Rumplestiltskin.” 

“Rumplestiltskin,” repeated Emma in a flat tone. “Who spins straw into gold.”

And is a lot more scaly than in the fairy tales. That’s him.

“Aye,” Killian confirmed. “You fell pregnant by Baelfire and bore his son. Henry.”

(A storm, a hospital room. Her ankle chained to the gurney. 

“Do you want to hold him, Emma?”)

“Henry?” she gasped, an echo of profound love rising in her chest. “Not… your Henry?”

 “Aye, my stepson Henry. You are his mother, Emma, and Baelfire his biological father. And Regina here is his adoptive mother.” 

“No.” Emma shook her head, wishing she could shake away the growing certainty that all this… this insanity… was all true. 

She attempted to scoff, to deny it. “You’re a crazy person.” 

“Always so stubborn, my love, but you know I’m not. As I was saying, you had Henry, gave birth to him in prison, where you had been left by Neal for a crime he committed, and you gave Henry up for adoption though it tore you apart to do so, because you didn’t feel you could be a good mother to him.”

(“Emma?”

Her anguished moan. “No… I can’t be a mother…”) 

“But he found you, darling, on your twenty-eighth birthday, and he brought you to Storybrooke. Here you broke the curse that had been laid upon this town, the curse that had brought it into existence and brought the people who live here from the Enchanted Forest.” 

“The Enchanted Forest? And you really expect me to believe all this?”

You do believe it, though. You believe every word. How else do you explain why you’ve always felt so connected to Killian, and to Henry?

Emma shook her head again, wanting, almost needing to believe it, but something still held her back.

“Do you remember how we met, Emma?” Killian’s voice was gently persistent, patient, though Regina was beginning to fume and pace impatiently behind him. 

In the Enchanted Forest.

“At Granny’s.” 

“No. In the Enchanted Forest.”

Told you.

“I attempted to deceive you but you saw right through me, love, as no one ever has before or since. You tied me to a tree and threatened to allow ogres to eat me.” He grinned wryly but the heat in his eyes made her heart pound. “You’re rather fond of forcibly restraining me in fact—”

Oh, he likes it too.

 “—not long after that you chained me at the top of a beanstalk and left me there at the mercy of a giant.” 

(“I can’t take the chance that I’m wrong about you…”)

That giant was never going to hurt him.

“He was never going to hurt you— no, what?

Killian pounced. “He wasn’t going to hurt me, no, you made certain of that. And although you leaving me there made my life considerably more difficult I couldn’t help but admire you. Meeting you, it set my feet on a path away from the vengeful one I’d followed for centuries. You made me wish to be a better man, and though I had little hope of ever winning your affections I wanted to be worthy of them all the same. I gave up the revenge I’d pursued for hundreds of years and took you back to a land I’d made great sacrifices to escape for the sake of helping you find your son.” 

Neverland.

“N— Neverland?”

(…thick, humid jungle, terrified boys with poisoned arrows… Killian in a long leather coat pulling a flask from his pocket…)

“Aye. We grew close there; against all odds we found kindred spirits in each other. It was there we shared our first kiss—” 

“Hah,” said Regina under her breath. “I knew it.” 

(…his lips hot against hers, following her lead even as they coaxed more from her than she’d planned to give… his hand in her hair… the sharp flare of longing in her chest… 

“As you wish…”)

“—but you were focused on saving Henry and conflicted because Neal had returned, and I didn’t wish to put any pressure on you,” continued Killian, his words somehow managing to penetrate the mess of confusion in her mind. 

Promising me ‘fun’ when we got back to Storybrooke, that’s his idea of no pressure?

“You promised me fun…” 

Hope lit in his eyes. “And I would certainly have offered you some, darling, had Pan not cast a second curse, one that would return us all to the Enchanted Forest. All but Henry.” 

He wasn’t born there.

“Because he wasn’t born there…” 

“Aye. So you and he moved to New York, with your heads filled with false memories—”

(“Not a day will go by that I won’t think of you.” 

“Good.”)

“—and it was there that I found you a year later. Do you remember how I found you?”

The dreams. 

“I— I dreamed about you,” she whispered. 

“You still do.” 

“How could you know that?” Knowing her past, if it was her past, was one thing, but how could he know her dreams?

“Because I dream of you, Emma. The same dreams.”

Behind him Regina stopped pacing, her eyes widening in astonished comprehension and a bit of awe.

“That’s… that’s not possible…” 

“But it is. You know it is.” 

Come on, Emma. 

“NO!” 

Killian could see the conflict raging behind her eyes, the war being fought inside her. She was so strong, but the curse and the poppy soil were still stronger. He had only one move left. With a deep breath, he braced himself and made it.

---

New York, one year prior: 

“I don’t like this Swan,” said Killian, leaning against the doorframe of their bedroom as he watched her pack. “You’re still going in far too blind.” 

“I’m not wild about it either but what choice do we have? Walsh is gone, maybe not for good but he won’t be coming back here anyway, and we have no other source of information. We’re just going have to play the hand we’re dealt.” 

“I never play the hand I’m dealt,” growled Killian. “That’s how a pirate gets himself killed. Any game you go into without loaded dice is one there’s no guarantee you’ll walk away from.” 

Emma spun around, planting her fists on her hips. “So you’re telling me we should cheat.”

“I’m telling you we need to adjust the parameters of the game to give ourselves an advantage.” 

“That sounds like cheating to me.” 

“Call it what you like, darling, but I haven’t survived this long by underestimating my enemies. I will do whatever is necessary to win, or at least not to lose, and the stakes here are far too high for us to play by what you think are the rules, especially when we know that the other side is not doing the same.”

“Do we know that?”

“We know almost nothing,” he snarled. “But tell me, love, what do you imagine Walsh intended to do to you, once he had you alone and away from home? Why do you think he suddenly changed his tune about going to Maine? He knew I was here and he was trying to get you away from me, and away from Henry. There is obviously something in Storybrooke that he thought would neutralise you as a threat, and if you insist on going in without knowing what that is then the least you can do is indulge me by loading your dice. Metaphorically.” 

“And how do you suggest I do that?” 

“Take your magic with you. Store it somewhere, somewhere no one else can touch it. O— Frank must have shown you how to do that.” 

Emma frowned, crossing her arms as she considered his words. “Yeah, he did. He said the same as you actually, that I should have my magic somewhere safe. He suggested an amulet but I’d feel dumb, not to mention obvious, wearing some big jewel around my neck.” She fiddled with the delicate silver chain she did wear around it. “That’s not exactly my style.” 

Killian took her hand and held it up, scowling. “Where’s your ring?” he asked.

“Oh.” Emma waved her other hand and her wedding ring reappeared. “I glamoured it so Walsh wouldn’t see.” 

“Hmmm.” Killian rubbed his thumb across her ring, a speculative gleam appearing in his eyes. 

“What are you thinking?” she asked. 

“If you hid something with a glamour spell, would that spell hold even if something happened to you? If you were put under, say, a curse, would your spell still hold?”

“Um, I think so?” A small smile curled her lip as she caught on to what he was suggesting. “You think I should store my magic in my ring, and glamour it.” 

“Loaded dice,” he replied. “No one knows we’re married or that you have magic here. Walsh didn’t know it so it stands to reason that whoever is directing him doesn’t either. And that is exactly the sort of thing that could give us the advantage we need.” 

“All right,” she agreed. “I guess that does make sense. I’ll load my dice.” 

He grinned. “I always knew you’d make a hell of a pirate, Swan.” 

---

Storybrooke, one year later: 

Killian took Emma’s hand and held it up. “Where’s your wedding ring, Emma?” he asked softly. 

She tried to tug her hand away, but he held fast. “I told you, I don’t wear it because it gets in the way—” 

“But where is it?” he pressed. “Is it in a drawer, in a box, in a safe? Is it in your bedroom, your bathroom, a closet? Where is it?”

“I— I don’t know,” she lied. 

Seriously, Emma? It’s on your finger.

“You do know, my love, we both do. It’s right where I placed it just over a year ago. Right here, just hidden.” His thumb brushed gentle strokes over her knuckle, sending sparks all up and down her arm as her heart tried to beat out of her chest. “I can feel it,” he said softly, “And I think you can too.” 

She could. 

Remove the spell.

“I can’t,” she whispered.

Yes you can. You have to.

“Please, Emma,” Killian whispered, sensing she was close, so close to breaking through. “I love you. Please come back to me.” 

Emma closed her eyes and opened herself to her magic, to that terrifying sensation she’d felt only yesterday when she’d summoned her keys in the bookstore. The bright white light flowed through her again, pulled from—from where?— from a reserve somewhere close to her, and when she waved her hand over her finger an engraved platinum band identical to the one Killian wore appeared on it. She could feel it there in earnest now, heavy on her finger, and when she opened her eyes and saw it glowing bright with her magic, she gasped. 

(“Emma Swan, do you take this man…”

“I do”

…bright blue eyes warm with love as he slipped the ring on her finger…

“…husband and wife…”)

She looked up to find those same blue eyes, brimming with that same love and with a desperate hope. “Killian,” she breathed. “I remember…” 

“What do you remember, love?”

“Our wedding…” 

The memories were trickling back now, slowly though, too slowly, as something in her head still tried to push them down, stamp them out. Emma pushed back against it with everything she had but it was too strong. She couldn’t defeat it alone. 

He can help you.

How?

You know how. 

There were too many voices in her head, too much confusion. Desperately Emma focused on the only thing that seemed steady and sure, the only thing that made sense. She reached for him, hand fisting in the front of his sweater, and did the one thing she’d been longing to do since she’d literally run into him that day at Granny’s. 

She pulled his lips to hers and kissed him. 

The moment their lips met her magic surged through her, pulled from the ring  into her body, its slow trickle now a raging flood, suffusing her with light. It swept away the cobwebs in her mind and brought her memories, all of them, tumbling back, sharp and distinct as if they had happened moments before. 

She pulled back, gasping, and when she looked up at him he was grinning, pride and delight glowing in his eyes. “You did it, love,” he said. 

She nodded, still overwhelmed by the power in her veins and the images in her head. “I did it,” she repeated. “I remember everything. Killian— oh, God,” she choked as tears filled her eyes. “I’ve missed you—”

She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him fiercely, the tears falling unheeded down her cheeks as his arms closed around her so tightly she could barely breathe, but she didn’t care. Who needs oxygen anyway, she thought, and the thought was entirely her own; the voices in her head were gone. 

She never wanted to be out of his arms again. 

Killian was crying too, with relief and joy and the sheer delight of holding Emma close, finally, after far too long without her. He knew he was holding her too tightly, his hand hopelessly tangled in her hair, but he didn’t care. She was here and real and she remembered him, and he was never letting her go again. 

Dimly through the haze of sensation and emotion they heard Regina’s voice. 

“This is all very touching,” she said drily. “But might I remind you that our son is still in danger.” 

Killian and Emma broke their kiss but remained locked in each other’s arms, their foreheads pressed together. 

“Henry,” said Emma breathlessly. “Zelena has him.” 

“She might not have him yet, but she’s after him,” said Killian. “We’re banking on her trying the school first before looking anywhere else.” 

“He’s not at school?”

“No. We thought she might go after him if we weren’t able to use that poppy powder on her, so we put him someplace we didn’t think she’d look.” 

“Where?”

“We’re wasting time with this,” snapped Regina. “I’ll poof us all there. Let’s just go!” 

Emma nodded, stepping out of Killian’s embrace but taking his hand and gripping it tightly. “You’re right,” she said. “Let’s go get our son.”  

 

 

Chapter Text

“Let’s go get our son.”

Regina raised her hand to poof them away but before she could touch her magic Emma gripped her arm. “Wait!” 

“What now?” snarled Regina.

Emma’s brow was furrowed in thought. “Where are you getting your magic from?” she asked. 

Regina hesitated, frowning. “There’s magic in Storybrooke,” she said. “Can’t you feel it?”

“I can,” replied Emma, “But it feels… weird. Not like the magic that was here before.” 

Regina closed her eyes and let herself fully sense the magic that surrounded her. “You’re right,” she said grudgingly. “There’s something not quite right with it. I can’t explain it, but it’s just… off.

“Like the town itself,” said Killian. “And the forest.” 

“Yes, exactly. Superficially the same but if you look closer it’s just wrong.” 

“Where does it come from?” asked Emma. “The magic, I mean. I thought that under the first curse there wasn’t any magic in Storybrooke.”

“There wasn’t, that was the whole point. Rumple brought it here after you broke the curse.”

“Yeah, I remember the cloud. And the dragon.” 

“Exactly. That was why he wove your parents’ true love into the curse in the first place. It made you the saviour, and when you broke the curse it allowed him to bring magic to this land.” 

“So if there’s been magic here all along with this curse, then that means magic is... part of the curse somehow, in a way that it wasn’t part of the first one,” said Emma, thinking hard. “I don’t think you should use that magic, Regina. We don’t know where it’s from or what it might do—” 

“Zelena controls it,” Regina broke in. “She told me, she can sense when it’s being used.” 

Emma nodded, as if this confirmed her theory. “And that means she can probably track it.” 

“What do you mean, track it? That’s not how magic works—”

“It’s how this magic works,” insisted Emma. “You know that big green necklace Zelena wears?” Regina and Killian both nodded. “It always struck me as odd, and now that I have my memories back I know why. That thing is not just gaudy jewellery, it’s a magical amulet. It’s used to store magic.” She looked at Killian. “Like the one Frank wanted me to create.” 

“Hmm, yes,” said Killian, recalling that conversation. “I can see why you wouldn’t wish to wear something like that.” 

“And just who is Frank?” snapped Regina.

“He—” Emma hesitated. There was no time for the full story of who and what Frank was, especially with Regina in what was clearly a mood. “He was my magic teacher in New York. He’s the one who taught me how to find magic there, how to use it and how to store it in my ring.” 

“Who the hell could have taught you—” 

“Look, it’s not important, Regina! What’s important is that if Zelena controls Storybrooke’s magic, if she stores it in that amulet, then that means she can sense when and how it’s being used, and with a little effort trace that use.”

Killian’s face was grim as the meaning of her words sank in. “Which means she can find where we left Henry,” he said.  

“Yeah. And track Regina wherever she goes. I don’t think you should use that magic, Regina.” 

Regina looked furious, clearly struggling against the logic of Emma’s argument. “So what, I’m supposed to be powerless—” she protested.

“No. You can use my magic.” 

Regina stared at her. “Light magic.” 

“Well, yes, but—” 

“I can’t use light magic.” Regina crossed her arms over her chest, her expression no longer angry. She looked stubborn and wary, and almost scared. 

Emma could tell there was no point in trying to change her mind and there was certainly no time. “Okay, fine, we’ll argue about that later. Tell me where Henry is and I’ll poof us there.” 

“He’s at your parents’ loft,” said Killian, who was clearly as impatient as she.  “Or what was their loft, during the first curse. Now it’s— well, you’ll see.” 

“Okay,” said Emma. “Let’s go see.” 

She raised her hand and they were enveloped in a cloud of pure white. 

---

The previous night:

Henry grabbed another book from one of the shelves in his dad’s shop and took it over to the sofa, heaving a sigh as he sat down and opened it in his lap. His dad and mom —no, Killian and Regina; he was really going to have to come up with some way of differentiating his various parents in his head, especially if they were going to start working together in weird pairings like this— Killian and Regina were sitting at the desk, their heads together as they worked out the details of their plan. Killian had given Henry the outline of it, ignoring Regina’s sharp protests, but both his currently present parents had agreed that he didn’t need to know the nitty-gritty of what they had in mind.

Henry scowled. It wasn’t fair. He was thirteen years old and he’d already helped break one curse. He’d survived Neverland and memory loss and he’d been right at Killian’s side through all the planning and preparation of the last year. Of course he knew that there were things Killian still kept from him —at least some of which he was pretty sure he did not want to know too much about— but surely he was old enough and had done enough now for them to trust him with some real responsibility. 

He glared at the pages of the book, skimming the words, looking for any information about the Wicked Witch or Oz or her magic, but there was very little. Everything interesting was in the books currently stacked in a neat pile on the desk in front of Killian. Sighing again, louder this time —they still didn’t hear him— he turned another page and his eyes widened. Magical Weapons: Their History, Mythology, and Use proclaimed the chapter heading. 

“Cool,” breathed Henry, curling his legs under him and beginning to read, his teenage pique momentarily forgotten as he got lost in research. 

---

The white smoke whirled away and Emma, Killian, and Regina were standing in the middle of the loft, which was… now just an old, disused warehouse, thought Emma, looking around. Apparently under this curse it hadn’t been converted into apartments. There were stacks of crates lined against the wall where her mother’s kitchen had been, draped in sheets of plastic that had once been clear but were now grey with dust, and the floor beneath their feet crunched with bits of old plaster that had crumbled away from the ceiling and walls. Zelena stood before the smudged and dirty windows of the former living room clearly awaiting their arrival, her posture triumphant and Henry clasped tightly in her grip, an odd, double-edged knife pressed against his throat. 

“Nice of you to join us, Regina, Captain,” she said gleefully. “And the Sheriff as well, how lovely. I expect this must all be rather confusing for you, dear—”

“Not at all,” said Emma coolly. “I know exactly what’s going on.” 

Zelena’s eyes narrowed. “Memories returned, then. The Captain continues to surprise me. It’s such a shame that even after all his determined efforts I still got to your son first. You see, I can—” 

“You can sense the traces of magic use in Storybrooke so you knew some had been used here. Yeah, we know that already,” interrupted Emma. “I also know you can’t hurt Henry with magic. I left—”

“Protection spells around him, yes, I know that already,” hissed Zelena. “Similar to the ones you put around the Captain, by the way they’re behaving. Too bad they won’t protect him from my knife!” She pressed the weapon harder against Henry’s throat and the boy winced as a thin line of blood began to seep from his skin. 

Emma heard Killian’s snarl and felt the magic in the room ripple as Regina’s fingers twitched and knew that both were on the edge of doing something rash. “Wait,” she said, squeezing Killian’s hand in hers and putting her other one on Regina’s arm. “Let me handle this.” 

She called on her magic, drawing it from the deep reserves in her ring and ignoring the pull on her senses exerted by the dark magic emanating from the green amulet. Zelena would be counting on Emma using that magic, magic she controlled. She would think there was no other choice. She wouldn’t be expecting this

Emma wrapped tiny tendrils of her magic around the dagger in Zelena’s hand, weaving them together to strengthen them and subtly blunting the sharp edge pressed to Henry’s throat. The dagger was exceptionally sharp and made of hard-wrought metal but with effort Emma was able to wrap enough magic around it that she wouldn’t accidentally cut Henry. Then with a wave of her arms and a heave of her magic she ripped the blade from Zelena’s grasp, sending it flying across the room. 

“What?” shrieked Zelena, and Henry took advantage of her surprise and lack of weapon to dig his elbow into her ribs and pull free from her. He stumbled away, clutching his throat, as Killian and Regina ran to catch him. Emma kept her focus on Zelena, trusting them to make sure Henry was okay, holding her magic at the ready and sparking from her fingertips. 

Zelena’s lip curled. “Very impressive, Saviour,” she spat. “Where are you getting your magic from?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Emma taunted. 

Fury flashed in Zelena’s eyes, sharp and dangerously unhinged. “It hardly matters,” she sneered. “You’re still no match for me.” Green light flashed and crackled through the room as she flung a beam of it at Emma, who threw up her hands just in time to deflect it and force it back towards the other woman. They struggled wordlessly for several minutes, each trying to push her magic onto the other until Zelena stumbled on a piece of broken brick and lost her footing, sending her green jet flying into the pile of crates and splintering them into fragments. Emma stumbled herself when the resistance she’d been pushing against abruptly vanished, regaining her balance just in time to dodge the next bolt of green Zelena shot at her, spinning nimbly to avoid it before flinging back a white one of her own. 

Killian watched them battle, fist and jaw clenched, thinking he had never in all his centuries of life felt so thoroughly useless. It was clear to him that Emma and Zelena were near perfectly matched in strength and skill, trading the advantage back and forth but neither able to hold it long enough to secure a victory. Emma needed help, and there was nothing he could do to help her. He wanted to punch something. 

Frank’s words from just a few days before echoed in his mind yet again, words that seemed to take on a new shade of meaning each time he recalled them.

(…The Caster is as powerful in darkness as the Saviour is in light, and without intervention they will ever remain locked in stalemate. To break this curse the Saviour must have aid from her true loves. Both of them…)

But what could he or Henry do? Neither of them had magic, and despite hours of research the night before, despite all his remarkably comprehensive selection of magical literature, they simply didn’t have enough information about Zelena to know if there was any other, non-magical way they could fight her. 

He looked at his son, noting the way Henry’s own small fists were clenched, the distress and frustration in his eyes as he watched his mother dodge and shoot, at the way he held tight to Regina— 

Wait. 

Regina

Killian and Henry may not have magic, but they had influence over someone who did. 

He spun around, grabbing the Queen by the arm and shooting Henry a look that clearly said Back me up, lad. 

“Regina,” he said urgently, “You’ve got to help her.” 

She pulled her arm from his grip and shot him her most regal glare. “Don’t be stupid, pirate, you know I can’t. Zelena controls the magic—” 

Killian was having no more of that. “She controls her magic, not Emma’s.”

“And I can’t use light magic.” 

Henry jumped in, his expression eager. “But you can, Mom!” he cried.

Sorrow broke across Regina’s face as she turned to her son and her voice broke when she responded. “Henry, no, I can’t. You know what I am—” 

“What you were,” insisted Killian, willing her to remember their conversation from the previous night. “Not what you are.” 

“You’ve changed, Mom!” 

“Look at what you’ve sacrificed in this past year,” Killian pressed. “Nearly everything you had. And for what reason? For love. For your son.” 

“You would never have done that if you were really bad!” Henry’s eyes implored her, and Regina hesitated. 

“You couldn’t love like that, selflessly, unless there was some light in you,” said Killian, striking the final blow. 

Regina was shaking her head but her expression was conflicted. “I can’t,” she insisted in a whisper, almost to herself. “Emma’s magic is so pure.”  

“But you can feel it, right?” asked Henry. “Emma’s magic?”

“Yes—” 

“Mom, don’t you know what that means? If you can feel it you can use it. Zelena’s got no idea where it’s coming from, she’s too dark to even sense it, but you can.”

Regina didn’t move but she seemed to reach out, feeling for something before drawing back with a gasp. “It— it hurts to touch it,” she said. “But I can touch it.” Her eyes lit as she was struck with an idea. “Maybe I can—” She reached out again and this time she didn’t pull back. “I can temper it with Zelena’s magic, not so much that she’ll notice but just enough to allow me to use the light magic.” 

“Go Mom!” 

“Brilliant,” said Killian with a grin. “Not hero or villain, but a much more practical combination of both.” 

She caught his eye and understanding flashed between them. 

Like you.

Aye. Like me. 

“You can do this,” he said, and she nodded. 

“Yes, I can.” 

She flung out her arm and Zelena flew backwards into the wall, the bolt she’d been aiming at Emma ricocheting off the ceiling and showering them all in plaster dust. Emma turned, mouth dropping open. “Regina,” she gasped. “You—” 

“It would seem so,” said Regina as she moved to Emma’s side and then they both flung their hands up as Zelena with a shriek of fury shot green light at the pair of them. Regina’s assistance tipped the delicate balance and Emma was able to form her magic into a barrier, like a wall, which she pushed towards Zelena slowly encircling her in a bubble of white magic. 

And still, Zelena fought, pushing back with all her considerable might.

“She’s not giving up,” Regina yelled. “We can’t hold her off forever!”

“I just need to close this spell around her and she’ll be contained!” shouted Emma. “If you have any better ideas I’d love to hear them!”  

“I think I know what to do,” said Henry quietly, for Killian’s ears alone. “It’s something I heard Frank tell Mom, when he was teaching her that magic you can sense is magic you can use. We’ve got to get Zelena’s amulet. That’s where her magic is, if we can get it away from her she’ll be powerless.” 

“But how do we do that, she’s behind that shield your mums have made—”

“I can do it,” said Henry, with a confidence he almost felt.  

“No, Henry—” 

“Dad, please, I can do it. I know how, but there’s no time to tell you— You’ve just gotta trust me.” 

Killian hesitated, looking intently at his son, torn between faith in the lad’s abilities and the parental desire to protect him. Finally, he nodded. Henry was far more Emma than he was Baelfire, smart and capable and brave. A bit of trust was the least he deserved. 

“Very well,” he said.  

---

The night before: 

Magical weapons, it turned out, were far more plentiful than Henry had ever imagined. The book in his lap listed hundreds, outlined in detail with a history and description of each one, including the powers it possessed, a diagram, and a full-colour illustration. 

Some he knew already. There was the Dark One’s dagger, of course (…Less a weapon in the traditional sense and more a vessel for the greatest evil in all the realms, though of course it could still be used to cut meat or stab enemies, should one wish it… explained the book, which Henry was coming to realise had quite the *ahem* cutting sense of humour) and there was Exalibur (So cool, thought Henry, I’d like to see that some day), plus Mulan’s sword and Robin Hood’s bow, but most of the weapons he’d never even heard of. Fragarach, for example, the sword from Celtic legend —Henry really thought that Frank ought to have told him about that one— and Odin’s sword Gram, sharp enough to split an anvil in half. The coolest one by far though was Æsahættr, also known as the subtle knife. Henry examined its diagram with intense fascination. The subtle knife was short and unassuming in appearance, with an embossed wooden handle and a double-edged blade, each edge forged of a different metal, a blade which it was said could cut through anything: any substance, any magic, even the fabric of reality itself. 

Damn, thought Henry, That’s not something you want to see in the wrong hands

---

Henry ran to the corner where Emma’s magic had flung Zelena’s knife, picking it up with hands trembling both from fear and excitement. He was all but certain that this was the knife he’d read about last night, Æsahættr, the sharpest and most dangerous blade in any of the known realms. After all, he’d had quite a good look at it when Zelena had threatened him, felt its keen edge cut his own skin. 

Grasping the handle firmly in his hand he ran, quick as a flash, to the barrier of white light that surrounded Zelena and with a sweeping downward swing ripped a hole in the magic with the subtle knife. He darted through it before Zelena had time to react and grabbed her amulet, using the other edge of the knife to slice through the chain that held it. The moment it was severed Zelena’s green light went haywire, fizzling and crackling everywhere, barely contained by the bubble of light magic which had sealed itself behind Henry, trapping him and Zelena within.

Zelena shrieked in wordless fury, turning on Henry. He lifted the knife, slashing a new hole through the magic barrier but before he could get through it Zelena lunged at him, grabbing for the amulet. He yanked it away from her, unbalancing himself, and as he tried to regain his footing he lost his grip on the knife. Zelena snatched it up, triumph curling her lip into a mockery of a grin as she swung it at Henry, aiming for his heart.

Killian saw the glittering blade arc downward straight at Henry’s chest, and he reacted without thought. The second hole in the white magic had already begun to close but Killian angled his body and dove through it, tackling Henry to the ground and blocking him from Zelena’s attack, crying out in agony as he felt the blade of the subtle knife plunge into his shoulder, severing muscle and tendon and bone.  

The amulet swung on the chain still clutched in Henry’s hand and as they landed it hit the hard floor of the warehouse, cracking the green stone open beyond repair. Abruptly the sparking green light winked out and the magical bubble closed around Zelena, binding her tightly with a power she couldn’t sense and which burned her when she touched it. She screamed as Emma sealed the edges of the spell around her then she and Regina released their magic, their shoulders slumping in exhaustion. 

Emma looked around for Henry and Killian, her heart lurching painfully when she couldn’t find them at first and when she saw them lying in a motionless heap on the floor, a knife sticking out of Killian’s back, her heart stopped completely. 

“No!” she cried, racing forward. “Killian, no—” 

She ran to him, skidding clumsily to a halt and falling to her knees next to where he lay, rolling him over with shaking hands and nearly fainting in relief when he groaned. He was alive

“Easy does it there, Swan, you may not have spotted this but I’ve been stabbed,” he said. 

She grabbed his face and kissed him fiercely, pulling back before he could respond, then punched him in his un-stabbed shoulder. “I went to a lot of trouble to protect you from magic so of course you would find a way to get stabbed instead,” she said. “Typical.” 

His answering chuckle was laced with pain. Hastily, Emma called to her magic again, using the last of her reserves to gently probe the wound in his shoulder and soothe the severed tissues as she eased the blade from his flesh and knit it back together. When the knife was free she examined it carefully, a small frown creasing her forehead, as Killian rolled his shoulder experimentally.

“Good as new,” he said in wonder. 

 Emma carefully set the knife aside on the floor then stood and held out her hand, helping him to his feet. He used his momentum to pull her into his arms, squeezing her tightly and kissing her breathless. 

Henry got to his feet as well, watching them with a uniquely teenage blend of delight and chagrin, and when the kiss went on and on with no sign of stopping the chagrin took over and he gave a loud, exaggerated sigh. He was mid-eye-roll when Killian’s hand reached back and grabbed him by the shirtfront, pulling him into the embrace and hugging him close as Emma covered his face in kisses.

Henry did not protest. “I missed you too, Mom,” he said. 

They stood like that for some time, a tangle of limbs and relief, until the sound of Regina clearing her throat finally penetrated their haze. Emma turned and offered her a smile. 

“Regina,” she said. “I— thank you. I couldn’t have beat her without you.” 

Regina looked embarrassed. “I just used your magic,” she said. 

“It was a lot more than that,” said Emma, her smile widening as for a brief moment Regina’s face softened with emotion. “But we don’t have to talk about it now if you don’t want to.” 

“We do have to talk about some other things,” said Regina sharply, burying her vulnerability behind snappishness. “Like the curse, for example. I can’t help noticing that it’s not broken.” 

“How do you know?” asked Killian. 

“I can still feel it. Nothing has changed. We’ve defeated the witch, you two have kissed, a lot, and yet the curse is untouched.” 

The sound of a cackle from the corner of the room startled them, and they all turned to look at Zelena. She was standing stiffly, bound securely by Emma’s magic though the only visible sign of it was the faint halo of light that surrounded her. Her face was pained but malice and triumph still glinted in her eyes. “Did you really think True Love’s Kiss could break this curse?” she asked. “Oh no, my dears. That was only possible the first time because the Dark One wanted it to be. This curse cannot be defeated by love. There is no love here to defeat it.” 

“What the hell does that mean—” Emma snapped, breaking off when Killian put his hand on her shoulder. “I think I know,” he said in a low voice. “Or at least I have an idea.” He looked at Henry and the boy nodded in agreement. 

“What” asked Emma, scowling a little at their silent communication. “What’s the idea?”

“It’s—” Henry began, but Killian cut him off. 

“It’s something that can wait until tomorrow,” he said firmly. “Before we can do anything we’ll need more research and we’ll need a plan, and frankly right now what we need most of all is to stash this witch someplace secure and take some time to rest and regroup. It’s been a hell of a day, love.”

“Yeah,” Emma agreed. “It really has.”

She poofed them all to the Sheriff’s station where she put Zelena in a cell and warded the locks before releasing her from her magical bindings. They all waited tensely as Zelena shook herself, stretching her stiff muscles. When no green light flashed or even sparked, they shared a sigh of relief. 

Zelena gave them a sardonic glare and made herself ostentatiously comfortable on the hard cot, saying nothing. 

“I’ll stay here with her tonight,” said Regina. “I know she seems powerless but I don’t trust her.” 

“I’ll stay too,” said Henry eagerly, then turned to Emma with a grin before she had a chance to feel hurt. “So you and Dad can have some time alone,” he said. 

Her heart swelled with warmth at the natural way he called Killian “Dad,” and at his thoughtfulness. “Are you sure, kid? I feel bad leaving you so soon after I just… re-found you.”  

Henry hugged her tightly. “We have time, Mom,” he said. “Also Dad really missed you, and you know, no offence but there aren’t any walls in our apartment and my headphones are not noise-cancelling—” 

“Oi!” protested Killian, and Emma laughed. 

“Okay, okay, I get it. You stay here with Regina tonight and we can all meet up for lunch tomorrow, how does that sound?”

“Perfect.”  

---

Emma summoned Henry his pajamas and a change of clothes then hugged him again. Killian hugged him too, and they had a whispered conversation that ended with them grinning at each other as Killian gave Henry’s shoulder a very paternal squeeze. Emma’s chest felt tight. The obvious closeness that had developed between her son and her husband over the past year both delighted her and made her terribly sad. She’d missed so much. 

 Killian took her hand and smiled at her, reading her as he always did. “We’ll see him tomorrow, Swan,” he said, and she nodded. 

“I know,” she replied, squeezing his hand. With one final wave at Henry and Regina, she poofed them back to Killian’s apartment where they stood silently, hands still clasped, staring at each other. 

After a long moment Killian gently drew her closer, releasing her hand to run his own up her arm and into her hair, pulling her in for a kiss. She sighed and wrapped her arms tightly around him, opening her mouth under his, glorying in the taste and feel of him, the reality of him back in her arms. It was wonderful, and it was overwhelming, all the stress and the emotion of the day and now the achingly familiar tug of Killian’s hand in her hair and his hook pressing into the small of her back, and Emma broke the kiss with a sob as tears began to pour down her cheeks. 

Killian brushed them away with his thumb, his touch so gentle and loving that she sobbed even harder. “What’s this, love?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Argh, I don’t know!” she cried, wiping futilely at her cheeks. “I just— I have a lot of emotions going on right now.” 

He pulled her back into his arms, cradling her head against his chest. “I know, darling,” he said. “Let them out.” 

Emma clutched at him, burying her face against his chest as all the stress and trauma of the past year poured out of her and she just wept, wild and unrestrained, and he held her, saying nothing, stroking her hair as her tears drenched the front of his sweater. 

She had no idea how long she cried. Time and place faded away and her world distilled into pure sensation: the twisting ache in her heart, the sturdy strength of Killian and his arms around her, the softness of his sweater against her cheek. 

She rubbed her face against it, drying the last of her tears.

“I like this sweater,” she said. “Is it new?”

“Aye.”

Emma felt drained and weak, and infinitely better than before, but the thought of him buying clothes without her still had the power to give her a small twinge of hurt. 

 “Part of my attempt to blend in,” he explained. “Henry was of the opinion that black leather wasn’t the most effective way to remain inconspicuous.” 

She chuckled, the sound still watery with the echo of her tears. “You couldn’t blend in no matter what you wore.” 

“He said the same. But I did my best.” 

There was so much she wanted to say to him, about how alone she had felt, how she had missed him even when she couldn’t remember who he was. How much it meant to her that he had never given up. She tried to find the words but there was just too much; too many conversations they needed to have when she was still so raw, her emotions so close to the surface. So she said the only thing that truly mattered. 

“I love you.” 

He made a choked noise and his arms tightened around her. “I love you,” he said hoarsely, and she could feel the dampness of his own tears against her hair. Her fearsome pirate was such a softy underneath, she thought. Who would have imagined it? 

Her love for him wanted to burst from her chest. It surged and clawed at her, demanding to be expressed, demanding his lips on hers and his skin under her hands and his cock deep inside her. She wanted to feel his body against hers as close as they could get, wanted them so tightly joined that the seam was invisible, so tightly that nothing could ever separate them again. 

Nothing ever really had, she knew. They were connected in a way that memory curses and physical distance could strain but never break, but as much as she loved their dreams and as grateful as she had been for them this past year, nothing could compare to the warm, solid reality of Killian pressed against her and she had missed it. 

She began to trail kisses along his jaw as her hands slid under his soft sweater to find the softer skin beneath and she walked him backwards towards the sofa. 

“Emma—” he began, but she cut him off. 

“Killian, I know I’ve just bawled my eyes out and you probably want to talk about that and I want to talk about it too, babe, really, but not now. Right now I just— I need to touch you, okay?”

He chuckled, light and happy but edged with the same bittersweet desperation that was driving her. “You’ll hear no argument from me, darling,” he growled. “I merely wished to suggest that we adjourn to the bedroom before things get out of hand. This sofa is not like our one in New York, it has a rogue spring that always seems to poke me no matter where I sit, and—” 

Emma waved her hand and they were standing next to his bed, clothes gone. 

“—and this is much better,” concluded Killian, scooping her up and tossing her onto the mattress. She laughed as he pounced on her, kissing along the curve of her neck as his hand and bare wrist sought out all the spots that made her moan. 

It was like their dreams but also not, sharper and more potent in reality but considerably less smooth, with straining muscles and rude noises and awkward positions. Emma banged her elbow against the headboard of the unfamiliar bed and Killian slipped on the slick sateen coverlet, but when he was finally inside her, her legs wrapped tightly around him and her fingernails gouging the skin of his shoulders, it was perfect in a way that the perfection of their dreams could never achieve. 

Killian was whispering to her, soft words pressed into the skin of her neck and breathed through the strands of her hair, how good she felt, how much he’d missed her. How much he loved her. 

“Killian,” she moaned. “I love you… love you…” It was all she could think, and all she could feel. Her orgasm built slowly then broke over her all at once, flooding her senses as she gripped him tightly and he groaned into her hair as he came. They curled into each other as they drifted down, neither wishing to let the other go, and for the first time in more than a year they fell asleep in each other’s arms. 

Chapter Text

Mary Margaret Nolan had her routine, and she liked it. The steady progression of one day following on from another in exactly the same manner reassured her, gave her a sense control that was all the more crucial for being wholly illusory.

Of course Mary Margaret knew it was illusory. She knew all too well how little choice she had in her life, how little choice she had ever had. For as long as she could remember people had been making choices for her, starting with her father, on to her husband, and then finally to her boss. She’d had no say in the person she married, the place she lived, or the work she did, but there were still some things she could choose, and Mary Margaret clung to those things as a lifeline of her identity. 

She chose to rise early each day and have a few peaceful hours to herself in the office before Zelena arrived trailing chaos in her wake and grinding Mary Margaret’s confidence to a nub. She chose to enjoy a healthy breakfast every morning, fresh vegetables and protein to refuel her body and keep it strong. She chose to ignore the husband who had no aims in life save to squander her inheritance on cars and booze, and whenever the emptiness became too much to bear she chose to seek refuge in alcohol herself. 

That happened more often than she cared to admit. 

She wished she could hate David for it, for the ruination of all the sweet and shining hopes she’d had before she married him, hopes of love and family and true partnership with her spouse. But that would require feeling something for him and she simply… didn’t. He left her cold, and she had no more interest in trying to change him than she did in getting to know him. He was what he was; a weak and shallow man whose failings weren’t his fault any more than her discontent was hers. They had the life that fate had dealt them and there was nothing either could do to change it. 

Change was not a thing that happened in Storybrooke. 

Until, one morning, it did. 

Mary Margaret awoke as she always did, alone in her overlarge bed. The expensive sheets were smooth and silky around her, the pillows and mattress soft, but they did not tempt her to linger. She arose and showered briskly, not idling beneath the warm spray any more than she had between the warm sheets. She was eager to be on her way, preferring to spend her morning in the quiet solitude of her office where she could think. 

She dressed in the outfit she had set out the night before, another of her crisply professional suits in the retro style she favoured. The suits were another part of her routine; pre-packaged outfits with shoes and accessories already perfectly paired, absolving her of the need to put any thought into how she adorned her body. 

It didn’t matter what she wore, there was no one in her life who cared enough to notice. 

A swipe of the mascara brush and a dab of the lipstick tube and she was ready for the day. With the briefest glance in the mirror to ensure that her hair was tidy and all her ends tucked in, she headed to the kitchen for breakfast. 

Halfway down the stairs she became aware of something… something she couldn’t quite put her finger on, only that it was Not Right. Just a tickle in the back of her mind, of the sort that makes you doubt you’ve turned off the stove or locked the front door, once it’s too late to do anything about it. Something wasn’t as it should be, and Mary Margaret’s pace slowed as she tried to figure out what was off. A few more hesitant steps and she’d identified it. 

She couldn’t smell coffee. 

Mary Margaret stopped, her feet on different stairs as her hand gripped the bannister. She didn’t drink coffee herself but the smell of it was part of her routine. Every morning Regina made a pot, freshly brewed for David. Every morning, without fail. 

Her brow crinkled with a frown and she hurried down the rest of the stairs, bursting through the kitchen door to find the room empty, cold and austere in the early morning light. 

Mary Margaret reeled. Every day, for as long as she could remember, she’d come downstairs at six thirty to find Regina preparing her breakfast, the coffee already brewed and waiting for David to arrive and drink his single cup. Every. Day. Yet somehow it seemed that every day was not this day, and Mary Margaret leaned heavily against the countertop as she struggled to process this turn of events, groping for the proper reaction, for any kind of emotional response. Should she be angry? Indignant? Concerned for Regina? None of those reactions seemed quite right. 

“Regina!” she called, and the word echoed through the bright and immaculate emptiness of the room. Of the house. 

There was no response. 

Mary Margaret turned and ran back up the stairs, all the way up to the attic where Regina slept. She knew the other woman wasn’t there, as people always know when a normally occupied house is empty, but she had to check anyway, to see for herself. 

The room was indeed unoccupied, and though the bed was unmade it didn’t look as though it had been properly slept in. Mary Margaret looked around but nothing else in the small, plain room seemed at all amiss. Regina kept it admirably tidy. 

Mary Margaret walked slowly back downstairs, trying to remember the last time she’d seen Regina. The housemaid was also a part of her routine, someone who existed to keep her life ordered and tidy and give her some small satisfaction in knowing that at least one person in Storybrooke was more miserable than she. But she paid little attention to Regina’s comings and goings unless there was a problem, and she had to rack her brains to recall their last interaction. Mary Margaret had come home from work yesterday afternoon feeling awful; Zelena had been in a terrible mood and had shouted at her before storming out of the office. She hadn’t returned, Mary Margaret recalled, but the damage had been done and upon returning home Mary Margaret had gone straight for the drinks trolley, numbing herself until none of it mattered anymore. She’d rung for Regina but the maid hadn’t appeared, and eventually she had forgotten what she’d even wanted as the cloud of alcohol had settled over her.  

She returned to the kitchen and sat down at the table, rubbing her temples as she tried to think. The sound of the front door opening startled her, and she looked up just as David appeared in the doorway, dishevelled and stinking of booze but with a brightness in his eyes she couldn’t recall ever seeing in them before. 

“Hey,” he said, looking around the room. “Is everything okay?”

Mary Margaret bit back a sharp retort. Did he think everything looked okay? “No,” she said. “It isn’t. Regina’s not here. I can’t find her anywhere.” 

“Huh,” David frowned. “That’s not like her.” 

“No. No it definitely is not. Considering it’s her job to be here.” 

“Um,” David rubbed his own temples, clearly trying to think through his hangover. “Do you think we should, I don’t know. Contact the authorities or something?”

Mary Margaret shrugged. “I guess. I don’t know how long she’s been missing though, do we need to wait twenty-four hours?”

“I don’t know.” He gave a pained chuckle. “Maybe we should go see the sheriff.” 

Mary Margaret nodded. “I can go before work. It’s on my way.” 

“No.” David went to the sink and poured himself a large glass of water, gulping it down in one go as his wife gaped at him.

What?” she hissed. 

“I want to go too. To the station.” He turned to look at her and she noticed that the brightness in his eyes seemed to have spread to the rest of his features. He looked younger, somehow eager. Interested. Engaged. After years of blank apathy, enthusiasm stood out on his face like a flare in a dark night. 

“Um,” said Mary Margaret, unsure of how to respond. “Okay. I guess. Er, do you want to go now? It’s already later than I usually leave.”

David looked down at himself, his mouth twisting wryly at his appearance. “Can you give me twenty minutes to shower and change?” 

“I suppose.” There was no real reason she had to be in the office so early, she just liked to have the time to herself. And something in David’s eyes wouldn’t let her say no. 

He grinned, and she gasped as something fluttered in her belly. “Great. I’ll be as quick as I can.” He strode from the room, leaving her staring after him wondering just what the hell was going on.

To distract herself Mary Margaret made coffee. And toast. With real bread, not the gluten free. She spread it thickly with butter and jam then poured two cups of coffee, leaving David’s black but adding cream and sugar to hers. 

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had coffee, or butter on her toast. Had she ever? 

David returned, fresh and still slightly damp from his shower and Mary Margaret’s chest became oddly tight, the flutter in her belly growing stronger. 

“I made breakfast,” she told him, gesturing at the plates. “Such as it is.” 

He smiled. “Looks great.” 

His smile made his eyes twinkle and Mary Margaret felt a very unexpected jolt of something low in her belly; something hot and twisty that caught at her breath and made her heart beat faster and her head spin with confusion. How was it possible that they had been married all these years and she’d never noticed how beautiful his eyes were? The sharp cut of his jaw? The lopsided grin that made those crystalline eyes glow with warmth and humour? 

How had she failed to notice that her husband was gorgeous? 

She stared at him as he took a drink of coffee, watching his throat work as he swallowed, watching his hand clasp the piece of toast and his arm flex as he lifted it to his mouth. He had nice arms, she thought, and broad shoulders, and how had she never noticed any of this before? It felt like she was seeing him for the first time. 

He made a small noise in the back of his throat as he chewed his toast, and the twisty feeling in her belly became a tight clench. Mary Margaret gulped her coffee in an attempt to hide her turmoil, looking away from him. She picked up her own toast, taking a large bite, and when she looked up again David was watching her.  

“Good?” he asked, indicating her toast with a nod of his head. His voice had a rasp that hadn’t been there earlier. 

She nodded, her mouth to full for speech. “Mmmmm,” she said. 

“So’s mine,” he replied, his eyes on her mouth as she swallowed. “Thanks for making it.” 

“It’s just toast and jam.” 

“I know. But thanks.” 

Their gazes met and held and tension thickened the air between them, drawing out unbearably over minutes that seemed endless until Mary Margaret began to wish for a lightning strike or a meteor to hit just so something would happen. Then David leaned forward, just slightly, his eyes dropping to her mouth again, and the spell was broken. Mary Margaret stepped back far enough that she could breathe and downed her coffee quickly, setting the rest of her toast aside. She’d lost her appetite. 

“You ready to go?” she asked, not looking at David. 

“Yeah.” His voice held disappointment, and relief. 

He finished his own coffee and set his cup in the sink next to hers. She kept her eyes down and her breathing steady, ignoring the heat of his body behind her and the smell of his soap in her nostrils until he moved away, grabbing his jacket and keys and heading for the door. With a pounding heart and shaking hands she picked up her purse and followed him. 

---

Regina sat at Emma’s desk watching Henry as he slept, curled up on the small sofa in the corner of the office, his face pressed into the armrest and his mouth open. She hadn’t slept at all herself, not an unusual state of affairs for her under this curse, but at least this time it was her choice. She wished to keep an eye on Zelena —and feast her eyes on Henry— far more than she wished to rest. 

Henry had spent most of the previous night filling her in on everything that had happened to him since he and Emma left Storybrooke, from his life in New York to getting his memories back, to Emma’s departure and the year he’d spent with Ho— with Killian, researching, gathering information, preparing to come to Storybrooke themselves. 

“Dad wanted to go right away,” he said, but then Mom told him in a dream —did they tell you that they have the same dreams?” 

“They did,” confirmed Regina. 

She still hadn’t recovered from hearing it. If Killian and Emma really did share dreams then that meant they were soulmates of a sort she’d only read about —and she had read a lot about soulmates— and recalling how she had mocked Killian about their hasty-seeming marriage made her wish that it weren’t so undignified to squirm. This conscience she had apparently grown over the past year was extremely inconvenient.  

“Cool,” said Henry, oblivious to the turmoil of her thoughts. “So anyway, Dad wanted to come to Storybrooke immediately, but Mom told him in a dream to wait. She said we needed to be better prepared than she had been, and Dad said that was for bloody sure because she always attacked first and thought later and she needed to learn to strategise—” Regina nodded in reluctant agreement at this, “— and so that’s what we did.” 

Henry paused to take a sip of the soda she’d bought him from the vending machine before continuing. “Dad has this friend, he knew him in Neverland, he’s like some elf or fairy or something, Dad was always really vague about it, but anyway he has this amazing bookstore in Queens with sooo many books on magic, like everything you could ever want to know. He taught Mom how to use her magic, actually, before she came to Storybrooke, and then after she left he let us use his books to do research —we called it Operation Scorpion, cuz Mom was undercover and you know, the sting in the tail, like a secret weapon— and he gave Dad a job so he could go to night school and learn about things like running a business and just sort of general stuff about how our world works.” He took another drink, and crunched a potato chip. 

“So Captain Hook was working at a bookstore,” Regina prompted, needy for details, and for the sound of his voice. Henry grinned.

“Yeah, seems weird right? Dad had, like, loads of doubloons hidden in his pirate coat and he found a dealer he could sell them to but he didn’t want to sell them all at once cuz he said it would attract unwelcome attention, so he needed a normal job to have an income, but you know, no one normal’s gonna hire a three hundred year old fictional pirate who doesn’t have any ID and can’t use a cell phone, so…” 

Henry chattered for hours, leaving no detail unmentioned. Regina soaked them up eagerly, desperately, grateful for every last one, and yet she couldn’t help noticing how prominently Killian featured in Henry’s tales, the obvious hero worship and —she grimaced around an unpleasant twinge of that damned conscience— love he felt for the pirate. 

For the man he called “Dad” so naturally that he didn’t even notice he was doing it.

Killian hadn’t had to look after Henry so well, she knew. All he’d really had to do was keep the boy alive, see that his basic needs were met until he could be unloaded back into Emma’s care. But Killian had actually parented Henry, made him do his homework and eat his vegetables and go to bed at a decent hour while also involving him in every stage of Operation Scorpion, listening to him and respecting his input, making him feel wanted and valued. He had been the father figure her son had never known, and far more than that. Regina could read a great deal between the lines of Henry’s innocently childish tales; she could see everything Killian had done to protect Henry, to keep him safe from Zelena’s lurking henchmen and too distracted by the excitement of research and rescue missions to even notice he was being protected. 

Regina knew he’d not done it for her sake but for Emma’s, and for Henry’s, and possibly even for Neal’s. But that did nothing to alter the debt she owed him for her precious son’s life, and she did not like the idea of being in Killian Jones’s debt. 

She scowled at that thought as Henry muttered in his sleep and the early morning silence was broken by the sound of the door opening, and a voice calling “Sheriff? Hello?”

It was Mary Margaret’s voice. 

Curse it all, thought Regina, wishing she actually did have a curse to hand. Of course she had known she would have to reckon with Mary Margaret eventually, but she hadn’t thought it would be quite so soon. Could the woman not make her own breakfast just once?

Sighing, Regina got up from Emma’s chair, reaching out for magic, the traces of both Emma’s and Zelena’s that still lingered in the air, and glamoured herself some clean, unwrinkled clothes before stepping out of the sheriff’s office to face her erstwhile employer.  

“Good morning, Mrs Nolan,” she said coolly. 

Mary Margaret’s eyes bugged and her mouth dropped open, and behind her David frowned. “Uh— Regina,” said Mary Margaret. “What are you doing here?

“That’s none of your concern,” replied Regina, in her mayor voice. 

Mary Margaret heard the challenge in the tone and gasped. “How dare you—” 

“I don’t dare anything, because I don’t work for you anymore,” spat Regina. “I quit.”

“You can’t quit!” snapped Mary Margaret.

“I can, and I just have.” 

“But— but—” Mary Margaret’s mouth opened and closed helplessly as she groped for words. Before she could locate any, David spoke.

“Is that the mayor?” he asked incredulously. “In that jail cell?

Regina turned to see Zelena awake and watching the exchange with bitter amusement. “It is,” she confirmed, and at that Mary Margaret found her voice. 

“Regina what the hell is this?” she shrieked. “You weren’t at the house this morning, and your bed had not been slept in and now you’re here at the sheriff’s station with the mayor in a cell? What is going on?

“It’s very simple,” said Regina calmly. “I quit, Zelena’s been arrested, and you are going to shut up and leave before I throw you out.” 

“Now look here—” said David. 

Where is the sheriff?” snapped Mary Margaret.

“She’s taking the morning off.” 

“I demand to see her!” 

“I’m afraid I don’t have her number.” 

“I’ll text Dad,” said Henry’s voice from behind Regina. They all turned to look at him standing in the office doorway, rubbing sleepy eyes, clearly awoken by the commotion. 

“Who the hell is this?” bellowed David, and Henry winced. 

“It’s my son.” 

Mary Margaret was beginning to look like one more shock might do her in. “Don’t be ridiculous.” She frowned at Henry. “You don’t have a son.” 

Regina’s fingers itched, reached out for the magic in the room. Just one tiny little memory spell, she thought, just so they forget I was ever their maid… She glanced at Henry, typing rapidly on his phone, his small brow wrinkled in distress and hurt at his grandparents’ words. Henry wouldn’t want her to manipulate them, even with something so small. Henry would want her to have hope, to trust that they could break the curse and return everything to normal. 

Damn, but this redemption business was hard work.  

She turned back to face the Charmings, breathing deeply to calm herself. “Sheriff Swan will be here soon,” she said. “She’ll explain everything. In the meantime, I think we should all sit down and stop shouting at each other. At least not in front of my son.” 

Mary Margaret cast an apprehensive glance at Zelena who was still smirking from the far corner of her cot, who had still not spoken a word since Emma had locked her in the cell the night before, then nodded. She then glanced at David, who nodded as well. 

“All right,” said Mary Margaret. 

Well, thought Regina, watching unspoken communication flash between two people who the day before had barely been able to stand five minutes in each other’s company. Isn’t that interesting. 

---

Killian drifted into consciousness slowly and somewhat warily, wondering at first if he could still be in a dream. An unusual dream, to be sure, one in which he found himself waking up with Emma there in bed with him, snuggled close to his side and drooling on his chest. 

The drool seemed a touch too realistic, even for their particular brand of dreams.   

He let his eyes flutter open as memories of the day before began to trickle back. The farmhouse, Walsh, Zelena, Emma’s memories returned, the battle. Their reunion. Emma waking him in the middle of the night to make love again because she needed reassurance that he was real, that this wasn’t just an especially elaborate dream. 

He smiled at that memory and pulled her closer, feeling a bittersweet twinge in his heart at the snuffling noise she made in the puddle of drool on his chest. This was what he had missed more than anything, he thought, not the drool specifically but the intimacy that made it possible. The trust that allowed Emma to fall so soundly asleep in his arms. 

Now that her memories were restored Killian could allow himself to feel how truly terrified he’d been that they never would be, that his efforts to get her back would be for naught and his love lost to him forever. That the fates would rip her away after showing him just enough of what life with her was like for him to fully understand the depth of that loss. They certainly did seem to enjoy taking away the people he loved. 

Before he could sink too deeply into his melancholy thoughts, his phone buzzed from the nightstand. Careful not to disturb his slumbering wife he reached back and picked it up, swearing under his breath at the message on the screen. 

Henry: Trouble at the station. Come quick. 

Damn and blast it all, thought Killian. Of course there was trouble, there always was in Storybrooke. He sighed. As soon as all this was over, he promised himself, as soon as Zelena was fully dealt with and the curse broken he was taking Emma away somewhere, just the two of them, somewhere they could be completely alone and spend entire days in bed if they wished, no crises, no sheriff, no Saviour. Perhaps he could acquire a ship and take Emma sailing, explore this realm with her. Just for a week or two. Then they could return to their normal life of demons and curses and endless things conspiring to interrupt their private moments and keep them apart.   

But until that time… he sighed and nudged Emma gently. “Swan,” he said. “Love, you need to wake up.” When she didn’t stir, he nudged her harder. “Swan!” 

“Wha—” Emma jerked awake, blinking, and wiped her chin with the back of her hand. “What’s happening?”

“Text from Henry. We need to get to the station, posthaste.” 

“Posthaste,” she repeated in a cringingly poor imitation of his accent, mischief brightening her sleepy eyes. “I’ve missed your ancient words.” 

He kissed her. “I’ve missed your poking fun at them,” he said, and for a moment they lay curled together, foreheads touching, just enjoying each other. Finally Emma sighed. 

“What’s going on at the station?” she asked. 

“Henry doesn’t say. Just ‘come quick’.” 

“Well, okay, but first I need a shower.” 

“Aye, love, as do I.” 

Her eyes lit and she nuzzled her lips along his jaw to his ear. “We could…” she whispered.

“I’d love to.” He squeezed her ass, breath quickening as she kissed down his neck. “But Henry did stress the need for urgency.” 

“Yeah.” She pulled back but her hand remained cupping his face, stroking his cheek with her thumb. “Okay, if I get in first, can you make some coffee?” 

“I can.” 

They didn’t move. Killian’s phone buzzed again. 

“All right, all right,” sighed Emma, “I’m going.” She untangled herself from Killian and with a final wistful glance at where he lay in the tangled bedsheets she headed for the shower. Killian looked at his phone. 

Henry: Any year now.

Killian rolled his eyes. What’s happening, lad? he texted. 

Henry: My grandparents just showed up. They’re shouting at Mom. I think we were right about the curse. What’s your ETA?

Killian smiled as he replied. Give us half an hour to shower and dress and we’ll be there. He rolled from the bed and made it quickly before going to the kitchen to put the coffee on. As he waited for it to brew he heard a familiar sound, one he’d feared he may never hear again. Emma in the shower, singing at the top of her lungs, her voice sweet and lilting and slightly off-key. 

She sounded so happy. 

The Prince and his wife shouting at the Queen couldn’t be that much of an emergency, he reflected, despite Hery’s dramatics. And Emma had an unfortunate tendency to appropriate all the hot water… hot water that turned her skin so soft and rosy pink… He grabbed his phone. 

Killian: Make that forty-five minutes. 

---

An hour later they arrived at the station, clean and caffeinated if still a bit flushed. Henry glared at them and raised an eyebrow in a perfect imitation of Killian. “Took you long enough,” he muttered. 

“It’s been a whole year, lad,” Killian muttered back. 

“Yeah, I really don’t want the details of that.” 

“And I am more than happy to spare you them, if you tell me what’s been happening here instead.” 

Henry grabbed his arm and pulled him aside, recounting the morning’s events in an excited whisper as Emma went to face down her parents. 

“Mr Nolan, Deputy Mayor,” she said in her I’m-a-goddamn-professional tone and firmly tamping down on the urge to hug them. “Is there a problem?”

“Sheriff.” Mary Margaret came forward, her step confident but her eyes apprehensive. “Did you… arrest the mayor?”

“In a manner of speaking.” 

Mary Margaret nodded, and the uncertainty in her expression grew stronger. She seemed to have been expecting Emma to cave. “Er… why?”

Emma thought fast. “I, uh, found out that she has been misappropriating, um, town resources,” she said. It wasn’t a lie, exactly. Magic was a sort of resource, and Zelena had definitely been misappropriating that. 

“Oh.” Mary Margaret looked flummoxed. 

“I’m going to hold her here until she’s ready to stand trial,” said Emma, scrabbling for whatever she could remember of the police procedurals they used to watch in New York. “Until then, Mrs Nolan, you’ll have to take over as mayor.” That should keep Mary Margaret busy for a while. 

“Oh!” Mary Margaret turned and looked at David, who came to stand at her side. Emma could see Killian and Henry from the corner of her eye, watching the scene unfold and whispering frantically to each other. Mary Margaret reached for David’s hand without seeming to think about what she was doing and grasped it firmly. Henry pumped his fist in the air. “Um. I suppose I can do that.” 

Emma smiled tightly. “It’s just for a few weeks until the trial, then once we know the verdict we’ll know if we need to hold an election.” She had no idea if that was the actual procedure, but she figured all she needed to do was sound confident and get her parents out of the station so Killian and Henry could tell her what was making them so giddy over in the corner. 

“Okay.” Mary Margaret smiled, rather shakily. “I’ll— uh, be in my, er that is the mayor’s office. If you need me.” She began to move then stopped abruptly and looked down at her hand, clasped tightly in her husband’s. She flushed bright pink and her eyes flew to David’s. He was looking somewhat rosy as well, Emma noted. They let go of each other with incoherent embarrassed mutterings, David to shove his hands in his pockets and Mary Margaret to fiddle with the strap of her purse. Emma swallowed the urge to laugh. 

“I’ll call you if I need anything,” she said, and ushered her flustered parents out of the room. When she returned, Killian and Henry were looking triumphant, Regina irate. 

“Would anyone care to tell me what the hell that was all about?” Emma demanded. 

Killian nudged Henry forward. “You should do the honours, lad,” he said. “It was your theory.” 

Henry glowed with pride. “Okay,” he said. “So the thing is, I’ve had an idea this whole time about the Dark Curse and the relationships between the people held under it. Under the first curse, everyone was miserable. They were separated from the people they loved, and they didn’t even know they loved them so they couldn’t do anything about it. Then Mom —Emma— came to Storybrooke and all that started to change. The curse started to weaken and as a result people started to remember they were in love. Not just my grandparents but other people too, like Sean and Ashley and even Leroy and Sister Astrid. And Mom and me,” he said, smiling at Emma. “As the curse got weaker, the relationships got stronger, until Mom broke it with a True Love’s Kiss on me.” 

Emma blinked her misty eyes. “But Zelena said True Love’s Kiss won’t work with this curse,” she said. 

“Yeah, I thought about that,” said Henry. “After I saw what it had done to Grandma and Grandpa. It didn’t separate them like the first curse did, it just made them not care about each other. Like, at all. Like their love was just gone.” 

“Which is something that puzzled me,” Killian chimed in. “Zelena told Regina that she had designed and cast the curse primarily to punish her, so I found it odd that she would devise so clever and vicious a punishment for the prince and princess as well, for no apparent reason. It was possible of course that she merely wished to be wicked, but it seemed like such an odd tack to take, not to mention a difficult one; actually removing the love from a True Love couple is no small feat. I did some research into True Love magic in some of the books I have in my shop, and the magic required to drain it away is both powerful and extremely dark. And for what? To make miserable two people she had never met before? The difficulty seemed excessive for the petty result it achieved, and particularly when it would hurt Regina far more to see Snow and Charming happy together.”

“That is true,” Regina conceded, looking intrigued despite herself.

 “So I wondered,” Killian continued, “Why would she bother?”

“Because,” Henry took up the story again, “She didn’t want the curse to be broken. She intended to keep on torturing Mom indefinitely, so of course she couldn’t have people running around falling in love, and she knew from the first curse that trying to keep True Loves apart doesn’t work that well in the long run.” 

“And the True Love magic wasn’t part of the original curse,” said Regina. “Rumple added a drop of a potion he distilled from Snow and Charming’s love to the scroll, to ensure that Miss Swan here could break it.” 

“Exactly,” said Killian. “He needed the curse to be broken so he could have his memories restored and go in search of Baelfire. But Zelena had no such need and therefore no desire to include any True Love magic in her curse. Quite the opposite, actually, as True Love would only destroy what she had built.” 

“So what did she do?” asked Emma. 

“We’re not sure exactly,” said Henry, “Because we don’t know just how she cast the curse. But we think,” he looked at Killian, “Dad and I think that she just took all the love away. There’s no love in Storybrooke at all.”

Regina frowned. “But Miss Sw— er, Emma and Killian, they’re—” she grimaced “In love. Aren’t they?”  

“Oh yeah,” said Henry. “Kinda grossly so, to be honest.” He smirked as Killian poked him in the back with his hook. “But they’re also not cursed. I don’t think Mom was ever fully under the curse, and of course Dad was never under it at all.”

“That’s why they needed that powder,” said Emma. “To keep blurring my memories. Walsh would— wait, where’s Walsh? Don’t we need to—” 

“Ah, yes. That’s something I failed to mention.” Killian rubbed behind his ear. “Walsh isn’t here. It was Zelena the whole time, pretending to be him.” 

“The whole time?” 

“Well, since you left New York, anyway. I believe it was actually Walsh you dealt with there.” 

“Wow,” said Emma, blinking as she processed this. “That… kinda makes sense, actually. It explains why a guy who tried so hard to fu— er,” she glanced sheepishly at Henry, “To get close to me in New York wanted nothing to do with me here.” 

“Thank the gods for small mercies,” Killian snarled through gritted teeth, and Emma reached for his hand. 

“Returning to the point,” said Regina, “True Love’s Kiss can’t break this curse because there’s no love here, so no one touched by the curse can ever have True Love.”

“Yep, basically,” said Henry. 

“So how are we going to break it?”

“Well,” said Henry, grinning hugely, all but rubbing his hands together in delight. “You may have noticed that my grandparents just now were not exactly indifferent to each other.” 

Regina snorted. “If Snow had blushed any harder she’d have burst a blood vessel.” She looked sharply at Henry. “But that means—” 

“Yes!” Henry cried. “Mom remembering, us beating Zelena, Mom and Dad being together, I think all of that has started to weaken the curse. Grandma and Grandpa are seeing each other again. They didn’t seem to see each other before.” 

“That is true,” Regina confirmed. “They hardly even looked at each other.”

“So we think,” said Killian, “That the way to shatter the curse for good is to bring love back to Storybrooke.” 

“How romantic,” sneered Regina. 

“We need to get my grandparents to fall in love again,” said Henry. “But just them isn’t gonna be enough. I think we need to get everyone to fall in love again. And that’s where I come in.” 

Chapter Text

The meeting room at the town hall was empty when Killian arrived, and his footsteps on the old wooden floorboards echoed through the stillness of the morning. His early arrival was fully intentional; he had a reputation to maintain as a respectable citizen and small business owner, after all, and more importantly he wanted to get a good seat to observe the town’s residents as they came in.  He situated himself in one of the assembled chairs, in a corner near the back where he could see more than he was seen, and sipped his coffee while making his best attempt to look unremarkable. 

Good luck with that. He could practically hear Emma’s sarcastic retort. 

Emma would be here soon, and though it couldn’t be more than half an hour since he’d kissed her goodbye he felt a flutter of anticipation at the thought. After everything they’d been through even short separations were nerve-wracking, and it was taking all his effort not to simply wrap himself around her and hold tight, snarling away anyone who tried to make him let go. Normally Emma would laugh and tell him to get a grip but ever since her memories returned she had been clinging to his hand or arm or hovering in his space whenever they were in a room together, clearly as reluctant as he to relinquish physical contact between them. Such vulnerability from her made Killian’s protective instincts go into overdrive, so much that he almost wished she would shove him away and tell him sharply that she needed her space so he could try to feel normal again.

He suspected that normality might be a long time coming.  

Soon Storybrooke’s residents began to arrive, first in a trickle and then a flood, greeting each other and taking their seats, exchanging news and speculation about the reason for this meeting they had all been instructed by the mayor’s office to attend. He observed a few familiar faces: Granny, still wearing her grease-stained apron and Ruby snapping her gum, Mr Clarke from the pharmacy, Mr Wood from the bank. Belle, sitting by herself and staring blankly at the wall. The cricket, nearly unrecognisable in the clothes of a labourer, and the scowling dwarf wearing an actual suit. Killian thought he also recognised the odd face or two from the crowd that had landed back in the Enchanted Forest with him after Pan’s curse struck, but he could produce no names to go with them. He’d been so full of pain then, aching despair at the prospect of never seeing Emma again, that all he’d been able to think of was getting back to his ship and trying to reclaim his pirate’s life. 

Mary Margaret arrived, nodding and smiling faintly as she walked up the aisle to take her place behind the long table at the front of the room and fiddle nervously with a stack of papers that lay upon it. A minute later Emma appeared. She didn’t look for him in the crowd but he knew she could sense he was there by the slight softening in her stern expression and the way her fingers fiddled with the lid of her coffee cup as she walked past him. Killian ground his teeth as his own fingers flexed on his cup. He hated that they were still apart even just in this small way, hated that they had all agreed the night before that it would be unwise for the supposedly married town sheriff to start making ‘disgusting doey-eyed looks’—Regina’s words—at the newly established bookseller. He hated the logic and the sense behind that decision even as he bitterly resented yet another obstacle standing between him and his wife. 

At least she had her memories back, he attempted to console himself. And enough of her magic reserves replenished to put a sound-proofing spell around their bed the night before. A sound-proofing spell that was particularly necessary since she had also convinced Regina to spend the night on the sofa in his apartment rather than stay at the sheriff’s station again. 

He shifted in his seat and pushed away the memories of how they’d taken full advantage of that spell, refocusing his attention instead on the crowd. Henry was back at school that morning, despite his vehement protests and whining insistence that he should be allowed to go to the town meeting too, but Killian had promised the lad to remember every detail and fill him in on all that happened and most particularly who was currently present in Storybrooke and what their circumstances appeared to be. 

“If I’m going to help them find love again then I have to know what love is missing in their lives,” Henry had explained to his stepfather and both mothers over dinner the night before. “It might not necessarily be love love, like what Mom and Dad have.”

“Romantic love,” supplied Killian. 

“Yeah. Cuz remember Mom broke the first curse with True Love’s Kiss on me.” 

“So it might be parental love,” said Emma. 

“Yep. Or just like best friends love. What’s it called, Dad?”

“Platonic,” replied Killian.

 “Uh huh. Or even, like, love of a pet or a hobby or something. Not True Love, capital letters, just any love.” 

“And are you sure that’s all that’s needed to break the curse?” asked Regina. “Just love?”

“We’re not sure of anything,” said Killian. “But the lad’s theories are sound, and Zelena herself confirmed that there is no love currently present in Storybrooke.” 

“Do we think Zelena knew how the first curse worked?” wondered Emma. “How Rumplestiltskin wanted it broken so he could go and find Neal, and that’s why he put my parents’ True Love on the scroll?”

“Almost certainly, I think,” said Regina. “She intended to torture me indefinitely and she’s too clever to cast a curse without knowing exactly how it would work. She may be insane, but she’s not stupid.” 

Henry frowned and toyed with the lasagna on his plate. “Um, Moms,” he said. 

“Yes,” replied Regina and Emma as one. 

“Speaking of my dad… Neal, I mean… do you know where he is?’ He looked up, eyes huge in his small face. “He is here… right?” 

Emma and Regina exchanged a glance. 

“Sorry, kid, but I don’t remember ever seeing him,” said Emma. “I don’t even know—since he wasn’t here during the first curse I don’t really have any idea of what his role would be in Storybrooke.” 

“And I haven’t interacted with anyone except Snow and Charming,” said Regina. “And…” she frowned as she thought, “also Belle. She works at the market, on the register. I used to see her every day.” 

“Okay,” said Henry, still frowning at his plate. 

“Don’t worry, Henry, we’ll find him.” Emma reached out and squeezed her son’s hand. “We always find each other, remember?” 

Henry gave a small smile and nodded. 

Remembering the sadness in Henry’s eyes, Killian scanned the crowd once again for any sign of Neal as Emma took her place next to her mother at the table and Mary Margaret called the meeting to order. 

“H-hello,” she said. “I-if I could have your attention.” 

Silence fell in the hall and all eyes turned to her. She gulped visibly and panic filled her eyes as they darted around the room, observing all the solemn faces focused on her. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence then Mary Margaret released a breath and smiled. 

“I’d like to call this Storybrooke town meeting to order,” she said in a much stronger voice, her eyes fixed on someone in the crowd. Killian followed her gaze to where David was sitting, looking much more like his old self in a blue flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, smiling encouragingly at her. 

Well, thought Killian. That’s promising. 

“The first order of business is to announce that Mayor Green has resigned her position and I will be the Acting Mayor until an election can be held,” continued Mary Margaret. “Anyone wishing to run can get the paperwork from the Town Records Manager.” She nodded towards the end of the table where a youngish man with prominent ears and large glasses nodded in acknowledgment. Killian frowned. He didn’t recognise the man. Which wasn’t in itself remarkable as there were many people in Storybrooke he didn’t recognise, but this particular individual had the same air of a wild creature caught in a small cage that Killian had remarked on in his interactions with Mr Wood the banker. Who was himself an unfamiliar face. 

“I’ll now open up the floor to questions,” said Mary Margaret.  

“Why did Mayor Green resign?” piped up a gruff voice from the back of the room, and Killian could see Emma in the corner of his eye trying not to roll her eyes. 

Mary Margaret drew a deep breath. “That’s a good question, Leroy,” she said. “And I’m sorry to have to tell you all this but former Mayor Green has come under suspicion of fraud and misappropriation of town resources.” 

“What town resources?” 

“I’m, er, afraid I can’t be any more specific while the investigation is pending,” said Mary Margaret, looking pleased with herself. 

“But she didn’t resign then,” continued the voice, which Killian had now determined was that of the irritable dwarf who seemed always to be shouting. “She was forced out.” 

Mary Margaret’s pleased expression faded and Killian suspected that she also was trying not to roll her eyes. Like daughter like mother, it seemed. “It amounts to the same thing,” she said. “She’s no longer the mayor.” 

“But I think we have a right to know what—” 

“Leroy, please!” Mary Margaret waved her hands in an exasperated gesture that knocked her coffee cup off the table and sent it flying, crashing to the ground and splashing coffee all over the floor and on the shoes of the people in the front row. “Oh!” she cried. “Oh, no! Can anyone… does anyone have a mop? Or a—a tissue, or something?” 

The crowd began to shift as people patted pockets and looked in purses and then there was the sound of a door opening and movement from the far corner of the room. A janitor emerged, dressed in grey coveralls with a baseball cap pulled low over his face, lugging a pail and mop along behind him. 

“Ah,” said Mary Margaret. “Thank you, Neal.” 

Killian stiffened and he could see Emma do the same. The man gave Mary Margaret a small nod and took out his mop, and when he turned to wipe up the coffee on the floor Killian got a clear glimpse of his face under his cap. 

Well, lad, he thought, we’ve found your father. 

~

A triumphant sneer curled Regina’s lip as she sauntered into the sheriff’s station, at the sight of Zelena curled up on the hard cot in her cell, asleep. After a year of suffering at this woman’s hands, seeing her there pleased Regina even more than when she’d had Snow in much the same circumstances, locked away and at her mercy. The room still seethed with magic, dark and untethered and increasingly wild with no one to contain and control it, woven through with the faint glow of the light magic left by Emma. Careless, thought Regina with a sniff. Emma left traces of her magic behind everywhere she went. It all but oozed from her, more natural magic than Regina had ever seen attached to any one person before. 

At least she’s finally learned how to use it, she thought as she drew on the light magic, careful to temper it with some of the dark—though she couldn’t help noticing that touching the light hurt far less than it once had, and thinking that Henry would be proud to hear that—and wove it into an invisible but very sharp point. Which she then used to poke Zelena through the bars of the cell. Right in her backside.

Zelena shifted on the cot but didn’t awaken, and Regina with a gleeful grin took the opportunity to poke her harder. 

“Oi!” cried Zelena, waving her hand at the unseen irritant. “What is it—oh. Regina.” 

A cutting retort died on Regina’s lips at the look on her sister’s face. Her sister. That was still hard to grasp. Zelena looked… tired. Worn. Defeated. Which was good, obviously, but still it tugged at something unfamiliar and uncomfortable in Regina’s chest. 

“Well?” said Zelena wearily. “What are you here for? To taunt me, I suppose.” 

Regina had absolutely intended a taunt or two but she wasn’t about to admit that, not once Zelena had guessed it. “I wanted to talk about your curse.” 

“Ah, yes,” a small, nasty smile curved Zelena’s lips. “My curse. The curse you can’t break.” 

“We’ll see about that.” Regina couldn’t help needling her, despite the solemn promise Hook—Killian, damn it—had extorted from her the night before, not to let Zelena goad her into revealing too much. 

“Yes, I imagine we will.” Zelena’s smug and haughty demeanour appeared to be back in full force, her brief moment of vulnerability passed. 

Regina ground her teeth. “It shouldn’t be too hard,” she said. “It’s not much of a curse.” Zelena sputtered indignantly and Regina twisted the knife. “Barely in place a year and already weakening,” she taunted. “Though to be honest, I’m not surprised. It never was quite right, was it?” 

“Not quite right?” 

“No. There’s always been something off about it. Everyone’s noticed. Henry, Hook. Emma, now that she has her memories back. It’s distorted somehow, like… like a painting done by someone who’d only ever seen things through a mirror.” 

Zelena’s eyebrows twitched, just the smallest hint of movement but Regina did not miss it. 

“Through a mirror… that’s it, isn’t it? You used mirror magic to what… reflect the curse back into this world?” 

It was a stab in the dark but she could tell it landed firmly on its target by the anger that flashed in Zelena’s eyes, and the hint of fear. She laughed, a loud, triumphant laugh. “Which would mean that it isn’t even your curse! It’s Pan’s, modified by me then simply twisted and re-formed by you. Third-hand magic. Oh, that is delicious.” 

“It hardly matters,” Zelena hissed. “You still can’t break it,”

“As I said before,” sneered Regina. “We’ll see about that. Thanks for the information, sis. You’ve been very helpful.” 

~

When the town meeting ended Killian waited until most of the others had left before making his way out of the room. He was walking down the nearly empty corridor to the main doors when a hand grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him into a small office. 

“What the devil—” Before he could finish his sentence white smoke whirled around him and he found himself back in his apartment with Emma in his arms. He frowned. “Swa—” he began but she cut him off again, this time with a hard, intense kiss. 

Her body was rigid with tension as he ran his prosthetic hand down her back and curled his fingers into her hair. He gentled the kiss to try to ease whatever was troubling her, moving his lips soothingly over hers until the tension drained away and she relaxed against him, pressing her forehead to his as the kiss ended with softly clinging lips and they sighed into each other. 

“I’m not complaining, but what’s this about, love?” he murmured. 

“I just missed you.” 

“I missed you too, but—” 

“And I was worried.” She reached up to stroke his cheek, running her thumb along the thin scar that crossed it. “About how you’d feel. Seeing Neal, I mean. The last time we were all together, he was, well—” 

“Vying against me for your heart, aye, I remember.” 

“Are you gonna be okay with him being here?” she pressed. “With him being in Henry’s life once the curse breaks?” 

“Of course I’m okay with that. He’s Henry’s father.” 

“Yeah, but you’re his dad.” 

Killian cleared his throat over the lump that formed in it. “Indeed I am, and nothing can take that away, Emma. I love Henry and he loves me. But there’s more than enough room in his heart for a father and a dad. He has two mums already, after all.” 

Emma gave him a searching look. “So you’re really okay?” 

Killian took his time answering. It wasn’t an easy question, and though he’d known he would have to face it eventually he had tried not to think on it overmuch until seeing Neal that morning had brought the issue into sharp focus. 

“My relationship with Baelfire has never been simple,” he replied finally. “He’s the child of my first great love and also of my greatest enemy, father of the boy I call my son and the first man to hold my wife’s heart. It’s not going to be easy after the curse breaks and he learns what’s transpired between us, and between myself and Henry. But despite everything, even despite his unconscionable conduct in leaving you alone in jail, I still care for him and I want to try to find a place for him in our lives. If that’s what you wish.” 

Emma nodded. “It is. I know it won’t be easy, but I don’t want to keep him away from Henry. If he wants to be in his life, and in ours, I think we should try.” She smiled at him. “I love you.” 

He smirked. “I know.” 

Her mouth dropped open. “You finally watched Star Wars!” she exclaimed.

“Aye, Henry insisted.” 

“And? What did you think?” 

“Preposterous, from start to finish. However, I did enjoy the space pirate and his ship.” 

“Space pirate,” scoffed Emma. “You would.” 

He laughed and hugged her closer. “I love you too, Emma.” 

“I know.” 

They kissed again, soft and lovingly this time, and Killian let himself sink into it. He really needed to get downstairs and open the shop and Emma was already late for her patrol, but she was also soft and warm in his arms and he thought perhaps they might be able to spare the time for just a brief dalliance…

The door to the apartment opened and someone made a disgusted noise. “Can’t you two keep your hands off each other for five minutes?” said Regina’s voice. They turned to see her standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips. “I need to speak with the sheriff, alone if you don’t mind.” 

“Aye.” Killian cleared his throat and gave Emma one more kiss, lingering as long as he dared. “I should get to the shop anyway,” he told her. “Come and say goodbye before you leave.” 

“I will.” 

Emma kept her eyes on her husband until the door closed behind him, laughing at the cheeky grin and raised eyebrow he gave her as he shut it. She turned to Regina. 

“So what’s up?” she asked. 

“We need to talk about what to do with Zelena.” 

Emma sighed. They definitely did need to talk about that, and also she really didn’t want to. 

“I’m guessing you have some suggestions.” 

“We need to get rid of her.” 

“By ‘get rid of’ I assume you mean ‘kill’.” 

Regina shrugged. “Dispose of her.” 

“Meaning kill her.” 

“Well, if you insist on putting it in such blunt terms, yes,” Regina huffed in annoyance. “It’s too dangerous not to. We know what she’s capable of.” 

Emma crossed her arms over her chest. “We can’t kill her.” 

Regina glared at her. “Why did I know you would express that opinion, Miss Swan?” 

“It’s Mrs Jones, and I don’t know, maybe because you know that I’m not going to condone murder?” 

“Oh yes, of course, how could I forget, heroes don’t kill,” Regina sneered. “And also, really? You’re taking the pirate’s name?” 

“Oh, I have no problem with killing in justifiable circumstances,” snapped Emma. “But you can’t just up and take out someone who isn’t threatening you and hasn’t been convicted of a capital crime. And yes, why the hell wouldn’t I take my husband’s name?” 

“So you want to let the woman who cursed this town just walk free? And honestly I figured you for more of a feminist.” 

“Um, in case you forgot you’re also the woman who cursed this town so are you really going to argue that cursing towns deserves the death penalty? And I don’t see how sharing a last name with my husband and my son is un-feminist. We’re a family.” 

“Regardless of who cursed what, we’re going to have to do something with Zelena. And are you seriously telling me that you changed Henry’s name to Jones?” 

“Zelena can stay in her cell until we come up with a better idea than ‘hey let’s kill her!’ And yes, Henry’s name is Jones now, it’s on all his documents. If you want to change it back you’d better first ask him and second figure out how you’re going to undo all my magical forgery.” Emma knew the smirk on her face was a bit smug, but she couldn’t help it. She was proud of that forgery.

Regina ground her teeth. “If I had my magic—” 

“Well, you don’t, so why don’t you use that angry energy to think of a non-lethal way to take care of Zelena. What did you use to do in the Enchanted Forest?” 

“In the Enchanted Forest we executed people when they got in the way!” 

“You mean you executed them when they got in your way!” 

“Yes!” 

“Well that explains a hell of a lot!” 

Regina threw up her hands. “We’re wasting time here,” she snapped. “We need a strategy and we need it soon, before Zelena figures out how to use her magic again.” 

Emma frowned. “Can she do that? If her amulet’s broken?” 

“She might be able to.” The anger faded from Regina’s eyes and posture, replaced by worry. “She’s very powerful and with a lot of—” her lip curled “—natural ability. The only person I’ve ever seen with the same raw skill is you, which is why you need to be the one to deal with her.” 

“But I can’t—” 

“Yes you can, and more than that you have to.” She sighed, and the look in her eye turned pleading. “There’s no one else.” 

Emma bit her lip. She had an idea, just a little glimmer of a thought tickling the corner of her mind. It might be crazy—it was almost certainly crazy—but it also might work. Before she could do anything, though, she needed to do some research. 

“Okay, look, we can’t do anything today,” she said, holding up her hand to silence Regina’s protest. “For now, Zelena’s not a threat and I don’t want to rush into anything until we know exactly what we’re doing.” Killian was right, Emma thought. Strategy first. This time she wasn’t going to jump into anything until she was fully prepared. “I’m gonna go grab some books from downstairs and do my patrol,” she continued, “then I need an hour or so at the station. Can you meet me at the loft at about one thirty?” 

Regina nodded. “That should be fine. I actually want to have a look in some of the pirate’s books myself.” 

“Really? What do you need to read about?” 

“Mirror magic.”  

~

Regina left the bookshop with a bag full of very intriguing books—she made a mental note to find a way to pry out of Killian precisely where and from whom he’d obtained them—and headed down the street towards Granny’s. So engrossed was she in her thoughts and plans and theories about how Zelena had cast the curse that she didn’t see John Wood until she’d walked right into him, knocking the takeout bag from his hand and sending it flying into the bushes.  

“Oh!” she cried. “I’m so sorry! It was an accident this time!” 

“This time?” he echoed with a quizzical smile. 

“Oh.” Damn it. “I mean, the last time too. I’m just sorry I keep running into you. Or not—not sorry to be running into you just… running into you.” 

She’d never felt more flustered or less regal and she could feel her cheeks burning, but then he laughed and gods she’d missed the sound of that laugh. It was warm and… merry, for lack of a better word, and it made her heart pound and the flush on her skin grow hotter. They were still standing close together and as she drew in a deep breath she felt a small pang of regret. He smelled wonderful, but it was all wrong. Laundry soap and cologne and not a trace of pine. She never imagined she’d miss the scent of the forest clinging to his skin, but in that moment she’d have given anything to smell it again and to have those eyes look at her the way they once had, all too briefly and too long ago. 

Do not think about his eyes. Or his skin.

But they drew her, those eyes and their twinkle, and while there was still no real recognition in them they seemed… clearer than they had yesterday. Like something had been lifted. Like they belonged to a more carefree man. 

“Do you want to have dinner with me?” she blurted, and the heat in her cheeks became an inferno. She managed to keep her face straight but cringed internally, bracing for refusal, preparing a withering put-down for when it came.

“Oh,” he said, blinking in surprise. “Ah. Um. Yes. I would. I mean, just in a, er, a friendly way or as as a—” 

“As a date,” said Regina, emboldened by how obviously and—yes, damn it—sweetly flustered he was. “Tonight?” 

“Ah.” A smile played at the corners of his mouth. “Um, yes. Tonight is fine. Wh—where?”

“Meet me in front of Granny’s. About seven?”

He grinned, wide and warm, and she felt like she could soar. “I’ll see you then.”

~

Emma was already at the loft when Regina arrived, crouched in the corner near where Henry had grappled with Zelena two days before. When she heard Regina arrive she stood to greet her. “Hey,” she said. “I’ve been here like ten minutes. What kept you?” 

“I ran into someone.” Regina’s cheeks were bright pink and she wouldn’t meet Emma’s eye. Emma stared. 

“You’re blushing!” she exclaimed. 

“No, I’m not.” 

“You are! Who did you run into?” 

“No one.” 

“Oh, come on, Regina!” 

“Fine, it was John Wood. From the bank.” 

“John Wood?” 

“Yes. We’re having dinner tonight.”

“You’re having dinner. With John Wood, the banker.” Emma doubted she could be more astonished if Regina had announced her intention to dine with Zelena in her cell. 

“Yes.” Regina was standing stiffly, wearing her best haughty queen expression. “Now if you’ve satisfied your curiosity Mrs Jones, can we get back to the matter at hand?” 

Emma narrowed her eyes. John Wood hadn’t been in Storybrooke during the first curse, yet it was obvious that Regina knew him. She wouldn’t go on a date with a random cursed banker, not unless she knew who he was un-cursed. The new faces around Storybrooke were a mystery Emma fully intended to get to the bottom of but she also knew that with Regina she needed to choose her battles. Now was not the time to fight this one.  

“Sure,” she replied with a shrug. “First I just need to have a look at this.” She crouched down again and indicated the knife that was still lying on the floor, the one Zelena had used to threaten Henry and Henry had used to do something Emma still wasn’t quite sure she understood. He seemed to have actually cut into her magic with it, slashed a hole clean through her spell and then jumped through it to get to Zelena. There was no way that should have been possible but it happened, and Henry’s actions may have saved them all. She just needed to figure out how. 

 She had a few theories already, fleshed out by the research she’d done this morning, and now as she peered down at the knife on the floor, appearing as innocuous as any deadly weapon could look, she reached out carefully and prodded it with her magic. There was no dark magic in it that she could detect—no magic at all, in fact. It really was just a knife. Just an impossibly sharp knife with a short blade, double-edged, each edge made of a different metal. One side gleamed bright like polished steel and the other she’d never seen the like of before, shadow-grey but with a sort of dull glow that gave her the creeps. 

Gingerly she picked it up by its wooden handle and held it out to Regina. “Have you ever seen this before?” she asked. “Or anything like it?” 

Regina frowned. “No. But something about it it feels wrong.” 

“Wrong how?”

“I don’t know. It has no magic, but it just—it doesn’t seem to fit in this world somehow. And I don’t just mean in this realm.” 

“I know what you mean,” said Emma. And it was what she’d been hoping to hear. 

“What are you going to do with it?” Regina asked. 

“For the time being, keep it somewhere safe.” 

Just… be careful.” 

“Always am,” muttered Emma. She pulled an evidence bag from her pocket and carefully placed the knife inside, weaving a quick reinforcing spell into the plastic and tucking it into Killian’s satchel, which she had brought along for that precise purpose. 

“So,” she said, laying the satchel aside. “Let’s get started. What do you have in mind for this place? Not back to the way it was, I’m guessing.” 

“To your mother’s cutesy boho-chic?” scoffed Regina. “I don’t think so. Make it someplace I can live in.” 

“And Henry?” 

Regina nodded. “And Henry.” 

“Okay.” Emma flexed her fingers and reached for her magic. “I think I can work with that.” 

~

Several long hours later Emma poofed herself into Killian’s apartment and collapsed on the sofa with an exhausted sigh. 

“All right, love?” he called from the kitchen where he was cooking something that smelled amazing. 

“Yeah, I think so. I finally got the loft decorated to Regina’s satisfaction, so she’s going to spend the night there.” 

“Mom’s going to live at the loft?” Henry poked his head out from his bedroom. 

“Yeah, kid. I think we all felt that one night of her staying here was one night too many. For all of us.” 

“Not for me!” cried Henry. “I barely got to see her!” 

“Which is why we fixed up a room for you at the loft,” said Emma. “You can go there whenever you want.” 

Henry brightened. “Can I go tonight?” 

“If you’d like. Eat here first, though. Regina,” she paused to glance at Killian, “has a date.” 

“A date!” he exclaimed. 

“Yep. With Mr Wood from the bank.” 

“Interesting,” murmured Killian. 

“It is. I don’t recognise Mr Wood, he was definitely not here with the first curse. Henry do you have any idea who he is?” 

“No, but if he’s dating my mom I’m gonna find out,” said Henry. “I’ll see if he’s got a story in the book.” 

“What boo—wait, the storybook? You’ve got it?”

“Yep.” Henry ducked back into his room then reappeared a moment later waving the familiar brown leather book. “It showed up in the bookstore this afternoon when I got home from school. I’ve been looking for clues to how I can bring everyone’s love back.” 

“Good plan.” Emma heaved herself up off the sofa and went over to wrap her arms around Killian and lean her head against his shoulder. He kissed her hair in an almost absent gesture as he concentrated on stirring a simmering pot. 

“What is that?” she asked him. 

“Bouillabaisse.” 

“Booyah what?” 

“Its fish stew, Mom,” said Henry. 

“Um…” Emma shot her son a panicked grimace and Henry laughed. “Don’t worry, it’s really good. Dad’s a good cook, he can make even gross stuff taste nice.” 

“High praise indeed,” said Killian with a grin, though the word dad reminded him that they still hadn’t told Henry about Neal. He glanced down at Emma and could tell from the look on her face that she was thinking the same. 

“After dinner,” she murmured. “Let’s just have a quiet family meal, just a moment of peace. Then we’ll tell him.” 

“Aye, love. It’s a plan.” 

-

Chapter Text

The bedroom is just as he remembers, though as he stands observing it he thinks perhaps it seems somehow lighter? Bright sunlight glows warm and mellow through the curtains and the smell of the sea is stronger, sharp and briny and so familiar to his nose. He peers out the windows and thinks he can discern a coastline and and the subtly varying shades of blue that fade one into the other to mark the horizon where water meets sky. 

It’s always soothed him, that horizon. 

Slender arms slip around his waist and he doesn’t have to look to know whose they are. Even if this weren’t their private dream, the bedroom they designed themselves to be their haven after the curse took her, he would know Emma’s touch anywhere. 

He turns to wrap his arm around her shoulders and draw her close against his side, pressing a kiss to her hair. 

“What’s this about, love?” he says.

“What do you mean?” she asks innocently. The coyly contrived innocence that always means she’s up to something. Killian feels a stirring of anticipation in his belly. 

“Emma, we are currently tucked up in our real bed and you are asleep in my arms, drooling on my chest,” he says. “We just made love. What are we doing here?” 

“I just thought it might be nice to see how the dreams work,” she says. “When we’re together, I mean, and when I’m not cursed or otherwise memory-impaired. I thought there might be stuff we could do with them.” 

She’s smiling but there’s a glint in her eye, a playful mischief he’s missed more than he realised. It’s been far too long since they last crossed swords. He lowers his voice to a growl. “What did you have in mind?” he asks. 

The dream shifts around them and they are at the top of the beanstalk, standing amidst the skeletons and fallen stones that litter the courtyard of the giant’s castle, their breaths still short and laboured from the climb. They are dressed as they were then and when he turns to look at her she’s exactly as he remembers, except for the look on her face. 

“Curious choice,” he says.

“This was the first time I wanted to kiss you,” she replies. “When you tied that damn scarf with your teeth and your eyes never left mine, and I just—” she draws a deep breath as he leans closer, holding her gaze as he did then. “It was just really hot” 

“Well, naturally.” He smirks lasciviously at her and she laughs, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him in for a kiss. He responds eagerly, part of him wondering what his past self would have thought if she’d kissed him like this back then, and realising he genuinely isn’t sure. He finds it increasingly hard to remember the time when he didn’t love Emma; though he had nearly three centuries of it they have begun to feel like years lived by another man.  

The kiss is long and intensely passionate but it ends sweetly, with clinging lips and foreheads pressed together. “You know,” he tells her with a soft smile. “This wasn’t the first time I thought of kissing you.” 

“Wasn’t it?” 

“No.” He reaches out to the dream and the scene shifts to the corner of a sun-dappled field in the Enchanted Forest. Ogres roar and bellow in the distance and Emma is tied securely to a tree. 

“Hmmm,” she says, tugging at the ropes to test the knots in them. “This isn’t quite how I remember it.” 

“I took a liberty or two.” He gives her a sharp-edged grin and holds her gaze again as he reaches down and pulls the dagger from her boot. “Though some things remain the same.” 

He brandishes the dagger as she watches him with heat in her eyes, and wonder. “Did you really think about kissing me then?” she asks. “I threatened to leave you to the ogres. And I wasn’t bluffing.” 

“Aye, I’m quite aware.” He smiles wryly at the memory. “You were magnificent, love. Fierce and clever and utterly breathtaking. I was furious with you and also thought you the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.” He lets the dagger trail along her jaw and across her lips, thrilling at the hitch in her breath. “I wanted to kiss you in part out of desire to possess a beautiful thing, and part because I knew how greatly it would infuriate you.” 

He catches the neckline of her shirt with the dagger’s tip and tears it neatly down the front, exposing the tops of her breasts and the lacy edge of her bra. This he also rips, slowly peeling back the lace until her nipple is freed and her breaths are harsh and shallow, her eyes dark with lust. Burying the dagger in the tree trunk, he takes her lips hard with his, his tongue deep in her mouth and his hand rough as it fondles her breast. She strains against her bindings, growling in frustration when they hold her fast, and nips at his lip hard enough to draw blood. He snarls in response and tangles his hand in her hair, tugging her head back and biting down on the throbbing pulse in her neck. 

“You know,” she gasps, “if we’re going to have a hard fuck against a tree I’d really rather do it here.” 

The dream shifts again and they are swaying together in the thick green jungle of Neverland, their mouths a breath apart. She has him by the collar of his coat, his hook at the small of her back, his fingers in her hair. This he remembers as clearly as yesterday, the sweet spice of his rum on her tongue and her scent in his nose, the smell of sweat and Emma. He still loves the way she smells but back then it nearly drove him mad, and he recalls all too well the effort it took not to haul her back when she pulled away from that kiss, not to shove her against a tree, a rock, anything, and just devour her. 

She’s looking at him as though she knows what’s on his mind—doubtless she does, he thinks, that open book reads both ways—and challenge glints in her eyes. With a deep-throated snarl he takes it, backing her up until she’s caged against a tree and no space remains between them, rolling his hips against hers as he drags his teeth up her neck. She gasps, fingers clutching at his hair, dragging his lips back to hers and into a kiss that soon has them both frantic for the touch of the other’s skin, tearing at their clothes. “I wanted this then,” she confesses as she pulls his shirt free from his trousers and runs her hands up his back. “I used to lie awake wondering what might have happened if I hadn’t pulled away.” 

“Me too,” he growls. “The whole year we were apart I lived on memories of it, and when memory no longer sufficed I moved on to fantasy.” 

He shifts the dream again and they are in his cabin on the Jolly Roger, he dressed only in his leather trousers, loosely laced, and she with his flowing black shirt draped around her and slipping off her shoulder. She’s perched on the edge of his desk and he approaches her with a swagger and his old lewd smirk, using his hand and hook to part her legs as he steps between them. She catches her breath as his laces tickle at the damp hair between her thighs. 

“This is where I imagined you most,” he murmurs, brushing her hair back and letting his fingers trail down her neck and over her collarbone. The rumble of his voice, his breath across her naked skin makes her shiver. “Here on my ship, on this desk, in my bed. Against the helm, and the mast… I wanted you everywhere. All the time.” 

She lets her hand trail down his chest and beneath his trouser laces to where his cock is hard and aching for her touch. He moans as she closes her fist around it and shifts to spread her legs wider, dragging the tip through her dripping folds. He sucks in a harsh breath and stills her movements with his hand, letting his forehead drop to rest against hers.

“Darling,” he chokes. “As delightful as it would be to live out my fantasies like this, I really do prefer to be awake when I’m inside you.” 

They woke simultaneously, hot and panting and already wrapped around each other. He could smell her arousal in the air, feel it in the dampness against his hip, see it in the flash of her eyes before she kissed him, deep and with an urgency that matched his own. He grabbed her thighs with his hand and stump, urging her up to straddle him. She was as wet as she’d been in the dream and he as hard and she slid down onto him easily, sighing against his lips as she did and swallowing his answering groan. 

She felt so damn good around him, Killian thought, like they were made to fit together. Sex with Emma would be amazing no matter what, he had no doubt of that, but this bond of theirs—be it soulmates or True Love or simple filthy lust—whatever it was it heightened each sensation, every brush of fingers on each other’s skin, every stroke of tongues and lips, each nip of teeth was more than it should be, more than he had ever known before, with anyone.

More than with Milah. 

He’d be lying if he said that didn’t trouble him, a bit. He had loved Milah; they hadn’t been True Love perhaps but he had loved her truly. He had also, he had come to realise, loved her selfishly, and when the crocodile murdered her Killian’s vow of vengeance had been inspired not by any desire to see justice done for a life cut far too short but rather by his impotent fury at having something precious taken from him. Another person he loved torn violently away at the whim of a powerful and capricious creature. It was that injustice that had consumed him, that petulance he had carried with him to Neverland where it crystallised as though trapped in amber. The timeless magic of the island had preserved his fury and kept it sharp and hot, kept his lost love fresh in his mind for centuries instead of fading into the fondness of memory as it should have done, as it had done, eventually, the moment he was free from the influence of that wretched land. 

The moment he met Emma. 

Emma who was now moving above him, arching her back and driving her hips down to take him fully inside her, rocking them in the way she knew drove him wild. Emma who filled his heart and mind and soul, not with anger or vengeance but with love and hope and the desire to be better than he had been, the best he could be. To deserve the love she freely gave. 

(“You’re more than your mistakes,” she’d said to him once, not long after his arrival in New York. “You’re more than your temper.” 

“It’s a terrible temper, though, and they were more than mere mistakes. I hurt people—” 

“I know. And honestly for a while that’s all I could see when I looked at you. The man who shot Belle and stabbed Gold, and teamed up with Greg and Tamara to destroy the town. And stole the bean.” 

“Must we enumerate each one?” 

“I was so mad at myself for still being attracted to you, despite all of that,” she confessed. “Now I know that what I felt was a connection to a deeper part of you. A part that none of us could see then, not even you yourself. The real you, under all the anger and the hurt. That’s the man I see when I look at you now.”) 

He groaned as she found their rhythm and at the way she clenched around him as she moved, taking the always-pleasurable slick drag of his cock inside her into new and more euphoric heights. His fingers flexed against the soft flesh of her ass and he dragged his stump over her breasts and down her belly before pressing it against her clit, delighting in the shiver of pleasure that shook her at the feel of his scarred skin on her sensitised nerves. 

“Harder,” she choked and he complied, grinding his wrist against her as she fucked him, until she was gasping and digging her fingernails into the skin of his arm, until she came with a hoarse cry. The moment she did he rolled her beneath him, bracing his forearm against the headboard and driving himself hard into her as her orgasm fluttered around him, keeping her high as he chased his own release. She wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his back and held him close to whisper in his ear. 

“I love you,” she said, “so damn much. You’re the love of my life, Killian.” 

“And you mine,” he groaned into her neck, feeling the inadequacy of these words to express the depth of his feelings but he knew she understood. She caught her breath, fluttering around him again with a light little aftershock of an orgasm that pushed Killian over the edge and into his own. 

~

His alarm shrilled in Henry’s ear and he groaned, groping at his phone until he managed to hit snooze then rolling over to bury his face in his pillow and grab just a few more minutes of sleep. He hated getting up early (“Just like your mum,” his dad always said, with a sorrowful shake of his head) and especially not on Saturdays, but he had too much to get done today to waste any time sleeping in. 

It was all coming together now, all the small steps he’d taken over the past month to change lives in Storybrooke, to help people find their love again. He was almost there, so close he could taste it, and both his moms confirmed that they could feel the curse growing progressively weaker with each passing day. Henry had to force himself not to rush, not to push too hard or expect too much from people still under strong magical influence. He reminded himself that love needed time to grow and develop. But at the same time he was so close and he couldn’t help feeling excited.

The alarm rang again and this time he turned it off. He stretched as he sat up and rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the sleepy fog from his brain. Was that a strange noise drifting up from downstairs, he wondered, or could he still be dreaming? He listened more carefully. It sounded like… singing? 

What? 

He got out of bed, tiptoed to the railing of his bedroom on the upper floor of the loft and peered over it. There was Regina in the kitchen, already showered and dressed (she didn’t have any problem getting up early; he had definitely inherited that from Emma), making breakfast. And singing. 

Singing. 

And then, as if that wasn’t entirely weird enough, she started dancing. His mouth dropped open and he actually rubbed his eyes again, like that might change the scene before him. It did not. There, right there, in the meticulously tidy black-and-white kitchen Emma had magicked into the loft, Regina Mills shook her hips and warbled a tune as she stirred the scrambled eggs. 

She must have a date with Robin today, thought Henry. There could be no other explanation.

He remembered the day he’d discovered John Wood in the storybook and realised not only that his mom was dating Robin Hood, but that at least some of the Merry Men were in Storybrooke too: Will Scarlet kept the town records and Little John worked at the library. Men who in their real lives lived in the wild, in the woods, free from any authority but their own, under the curse were a banker, a records clerk, and a librarian. 

You had to hand it to Zelena, Henry admitted, she’d done an incredible job of ensuring that no one in town would ever find a way to love the work they did. Love for a career or a lifestyle must also be a threat to the curse, he’d concluded, and he and his dad had added it to their list. 

One mom dating Robin Hood, he reflected, watching Regina shimmy as she scooped the eggs onto plates, and the other married to Captain Hook. He grinned and shook his head. What a family.

~

Mary Margaret awoke to the sound of birds singing outside her window and she smiled. It was Saturday, one month in to her tenure as Acting Mayor of Storybrooke, and she was taking the day off. 

She would be lying if she said the weeks since Zelena’s ‘resignation’ hadn’t been something of a challenge for her. She was unaccustomed to having any kind of real authority or the responsibility that went with it, used to Zelena being the one to call the shots and shoulder any blame or consequences that may arise from them, but slowly, gradually, Mary Margaret had begun to find her feet and her confidence, and discovered that actually being an authority figure wasn’t as terrifying as she’d once thought. 

Plus, of course, any burden was lighter when you had someone to help you carry it. 

On that thought she bounded from bed and put on her robe, pausing just long enough to glance in the mirror and run her fingers through her hair before hurrying downstairs to have breakfast with her husband. 

David was already in the kitchen, making coffee. He smiled brightly when he saw her and pushed down the lever of the toaster. She returned his smile almost without thinking, her heart fluttering in a way that had become very familiar over the past month. Precisely what was growing between herself and David she still wasn’t quite sure, but she knew that something intangible had changed in their marriage and in them, something that she found to her surprise didn’t feel new at all but more like they were rediscovering parts of themselves they had somehow forgotten. 

And discovering that those forgotten things fit perfectly together. 

David was dressed in a flannel shirt that stretched across his shoulders and brought out the blue of his eyes, eyes that were warm and eager as he handed her a cup of coffee. 

“Did you sleep well?” he asked.  

She nodded even though she hadn’t really. She’d spent far too long tossing in her bed, unable to sleep for thinking of him in his own, in his bedroom that lay mere feet away on the other side of their suite’s dividing door, and when she finally managed to drift off she’d dreamed of him. 

“I did,” she lied. “What about you?” 

David nodded too but something in his eyes, a spark of heat that found its answer deep in her chest, made her wonder if he too hadn’t lain awake thinking of the thin and unlocked door that separated them. She wondered what he’d do if she opened that door, if she invited him into her room. Into her bed. 

“David,” she began, taking courage from the way he smiled when she said his name, “I—”

The toaster’s lever popped up with a noise that made them both jump. David gave her a slightly apologetic look and turned to deal with it. 

“What were you going to say?” he asked as he put the toast on plates. 

“Nothing.” Mary Margaret felt foolish for even thinking it. They’d agreed on separate rooms for a very good reason, even if she could no longer remember what that reason was. She sat down at the table and focused on her coffee, forcing a smile when David set a plate of toast and jam in front of her and sat down himself. 

“Are you going to the shelter today?” she asked him as they ate.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Working a full day today.” 

“You’re still busy then?” 

“Busier than ever. I’ve got a long lunch break, though, if you, uh,” he cleared his throat, “if you wanted to meet me at Granny’s?”

Her smile came unforced this time, along with a blossoming warmth in her chest. “I’d love that. If you’re sure you can get away?”  

The rush of pet adoptions that began about three weeks before had taken Storybrooke’s animal shelter greatly by surprise. Dogs and cats that had languished there for as long as anyone could remember were suddenly snapped up as the town’s residents seemed spontaneously and simultaneously to be gripped by a desperate need for animal companionship. The shelter’s skeleton staff found themselves completely unable to cope with the demand and had sent out an urgent appeal for volunteers. An appeal that David, to Mary Margaret’s tremendous surprise, jumped at. 

“I’ve always wanted to work with animals,” he’d said.

“That’s—great,” Mary Margaret had replied, resisting the urge to scream Since when? Where had that been hiding all these years in her useless playboy of a husband, in the man who had never shown an interest in anything but drinking and gambling, and flirting with women who weren’t her? 

Increasingly she was finding it difficult to reconcile her memories of that man with the one who sat across from her now, dressed in flannel and excited for his volunteer job at an animal shelter. The man in her memories held no interest for her, inspired no feelings other than a vague distaste. This man, though...

This man she could love. 

“I’m sure,” said David firmly. “This is the first day off you’ve had since you took over from Zelena, and I want to treat you to lunch.” 

The fluttery feeling was back in her belly, stronger than ever, and her hands trembled as she wrapped them around her coffee cup. 

“It’s a date, then,” she said.  

~

When Killian woke again the sun was up and shining brightly through the apartment’s tall windows. He nudged Emma gently and she groaned, burying her face in his neck. “Too early,” she whimpered.

“It’s a quarter past eight, love,” he said, running his hand up and down her back. “We slept quite late in fact. A consequence of you ravishing me twice in one night, no doubt.”

She snorted. “I didn’t hear you complaining.”

“Nor will you, I’m simply pointing out that more sex equals less sleep.”

“Ugh. Can you stop being logical please and just let me grumble?”

“Of course.” He grinned. “I’ll go make some coffee, shall I?”

“You do that.” She burrowed into her pillow as he rolled from the bed and took his prosthetic from the table next to it. Deftly he attached it to his arm—he’d grown quite used to the thing over the past few weeks and found that he was missing his hook less and less—and pulled on some loose sweatpants before heading to the kitchen, whistling an old sea shanty.

He was far too cheerful in the mornings, thought Emma as she snuggled deeper into the bed. Her eyes drifted shut again and she dozed off to the tune of his shanty and the sounds of him bustling in the kitchen, and was only hazily aware of his lips brushing her forehead or the clink of a coffee cup being placed on the table next to the bed.

“I’m going to have a shower, love,” he said. “Don’t forget you’re meeting with Regina at nine.”

“Urmph,” said Emma to her pillow.  

“That’s in half an hour,” called Killian’s voice from the direction of the bathroom.

Emma made another growly noise as she pushed herself upright, wincing a bit at her stiff muscles, and groped for her coffee. She sighed as she wrapped her hand around the warm mug and sighed again as she sipped from it. The coffee was perfect. Rich and smooth and just hot enough, and Killian had put in her cinnamon vanilla coffee creamer even though he hated it (“It’s not even cream, Swan! It’s made of something called hydrogenated vegetable oil, and while I don’t know what that is it sounds appalling”) and two sugars. She grinned, picturing the look that must have been on his face as he stirred it.

She was still sipping when he returned to the bedroom, damp and with a towel wrapped around his hips. “You going to have a shower before you go?” he asked, rummaging in a drawer for some underwear.

“Mmmm. In a minute.” She smirked when he turned to look at her and he did the same, letting the towel fall to the floor and taking his time with his boxers, his eyebrows dancing suggestively.

Two could play at that game, thought Emma as she finished off her coffee. She set the cup down and threw off the covers, standing and stretching luxuriantly, giving him a good eyeful of her naked body.

An eyeful he definitely took.

She sauntered over to him and let her fingers comb and sift through his chest hair as she kissed his cheek. “I’ll be ready in twenty,” she said, ducking away from his reaching arms and heading for the bathroom, swinging her hips because she knew he was watching her go.

Twenty minutes later she was showered and dressed, hair dried and styled with the aid of just a whisper of magic, wrapped securely in Killian’s arms as they kissed goodbye.

“I’ll see you at dinner, then,” he said.

She nodded. “I’ll keep you updated.”

“Good.” They kissed again, lingering as long as they dared until finally she pushed him away and out the door, waiting until she heard his footsteps descend all the way to the bookstore before poofing herself to the sheriff’s station. Precisely two seconds after she arrived, the doors opened and Regina appeared.

She was carrying an armload of books and cut off Emma’s greeting with frown and a jerky nod, indicating that they should go into the office and out of Zelena’s earshot. Once inside with the door securely shut behind them Regina dropped her books on Emma’s desk and turned to her with a triumphant look.

“I think I’ve found it,” she said. “The mirror magic and how Zelena must have used it to pull off this curse.”

~

The first stop that Henry made that morning was the animal shelter. He’d taken to stopping in there daily, usually after school, to talk with David and play with the animals, and to help people reunite with the pets the curse had taken from them. 

Love for a pet could be as strong as love for family.

His grandfather was there already when he arrived, and greeted him warmly. 

“Hi Henry,” he said. “Here for your visit?” 

“Yep! I know it’s kinda early but I have lots of stuff to do today. Have you got anyone new?” 

“A new dog arrived just this morning actually,” said David. “We just finished getting him set up. Would you like to meet him?” 

“Yeah!” 

David opened the door to the part of the shelter where the dogs were kept and held it for Henry. “He’s a Dalmatian,” he said, as they approached the new dog’s cage. It was as comfortably equipped as a cage could be, with full food and water bowls and a large plush bed, even several chew toys strewn about. The dog in question lay curled in the bed, though he perked up his ears when he heard them coming. 

“It looks like he must have been a pet once,” David was saying as Henry grinned widely and barely managed not to do a little dance of joy, “He’s got a collar and a microchip but it seems to be damaged and we can’t read it. Poor guy, he’s had a hard time of it for a while.” 

Henry stopped in front of the cage and reached his hand through the bars. “Pongo,” he whispered. 

“What?” asked David. 

“Oh, nothing.” 

Pongo leapt to his feet at the sound of Henry’s voice and ran to him, tail wagging wildly, covering first his hand and then his face in enthusiastic, sloppy kisses. Henry laughed. 

So did David. “Well he certainly seems to like you!” he said. “Would you want to adopt him?” 

“No,” said Henry. “But I think I know someone who will.” 

~

“This is old magic,” said Regina, in a solemn voice that held Emma’s attention almost more than her words. “Old and very obscure. It comes from a land similar to this one, almost the same actually except that magic exists in abundance and is considered normal.” 

Emma frowned. “But how is that possi—” 

“There are lots of theories,” interrupted Regina with an irritated huff. “But it’s complicated and we don’t really have time to get into the details now. All you need to know is that there are hundreds of realms, thousands maybe, some very different and some that are so similar to each other that you’d hardly notice they weren’t identical unless you were really looking.” 

“Okay.” Emma resisted the urge to rub her temples. “Got it. Go on.” 

“So this magic,” Regina continued, “comes from a realm that borders on the world behind the mirrors.” 

“Whoa, what? The world behind—” 

“If you’re just going to interrupt me with inane questions every three words, Mrs Jones, we’ll never get anywhere,” Regina snapped. 

“Sorry.” 

“Yes,” continued Regina, still with a snap in her tone, “the world behind mirrors. All realms have mirrors of course,  but only a few actually border this land, a land that can be accessed only by using very particular magic. However, from those few realms and with this magic it is possible—though exceptionally difficult—to transfer things through a mirror, into the mirror realm and store them there.” 

“Store them—behind the mirrors?”

“Yes. Behind the mirrors.”

Emma opened her mouth then closed it again. 

“So,” said Regina, “what I believe is that Zelena must have caught the curse magic as it moved from here to the Enchanted Forest, funnelled it into the mirror realm and kept it there until she was ready to modify it to suit her needs. Then when everything was set she sent it back through the Enchanted Forest and into this realm, along with all of us.”

“That’s… well, it’s... wow.” 

 “Yeah,” Regina agreed. “But she almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to catch the whole curse in the short time she had, and by moving it in and out of the mirrors she would have had to bend it, twist it into a different shape, then probably patch together any missing parts with her magic and Oz magic. Meaning this curse is a—a chimaera. A hybrid. Cobbled together from half a dozen different magics and the influences of different realms.” 

“Well that would kinda explain why the version of Storybrooke it produced is so weird,” said Emma. “And also why the magic here was completely under Zelena’s control.” 

“And why that magic is so unstable now.” Regina nodded. “Exactly. The only thing I can’t figure out is how she got it here. This curse wouldn’t be able to open a portal like a true Dark Curse, she’d need to have the portal already prepared. Several portals, actually. One to get the curse magic from the Enchanted Forest and into Oz or wherever and another to get it back there when she was ready to cast it. And then another to send it back into this realm. So how the hell did she manage all of that?” 

Emma began to pace the small office as her thoughts churned in her mind. “I might have an idea,” she said. “But I need more information to be sure.” She stopped pacing and paused for a second, then spun around and faced the other woman with a determined look. “Regina, how would you like to visit New York?” 

~

Henry’s second stop of the day was the market, where he bought a candy bar and a magazine and dawdled at the register as Belle rang them up, her movements thoughtless and mechanical, her expression blank. 

“So how did you like the book?” he asked casually. 

“Oh!” Belle’s dull eyes lit up. “It was wonderful, thank you! Do you, um, want it back?” She looked devastated at the prospect, and Henry hid a grin.

“Oh no, it’s for you,” he said. “I found it in the pawn shop. I saw it and I just somehow knew you’d love it.” 

 “The pawn shop?” Belle frowned. “I thought that was closed?” 

“It’s opening again soon,” said Henry. “I’m helping out the guy who’s opening it, and he let me have the book for nothing when I said I wanted it for a present.” 

“Oh. Well, in that case I’ll just say thank you,” said Belle. “Truly. I never would have thought I’d enjoy a book called Her Handsome Hero, but I really loved it. It was so romantic and heroic, and I just—I felt like I was there, you know. Living the adventure.” She dropped her eyes and gave a little shrug. “That probably sounds stupid.” 

“No, it doesn’t!” exclaimed Henry. “I feel that way too, every time I read a good book.” 

“Do you read a lot, then?” asked Belle, and the yearning in her voice squeezed his heart.  

“Yeah, all the time. My dad owns a bookstore.” 

“He does?” Belle’s eyes were wide.

“Yep. He sells mostly specialist books right now but he’s thinking about expanding, and hiring an assistant. Do you think you might be interested in that? You know, if you were looking for a different job?”

“I—” Belle blinked in confusion, the idea of a different job clearly one that had never crossed her mind before. Then her face broke into a radiant smile. “Working with books,” she breathed in awe. “I’d like that, I think. Very much.” 

Henry grinned. “Here’s my dad’s address,” he said, handing her a cream-coloured card with “Jolly Roger Books” printed in old-fashioned lettering over the pale watermark of a pirate ship. 

“Stop by any time,” he said. “Today even.” 

“My shift ends at two,” said Belle faintly, staring at the card. 

Henry nodded in satisfaction. “I’ll tell my dad to expect you then,” he said. 

~

Emma took her time preparing herself for the trip. She was pretty sure she had enough magic stored up to poof herself and Regina to New York and back, but there was no way she could be completely certain. This was much, much farther than she’d ever transported herself before, and taking another person along made it even more risky. But the curse was weakening by the hour and as it did its magic grew increasingly unstable. Neither she nor Regina had any idea of what might happen once it broke. They needed to gather as much information as they could get before it did. 

She sent a text to Killian advising him of her plan. The disapproval in his reply (Whatever you think is necessary, Swan) was practically tangible but she knew he wouldn’t try to stop her. He trusted her, and he trusted her magic. She needed to do the same. 

She took a deep breath and drew on her magic, weaving it and wrapping it tightly around herself and Regina. When it was as secure as she could make it, she waved her hand and whisked them on a swirl of white smoke out of the sheriff’s station and into a cramped and dusty bookshop in Queens, where Frank McClelland was leaning against the register waiting for them with a warm and jovial smile that was only the tiniest bit terrifying. 

“Hey there, Emma,” he said. He didn’t look surprised by her sudden appearance in his shop, but then he never did. “You’re lookin’ good. Memories all returned then?” 

“Yep.” Emma was not about to be out-cooled by Frank. “All back.” 

“Figured it wouldn’t take Hook long. He was what you might call highly motivated.” He chuckled at the weak joke then gave a little cough when neither woman joined him. Then he frowned. “I see the curse still isn’t broken.” 

“No. It’s getting close, though and actually that’s why we’re here. This is—”

 “Regina Mills, of course,” interrupted Frank, inclining his head at Regina. “Nice to meet ya, Your Majesty.” 

Regina scowled and shot a glare at Emma, who shrugged a bit sheepishly. She probably should have given Regina some warning about what to expect from Frank. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage,” Regina replied coolly. 

“Yes,” Frank agreed, still wearing his jovial smile but with a mocking sort of mischief in his voice and in the emerald glint of his eyes. “That I do.”  

Emma barely tamped down the urge to kick him. 

Regina’s eyes flashed dangerously and Emma realised she was going to have to do something before battle lines could be drawn. She stepped in front of Regina, putting her hand on the other woman’s arm and facing Frank with her body angled like a shield between them. “We’re here because we need some information, Frank,” she said. “Is that going to be a problem?” 

The mockery faded from Frank’s eyes and his face grew solemn. “No,” he said. “The knowledge you seek shall be yours, freely given, as the final payment on my debt to your husband. Will you sit?”

He gestured to the back of the shop where the armchairs and small table sat. There were three chairs now, Emma noted, in place of the usual two. Because of course there were. 

“I don’t like this,” Regina hissed. Emma squeezed her arm in what she hoped was reassurance. 

“Trust me,” she said. “Trust me when I say that despite how this looks you can trust him.”  

“Please allow me to beg your pardon, Regina Mills,” said Frank, looking genuinely apologetic. “It was unfit of me to taunt you, as of course any friend of Emma’s is more than welcome here” He opened his arms and held them out wide. “So as a gesture of good faith and because you are a woman who sets great store by appearances,” he said, “I trust you with the truth of my own.” A faint emerald glow flared and shimmered around him, and when it faded away Frank McClelland was gone and before them stood the Oisín of legend, tall and lithe, with ancient wisdom shining in his unlined face. “I hope this will make you more at ease with trusting me.” 

Regina gave him a calculating look which he returned unwaveringly, and then with a flick of her wrist she removed the glamour spell on her face. Emma blinked in surprise. It had been an impressively subtle spell, so much that she herself had hardly noticed it. She looked closely at Regina. De-glamoured, the other woman looked far better than she had before Zelena’s capture—a month of sleeping soundly through the night will work wonders—but faint shadows still persisted beneath her eyes and deep wrinkles creased the skin of her forehead and around her mouth. 

“Yes,” said Oisín, in a voice gentle with empathy and redolent with music, the flat vowels and clipped delivery of his alter ego nowhere to be heard. “You have suffered greatly at your sister’s hand.” He laid his own hand on Regina’s shoulder and the tension seemed to ease from her, the wrinkles on her face smoothing nearly away. “Some of these effects are permanent, beyond even my power to repair, but you needn’t let them trouble you. Your love does not see them. He sees you.” 

Regina drew in a sharp breath as something soft and yearning flared in her eyes. “He does?” she whispered. 

“He does. Now, will you sit?”

She did, settling herself into one of the armchairs with regal grace. Emma followed, taking the second chair somewhat less gracefully, and Oisín took the remaining one, last and most gracefully of all. 

“We—” Emma began, but Regina interrupted her. 

“May I ask you a question,” she said to Oisín. 

“You may ask me anything you like and I will reply truthfully,” he replied. “Provided that I know the answer.” 

“You’ll know this one,” said Regina. 

“Then ask it.” 

“What is your debt to Hook?” Regina gave Oisín a hard look. “The one that’s apparently your motivation for helping us.” 

Oisín smiled. “Is your trust so fragile, then?” he asked.  

“I simply wish to know what I’m dealing with,” she replied coolly. 

“Very wise.” Oisín nodded in approval. “If all mortals displayed your caution my kind would be quite out of business. The debt is for a great service Hook once did me, long ago.”  

“Oh? And what service was that?” 

“He saved my beloved from a dreadful fate,” said Oisín, solemnly. “That my Niamh survives today is due solely to the bravery of Killian Jones. In recompense for which I agreed to bring him safely out of Neverland, with no obligation to Pan or any other creature who inhabited that place.” 

“But you didn’t do that,” said Regina, comprehension lighting her eyes. “You left him there.” 

“I did. To my great shame I betrayed my friend and my honour, and yet I cannot regret the choice. I acted as I had to act, and by doing so I added considerably to the weight of my debt. Despite this, I now believe my obligation to Hook is very nearly fulfilled.” He smiled at Emma. “Ensuring him a future with his love, as he did for me and mine, seems a fair payment, wouldn’t you agree?” 

“I would,” said Emma. 

“And does that ease your mind, Ms Mills?” 

“It does.” 

“I am pleased to hear it.”

“But that’s not the reason we’re here,” said Emma. “Your debt to Killian, I mean.” 

“No indeed,” Oisín replied, leaning back in his chair, quite at his ease. “You came to inquire about the subtle knife.” 

-

 

Chapter Text

Henry’s third stop on his busy Saturday was the pawn shop. It was just as he remembered it, or at least as much as anything in this Bizarro World version of Storybrooke could be as he remembered. The sign above the door still read ‘Mr Gold’, and inside the shop itself was still cluttered with wondrous and mysterious things. It had been dusty and dank and somewhat grim when Henry first returned to it three weeks earlier but now was much cleaner and better organised, brighter, and welcoming in a way that it certainly had never been before. 

The front door was unlocked and Henry went right in. “Hi Mr Cassidy!” he called out as he closed it behind him. 

“Hey, Henry,” came his father’s voice from the back. “Be right there.” 

“Okay!” Henry looked around as he waited, peering curiously into the display cases and trying not to think too hard about where everything in them had come from. Despite all the improvements, the fact that the pawn shop was stocked with stolen things was still pretty creepy in his opinion. He hoped that after the curse broke Neal would give them back to their rightful owners and not hoard them for his own gain the way Mr Gold had. 

Henry hoped for a lot of things from Neal after the curse broke.

It worried him a bit, if he was honest, wondering what was going to happen to them—to all of them, really—after the curse. He and Neal had spent so little actual time together that Henry wasn’t sure how much of his image of his father was real and how much was wishful thinking. Killian had told him loads of stories of “Bae” as a boy, and Emma, once they got their memories back in New York, had finally told him the truth about the watches and giving birth to him in jail. But they seemed like such different people, Killian’s Bae and Emma’s Neal, and both were so different from Henry’s impressions of the man he’d met that he felt more confused than ever. At this point he wasn’t even quite sure what he wanted from the man or even what kind of man he hoped Neal would turn out to be. He only knew that he couldn’t turn his back on his own father, not even when that father had abandoned his mother and by extension him. 

(“That’s not entirely fair, lad,” Killian had said a few weeks earlier when they were having lunch together, just the two of them. “He didn’t know you existed. Perhaps if he had, he’d have made a different choice.” 

“Maybe,” Henry replied. “But he still left my mom in jail.” 

“Aye,” Killian agreed. “So he did, and I also find that difficult to forgive. I’m certain he regrets it, though.” 

Henry thought for a moment. “I’m not sure it matters that he regrets it,” he said. “Not if he doesn’t admit it was wrong and try to make up for it. Mom says he never even told her he was sorry.” He looked up at Killian. “Do you think he ever will?” 

Killian took his time answering. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I don’t know if he will ever understand just how deeply he hurt your mother. Truthfully, I feel I know the man far less than I did the boy. I’d like to believe that Bae is still in there somewhere, but Neal unfortunately seems to be a bit too much like his father.”

“Yeah,” said Henry. “But even Rumplestiltskin did the right thing in the end. He sacrificed himself to save us from Pan. Maybe my father will do the right thing too.” 

“Who’s to say but that he will,” replied Killian. 

Henry thought a bit more, then said firmly, “I’m gonna give him the chance to try.” 

Killian smiled at him, the proud smile that always made Henry feel warm inside. “I think that’s the right decision,” he said. “Everyone deserves a second chance.”)

The curtain separating the front of the shop from the back shifted, and Neal appeared. He smiled at Henry. “Hey, kid, what’s up?” 

“Nothing special. I was just wondering how things are going here?” 

“Good, yeah, good.” Neal smile turned a bit awkward and he ran a hand through his hair. “It’s a learning curve, not gonna lie. But I’m getting the hang of it. Think I’ll be able to open next week.” 

“That’s great!” 

“Yeah. Hope so. Your dad’s been a lot of help, showing me the ropes of how to run a business. Tell him thanks from me, will you?” 

“Sure. Or you could come to dinner with us tonight and do it yourself.” 

“Dinner? What, like, at your house?” 

“Yep! My dad said it was okay if I asked you. He’s making burgers and he always makes too many, and we just thought you might like some company.” 

“Oh.” Neal blinked in confusion, a look Henry had come to realise meant he was thinking about something that would never have occurred to his cursed self on its own. “Um… sure, okay. Thanks.” 

“Cool! It’s above the bookstore. You know where that is, right?” 

“Yeah.” 

“So just ring the bell and we’ll come downstairs to get you. About seven?” 

Neal grinned. “I’ll be there. Thanks, Henry.” He shook his head and his grin shifted into an odd little smile, wistful and slightly sad. 

“What’s wrong?” asked Henry. 

“Oh, nothing, nothing’s wrong. I was just thinking. About how much has changed these last few weeks.” He leaned back against the register, crossing his arms over his chest. “I mean, it’s weird, right, the way those old records just showed up one day in the mayor’s office?”

“Yeah. Very weird.” Henry struggled to keep his face blank.

“I didn’t even know my father owned a pawn shop.” Neal frowned. “I don’t remember much about my father, actually.”  

“That’s probably why you didn’t know,” said Henry. 

“Yeah, probably. Anyway, it’s changed my life, you know. I never wanted to be a janitor, but—” he shrugged “—there wasn’t really anything else I could do. Now I can do this. Some kind of luck, huh?” 

“Oh yeah,” said Henry. “Luck.” And his mom’s magical forgery skills that were second to none. “I’m really glad, Mr Cassidy. I hope you’ll like working here.” 

“Yeah, thanks. I really think I will,” said Neal.

~

“You came to inquire about the subtle knife.” Oisín smiled, leaning back in his chair. “May I see it?” 

Emma huffed in annoyance, reminding herself that he was their best chance to find answers despite his supercilious nature and the supremely irritating way he always knew about things before they happened. She opened Killian’s satchel and took the knife from it.   

Oisín’s face was calm as she carefully removed the knife from the plastic evidence bag where she had kept it wrapped since she’d taken it from the loft, but there was a glint in his eyes that Emma recognised, having seen it in Killian’s on more than one occasion. It was the look of a man about to get his hands on a treasure he never imagined he’d have the chance to touch. She held the knife out to him and he took it almost reverently. 

“It’s extraordinary,” he breathed, letting his fingertips trail along the blade, and Emma couldn’t suppress an eye roll. What was it with men and weapons, she thought. Even the supposedly wise immortal ones were hard for them. 

“What can you tell me about it?” she asked. 

The look he gave her was nearly as sharp as the knife itself. “What do you already know?” 

“Not much. There’s mention of it in a book Henry found, but that was the only reference any of us could uncover. The book said that it was the sharpest blade in existence, and could cut through the fabric of reality, whatever that means.” 

“That is correct,” said Oisín. “The blade of Æsahættr is two-sided, as you can see.” He held the knife up to the the shop’s dusty window, catching the faint light with its two-toned blade. “It was forged of two different metals. This side—” he indicated the shiny edge “—can cut through any substance in any realm, while this one... can cut through the barriers between the realms themselves.” 

“So you’re saying that someone could use this knife to—to cut a portal between two realms?” asked Regina.

“Indeed.” 

Regina and Emma exchanged a look. “So that’s how she did it.” Regina sounded almost awestruck. “That’s how she made the portals.” She shook her head. “That’s—well, it’s terrifying magic.” 

“Terrifying indeed,” said Oisín. “And also extraordinarily dangerous. The energy that divides the realms is dangerously unstable, as well as being very powerful and difficult to breach. Cutting permanent portals into it brings vastly unpleasant consequences. I’d advise you not to attempt it, if there is any other method of realm travel at your disposal.” 

“We don’t need realm travel,” said Emma, just as Regina exclaimed “Permanent portals?”

“Yes, permanent,” Oisín replied. “It is possible to close them but doing so requires a delicacy of touch and a close relationship with the subtle knife, neither of which I believe your sister is capable.”

“That’s probably true,” said Regina, just as Emma exclaimed “A relationship with the knife?”

“Oh yes,” said Oisín, returning his attention to Emma, mirth twinkling in his emerald eyes. “The subtle knife always has a bearer, and though I cannot See who that bearer is, I am certain it is not Zelena.”

“She probably stole it,” said Regina. 

“That seems likely to be the case. And also likely that she forced the bearer to cut the portals.” 

Emma was frowning hard. “So how would someone go about becoming a—a bearer of this knife?” she asked. 

Oisín smiled, the smile of a man who has lived long and seen much, most of it unpleasant. “In the time-honoured way of passing a magical weapon from one hand to another,” he said. “By killing the previous bearer.” 

“Hmmm.” Emma’s frown deepened. “And is there any way of identifying the bearer?” 

“Perhaps, though it is difficult to be certain. The lore of Æsahættr is vague at best; in most realms it is entirely unknown and in others spoken of only in hushed whispers. Even I had believed it a myth, until I perceived its presence in this land. All I can tell you is that in some of the whispers there is mention of the bearer suffering injury to his left hand in the process of obtaining the knife. The loss of fingers, I believe.”

“Hmmm,” said Emma again. “Okay. Just one more question. You said that this side—” she pointed at the shiny edge”—can cut through any substance in any realm?” 

“Yes.” 

“What about magic?” 

“Oisín’s eyes glinted again. “In theory, yes. But I rather suspect you knew this already.”

Emma nodded, slowly. “I saw it,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “But I wasn’t sure I could believe what I saw. I was fighting Zelena, I had her trapped within a containment spell… and Henry just—he just—cut the spell open. He sliced right through my magic.” 

Regina drew in her breath sharply. “He did?” 

“Yes didn’t you—oh, I suppose you couldn’t see the light magic?” 

“Not as clearly as you, no. But could Henry?”

“I imagine that young Henry perceived the magic more than strictly saw it,” remarked Oisín. “Perception, not sight, is what guides the subtle knife; the barriers between worlds are invisible to all eyes. That which one can perceive, however, one can cut.” 

~

Henry’s fourth stop of the day was Granny’s, just in time for lunch. The diner was busy as always, bustling with people and noise, and when the crowd parted and Henry caught a glimpse of his grandparents tucked away in a corner booth staring at each other with the same dopey looks on their faces that he saw all the time on his mom and dad, he couldn’t hold back a gleeful grin. 

“Hey, Archie,” he said, sliding onto a stool next to the erstwhile psychiatrist, who looked tired and hopeless and and very wrong dressed as a miner, with grime beneath his fingernails and settled deeply into the lines on his face. His wire-rimmed glasses had been replaced by safety goggles and his hair looked thinner. Nevertheless he greeted Henry with a warm smile. 

“Hello, Henry,” he said. “How are you?” 

“Good! Can I ask you something? 

“Of course.” 

“Have you ever considered getting a dog?” 

When Henry first began his quest to return love to the people of Storybrooke he had opted for little suggestions, gentle hints designed to nudge them in the right direction. It hadn’t taken him long to realise that with this curse subtlety was futile, and that they responded to nothing but what his dad called “sledgehammer tactics.” Hey, Belle, have this book. Here, Neal, take this pawnshop. So, Archie, how’d you like a dog? The direct approach was the only one that worked. 

“A dog?” Archie replied. “No, I can’t say that I have.”

“Really? Because I think you’d be great as a dog dad.” 

“A dog dad…” Archie’s voice trailed off and a dreamy look settled in his eyes. “I’ve never thought of getting a dog.” He frowned in confusion. “That is, I don’t think I have. But actually… yes. A dog. Yes. That might be just the thing.” 

“Uh huh,” said Henry, who was keen to waste no time. “I saw one today I think you would love. A Dalmatian.” 

“Really?” 

“Yep. At the animal shelter. He just got there today.”

“A Dalmatian,” said Archie. “That’s the black and white spotted ones, right?” 

“Yep. I petted him, he’s really friendly. And he really needs a home.” 

Archie looked uncertain. “I don’t know if I could take care of a dog, Henry. I work long hours, you know.”

Yeah but you won’t for much longer, Henry thought. Not if I have anything to say about it.

“Just go meet him,” he wheedled. “I’ll come with you if you like.” 

Archie warred with himself for another moment then nodded. “All right. I’ll meet him.” 

~

It was barely a quarter past two when Belle arrived at the bookshop. Killian was busy helping customers and didn’t see her right away. It still surprised him how much business the shop drew in, considering the place only existed to give him a respectable and non-suspicion-raising occupation and a reason to move to Storybrooke, and also as a means of getting books of magic to a place where Emma could have access to them, both to help her rediscover her own magic and to give them all the information they would need to take on Zelena. It had certainly fulfilled all those roles, admirably, but now that the curse was near to breaking Killian had begun to think ahead. He would need something to occupy his days, and what with his ship and his crew most likely stranded in Neverland with Blackbeard as their captain, a return to piracy or even a more respectable ship-based occupation was firmly off the table. His only real option was to keep the bookshop.

The more that he thought about it the more appealing the idea grew. He truly loved his little shop, the light and airy space all his own that he had organised and furnished to suit his tastes. He loved his books, the way they smelled and how they looked lined up neatly on his shelves. He loved matching those books to the people who sought them, loved both the pleased looks on his customers’ faces and the satisfaction of closing a sale. He loved the mental exercise of keeping his accounts and tracking his inventory, of looking through catalogs and choosing new books to purchase. Books that of course he would need to read himself in order to make recommendations to his customers. That prospect in particular he loved. Killian still found this realm frustrating and baffling in many ways but one thing that could be chalked up firmly in its favour was that it possessed a true wealth of reading material. He calculated he would need to live at least another three hundred years just to get through it all.

He began to think about expansion, about new genres he could introduce, popular titles that would attract new customers. Soon plans and ideas that started small had grown and grown until they were lodged firmly in his mind, refusing to be ignored or brushed aside. He wanted to do this, he realised, wanted it quite intensely, and for the first time in his very long life he had the luxury of choosing to do precisely what he wanted. Which was a surprisingly terrifying prospect but also a very welcome one. 

Killian completed his sale then turned to greet the new customer with a smile that froze on his face when he recognised Belle. Though Henry had texted him to expect her visit he instinctively braced himself for her anger, her disgust, before he recalled that she was cursed and didn’t remember him. 

“Hello,” he said, forcing himself to relax. “Is there anything I can help you with?” 

“Are you Killian Jones?” 

“Aye.” 

“My—my name is Belle. Belle French. I, uh, know your son.” 

“Ah, yes. I believe he mentioned you. He recommended a book to you?” 

“Yes.” Belle’s face lit up. “A wonderful one. And he said, um, that you might be looking for an assistant? Here?”

Bloody Henry, thought Killian, with a mixture of exasperation and fondness. You drop one mention that you’re thinking of expanding and he runs with it. Still, he couldn’t deny that the quickest way to nurture Belle’s love of books would be to surround her with them. The lad was undeniably clever. 

“I’m thinking about it,” he said. “Are you interested in the job?” 

“Y—” Belle took a deep breath. “Yes. I am.” 

“Well, why don’t you sit down and we’ll have a chat about it,” said Killian, gesturing to the sofa at the back of the shop. “Would you like a drink? Coffee? Tea?” 

“Tea would be lovely.” 

What the hell, thought Killian, as he went to make the tea, why not? When the curse broke she would doubtless be angry and scared of him again—and who could blame her?—but then he knew he’d be dealing with rather a lot of that once Storybrooke regained its memories. He might as well take what steps he could towards demonstrating how he had changed and hope that would be enough to convince people to give him a second chance. 

~

“Perception,” echoed Emma. “Right. Okay. I think that’s all we needed to ask.” She turned to Regina. “Unless you have any other questions?” 

“No.” Regina shook her head. “This has been very informative.” 

Emma held out her hand for the knife and Oisín, after one last long look and a subtle caress, relinquished it. Carefully, Emma replaced it in the reinforced evidence bag and tucked it back into the satchel. She leaned the satchel against the leg of her chair and turned back to Oisín with an expression both resigned and expectant. 

“What?” he asked. 

“We’ve learned what I came here to learn,” she replied. “So we’ll be going now. We need to get back to Storybrooke before it gets too late.” 

“Indeed. It was lovely seeing you, even for a short time.” 

Emma frowned. “Is that it?” 

“Were you expecting more?”

“Well, I mean, aren’t you going to give me some cryptically wise parting words?” asked Emma. “You usually do.” 

“Not today,” said Oisín, amusement dancing in his eyes again. “I believe you know everything you need, and also that you understand the import of what you know.” 

“Well that makes a change.” 

He laughed, a light, musical sound that rang out far more loudly than it ought to in the small space of the shop. “You know, Emma, I’m very proud of you,” he said. “You were hardly the easiest pupil I have ever taught, but you are by far the most accomplished. And I don’t just mean your power, that you were born with. I mean your attitude and your approach to your magic. How you have let go of your fear and resentment of it. How you’ve embraced it. I believe that had you not, even Hook’s most determined efforts to restore it to you could not have been successful.” 

Emma flushed, still not wholly comfortable with praise, and gave a little shrug. “It’s all down to him anyway,” she said. “He always says that magic is a part of me and that he—” she grew pinker and glanced at Regina out of the corner of her eye “—he loves every part of me.” 

Regina did not sneer. Instead she flushed slightly herself and smiled a small smile, as if remembering. 

Oisín nodded in satisfaction. “It’s as I hoped then.” He leaned back in his chair again, his expression soft and almost wistful. “I used to weep at the waste of that man,” he said. “You must never tell him that I told you this. I wept in mourning for the loss of what he could have been, for the good man so deeply buried beneath anger and vengeance that I feared he would never be seen in more than glimpses. That he would destroy himself without ever knowing who he truly was, or could be. Until you, Emma, gave him a reason to know it. You saved him.” 

“He saved me too,” said Emma, thinking of how closed off she had been before she met Killian. How lonely. How lost. “We saved each other.”

“Yes,” Oisín agreed. “That was the first part of your story. A part I believe is now approaching its end. There are far more parts to come. Enjoy them all, together.” 

He stood and waited as Emma and Regina followed suit, then held out his hand. When Emma took it as if to shake, he grasped hers between both of his and held it tightly. 

“What will you do now?” Emma asked him. “I—I don’t think Killian and I will be coming back here. Once we break the curse... well, all my family is in Storybrooke and he really loves that bookstore. I’m pretty sure we’ll be staying there. Are you going to stay here?” 

“No,” Oisín replied, “I’m no longer needed in this place. I shall return to my home, and my Niamh. But you know how to find me, should you ever have need of me again. Or simply wish to say hello.” 

“We might actually do that,” said Emma, smiling. “Thank you.” 

Oisín returned the smile, squeezing Emma’s hand. “It’s been an honour, Emma Swan, now Jones,” he said. “Give my regards to your husband and son. And to the rest of your family—” his eyes flitted to her belly, so briefly she nearly missed it. “—when they arrive.” 

~

Belle left the bookstore an hour later with a new job and a bag full of books, most from Killian’s own personal collection. 

“I’m working on diversifying the inventory,” he’d explained. “And your input on the best ways to do that would be greatly appreciated. At the moment we don’t stock very much light, entertaining reading material. However I believe I have one or two things of my own you would enjoy.” He piled book after book into one of the cloth bags printed with the Jolly Roger Books logo and handed it to Belle with a grin. “I look forward to hearing what you think of them.” 

She felt happier than she could remember feeling, all but dancing along the sidewalk in her eagerness to get home and start reading, absolutely ecstatic at the prospect of quitting her job at the market and going every day to that beautiful shop full of books and light and Killian’s friendly smile and interesting conversation. Even the odd hints of regret that she could see lurking behind his eyes felt relatable, and though she’d only spent an hour in his company she felt almost like he was a friend already. 

Books and a friend, thought Belle, with a flash of insight and a sudden clarity that swept away the apathy and confusion that had clouded her mind for as long as she could remember. She stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk as a feeling of revelation washed over her. That’s what had been missing in her life, the cause of the emptiness she constantly felt but never could quite manage to explain. All this time she’d thought something was broken in her, when really she’d just needed books. And a friend.   

~

Henry met Archie outside the animal shelter late that afternoon. Archie smiled his familiar, warm smile but Henry could see he was nervous. 

“Henry, I know I agreed to this but I’m not so sure it’s really—” he began. 

“Just meet the dog,” Henry interrupted. “It won’t hurt to meet him.” 

He pushed open the door and held it, looking back expectantly. “Come on,” he encouraged, and slowly Archie followed.  

“Back again, Henry?” David smiled at them.

“Yep! Mr Nolan, this is Archie,” said Henry. “He’s the one I told you about, who might adopt the new dog.”

“Might,” emphasised Archie with a nervous smile. 

“No problem,” said David. “We only allow adoptions when we think it’s a good match, for the animal and the human.” Archie nodded, and the tension in his shoulders relaxed. “Henry, why don’t you take him back to meet the dog?” David asked. 

Henry had to force himself not to run. He hurried to Pongo’s cage where the dog seemed to be waiting, wagging his tail. “Here he is,” said Henry eagerly. “Isn’t he great?” 

Archie approached the cage slowly, his eyes going wide behind his safety goggles. “He’s—he’s gorgeous,” he whispered.  

“At the sound of Archie’s voice Pongo gave a small bark and his tail picked up speed, moving so fast it was a blur. He poked his nose through the bars of the cage and whined at Archie. 

“Look!” cried Henry. “He likes you already.” 

“Ohhh,” said Archie, moving towards the cage, hand extended. “Hello, boy.” 

Pongo licked his hand, and when Archie knelt down, his face, covering it in sloppy, loving kisses. Archie laughed, his face lit up with joy. 

“Well he certainly seems to have chosen you,” said David’s voice from behind them. 

“He definitely has,” Henry agreed. “You’ve got to adopt him, Archie.” 

“I don’t—I’m not—I can’t—” Archie looked helplessly at Pongo’s pleading eyes and sighed. “I will,” he said. He looked up at David. “If it’s okay—” 

“Of course,” said David. “There’s some paperwork to do, but after seeing you together I’m more than happy to sign off on the adoption. Congratulations.”

Archie nodded, still looking a bit shell-shocked. 

“I’ll go get everything prepared, you come to the front when you’re ready,” said David, He took out a key and unlocked Pongo’s cage. The minute the door opened, the dog leapt on Archie, squirming delightedly. 

“What are you going to name him?” asked Henry. 

“You know, I have no idea,” said Archie. “I never actually expected this to happen. Have you got any suggestions?” 

“How about Pongo?” Henry suggested. 

“Pongo,” Archie repeated, and the dog barked happily. Archie smiled. “Is your name Pongo?” 

“Woof!” said Pongo. 

“Well, that seems definitive.” Archie laughed. “Pongo it is, then.”

He stood, his hand still on Pongo’s head. “Thank you, Henry,” he said. “I had no idea I needed a dog, but I think...” he frowned and shook his head, blinking rapidly. “Somehow, I think he’s just what I was missing.”  

“No problem,” said Henry, mentally ticking another name off his list. “I knew you guys would love each other.”

~

Emma poofed herself and Regina straight from Queens to Killian’s apartment. Transporting the both of them over such a distance and then back again had exhausted a great deal of her magic, and if she went to the station first she doubted she’d have enough left to poof from there to home. And as she and Killian were still cautious about being seen together in public, she didn’t want to walk to his place or drive. It wasn’t worth the risk of anyone observing her going into the bookstore after it was closed, or spotting her bug parked in front of it. 

Henry and Killian were already there when the white smoke swirled up from the ground and they appeared. Emma went straight to her husband, knowing he would be worried about her, and allowed him to run his hands over her and look probingly into her eyes, assuring himself that she was okay in both mind and body. Regina gave a hug to Henry and a nod to Killian, then left to get ready for her date. 

“Regina and Robin Hood,” said Emma, snuggling into Killian’s side and relaxing against him. “I still can’t quite believe it.” 

“It’s so cool,” said Henry. 

“Yeah, I guess it is.” Emma smiled, thinking about the new softness she’d witnessed in Regina that afternoon. “So how was your day, kid?” 

“Good!” Henry’s face lit up. “I did so much! I found Pongo and got Archie to adopt him, and Dad’s gonna give Belle a job, and I invited my father for dinner.” 

“Your fa—Neal? For dinner?” Henry nodded. “What, here?

“Aye,” said Killian, running his hand soothingly up and down her arm. “It was Henry’s idea but I agreed. We thought it might be nice to include him in a family meal, even if he doesn’t know that’s what it is.” 

“He’s really lonely, Mom,” Henry chimed in. “Everyone in town is, but him especially. I think the love he needs might have to come from us.” 

“But… then why did we give him the pawn shop?” 

“To get the pawn shop open again, mostly,” said Killian. “And to give us an excuse to meet him. But we didn’t really expect him to discover any love there. Remember, Swan, that Bae was abandoned by his mother and ran away from his father. He found a home briefly with the Darling children but that was taken from him, and I’m sad to say that during his time in Neverland he didn’t really become close to any of the Lost Boys. Henry thinks and I agree, that what Neal really needs, what perhaps he’s always needed, is a family.” 

Emma nodded. “I can see that, I guess. But how are you going to explain me being here with you guys? Won’t he think that’s weird?” 

“So we just don’t explain it,” said Henry. “The curse has kept him really isolated. I don’t think he knows you’re supposed to be married to Walsh. He doesn’t seem to know very much about what’s been going on in town, and almost nothing about his father.”

“Huh,” said Emma. “I guess that makes sense. It was the same with Regina. She was really isolated working for my parents.” 

“Aye. Allow people to interact and you risk them forming attachments,” Killian agreed. “I imagine that any kind of genuine connection between people would have threatened the integrity of the curse.” 

“Well, okay,” said Emma. “That sounds like a solid plan, and I’m on board. But I need a serious nap before I deal with Neal or anyone else. I’ve used so much magic today. When’s he supposed to get here?” 

“Not for a few hours yet,” said Killian, kissing her hair. “Go have your nap, love. We’ll be sure to wake you in time.” 

Henry watched as his parents cuddled for a moment then shared a soft kiss, watched his mom head off to their bedroom and watched his dad watching her go. He thought about his grandparents making doey eyes at each other that afternoon at Granny’s, and about Archie and Pongo’s joyful reunion. He thought about his mom so excited about her date with Robin, and about Belle discovering books and his father coming to have dinner with them. He smiled to himself. A day like this one was just about worth getting up early for. 

-

Chapter Text

All her life Emma had loved to sleep, but she wasn’t the biggest fan of naps. Sleep, to her, involved putting on comfy, loose clothing, making the room as dark as possible, burrowing into her pillows and blankets and letting oblivion wrap her in its soothing embrace for at least eight hours, preferably more. Obviously, those perfect conditions didn’t happen often, but still a girl could dream. 

Naps, she felt, were like fast food sleep. They met her most immediate needs but left her feeling heavy and groggy and a bit gross. Exactly the way she was feeling now. She peeled one sticky eyelid open and groped for her phone, groaning when she saw the time. Ten past six. She’d slept for over two hours, and Neal would be here in less than one. Rubbing her eyes with the heels of her hands, she tried to force her foggy mind to focus. 

A burst of triumphant laughter sounded from the living room, followed by a dramatic groan. 

“Right, you’ll pay for that,” snarled Killian’s voice. 

“Oh yeah?” Henry crowed in reply, “Who’s gonna make me?” 

Emma heaved herself up out of bed and went to the curtain that separated her and Killian’s bedroom area from the main part of the apartment. She peeked around it and grinned at the sight that met her eye. Henry and Killian were on the sofa, controllers in hand, playing what was apparently a very hotly contested game of Battlefront II. 

She thought back to when Killian had first begun attempting to play video games with Henry in New York, hampered by his missing hand and his general bafflement as to why anyone would want to sit for hours in front of a flickering screen, shooting imaginary bolts of light at each other. He seemed to have gotten over that in the past year, she thought, and now with his modern prosthetic he was able to manage the controller and navigate the game deftly enough that Emma had a sneaking suspicion he might be letting Henry win. 

Although, she thought, as Henry racked up another kill, pumping his fist as his character respawned into Han Solo and Killian’s eyebrows snapped together indignantly, maybe not.

She pushed aside the curtain and went to sit on the arm of the sofa next to Killian, who flashed her a brief smile before returning his attention to evading Henry’s digital assault on him. 

“Hey, guys,” she said, unable to resist letting her fingers sift through Killian’s hair. She still found it difficult to go too long without touching him. “Who’s winning?” 

“The lad has a temporary advantage,” Killian replied grudgingly. 

“Temporary my ass.” 

“Language,” Killian rebuked, and Henry snorted. 

“That’s rich coming from Mister oh bloody hell,” he retorted. 

“Perhaps, but when you swear in front of your mothers I get the blame.” 

Emma chuckled and Killian paused the game, looking up at her with the soft, adoring smile that never failed to make her weak. “How are you feeling, love?” he asked. “Rested?” 

“Yeah, I guess.” She shrugged. “Kinda groggy. Do you think I have time for a shower before Neal gets here?” 

“Aye, a quick one.”

“And you don’t need me to help with anything?” Emma looked around the apartment. It was as neat and tidy as ever, the way Killian always kept things.  

“No, everything’s prepared for dinner, it just needs cooking. Go have your shower, then Henry and I should probably freshen up too.” 

“What? I’m fresh!” 

“Your mouth is, perhaps,” said Killian, quick as a flash. “But as this is meant to be a nice meal, please indulge me by putting on a shirt that isn’t covered in dog hair.” 

“Ugh, fine.” Henry rolled his eyes but couldn’t suppress a grin. Neither could Emma.

“What about that nice grey one I got you?” she suggested. 

Mom, I outgrew that like six months ago.” 

“Oh.” The little flare of loss and regret was familiar now, but no less sharp. “Okay.” 

Killian squeezed her knee sympathetically. “It has been replaced by another nice grey one, however,” he said. “Which I happen to know is clean and ironed and hanging in your room. Wear that.” 

“Fine,” sighed Henry. “Can I finish kicking your arse at Battlefront first, though?” 

“You can try,” said Killian.

~

They were making dinner together. 

Mary Margaret knew it was happening, she was here, she was experiencing it. She could smell the rich aroma and hear the sizzle of frying onions, could hear the rhythmic sound of knives on a chopping board as she and David sliced mushrooms and minced carrots. Hell, she was the one doing the mincing. But she still couldn’t quite believe it. 

It had been David’s idea. When they finished their lunch at Granny’s that afternoon he’d walked with her back to her office, as slowly as they could get away with, then lingered even longer by the door. 

“This was fun,” he said. “I had fun. Did you?” 

The thread of uncertainty in the question squeezed Mary Margaret’s heart and set her mind racing. What if—she could barely entertain the thought—what if David felt as she did? What if he wanted the same things? What if he was just as unsure of her as she was of him? 

What if—this was the scariest what if of all—what if she actually told him what she wanted? That’t she’d like to give their marriage a real shot?  

What would happen then? 

“I did,” she replied, slightly breathlessly. “A lot of fun.” 

David’s smile widened. “We should do it again.” 

“We should,” she agreed, as her heart raced faster.  

“Like tonight.” 

“Tonight?” 

“Yeah.” David nodded eagerly. “Let’s eat together tonight. Let’s make dinner.” 

“Make dinner? I can’t cook!” 

“Me neither. It’ll be fun. Half raw and half burnt maybe, but, you know—” his eyes seemed to bore into her “—ours.” 

“Ours,” she repeated, wishing she could draw some air into her lungs. “Okay.” 

“Okay?” he echoed. 

She nodded. “Okay.” 

“Okay.” His smile was so soft, his eyes warm. “I’ll get some stuff. Ingredients and things, and I’ll—see you at home.” 

Home, thought Mary Margaret, letting her eyes caress his ass as he headed back down the street, then jerking them away when she realised what she was doing. Maybe they could actually have one. 

And so now here they were, standing next to each other in their kitchen, chopping vegetables and browning meat in an attempt to make spaghetti. 

“Shouldn’t be too hard, right?” said David, opening an old cookbook he’d unearthed from the back of a cupboard. “We just follow the instructions.” 

So they browned their meat and added their veggies and a can of tomatoes, several pinches of herbs and a generous glug of wine. The aromas were amazing and the kitchen warm and steamy and Mary Margaret took off her cardigan, draping it over a chair, and when she turned back David was watching her, his gaze hot and almost tangible on her bare arms. She caught her breath and he seemed to catch himself, his eyes flying to hers, their gazes catching and holding, lingering as they began to move towards each other, slowly as if in a dream, drawn by the tug of attraction they could no longer ignore. David’s fingers gently traced her cheek and hers gripped his shoulders, and when their lips touched—so softly at first then harder, growing desperate—it felt right and natural and like coming home, and also sent the sharpest spike of lust through Mary Margaret’s belly that she could ever remember feeling. 

She couldn’t remember it, yet it was so familiar. This was familiar. David’s lips on hers, the silky slide of his hair between her fingers, the breadth of his shoulders, the firm comfort of his arms around her making her feel safe and  treasured. Loved. 

Then his hands slid over her hips to cup her ass and all she could feel was the frantic certainty that if she didn’t get him naked, right now, she would die. She sank her nails into his shoulders and rolled her hips against his, swallowing his moan and adding her own as he hoisted her up and she wrapped her legs around his waist and then—

“Wait—wait,” Mary Margaret gasped, tearing her mouth from his. She was still a sensible woman, no matter how lust-drenched she felt, and just enough of that sense remained to remind her not to burn the kitchen down. She leaned over and turned off the burner beneath the bubbling spaghetti sauce, then wrapped her arms tightly around David’s shoulders and kissed him fiercely, telling him with her lips what she couldn’t put into words. What she felt for him, and everything she hoped that they could be.  

When they broke apart he stared at her like he was seeing her for the first time, like she was his sun and moon and stars and everything in between. 

“Mary Margaret,” he breathed. “I want—” 

“Me too,” she gasped against his mouth. “Me too. Let’s—upstairs?” 

The icy blue of his eyes had never been so hot. “Fuck yes,” he said. 

~

That evening Archie returned to the small, draughty room he rented in the boarding house where most of the mine workers lived. His body felt as exhausted as it always did after a double shift, his mind as fallow. He collapsed onto the small sofa that doubled as his bed with a sigh and let his head fall into his hands and his eyes fall shut. 

The cushion beside him shifted and sagged as Pongo leapt onto it, his tail swishing across the threadbare cover. Archie looked down at the dog with a faint smile that grew wider as Pongo covered his chin with sloppy kisses then settled down to rest his head in Archie’s lap, gazing up at him with warm brown eyes full of trust. Trust, and love. Archie’s heart swelled in his chest and the worst of his exhaustion seemed to lift, lightened as all burdens are by the presence of a friend. Tears prickled behind his eyes as he stroked Pongo’s silky head. 

“Good boy, Pongo,” he said. “That’s my boy.” 

~

“Your love does not see them. He sees you.” 

Oisín’s words rang in Regina’s ears as she stood examining her reflection in the mirror in the loft’s small bathroom. Carefully she applied another coat of lipstick then brushed a tiny crumb of mascara from beneath her eye. She’d managed to resist the urge to put her glamour spell back on but not the one that had drawn her into the market on her way home from Emma and Killian’s to pick up a stash of land-without-magic cosmetics. It was all well and good to talk about trusting people with the truth of her appearance but did have standards, after all, and no intention of going on a date with nothing whatsoever on her face. 

She gave herself a final once-over just as a knock sounded at the door and took a deep breath to quell the butterflies in her belly. It didn’t work, not even a little, and they fluttered more frantically than ever as she went to open it. 

Robin—no, John, she reminded herself firmly—smiled when he saw her, a smile that had warmed and softened considerably over the past few weeks. 

You look lovely, Regina,” he said, producing a bouquet of wildflowers from behind his back and offering them to her, almost shyly. She caught her breath. He’d brought her flowers before, many times during their slow, cautious courtship, but always from the florist. Tasteful, professional arrangements that a banker would choose, nothing at all like this handful of blooms he’d clearly picked himself. 

“Where—where did you get these?” she asked, taking them from him and breathing deeply, barely stopping herself from burying her face in them. 

“Ah.” He looked a bit abashed. “From the woods. If you don’t like them—” He reached for the bouquet but she snatched it back, cradling it to her chest. 

“I love them,” she said. “They’re just… different from the ones you brought before.” 

“Indeed. It was the most peculiar thing,” he explained, stepping into the loft as she held the door for him and following her to the kitchen where she took out a vase and filled it with water. “Every morning I go for a run, as you know. Always around town, along the same route. But this morning—I don’t know what it was but I just felt the need to get out of civilisation, into nature.” He shook his head wryly. “I’d barely had that thought when I found myself jogging down the road that cuts through the forest on its way out of town. I was feeling brighter than I had in some time, lighter somehow, and then I noticed a footpath leading off the road and into the trees, and on a whim I followed it. It led through some dense trees and then opened into a little clearing with a tiny rock pool surrounded by the most stunning wildflowers.” He caught her eye and smiled. “They reminded me of you.” 

Regina flushed with pleasure at the casual sincerity of the compliment and returned her attention to her flowers, arranging them in the vase and admiring their colours in the fading glow of the evening light. 

“So I took note of the location and went back there just now to collect some for you,” he concluded. “Do you really like them?” 

“They’re beautiful,” she replied, looking up again to see he had moved closer to her—so close—close enough that she could feel his breath on her cheek and hear the hitch in it, see his pupils dilate as he too became aware of just how close they were. 

They’d seen each other nearly every day since she’d asked him to lunch, sharing coffee and meals and conversation but only rarely touching. Touches between them when they did occur were gentle, restrained. Cautious. 

(“Regina,” said Emma, coming up behind her as she stood by Granny’s outer gate, watching Robin return to work after their first lunch date. “I’m really glad you’re happy. But… don’t forget he’s cursed, okay?” 

“As if I could,” snapped Regina. “It’s kind of obvious in the way he doesn’t remember me.”

“That’s not really what I meant.” Emma shuffled her feet, her face the picture of both deep discomfort and grim determination. 

“Well what did you mean?” 

“Just that he—he doesn’t have control of himself. He can’t make decisions like he would if he weren’t cursed.” 

Regina frowned. “Are you saying that un-cursed he wouldn’t be interested in me? Because I can assure you—” 

“No! That’s not—look—” Emma crossed her arms over her chest, clutching her jacket sleeves so hard her nails left grooves in the red leather. “Don’t sleep with him, okay?” she burst out, flushing at Regina’s outraged glare but barreling on. “I know it’s none of my business and believe me, I really don’t want to be talking about it, but just—don’t. Cursed people can’t consent, and—” she took a deep breath “—I know that’s something my parents had to deal with after the first curse.” 

Regina scowled, trying unsuccessfully to ignore the twinge of guilt that needled at her. She’d cursed Snow and Charming to those lives with full intent to hurt them as much as she could, and while she wasn’t precisely sorry for it her own recent experiences had given her a new perspective on what she’d put them through. 

Things between her and Robin hadn’t exactly been friendly when the curse struck the Enchanted Forest, and while she’d had a whole year to think about that he had not. She’d spent those moments of the past year that weren’t consumed with her fear for Henry’s safety thinking about Robin and the way she’d treated him, wondering what might have happened if she’d been less scared, if she hadn’t let that fear make her so snappish and bitchy to him. Emma was right. Un-cursed, Robin might not wish for her to touch him. 

That thought hurt far worse than she’d expected.)

But she wasn’t thinking about that now, not with him so close and leaning closer… not when her heart was pounding and her breath short… not when his lips touched hers and she just… melted into the kiss. Melted into him, unable to think of anything now but how right this felt, how right they felt, and how profoundly she wished she hadn’t fought against it for so long. She felt consumed by him, by them and by this moment, and neither Emma’s words of caution nor her own regret, nor even the ominous shifting and creaking of the magic in the air around them could pull her attention away from it. 

~

When Belle arrived home she carefully removed the books Killian had lent her from their bag and placed them on the small table in her living room, taking a moment to let her fingertips trail over them, across the cloth bindings and the leather ones, tracing the titles and the authors’ names, and the illustrations on their covers. They all looked so fascinating she couldn’t wait to dive in and lose herself in the tales they carried within their bindings. And she knew exactly where she would begin. 

(“It’s an adventure tale,” Killian explained as he handed the book to her, his eyes twinkling at the way hers widened and her hands trembled with eagerness. “A heroic quest to rescue a prince and reunite true loves.” 

“Ohhh,” Belle breathed. “That sounds wonderful.” 

“I figured you might like it,” Killian’s grin was warm. “I can tell already that you have excellent taste.”)

Belle made herself tea in her favourite cup, the one she saved for the most special occasions, and carried it carefully to her sofa, curling her legs beneath her and tucking a fluffy blanket around them, and a plump pillow behind her back. She sipped the brew with a contented sigh, and then she opened her book. 

~

Neal Cassidy was no stranger to disappointment. It was always there, clinging to him like the smell of stale cigarette smoke he carried home with him each night from the Rabbit Hole, harsh and acrid and never wholly gone even when his clothes were freshly washed. The disappointment was the same, ever present, hovering in a cloud around his head, wherever he was, for as long as he could remember. 

He’d had dreams once. At least, he thought he had. He must have, everyone did. He’d had dreams and he’d had a family—or at least he’d had a father, though he could barely remember the man, no more than a hazy impression of a hunched form and a plaintive voice. 

I love you, son. 

But that was a long time ago, impossibly long it sometimes felt, lifetimes ago. He was alone now, and had been for—well, for as long as he could remember. He worked as a janitor because he could do no other job, he drank alone because that’s what everyone did in Storybrooke. Each night the Rabbit Hole was silent but for the blaring music that was always on its speakers, patrons scattered throughout the dingy room, staring into their drinks and pretending the rest were somewhere else. Possibly pretending they were. 

He worked as a janitor at the town hall, every day the same, sweeping and mopping and scrubbing, always under the sharp eyes of Mayor Green. Eyes that watched him more closely than a mayor really ought to watch a janitor, and with a smug, triumphant gleam that made him itchy and uncomfortable. 

And then one day Mayor Green was gone, replaced by Mary Margaret Nolan. Deputy Mayor Nolan with tentative determination in her eyes, who greeted him with a kind smile and didn’t watch him as he worked, and who one astounding day had called him into her office to inform him that he owned the pawn shop. 

(“It belonged to your father, apparently,” she said, “and he left it to you. I’m sorry I only found the records yesterday, they must have gotten lost. But the pawn shop is yours, and if you’d like to open it again, well, more business in town wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

“Um.” Neal’s head was spinning. He didn’t know the first thing about running a business. And yet… “Yeah, sure. I can try.” 

When he unlocked the pawn shop the next day it was dark and dusty, with that stale smell places get when they’ve gone too long without exposure to fresh air. Neal stood in the doorway feeling the full weight and scale of the task that lay before him and how very poorly equipped he was to tackle it. He was seriously considering locking the place back up and never thinking of it again when a voice spoke behind him. 

“Hi,” it said. “Are you gonna open this again?” 

Neal turned. He didn’t recognise the boy—not surprising as he didn’t recognise most people in town—but his bright, cheerful expression lightened Neal’s heart and gave it an odd twinge. 

“Uh, yeah,” he replied. “I’m gonna try. I guess.” 

“Cool!” exclaimed the boy. “Can I help?” 

Neal frowned. “Shouldn’t you be in school or something?” 

“It’s Saturday.” 

“Oh yeah.” Neal didn’t know much about kids but he was pretty sure this one was still a bit young to be going around talking to strangers. “Um, where are your parents?” he asked. 

“My dad’s at work,” the boy replied, like he was expecting just that question. “He owns a bookstore.” 

“He does?” 

“Yep. I helped him get it set up, so I know what needs to be done. I could help you too.” He shrugged. “You know, if you want.” 

Neal kind of did want. He wasn’t sure just how much help the kid could actually be, but just the idea of having someone around, of not having to do everything by himself, made the weight on his shoulders seem lighter. Still, a kid he didn’t know… “You sure your dad wouldn’t mind?” he hedged. 

“He won’t,” said the boy decisively. “But I can call him if you like, to be sure.” Again he sounded like he’d been expecting exactly this development. Neal’s frown deepened. He wondered if he was being played somehow, though he couldn’t imagine how or why. 

“Yeah, why don’t you do that,” he said. Let this play out, at least.  

The boy took out his phone and tapped on its screen, then held it to his ear. “Hey, Dad,” he said. “I’m at the pawn shop. Yep.” His eyes flitted to Neal’s face and then away. “There’s this guy who’s gonna get it open again and I offered to help him but he wanted to be sure it’s okay with you… uh huh… yeah… okay.” He looked up at Neal. “My dad wants to talk to you.” 

“Oh. Um, sure.” Neal took the phone from the boy. “Hello?”

“Hello,” said a voice, a deep, smooth, accented one that gave Neal another odd twinge, less pleasant than the one inspired by the boy. The voice was friendly, but it made Neal tense, his fingers flexing on the boy’s phone. “I hope my son isn’t troubling you,” it said. 

“No.” Neal had the oddest urge to contradict everything this voice said. “He’s not.” 

“Good. He sometimes lets his enthusiasm overwhelm his common sense. If he’s bothering you, feel free to send him away.” The voice was light and careless and Neal bristled at its lack of concern for the kid’s feelings. 

“He’s not bothering me.” Neal glanced at the boy, who was listening intently.“He offered to help, and actually I could probably use it.”

“Excellent.” There was a hint of amusement in the voice now that Neal found deeply objectionable. He scowled. “Well, let me know if he causes you any trouble,” the voice continued. 

“Sure thing,” said Neal shortly, and handed the phone back to the boy before he snapped and said something much longer. The boy took it back with a bright grin. “So I can stay?” he asked. He listened for a moment, then sighed and rolled his eyes. “Yes, I know. Okay. Okay, bye!” He ended the call and stuck the phone in his pocket. “I’m Henry,” he said, holding out his hand. “Henry Jones.” 

Neal took the hand, feeling that twinge again as the small fingers wrapped around his own. “Neal Cassidy.” 

“Nice to meet you, Mr Cassidy,” said Henry. “So, where do we start?”

Henry Jones turned out to be just as enthusiastic as the voice had warned, bright and cheerful and actually very knowledgeable about running a shop. As was his dad, Neal discovered, when the man arrived later that day to pick up his son. Neal had ignored the funny twist in his gut at the sight of them hugging and forced a smile as the man—Killian, as he introduced himself—cheerfully inspected their progress and answered a lot of the questions Henry hadn’t been able to, and even some Neal hadn’t thought of yet. And Neal found himself taking the man’s number, almost gratefully, and even calling it, just once or twice, whenever he hit a snag he hadn’t anticipated. 

Though he liked Henry very much Neal had weirdly mixed feelings about Killian Jones. He couldn’t seem to quell the hostility he felt deep in his gut whenever they met, the twisting anger and resentment that at most times simmered low but at others flared so high they licked right at the edge of hate. This despite the fact that the man was never anything but perfectly nice and helpful and by all appearances the kind of loving father Neal wished like hell he could remember. He tried to like Killian, he almost liked him. But that gut reaction was too troubling to ignore.  

And that was how he came to find himself at ten minutes before seven p.m. walking straight past the Rabbit Hole and towards the harbour, turning down the small street where he could see the sign for Jolly Roger Books hanging from a wrought iron hook above the shop’s wide doorway, swinging gently in the chilly evening breeze. 

Neal set his jaw and rang the bell, and a minute later Henry’s cheerful face appeared. “Come on in, Mr Cassidy!” he said, pulling the doors open. “You’re right on time.” 

~

It was a typical night at the Rabbit Hole. The bar’s interior was smoky and dark though the sun was still in the sky outside, adorned with neon signs in precisely the wrong colours and a ceaseless blare of music from the speakers. Not bad music, not exactly, but bleak and melancholy and a strain on the ears, and just loud enough to make conversation impossible, should anyone wish to converse. 

Generally, no one did. 

A handful of patrons sat at random around the dark and grimy room, staring into their drinks or off into space, not looking at each other, not so much as a civil nod. This was not the place for civility.  

It was a typical night and no one expected otherwise, none there hoped for any more or less from their drinking place or from their lives. 

And then the music stopped. 

It stopped abruptly, with no hiss of interference or record scratch, just silence that fell with the grace of an anvil and was in itself so deafening that it took a moment for those present even to register the change.

The town records clerk was first to notice, rousing from his reverie and frowning as he looked around, his eyes meeting the confused gaze of the librarian sitting one table over to his left. 

“What happened?” he asked. 

The librarian shrugged. “Maybe it’s broken?” 

“Wouldn’t be a bad thing if it was,” said the clerk, and the librarian snorted. 

“Maybe they’ll switch it for something good,” another voice chimed in, this one belonging to a man the clerk vaguely recognised. Did he work for the bank? No… the insurance company, maybe? 

“Let’s hope so,” the librarian agreed. 

I hope so,” said a fourth voice from behind the clerk’s right shoulder. “If I never hear that whatever-stank again it will be too soon.” 

“Hoobastank,” supplied the librarian, and they all groaned. 

“Even the name’s bloody awful,” said the clerk, and the other men all nodded their agreement, sliding their chairs ever so slightly closer as they did, drawn by the unifying power of a shared grievance. 

On the other side of the bar a similar conversation was occurring. 

“Finally, I can hear myself think,” growled Leroy, still glaring at his beer like it had done him a personal wrong, but doing so in peace and quiet at least. 

The man down the bar to his left sneezed, startling the man down the bar to his right, who had been dozing into his mudslide. “What?” said the sleepy man. “Wha’s happ’nin?”

The sneezy man wiped his nose with an enormous handkerchief. “Something’s wrong with the music,” he said. 

“What music?” asked another man from further down the bar, blinking wide, guileless eyes. “Was there music?” 

“Of course there was music,” growled Leroy, glaring at the dopey man. 

“Loud music,” agreed the sneezy man. 

“Kept me awake,” muttered the sleepy man as his eyes drifted shut. Leroy snorted. 

They all turned to look as the door to the back room opened and another man entered, wringing his hands anxiously and blushing bright pink, the sweat on his forehead glistening beneath the neon glare of the bar lights. 

“Um,” he whispered, far too quietly to be heard over the faint buzz of conversation that now filled the bar. He tried again. “Um,” he said, slightly louder. 

Leroy felt a flare of anger oh his behalf. This bashful man was just trying to get their attention and no one was taking any notice. 

“HEY ALL OF YOU,” he shouted at the very top of his lungs, turning so that the men at the back of the room would be sure to hear him too. “THIS GUY HERE IS TRYING TO TELL US SOMETHING,” he continued, pairing his bellow with a nasty glare that killed every last conversation in the room. “WHY DON’T YOU JERKS SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO HIM?”

The bashful man was pinker than ever but he nodded gratefully at Leroy. “Um,” he said for a third time, and every ear in the place strained to hear him. “I—I’m so sorry, but the music seems, ah, to be, er, broken.” 

“What’s wrong with it?” called the clerk. 

“I don’t know,” the bashful man confessed. “I can get someone in to look at it tomorrow, but it’s too late to do anything tonight. I’m so sorry.” 

“Don’t be,” said the librarian. “I’d rather talk with this group of scoundrels than listen to another note of that shit.” 

A chorus of “ayes” and “huzzahs” rose from the men around him, the clerk and the insurance man, and several others who had gathered around them to raise a pint in merriment together. Men whose day jobs left them drained and hopeless and who now preened in delight at being referred to as “scoundrels,” knowing it was as far from the truth as anything could be and yet feeling that somehow, deep in a place they hadn’t known they possessed, that secret place that brought them dreams of forests and campfires and glad camaraderie, scoundrels they might actually be. 

“Doesn’t bother us—achoo!—either,” said the sneezy man, who had moved to sit next to the sleepy man and nudge him with a gentle elbow whenever he began to doze off. Leroy noted that the dopey man was now flanked by two companions, one white-whiskered with round, wire-rimmed glasses and the other wearing a broad grin that Leroy suspected ought to annoy him but instead made him feel like he’d found something long missing from his life. The happy man raised his glass to Leroy, and Leroy raised his in return.

“Doesn’t look like there’s a problem here,” he told the bashful man. “Why don’t you join us—” he’d meant to say join me, but the us he spoke instead felt far more right “—for a drink?”

The bashful man looked over at the group in the far corner, now laughing uproariously and toasting each other’s exploits, then back at Leroy. “Okay,” he said. “I’d like that, I think. Thanks.” He smiled shyly. “Thanks for everything.” 

“No trouble at all, brother,” replied Leroy. 

~

Neal followed as Henry raced up the winding staircase to the third floor and burst through the door to the apartment. Through it Neal could see Killian standing in the middle of an open-plan living space with his head bent towards that of a blonde woman, whispering in her ear. Their pose was unmistakably intimate, his hand curled around her waist and hers resting lightly on his chest, their heads touching. They turned when he entered the room and both smiled, strangely rigid smiles, Neal thought. 

The woman’s face he could swear he recognised, though he couldn’t place it, and vague recognition definitely shouldn’t make him feel so angry at the sight of them together, or cause a stab of jealousy to pierce his gut when Killian’s fingers tightened on her waist and he pulled her almost imperceptibly closer. 

So why did it? 

Neal forced his emotions down and returned their smiles in kind and Henry, seemingly oblivious to the odd tension in the room, said, “Mr Cassidy, this is my mom, Emma.” 

“Your mom!” Neal cried in astonishment, then wondered why he was astonished. 

“Yep!” Henry’s bright grin faded slightly at the look on his face and Neal attempted to smooth his features as Emma stepped forward and offered him her hand. “It’s nice to meet you,” she said. 

“And yo—” Neal began, when he realised in a flash of memory where he’d seen that face before. “Wait—did you say Emma? Emma… Swan? The sheriff?”

“That’s right.”

 He could place her now, sitting at the end of the table at the town council meetings, sighing and tapping her pen impatiently. Neal frowned again as he tried to remember what he knew about Emma Swan. It was… not much. He didn’t know much about anyone in Storybrooke, and for the first time that felt wrong. He stared at her as he strained to remember, watching as she toyed absent-mindedly with the chain around her neck, the ring on her wedding finger catching the light. 

“You’re married?” he shouted, and that gut feeling flared again when he saw her glance back at Killian, silently seeking support from her husband

“Yeah, we—” Emma began, but Neal interrupted her. 

“No,” he said, forcing the fury and jealousy down again and making an attempt to smile. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked. Of course you’re married. Henry’s parents.” 

“Yeah,” Emma smiled in relief and from the corner of his eye Neal could see the tension drain from Killian’s stance.  “Hey, don’t worry about it. Come in and sit down, Neal. It’s okay if I call you Neal?” 

“Sure.” 

“Do you want a beer or something?” 

“Yeah, thanks.” Neal was starting to think he needed a hell of a lot more than a beer, but it was better than nothing. His gut was roiling and his head felt stuffed with cotton balls, and there was a distant buzzing noise in the back of his mind, like white noise from a broken television. He tried to force himself to think, to remember more about Emma, about Killian, about all these things that seemed to be teasing at the edges of his mind, but the harder he tried the louder the buzzing grew. He gave his head a hard shake and then another, and ignored Emma’s surprised look when she returned from the kitchen in time to catch him doing it. She pasted on a smile and handed him a beer. 

“So Henry tells us you’re reopening the pawn shop,” she said, sitting next to him on the sofa and taking a pull from her own beer. She smelled like flowers, clean and sweet, and gods, he could swear it was familiar. Her scent slammed into him like a Mack truck, carrying memories of something he could feel but not touch, as powerful as they were indistinct. Why couldn’t he remember

He gulped his beer and tried to concentrate on her question. “Yeah. I guess,” he said. “Kinda sudden, I know. I just found out recently that the place used to belong to my father.” 

“Oh?” Emma’s voice rose a bit too high on the question. 

Neal frowned at her. “Uh huh. I don’t remember much about my papa—er, I mean my dad. So it was a pretty big surprise to find out about it. But Henry, he’s been a major help with everything. I probably couldn’t have done it without him.” He looked at Emma and warmth bloomed in his chest. “Thanks for letting him come by.” 

“Of course,” she said with a smile. “But you know, with Henry it’s sometimes hard to stop him.” 

“That’s what, um, Killian said.” 

“What did I say?” asked Killian, perching on the arm of the sofa next to Emma as Henry came to sit on the floor. 

“That sometimes when Henry decides he wants something there’s not much we can do to stop him,” Emma replied. 

“Aye, unquestionably,” said Killian. “The lad is a force of nature when he sets his mind on a thing.” 

There was so much pride in his voice as he said it, and so much pleasure in Henry’s answering grin, and so much love on Emma’s face as she looked between them and her fingertips absently traced patterns along Killian’s thigh as his played with the ends of her hair, and suddenly it was all just too much. They rose up and they choked him, all the feelings between these three people and the ones churning in himself, and it was too much and too strong and too confusing, and the buzzing in his head was so loud he could barely think straight. 

Blindly he set his beer down, hoping he managed to get it onto the coffee table, and lurched to his feet. 

“Is everything all right, mate?” Killian’s voice hovered just at the edge of his consciousness, and the mate made Neal want to punch him. 

“I’m fine,” he growled. “I’m just—not feeling very well. Think I should go.” 

“Oh.” Emma stood as well and approached him cautiously, taking him gently by the shoulders, her hands warm through the fabric of his t-shirt. She tried to catch his eye but he evaded her. 

“I’m really fine,” he said, stepping back. “I just gotta go. Maybe we can do this another time.” 

“Well, if you’re sure,” she said. 

“Are you sure?” Henry asked. He was clearly trying to be calm but his eyes were so disappointed, and again Neal felt a surge of emotion that was far too strong for the circumstances. He shouldn’t care about disappointing some kid he only met a few weeks ago. But he did. He did. 

“I just—I feel like—” he stammered, groping desperately for the words he needed to say, to explain. And then Henry stepped forward and hugged him. 

Henry hugged him, and Neal’s arms came around the boy in return, automatically, naturally, like they’d done it before. He looked down at Henry’s eyes, big and brown and so damned familiar, so different from the clear green and blue eyes of his parents. 

Was that even possible? 

“I—” he tried again, but Henry interrupted. 

“Please stay,” he said. “I don’t want you to go.” 

“I—damn it.” Neal snarled. He wanted to go, wanted to run, fast and far away from all of this mess and tangle of emotions hot as fire and memories thin as smoke. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t bear for Henry to be disappointed in him. 

“I’ll stay,” he said, and the world exploded. 

~

Sleeping curses broke elegantly, the Dark Curse dramatically, but this odd chimaera of a hybrid curse, cobbled together from odds of this and ends of that, bound by Oz magic and twisted through the mirror world… this curse shattered. It burst into shards like the very mirrors that made it possible and Emma, Regina, and Zelena gasped in unison as they sensed its fracture. There was no burst of light, no gasp of awakening, just a sharp shock and then memories and then…

The world blurred, shifted, settled, and then snapped back into focus. The colours and shapes and sounds of Storybrooke were themselves again, the breeze through the town was warm and welcoming and the trees in the forest tall and straight, their eerie menace wholly gone. 

Emma looked at Killian, eyes wide. 

“What is it, love?” he asked, reaching for her and pulling her close. “What was that?”

“I think…” Emma lowered her voice to a whisper. “I think the curse just broke.” 

“Really? How do you know?” 

“I—I felt it. I felt it shatter and its magic is… well, it’s everywhere.”

Neal was staring at Henry, blinking rapidly, then a huge grin split his face. “Henry?” he said, pulling his son in for a bone-cracking hug. “Oh my God, Henry. I’ve missed you.” 

“Um.” Henry was still reeling from what had felt like an earthquake. He looked past Neal to where Emma and Killian were standing with their arms around each other, whispering frantically, then his eyes lit up with triumph as the pieces fell into place. “Have you?” he said. 

“Yeah, kid.” Neal loosened his hold and ruffled Henry’s hair. “I did. I—wait.” The smile faded from his face, replaced with a scowl as he turned to Emma and Killian. “What’s going on here?” 

They exchanged a look. “What do you mean?” asked Emma. “You were cursed—” 

“Yeah, I know that, but I mean you—you two—” He gestured at them, his scowl deepening as they unconsciously drew closer to each other. “You aren’t actually—it was the curse for you too, right? All this is just the curse.” 

 “No, mate,” said Killian gently. “We weren’t cursed. Emma was briefly, sort of, but Henry and I never were.” 

“Then you’re really—” Something dark and angry flared in Neal’s eyes. 

“Yeah,” said Emma. “We’re married.” 

“You married him,” sputtered Neal, almost choking on the words. “The pirate? The one who fu—” he broke off with a glance at Henry “—who took my mother away. Him, of all people.” He stared at them, shaking his head, then gave a bitter, grating laugh. “So much for your word, huh Hook?” he said. “You remember, your word that you gave me, to back the hell off and give me a chance to be a family with my son and my—well, her.” 

“A lot has happened since I made that promise,” said Killian, as calmly as he could when the nasty curl of Neal’s lip was making him wish he was wearing his hook. “A lot has changed Bae.”

Neal hissed an angry breath. “Don’t call me that.” 

“Neal, then,” Killian amended. “As you like. We have much to discuss, lad, why don’t you—” 

“I’m not a lad,” snapped Neal. “I’m as old as you are in this realm, maybe older. I’m not that boy you knew.” 

“You’re right of course. I’m sorry.” Killian’s voice was genuinely contrite now, his expression sorrowful. “I do know that. Sometimes I just—forget.” 

Emma’s arm was still around his waist and she squeezed him reassuringly. “Look, I know there’s a lot we need to talk about,” she said. “And I promise you, Neal, we will explain everything. But right now the curse has just broken and people are going to be confused. So can we table all this, please, until we’ve had a chance to figure out what we have to do?” 

“Do for what?” asked Henry. “Isn’t the curse broken?” 

“Yeah it is.” Emma shivered at the sharp, dangerous feel of the magic that had come untethered by the shattering curse. “But that’s not necessarily the end of our problems.” 

“So what do we need to do?” asked Killian. 

“I’m not sure yet. Let’s start by finding Regina. And my parents.” 

Chapter Text

Snow White had heard the expression ‘earth-shattering orgasm’ before, of course she had, but like any sensible woman with a realistic perspective on men and their limitations, she’d never taken the phrase literally. 

Until now. 

Now she lay sprawled and trembling in her once-lonely bed, panting harshly wondering if the world had always spun so damned fast. She chuckled breathlessly against the sweat-slicked skin of David’s shoulder. 

“Damn, Charming, you’ve always been good but I’ve never felt the earth move before,” she teased. 

David rolled over and grinned at her, his hand trailing down her side and over her hip. “What can I say? It’s been a long time and I was highly motivated.”  He leaned in to nuzzle her neck as his words echoed through her mind. 

It’s been a long time… a long time… long time…

Snow gasped as realisation struck, just as David pulled back with a start and she could see he understood as well. “The curse,” she exclaimed. “Is it broken?” 

“I think it is,” he replied. “I remember…” His eyes filled with regret and he pulled her close again. “Snow. I remember.” 

Snow wrapped her arms around him and they held each other in silence for a moment, far too tightly for comfort and still not nearly tight enough as their cursed memories washed over them. Everything that had happened over the past year, the wretchedness of it, living together and feeling nothing for each other. It should have been impossible, Snow thought, they were True Love. She could certainly feel her love for him now, surging up almost indignantly as if it resented having gone un-felt for so long, and yet she remembered looking at him with pure indifference. She shuddered and David’s arms tightened still further. She knew he was wondering the same thing she was. Who, what, could possibly have done this to them? 

She tried to sort through the memories, of Regina—as their maid, of all unbelievable things—and Zelena—wait, who exactly was Zelena?—and Emma, and— 

“Emma!” she cried, jerking her head back so abruptly it narrowly missed a collision with David’s chin. “David, she’s here in Storybrooke! How is she here?” 

“I was just wondering that,” he said grimly. “What do you say we go find out?” 

~

“We should go to Granny’s,” suggested Henry. “That’s where everyone went when the last curse broke. I bet they’ll go there again.” 

“Good thinking.” Emma nodded in agreement but Killian shook his head.

“What about Zelena?” he asked. “Do we know how the curse breaking will affect her? Perhaps we should stop by the sheriff’s station first.” 

“I think Zelena will be okay in her cell for a bit longer,” Emma replied. “She’s still behind that shielding spell I put around her.” 

“Nevertheless I’d feel better if we checked,” said Killian. “Not that I don’t have every faith in you, Swan, but we should err on the side of caution. Zelena is nothing if not unpredictable.” 

“Hmmm, yeah that is a point. And she has been one step ahead of us for most of this.” Emma’s expression turned thoughtful. “Okay, we can go to the sheriff’s station, but I’d actually kind of like to go find my parents first.” She shrugged. “Just to see them, you know. Before we get caught up with the rest of the town.”

Killian smiled. “Of course, love.”

“And, um, actually, can I go to Regina’s?” asked Henry. “I want to make sure she’s okay, and I can tell her about the plan to meet at Granny’s.” 

“That’s probably a good idea,” said Emma. “The rest of us can go to my parents—” 

“It might be better if you did that without me,” Killian interjected. “Your father and I were still on rather shaky terms when I saw him last and my presence with you would likely raise some questions best kept for later.” 

Neal snorted, then shrugged when the other three glared at him. “What? He’s not wrong.” 

“So where will you go?” Emma asked. 

“I was thinking I could stop at the sheriff’s station by myself. If Zelena is as secure as you think then you needn’t come along unless you wish to. I can check on her quickly then head to Granny’s and meet you there.” 

“Okay, that sounds like a good plan,” said Emma. “Henry goes to get Regina—” 

“And Robin, they have a date tonight so he should be with her.” Henry’s eyes lit up. “I bet Robin Hood will be useful in—well, in whatever comes now.” 

“Yeah, okay, so Henry goes to get Regina and Robin while I go to find my parents, and Killian will go to the station to check on Zelena. We’ll meet back at Granny’s as soon as possible. Everyone okay with that?” They all nodded except Neal, who still stood in the corner with his arms crossed. Emma fixed him with a glare and he scowled in reply. “Neal?” she said in a warning tone. “What about you?” 

Neal swept the room with his scowl and shrugged again. “I’ll go with Hook,” he said. “Check on Zelena then meet you at Granny’s.” 

“Really?” Emma demanded. “That’s what you want to do?”

“Hey don’t forget I worked for Zelena under the curse. I saw what she’s capable of, and that was without magic. If she’s even a little bit free then trust me, the pirate’s gonna need backup.” 

Emma looked questioningly at Killian. “I wouldn’t mind some backup, actually,” he said. 

“And you’re sure you’ll—be okay?” Emma asked, turning to Neal again. 

“If you’re asking can I go half an hour without punching your husband, yeah I can,” he replied with a sneer. “But those questions your parents are gonna have? I’ve got them too. Just as long as both of you remember that.” 

“Once we’re sure the town’s safe we will tell all of you everything,” Emma assured him. “We promise. Just behave yourselves until then. Both of you.” 

Killian and Neal exchanged a long look, then nodded stiffly to each other. 

“Fine by me,” said Neal. 

“Aye, and me.” Killian tightened the arm that still rested around Emma’s shoulders and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Be careful, love,” he murmured in her ear. “We’ll see you at Granny’s.” 

Emma tightened her hold around his waist and quickly checked the protection spells around him. They were still firmly in place, and as strong as ever. Even if she somehow managed to gain control of the curse magic, there was no way Zelena could use it to harm Killian. Emma drew a deep breath and told herself to relax. Killian was safe, thoroughly protected, and there was no reason for him to know that she’d never let him go alone to face Zelena unless she was certain of that. 

She gave him a final squeeze and then released him, stepping back and gathering her magic. 

“Everyone ready?” she asked. 

“Just one last thing.” Killian disappeared into their bedroom and returned a moment later, tightening the straps of the brace that held his hook. 

“Just in case,” he said, as he tugged the sleeve of his sweater down over it and Emma nodded. “Ready when you are, love.”

She poofed Henry first, sending him straight to the living room of the loft. Killian and Neal she directed to a safe corner of the sheriff’s station, then took herself to the doorstep of the house where her parents now lived. 

~

The Rabbit Hole was silent but for the low drone of the dwarves’ conversation across the room. The Merry Men sat in a circle, beer mugs clutched in white-knuckled grips, every ear turned to the large man standing at their centre. 

“And that,” concluded Little John, with one final flourish to his rapt audience, “is how I reorganised the entire filing system at the library!” 

The Merry Men erupted into cheers, pounding on their tables or leaping to their feet to clap the hero Little John on his back in hearty congratulation. All but Will Scarlet, who sat back in his chair with his arms folded and a scowl on his face. 

“Pah,” he scoffed, once the furore had died down. 

“What’s that, Scarlet?” said Little John. “Did you say something?” 

“Pah, is what I said,” Will replied. “You’re always biggin’ yourself up, John.” 

“Oh? You think you could do better?” 

“I’m the bloody town records clerk, mate, of course I could do better. Let me tell you about my filing system—” 

Alan-a-Dale took a deep swig of his beer and shook his head fondly. “I never thought I’d live to see a day on which Will bloody Scarlet boasted about his filing system, eh, Stutely?” He elbowed the man sitting next to him. “I could see you doing that perhaps… but...” his words trailed off as he realised what he’d said. 

Scarlet... Stutely... filing systems... 

The curse. 

At the bar, Grumpy was having an epiphany. 

It hurt a bit. 

“Dopey,” he growled. “Did you… talk?” 

Dopey’s eyes went wide and he slowly nodded his head. His mouth opened but no words emerged, closing and reopening again in increasing confusion, his expression shifting to one of panic as he felt in his pockets for his notepad.

“Here.” Doc fished a piece of paper and a pen from his own pocket and handed them to his brother. Dopey took them with a grateful smile and wrote a single word. 

How? 

“I’ll tell you how,” said Grumpy. “The curse.” 

“The curse,” his brothers repeated, exchanging nods amongst themselves. 

The curse? wrote Dopey on his paper. 

“It’s broken, you idiots,” growled Grumpy. “THE CURSE IS BROKEN!” 

Comprehension dawned on the Merry Men’s faces as Grumpy’s words rang through the bar. They turned to each other in delight and began slapping backs and shaking hands once again. 

“Will Stutely, as I live and breathe!” cried Alan-a-Dale. 

His companion’s face broke into a wide grin. “Alan-a-Dale, well met indeed, my man! Has it been you all this time?” 

“It has!” said Alan, laughing and clapping his friend on the shoulder as they hugged, observing from the corner of his eye Will Scarlet almost lost in the bear-like embrace of Little John. “The devil’s own curse, this was. I wonder who cast it?” 

“Who else?” snarled Grumpy as he and the other dwarves approached. “The Evil Queen. She did it before and she’s done it again, and this time she’s not getting away with it.”

“What do you mean to do?” asked Little John. 

“We’re going to find our axes and do what we should’ve done the last time. Make certain the Queen can never hurt us again. Now, who’s with me?”

~

Regina was too distracted to notice the curse’s magic begin to shift and creak but she felt it shatter. She gasped as the razor shards of it prickled against her skin, jerking backwards and breaking her kiss with Robin. His arms were still tight around her, stopping her from stumbling, but his forehead wrinkled in confusion and she watched with her heart in her throat as he shook his head and blinked rapidly, and an expression of apprehension crept across his face. 

“Your Majesty,” he said cautiously. 

Regina refused to feel hurt, reminding herself that he probably thought she’d been under the curse as well and things hadn’t exactly been friendly between them in the Enchanted Forest. Of course he’d be concerned about her reaction to finding herself kissing him. 

“It’s still Regina to you,” she said softly. 

“Er—” his frown deepened. “Is it?” 

“Yes. Robin—” she reached up to touch his face and he flinched, his muscles tensing. Fear made her heart pound as she let her hand fall to his shoulder and groped for the best words to explain. “You were cursed.” 

“I remember. It was—wait, why do you say I was cursed? Weren’t you as well?”

“No.” 

“But you—er, we—” 

She nodded. “I had quite a lot of time to think this past year, with everyone else in town under the curse and with my son gone—” her voice broke and she paused for a moment to get hold of herself. “And I realised how much I regretted not being more… receptive to you in the Enchanted Forest.” 

“‘More receptive,’” he repeated. “That’s an interesting way to phrase it.” 

She felt herself flush. “I was a bitch,” she said flatly. “And I’m sorry.” 

His eyes widened at this blunt statement and then a smile tugged the corners of his mouth. “Not a bitch,” he said. “Forceful. Determined. Prickly, perhaps.” His arms tightened around her, and her heart fluttered when she realised he’d never removed them. “Fascinating,” he murmured, his voice dropping lower.  

She caught her breath then slowly lifted her hand again and laid it flat against his cheek, stroking her fingers across his cheekbone when he didn’t flinch away. He leaned closer and her hand curled around the back of his neck as his lips claimed hers. 

Regina sighed into the kiss, shivering at the electric frisson down her spine as his hand slid up it and into her hair. Her arm wound around his shoulders and his tongue slipped into her mouth and then a cloud of white swirled up from the living room floor and Henry appeared. 

~

Emma took a deep breath and raised her hand to knock on the door but before she could it swung open to reveal Snow and David, looking flushed and mussed and very surprised to find her standing there. 

“Um,” said Snow, blinking in confusion, and then joy broke across her face. “Emma!” she cried, throwing her arms around her daughter. “Oh, Emma!”

Tears welled in Emma’s eyes as she returned the hug and they rolled freely down David’s cheeks as he wrapped his arms around them both, cradling the back of Emma’s head in his hand in that fatherly way he had that always made her choke up a little. 

“I’ve missed you guys,” she said, sniffing and blinking rapidly. 

“We—well, we didn’t actually miss you, but oh, I wish we had,” cried Snow, hugging her harder, and Emma and David both chuckled though their tears. 

“Is it bad that I know exactly what she means?” David mused. 

They clung to each other for another minute, a sniffling mess of limbs, then Emma pulled back. “We need to go to Granny’s,” she informed them, wiping her eyes. 

“Yeah,” David agreed. “We had the same thought. That’s where people will congregate and they’re going to want reassurance. And honestly probably some vengeance. They let Regina go the last time but now—” 

“Regina didn’t cast the curse,” Emma interrupted. 

David and Snow exchanged confused looks. “Didn’t she?” David asked. 

“Don’t you remember?” 

“All I remember was that the curse came on so fast, almost out of nowhere,” said Snow. “And Regina had been working on finding a way to get back to Henry. I guess I just assumed.” 

“Mom, she was cursed as your maid. And Henry wasn’t even here. She was miserable. Do you really think she’d do that to herself?”

“Good point,” Snow conceded. “But if Regina didn’t cast the curse then who did?”

“Zelena,” replied Emma grimly.

“Zelena!” 

“Yep. Oh, and she’s the Wicked Witch of the West.” 

“The Wicked—” 

“But we don’t really have time to get into that now,” said Emma. “We need to get to Granny’s in case there’s another mob like when the last curse broke. We’ll need to give everyone that reassurance.” 

David nodded in agreement but Snow had clearly not been listening. “But Emma,” she said, “weren’t you cursed too? How do you know—” 

“Look, I promise I’ll tell you everything, but we kinda do have to hurry.” Emma tried to keep the impatience from her voice. “I can transport us with magic—” 

“You can?” 

“Mom!” 

“Sorry, I just—this is a lot to take in.” 

“Well, take it in at Granny’s. Can we go now?” 

Her parents nodded but before Emma could gather her magic, her phone buzzed with a text. A scowl darkened her face as she read it. “Change of plans,” she said, tucking the phone back into her pocket. “I’m sending you two to Granny’s now, and I’ll meet you there as soon as I can.” 

“Where are you going?” David demanded. 

“To the sheriff’s station,” said Emma grimly. “And I’m going in hot.” 

~

White smoke swirled and dissipated, leaving Killan and Neal in the sheriff’s station, just around the corner from the main room and out of sight of the cells. Neal started to move forward but Killian held out his arm to stop him and gave a small shake of his head. He pulled a mirror from his pocket, the same half of a broken compact that he had used to signal his location at Zelena’s farmhouse to Regina. It was just a mirror now, as far as he knew, the enchantment on it lifted or possibly expired, but a mirror was all he needed. 

He flattened himself against the wall as close to the corner as he dared and carefully angled the mirror until it reflected the image of Zelena in her cell. She was reclining on the cot with her legs tucked beneath her, examining her fingernails. Everything else appeared normal.

Killian slowly released the breath he’d been holding and returned the mirror to his pocket. 

“Looks fine,” he whispered to Neal. “I’m going in.” 

“Wait.” Neal kept his voice low but the urgency in it was unmistakable. Killian turned to look at him, carefully holding on to his patience. 

“What?”

Neal shifted his feet, grimacing slightly. “Look, man, I—I need to know something before we go in there. If I’m gonna trust you to have my back I need to know.” 

“Know what?” 

“Why you married her.” 

“Neal—” 

“Yeah, yeah, now’s not the time, curse is broken, gotta save the town, I get it. We will. But I need to know why.” 

Killian sighed. The timing wasn’t great but he would prefer to have this conversation with Neal alone, with no David around to bluster or Snow to cluck. He reminded himself that Neal still didn’t know about the connection Killian and Emma shared, or what had happened between them over the past two years. Their last conversation had been in Granny’s, when Killian had promised to back off. Finding him married to Emma now must surely look to Neal like blatant betrayal of that promise. His anger, however inconvenient, was understandable. 

“Because I love her,” Killian replied. The simplest explanations were always the strongest, and there wasn’t time right now for nuance. “I love her and she loves me and we want to spend our lives together.”

Neal’s scowl softened and some of the tension left his shoulders. He gave a small nod. “Okay.” 

Killian nodded in return and together they moved towards the main room of the station. Just as they turned the corner a rush of magic struck them, with the strength of a storm surge on an angry sea. It flung them both off their feet and sent them flying backwards to land in an undignified heap in front of the door. 

Killian shook his head to clear the ringing from his ears then realised that it wasn’t ringing at all, but a shrill cackle proceeding from the direction of the cells. He ground his teeth, even as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, grabbed his phone from his pocket and thrust it at Neal. 

“Text Emma,” he snarled. “Tell her to get here right away. Then stay out of sight until she arrives.” 

“What are you going to do?” 

“Stall the bloody witch until Emma can deal with her. Now hurry!” He scrambled to his feet and rounded the corner again, pushing his way through air made thick by magic. It resisted him, no longer a storm surge but a fen, the magic clinging to his clothes and sucking at his feet as he fought his way forward towards the cell where Zelena was still lounging, her pose ostentatiously casual and her expression far too pleased for Killian’s liking. 

~

“Mom!” Henry cried, not seeing them at first. “Mom, you—whoa!” His eyes bugged comically and he clapped his hand over them. “Bloody hell!”

Regina leapt back, shoving at Robin’s shoulders until he released her and smoothing her hair. She knew she must be blushing furiously, and Robin’s amused expression only confirmed it. “Henry!” she exclaimed. “What—what are you doing here?” 

“The curse broke,” said Henry. He peered cautiously through the gap between his fingers then seeing them standing a good foot apart removed his hand. “My mom and dad—er, both my dads are gathering everyone at Granny’s to figure out what happens now,” he explained. “I said I’d come here to get you, but I wasn’t expecting—I mean, I knew you weren’t alone, but—I thought people kissed at the end of dates!” 

“They do, but… well…” Regina looked helplessly at Robin.

“But it’s not every day that a curse breaks in the middle of one,” concluded Robin smoothly, stepping forward and offering Henry his hand. “Hello, Henry, it’s good to meet you properly,” he said. “I’m—” 

“Robin Hood,” interjected Henry with a wide grin, shaking the proffered hand enthusiastically. “I know. That’s so cool.” 

Robin chuckled. “I’m pleased you think so,” he said, with a teasing glance at Regina. “Your mum was somewhat less impressed.” 

Regina rolled her eyes dramatically, but she couldn’t quite suppress her pleased smile. “What do you want from me?” she huffed. “I said I was sorry.”   

“So you did but I’m not sure I’m quite convinced—”

“Look, this is great,” said Henry, with a smirk and an eye-roll of his own. “I’m glad you guys are, you know, bantering or whatever, but the thing is we’ve got this curse that’s just broken, and—” 

‘The curse!” Regina’s smile evaporated as a thought struck her, and she snatched up the flowers Robin had brought, scowling as she examined them. 

“Um, yeah,” said Henry. “It is broken, right? Emma said—” 

“Yes, it’s broken.” Regina plucked one of the flowers from the vase and peered at it. “Shattered, actually.” 

“Shattered!” 

“Yes.” Regina shivered. “It was always unstable and with all the pressure you’ve been putting on it lately, bringing love back, it was only a matter of time before the cracks burst open. Which leaves us with a new problem. That curse was made with magic from several different realms, and now it’s loose in the air and sort of—fighting with itself. Can’t you feel it?” 

She looked up to find two pairs of concerned eyes on her. “I—maybe?” said Henry. “What does magic feel like?” 

“Different magics feel different but this is like… well, to me it feels like shards of glass but for you it would be more like pinpricks all over your skin.” 

“Shards of glass?” Robin exclaimed as Henry nodded. 

“Yeah. I think I feel it.” 

“As do I.” Robin put his arm around her, running his hand up her back. “Are you all right?” 

She smiled, more touched than she could express by his care. “I’m fine. But we have to get rid of this magic. Storybrooke isn’t big enough to hold it all, and the longer it stays here the more dangerous it will become.” 

“How do we get rid of magic?” asked Henry. 

 Regina looked again at the flower she held. “I think I might have an idea.” She looked up at Robin. “This flower,” she said. “Can you show me where you picked it? The exact spot?” 

He nodded. “Yes, I remember it perfectly. But it’s deep in the forest.” 

Carefully Regina probed at the magic swirling around her. Most of it had been loosed by the curse, far too sharp and dangerous to use, but there was enough of Emma’s light magic remaining in the loft for what she needed. “I can take us to the start of the footpath by magic, we’ll walk from there,” she said. “Henry—” 

“I’m coming too,” Henry interrupted firmly, already on his phone. “I’m texting Emma now, so she’ll know where we are.” 

“Good idea.” Regina looked again at Robin, who was watching her intently with a small smile on his face. Her belly gave a little flutter. “Are you ready?” she asked.

“I am.” He curled his hand around her shoulder as Henry tucked his phone back into his pocket. “Though I wish I had my bow. Unfortunately I’ve no notion of where it may be.” 

“Oh, hey, I do!” said Henry said brightly. “I saw it at the pawn shop!” 

“Do we have time to stop there and fetch it?” 

“No,” said Regina. “But Henry if you tell me exactly where it is, I can summon it as we transport.” 

“It’s in the back, hung on a mannequin in the far left corner.” 

Regina closed her eyes and did her best to envision the back room of the pawn shop. She gathered all the magic she could touch and wrapped it tight around the bow, and the three of them. “Okay,” she said. “Here we go.” 

~

“Well, hello, Captain,” Zelena purred as Killian struggled up to the bars of her cell. “What an interesting situation we find ourselves in.”

“Do we?” Killian kept his expression bland, carefully not revealing either the effort it took to hold himself upright against the crushing force of the magic in the room or the little details he observed, such as the fact that Zelena’s cell was still securely locked and the catlike smugness in her smile. 

“I’d say we do,” she replied. “You must have noticed that the curse is broken.” 

“Aye, that I did. The curse you told us we would never break. I suppose that is interesting.” 

Irritation flashed across Zelena’s features, just for a second but he was watching too closely to miss it. “Yes,” she said. “You’ve done me quite a favour, you and your wife.” 

“Have we? Things seem to have changed remarkably little for you.” 

Zelena’s smile slipped again, for longer this time. “Breaking the curse released all its magic,” she spat. “It’s free now and it’s everywhere. There’s no escape from it.” 

Killian fought to keep his own face from revealing anything. That was exactly what Emma had said. Its magic is everywhere

“And yet, you’re still in a cell,” he pointed out. 

Zelena snarled and he felt the air surge again. This time he was prepared for it, with his feet well-braced. It was rather like standing on the deck of a ship in reverse, he thought. On a ship the sea moved beneath him and here the air moved around him, but the rolling waves and the importance of keeping a wide stance with one’s feet firmly planted remained the same. Zelena’s lip curled in a snarl when he teetered but did not fall, and when the air ceased moving a moment later she fell back against the wall with a little huff. 

She can affect the magic, Killian thought, but she can’t properly use it and the effort tires her. That’s good to know.  

But where the devil was Emma? 

White smoke swirled up just behind him and Emma appeared as though his thoughts had conjured her, wearing the darkest scowl Killian had ever seen on her face. Another surge of magic waved outward from Zelena’s cell, quick as the lash of a whip and giving Emma no time to brace against it. She threw up her hands in a makeshift shield but she was not quite quick enough to block the whole wave and she stumbled backwards, just for a moment—before Killian even had time to react she had righted herself and spun about to face Zelena. 

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she snapped. 

“Whatever do you mean, dear?” asked Zelena, outwardly calm once again. 

“What are you trying to do with the curse magic?” Emma demanded. “How are you even touching it?” 

“It’s my magic,” Zelena hissed. “Did you really believe you could just cut me off from it?”

Something flashed in Emma’s eyes and her lips curled into a smile Killian recognised as highly dangerous. “There’s a thought,” she said. 

“Well you’ll have no time to think it,” sneered Zelena. 

A startled shout sounded from the hallway and Neal appeared, sliding on his back along the floor as a force invisible to Killian’s eyes dragged him by his ankle. Killian darted forward to help him but the moment his balance shifted he felt the magic in the air grab him, felt a crushing pressure on his chest as he was hauled backwards and slammed hard against the bars of Zelena’s cell. Dazed and winded from the impact, he drew a wheezing breath and shook his head to clear it, only vaguely aware as seconds later Neal was flung against the bars next to him, choking and gasping for air, his fingers scrabbling uselessly at his neck. 

When Killian’s vision cleared he looked up to see Emma charging towards him, fury snapping in her eyes as she used her own magic to push through the sucking resistance of the force that tried to hold her back. Their gazes met and Killian could read her intentions perfectly in her determined glare and the set of her jaw; he knew her far too well to think even for a second that she might do anything other than what she now intended. She meant to save him and damn the cost, but if she went for him first it would be too late. 

Which was precisely what Zelena was counting on. 

“No, Swan,” he gasped, “Neal! Save Neal!” 

Zelena cackled. “You’ll have to choose, Saviour,” she spat. “You’ve no time to save both. But the moment you release me from your shielding spell, I’ll release them.”

Emma’s eyebrows drew together and she looked sharply at Neal, whose face had gone mottled purple as he struggled for air. As difficult as breathing was for Killian, it was plain to him that for Neal it was far more so. He was choking to death and had mere seconds left. 

“Protection… spell,” he ground out, trusting that Emma would understand.

She did. Relief washed over him as she nodded and shifted direction, heading instead for Neal. Zelena snarled and Killian could feel the force around him shifting, the pressure on his chest lessening. Zelena couldn’t maintain such a strong hold on to him while also keeping Emma away from Neal, he realised, and he could see the moment the same realisation struck Emma. With a furious shout she sent a burst of magic from her hands that burned clean through the curse magic, blazing an open path to Neal. 

Zelena gave a cackle, triumphant on its face but with desperation ringing through. “Careful, Saviour,” she hissed. “One wrong move and he dies!” 

Emma was frowning in concentration. She appeared to be feeling with her magic, Killian thought, probing at the force that was choking Neal in search of weaknesses. 

“You’re right,” she conceded, with what he considered to be remarkable calm. “I don’t know how you’re influencing the magic like this, but I can’t untangle it without killing him. This, though,” she held up her hand and the subtle knife appeared in a swirl of smoke upon its palm. “This can.” 

Zelena screeched in fury as Emma held the knife out with its sharp edge pointing downwards and with a single strong, controlled movement slashed through the air, severing nothing that Killian could see but Neal fell to the ground in a heap, clutching his chest as he sucked in huge gulps of air. In the same instant Killian realised that the pressure on his own chest was gone, that the air had shifted again, shoring up the space between Zelena and the door of her cell as Emma slowly turned to face her. 

~

Robin strode along the footpath through the forest, his pace brisk and his steps sure. His bow and quiver were slung across his shoulder and Regina had to admit, wanted to admit after having wasted far too much time already in denying it, that his whole ‘rugged outdoorsman’ thing really did it for her. She hadn’t felt such simple animal attraction to anyone since—she winced as a spear of something that felt uncomfortably like guilt lanced her heart—since Graham. 

She squirmed a bit before she could stop herself, and though neither Henry nor Robin was looking at her she adjusted her jacket and smoothed its lapels, wishing she could smooth away her conscience as easily. The thing was a damned nuisance, always pestering her with reminders of the terrible things she’d done, and all she had to atone for. It would keep doing that, according to Killian, until she’d made an effort to redress her wrongs. Regina grimaced. Graham was one of those wrongs, she knew, and she knew that there were consequences she would have to face—wanted to face, she reminded herself, she was genuinely tired of being a villain—for killing him. 

But not just yet. Right now there were more pressing matters that needed her attention. 

The path dipped, steeply and without warning, and the light through the trees shifted. It shimmered along the description of a downward curve, as if reflected off the edge of a blade, and when its arc was completed they found themselves standing in a wide clearing where the sunlight was dappled through shifting leaves and the ground a riot of colour. 

“This is it,” said Robin, gesturing. “This is where I picked the flowers I brought you.” 

Regina knelt and plucked a blossom from the ground, the twin of the one she had selected from Robin’s bouquet. “A mist lily,” she said, examining the trumpet-shaped head with its soft blue-grey petals, bobbing atop a slender stem. “I thought it was.” 

“What’s a mist lily?” asked Henry. 

“Just a flower.” Regina stood again and offered it to him. “It has no special properties, except that it only grows in the Enchanted Forest.” 

Henry’s eyes went wide. “The Enchanted Forest!” he exclaimed. 

Regina smiled. “Yes. This is the Enchanted Forest. Well, part of it anyway. I’m not sure exactly where.” 

The trees surrounding the clearing were densely set, tall and wide and with thick-leaved branches that formed a canopy above their heads. It was impossible to see beyond it. 

“At a guess, I’d say we’re at the northwest edge of your kingdom,” said Robin, frowning at the forest floor and then up at the sky. “Where it borders the ogres’ land. About, oh, two or so days’ trek from your castle.” 

Regina felt a flutter in her belly. “How can you possibly know that?” she demanded. 

“Mom, he’s Robin Hood!” 

“Indeed.” Robin’s smile edged into a smirk, one she would dearly love to kiss off his face. “I’m an excellent tracker, as you know, and the first rule of tracking is to know where you’re starting from.” 

So cool,” breathed Henry. “Can you teach me how to do that?” 

“Of course, if you wish. Though I think before we attempt to track anything through this forest I’d like to know exactly how we got here.” 

“Ah,” said Regina with a smirk of her own. “That is the question. I believe…” she turned back to the path behind them and peered closely at the way the light hung in the air. “I believe this is a portal.” 

It was a thin, neat slice through nothing, no wider than the breadth of a hair and invisible at most angles. Approaching from the correct one, however, one could simply step through it, out of one world and into another. 

“But how?” Henry frowned as he circled it, poked his head through then pulled it back again. 

“Unless I’m very much mistaken,” replied Regina, “it was cut by the subtle knife.” 

“The knife Zelena had!” 

“The very one. This is how she got the curse magic from the Enchanted Forest and into Storybrooke. And,” she added, her lips curving into a triumphant, vicious smile, “it’s how we’re going to get it back out again.” 

~

Emma unlocked Zelena’s cell with a wave of her hand and stepped inside, still moving with some difficulty through the magic-thickened air, but more easily than before. Zelena was weakening, Killian thought. Pushing against Emma’s shielding spell to manipulate the curse magic was exhausting her. 

Emma halted a foot or two in front of the cot where Zelena still reclined. Her previously triumphant pose now much more closely resembled cowering, Killian remarked, despite her attempts at bravado.

“I wanted to give you a chance, you know,” said Emma. “A chance to change and redeem your mistakes. The same chance we offered Regina. The same chance everyone deserves, at least once.” Though she wasn’t looking at him, Killian felt her words powerfully, deep in his heart. 

“But,” Emma continued, “you refused that chance, again and again, and now it’s obvious that you can’t be trusted not to keep trying to harm us, even when you’re behind a shielding spell. There’s nothing I can do, no magic I can use that will keep my family safe from you. You’ve made it so my only option is to kill you, and that I won’t do.” 

“Because you’re weak,” snarled Zelena. “Too weak to do what’s necessary.” 

“The fact that you think that,” said Emma calmly, “is your weakness.” 

She raised the knife again and probed the air with it, feeling for something Killian could not perceive—but Zelena could. For the first time he saw genuine fear in her eyes as it began to dawn on her what Emma intended. 

“No!” she cried, leaping up off the cot. “No… you can’t! You wouldn’t! You wouldn’t!” 

An expression of grim determination settled on Emma’s face as she located what she had been seeking with the point of the knife. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I wish there was another way.” 

“No—” Zelena’s cry was cut off as Emma made another slashing motion with the knife, a single short downward thrust. Zelena gasped, a heartrending sound of pain and unspeakable loss, then collapsed onto the floor, her eyes gaping wide in shock and horror. 

The sucking resistance in the air was gone, Killian realised, replaced by buzzing noise that started low then grew perceptibly louder as the air itself began to vibrate. “Emma—” he began, but he was cut of by Zelena’s shriek of pure rage. 

“What have you done?” she howled. “What have you done? My magic… my magic—” 

There was sorrow in Emma’s eyes, and a deep compassion, but no remorse. “You’ll never touch your magic again,” she said. “I’ve cut your link to it forever. The subtle knife can cut anything, you know.” 

“You’ve ruined me! You bitch, you—” 

“I did what I had to do to keep the people I love safe from you,” snapped Emma. “You would never have stopped trying to hurt us. Now you can’t.” 

“Swan.” Killian reached cautiously into the cell, dizzy and discombobulated by the increasingly frantic vibrations that surrounded them. He slipped his hook around Emma’s arm, holding tight to the bars with his hand. “Love—what’s happened to the magic?” 

Emma allowed him to tug her out of the cell and closed and locked the door behind them. She turned to him and frowned. “What do you mean—oh.” Her eyes went wide and she gripped Killian’s arm. “Oh. Shit.” 

The buzzing was deafening now and the vibrations frantic, pinpricks of magic crackling and snapping around them with electric vigour. 

“You can feel that?” asked Emma. 

“Aye, I think even my organs can feel it.” 

“It’s like an army of chainsaws in my head,” groaned Neal, struggling to stand. Emma held out her hand to help him and Killian his hook, still keeping a tight hold on the bars of the cell to balance all three of them. “What is it?”

“It’s the curse magic,” Emma replied. “It’s sort of—untethered. But it’s been that way since the curse broke, I don’t know why it’s acting this way now.” 

As she spoke purple smoke swirled and Regina appeared, flanked by Henry and Robin. “I think I can answer that,” she said, turning to glare at her sister where she lay slumped on the floor of her cell. 

“Hah,” said Zelena, with an attempt at her old sneer. “I’d love to see you try.” 

“As would I,” said Killian. “Sooner rather than later, love, before we all turn to liquid.” 

Regina shifted her glare to him, then began to explain. “We already know that this curse is not like the last one,” she said, and Emma nodded. “Zelena patched it together out of a hodgepodge of different magics, some of which should never have met. That’s what made the curse so unstable. And now that all of that disparate magic is loose it’s clashing and reacting, and that’s what we—what all of us, I guess—can feel.” 

“So what are we going to do about it?” asked Emma. 

“Storybrooke is too small to hold all of it safely,” said Regina. “It’s stuck within the boundaries of the town and there’s just too much of it. We need to send it somewhere where it has room to disperse, and the different kinds of magic can repel away from each other. We need to send it back to the Enchanted Forest.” 

Killian scowled. “How the bloody hell do we manage that?”

Regina shot him another glare. “There’s a portal in the woods, one that Zelena must have used to cast the curse in the first place. One cut by the subtle knife.” She and Emma exchanged a significant glance. “Robin found it.” 

“Stumbled upon it, more like,” said Robin. 

“But what does that mean?” Killian pressed. 

“It means we have an outlet,” said Emma, and Regina nodded. “We can funnel the magic through that portal and out of Storybrooke.” 

“Exactly.” 

“But then, how do we close the portal? Oisín said only the knife bearer can do that, and—” 

“We’ll have to worry about that another time,” said Regina. “Once the magic is back in the Enchanted Forest it won’t be a danger to us anymore, and I can make a temporary patch to block the portal. It’s not a permanent solution but it’s the best we’ve got, and we have to move fast. The longer we wait the more dangerous the magic will become. We need to do this now.” 

“Okay,” said Emma. “You go back to this portal, then. I’ll gather the magic here and send it to you, and you funnel it out. Does that work?” 

Regina nodded. “It should.” 

“Um.” Emma frowned. “How do we—do you have something, like a signal or something to let me know where exactly you are?” 

“Take this.” Killian withdrew the broken compact mirror from his jacket pocket. “You still have the other half?” he asked Regina. 

“I do.” Regina took the mirror’s twin from her own pocket. “These should work perfectly.” She waved her hand over both mirrors. “I’ve modified the spell so they’ll act like beacons. Once you have the magic under control, press your thumb on this mirror—” she handed Killian’s half to Emma “—and my mirror will send up a signal to show you exactly where I am.” 

“Got it.” 

“Okay.” Regina flexed her fingers. “Are we ready?” 

“I’m coming with you.” They all turned to stare at Robin, who looked alarmed at the ferocity on their faces. 

“I don’t think there’s much you can do to help,” said Regina. 

“Perhaps not, but I’d prefer it if you weren’t alone,” he replied, and Regina’s expression softened to an almost girlish smile. Killian exchanged a glance with Emma, who just shook her head. Henry beamed. 

“All right,” said Emma. “Regina and er—” 

“Robin Hood.” 

“Right. Regina and Robin, um, Hood will go to the woods and make sure the magic gets through the portal. I’ll collect it and send it to them and the rest of you—” she glared at Neal and at Henry, and finally at Killian, narrowing her eyes. “The rest of you stay out of my way.” 

~

Flanked by his fellow dwarves and trailed by the Merry Men, Grumpy burst through the doors of the Rabbit Hole and headed down the street.

“We’ll go to Granny’s,” he said. “Gather a nice mob. Then we’ll hunt down the Evil Queen and this time she’ll get what’s coming to her.”

The dwarves chimed in a chorus of agreement but from the Merry Men it more resembled concerned muttering.

“A mob sounds like the wrong kind of justice,” said Little John. “Are you even sure it was the Queen?”

“Of course I am,” snarled Grumpy. “Who else would it be?”

“Well—”

“It was her,” Grumpy declared as they turned into Granny’s outdoor seating area. “It’s always her. Trust me.” 

The door to the diner swung open with a cheerful chime of its bell and Snow and Charming emerged, she with a wide, delighted smile and he with his arms crossed firmly over his chest.

“It’s so good to see you all!” cried Snow.

“But you’re all going to need to turn around and go back home,” said Charming.

“Home?” growled Grumpy. “I don’t think so, Your Highness. We were cursed, again, and we’re going to make sure that this time is the last.”

“Oh we will make sure of that. But if your plan is to go after Regina I’m going to need you to rethink it. Regina didn’t cast this curse.”

“Ha,” said Little John, earning him a glare from the irate dwarf. 

“Well then who did?” he demanded. 

Charming’s expression was grim. “Zelena.”

“Zelena!” echoed Grumpy, as voices rose around him, dwarves and Merry Men all speaking at once. 

“What, the mayor?”

Ex-mayor.”

“Why would she curse us?” 

“What does she get out of it?” 

“Who was she in our world, anyway?”

“I don’t know, I don’t remember her.”

“She was the Wicked Witch of the West,” said Charming, raising his voice above the din.

“Like from Oz?” called Will Scarlet. 

“How do you know?” Grumpy demanded. 

“Emma told us,” said Snow, smiling proudly. “She figured it out.” 

“Oh yeah? And where’s Emma now?”

“Dealing with the witch, we hope,” said Charming with a scowl. “Look, why don’t you all come inside and we’ll tell you everything we know.”

~

The magic snapped through the air, almost snarling in its growing fury. Emma focused her attention on it, clearing her mind as she concentrated on it, on feeling it and reaching out to it. Its jagged shards sliced at her, and though she knew the pain she felt wasn’t physical that didn't stop her feeling it. The others felt it too, she reminded herself, less acutely than she did but it still hurt them. She needed to get this magic gone before it could cause any real damage. 

Closing her eyes, she stretched her senses as far as they could go, feeling for the magic as it spread through Storybrooke, catching it and gathering it together, weaving it securely into a shape that could easily be sent to Regina. It was not unlike trying to wrestle angry cats into a sack and though her attention was entirely focused on her task she was grateful for Killian’s calming presence, close beside her with his hand rubbing circles on her back. She reached out blindly and gripped his hook, clutching it to keep herself grounded as she pulled the last bits of the magic together. 

“Okay,” she gasped. “I’ve got it.” 

Killian handed her the mirror and she pressed her thumb against it. Seconds later it buzzed as the magic that linked it to its twin formed a connection. Not an especially strong one—a bit like two tin cans joined by a string—but strong enough tho show her where to send the magic. She pointed it in the right direction and then with a mental heave she flung it away, imagining the sack of angry cats sailing through the air towards Regina and becoming her problem. 

She could feel the moment Regina took control of the curse magic and when she was certain it was not going to get loose again she let it go, stumbling a bit at the release of her burden and leaning into Killian’s arms when he caught her. He hugged her tight and stroked her hair as she breathed a heavy sigh into his shoulder. 

“Is it done then, love?” he asked, his voice low in her ear. 

She nodded. “It’s up to Regina now.” 

~

Regina and Robin stood in Storybrooke’s woods, one on each side of the portal’s slender arc, waiting. 

Robin had his bow in hand, not fully drawn but with an arrow nocked and at the ready. A gust of wind rose up, sending leaves swirling around them and he tensed, his eyes sharp on the path before them.  

“You think arrows are going to help against magic?” sneered Regina, then immediately wished she hadn’t. The snarky attitude she wore like a cloak had become simple habit, born of anxiety and the need to appear strong, but she didn’t truly wish to be so nasty. Not to him.  

“I’m sorry,” she said, and suppressed a smirk at his look of surprise. “I’m worried, and that makes me snappish. But I shouldn’t take my feelings out on you.” 

“You have nothing to worry about,” he replied, with such earnestness she gaped at him. He smiled. “You forget I’ve seen your magic firsthand, Your Majesty,” he said. “I have no doubt you can perform this task with ease.” 

His simple faith in her despite the hesitancy and uncertain tension that still hung between them warmed Regina to her very depths and made her wish that she were better at feelings. “Robin, I—” she began, and then felt the mirror in her pocket grow hot. “I—I think it’s time.” 

She removed the mirror and pressed her thumb against it to answer Emma’s call. The mirror buzzed faintly in her hand as it linked with its counterpart and a moment later Regina saw the curse magic winding its way towards them from the direction of Storybrooke, woven into a tight and impressively tidy rope. Oisín had clearly met with more success in teaching Emma how to use magic than she herself had, Regina thought. 

She reached out with her own magic, stable tendrils of it pulled through the portal from the Enchanted Forest, and took control of the rope. There was a moment of tension when both she and Emma held it at once, then Emma released her end and Regina stumbled at the abrupt shift. Instantly Robin was there, catching her before she could fall and keeping a steady hand on her arm as she wrestled the snapping and writhing magic through the portal. 

As soon as the tail end of the rope had gone she released it from her hold and followed it, slipping cautiously through the narrow opening with Robin keeping a secure grip on her had from the other side, and watched anxiously to see how the magic would react to its new surroundings. For the space of several heartbeats nothing happened, but then slowly, almost cautiously, the rope began to unravel. It uncoiled itself, picking up speed when it met with no resistance, spreading out as far as it could, all the disparate magics skittering away from each other and dissipating into the atmosphere. 

Regina exhaled in relief then drew a deep breath, full of the familiar scents of her homeland, and felt a tiny twinge of melancholy. Someday she should probably go back to the Enchanted Forest again, she thought, to fix the ravages her curse—and likely now Zelena’s curse—had wrought upon it. But not today. 

She stepped back through the portal and wove a protection spell around it, to prevent anyone from stumbling through it by accident as Robin had. 

If it had truly been an accident. Regina had some theories on that subject. 

She turned to Robin, who was smiling softly. “Well done,” he said. “I knew you could do it.” 

She felt herself flush under his praise. “I had help,” she replied with a small shrug, surprised to realise that the modesty was genuine. She would never have managed to defeat Zelena or break the curse all on her own. Without Emma and Henry, and perhaps most of all Killian—she would have been trapped forever in the special hell her sister had made for her. More surprising still was the realisation that working with them had been... nice. Nice to have people on her side, sharing her burdens, nice not to have to handle everything alone. Nice to have friends.   

She shook her head at the foolish thought. They were far from calling each other friends, she and Emma and Killian—it was a long path to friendship from ‘reluctant allies,’ after all—and yet Regina had a stirring of a suspicion, a tiny fragile bud of a feeling, that someday this might actually become a reality. 

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a real friend. 

“Speaking of which, we should get back to the station and make sure they’re all okay,” she said, taking up her magic again. “Are you ready?” 

Robin nodded. “Always.” 

~