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the strongest conjuration

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"I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself." - Maya Angelou

"Peace - that was the other name for home." - Kathleen Norris

the strongest conjuration

Home is a strange concept. To any one person it could be a hundred different things, and every person he's ever met has a different idea of what it means. Home, he's found, is less a place than a feeling, that tingle of warmth in your gut, the rush you feel at the sound of a particularly happy laugh or an especially welcoming smell. Home is not a place, it is an emotion, the kind that can overwhelm you, blindside you one afternoon on some idle, mundane Tuesday.

But mostly, home is the one thing, above all others, that you miss when you're away from it.

(He's paraphrasing an especially wise woman, he knows, but there's a certain eloquence to that kind of understanding that he can't quite let go.)

Home, the elegant concept that it is, is something most people strive their whole lives to achieve.

Killian has found home, and lost it, more times than he cares to remember, but he knows now it all lead to this - his pinnacle, the zenith of his mundane (extraordinary) life.

He wonders if any of his former incarnations would believe his tale - but then, none of them had worked for this, none of them had seen what he'd seen and done what he'd done.

Not a single one would appreciate it with the same devoted passion he does.

.

Home is a young boy with a riot of jet hair, sneaking about the legs of tables and chairs, working to avoid the paths of the seafaring men who frequent the inn. It's the tug at his collar of a stern looking pub maiden, shooing him off towards the stairs with a threat to put him to work if he can't behave himself, it is the bright blue eyes of the most beautiful woman young Killian has ever seen.

She is bright and colorful where the rest of the world is grey and muddy, the beautiful bar wench decked out in red silks and gold brocade - she does not fit, this woman who wears her husbands gifts with pride, but still lives and works in this ruddy old inn, taking care of her boys by any means she knows how.

Home is the stink of dirty men, and the flush of color that rises to his mothers cheek when the tavern below the inns rooms fills with naval men and pirates alike. It is the way his mother sighs as she tucks him into his cot, the sound of bawdy laughter pulling him into the darkness of slumber, the hum of her lips against his cheek and the wisp of her hair as she stands, again, to return to her captive audience.

Home dies a swift death.

Killian avoids the sickness through dumb luck, but Ester Jones falls ill, her bright and happy disposition turning pale and grey - her easy laugh stolen away by hacking coughs, her pale pink lips dyed blood red, the misty haze blowing in like a storm out at sea to dull the brilliant glow of her eyes.

He screams when her hand goes limp in his grasp.

.

Home is a promise made to a young boy by a man called Father, as his brother goes off to fight for the king. It is a promise of new beginnings, adventure and excitement, and after years of scraping by with Liam as his caretaker, it is the promise of new people in strange lands, of buccaneers and beautiful women and the whole world, laid out before him while Father smiles and ruffles his hair.

There is nothing grander in the world.

Home is the sway of a ship as he gets his sealegs for the first time - the sweet spray of ocean waves as he makes his first real journey beyond the shores of his youth - it is the scandalous tales of the sea he pretends not to hear, and the deceptively kind smile of the strange man that had given him life

Captain Jones, they call him, the name a whisper on the lips of tavern wenches and crewmen alike, one he mistakenly takes for honor, and respect.

He idolizes the man, with his crisp walk and cared meted out words, his stern gaze and those high, heroic cheekbones Killian is beginning to think he inherited. They speak little - the man parses out his words like he does the crews earnings: slowly, carefully, and with much consideration.

(Later, he will realize the truth of it. Later, when the grew gathers him from slumber and drags him to the docks - later, when they demand to know where Captain Jones has gone, none of them quite believing even the brigand Jones would leave his son behind, demand to know what he's done with His Majesty's ship. Later, he will learn that death is a far kinder form of abandonment that he'd previously imagined.)

Home is a lie, a sickly sweet deception spoken on forked tongue, left to rot between his teeth.

Home? There's no such thing.

.

Home is the clap of his brothers hand on his shoulder the day Killian first dons his naval uniform.

It's been fits and starts for Killian, the boy who spent a year on the streets scrounging for scraps, lost and alone and left, after...

A year alone, with his darkening thoughts and the incongruous, unending optimistic streak, the kind that bordered of suicidally disastrous, the kind Liam had been quietly thankful for when Killian scrambled up the deck of his ship, thirteen and bone-thin with wild eyes and a trembling smile on his face.

Liam will not, has not, did not leave him, this is something Killian knows.

They see each other little, those first few years in the service of the King, and though Killian only tolerates the vile debauchery of his own fellow crew, wondering at the captain and his lack of good form, he does well on his own, slides up the ranks as necessary. He is a good sailor, and a better man, and when he receives the news that he is to report to his brothers ship - to the Jewel of the Realm, that marvelous, mythical thing the men speak of in quiet whispers - he knows his time has come.

For all that he has suffered, for all that he has lost, he has his brother, and they have an adventure ahead of them. He could ask for nothing less.

Home is the sound of the sheets as they catch the strong wind, it is the way his brother stands beside him on the deck, strong and steady and firm. He holds himself with the kind of confidence Killian wishes to have, and so Killian emulates him as best he can - shoulders back, head high, eyes careful and quiet and observant, his voice always steady and commanding.

It is a high honor to be this man's First Mate, and an even higher one to be his brother.

When the boy appears to them at the shoreline, Killian feels the seeds of doubt, begins to feel the curl of disbelief that their king could be such a cruel and unjust man, but he takes strength in Liam's resolve - his brother is a good man, the greatest he has ever known, and Liam will figure this out.

(Liam lies dying in his arms, and for the first time Killian truly hates his brother, hates that stubborn belief and his insistence on trusting a man who sent children to war. He hates him for but a moment, and then he is alive and Killian forgets everything of import but the way Liam's eyes blaze with justice.)

"I will follow you to the ends of the earth, brother."

He does no such thing.

.

Home is the smell of fresh paint and ash, it is the rush of anguish as he realizes all that he has done, the way he can picture the disappointment on his brothers face as he turns coat and leaves their country without a proper attempt at warning the realm of the king's treachery.

Home is the sting of Starkey's needle as he patches up a nasty wound after their first raid of another ship, the way the man tic's his tongue and shakes his head and pats at Killian's shoulder reminding him of - something.

He lets the men break open the rum barrel and doesn't even bat an eye when they offer him the first drink.

"To bad form," he mutters with a glint of insanity in his eyes, and the men laugh loud and uncareful against the inky black night and the stretch of twinkling stars.

"To Captain Jones!" the crew calls up at him, and he fills himself a flask and retreats to the captains cabin, the place he refuses to call his own, just yet. The name tastes like more ash in his mouth, but he supposes he has become just as wretched as his father had been, once upon a time.

Home is Bill's insistence that they're being followed by a vengeful mermaid (it is Killian's swift reminder that mermaids and sea creatures are a bloody myth and eventually it is Juke's pointed finger and crowing laughter as they are forced to outrun a kraken), it is the happy grin on Black Murphy's face as they raid a ship for spices, and the way the crew teases Turk about his particular favorite bar wench and her especially large bosom.

(He lies to himself, tells himself that home is the subtle sway he feels by his third tankard of ale, home is the clink of coin in his purse, and the mounting terror in the eyes of his victims as he boards a ship, home is the way his cock slides into the hot wet sheath of the most expensive whore in town.)

Milah is an interesting complication. An addition to his crew he finds to be amusing (he does not think long and hard on the raven curls he finds vaguely familiar, nor the sparkle of her eyes), especially when her imp of a husband stumbles up the gangplank and refuses to fight for her.

He knows all about being left to fight for yourself, and so he makes sure the man knows every lying detail of his wife's position aboard the ship - pokes and prods at the man's feelings, hoping to incite - something. Anything, really, but the man trembles and quivers and refuses to pick up a blade.

"A man unwilling to fight for what he wants deserves what he gets."

Killian gets a new distraction, and the man goes home empty handed.

He's fairly certain that, in the end, he deserves all that comes after.

.

Falling in love with Milah was an unforeseen circumstance - she'd been a bit of fun, a welcome distraction and a warm and beautiful bed partner at most.

But then she'd been more.

He can't pinpoint the day or the hour upon which he'd begun to think of her as more, he'd been buried by the depth of his emotion before he'd really understood himself.

He finds her to be a most singular woman, his Milah (and she is his, heart and soul and everything in between) - fully of giddy anticipation and melodic laughter, she becomes a sister, a mother, a friend to his crew of brigands. She longs for adventure the way he longs for her, and so he gives it to her, everything in his power is hers to have, his heart, shrunken and black as it is included.

She tells the crew dark tales of ogres, of cowardly men, of powerful creatures of sea and land - she nurses the sick and the dying, sings softly to the men with wounds too deep for her hands to heal, and like the romantic he has always been he falls for her harder than even his deepest imaginings.

He seeks out ships carrying silks and golds, gifts her rich jewels and heavy furs, a heavy looking glass so that she might see the queen he's made of her, and though she receives them all with grace and wide smiles it is only once he gets to know her better that his gifts are met with joy.

Often he finds her flipping through the pages of his brothers books, and so one night as they ransack a duke's ship he pockets five novels and a fine leather journal.

(Her smile is like the sun, burning him up from the inside out as she takes the stick of charcoal in his hand with trembling fingers, and later when she presents him with the portrait of herself, no furs or jewels or silks to be seen in the drawing, he finally puts a name to all that he feels for this woman.)

She is home. She is everything, this woman, with her wise cracking jokes and her clever turn of phrase, who can go toe to toe with him even on his most ornery of days, who drags him from the depths of his own despair time and again without thought for her own.

They speak of her son, of the boy she'd left behind, of the man she wanted him to be, and Killian, for all his young optimism, had promised her the world - they would return, one day, to take him with them, would abandon the sea and the Jolly and they would find a place to be a family.

She smiles at him sadly no matter how passionate his promises are, as though she knows it is nothing but a dream, what they speak of.

Killian knows in his bones he will prove that sad smile wrong - they will have a home together if it is the last thing he ever does.

.

Neverland is not a home.

The keen ache of loss sits heavy on his chest at all times, and he burns in it, his mind never far from his lost love, from the beast who had stolen it all away from him.

The crew fears him - the crew he'd once imagined as a sort of cobbled together family of ribald miscreants, they avoid him as well they can, keep to themselves, quiet and away.

There is no revelry, here, only fighting and pain and death, and Killian embraces it - he will find a way to kill his crocodile, or he will die on this wretched spit of land trying.

There is one glimmer of light in his centuries there, and it comes without warning - Baelfire.

That ache of loss hits him hard and fast, once he realizes who the boy is, and though he fights to keep a face with Smee and the others he has no doubt in his mind he would let them all die if it meant this one boy would live.

But he is too far gone to fight the boy who blames him for Milah - who insults the only bits of him left that aren't focused on vengeance. He would tear apart the earth and sea, would burn a trail of fire and death to care for Milah's son, would even give up his quest for vengeance - but he will not be painted the villain, not by a slip of a boy who thinks he is the devil of this mad tale.

He will regret that one decision more than any other, but when it is done, he will feel only relief. He can be the black hearted scoundrel without compunction, without a shred of decency left in him.

Working for Pan comes easy, after that.

Neverland is not a home, and it was never meant to be - Neverland is nothing but the pit of despair he'd dug himself into. He'd left his heart when he'd passed Milah into the sea, and there is no home for dark and evil creatures like himself - not here, not anymore.

.

He resents it, living here as a wolf amongst sheep, hiding his true face from the poor fools who think they have Cora under control. He resents it, and he hates them all for not figuring out the truth for themselves.

He doesn't even blink when Cora takes them all by surprise, ripping out hearts and making a bloody mess of the little camp these weak idiots had thought safe, and when she tells him her plan he feels nothing but eagerness to finally be so close to the end.

The sun glimmers off brilliant golden hair when the women dig through bodies to find him, and he blinks, suddenly thankful he's already on the ground - he feels as though he's been bowled over, and he can't for the life of him figure out why - this woman in her strange red leather and her sternly set shoulders, she's no more beautiful than the other women with her, nothing different than a hundred other women he's ever known, but he can't quite catch a breath when she looks at him.

It's been so long since he's let himself feel anything at all, he doesn't bother to try to put a stop to it before it's far too late.

She catches his lies with ease, threatens him and glares at him and seems to care little whether he lives or dies, but there is something, a tiny little glimmer in her eyes that he remembers, and so, even tied up and helpless, annoyed and angry, he tells her the truth.

He'd forgotten what truth even felt like.

It's not like with Milah. With Milah he'd not had to fight for it - their hearts had been one before they'd ever truly realized it, and it had been easy to fall into things they'd already been playing at.

No. The Swan woman is a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma, and his heart beats a steady rhythm in his chest as he tries to figure her out - he feels the tug of memory as he calls her an orphan, feels the rush of pain as he points out her need to return to her son - they play games with each other and squabble and fight and he finds he likes her.

She is a strange creature, this Swan, something he's never seen before, and he yearns to crack through those walls and get to the bottom of her.

It's the beginning of the end, for Captain Hook.

.

As is often the case, he is entrenched in his feelings long before he pays them any mind. The longer he knows Swan the harder it is for him to remember why he has spent centuries with nothing but death on his mind. She is a beacon of light in the starless sky that has been his home for some long, and every day he is drawn more closely towards her - even Rumpelstiltskin and his vendetta pale in comparison to her.

Not that he doesn't try to stay on course. The problem is, he's been a sailor for a very, very long time, and even Captain Hook, who has lived for nothing but the end of the Dark One for nearly three centuries, knows better than to steer his ship for the deadly rocks below when there is a perfectly good lighthouse already there to guide him home.

Still, his powers of self-preservation run thick in his blood, and he leaves them to their fate, this town of misguided heroic types, intent on saving his own skin.

He thinks about the boy, Henry, and he thinks about Swan, and he thinks, too long he thinks about Baelfire and Milah, and when he turns the ship back around he knows that is the end of his vengeance, the end of his days as the black-hearted wretch he tried at for so long.

He wonders if he's too far beyond saving. And then he decides he'll do good either way.

(He thinks his brother might even have been proud of that.)

.

The kiss comes unexpectedly - he's always known he had some effect on her, really, but she's made of tougher stuff than the women who fell at his feet, and she's not one to bow down to a bit of light flirting.

He doesn't expect it.

He also doesn't expect the dizzying realization of the depth of his feeling for Emma Swan - not until he's swaying into her, desperate for more, his mind whirring and heavy and shocked, her breath coming in short gasps as she breaks away from him and he fights not to reach for her.

A one time thing, she says, as though she truly doesn't feel the pull of them, of this thing building between them, this thing that has been building since he first laid eyes on her.

After that - after his confession, after her son is safe, after "Good" - all he knows is the fight to win her heart.

.

The Jolly sighs under his feet as he takes her in, one last time, and he can feel the old girl keening at his loss already.

He smoothes his hand across the rail, listens to the creak of boards under his feet and the soft lap of water against the hull.

"I know," he tells the Jolly as she groans beneath him, reminding him one last time of all he's giving up, and he can feel her, that warmth that wraps around him when he has nothing left in the world - this enchanted lady has been his longer than anything else, and she knows as well as he what he's giving up. "I know."

Killian gives her a final pat, fingers tripping up along the bulwark, and the Jolly gives one last groan before she sighs quietly. His heart clenches in his chest, and he takes two giant steps off the gangplank, suddenly desperate to make this quick.

"The bean?" he asks, and his hand digs ruthlessly into the small pouch he is given. He doesn't look back at the ship as he pulls it out, milky white and terrifying in it's enormity - such a tiny little thing, really, for all that he hopes it will do. The docks are quiet as he takes it in, and he takes one final deep breath before he nods to the provider of this one last chance. "The ship is yours," he says, and he walks away without another glance - he's said goodbye to her before, but this is the last time, and if he prolongs it -

He has someplace to be, anyway.

(Home has long been sails snapping against the wind, the wheel beneath his fingers and the creak and sigh of every board on the Jolly - she has shared in her love for three hundred years, but now he must leave her, now he must fight for a new place to call his own.)

.

"You traded your ship for me?"

"Aye."

Her hand is soft and sure against the back of his neck, her smile sweet and soft and unguarded, and she is one of the few people who could ever truly understand the enormity of abandoning the Jolly Roger. Her fingers slide along his shoulder, down his arm to slide against his palm, and his heart feels simultaneously at ease for the first time in hundreds of years and also as though it must burst free from his chest at any moment.

"C'mon. If we stay out here any longer my parents are going to rustle up a search party."

He has a few things to say about the Prince's ability to look out a window all on his own, but he keeps it to himself, a giddy sort of calm sliding over him when she squeezes at his hand.

"Swan." She drops his hand as they reach the door, inquisitive gaze catching his own, and they stare at each other for a moment. She must see something of his trepidation in his gaze - her hand slides up, and she thumbs at his jawline, fingers tripping over his beard as she smiles.

"Lets go, sailor. We're home now. I think that's cause for celebration."

He nods, swallowing around the sudden lump in his throat, and she shoots him a grin over her shoulder as they open the door and slide back into Granny's.

.

Home is not a place - it's a feeling, a calmness washing over you, a beating heartbeat beneath your fingertips and the curl of soft hair as it slides across your skin.

For Killian it is a dimpled grin and a twinkling giggle, the slide of skin against skin and the sparkle of green eyes.

It is a crowded kitchen, his Swan's parents squabbling over the proper age to begin teaching a child swordcraft, while her son calms a squalling baby and she slips her fingers along his side, leaning in to press a kiss against his shoulder while no one is looking.

It is the way she smiles at him when baby Neal takes an eager step towards her, his first step turning into one, two, three before he tumbles - the swift promise behind her eyes as he stares at her; it's the way Henry mumbles nonsensically against his shoulder, eyes dipped closed as he slumbers; the way Snow White hands baby Neal off to him without so much as a backward glance, the sudden trust in him an almost overwhelming shock, and he is still slack-jawed when David appears in the doorway a moment later, brow raised as he slides around Killian without even offering to take Neal from him.

It is the never ending battle against evil that is the Saviors lot in life, never a moment to rest, never a moment of true peace, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

Home is merely this: the culmination of an extended life, the death of revenge as a proper motivator, the realization of his overly long and winding heroes journey.

Home is Emma Swan, and all that that entails, and he wouldn't trade it for the world.