Even if the man sprawled, open mouthed and snoring on the bed before her was only barely recognizable, a grim shadow of the man she knew, Emma took comfort in the fact that his home was for the most part unchanged. He always took impeccable care of his ship, even if the same couldn't always be said of himself.
There were new books lining the mantle, a few things replaced or slightly off from the Jolly she knew, but the feel of the vessel, the warmth and care shown on the spotlessly clean deck, in the tidy and efficient cabin, everything arranged just so, was exactly the same.
Emma laid his sword carefully on the table, and looked around, finally feeling some measure of peace in the day’s recent chaos. The palace she had called home here wasn't a world she knew, the years of growing up there, of her marriage, and raising her son in the endless echoing corridors, elaborate balls and parties, were familiar in the way dreams are, intangible, fleeting, curling and fading around the edges with every moment after the dawn.
This ship however, she knew this ship.
She had lain sated and warm on those sheets. Had made love on it's decks under the stars and the light of the moon. Had laughed, and eaten with a man this Killian would never have the chance to be, at the very table his sword now sat upon. Grilled cheese and onion rings pilfered from his plate were more real than any feast from this life she had never really lived. Smiles as he growled out his praise over her piracy, kissing her with food greased lips as laughing punishment, were more potent and tangible than any kiss received from a husband who lived only in false memory.
Her heart wrenched as she traced his face, weather worn and lined from years of hard living. Years of loveless failed purpose in every crease and wrinkle. His eyes though, his eyes were still that beautiful blue. No twisted wish could dim those eyes.
Emma set to work, undressing him with care, his form still and sleeping. She removed the dirty coat, squashing the urge to throw it into the sea, discarded the stained linen shirt, the curling twisting scarves. She removed them all, methodically and reverently. She couldn't just leave him like this. He may not be the man she loved, but the echo of him was still there, a path thankfully untaken in another life mapped out in the unfamiliar scars and tattoos on his chest and torso.
She summoned the copper hip bath from the galley, filled it with hot water, scented it with conjured oils, and set to work. Her work was mindless and tedious, the only sounds in the cabin his harsh measured breaths, the trickle of water as she bathed him, the scratch and rasp of the cloth on his skin. She lingered over his hands, still firm and sure, and carefully removed his rings, setting them on the mantle.
She traced his brow, more prominent than the one she knew, the curve of his jaw, less defined and angular, but no less dashing. The water and candlelight played tricks with the shadows, his former handsomeness appearing like a specter on his face as the flame flickered, filling in the lines, darkening his beard, sharpening his features, blurring the years of neglect. It was just an illusion though, the next guttering flare of the light casting his true form in sharp relief.
She washed his hair, nails scrapping at his scalp, remembering his appreciative moans in similar circumstances. She’d always loved his hair, falling across his forehead with a wonderful playful boyishness, curling enticingly at his collar when he’d let it go too long, a chaotic beautiful mess that had now gone lank and gray. She bathed it in the oil, slowly working it through each strand, until it looked almost black in the light, and rinsed it over and over with the warm scented water.
She carefully trimmed the ends with a small pair of scissors that were still in the same spot on his basin, ever a creature of habit even here, and gave form to his dishevelment, structure to the neglected chaos. She brushed and brushed as it dried, until it shone silver and straight against the tan of his hardened skin.
Next came his beard, so coarse and wild, so different than the soft well trimmed scruff she had pressed her palm against a hundred times. She lathered him in cream with the bristled brush from his shaving kit, dusty from neglect, carefully smoothing it over the planes and angles of his face.
Each scrape of the straight blade, sharpened to a razors edge on the same stone that had seen many a sword, honed on a thick leather strap, took away years, decades even. His skin was smoother here, protected from the harsh elements and an even harsher life under all that wild growth. Slowly the years melted away as she carefully scraped the blade down, his jaw growing more pronounced without its thick, unkempt covering.
She dressed him again, her magic aiding her work, clean black leather and stark white linen, embracing him in golden light as it moved over his body, his necklace prominent against the silver hair of his chest.
She laid a more familiar leather jacket on the back of his chair, her eyes burning when she saw it, just the same as ever, folded carefully in a chest, tucked away like so many unwanted memories. She whisked the old decrepit one away with a flick of her wrist, glad to see it gone, and imagined him pulling this one on instead, strong and confident, the leather panels sweeping out behind him as he went off into the world to conquer his demons.
She cleaned up, putting everything back exactly as she had found it, the copper tub emptied and whisked back to the galley, the scissors back in their spot on the basin.
And then she wrote.
She had never been much of a writer, preferring the colors and hues of paint on paper when it came to creative endeavors, but this story she knew down to her very soul. She poured it out onto yellowed parchment, wove the tale with every scratch of nib, every dip into black ink. She told the tale of an ugly duckling turned into a swan, of a princess and her pirate, of a true love blessed by the gods themselves. She told the tale of a man who changed despite the darkness, a hero revealed through his sacrifices made for love, of vengeance forgotten for a life well lived.
She told their story, the most beautiful story she had ever known, the ink marred by falling tears, the lines smudged by shaking hands as she folded it, pressing a red lipped kiss to corner, and laid it carefully on mantle.
Emma hoped he would read it when she was gone, back to the the man he would never get to be. Emma hoped he would read it, and know his story wasn't over yet.