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She brings rum to his grave, the flask he left behind on his ship.

It's stupid, really. She should have brought flowers, but there already seem to be enough strewn on the plot. Emma has her parents to thank for that, she's sure. It's not as if he can receive gifts in the Underworld via grave (and he's moved on by now, he promised her that much) anyway. But she needs to give him something, even if he'll never know she did.

Emma needs to do something, settle the uselessness that's tethering around her heart and constricting the breathing in her lungs. The flask doesn't alleviate that, but she knew that was a long shot anyway.

"I love you," Emma breathes out, talking to someone who can't hear her. She bends her head down, scuffing her boots on the grass and pulling the umbrella she's holding down with her. She lets out a bitter laugh. "You're right, I can only say it when one of us is dead or dying, huh?"

"Emma?"

She turns around to face her mother, clad in a peacoat and looking concerned. The funeral was hours ago, everyone left but Emma. They seemed to understand she needed more time.

Time.

She always needed more time.

Snow, though, seems to have grown tired of waiting for her. "Emma, honey, you should come home. David is making dinner - grilled cheese, your favorite," Snow runs her gloved hand up and down Emma's arm reassuringly, trying to comfort her daughter the best she can.

"Give me a little more time," she tells her, voice flat as she stares at the headstone in front of her.

Killian Jones. Devoted friend and partner.

They hadn't had the last part, back in the Underworld, but David had insisted on adding it in here. He chiseled it himself, laughing tearily at his sloppy handiwork.

("He would have done it better, believe it or not. Carving is harder than it looks.")

Partner, she guessed, was for her. There's no better word to describe what she and Killian had - boyfriend felt wrong, too simple - so this would have to be enough. They hadn't had the chance to change it to anything more.

"You can talk to me," Snow offers, voice quiet. "You know that, right?"

Emma doesn’t intend on taking her up on her offer. “Just give me a minute.”

Snow frowns. "Please don't shut yourself off to the people that love you, Emma."

It's like a stab through the chest, hot and stinging. Emma feels the breath go out of her at the reminder of the things he said, the things she promised. Snow only looks more concerned when Emma clenches her eyes shut, shaking her head back and forth feverently.

"I'm the Savior," Emma manages to get out, arms wrapped so tightly around herself she's worried she might burst. "I should have been able to save him, to find another way. I came to the Underworld to find him and bring him back and I left him there."

"Emma," her mother murmurs, running her hand over her shoulder, "You did all you could. You know that."

"Did I?" she rasps, echoing the same question she asked before she left the Underworld.

Emma thinks of his face, wet with rare tears as he looked up at her. He met her eyes until he couldn't anymore, fingers straining to cling to hers. That expression, that moment, plays on repeat behind her eyes every time she closes them.

"It was True Love," Emma manages. "We found that out, passed the test. And now...now he's gone. And I can't get him back."

Her voice breaks on the last word. Snow just looks helpless at her daughter's suffering.

"I'm so sorry," are all the words she can say. The bleakness of her mother - beacon of hope and optimism - not even having a better answer for her than this isn't lost on her.

"There are so many things I wish I could have done differently," Emma exhales shakily, swallowing the sob that .threatens to leave her throat. "So many things I could have prevented, could have said. It's just with everything happening one thing after another…" her hand tightens on the handle of her umbrella until her knuckles are white and she starts crying in earnest. "He told me we were on stolen time, you know, when he said goodbye. And he was right. We never got enough time."

-/-

It doesn't feel right and it doesn't feel fair to have Hades and Zelena, of all people, to be happy and healthy and in love while she left Killian in a basement in hell because of the actions of both of them. Zelena teamed up with Arthur and got them in the struggle that gave Killian his mortal wound and Hades left them in a trap, searching for dead ambrosia with fingers that would never hold each other again.

She spots the recently, supposedly redeemed couple on the sidewalk - hand in hand and beaming.

The sight sours her mood considerably.

(She remembers him waiting at her Bug, coffee for her in one hand - two sugars - and his own black coffee resting on the Bug until she got to him. Killian walked her to work almost every day for a few weeks, his arm slung around her shoulder and his lips pressing against hers in a hello and a goodbye.)

(A temporary goodbye.)

Her nose still wrinkles at the sight of the two of them, the god of the Underworld and the woman who first whirled into her life with a time travel portal in the works.

(A portal she ended up going through, Killian at her heels when she slipped through his fingers in the vortex.)

The thought rattles in her head, lingering even after she gets to the station. David is off today, watching his son, and it's just her. Emma has a lot of time to think and simmer, to let the thought of time portals and Killian play over and over again in her mind, like a scratched CD in her car that skips and skips and skips.

Emma stills in the middle of typing the latest crime report - a watch missing from a townsperson - when the thought comes to her.

It was a time travel curse that brought them together in the first place. Maybe it can again.

-/-

Her methods don't have to be as brutal as Zelena's, though.

Her parents and Henry seem to accept her latest mission easily enough, much to her surprise. Snow snaps her fingers as if she's angry with herself for not thinking of it in the first place, David nods patiently as she tries to explain herself, and Henry's fingers tap restlessly against the notebook he's writing on as he suggests for possible points for her to travel to.

(She grabs the blue pen in his hand - as normal and produced by Bic as it may be - and tells him that she'll have to use it for wisdom.)

They go back to the barn where the first spell was cast for the second. The bench on the way to it - where Killian pleaded with her to stay in Storybrooke - haunts her. Emma just has to keep her head up straight and one foot in front of the other

This time, when she finds him, she won't have to let him go.

Emma lines all of her ingredients up in a row and swears this will have to work, her family at her side. They'll leave once they need to, she has to do this alone or else risk complicating everything further, but having them here with her helps.

"Just remember," David says, handing the bottle of his bravery over. He told her, earlier, that fighting his weird doppleganger reminded him a little too much of James. She'd frowned and apologized, but David insisted it was well worth it. "We love you and will support you no matter what. I don't care what timeline we're in."

The blanket - embossed with her name in purple lettering - is her symbol of innocence. She runs the fabric through her hands, feeling its softness and sighing before setting it back where it's meant to be. The symbol of love is easy, Emma just tugs the ring off from around her neck. With Regina's help, she managed to figure out how to turn the ring into a talisman, of sorts. The time travel spell is stupidly complicated - with good reason - but there's evidently a way to make it easier to jump from timeline to timeline if the worst happens. If Zelena's experiment proved anything, it was that things didn't need to be destroyed to work.

Her brother, after all, was still alive.

Another adjustment to the arrangement of the spell makes it so there aren't multiple Emmas running around in whatever timeline she's in a next, tethering her back to herself. Zelena's experiment being considered, she was honestly expecting a lot more negative of a reaction from her family. Emma waited for them to tell her this idea is ludicrous and that she needs to let go. Instead, they all agreed to help her every step of the way.

("You've fought for everyone else's happy ending," Snow had told her, "let us fight for yours.")

"Just think of where you want to go back to," Snow instructs once Emma has everything facing the right direction, pressing a kiss to her forehead one last time. "I love you, honey. Be careful."

"I will," Emma promises, leaning back from her to face her father and son. "I love you guys, all of you."

"We'll see you soon," David reassures her, a tremulous grin on his lips. He's putting on a brave act for her, she knows, but she's never been more grateful for him. She needs bravery, right now, and she's not just talking about the ingredient for the spell. "Stay safe, Emma."

Henry hugs her tightly, his chin settling in her shoulder. He's taller than her, now, and it will never stop baffling her. "You can do this, mom."

Emma's hand comes up to cup his head, eyes watering. "I love you, kid."

"I love you, too."

Emma waves them out, instructing them not to get near the barn no matter how crazy things look on the outside. They leave reluctantly and tearfully, but she's eventually left alone in the barn.

She sighs, fingering the ring on the chain around her neck. Emma squeezes her eyes shut, thinking of Killian and Camelot and a sword.

-/-

Emma stops the Excalibur just in time, hastily recuperating from her spell on the ground and grabbing David's sword from his belt so she can do it. Both Arthur and Killian seem dazed at the sudden interruption, but Killian quickly takes advantage of Arthur's surprise and punches him clear across the face.

Arthur collapses.

It's a hell of a lot of action, given that she was suddenly thrown in here.

"We make quite the team, love," Killian grins at her brilliantly once his boot falls on Excalibur and effectively disarms Arthur, his eyes sparkling and his dimples showing. She wants to collapse on the sight, wants to hold onto him and never let go. But she has to act normal, has to act like she didn't just lose him too many times to count.

He won't have the wound that kills him, now.

"We do, huh," she manages.

Arthur is already scurrying to get to Zelena, who poofs them both away. It's something she can deal with later. Right now, she's more focused on this.

He's alive and he's here.

Her family gets out of their bonds and Merlin comes back to himself.

"Nice work, you two," Merlin rasps, regaining his breath.

"I know how to light Prometheus' flame," Emma says, looking over to everyone. They all seem intact, if rattled, and she's never been more relieved in her life. There's still the Darkness, but the overwhelmingly positive rush of feelings she's experiencing at this reunion are enough to keep it at bay for now.

Besides, she shouldn't have it for much longer.

Emma looks up to Killian, a blinding grin on her lips. "Let's light it and go home."

He's confused by her sudden change in attitude and by the sudden breakthrough - as is everyone - but he grins back all the same. "Aye, love. Let's."

Merlin raises his eyebrows. "Well, then. Give me a bit of time to recuperate, give yourself time to try this new idea you have about the flame and we can do this."

-/-

Emma leads Killian by the hand into the forest, clinging so tightly to it she wonders why he isn't asking her why.

He catches on eventually.

"Something's bothering you," Killian notes once they've stilled, raising his eyebrows. "Something's wrong, Swan. One second Arthur has us tied up and the next you're stopping a sword just in time and brimming with ideas."

"Adrenaline kicked in," Emma supplies, shrugging. She can't keep the grin off of her face. "What can I say, you inspired me. And how exactly do I seem upset?"

"You...don't," he notes, curiously. "But perhaps that's what's troubling me. It's quite the turnaround. I'm worried that the darkness is messing with your head."

"It's not the darkness," Emma reassures him, tugging his hand so he steps closer to her. "It's definitely not the darkness."

"What is it, then?" he asks, brow furrowed.

Emma kisses him instead of replying, wrapping the arm holding the flame around his back and clinging to him. She kisses him deeply, passionately, and he reciprocates after a beat of confusion. They fit together perfectly, they always have, and she's so, so grateful that now this doesn't have to be their last kiss.

She missed him so much.

He's the one who breaks the kiss, though her lips trail along his jaw when they separate, and he exhales.

"Emma," he murmurs, arms wrapping around her. "Do not think I'm complaining-"

She laughs, burying her face into his shoulder. "Well, then, don't."

Emma still clings to him, hugging him tightly because she can't let go of him - not now, not after everything. It doesn't matter if he knows why or not, it just matters that she keeps holding on. She thinks of his fingers leaving hers and how cold the air felt and never, ever wants to feel that way again. He rocks with her in her arms for a few moments, seemingly uncertain of what else to do.

"You alright, Swan?" he asks cautiously.

Emma tries her best to keep her voice level. "I'm more than alright, Killian."

A few traitorous tears - happy tears, overwhelmed tears,'I just traveled through time to save you' tears - escape her eyes. He notices almost immediately, feeling them on the skin of his neck, and pulls back to look at her.

"Swan, you're crying," he observes, worry clouding his voice as his hand comes up to wipe her tears away. "Please, love, tell me what's going on."

"I just realized something," she swallows, her hand coming up to cup his face. "I realized what I've been holding back."

His expression changes from worry to realization. A slow grin spreads across his lips. "And what's that?"

"I was afraid of our future," she murmurs, swaying a little bit in his arms. "About hoping for a future that I thought -" the words nearly cling to her throat, hitting a little too close to home, but she manages to get them out, "I thought I'd never be able to have, that I didn't want get my hopes up about only to see it torn from me like it has been before. But I know that I have to let myself want it, now. I want that future with you, Killian. I want that house by the water that you picked out with Henry. And I want it to start now, you and me against whatever craziness is next for us."

Killian gapes at her, at loss for words. "Emma…"

She skims her fingers along his jaw, her other hand still holding the flame behind his back. "Do you want that, too?"

"More than anything," he swears, and she knows he's telling the truth. The goodbyes between them spoke to how much he wanted it, how much it hurt for him to let go.

Killian leans in to kiss her, soft and slow, and she's never been more grateful for her stupid, crazy decisions in her life. The flame lights behind them. And this is the start of their future, her new future.

-/-

Killian goes to take the flame to Merlin, pressing one more kiss to her lips with an impish grin and a joyful laugh before she leaves to grab the dagger from Regina. Everything is suddenly fresh and full of possibilities, an entire future spread out before them in a way that's far more exciting than something to dread. She's so happy she could burst with it.

The giddiness leaves like a punch to the stomach once she gets to the diner and spots Killian, sprawled out in the middle of the linoleum with his hand on his throat and a concerned Merlin leaning over him. She rushes over to him immediately, gasping as she recognizes the wound.

"How the hell did this happen?" Emma asks incredulously, her eyes filling with tears. She staunches the bleeding as much as she can, pressing her hand over Killian's on his neck. She pulls him into her lap, trying her best to soothe him with gentle touches even as her hands start shaking. "How did you let this happen?"

"It's alright, love," he tries to reassures her, but his eyes are already beginning to droop. Her parents, Henry, and Regina walked in at her heels into the diner, and all they can do is gape at the scene in front of them.

"No," Emma shakes her head furiously, a sob bubbling out of her lips. "No, it isn't."

"Arthur," Merlin replies, his voice filled with regret. "He snuck up on us right as we were coming here to reunite the sword. Hook managed to fight him off, only had a small cut at first, but Arthur got the sword from my grasp with Zelena's magic's help. A wound from Excalibur, however minor, is fatal. There was nothing I could do. If we reunite the sword now, he'll only die sooner. I'm so sorry, Emma."

"It's just a cut, Swan," Killian tells her, grinning though his voice is thin. "I've gotten worse wounds from scratching my nose with the wrong -"

"Please," Emma begs, pulling him further into her lap. "Please don't."

By the look on his face, masking and longing and sad in a way she can still remember looking up at her from that elevator, he knows it's more than that.

"I love you, Emma," he tells her, instead of trying to reassure her. Everyone looks onto the scene in horror, at the blood their hands are trying to staunch and the huddled mass they make on the floor.

"I love you," she sobs, racking her hand through his hair. "I love you so much, Killian. Please, just hang on."

"Is there anything we can do?" Snow asks, her voice shaking. "There has to be something we can do."

Merlin hesitates and she knows why. "There's nothing we can do."

It's a lie, but one she understands. They don't have to tell her not to tie Killian to the dagger, she already knows.

Killian's eyes roll into the back of his head and she panics, heart thudding in her chest. "Killian, Killian, please stay with me. Killian, please. Don't leave me like this, I just got you back. Please, just stay with me."

He gives her a weak, small smile and she knows it's already too late.

She still takes him back to the Middlemist meadow. He always wanted to say his goodbyes alone.

-/-

This time, his last words are for her to keep fighting for the future she deserves, with or without him.

-/-

Maybe she has to start earlier, a lot earlier.

She gets out the ring from under her bloodstained cloak, clinging to it and thinking of a beanstalk and a compass before they can bury him.

-/-

Killian - no, Hook - is looking up at her with his hand drawn out for her to take.

Emma takes it without hesitation, feeling the familiarity of his hand in hers. It's a foreign feeling to him, though, and his eyes widen with surprise at the sensation. They still fit pretty well together, she'll admit.

"Let's go," she attempts, trying to remember exactly where she is. Emma can remember what happened afterwards easily enough, but this is something cautious, something new. It's Emma taking a risk, something she was hardly fond of back then. All that armor and defensiveness, built up from years of scar tissue, prevented her from being capable of that.

It was him that helped her shed it. He begged her to keep it off when he had to send her to leave him.

Granted, she doesn't think he meant back in time with another version of himself, but she'll make do with what she has.

Hook clears his throat, after a beat of them awkwardly holding onto each others' hands. His hand comes up to scratch behind his ear, a mannerism so reminiscent of the Killian she knows that her heart twinges in her chest. "Aye. I suppose the giant won't be receptive to having us around as dinner guests, eh?"

Emma snorts, shaking her head and standing up on shaking legs. It's a hell of a bout of whiplash to go from seeing him die over and over to this, back when it all began. "Anton isn't all bad."

"You're on a first name basis with him, then?" he teases lightly, raising his eyebrows as he stands alongside her.

"Jealous?" she asks, maybe just a little too impishly. It's more the Emma that's comfortable with him than this Emma, but she has to find a middle ground if she wants this to have a chance at this working.

He chortles, at this. "You're full of revelations, Swan."

"Good to know," Emma grins, brushing past him to walk out of Anton's home. If they want to get out before Mulan chops the damn thing down, they're going to have to run. "Coming?"

"Wait," he stops her abruptly, his hand coming to wrap around her wrist.

Emma stills, looking a little surprised at the request.

"You came back for me," he notes, eyebrows furrowed together. "A curious thing, that. I would have assumed you'd sooner leave me up here."

Emma's lips twitch. She has to make sure to keep herself composed, make sure she's still hanging onto some of that guardedness. Not her real armor, necessarily. Just enough so that she can handle this incarnation of Hook.

"You did tell me things would be much easier if I trusted you," Emma points out, holding back her grin. "Consider it done."

"Just like that?" he marvels aloud, shocked.

Emma nods. He really has no idea, but that wasn't the point, here. "Just like that."

-/-

"Thank you," Hook murmurs to her over the fire later that night, once it's their turn to take watch for Cora. They don't trust him to take watch alone - understandably - and Emma volunteers to take watch alongside him.

Her mother is baffled by her sudden tolerance of Hook (and it never goes quite beyond tolerance, not yet, she at least has to time this out to some extent or it'll never work), but she manages to swallow her distaste. She also accidentally calls her 'mom', once, so that might be part of it. Mulan and Aurora are oblivious in their own world, Aurora sleep deprived and stressed and Mulan worried about Aurora.

And Killian, well, Killian is having a grand old time.

Emma raises her eyebrows at the sudden gratefulness. "For what?"

"For not leaving me up there," he proffers with a small shrug. "It'd be easy for you to."

"Yeah, well," Emma exhales, smiling a little wistfully. "You're a lot more of a help to us on our side than working against us."

"Ah," Hook nods, pressing his lips together thoughtfully. "But that's not the only reason, is it?"

Emma frowns. "What is that supposed to mean?"

He smirks, gesturing to himself dramatically. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were warming up to this old pirate."

Emma laughs, shaking her head. "I'm positively swooning."

"Aren't you?" he teases, eyes glinting in the firelight as he grins fondly at her.

It's easy to forget that this isn't her Killian, not yet. Her breath catches in her throat. She's missed him so much in between it all, her heart aches with it. She misses the teasing and the smiles and the light jokes, she misses him making her laugh when everything is falling apart, she misses him.

And maybe, this time, this is a future she can keep.

-/-

They get to Lake Nostos and it all goes to hell.

The fight goes much easier with four against one, without the extra diversion of the swordfight between Hook and Emma and Aurora's wayward heart. But Cora is still Cora - powerful sorceress - and Emma's powers still haven't quite developed here yet.

Emma shows her hand a little too much when she quickly pushes Killian out of the way of one of Cora's curses. By the time he stands, Cora is leaning in to take his heart with a poof of magical smoke and an outstretched hand.

"No!" Emma yells out, trying to step in front of him and make Cora rip out her heart, instead.

She isn't fast enough.

Cora crushes Hook's heart within seconds and it's over, just like that. He doesn't even have a chance to give her any last words.

Emma falls to her knees beside him, shaking him as if it'll wake him up.

She clutches the necklace so tightly she's almost worried it'll break in her grip.

-/-

"That was…" Killian rasps, his breath fanning across her face and his forehead pressed against hers.

She dives into kiss him again instead of saying what she did before, tugging him back to her lips by his lapel.

(That was a lie even then, anyway. It was a lot more than a one time thing).

Killian marvels at her once she parts from him the second time, thumb running across her cheek. His lips turn upwards and his expression turns bittersweet. "I don't suppose this is anything more than a thank you, is it?"

"That depends," Emma hums, rubbing her nose against his. "What do you want it to be?"

He looks as if she's sucked the air right out of his lungs, but the shock slowly gives way to a broad grin. He dives in to kiss her again, pressing her closer to him with his hands at her back.

-/-

She tells him she feels the same way after he confesses his feelings in the Echo Caves and they get Neal back. Suddenly Neverland becomes that much brighter. Her parents are mystified by how quickly she's grown close to the pirate captain - Neal even moreso - but it doesn't matter.

They're going to get Henry back, they're going to come home, and they're going to stop the curse before Pan can cast it. It's not as if he can trick them if she already knows what his trick is going to be.

-/-

They take a detour, one that will get them that much closer to Dark Hollow to get the lantern to catch Pan's shadow.

One of the Lost Boys' arrows catches Hook right in his chest and - even if they were able to get the water for the dreamshade - the arrow is lodged right through his heart. Emma rocks back and forth with him in her lap and she swears this gets harder every time.

("It's alright, Emma," he soothes her with his last breath, fingers cupping her wet cheek. "It'll be alright. Save your son, Swan, I know you can do it.")

Emma sobs over the body of a man she isn't meant to love yet and no one quite knows what to do.

-/-

She's desperate to find a solution, a universe where she can fix this. She tries New York, because everything seemed easier then, anyway.

This time, when Killian turns to leave out of her apartment the night he finds her and gives her back her memories, she stops him.

"Wait," Emma says, just as she spots his back. He's wearing the long coat, the one she recognizes from Neverland. She just buried him in this one - in a small plot of land in the forest that doesn't befit him, but Neal claims the mermaids wouldn't be kind to his body if they tried burying him at sea - and her heart seizes in her chest as he turns around to face her.

He's alive and he's breathing, here.

The question is for how long.

Emma rushes forward to kiss him nonsensically, because she needs this and she missed this and - dammit, he tried True Love's Kiss on her the day before, it shouldn't be that weird. He reciprocates, a bit stunned, but his hand spans her back to tug her closer and his hooked arm pulls her until her body is flush with his.

When he breaks apart, he has a lot of questions.

"What was that for?" being his first.

She always misses the sound of his voice.

Emma always finds something new to miss.

"You came back to save me," she manages a small shrug, her smile a little watery as she bumps her forehead against his. "Plus, I...I missed you."

And god, she did.

He grins and the sight is nearly blinding. "I missed you too, Swan."

He really has no fucking idea. But that's okay. Maybe if this lasts for long enough and she has enough time, she can tell him. Tell him what happened, tell him what foes they can predict, tell him that she loves him over and over again and she can get the future she's always wanted.

She kisses him again before leading him back to her bed. He just holds her once they're tucked in, hook and coat off, her back against his chest. It was good form, he'd insisted, and he grinned and told her that he had to properly woo her before trying anything untoward.

Emma almost pushes him off the bed, but he kisses her with a laugh bubbling over his lips.

It's the first full night of sleep she's gotten since she...well, she can't even remember. Between Gold and the Darkness and the Underworld, she hasn't been getting a lot of shut eye.

Emma falls asleep wrapped in his arms in her apartment in New York, tucked in the sheets with his feet pressed against hers and his nose nuzzling into her shoulder and their hands locked over her waist.

-/-

It's a car crash, this time.

A drunk driver on their way back to Storybrooke, driving right into her through a red light when she makes a left turn. The Bug has always had a shitty safety record and the passenger side crumples like paper. Henry and her are intact, but Killian doesn't last on the ambulance for more than two minutes.

("Shh, Swan, I've survived worse than this. Wouldn't be the first time one of those bloody contraptions nearly ran me down, would it?")

(He kisses her hand with mangled lips, just like he did when he tugged down the bars on that elevator.)

He's dead on arrival.

"You don't understand," she blabbers to the doctor, nonsensical, as they forcibly pry her from his bedside. He's flatlined, gone, and it wasn't even anything fucking magical this time. He's just gone and dead and she's so tired of this, tired of losing him, tired of trying over and over again. "I can't - I can't lose him. Please, just save him, make him stay. Restart his heart, I don't care what you have to do!"

"I'm sorry, Miss Swan," the doctor explained to her, calmly. "There's nothing we can do."

Henry doesn't know what the hell is going on once she gets back to the waiting room. Emma just slumps forward in a stiff seat and cries.

Emma is so sick of crying. She tries and tries and tries. It never does any good.

Emma seems more of a death wish to him than a help. After all, he was a survivor before he met her. Maybe it's her - maybe she's his curse.

Maybe he'd be better off if he never met her in the first place.

-/-

They send the wraith through, but Emma pulls herself back before she can fall in after it.

She guesses it's for the best if they're separated by worlds.

-/-

Cora comes in a few weeks later. Emma guesses she should have predicted the woman would find another way to her daughter. The Jolly Roger is docked in the port and she avoids it at all costs.

She can defeat Cora. She can ignore Hook, for his own good. She can do all of this, no problem.

-/-

It ends in a grand sort of showdown and Killian has a sword pressed to her throat, his eyes cold without a glimmer of recognition.

"Sorry, love," he murmurs offhandedly, keeping her pressed against the wall while Regina and Cora spar. "Just following orders."

"Yeah," Emma scoffs, her breath catching in her lungs. Seeing him here like this hurts her more than a blade ever could. "Because we all know how much you love to do that."

His eyes narrow in suspicion. "And why the devil do you suppose you know anything about me, Savior?"

Emma freezes. "Lucky guess."

She manages to knock the sword out of his grasp before he can do any damage - not that it looked like he was really intending to, just holding her back - and Regina takes that moment to strike him with magic. He falls in a slump at Emma's feet.

When Emma goes to check for a heartbeat, she doesn't find one.

"Cora disappeared," Regina sighs, shaking out her hands. "But at least we can have her lackey down, one less weapon in her arsenal."

Emma is still staring at Hook's body, hands shaking. She doesn't have it in her to cry anymore, doesn't have anything at all left in her. All she can be is numb.

Maybe she's finally had enough of this.

She tried to never meet him in the first place and she still lost him.

"What?" Regina asks, baffled by her reaction. "He was working for Cora, he needed to go. Trust me, Captain Hook isn't the type of person you want to meddle with, Miss Swan."

-/-

She gives up, too exhausted to see him die one more time. Maybe she could try never kissing him, maybe if she kept being the Dark One from him that much longer, maybe if she stayed in the Underworld - there are hundreds of possibilities, of possible points of change and 'what ifs' that flash through her mind. But she knows they'll all end in the same result, by now.

He'll die. And she will have to pick herself up from the pieces.

Destiny is funny, like that. The Savior's destiny may include many things, but a happy ending isn't one of them.

Emma clings to the necklace and winds up right back at the barn she disappeared in the first time. It still looks the same as when she left - dusk is setting in - and she knows when she goes back to the loft her family will be waiting for her.

At least in this universe, she clung to him for long enough to say her proper goodbyes.

-/-

"It didn't work," Henry's face falls as she walks in the loft. Emma slumps against the door, tears stinging her eyes.

"No, kid," she replies. Emma is so sick of crying, so sick of mourning, so sick of trying over and over only to fail. "Sometimes you're better off not messing with fate. I learned that the hard way."

She's tired. Maybe it's time she does some moving on of her own - she can't let Killian be her unfinished business forever. Seeing him die over and over again has hardened her, forced her to see the truth. She has to let him go. Just because she's the Savior doesn't mean she can fix everything.

She's tried enough, by now. Emma tugs off the necklace, letting it clatter on the coffee table.

When her parents walk into the room, she collapses into their arms.

-/-

She doesn't bring a flask, this time. Emma just brings herself. The sight of his grave - different every time, from a burial at sea in the Camelot to his body, cold and broken in a hospital bed in New York to a patch of wet dirt without a headstone in Neverland - should be something she's desensitized to by now.

But she isn't.

"I'm glad we got all the time we had," she tells him, attempting to smile at this - cared for, at least, with the carvings and the flowers and the rum she tucked into the dirt - symbol of his death. He can't hear her, he can never hear her, but she has to get it out regardless. "I wouldn't change a second of it. Believe me, I tried."

Emma scoffs, self deprecatingly, at herself.

"Maybe this was our best universe together, the longest time we could have gotten. Stolen or not, I wanted all of it," Emma bites her lip, trying to keep herself from crying. It's goodbye, for good, this time. She should have enough practice to make this painless by now. "I wanted every word, every kiss, every touch, every moment of our lives together."

Emma places her hands on top of the gravestone, bending her head down. Emma runs her fingers over the cold stone, wishing more than anything that it could be him she's touching instead.

"I love you so much," she manages, finally. "Which is why I have to let you go."

-/-

Emma stays like that, for a few moments, standing at his grave and letting tears run down her face. She has to let go now, has to move on. Emma isn't sure she's capable of it, but she has to try.

For him, she has to try.

Emma looks up from the grave and swears she sees a shadow. A figure on the other side of the graveyard, barely illuminated by the streetlamps.

"Hey!" she calls out, voice a little brittle. Emma clears it, trying to sound more like the sheriff and less like a grieving girlfriend. "Visiting hours are over. Go home or I'll have to arrest you for trespassing."

"Emma!" the figure calls out, voice too familiar to be anyone else. "Emma, love, is that you?

She blinks.

"Killian," she rasps in disbelief. It gets closer and closer and she can tell it's him. She curses herself for not realizing it sooner. "Killian?!"

He's running towards her, now, feet a steady rhythm on the grass and she walks backwards in a daze. Eventually, her legs catch up with her thoughts and she's running right back. The air in her lungs burns, but she doesn't care. All she can think about is Killian on the other side of that clearing, racing for her just like she is for him. She could collapse - swears she's going to collapse - but her legs power her forward. They power her to him.

They meet in the middle, arms wrapping around each other with a desperate ferocity and they're gripping each other so tightly it almost hurts. She doesn't even care, she's just grateful that she's holding him at all, that she can feel him and know that he's clinging to her just as tightly, that he's missed her this much too. She doesn't care if he leaves bruises and he doesn't think he minds if she does the same for him.

It's evidence they're here, evidence they're alive, evidence they're together.

And they've fought for this.

All of the other timelines and all of the other Killians and Hooks didn't have this, didn't have the experience of watching each other leave over and over again just to come back together every time. The man she lost in Neverland didn't kiss her hand as he guided her onto an elevator, the man she lost in New York didn't tell her through tears to leave her armor behind with him, the man she never met didn't keep his eyes on hers until he couldn't.

It's her and it's him.

And this is the best outcome that could have happened.

"How did you -" she babbles, her face tear stained as she leans back to look at him in wonder. Killian wears a matching expression, a broad grin on his lips.

"True Love is the most powerful magic of all, love," he laughs, warm and here and happy. "After you left, went up that elevator, I decided I should wait to follow you. I supposed your son wanted to finish doling out the unfinished business of others, aye? So I handed them out with one of the dwarves for a little while...you could say I was procrastinating."

Emma's hand tightens in his hair and she nods. "You were hoping…"

He swallows, leaning his head down to press against hers. "Well, I went back to the basement for one last time before I moved on. You'll never believe what I found, darling."

"Ambrosia," she breathes, looking at him with wonder as she presses her fingers to his skin, tracing patterns on his jaw and tightening her arm around his waist. "It was another test. If we loved each other enough to let each other go, to put each other first."

"Aye," he murmurs, eyes shining with barely contained relief and love. "I sent you up that elevator. And you, you let me go here."

Emma laughs, a little hysterically, as she shakes her head. "You have no idea."

"Perhaps you can tell me all about it," he suggests, eyes soft as they scan over her face. He's drinking her in, memorizing her as if she's water and he's spent too long in the desert. "We have the time, now."

"Yeah," Emma says, grinning. "We have the time. But right now, I need you to kiss me."

He complies, kissing her with a passion that knocks the breath out of her.

Emma wouldn't trade this for any universe.