It’s not quite a shame upon his family that he’s born with bare skin upon his wrist, but it’s close. His father leaves when he’s five and Liam - also without a name on his left arm - is barely twelve, convinced that their mother has borne him defective sons. Their mother dies not long after Liam leaves to make something of himself in the Royal Navy and Killian tries not to hate either of them for the abandonment.
(It’s not as though any of the shopkeepers take pity on orphans, much less one they’re convinced is incapable of love. He starves and steals and somehow manages to survive until Liam tracks him down years later in a port town Killian never bothered to learn the name of.)
(He chooses the same fate as his brother, in the end, following him into the Navy. It’s where many of the men without marks end up, simply because who would miss them for months on end if they had no partner to come home to?)
Milah’s name has faded by the time he meets her. Whatever was scrawled on her wrist when she was younger is unreadable now; a sure sign her love has died. She craves adventure and he’s willing to provide it, so he welcomes her aboard the Jolly Roger to the good-natured catcalls of his crew.
(Her husband, he comes to find, is not dead but may as well be with how much he’s changed since they were married. He thinks the faded mark is proof enough of their failed attempt at happiness, but he challenges the coward to prove him wrong anyway.)
(The change in Milah’s husband is thrown into even sharper relief when the coward confronts them years later in the same town. Killian loses his hand and Milah both to the Dark One and, while the former hurts physically, he’s not sure he will ever get over the loss of his lover.)
(He gets her name tattooed on his remaining wrist, enfolded in the heart she lost and stabbed through with the Dark One’s dagger. Even a glance at it is enough to stoke his rage and it keeps him focused for three hundred years.)
He hasn’t felt phantom pains from his left hand in nearly two centuries, but the day the curse breaks and Cora finally unfreezes them, sensation he hasn’t felt in years crawls up his arm. The urge to strip off his brace and inspect the scarred flesh is strong, but he’s given the Queen of Hearts more than enough ammunition over him so he fiddles with his hook and gives nothing of his discomfort away.
(She senses it anyway, giving him a look of sly superiority as she outlines her plan. It’s ridiculous and complicated, but she’s promised him an avenue to his revenge and that is what matters.)
The Swan girl is bloody infuriating, but he does enjoy needling her. She stands apart from her little band of princesses and he knows the feeling of being an outsider all too well. It’s easy to pick at her sore spots; they’re the same as his own.
(Her eyes flash and spark something in his chest that he crushes ruthlessly as soon as he notices it. Despite himself, he looks to her wrist and finds nothing but brown leather. He wonders at the disappointment he feels before catching himself. Getting to the Land Without Magic can be his only concern.)
She leaves him chained in the giant’s lair and he tries so hard to hate her for it. The look in her eyes is achingly familiar, echoing in his chest. It’s perhaps a little too easy to understand her hesitance but he manages to bury it and wait out his captive hours plotting how to survive Cora’s wrath.
(He returns the gesture anyway, taking some small satisfaction in seeing her face crumble when he withholds the bean. Almost without his permission, his eyes dart to her wrist again, the leather she’d wound about it having loosened slightly over their days in the forest. There is ink beneath it, a flower faded slightly with time, but there are also the dark strokes of someone’s name, though he can’t make out whose.)
(She’s never mentioned a lover, only a son she desperately wishes to return to, and he feels anger and disgust curdle in his gut. Who could leave their partner so completely that they would hide all mention of them, yet still be so true a match that the mark refuses to fade?)
The fight at the portal leaves him with more than a headache the size of his ship, but not much. The Queen is incised, not only at his inability to kill the Saviour her daughter hates, but the loss of the other princess’ heart and their best ride into Storybrooke. He doesn’t point out her failures in return - he may be rash but he’s not stupid - though he does point out that there are other means of travelling between realms.
(As they sail, he tries not to cringe in remembrance of the panic on the warrior’s face when the princess’ heart was falling, and the echo of memory in his chest. He absolutely doesn’t think of the gratitude on Snow White’s face when he’d returned it and the relief that washed over the warrior’s whole body when she held that precious package in her own hands. And he definitely doesn’t think about the way his blood sang while he fought Swan, more than could ever be attributed to battle lust alone.)
When he first wakes after being hit by both car and crocodile, he’s in a cold room, cuffed to a strange bed and stripped of his weapons and leathers. Swan is at his side and just as prickly as ever. Yet once Swan leaves - walks away with a little sarcastic smile and ‘I’d pick you’ on her lips - it’s not escape he first thinks of. Nor is it, disappointingly, his revenge.
(He pushes it from his mind of course, focus must be kept, but the instinct that had him pulling at his bonds as she walked away, despite knowing the pain straining his ribs would bring, was to grasp her wrist and tear away the leather hiding it from him. He doesn’t know where this need to see the name imprinted on her skin has come from, but it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore. He needs to leave this town, and fast.)
It tears at something in his chest when he finally manages it, bean in hand, and he turns around with a heart weighed down with more than realisation. There’s disbelief there also, for how could what he thinks is true be so? Three hundred years surely could not have been planned for so conveniently. He feels relief as well for finding this after so long; guilt for gaining something his brother will never touch and for betraying Milah in such a way; and, worst of all, grief.
(The last nearly buries the rest in a flood, for how can he be such a match for someone, when all he touches crumbles to dust? More than three centuries of knowing that he was unlovable in that way - that all he had were the bonds of brotherhood cruelly stripped away and the simulated ties to a woman whose own match grew only to strike her down - are not easy to overcome, especially without solid proof. He knows he cannot hold himself back from it - he is too selfish, too much a pirate to deny himself a treasure offered - but if there is any resistance at all, he knows he will break again.)
(This time, he fears he won’t survive.)