It’s midday, but still Emma Swan dreams of the man she only sees by moonlight.
That wasn’t how it started.
It never is.
The moon had been low in the sky the night she’d lost him. Full and bright, it had cast its reflected light over the smoking craters, the clouds of magic that hung - thick and purple-grey - between the trees, catching at the ends of her hair as she ran. At the curve of his hook as he disappeared.
She hadn’t expected it to be forever.
Why would she. It never was. Portals were as common here as trains on the NYC subway. More so, if her memory served her right. She’d just wave a wand or chant some incantation and he’d reappear- flustered but fine. He would.
They told her not to worry - her parents, Regina, her son - and she’d shook her head, agreed that he’s a survivor, he’ll be back.
But then the moon waned and waxed and waned once more, and the sun warmed the ground she waited upon, warmed and warmed until it burnt the tops of her breasts, the bridge of her nose.
Her breath hitched and her son watched and still, he never came.
She should have known better.
Killian Jones has dealt with a lot of things in his oh so long life, most of them at the point of hook or sword or in the steady drip drip drip of a rum barrel.
And now he stands in the great throne room of Olympus, a dark, fierce-faced stain against the pure white walls, his body tense and desperation in every twitch of his jaw as he faces down the god of gods. Again.
Zeus finds he rather wishes he had one of those coping mechanisms to hand himself. The rum, ideally.
“You’ll have to excuse me, mate. But that sounds like horseshit to me.”
Zeus scrubs a hand over his face and swallows a groan, repeating himself in a voice that has become less patient with every hour the pirate has spent in the realm of Olympus.
“We don’t meddle in the affairs of mortals, Killian Jones. That’s final.”
Killian Jones raises his eyebrow. Zeus wonders if it’s possible for a god to develop grey hairs.
“Was a one off, as I have told you father knows how many times. I can’t just keep sending you back,” he lowers his own brow. “You were supposed to be careful.”
“I’m not dead,” the pirate scoffs.
“No,” grumbles Zeus, “apparently not. How did you get here by the way?”
It’s not the first time he’s asked, nor is he the only one to have done so since the mortal appeared at the foot of Olympus - furious and shouting and spitting for blood. The answer this time is no different to any of the others.
“I don’t bloody know,” Killian grits out from between clenched teeth. “There was a…”
“A portal, yes yes you said.” Zeus sighs again as Killian shuffles in agitation from one foot to the other. “You know the dead are less trouble.”
Killian quirks his lips into something almost like a smile.
“Perhaps I’m encouraging you to get rid of me.”
“You know,” Zeus says, sucking in a breath between his teeth. “That usually doesn’t end so well.”
“I’m not a usual sort of man, mate.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Zeus mutters. “Look… this is the best I can do. If you can find a way home, I can stop the others from preventing you, but I can’t send you. Not again. The paperwork will take a millennia.”
Killian pauses, considering his words. Zeus feels a headache coming on.
“So you won’t stop me?”
Zeus sighs, sitting back in his throne, and smiles wryly.
“Could I? I doubt it.”
“Now that,” Killian says, his eyes bright with what Zeus already knows is likely to be a truly horrible plan, “sounds more like it.”
Gods have little time for mortal men, Killian finds.
He flirts, cajoles, begs, pleads, dignity overrated in the face of the spectre of Emma waiting for him to return. Emma not knowing where he is. Emma pale and red-eyed in the wide white expanse of their bed.
Death couldn’t keep him from her, before. Nor realms, nor magic, not even the darkness that had consumed them both. But then Helios laughs in his face, a great hearty roar of hilarity, and he starts to wonder.
“You mortals are pathetic creatures,” snorts the sun god. “Wasting your little lives on each other- you’re little more than fruit flies, feasting on rotten fruit and dying before you can digest it! Why even bother?”
Killian bites the inside of his cheek, tries to keep his voice level.
“Love is worth it.”
Helios laughs again, “Tell that to my sister, boy. See what mortal’s love brought her! A fool’s endeavour for sure.”
The god turns away, shaking his head and laughing still, but Killian doesn’t move.
He knows enough of authors to take their words with a flagon or two of salt, but perhaps in this case there’s no smoke without a little love-lorn fire.
Killian hovers in the doorway of the carriage house, rocking forward and back on his tiptoes as he edges at the threshold. The woman within has her back to him as she tosses silver harnesses over the shoulders of two great grey beasts, her long white wings twitching as the creatures huff and stamp.
Oxen smell awful, even here.
“We don’t meddle,” she says as she hooks them into the traces, and he pauses in his rocking, squeezing his hand into a fist so tight he’s sure he draws blood just to keep from screaming.
“All you bloody do is meddle!”
“Hardly,” she says, tossing her silver hair over her shoulder. “And why should we? We’ve fought our wars, Killian Jones. We are merely stories now, and that is how we’d prefer to stay.”
“Is that so?” He risks a step closer, the soft glow of the chariot reflecting from his hook. “Tell me, Selene, what do you know about love?”
Selene stills but for the faint tremble of her fingers against her ox’s flank.
“What’s that to you?”
“I think,” he says, another step closer, then another, “that you and I both know what it means to be separated from the person we love. I think you know, as I do, the lengths you can be driven to. The things you’ll do. That we did.”
She glares at him over her shoulder, her wings shivering like hackles.
“Is that some sort of threat, mortal?”
“No,” Killian says, shaking his head and tucking his hook against his side. “Merely… a reminder. That we are perhaps not so different, you and I.”
“A reminder?” Selene laughs shortly. “I see the weight that hangs on you, Killian Jones. I see the pallor of loss. I have watched the world from the beginning of time, I recognise despair better than any of my brothers or sisters, and I need no more reminder of my lost love than you do yours.”
“Then help me,” Killian pleads. “Help me get back to Emma.”
Selene sighs, resting her forehead briefly against the ox’s gently heaving side.
“What did Zeus tell you?”
“That if I find a way out, I can go.”
He finally steps close enough to tap his fingers against the door of the chariot. One of the oxen peers at him over its broad shoulder and Selene shakes her head sharply.
“Oh no, no, no,” she says, “not going to happen.”
“My contact with the mortal world is limited, you know this. I can’t just…” she waves her hand at him, “give you a lift. It doesn’t work like that. If it did you’d have been home long ago - you can be terribly irritating, I hear.”
“One of my many charms,” Killian concedes. “So if you can’t take me…” he fingers the letter in his pocket, the one he’d written out on a sheet of iridescent paper plundered from Hermes’ stash, “perhaps a note?”
Selene wrinkles her nose up, but holds her hand out for the paper nonetheless.
“Just one,” she says. “Okay?”
I hope this letter finds you well - I hope it finds you at all. I have sent it through the only means available to me here. The goddess of the moon is not delighted to be delegated my postmaster, but she knows a little of what it is to be separated from your love. She has taken pity on me in my hour of need, or, at least, I hope she has.
I am in Olympus. Not dead - far from it - but as trapped as a dead man could ever be. Zeus cannot return me and the gods have no use for magic or beans. Or rum, it seems, though I have certainly offered.
I do not know how much time has passed for you since I fell through the portal, I barely know how much time has passed here, such are the vagaries of realms, I suppose.
My love, I am most terribly lost.
Not that I don’t know where I am - quite the opposite - but I am unable to leave, unable to find my way back to you, and I find myself adrift and rudderless even here where I share my meals with gods. The things I would sacrifice for a bite of one of your pop tarts now, just to know you were nearby.
I won’t give up though, love.I swear that.
Although I hope, perhaps, you may have an idea or two of your own. I have never known you to fail, after all.
She can’t sleep.
Instead she sits at the kitchen table with the stale taste of rum on her tongue and fingers numb from hours of gripping the same glass. She stares down into the dregs of the amber liquid, bu the woman reflected back at her isn’t one she wants to see. She looks exhausted, dark circles around her eyes, her lower lip trembling with every cracked breath she takes.
“Come on,” Emma tells her reflection. “Come on, you’ve got to think.”
A stupid, useless tear spills from the reflection’s eye and it’s all she can do not to launch the glass at the wall.
She squeezes her eyes shut briefly, Henry’s too soft voice echoing through the thick, heavy silence she’s wrapped herself in.
“It’s late,” she mutters, “you should be asleep.”
“So should you,” Henry says, and it’s all sympathy, no cheek. All so very terribly wrong. “Killian wouldn’t want - ”
“Killian’s not here,” she snaps, and she hears the way Henry recoils, swallows the guilt with the last glug of rum. “He’s not here, so it doesn’t matter what he’d want.”
“Don’t be -“
“Don’t be what?” she snaps again, and this time she sees the way his lips purse in displeasure. Sees him shuffle on the step. And it’s all a bit too much, the anger and the misery and the sheer desperation all clawing up her throat and spilling out in the screech of the chair over the linoleum. “I’m going out.”
Henry doesn’t follow her - she doesn’t want him to, she’s the adult here, she is - and her feet make the same stumbling sounds as her pulse in her ears as she makes her way to the docks.
(I thought you might find it soothing, he’d told her once. A dozen times even, perhaps. She forgets.
She forgets less with the Jolly creaking beneath her feet.)
The moon is bright tonight, and low. The sky around it is dark, the stars cowering beyond its light, a silver road made out on the softly bobbing waves.
It looks beautiful.
She tightens her fingers around the rigging and swallows a sob.
The moon seems to glow more brightly, just briefly, as though in sympathy, and then she hears the soft thunk of something being knocked against the hull.
It’s a bottle, glowing green-blue in the moonlight, and she doesn’t know what possesses her to lower herself down the ladder at the Jolly’s side and scoop it from the water, or what makes her lift it until she sees the curl of paper within.
A message in a bottle.
He would, wouldn’t he.
Her fingers shake as she struggles with the tiny cork, fumbling as she tries to smooth the paper out on her knee. Her breath comes quicker as she reads, disbelief and relief coursing through her until they burst from her lips in a hysterical cackle of laughter, her only recourse to reply the receipt from Granny’s she finds stuffed in her back pocket.
Are you fucking kidding me?
P.S. The moon is not a postal worker, what sort of thing are you smoking? I want some.
P.P.S Come home.
Her handwriting is rough, but when she launches the bottle back into the ocean her arm is steady.
(“This is the last one,” Selene tells him, but she smiles when she seals the bottle and he feels hope bloom in place of despair.)
She will agree with you I’m sure, although I am not certain how aware she is of our realm’s career choices. Perhaps she might enjoy it. Vehicles may be noisier than Oxen but they certainly take less grooming.
I am trying, my love. I swear it. For now I can only take comfort in that we are both watched over by the same moon, and while you see her in the sky you know that I am here, loving you with all my heart and soul as always.
Another moonrise, another note. This one is written on decent paper at least, the pad of paper lifted from Gold’s and pressed between her heart and her jacket until she had a moment's privacy to write it. Privacy enough that she needn’t pretend the smears in the ink are from raindrops, at least.
It’s hopeless. Useless. Not a single one of Belle’s books or Regina’s spells has given them so much as a hint as to how to open a portal to the realm of the gods. She can’t tell him that though, can she.
Can’t tell him something he almost certainly already knows.
She rolls the paper carefully, pressing a kiss to it before she slides it inside the bottle and refits the sodden cork.
I am the mouse who can sing better though, right?
Regina and Gold and I are all working on a way to get you home - well, Belle and Regina and I, I guess - but it’s a slow process. Olympus should be cut off, just like the Underworld should have been. We still don’t know how you got there, and until we do, we can’t get you home.
We will though, okay?
I love you.
She throws the bottle as hard as she can, and turns her face up to the moon scowling at its brightness. For a moment she imagines she can see him there, in the lies of the craters, the shadows the sun casts, but then she blinks and he’s gone, and she feels just as mad as always. Just some crazy woman writing letters to the moon.
Even Henry couldn’t make this up. And yet.
“I don’t see why you can’t just send him back,” she says, the words bitter on her tongue. “You can’t - you can’t keep him. He’s mine. He’s mine.”
She picks up a handful of gravel from the water’s edge and launches it at the sky, her frustration escaping in a half sob half growl that echoes off the dockside buildings, but the moon travels on - unseeing and unknowing - until the sun touches the horizon, and Emma finally lets herself cry.
Killian waits for Selene’s return at the carriage house, doing his best to ignore the rough shouts and screaming whinnies of Helios and his horses as he readies for his own ride.
“You boy!” Helios cries, his fists full of bright lightning and his lips drawn back over his teeth. “Have you not found something better to occupy your time yet!”
Killian says nothing, averting his eyes from the blinding golden carriage and grinding his heels into the dirt floor. Helios is unperturbed, his laughter bellowing throughout the carriage house as Selene appears at the the clouded horizon.
“Perhaps my sister has taken a shine to you, and that’s why she keeps you hanging about like some sad-eyed nymph, hmmm? Tell me,” and his voice drops lower, conspiratorial almost, “I have never taken a mortal lover. How do they compare? Perhaps I’ll go find your pretty Swan and find out, hmmm?”
Rage, bitter and fierce, roils up Killian’s throat, and it’s only the thundering hooves of the oxen as they land that stops him launching himself at Helios in an act he absolutely won’t live to regret.
Helios and his carriage disappear into the sky in a flash of burning light as one of the oxen huffs heavily into his hair and he clenches his jaw so tightly he fears it may break.
Selene dismounts cautiously, the wet bottle already in her hand, and the sight of the note inside is almost enough to drive him to tears.
“My brother being his usual charming self?”
Killian shakes his head sharply and wills the tears away.
“No more so than usual, I suppose.” He nods towards the bottle,asking the obvious for lack of anything better to say. “For me, I take it?”
“No,” Selene says, rolling her eyes. “It’s mine. Idiot.”
She hands it over, averting her eyes as he fumbles to unroll it with shaking fingers and lifts it to his lips.
“You know, she shouted at me today. I like her.”
“Who do you think?” Selene sighs, and leans against the flank of her Ox. “She thinks I’m keeping you here, you know. Fierce, that one, isn’t she?”
Killian says nothing, only grunts slightly as his eyes rove over the sparse few lines on the paper. She’s no writer, his Swan, and the thought only makes his gut twist harder. One day, he thinks, she may just give up.
Selene stands up straighter and considers him through narrowed eyes.
“Do you think I’m keeping you here?”
“I don’t think any of you seem especially keen to send me home,” says Killian, folding the note as carefully as he can and tucking it into his pocket. “Take that how you will.”
“You know,” Selene says carefully, drawing out the words, “that really isn’t how it works. Zeus sending you back… it wasn’t a one off, exactly, but it’s not the way these things are supposed to go.”
“Oh really?” Killian lifts a brow. “How are they supposed to go?”
Selene rolls her eyes.
“You’re a smart man,” she says, “or so I’m told. How does a mortal see heaven? Think about it.”
She turns her back on him to tend to the Oxen as Killian’s mind skips between every book he’s ever read, every legend, every myth, until it lands with an almost audible thunk on a word he’s only ever associated with Emma. On the word that might yet bring him back to her.
“I need to write,” he says, half stumbling backwards out of the carriage house. “I need…”
“Yes,” says Selene softly as she runs a hand down the neck of her Ox. “Yes, you do.”
“Faith,” says Regina, her eyebrows in her hairline, her spellbook forgotten on the table between them, Killian’s latest letter held loosely between her fingertips. “You’re kidding.”
“Pretty shitty joke,” Emma says. Her arms are folded tightly across her chest, the urge to almost hold herself together in the face of another impossible possibility too much to resist. “I have to believe and he… I don’t know, ok? I don’t know how it’ll work, or if it’ll work I just have to… have faith. Or whatever.”
“You sound convinced.”
Regina let’s her hands fall to her sides.
“I don’t know what you want me to tell you.”
In all honesty, Emma isn’t at all sure what she wants to hear. Maybe a guffaw of laughter at the concept? An obvious, concrete plan?
Henry’s the truest believer after all. Faith hasn’t often been her forte.
Maybe if Henry wished upon a star…
But no. Not this time.
(It isn’t a star, supplied Killian’s voice from the depths of her imagination. It isn’t a wish.
It sort of is.)
Her mother - of course her mother - offers to join her at the docks, but if there’s anything likely to make this whole concept weirder it’s having an audience, so she goes alone.
She peers up at the moon - the goddess, and what even is her life? - and presses her knuckles hard into the flesh of her hips.
Takes a deep breath.
“I believe you can send him back to me,” she says as loudly and as boldly as she dares, her nails cutting crescents into her palms.
The moon hovers above the horizon, watchful and silent and still. Emma scowls.
“I said I believe!”
She pulls Killian’s last letter from her pocket, eyes skipping from word to word in case she somehow missed something from her fifty two previous readings.
You just have to believe, love.
Yeah, okay. Great.
Nothing happens that night. Nothing but the flow of frustrated tears and a sinking, sickening feeling that weighs down her steps and the edge of Henry’s attempts to smile.
She’s shit at this without Killian, she realises. His unwavering faith in her has been enough to force her own doubts into submission, but without him they start to sneak up, creeping into the gaps between her ribs, the lines between her eyebrows.
The next night the moon has waned thinner still, and she wills herself to see the line of his cheek in its curve. The man in the moon.
For half a moment, it works.
She sees him, an impossible man cast in silver stepping over the waves, but then she blinks, shakes her head, and disbelief drags him from her as assuredly as the tide would have. Must have. Wouldn’t it?
(She dreams of him in daylight and tries not to dwell on the disappointment in his eyes.)
It goes like that. Every night a little clearer, a little closer, but never quite close enough. He’s like a ghost just out of her reach and she finds herself wondering if he sees her too - if he’s as frustrated with her as she is with herself.
He wouldn’t be, of course. That makes it slightly worse.
On the new moon, she snaps.
Henry finds her slamming through the kitchen cupboards grumbling about flasks and rum and Why can I never fucking find anything fucking over organised pirate, but his cautious hand on her shoulder is enough to make her pause. Stop. Sob until she can’t possibly cry any more.
“You’re not giving up are you?” he asks, nervous, and she shakes her head.
“I can’t… I don’t know what to do! There isn’t even a bloody moon!”
Henry smiles, just slightly.
“Maybe it’s not the moon you need to believe in?”
They go together, and maybe that’s what she needs, always needed, after all. Her family at her back. A lesson she keeps having to relearn.
(Wounds made when you’re young tend to linger.)
The sky is dark and moonless but the stars watch as she digs her toes into the gravel at the ocean’s edge.
“I believe in you,” she says. Means. “Killian, I believe in you.”
(He comes to her tasting of salt water and dust, and she doesn’t care.)