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The Memory Keeper

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He sat on an upended bucket at the bow, looking out over the water, with his back against the rail. It was his favorite place of late - the only place he felt like he could be alone with his thoughts and not have them eat him alive.

He didn't sleep much anymore.

When they were all first pulled back, he found himself on board his ship, in the middle of the ocean, with his crew staring at him, waiting for orders. None of them had any recollection of him or the ship being gone, or of time passing for that matter.

He made his way to David and Snow as quickly as he could, hoping against all hope that they or Regina or even the accursed Dark One had found a way around this already. A way to the other side.

A way back to Emma.

He had no such fortune, and it didn't appear that they'd find a way anytime soon. Eight months had passed, and they were no closer to a solution. He'd spent those early months driven with purpose, determined to explore every avenue, every legend, every snippet of a story told to a child at bedtime. Anything. Anything to end this torment.

He took another long drink of rum from the flask in his hand, tilting his head back until it hit the low wall behind him. The rum helped, but only a little. Sooner or later he'd have to crawl into bed, and bed was where things got worse.

So much worse.

He'd told her that a day wouldn't go by without him thinking of her, and he'd known then it would be true. And then she'd gone and cursed him with one little word. Good. Good, she'd said. He smiled a little to himself. Wouldn't she just be brimming with satisfaction knowing how he mourned her, tortured by the memories, oh so many memories of the time they spent together.

There was little consolation in the knowledge that she had been spared the same fate. She thought of him not at all, remembered him not at all, yearned for him not at all. It was like they'd never met.

Was she in someone else's arms, even now? When he found her - and he would find her - would her heart belong to another? The Emma he knew was quite guarded with her heart, and that was one of the things that drew him to her most. He understood the need to keep a heart out of just anyone's crushing hands.

At first, she was a challenge. Then she became a desire. Somehow, without any conscious decision on his part, she became a need.

But that was the Emma he knew. This new Emma held the memory of a very different life - one where she wasn't so alone. One with Henry at her side, and that could have changed everything. Perhaps she was more trusting, more open to love. Free.

And he was a realm away, trapped by fate and feeling hollow inside, despite the rum in his belly. He cursed angrily, throwing the flask as hard as he could over the rail. He put his head back again, and for a time, he dreamed.

She made a soft, mewling noise in her sleep, curling tighter into a ball as she slept on her side. Everyone else was undisturbed, and he glanced about, making sure that there was no sign of Pan or the Lost Boys anywhere. He moved closer to where she lay sleeping, just in case.

She made another sound, her forehead creasing into a frown as a dream robbed her of her peace. Hook glanced over at the others, sleeping just a few yards away, but none of them stirred. He sat down on the grass next to her, propping his back against a fallen log. He took a breath, then reached out, placing his hand gently in the middle of her back.

She seemed to quiet, moving closer to his outstretched leg, as though she were seeking his warmth. He wondered if she was cold, but before he could get his coat off, she reached out, sliding her hand along his leg and then moving herself over, to pillow her head upon it.

She didn't wake.

And he raised his brows and smiled to himself, trying to imagine a scenario in which he had the woman he wanted with her head on his lap and he was doing his best to keep her asleep. This would be the first time, to be certain.

He brought his hand down, stroking her head and that glorious mane of hair gently and slowly, feeling her relax into a deeper sleep. He wished that he could slide down beside her and hold her against him - just hold her - and sleep with her in his arms. More than anything, he wished that she would want him there.

You're sunk, Killian, he thought. Good and sunk now my boy. Ever since that kiss. Bloody hell, ever since the damned beanstalk, if he were being honest. He'd asked her then if she'd ever been in love. She thought he was making conversation, and perhaps he was. But some part of him wanted that answer. Wanted to know if she knew what love was. If she knew how to love.

If she wanted to love.

He stared down at her, knowing that for the first time in a very, very long time, he wanted to love someone. He wanted to love her, because he knew down to the marrow of his very bones that he could love her like no one else could. And maybe there was a chance - a small chance, mind you, but a chance all the same - that she would feel safe enough to love him in return, if he were a better man.

He was going to be a better man, he vowed.

And he kept his watch that night, his hand on her back or stroking her hair, until dawn started to break and he needed to wake David to take over. He moved Emma gently off of him, smoothing her hair off her face as he carefully set her head down. He was just sliding his hand out from underneath her when she stirred again.

"Hook," she murmured.

He froze, certain that he woke her, but several long moments passed and she didn't speak again. He stroked her hair once more, wondering with a budding sense of hope if she had actually been dreaming of him...

Hook came awake with a start. It was just a bit of sea spray hitting him in the face. He was surprised it had woken him, after all the rum he'd drunk. He rubbed a tired hand over his eyes, pulling himself to his feet and staring up at the night sky. There were no wishing stars. No miracles to be had. Nothing to keep the memories at bay or end this crushing emptiness, not tonight.

"Emma," he whispered, gripping the railing tightly. "Dream of me, love. Just save some space for me there."

He turned to walk to the cabin, his steps slowed by the centuries of pain and loneliness that had been unearthed, raw and wearying and weighing him down.

And somewhere, a realm away, Emma turned in her sleep, reaching up to grab the edge of the pillow and pull her head onto it.

And then she smiled.