Emma could hardly see Killian through the gloss of her tears, but underneath where her hand gripped his, she felt the hot flush of his body and the erratic heaving of his chest with every breath.
Reassurance that he was still alive.
Cold comfort against the surety of what was yet to pass.
A tear slipped down her cheek, and for a moment she saw him clearly, framed by green grass and fragrant, blushing middlemist. The last time she'd looked down at him from this position, he'd been breathless with passion – the taste of his kiss fresh on her lips, his hand grasping at her hair and her cloak with desire. Now his fingers tangled with hers in a different kind of desperation and his eyes fluttered shut from a pain far less sweet.
"Killian." Emma's voice hitched on the last syllable of his name. "You're going to be okay."
He shook his head. "No, please. You have to let me go."
Emma brought her free hand up from his shoulder to cup his face. "No!"
She couldn't. She wouldn't…
"I don't want to pay this price. I don't want to become that."
"You won't. You can fight the darkness. I can help you." It could be done. They had Excalibur and Merlin. There was still hope. Always hope. "We can do it together."
"I'm not as strong as you are. I'm weak. The things I've done…"
She brushed her fingers soothingly over his cheek. It wasn't true. He wasn't weak. And she wasn't strong. Through all of this, it was the both of them, together – their love – that had gotten her through.
"I've succumb to darkness before in my life," he continued, "and it took centuries to push it away. I don't know if I can do it again."
Her fingers tightened around his. Pleading. "But our future…"
She'd only just begun to envision it. The white picket fence. The old victorian by the sea. Candlelight dinners and Netflix and a warm bed to share. Already, the dream faded, slipping from her grasp as every trembling beat of his heart took him that much further away, into the void – an all too familiar otherwhere to which she, as the Dark One, could not follow.
"I'll just be happy to know that you'll have one," he said.
An agonized groan tore free from his throat and he turned his head to the side, the fatal wound at his neck bared raw and angry to the sun as his eyes rolled back.
Horror seized Emma.
No! No no no…
He couldn't leave her. Not now. Not after all they'd been through. After all of the promises that he'd survive where no one else had. That he'd never stop fighting for her — for them. This wasn't fighting. This was giving in. And it wasn't fair. How was she supposed to go on and have a future without him? She didn't want that life.
"That's not enough for me!" she cried, shaking him.
But he didn't seem to hear her. His pulse flickered slow and thready in his throat. A few more seconds, and it would stop.
She moved to grab Excalibur — anything to save him — but the memory of his voice stopped her. His last wish.
Let me go. I don't want to pay this price.
White hot with grief, tears tracking burning trails down her cheeks, she leaned down and kissed him. It had brought him back from the brink once before. And maybe, even with the darkness inside of her, true love could manage it again.
He didn't move — didn't rise to meet her the way he usually did when she kissed him. She pulled back, her heart hammering in her chest, drowning out everything except him and her and this moment in time. His breath brushed across her face and then…
Emma dropped her head down onto his chest, reluctant to let go. Grief consumed her in wild, wracking sobs.
It surprised her when she finally looked up to scrub her eyes and find the world looked so much the same without Killian Jones in it, because to her it seemed as if she had stepped through a one-way portal, the rest of her existence now clearly segregated into before and after.
Still quivering in agony, she brushed the hair out of Killian's eyes before covering them with her hand.
For a long moment, she couldn't move. And then, slowly, the storm within her began to settle. An eerie calm creeped in.
Mere minutes ago, they had been smiling across the diner at one another, ready to put this business with the darkness behind them and go home. Home. To their promise house and a life together. How had it all come crashing down around her so quickly?
Merlin, whispered a sinuous voice in her head. He forged deadly Excalibur. He sees the future. He could have told you. He's to blame.
A chill raced across her skin.
Yes. All the vague warnings about the sword now made perfect sense. He knew. All along, he knew that Killian would die in her arms, and he'd done nothing to stop it. Instead, he'd driven her blindly into fate's hands – needing her to fix his mistake – then stood back and pleaded helplessness while she paid the price.
Just as she had been doing her entire life.
Buying other people's happiness with her own. Paying for their misdeeds.
Her heart clenched and did not release. It hardened – crystallized, like diamond – and a feeling like hoarfrost on spring leaves settled over her, turning the warm currents of grief that had been washing over her to ice. Permanent. And cold.
With a flick of her wrist, she created out of the earth and air and middlemist a monument for Killian and sat back as it tenderly enclosed his body.
Excalibur weighed heavy in her hand as she lingered over it.
Then, with a blink, she transported herself back to the diner where her family waited.
A chorus of concerned voices rang out.
Mary Margaret stood at David's side, one of his arms wrapped around her middle.
Snow White and Prince Charming, who earned their happy ending by sending their newborn daughter alone to another land to suffer until she could come back to save them, the darkness reminded her. But they have a new baby now. A new life. A new future.
Beside them stood Robin and Regina, wrapped in each other's arms.
Regina who had slaughtered her way across the Enchanted Forest. Whose dark magic had bought her a son and a new life and a chance at happiness. Whose own lover had been brought back from death's doorstep without any price at all – save the toll on Emma's soul – a scant few days prior.
Happy endings for everyone here.
Except for her.
Never for her.
No happily ever after for The Savior.
Her skin seemed tight with the anger and resentment growing inside of her.
"Emma?" Mary Margaret took a tentative step toward her. Emma recognized the look in her mother's eyes. Fear. "Emma…are you…?"
Her hand tightened on Excalibur's hilt. The sword, reforged, couldn't control her anymore. No one could.
"I am the Dark One," she replied, her tone even as a razor's edge.
Excalibur swung in her hand almost of its own will, scything through the air, through the shocked gasps of her family, straight through the flesh of Merlin's throat and his immortal bonds to this world.
Deep inside of her, the darkness purred.