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Being in Storybrooke for so long, where people are used to his missing limb—he’s Captain Hook, so of course he has a hook, they reason, and don’t even blink—has softened him to how some people can get. Particularly nobles and royalty, of which there are plenty in the court of Camelot. Gods, what a prick, Killian thinks, breathing in the cool air to get rid of the taste of the unsavoury cider still on his tongue.

Now that he’s outside, he’s not sure where to go. It’s not as if he’s done a lot of exploring in Camelot, too focused on finding a way of clearing the darkness currently residing in Emma. Meanwhile, they’re attending balls, filled with insults disguised as innocuous comments and everything he despises while parading Regina of all people around as the Savior.

The worst part is that the knight was right. The piece of hardware he has turned into an identity is an adequate substitute but it’s not the real thing, and everyone knows it.

He hears footsteps approaching and braces himself for the sound of Emma’s voice, ready to reassure her because she has enough to worry about. It doesn’t come.

“Here,” someone says—not Emma. He turns his head to blink. At Snow.

“What?”

Snow smiles, amused.

“Here,” she says again, and she holds out a cup. “Thought you might not have had the chance to grab any on your way out.”

He doesn’t ask what it is before he brings it to his lips. He lets out a small sigh of relief when he recognises the flavor—much better than the cider.

“Mead,” he breathes. “Where were they hiding this?”

“At the table with that creepy sculpture.”

Some things he learned at the navy will never go away: the ettiquete lessons, the languages he studied, and the superstition of having the good sense to avoid unsettling sculptures that appear to peer into your soul.

“Ah. I hadn’t gone there.”

“I don’t blame you,” she snorts.

“Well, it’s no rum,” he says with cheer he doesn’t really feel, “but it’ll do.” He adds, because unlike what the nobles think, he is a pirate with manners, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Snow says, still amused. “Regretting leaving your flask behind?”

“You’ve no idea, milady.”

It feels strange when it shouldn’t, Snow White bringing him a drink and acting as if they’re friends. It shouldn’t, because she’s the mother of the woman he loves. Yet he can’t remember if they’ve held a real conversation after he joined the heroes to begin with—one with no one else present, just them, without a crisis looming over their heads.

Well, he amends sourly. There is always a crisis. Those are his own words. He just never imagined Emma becoming the Dark One would be one of them.

“I heard what that knight said,” Snow says when the quiet lasts too long.

He plasters a wry smile on his face. “Which part?”

“All of it.”

So not only did she hear the jibe about being incapable and useless for only having one hand, she also heard the rather nasty speculation of why an unwed princess with a child would possibly be courting a pirate. Wonderful.

“Regina talked to him, you know,” she says. “I didn’t hear what she said, but he was shaking like a leaf by the time she was done and left.”

That surprises him. Not that the man had been afraid, but that Regina might have stood up for him. Her brand of snarkiness often includes his lack of two hands as well, after all.

“I see."

Killian remembers the cold fury of the Evil Queen when he met her, the sharp focus on vengeance and not much else. He was much the same. It resulted in a lot of posturing for the both of them, constantly sizing the other one up, a betrayal never far from the horizon. Both of them have given up on their revenge since. But while he has never been able to forgive or stop resenting the Crocodile, Regina has done what no one thought her capable of: she befriended Snow White.

“What was it like?” she asks suddenly. It startles him so much he almost spills the mead.

“What was what like, milady?”

She levels him with a look. Twenty-eight years of missed motherhood and yet she has somehow managed to perfect the gaze one would level at a teenager in denial. “You don’t have to call me that, you know.”

A shrug of his shoulder is all the answer he gives.

“I believe the lady had an inquiry.” Two can manage the reprimanding look—disciplining a crew for centuries does have its perks.

She gets this little half-smile, both annoyed and amused at his avoidance, but not commenting on it. She takes a sip from her own drink before she speaks.

“The royal navy. Being a lieutenant. How was it?”

Killian blinks at her, unsure where this line of questioning is coming from, but surprisingly, it’s not difficult to oblige. Before confiding in David in Neverland, Liam’s death and anything surrounding it—including serving the royal navy—was a sore spot that had him snapping at whoever asked on a good day.

The absence of that reflexive reaction, even in his head, confuses him. Perhaps it’s the drink. It does tend to dull his rage. Something he needed, way back when, on a ship where the favorite entertainment of the crew was riling up the angry slave. His outbursts often led to consequences, which he could take, but not when they had Liam bear the brunt of them. Drinking dulled those outbursts, and protected Liam from Killian himself.

“In many ways, it’s made me the man I am today.”

He takes a generous sip of mead.

“I wasn’t always— I didn’t come from the best background,” he hedges, purposefully vague, not in the mood about to share that part of his past. “It wasn’t until I joined the navy that I learned… How to inspire loyalty in a crew. How to treat a woman with consideration and respect. How to fit in seamlessly in a royal ball.”

“Of course,” Snow teases, “fitting in at a royal ball, that’s quintessential Killian Jones, right there.”

He’s struck with sudden gratitude that she followed him after someone made a rude comment about his disability, to talk with him like this. Shame follows. As he often does, he regrets his actions when he first met Emma and her family. Now, it’s particularly the way he acted around Snow that he wishes he could take back.

“I imagine it was a fundamental part of your upbringing, as well.”

“Oh, yes,” she agrees easily. “I was taught about balls and diplomacy and just about everything a future queen should know.”

The future queen she never got to be. He swallows. “It shows. You are quite adept at handling the snakes in the court here.”

“The most important thing I was taught,” Snow continues, voice growing wistful, “wasn’t any of that. My mother, she… It was revealed to me that she wasn’t always a good person. But when she raised me, she taught me to be kind.”

Silence stretches between them. He doesn’t know what to say, so takes another sip of the mead, feels the burn of alcohol traveling down his throat.

Unexpectedly, Snow bursts into laughter.

“Good thing, too. I was such a brat.”

His lips curl upwards. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, you’re not the only one who’d rather forget the shortcomings of your child self.”

She hums thoughtfully. “I always wanted to be there with Emma during her first royal ball, the way my mother was there with me. This may not be Emma’s first, but it’s still a dream come true, despite even…”

The fact that she’s the Dark One. He nods. “Aye.”

He’s been frustrated with keeping up appearances at Camelot until they get Merlin out of the tree. Attending balls such as this one. But the way it has fulfilled one of Snow’s motherhood wishes makes the frustration bleed away.

They lapse into somewhat comfortable silence. Killian ponders that he and Snow are actually quite similar. A bandit and a pirate. Two former thieves turned heroes, willing to fight for what they want, determined to enjoy the quiet moments between the bad ones. He takes a sip from his cup.

She asks, out of the blue, “Do you miss it?”

He glances at her. “Miss what?”

“I don’t know, being on your ship? I miss the Enchanted Forest sometimes,” she says. “It doesn’t have modern conveniences, but it was home, even as a bandit hiding in the forest.”

“Sailing, I miss,” he says after a long moment. “Acting selfishly and terribly to all those around me, not so much. I wasn’t always like that, and I’m glad I found myself again. Someone my brother could be proud of.”

Killian can’t believe he’s admitting this to Snow White of all people. It must be the mead, he decides.

She smiles warmly. “I’m glad you have. I’m glad Emma has you.”

For three, long seconds, all he does is stare, slack-jawed. He doesn’t know what to do with such blatant appreciation, doesn’t think he deserves it. Killian downs the rest of his cup.

“We’ll save her, you know,” she says so matter-of-factly that it must be true. “We’ll get the darkness out of her.”

His eyebrow raises. “Is this one of your infamous hope speeches?”

She doesn’t spare his deflection any acknowledgement.

“I’ve once tried to get darkness out of my daughter before. Because of me, another mother lost her child,” she says, voice thick with regret. “We’ll do it right this time.”

“What makes you so sure that we’ll succeed?” There’s been frantic terror in his veins ever since he saw Emma’s name engraved on the same dagger he has tattood on his skin. “I lost one love to the Dark One…”

“And you’re scared that you’ll lose another,” she finishes when he doesn’t. She sighs. “I don’t know if we will succeed. I’m…” She barks out a laugh. “I’m terrified that we won’t. That I’ll lose my daughter again.”

His own fear seems selfish in the face of that—he is in danger of losing the woman he loves, but Snow might lose her child. Of course, he knows Snow well enough by now to know that if he were to voice this, she would tell him it is ridiculous and they’ll both feel the loss in different ways. Perhaps she would be right.

“All I know is she’s got a lot of people on her side, who will do everything they can to help her,” she says. “That’s much more than she had growing up.”

He gives a solemn nod. “Aye.”

They head back to the others, wait for whatever comes next, and Killian is surprised to find that under the fear, the dread—there is a spark of hope.