Killian Jones becomes ninth in line for the throne when Princess Emma of Misthaven is stolen from her bed at the age of three.
Their chateau was a flurry of activity for several weeks after the event, soldiers tromping through their corner of the kingdom in search of the missing princess, requesting rations from Papa and ships from the fishermen in the small village down the hill. There was no discussion of Killian’s advancement in eligibility - it was not a concern for anyone in the Jones family. For those weeks, all focus was on recovering Princess Emma and restoring her to her family and the golden nursery full of love and comfort.
Six months later, when hope starts to wane and the posters with the princess’s face are worn from the wind and the rain, Killian overhears his parents speaking late one night as he sneaks downstairs for a midnight swim.
“The boys are eight and nine now, Edwin,” his mother whispers, and he peers over the banister to catch her take another sip of her dark red wine.
“They are much older than that, dear,” his father sputters, standing to draw closer to the fire.
“I meant eighth and ninth for the throne,” she replies patiently.
His father nods, distractedly, no doubt thinking of his ships and wishing that the Queen and Prince Consort could return them soon. “That close, really?”
She smooths a bit of brown hair behind her ear and sits up straighter, adopting a regal attitude he rarely sees, more accustomed to her sweet temper and the absurd snorts she lets out when Killian makes her laugh. “Well, I am number six. Named after my great-great-great grandmother, Queen Marilla. And little Ira is seventh”
Killian has to stuff his fist in his mouth at that one, his Uncle Ira having not been little since before he discovered pastries as a child.
The dark-haired boy with mischievous blue eyes silently creeps back up the stairs to attempt a different exit from the chateau. There are more important things for a twelve year old boy than eavesdropping on his parents talk about a throne and royalty and how many people have to die for his life to change.
Killian fails miserably.
Without Papa to pay them any mind, Killian clings to his brother, desperately trying to be like the curly-haired young man for whom everything comes effortlessly. With his brother’s patient aid, Killian starts to master proper eating and dancing, the rules of war and tips for persuasion. The things being drilled into them are more than what is required to rule a small province of Misthaven, but Papa just cares that they are out from under his feet.
Killian dreams of his brother as King and himself as the Admiral of the kingdom’s Navy.
Years pass and the lesson loads get lighter, Liam all but running the province at this point with their father long-since shut away in his quarters. Uncle Ira dies from one too many cream puffs and they are four and five, the only two left on this branch of the family tree, the last of the descendants of Queen Marilla, King Reginald’s second and most-beloved wife.
When the first for the throne, a cousin of the Queen who has been close to Snow White since childhood, is found in her bedchamber with a slit throat, Liam and Killian are summoned to the capital.
The white stones of the castle walls look ancient and Killian feels his spine straighten as their carriage passes the gate, trying to imitate his mother’s regal air from so long ago. But Liam only knocks him on the head and tells him to stop being an idiot.
Killian is only nineteen. His brother should be a little more understanding.
“Liam, Killian,” the Queen sighs, smiling and descending from her dias to offer them hugs. Killian inhales her scent, something flowery and motherly, and he misses his own Mama more than he has in years. He has to blink rapidly to keep the sudden tears from spilling over and straightens his posture to feign a confidence that feels unnatural. “I only met your mother once, many many years ago, but she was a lovely woman,” Snow White continues. “And I am sure Princess Marilla would be proud of her two sons.”
Killian and Liam bow their heads in modesty.
“How may we serve you, my Queen?” Liam asks.
The door to the throne room opens and a man enters, with light hair and a kind face. “Charming,” the Queen smiles, “please join us.” She gestures for him to join their trio and the brothers offer bows. “Gentlemen, may I introduce the Prince Consort David. David, my cousins, Prince Liam and Prince Killian.”
When the brothers straighten, the Prince Consort offers them his hand and the resulting shake is firm, probably built upon a lifetime of meeting dignitaries across the Enchanted Forest.
“Did I interrupt?” David asks.
Snow White shakes her head and gives him a fond look. “Not at all - I was about to make my request.”
“Whatever it is, your Majesty, we will be happy to oblige,” Killian interjects, ignoring Liam’s sharp look at his impertinence.
“My request, gentlemen, is that the two of you move into the palace and continue your education under Charming’s and my tutelage.”
“Majesty?” Liam asks, mouth hanging open a bit.
Snow White finds David’s hand and the color rushes from her fingers as she grasps him tightly. Killian feels a knot of pain in his stomach when he understands their reasoning before an explanation comes forth.
“Since our daughter was stolen from us seven years ago, my cousin Cordelia has been next in line for the throne. Charming and I-” she takes a deep, shuddering breath, and her husband finishes her sentence for us.
“We have been unable to produce another heir.”
The simple words contrast with the deep pain Killian can see in their eyes and he remembers his mother lying in bed for days, crying about a baby she had never bore. He hadn’t understood her tears at the time, but seeing it now, as a man, he marvels at the Queen’s ability to keep her composure.
“Cordelia was to be married in the spring and any child that she produced would be the future ruler of Misthaven.” The words left unsaid are of Princess Emma, a girl who would be ten by now. “But with her death a fortnight ago, Charming and I can only suspect foul play. There have been far too many illnesses and accidents befalling the line of succession.”
“There is one,” Charming grunts, “who would stop at nothing to rule Misthaven.”
“Regina,” the Jones brothers murmur in unison, and Snow White nods shortly.
“It is our wish that you remain here, under the protection of the crown, with the understanding that Liam will rule in the case of my death and his children after him.” The Queen’s words are precise and Killian can only marvel at the cool reasoning she possesses, to speak of her death so calmly.
“But Majesty,” Liam says, bowing his head to apologize for any protest he is about to voice, “I am only third in line. There are two others who must be-”
“Princess Una and Prince Michael are brother and sister who have found happiness in their companionship with one another, romances with various members of their estate, and fulfillment in running their province. They are far too old to be married off now. A simple royal decree will relieve them of their heirships and make you Heir Apparent.”
She waves her wrist as if this is all in a day’s work and, for the first time, Killian begins to imagine what it would be like to be the King of all Misthaven, to make decrees that change lives and decisions that change fates. It is a terrifying and exciting idea.
Snow White gives them an annoyed look down her lovely nose and he is reminded of his Mama again. “If you were to both refuse the crown, the palace historians will have quite a time finding the next eligible candidates to take the throne. I am quite sure that anyone they dug up would require years of education and face an uphill battle in gaining the nation’s support.”
There is only a breath’s pause before Liam drops to his knee and Killian, unsure of what else to do, does the same.
“Your Majesty, it would be my honor to serve my country and my Queen in whatever way she desires.”
Killian takes a moment to think, then places his hand over his heart and, unlike Liam, looks up at his sovereign.
“When I was a boy, our mother always told us that we had been blessed by the gods, given a good home and a position to take care of other people. She raised us to help others and to obey our Queen. If, by obeying my Queen today, I may help others, then I do so gladly, in my mother’s memory.”
Tears fall freely down the Queen’s face as she looks at the pair of brothers. She gestures that they may stand and turns into her husband’s embrace for a moment, perhaps composing herself. Her green eyes are still damp when she turns back, and she lays a lovely gloved hand on each of the Jones brothers’ faces.
“I am not your mother, and you are not my children, and no one could replace Marilla or Emma, but perhaps, if you are willing, we could be a family-” she drops her hands and gestures David forward “-the four of us.”
His mother is long gone and his father may as well be dead, but for the first time in years, as he and Liam are embraced by their distant cousin and her husband, he feels relief that he and Liam are not alone.
“I don’t have the same problem,” the Prince Consort pipes in, giving his wife a fond look. “No one around here has any problem calling me David, since I don’t have a single drop of royal blood in my veins.” He looks at the brothers. “So please, if you call me Prince David I might not know who you are talking to.”
But in the coming weeks, Killian finds out that David is quite wrong. Whenever the palace staff speak of the royal couple, they do so with admiration and reverence. She is the Queen, he is the Prince Consort, and they are the most blessed subjects in all the kingdoms.
Killian surprises himself in the next few months. The lessons that had been so difficult years ago now come much easier. He is not sure whether it is his newfound maturity, the seriousness of his proximity to wearing the crown, or the fact that the questions being asked of him no longer seem so hypothetical.
David is a gentle tutor, encouraging Liam and Killian to ask as many questions as they desire and preferring for them to work out their own solutions before offering superior ones.
Snow is slightly terrifying, her lessons being less frequent and more high-stakes, getting impatient when they will not think creatively and only praising them when they truly deserve it. That means that the day when she smiles and kisses his cheek for diffusing an argument with an ambassador from another kingdom, Killian refuses to wipe the rouge mark off for hours.
A ball is thrown in their honor several weeks after their arrival and Killian has never seen such a sight. Food is everywhere, elaborately garnished and smelling like heaven itself. The music is perfect, each note a treasure. And the glittering gowns and sharp jackets make Killian feel like a small-town boy who has never seen elegant clothing before. He spends his night becoming acquainted with visiting royals and Misthaven’s dignitaries.
Liam spends his night becoming acquainted with Queen Elsa.
She’s a young queen, her parents recently deceased, and Killian fears that Snow will not make it through the introduction without bursting into tears. As it is, she gives Queen Elsa a lingering hug and whispers something in her ear. The foreign queen smiles and nods, taking her younger sister’s hand and pulling her closer.
“Perhaps my cousin Liam will have the next dance, Elsa?” Snow asks, changing the subject. “We shared a waltz earlier in the evening and I highly recommend him as a partner.”
Queen Elsa gives his brother an appraising look, one with more interest than her ice-blue eyes ever spared for him, and smiles, the action softening her severe face. “I would be happy to dance, Prince Liam.”
One dance turns into two which turns into a lengthy conversation on the balcony. Killian knows his place as the young brother, but he cannot help his annoyed huff as they ascend the stairs at the end of the night.
“Be careful, brother. If you woo a queen, you become her king, not ours.”
Liam nods, but his eyes are a bit too dreamy for Killian’s taste. “I know, little brother. There was no harm in a few dances.”
Killian snorts and lets it drop, including the dig at his age.
But the dances have clearly turned to more, because Liam starts writing letters to the young queen, letters that grow longer and more frequent as the months go on. Two years later the brothers are sent on a goodwill visit to Arendelle, heavily guarded, and Killian’s worries grow. Liam sits beside the Queen every night and returns to their quarters early in the morning, smelling of her perfume. They take long rides through the countryside and Killian catches every lingering glance, every time his brother’s hand brushes against the queen’s, and how Liam, always so severe and serious, laughs more and smiles more and seems more at ease than he has been since their mother’s death.
Liam stumbles into their quarters the final night of their trip just as dawn is beginning to break across the horizon. His easy grin is swathed in shades of pink and all of Killian's suspicions are confirmed.
“I take it she said yes?” Killian asks, smirking at Liam’s sudden stupid expression at seeing his brother awake and waiting for him.
“Of course not,” Liam grunts, loosening his cravat and falling heavily into the seat next to him. “She’s a queen. She asked me.”
“Ah, so you said yes.”
“Well.” All the mirth in his brother’s bright eyes slowly drains and Liam scratches his neck nervously. “Not quite.”
Killian takes a long pull of the rum he has been nursing for hours, lost in his need to make a decision that will change his life forever. “What stopped you?” he eventually asks.
“Killian-” The younger Jones finally turns back to his brother and his heart clenches. He recognizes this look. It was the same one their Mama made, all those years ago, when she knew that the disease that was robbing her of her strength would soon rob her of her life and her chance to see her boys grow into men. It is a look of great sorrow and great guilt.
He hates to see that look.
Liam stands and moves to the chair across from Killian so they are face-to-face.
“You stopped me, brother.” Liam’s lips purse and the last traces of happiness evaporate. “If I must remain in Misthaven and take the throne, I will do so with gladness. I promised Snow, and, more importantly, I promised you. A single word, Killian, and I will remain faithful to my vows.”
The last bit of rum is a vivid shade of rose and Killian contemplates it for a moment before responding. “And what of Elsa? Will she not abandon her kingdom for love? Let her sister Anna rule in her place?”
“No. It is her late parents’ legacy - the kingdom and her sister. She would never leave it.”
Killian feels words rising to the tip of his tongue, accusations about their own mother’s legacy, about her desire to see her sons make a difference in the world, about the lonely years when it was only them, Liam and Killian, to confide in within the chateau's thick walls. But his anger beneath the surface must be evident, because Liam’s continence breaks even further, those proud shoulders slumping and the corners of his mouth turning down.
So Killian takes a breath and thinks of all the progress he has made in his lessons. He thinks of how much good Liam could do in Arendelle as king and the healthy relationship it would forge between their kingdoms. And he thinks of Elsa and how only two nights ago Anna had whispered in his ear that she had never seen her sister so at ease. So he stands and offers his brother his hand.
“Brother, if she is fool enough to have you, I am wise enough to get rid of you.”
The sparkle returns to Liam’s eyes instantly, and by the time the brothers pull back from their embrace, the levity is back in his entire body, making even Killian grin.
“I still must speak to Snow,” Liam sighs. “I could never marry Elsa without her permission.”
“Rubbish! When she gets one look at how in love you are, she will burst into tears and offer to perform the ceremony herself,” Killian exclaims. Then he gulps the last of the rum and retires to his bedroom, this engagement plenty enough excitement for the day.
His words are only half true - Snow White does cry. The wedding is planned for the following winter in Arendelle, with an engagement ball to be held in Misthaven. “Oh, and of course,” she says as a final, businesslike note before bustling off to begin making celebration plans, “this would make Killian the Heir Apparent. And if he is unable to produce heirs, your second born would be the first in line for the throne of Misthaven.”
Killian has to refrain from frowning at the idea that he wouldn’t be man enough to become a father, and is surprised at the cool way his brother replies without blinking, “Just as any second born of Killian’s would be the first in line for the throne of Arendelle if neither Elsa nor Anna produces an heir.”
Snow gives him a long look of approval and Killian can see the years of bartering between the two kingdoms flash before his eyes. “I will have contracts drawn up before the ceremony.”
“Please let me see a draft as soon as it is written,” Liam smiles before their cousin leaves the room with a chuckle.
Most everyone spends the evening wrapped in thick furs, Killian enjoying the softness of thick white gloves and a cozy beaver pelt hat. But Queen Elsa and Prince Liam - who shall be titled King at a forthcoming ceremony - are in thin layers, eyes only for one another and obviously kept warm by their love.
Bloody hell, Killian doesn’t imagine he will ever come to visit if it is always this cold in Arendelle.
The next morning, he holds his brother tight for one last embrace, trying to memorize the size and the shape and the smell of the last member of his family, their father too drunk to travel anywhere. Liam is sturdy and Killian tries to be so as well.
Years pass and their father’s body joins his spirit, leaving the world entirely. Killian only spends a night mourning him, a single bottle of rum his only solace and when Snow’s hand wraps around his the next morning at the council meeting, he does not focus on what he lost. He focuses on what he has gained.
It is a good life here in the palace, pampered by housekeepers and chefs, looked after by Snow and David, kept busy by the upkeep of the kingdom. He feels a restless urge, some days, to leave it all behind. To go back on his word to his sovereign and his brother, to find the nearest ship and set to sea. But to do so would shame his mother and cut him off from the only two members of his family close by. So he settles for taking long walk on the docks, heavily guarded by soldiers, and taking deep breaths of the fresh air and dreaming of what could have been, of his life as an Admiral in his brother’s Navy.
“You were wasted as a second son, you know,” David tells him one night at supper, when Snow is off at another meeting and it is only the two of them to sit at the long table. “You will make an excellent King some day. And the people truly love you.” David leans across the table and rests a hand over Killian’s. “Snow is proud to be leaving the kingdom in your capable hands.”
Killian fiddles with the signat ring that rests heavy on his finger. “Well,” he mutters, feeling a blush across his cheeks, “so long as she does not leave it anytime soon.”
David does not respond.
As Killian approaches his twenty seventh year, Snow summons him to her private library and Killian can feel his heart hammer as he approaches, footsteps echoing off the marble of the floor. He is let into a small room lined with books. The royal couple sits on one of two couches and, at her gesture, Killian sits on the other one.
“Killian,” Snow smiles, her eyes filled with the melancholy she often reveals when she has been thinking about her lost daughter. “I have not had an easy life. My mother was taken from me at a young age, as yours was. I was barely a woman when my father joined her and my stepmother spent years trying to keep me from my happy ending. When I got it, a husband and daughter to call my own, she was taken from me as well. And since then, I have been concerned about who would take my place when I was gone.”
She takes a deep breath and David’s fingers link with hers on her lap, giving the comfort Killian has witnessed countless times. “And I am happy to say that you are a better candidate than I could have ever hoped for. It has been wonderful watching you grow and learn and,” her tears start falling now, “I have felt like a mother a bit, witnessing you come into your own.”
Killian leans forward and takes his Queen’s other hand. “I could not have dreamed of a better mother figure, Majesty.”
Snow takes her hand back from him to wipe her eyes and, with a chuckle, she straightens and her royal voice returns. “But I am ready to rest, Killian. I want to have more time with my husband, with my hobbies. And I want to give you a chance to come into your own with Charming and I here to help. That is why, in three month’s time, I will be stepping down from the throne and allowing you to be coronated King of Misthaven. At midnight on the last day of the year, we will hold the ceremony and begin a new year with a new ruler.”
It takes a very long time for her words to reach Killian’s brain. He has only just managed to get the grasp of what it means to rule an entire nation, succeeding because of all their help. To be left alone is terrifying. What if he fails? What if he is not prepared? What if-
“I have every confidence in you, son,” David says, his sure smile bringing breath back to Killian’s lungs. “And we will be here the whole time. Once the coronation is out of the way, we can turn to finding you a bride to help you rule.”
This is another reality that Killian had not considered. Of course, he knew of his duty. He is only here because a blood heir is needed, because for someone else to rule would cause chaos and allow Regina a chance to take the kingdom back into her dark clutches. And though Killian has spent many a night with lovely women from the village and luscious maids from the castle, the thought of anything more lasting is honestly more terrifying than running a country.
But this is his duty, and the path that he has chosen to follow. His knees hit the carpeted floor as they did on the wooden ground all those years ago, and his hand covers his heart as he looks up at his Queen, his sovereign, and his only mother.
“It is my honor to obey my Queen and I promise to uphold the responsibilities she has so graciously bestowed with all of the respect with which it was given.”
Once the announcement is made to the kingdom, the palace becomes a bustle of activity. A party must be planned and dignitaries across the Enchanted Forest, including Elsa, Liam, and their daughter, will come to celebrate the passing of the crown. Killian spends the next few weeks being asked his opinion on everything from fabrics to cakes. He is almost thankful for the twenty third day of bonfire time, the birthday of the lost princess, when the kingdom rests in remembrance.
He spends most of the day in his quarters, composing his thoughts and catching up on much-needed sleep. No meetings, no business, just the back of his eyelids. He is in the middle of a comfortable nap on his armchair when furious pounding on his door startles him awake.
“Your Highness!” a deep, concerned voice bellows. “Your Highness, you have been summoned to the throne room!”
Dressed in only a soft tunic and his leathers, he makes his way with a scowl on his face, mind still dulled from sleep. This was to be a blasted day off, not a time to be pulled from the peace of an afternoon rest. He throws open the doors, prepared to give Snow a piece of his mind, Queen or no Queen, when he stops short at the sight before him.
Snow and David are embracing a young woman, with long, flowing blonde hair, dressed in strange attire. At the sound of his entrance, they turn, both of their arms remaining wrapped around the unknown woman. It takes Killian a single moment to recognize the shape of her eyes and the set of the mouth - things that stared back at him every night at the dinner table for nearly eight years.
“Killian!” Snow exclaims, beaming at him and looking happier than he has ever seen. “Emma has returned to us!”